I first heard about filmmaker and actor Clare Cooney after her buzzworthy short film “Runner” (2017) showed at the Chicago Critics Film Festival in 2018. A few months later, I had the pleasure of meeting Clare at the Midwest Independent Film Festival. With her female-focused film and her activeness in the Chicago film community, I was so happy she took the time to share her story. See highlights of our conversation below:
REBECCA MARTIN: Can you talk about what “Runner” is about? What got you to the point of doing the film?
CLARE COONEY: We made it about two years ago, and I had just not been getting a ton of on-camera work. I’d done some plays in Chicago, there was a year where I did a bunch of plays all in a row, but that’s rare for me, I haven’t done a lot of theatre here in Chicago. I think the Chicago theatre community is more of an in-club thing than the film/TV community is. So I had the idea for the script—the idea came to me during the summer of 2016.
And I talked to my friend Jason Chiu, who’s the DP, and I talked to Shane Simmons, my producer, obviously. “How can we do this, can we do this for super cheap? I don’t want this to be delayed by crowdfunding. Can we do this the cheapest way we possibly can?” We were lucky on the fact that I had a bunch of friends that came on and jumped on board and worked on this with me. I never had directed a film before. I had literally only directed one play in college, and another bit of scene work in college. That’s literally all I had directed. But I had been working as a casting director in Chicago for four years. And I was an actor—and I feel that actors are directing themselves, in the scenes that they are working on. So I felt like I was very prepared. My friends just trusted and believed in me. We filmed it over the course of two days and we made it all on nine hundred bucks.
It was a very DIY project. It was very tiring and on my next project I’ll want to have more support. I want to be able to pay everyone. But “Runner” was the perfect way to start, and I would have never learned so much if I hadn’t done it that way.
The film is about a woman who goes on a jog and sees a confrontation down the alleyway. The confrontation becomes violent. So she becomes an unintentional witness to this altercation, and it’s about what that does to her life, how it affects her emotionally, how it affects her friendship group, and how it haunts her moving forward.
MARTIN: That sounds great.
COONEY: Yeah, so kind of a thriller. It’ll make your palms sweat, that’s for sure.
COONEY: That is the amazing thing about Chicago: it’s got amazing talent, with a small town vibe. But to some extent, we need to work on thinking bigger. With your magazine and people making films, we need to get more distribution here, we need to get more production companies, we need to get people to invest into our work. It’s wonderful that we’re supportive in our community or in our little neighborhood, but you need to keep that kindness, and that vibe, but think bigger.
COONEY: I have so many different things I want to do. So a few months ago I directed a pilot; it’s called “Dad Man Walking,” written by and starring this guy John T. O’Brien, heavily influenced by his life as a single dad. So he asked me if I would direct the pilot for him, and I was totally game. It was my first time being hired as a director. It was a huge experience for me. I was working with a DP I hadn’t worked with before, working with a team that I hadn’t worked with before. In “Runner,” I was surrounded by my friends, people that I trusted. So that was definitely a big learning experience. Right now we’re in post, about to submit to film festivals.
I’m also an editor; I taught myself how to edit while making “Runner.” Now I kind of make my money as an editor. I’m the editor for a web series called “Beta,” a very female focused/girl power kind of series.
In terms of what’s coming next for directing, there are two different projects I’m kind of mulling over. So once we get into the new year, I’ll have time to do some thinking and writing, and hope to direct something in 2019!
COONEY: There is no route in this business that will take you where you want to go. It’s all these diagonal and sideways paths to get you to where you need to get. I think the way that I’ve made strides and any success has always been unexpected to me. The one thing that I’ve learned is to be kind to everyone. Go to as many events and plays and film screenings as you can, and do as much as you can, help out, volunteer, because you never know where those connections are going to take you. Finally, just work really hard and do good work. Do those things, and I’m not saying those things will make you really famous, but you will be in good company and will have a lot of exciting endeavors happening in your life. Those are the key things.