While many people have successfully begun loving relationships through dating, not all first dates live up to the storybook fantasies of hopeful romantics. Then again, neither do many first daters who meet other first daters on their first dates.
Though “playing the field” isn’t always a winning game for the single crowd, every season of the comedy miniseries RUN FOR YOUR LIFE features a different set of characters who hail from different backgrounds and places. Combined, they – and their stories – represent the remarkable diversity of American society. Produced by BugHouse Media, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE is now showing on the studio’s web site and YouTube channel (see additional links below).
In all nine episodes of RUN FOR YOUR LIFE’s first season, two lovelorn New Yorkers – Celine, played by Mia Darrow; Richard, played by Zack Gold (GRIDLOCKED, 2015’s THE UNRAVELING) – learn that their search for love is often filled with some less-than-promising duds. Professionally, Richard works as a graphic designer while developing his own graphic novel, while Celine creates visual art from cut paper. Neither of them have made much of a dent in their careers, and, as series creator Martha Williams reveals, they’re just as unlucky in their romantic pursuits.
“In the love department, men are big shadows that try to control her (Celine). Despite her complexity, she appears unsure; an easy target. (Richard) landed in relationships with driven New York women who knew what they wanted. These women were all ultimately materialistic, superficial, status-seeking and wanted Richard to be the same. When his last girlfriend dumped him because she didn’t want someone who ‘drew cartoons,’ he decided it was time to hit online dating again.”
Richard and Celine try to rectify their misfortune in the dating game by hitting the open Web to find potential new love interests. In episode 1, Richard gets caught in a weird one night stand with Sarah (Tamara Michelle Shepard), whose amorous behavior towards men is conducted before the astonished eyes of her once boyfriend/current living companion Huck (Nick Jordan). Episode 3 finds Richard dating a “freelance” CEO (Kendra, played by Mandy Schmieder, INSIDE AMY SCHUMER), who seems to deal in dead mules.
Episodes 2 and 4, respectively, focus on Celine’s equally bizarre dates: the green beans-obsessed chef Dan (Nicholas Feitel, HBO’s DIVORCE and THE DEUCE) and narcissistic pervert Paul (Michael Aurelio, MURDER IN THE FIRST). Driven to escape from their nightmarish dating experiences, Celine and Richard race to find the love they’ve been looking for in New York City – but could that love be closer than either of them think?
E-dating sites like eHarmony, OKCupid, Match.com, Tinder and Grindr make the Internet a rich, but not always reliable source of potential mates for single men and women. When virtual world-based connections fall spectacularly short of expectations in the real world, the memories of such disappointing meetings can be painful.
One embarrassingly awkward date stands out in Williams’ memory. “I went out with (a guy named) ‘Ray-Ban Man,’ who refused to take his sunglasses off for the entire date,” she remembers. “In fact, the third time I asked him, he said, ‘the more you ask, they more it won’t happen.’ Uh-hem, power struggle?”
Having happened during a difficult time in Williams’ life, the incident revealed how big of a struggle she’d face in her search for love. Luckily, Williams knew that the peaks and valleys of that search weren’t unique to her only. “When the ‘Ray-Ban’ debacle happened, I was 2 years out of a painful break-up and just turned 40. I was angry, entitled and not that fun to date, so I was attracting drama. Regardless, I wasn’t alone.”
Williams was no stranger to dating disasters. Neither were her friends, and neither were members of RUN FOR YOUR LIFE’s cast. While those stories inspired her to make RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, the realities of technology’s presence in love and sexuality are a major theme in the series.
“I knew plenty of people having the same wacked-out experiences I did. I asked, what is it (about dating)? For me, partially, it was the bitterness of betrayal that made me a live wire, but also, it was the way I thought I could just go out and ‘get someone’ – anyone – these dates were angry distractions and technology said there were so many men!”
Williams knows well how dating platforms (like those mentioned above) can occasionally be too influential in the decisions we make about potential love interests. “When I went on these dates, I treated people not always as people, but rather as strangers. I was quick to judge and defensive, so a lot of the same came back at me. Additionally, I overlooked red flags. I said, ‘eh, he’s good enough’. I don’t think I would have had the same sort of angry purge had technology not been involved.”
It takes two to build a relationship, but sometimes one person can exert an unfair amount of dominance over another. That, and its relation to technology circa 2018, is prominently covered in RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. “…Power is a huge player in the game of romance,” Williams says. “As I become more powerful in my own skin, I didn’t know how to play the ‘I’m a sweet girl’ game anymore and not that I would necessarily want to. I think in some ways online technology apps highlight the ingrained assumptions we have about gender roles.”
Technology’s role in our changing perceptions of romance is also explored in RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. “Now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can anonymously engage in kink, porn, alternative sex with people across the globe,” replies Williams. “What used to be hidden, taboo, just plain unacceptable by the dominant mono-culture is now more widely acceptable. This means there are very few central ideas organizing how we should live and love. That said, the new normal is anything goes!”
The human part of love, though, is a key pillar of RUN FOR YOUR LIFE’s stories. “I am primarily working with archetypes that accentuate power & gender + roles & assumptions that drive online dating,” Williams says.
“Plus, I’m exploring what happens when strangers collide with their own set of assumptions, hidden agendas and ideas about gender and romance. The thing is, we are shedding a mono-culture that used to say ‘get married and have kids.’ Mono-culture is being replaced by a growing poly-culture which has grown out of the internet.”
If you’ve ever been on a date from hell, or even if you’ve met such people through friends, you’ve probably come into contact with some interesting – if not exactly savory – personalities. As it is in real life, so it goes for RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, and chances are you’ll recognize the following personas in upcoming episodes:
“You’ve got the polyamorous couple, the wet-noodle non-committal dude, the nervous gamer, the over-texter, the ethically non-monogamous person, super-masculine finance guy, the domme, the sub, the erotic explorer, the person trying to get pregnant, the efficient no-nonsense on a mission dater, the sales guy, the feminine yogi dude, the witch, the warlock. You name it! We’ve got it! When you put all these strangers and their ideas of what’s right and wrong in a room, it’s pure comedy and pure pain. Bottom line,” Williams remarks.
Unlike just about every traditional rom-com, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE doesn’t look at love from only one gender’s POV. “I think a lot of comedies about dating today are often from purely just the female or just the male perspective and more often than not, just the female perspective,” explains Williams. “The world is saying it’s ‘hard for women’ to date. In this first season, I’m exploring what it’s like for both Celine and Richard. Like I’ve said many times before, I’m interested in bridging divides.”
Fittingly for a series called RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, the spectacular escapes from nightmare dates by its two main characters are stacked with symbolism. “…I think the running itself is a cathartic release from the ridiculousness of each episode,” comments Williams, describing the humorously epic runs that conclude each story.
“It is the poem that pinpoints a feeling we’ve all had, where we’ve wanted to run for our lives. It says something’s wrong, I want out, I want something different, something has to change. This is (a) visceral, non-analytical, human moment and something you don’t see often. In fact, we’ve gotten some really wonderful reactions (from viewers) to the running.”
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE’s anthology format is built to examine today’s romantic trends, and how the pitfalls of modern-day dating affects people from many diverse backgrounds.
“I want this format to have a palpable effect that makes us come together laughing at how we are all at least partly searching for the same thing(s): love, connection, family (found or made),” Williams says. “As seasons progress, we hope to collect fans that want to watch the search for love in places they’ve never been to.”
Williams decided to produce RUN FOR YOUR LIFE as an anthology not just for its flexible storytelling possibilities, but also as a means of focusing on human experiences not often covered in most romantic comedies. “…I want to hear the stories of people different than me,” she explains. “Why? Because as an idealist, I want to bring people together and one way to do that is to help us understand that, in some ways, we are the same. Meaning, it’s hard to think of your neighbor as ‘other,’ when your neighbor has the same struggle online dating struggle as you.”
Given the turbulent times we all live in these days, the universal themes of love and heartbreak portrayed in RUN FOR YOUR LIFE are bound to unite viewers of all kinds. “In an increasingly divided America and world, the hope of bringing people together through the shared pain and comedy of online dating, makes me giddy,” Williams adds. “What if we were all rooting for each other – blue/red, black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor – to find meaningful connection and to overcome whatever’s in the way of that?”
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE producer Ashley George searched extensively through New York’s acting community to find the best players for the series, and Williams’ casting decisions were informed by how well each actor could play to their respective strengths as performers. “It was each actor’s particular weight, perspective and sensibility that drew me to cast them for the role and really helped me to flesh out the work,” Williams says. “All of them made strong choices that surprised me and helped to shape the work in ways I hadn’t yet imagined.”
During auditions for RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, two actors would perfectly match Williams’ expectations for their characters. “Nicholas Feitel (Dan in episode 2) was 100% creepy in his interpretation and, at the same time, lovable and endearing,” Williams remembers. “I had originally thought of his character as debonair and sophisticated. Wrong! Nick Jordan (‘Huck’ in ‘Bozo’) brought a very succinct, smart, sense of improv, meaning the ‘peanut butter’ was all him. Fun fact: ironically, both leads are married, so maybe they brought the hopefulness that each of their characters embodied.”
The cast’s memories of their individual brushes with dating humiliation were especially influential in their preparation for co-starring in RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.
“Those who were active in the dating scene definitely had stories of their own. Why? Because it’s inevitable,” Williams explains. “In fact, when we had the pre-launch event (for the series), Tamara Shepard told an online dating horror story as part of the presentation.”
Though the time it took to shoot RUN FOR YOUR LIFE wasn’t as fast as its characters’ speedy runs in downtown New York City, the filming schedule for each episode had its own frenzied pace. “…Production was definitely intense,” explains George. “We were literally running for our lives to various locations to make our days. Episodes went from 4 pages to around 6 pages each, so we were filming a ton of content in a super tight time frame. We had a budget for 4 days, and that was that. So, we were hustling.”
Though there wasn’t much time to get RUN FOR YOUR LIFE captured on camera, Williams and George were fortunate to work with a cast and crew that helped them to get their project done in an efficient and effective manner. “We had a lovely AD (assistant director) super couple duo in Molly Johnson and Jennifer Parkhill, and I’m floored by what they gave to the production,” says George.
“Production was intense and full of obstacles and opportunities,” remembers Williams, who recounts the night that one of Gold’s bad date breakouts was chronicled for RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. “One of my favorite moments was capturing Zack Gold in Times Square. We had a shoulder rig, a tiny car with a very expensive camera (that we got for cheap) and the DP (Lucky Cheung, director of photography) sort of hanging out of the hatchback. We placed ourselves on 6th Avenue and 57th St. and went for it!”
Good audio can make an even stronger impact on a web series, and Williams’ work with RUN FOR YOUR LIFE sound designer/score composer/longtime creative partner Norm Scott on the show’s first season serves as proof of that impact.
“Norm brings another dimension to the work that always blows me away,” Williams says. “First of all, he completely gets what I want and always takes it to levels I hadn’t imagined.”
“RUN FOR YOUR LIFE is a web series that captures the absurd, comedic, surreal yet very real ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ feeling that so many of us have experienced in online dating,” responds Williams. “It’s an honest relief from the push/pull, love/hate feeling that technology has inspired in modern times, balanced with the timeless search for love.”
With Williams primed to create more intriguing new stories and interesting characters for the show’s second cycle, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE captures comedy that transcends both the intricacies of current technology and societal changes, and the differences of people who’ve yet to be struck by Cupid’s bow. “We hope the format, the comedy, the universal theme around the search for love can bring varying kinds of people together to root for each other. And ultimately, we hope people find love.”
(NOTE: Williams says that RUN FOR YOUR LIFE will be closed-captioned.)
ON THE WEB: http://www.bughousemedia.com/rfyl/