The Elite Runner
Alexi Pappas is a renaissance runner. She writes poems. She makes and stars in movies. She tweets. Even her signature bun has its own Twitter account.
Her latest project, “Speed Goggles,” is a series of short films about runners. The name refers to the way runners sometimes change their opinion about a person or develop a romantic crush once they learn how fast the person runs. (Sort of like the term “beer goggles,” which refers to how we might feel differently about someone after a few pints of beer.)
Ms. Pappas, a Greek-American who will be representing Greece in the Olympics in Rio this summer, made the video series with her partner, the filmmaker Jeremy Teicher. The duo is sharing the full series with New York Times readers each week for the next five weeks. (You can read more about Ms. Pappas in this recent feature story from The Times.)
The first film is a parody of a nature film, with elite runners (Ms. Pappas and the two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating) as the featured creatures. Although Ms. Pappas and Mr. Teicher funded the project themselves, they shot the short films on Super 8 film stock provided by Kodak. I recently spoke with Ms. Pappas about why she made the short series and what filming has in common with racing. Here’s our conversation.
What are these films about?
We wanted to shoot something that were little slices of the life I’ve been living for the past several years. They’re not tied to one particular event but they reflect the dedication and lifestyle. They are about things that are real and serious but also quirky and funny and very specific to the running world. We wanted to capture that in these little episodes.
I know Kodak donated some film, but why did you want to use film to shoot these episodes?
Film is so cool. The thing about film is that it’s so freeing. You can’t look at it when you’re shooting it, and it’s expensive to develop so you don’t do multiple takes. There is something liberating, a thrilling scary feeling of shooting on real film. It’s gorgeous and gritty and detailed.
Why do you think film is suited to running?
The colors are more vibrant than digital, and I felt like it was the best medium to capture running . When you’re running you notice a leaf on the side of the road. It’s not one color green but it’s a million shades of green because of the way the light is hitting it, and the shade and that you’re moving past it quickly. Film captures that.
Why was it liberating to know you only had one or two takes?
It’s almost like preparing for a race. You prepare as best you can. We wrote the script, we set up what we thought would be the right lighting or place in the woods. We rehearsed. Once the gun goes off in a race – or once you start clicking action and shoot it, you can’t turn around. You just go with it until the clicking stops. It did feel like racing. That level of improvisation and carrying on is liberating as a filmmaker in the same way it might be to a runner in a race.
What do you want people to get from these films?
I hope people identify with these films in some way and also see a world they may not always see. It’s the life of an elite runner outside the track. I think runners will appreciate the elements of it, and hopefully laugh along with us.
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