Filippo Savoia: Supporting Characters Through Art Direction in The Runner

Filming during the pandemic
Filming during the pandemic
Filming during the pandemic

For most artists, the act of collaborating with those whom you respect is far more important than the accolades of critics and the public. Art Director Filippo Savoia admits that he was enthusiastic when offered the opportunity to work with director Michelle Danner on The Runner. Danner is known throughout the international film community for her work with such household names as Penélope Cruz, Chris Rock, Gerard Butler, Seth MacFarlane, Salma Hayek, Henry Cavill, and a seemingly endless list of the most recognized actors. Ms. Danner is understandably demanding about the environments which allow her actors to achieve the most ideal performances and enlisted Filippo as an essential part of her team for this film to achieve this result. In addition to the surmountable challenges that are normal requirements of his job, Mr. Savoia manifested the world of The Runner during the lockdown of 2019. The cast, the budget, the story, and the look of this film are impressive, displaying not even a hint of the additional obstacles present during this historic time in world history.  

Photo courtesy of Anna Volkova
Photo courtesy of Anna Volkova

The Runner is currently in theaters and available On Demand. An 80% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes and a slew of awards for Best Film (Milan Gold Awards, the New York Movie Awards, the London Independent Film Festival, and others) should be vetting enough for any fans of the drama genre to investigate this compelling story. The film follows a troubled drug using/selling teenager named Aiden (Edouard Philipponnat) who becomes pressured by a police detective (portrayed by Cameron Douglas – son of Michael Douglas) in hopes of taking down a notable drug kingpin (Eric Balfour of Primetime Emmy Winning TV series 24). 

As Art Director, one of Filippo’s primary responsibilities was to establish the looks that subtly reinforces the audience’s sense of who each main character is. For the teenage characters central to the story, this message was delivered in terms of their rooms. For Aiden, a color palette or dark green, black and red with posters of metal and punk bands spoke to anger and resistance. Less obvious objects like trophies from track & field competitions reiterated his desire to run from his current life. A hard-working executive mother and an absent father cultivated a sense of longing and rejection for Aiden who seeks feelings of acceptance, or at least numbness. Starkly contrasting this is the room of Layla (played by the majestic Kerri Medders) whose stuffed animals, handmade drawings, and pink throw pillows are kept in a meticulous state of tidiness. The vibrant purple, pink, and light blue tones that surround her offers light and hope. What befalls her is one of the most painful events of this film. Aiden’s bad girlfriend “Liz” is seemingly popular and mature but feels that drugs are the way to increase her social standing. Her purple, beige and ochre color palette conveys that she wants to be considered as an adult long before she truly understands what it means. 

Savoia is resolved in his mission to support characters through interpretive art direction. He informs, “The whole atmosphere of the movie was an escalation of emotions; from a dark moment in life at the beginning to a resolute ending of reconnection with the character himself and his mother. My team of art department did a terrific job with everything from selecting prop drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, to the decoration and the little details to highlight the character’s personality and the evolution of the movie narrative.” The power of these choices is evident in scenes such as when Aiden has a heroin withdrawal in the bathtub of his house. The minimalism of the set is stark with only the bathtub, a needle, and a spoon. The subtext is that this is all Aiden has left and feels more alone than ever. 

Writer: Coleman Haan