Movie actors scaled walls, cleared gaps, and vaulted rails long before parkour and freerunning even had names. But with the releases of Taxi 2 (2000), Yamakasi (2001), and District B-13 (2004), the disciplines proved to be more than acrobatic eye candy. Professional traceurs and freerunners often appear as henchmen and criminals (Sébastien Foucan in Casino Royale and Rafi Gavron in Breaking and Entering) or stunt doubles, like Sam Parham in World War Z. Action movies utilize the disciplines in one of two ways: as core techniques native to the storyline — Yamakasi, District B13 — or adrenaline pumping choreography — Casino Royale, Taxi 2. But Italian film director Simone Bartesaghi created a third category with his second feature-length film, Run: The Movie.
Run is a coming-of-age thriller starring William Moseley (Peter Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia trilogy) as Daniel Lombardi, a young traceur trained by his father to employ his skills as a thief. “What’s fun for me is that there is a philosophy behind it,” Bartesaghi says. “Instead of being a movie about just action, I could write a movie where the action is integrated in the lifestyle of the character.”
The movie won acclaim at the 2013 Milan International Film Festival. Adrian Pasar, who played Daniel’s father, was nominated for a best supporting actor award, and the script took top screenplay honors. “Unfortunately we only had one screening, but the theater was packed,” the director says. “In Italy [parkour and freerunning are] still developing. But as soon as they knew that there was this movie and special screening, we had lots of people contacting us about how to come and where to watch it.” Though Run is not expected to be shown in U.S. theaters, it will be released on DVD in early 2014.
Like most practitioners, Bartesaghi discovered parkour and freerunning on YouTube. He watched interviews with innovators like Belle and Foucan, and read Freerunning: Find Your Way from cover to cover. He explored the Los Angeles scene and spent time at Tempest Freerunning Academy, where he met founder Paul Darnell.
Throughout the creative process, Bartesaghi observed the philosophic split between parkour and freerunning, and integrated it into the template of his script: A traceur who uses his skills for survival comes across a group of freerunners who see their talents as a form of physical artistic expression. “Hollywood, and even small, indie productions kind of abuse the visual spectacle that comes from freerunning and parkour without actually portraying the culture and the motivation the right way,” Bartesaghi argues. “My goal was actually to put more focus on that element than the spectacular.” Elements of the storyline continued to evolve throughout the film’s casting process as Bartesaghi saw echoes of his story in his actors’ traceur reels. “It was amazing to see how the background of the videos came alive through their experiences and their real lives,” he says. Some traceurs who appeared in the film even shared their nicknames with Run’s characters.
Bartesaghi and producer Aimee Schoof of Intrinsic Value Films partnered with Tempest to execute his vision of a film inspired by these lifestyles. For Schoof, working with Tempest elevated the film, especially the contributions from Darnell and Victor Lopez, who worked as stunt coordinators and consultants. “They all came together and created Tempest because they love parkour,” Schoof says. “But they’re all professional stunt people in the business, so they’re the best.”
Tempest teammate Shane “Thunder” Daniels doubled as the lead character despite Moseley’s enthusiasm to learn the techniques and do his own stunts. Daniels, whose credits include The Amazing Spider-Man, After Earth, and 300: Rise of an Empire, first encountered parkour on the big screen with Foucan’s Casino Royale cameo. His involvement with Run, a story so close to his own lifestyle, was both personal and professional. “[Bartesaghi] did a good job because throughout the whole movie, whenever it came to a freerunning or parkour scene or the philosophy, he always came to us and asked us if this is how it would be, is this the kind of energy that this portrays?” Daniels says. Bartesaghi asked Daniels, an untested actor, to read for a few supporting roles. “That was out of the ordinary for me,” Daniels says. “Just to take me out of nowhere and have me read and see the belief he has in a person is inspiring. He showed that throughout the entire process of the movie.”
Bartesaghi shot Run in 3D, using a special camera rig instead of adding clunky special effects in post-production. Filming the movie on New York City rooftops in the middle of January provided its own set of obstacles. “The cameras were shutting down because it was too cold,” Bartesaghi recalls. But watching the Tempest team piece together the chase scenes made up for the weather. “The inspiring process of a freerunner trying to find the best path to go from one place to the other, how they used New York’s landscape, and to see them working together to find the most exciting sequence was great,” he says.
The community aspect of parkour was present throughout the making of the movie. “It was incredible to see people coming from different experiences, different backgrounds,” Bartesaghi explains. “All of them have found in freerunning and parkour a reason to get better, aspire to a better life. That was kind of the theme of our movie. They brought real life to the movie.”