PAUL DOWNS COLAIZZO The Brittany Runs a Marathon interview

Brittany Runs a Marathon
is a tremendously intelligent piece of storytelling. It centres around a woman who is nothing remarkable, and in fact is struggling at being an adult in general. Brittany is so relatable for most women, and indeed many men, as her foibles are suddenly challenged when she decides to make a change in a very drastic way by dedicating herself to running a marathon. All this despite starting at couch potato level, and finding herself along the way. Sounds corny, but it manages to strike a deeply warm tone that is surprising from a first time film writer and director. NATALIE GILES spoke to writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo and discussed his muse, inspirational real life best friend Brittany O’Neill, feminism, and running.

First of all, I loved your film! So relatable it almost scared me. Big fan, as a woman, as a feminist and as someone who should definitely be running too…

Well, spoiler alert – running sucks but thank you and I hope you find your own marathon, whatever that may be.

Aww thanks! So it’s your first feature and it’s so damn good, and being received so well. How does that feel?

It’s really incredible, to have people all over the world be inspired by something that I’ve been working on for so long, and kind of came from my heart.

It’s inspired by your best friend Brittany O’Neill. What made you want to tell a story about her very personal journey?

I was really inspired by her decision to take control of her life when we were living together in our 20s. She was the funniest person I’d ever met, she was willing to make herself the butt of the joke, if it would make someone feel more comfortable or a mood lighter. She used humour as a guard for vulnerability as I think a lot of us do. And when she started pursuing this goal, there was a respect for herself that she started developing which started leaning over into other aspects of her life and it just felt really exciting. Plus drama is just the story of one behaviour being replaced with another, and I was watching that happen in real time.

So you were living with her at the time but you don’t appear as a character in the story?

Well none of the scenes in the movie are a re-creation of something that’s happened in real life. So in order to best create a script that was providing an emotional journey the audience could go on, I needed to take the pressure off myself while telling my friend’s story so I needed to fictionalise it. I was inspired by her emotional journey and that’s what mattered, and I didn’t want her to feel exposed. This isn’t a biopic. It’s just a movie about somebody who I see myself in, who I see a lot of people in. She has a lot of similar qualities to my friend Brittany, and the literal thing that she also tasks herself with, which is running a marathon.

So how does she feel about her portrayal onscreen by Jillian Bell?

She’s just excited that something that was inspired by her is inspiring other people. And as for Jilllian, there were definitely question marks over whether she had the kind of dramatic depth that’s required for this role, but she really does and I truly hope that she gets the opportunity to show the world more and more of it. It was truly an honour to watch her blossom in this role. But Brittany didn’t meet Jillian until we were filming because the character of Brittany is not a carbon copy of my friend Brittany but real Brittany feels that her emotional journey is portrayed very accurately. She relates to the movie. Of course she would, because it’s inspired by her but it’s not the actual chain of events. Watching the movie and watching Jillian’s performance has made her feel seen.

I think that’s a really vital aspect of your movie, though – it make us everywomen feel very seen and our experiences acknowledged, and that’s still a rare thing. This film is very much written from a feminist perspective, as far as I’m concerned. What are your thoughts on feminism in film?

When you get down to the core of what feminism is, it’s about all of us being at the centre of power structures and systems and our culture. I did a lot of reading of feminist literature while I was in the edit on this because I wanted to make sure that no stone was unturned on the way I was thinking about a woman’s perspective and the female body and the way that I was portraying this story. I was also making sure that in having the power to tell this story I was doing well with the responsibility of telling it. And in doing that, I became more of a feminist, and I started to really understand the difference between even further, intersectional feminism and the power of intersectional feminism. How we’re in a system which is stacked against us to make us feel small and weak and like we’re less than, or part of the problem. I wanted this movie to be part of the solution.

As a man, how do you feel about telling a woman’s story with all that understanding of what we face?

I think I understand the patriarchal culture as it stands, and I understand that there is a very important conversation that’s being had right now that needs to be had, about who gets to tell whose stories. But I also know that, as an artist, the thing that excites me about drama is finding the thing that connects to all of us. And what interests me as an artist is finding protagonists who are unlike me on paper and finding out why they are just like me. And I brought my experience as a gay man to telling the story of a woman. I’ve never had issues with my weight, I’ve never had body dysmorphia issues, I’ve never run (chuckles) but the thrill of telling this story was finding what unites all of us and how Brittany is the everyman. And how Brittany is me too. And that is what art is good for – showing people how they are like someone who is nothing like them. I want to continue to tell the stories of protagonists who are not like me, and Brittany is just the first.