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Facing Your Fears: Shana Feste Discusses ‘Run Sweetheart Run’

Writer/director Shana Feste, whose background is steeped in writing drama, spoke with Script about delving into horror.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Every woman has a nightmare date tale. It just comes with the territory of being a woman. Shana Feste’s Run Sweetheart Run takes a horrible date and turns it into one of the worst things you can imagine. It starts streaming on Prime Video on October 28, 2022. Starring Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, and Clark Gregg, it’s a female empowerment story on steroids.

Films like After Hours (1985) focused on the unpredictable wackiness of dating. That film was set back in the day, though. With the advent of cellphones and social media, dating has taken a darker turn because people can invent themselves. Get Out (2017), Funny Games (2007), and Fresh (2022) are examples of modern horror films that go to appalling lengths, psychologically and physically, to address modern dating woes.

Run Sweetheart Run’s writer/director Shana Feste, whose background is steeped in writing drama, spoke with us about delving into horror.

Shana Feste. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Shana Feste. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Why did you pick Los Angeles as the setting for the film?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I think it's beautiful and exciting. As glamorous as L.A. is, though, it has a dark underbelly that most women are familiar with. I was raised as a feral child in Venice. Some of the things that I saw growing up in Los Angeles...whether it's the guy at the beach exposing himself to you or the guy that's harassing you when you're on the bus...it’s just an accumulation of events. It was so confusing because there were beautiful skies and beaches and the industry was here. But also, I had suffered the most at the hands of men in Los Angeles. It's my backward love story to Los Angeles.

What inspired the story?

A lot of things inspired the story. Initially, I had made a film called Boundaries, which was about my father and my love of animal rescue. It was a Sony Classics film and premiered at SXSW. We were doing press for it at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Peter Fonda's in the film for about six minutes. Peter's awesome, I love him. It was during a time when Donald Trump was doing a lot of crazy things. Peter tweeted out a very off-color tweet about Donald Trump and his son Barron. Suddenly, the entire press tour was canceled. I was getting death threats and we couldn't do any more publicity for the film. To top it off, Donald Trump Jr. responded to Peter via Twitter.

In a matter of three hours, this film that I'd worked on that was about my father and my love of animals and had Christopher Plummer and Vera Farmiga and this wonderful cast was at a standstill. We were in crisis mode. All the Q&A's and screenings were canceled. It was like my film had been hijacked by the tweets of two men. I was so angry because my life's work and passion had been put into this film. I didn't know what was going to happen. To Sony Classics credit, they still released the film, even though there were theaters threatening to pull out. I wrote Run Sweetheart Run from a very different place. I was writing from anger, and I usually write from a different place.

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What's the scariest date you've ever been on?

The scariness of dates is that they’re just the unknown. You’re putting your trust in someone that you've never met and putting yourself in very vulnerable situations. Right now, I'd be terrified to go back into the dating scene. This film was loosely inspired by a date I went on where a guy looked perfect on paper, and he lived at this big house in the Hollywood Hills. There was a point where I walked back into his house with him that I knew I had to get out of there. This was before everyone had cellphones, so I ran from the Hollywood Hills to West Los Angeles in the middle of a Saturday night.

What do you think the prequel to this film would be?

I think the prequel would be just staying quiet. Just accepting it. Kind of like, 'This is what happens to women. That was disturbing but I still have to be at work tomorrow. So, I'm just going to keep going.' Like so many women do. We just keep going. It would be a very quiet movie about a woman who doesn't even know the anger is starting to bubble up inside her. She's just playing the woman that everyone wants her to be.

Ella Balinska as Cherie in Run Sweetheart Run. Photo courtesy Prime Video.

Ella Balinska as Cherie in Run Sweetheart Run. Photo courtesy Prime Video.

What were the particular challenges of writing and directing horror as opposed to other genres?

I felt like I was the most unlikely person to write a horror film. When I think about what realistically scares me in my daily life, it is men. Being at the will of men. I had to think of how I could make this film really terrifying without showing so much of the violence that I didn't want to shoot. I thought, ‘How do I rely on sound design, locations, and acting to make this a really terrifying experience?’

Do you find there is different pacing for horror?

I felt like I was on this rollercoaster where I had to keep building. When I'm working in drama, it's a slower pace. I think horror audiences start to get a little antsy when things don't happen immediately. I knew that I wanted this to be an adrenaline-fueled film and for the attacks to feel relentless, so I had to keep upping myself. I didn't want her to be losing every single time. She had to win some. Finding creative ways to tell this varied story was a challenge.

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How long did it take to write the first draft?

It poured out of me; I wrote it pretty quickly. It got greenlit by Blumhouse pretty fast. What was the most meaningful experience of this film is we premiered at Sundance and had a great screening. Then we were caught in quarantine. Universal was going to release this but it was in May of the year the pandemic hit. Amazon ended up acquiring it and we got to go back into the film and make it more authentic for Cherie's character, which is almost unheard of for a director to be able to do. 

We worked with Effie Brown and opened a writer’s room with two incredibly talented Black writers, Kelly Terrell and Keith Josef Adkins. We were able to take the film to the next level. While I feel Cherie is every woman, and I wanted my experiences to come across, I do not have the lived-in experiences of a Black woman. That writer’s table allowed us to enhance the movie in an authentic way that I could have never done. I'm grateful for the pandemic in that way because I got to go back into my film.

Did you initially pitch the project?

I had a very good friend at AFI. I sent the script to her when she was at Blumhouse. When she read it, she said, 'I think we might be able to get it done.’ That was really exciting.

What was your first paid writing gig?

Adapting a book called You're Not You that starred Hillary Swank. It was right out of Sundance.

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What were the challenges of adapting a fiction book?

I was writing for a star, which I had never done before. What was wonderful about that experience is now I've made five films and I feel like I have rules of what I do. I don't write like a screenwriter anymore. I write like an editor, a producer, a cinematographer. I haven't written purely as a screenwriter since those early days.

How do you feel directing affects your writing?

Directing is flashy when it affects my writing. I think, 'Oh, this would be really fun to do! I know how to shoot this scene.' It informs your ambition. You know what you do best so you can write for your skills when you're writing and directing. It's such an advantage.

[L-R] Writer/Director Shana Feste and Ella Balinska on the set of Run Sweetheart Run. Photo courtesy Prime Video.

[L-R] Writer/Director Shana Feste and Ella Balinska on the set of Run Sweetheart Run. Photo courtesy Prime Video.

This film has a diverse cast. Is it starting to get easier to fund diverse films?

When I made The Greatest, I was given a list of ten white women in their twenties. I got that same list for years. To Blumhouse's credit, they're much more inclusive in their casting process.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I made a film called Country Strong in the country music space and I'm really anxious to get back to that space. I wrote a new film that I'm doing in that space with Netflix called Heartland. I'm also taking a lot of writing assignments. It's a blessing when you get to make a film because it's so hard to do.

What kind of projects do you feel you're drawn to?

I think I'm drawn to women-led projects. I really love working with strong female protagonists and telling those stories.

What was the biggest challenge on the set?

The biggest challenge was dealing with the period blood to be honest. I had a ton of shame over my own menstruation, and I was raised with that shame.

If you were given the budget you wanted tomorrow, what project would you do?

I would shoot this film called The Outlaws, which is near and dear to my heart and it's impossible to get made because it's like a throwback to the 70s. It's a character-driven crime thriller that really takes its time. 


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