Running on Empty (1988)

PG-13 | 116 mins | Drama | 9 September 1988

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HISTORY

       According to a 13 Sep 1988 LAT article, producers Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne developed the idea for Running on Empty after reading a NYT news story about a high school student whose radical parents were suddenly apprehended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Screenwriter Naomi Foner was brought on to write the script as a fictional story inspired by true events, and incorporated the personal experiences of her radical friends, including a classmate at Columbia University who went underground in 1969 with the radical group The Weather Underground, as noted in an Oct 1988 Vanity Fair article. When the classmate resurfaced in the 1980s, she reunited with Foner and shared the hardships she faced trying to raise her two children while in hiding. The 26 Aug 1988 HR review cited the 1970 bombing of the University of Wisconsin’s Army Math Research Center as the film’s obvious reference; however, filmmakers did not mention that specific event in publicity materials or articles found in AMPAS library files. Several contemporary sources, including a 4 Sep 1988 NYT article, noted that, like her character “Annie Pope,” actress Christine Lahti had participated in student protests at her alma mater, the University of Michigan.
       Lorimar Filmed Entertainment commissioned the script in the early 1980s, but decided not to move forward with the project in 1983, partly due to a change in Lorimar personnel, as noted in the 4 Sep 1988 NYT. However, director Sidney Lumet became interested in the script and exercised an option in his contract with Lorimar for the company to produce one smaller-budgeted film of ... More Less

       According to a 13 Sep 1988 LAT article, producers Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne developed the idea for Running on Empty after reading a NYT news story about a high school student whose radical parents were suddenly apprehended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Screenwriter Naomi Foner was brought on to write the script as a fictional story inspired by true events, and incorporated the personal experiences of her radical friends, including a classmate at Columbia University who went underground in 1969 with the radical group The Weather Underground, as noted in an Oct 1988 Vanity Fair article. When the classmate resurfaced in the 1980s, she reunited with Foner and shared the hardships she faced trying to raise her two children while in hiding. The 26 Aug 1988 HR review cited the 1970 bombing of the University of Wisconsin’s Army Math Research Center as the film’s obvious reference; however, filmmakers did not mention that specific event in publicity materials or articles found in AMPAS library files. Several contemporary sources, including a 4 Sep 1988 NYT article, noted that, like her character “Annie Pope,” actress Christine Lahti had participated in student protests at her alma mater, the University of Michigan.
       Lorimar Filmed Entertainment commissioned the script in the early 1980s, but decided not to move forward with the project in 1983, partly due to a change in Lorimar personnel, as noted in the 4 Sep 1988 NYT. However, director Sidney Lumet became interested in the script and exercised an option in his contract with Lorimar for the company to produce one smaller-budgeted film of his choosing.
       In summer 1988, just prior to the film’s release, Lorimar was sold to Warner Communications Inc., as noted in a 12 Oct 1988 Var news item that also stated the production was made for $400,000 less than its $7 million budget due to Lumet’s efficiency.
       Principal photography began 17 Aug 1987 in New York, according to 18 Aug 1987 HR production charts. There, filming took place in Manhattan and at the Empire Stages studio in Long Island City, as noted in the 4 Sep 1988 NYT. Location shooting took place in Tenafly and Englewood, NJ, with some exteriors also filmed in Florida, according to production notes in AMPAS library files.
       The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially gave the film an ‘R’ rating, as stated in an 18 Jul 1988 DV item, but after an appeal from Lorimar, which included a statement from Lumet, Running on Empty was re-rated ‘PG-13.’
       Critical reception was largely positive, with consistent praise going to River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton’s portrayals of teenage romance. While several reviews, including the 26 Aug 1988 HR and 9 Sep 1988 NYT, singled out Christine Lahti’s performance as a strength, NYT claimed that Judd Hirsch was miscast as “Arthur Pope.” The film won a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, and received nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director – Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (Christine Lahti), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role – Motion Picture (River Phoenix). Running on Empty also received Academy Award nominations for Actor in a Supporting Role (River Phoenix) and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen).

      End credits include the following statements: “The Producers wish to thank: The New Jersey State Film Office; The New York City Mayor’s Office for Film, Theater, & Broadcasting; The Town & Police Departments of Englewood and Tenafly, New Jersey; Dwight Morrow High School,” and “Filmed in part at Empire Stages of New York, Long Island City, New York.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
18 Jul 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 1988
p. 7, 48.
Los Angeles Times
9 Sep 1988
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
13 Sep 1988
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
4 Sep 1988
Section A, p. 17.
New York Times
9 Sep 1988
p. 6.
Vanity Fair
Oct 1988
p. 106, 108.
Variety
31 Aug 1988
p. 16.
Variety
12 Oct 1988
p. 14, 40.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Lorimar Film Entertainment presents
A Double Play Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Cam trainee
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
Prod office coord
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Set dresser
Prop master
Props
Head carpenter
Const grip
Master scenic artist
Standby scenic artist
COSTUMES
Asst cost des
Ward supv
Ward supv
MUSIC
Piano consultant
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Sd boom
Supv sd ed
ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Prod secy
Loc mgr
Post prod supv
Asst to the prods
Transportation capt
Prod auditor
Casting assoc
Loc coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Tutoring provided by
STAND INS
Stunt double
Driving double
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Fire And Rain," performed by James Taylor, words & music by James Taylor, ©1970 Blackwood Music, Inc. and Country Roads Music, all rights reserved, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records Inc., by arrangement with Warner Special Projects
"Lucky Star," performed by Madonna, words & music by Madonna, ©1983 WB Music Corp., Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc., and Webo Girl Music, all rights reserved, courtesy of Sire Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Projects
"Happy Birthday To You," Mildred J. Hill & Patty S. Hill, ©1935 Birch Tree Group Ltd., copyright renewed - all rights reserved
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SONGS
"Fire And Rain," performed by James Taylor, words & music by James Taylor, ©1970 Blackwood Music, Inc. and Country Roads Music, all rights reserved, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records Inc., by arrangement with Warner Special Projects
"Lucky Star," performed by Madonna, words & music by Madonna, ©1983 WB Music Corp., Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc., and Webo Girl Music, all rights reserved, courtesy of Sire Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Projects
"Happy Birthday To You," Mildred J. Hill & Patty S. Hill, ©1935 Birch Tree Group Ltd., copyright renewed - all rights reserved
"Oh Pretty Woman," written by Roy Orbison & Bill Dees, ©1964 Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., all rights reserved.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 September 1988
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 9 September 1988
Production Date:
began 17 August 1987 in New York City
Tenafly and Englewood, NJ
and FL
Copyright Claimant:
Lorimar Film Entertainment Company
Copyright Date:
2 November 1988
Copyright Number:
PA388992
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®; Prints by Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
116
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28924
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Seventeen-year-old Danny Pope notices two cars following him as he rides his bicycle home from a baseball game. Evading the cars, he leaves his bicycle in the woods and sneaks up to his house, sending the family dog inside to get his little brother, Harry. The boys meet their parents, Annie and Arthur, in town, and Danny informs them that he was pursued by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. The Popes flee in their van, and later, while resting at a motel, they see a television news report about themselves. The reporter states that Annie and Arthur have been wanted since 1971 for the bombing of a military research lab that developed napalm, and they should be considered armed and dangerous. Harry sees photographs of the Pattersons, Annie’s wealthy parents, in a newspaper story about the Popes and inquires about them. Because the family has been in hiding since his birth, Harry has never met his extended family. As Annie dyes Danny’s hair blonde, he complains about having to change his identity every six months. Meanwhile, Arthur goes to a library and reads obituaries, settling on “Paul Manfield” as his new identity. The family moves into a house in a small New Jersey town. From there, Arthur travels alone to New York City to trade his van for a pickup truck. A fellow revolutionary swaps car keys with him and informs Arthur that his mother died two weeks ago. She apologizes for not getting word to him sooner, but claims it was too unsafe to contact him. Back at the house, Arthur tells Annie that his mother died and says they only have each other now. Annie ... +


Seventeen-year-old Danny Pope notices two cars following him as he rides his bicycle home from a baseball game. Evading the cars, he leaves his bicycle in the woods and sneaks up to his house, sending the family dog inside to get his little brother, Harry. The boys meet their parents, Annie and Arthur, in town, and Danny informs them that he was pursued by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. The Popes flee in their van, and later, while resting at a motel, they see a television news report about themselves. The reporter states that Annie and Arthur have been wanted since 1971 for the bombing of a military research lab that developed napalm, and they should be considered armed and dangerous. Harry sees photographs of the Pattersons, Annie’s wealthy parents, in a newspaper story about the Popes and inquires about them. Because the family has been in hiding since his birth, Harry has never met his extended family. As Annie dyes Danny’s hair blonde, he complains about having to change his identity every six months. Meanwhile, Arthur goes to a library and reads obituaries, settling on “Paul Manfield” as his new identity. The family moves into a house in a small New Jersey town. From there, Arthur travels alone to New York City to trade his van for a pickup truck. A fellow revolutionary swaps car keys with him and informs Arthur that his mother died two weeks ago. She apologizes for not getting word to him sooner, but claims it was too unsafe to contact him. Back at the house, Arthur tells Annie that his mother died and says they only have each other now. Annie enrolls Danny in a new high school, but when they ask for his school records, she lies about having lost them. In music class, Danny correctly identifies Beethoven and impresses the teacher, Mr. Phillips, with his piano playing. The teacher offers to let Danny play his piano at home sometime. Soon, Arthur gets a job as a cook at an Italian restaurant, and Annie finds work as a receptionist at a doctor’s office. To maintain his anonymity, Danny skips school on picture day and goes to Mr. Phillips’s house to use the piano. Although no one answers the doorbell, Danny lets himself inside and sits down to play. Mr. Phillips’s daughter, Lorna, wanders in and tells Danny she also skipped school to avoid picture day. When Lorna asks what colleges Danny plans on applying to, he rushes away. However, the two run into each other the next day in Home Economics class. Lorna invites Danny to a chamber music performance at her house that weekend, and although Arthur forbids him from going, Danny attends. Mr. Phillips encourages Danny to play piano at intermission, but he has been trained by Arthur to keep a low profile and declines. Lorna takes Danny up to her bedroom and they flirt until Mr. Phillips comes looking for her. One day at work, Annie gets a surprise visit from Gus Winant, a fellow revolutionary. When he asks about her husband, Annie says Arthur recently worked on reforms for a Florida toxic waste dump and is now organizing a food cooperative and unionizing the workers at his restaurant. Later, Gus speaks to Arthur alone about robbing a bank for the Liberation Army, suggesting that he owes the organization a favor. Arthur vehemently refuses and calls his sons outside to show them the guns in Gus’s car, insisting that the Popes do not condone guns. Arthur leaves in a huff, and Annie rejects Gus’s sexual advances. When Arthur returns home drunk and shouting his real name loudly enough for the neighbors to hear, Annie and the boys rush to silence him. Sometime later, on a hike with Danny, Lorna complains about her parents being too nice and announces plans to move to New York and study writing. She asks about Danny’s parents, but he does not answer. As they walk on a beach, Danny searches for a found object to give to his mother for her birthday, and Lorna finds a pretty shell. Danny surprises her by suggesting she give the shell to his mother in person. Joining the Popes for Annie’s birthday dinner at home, Lorna is confused when Annie’s birthday cake has the name “Sam” written on it instead of her current pseudonym, “Cynthia.” Danny explains that it is a family tradition to call each other “Sam” on their birthdays. After opening her present from Lorna, Annie declares that she likes Danny’s girl friend, and Lorna joins the family as they dance to a song on the radio. Soon after, Mr. Phillips suggests that Danny apply to Juilliard, a performing arts conservatory in New York City, and offers to write him a recommendation. Wrought with guilt over lying to Lorna, Danny sneaks into her room at night and leads her outside, where he confesses his true identity and explains his family’s bizarre lifestyle. He says he cannot go to college because he would have to abandon his parents in order to do so. Lorna laments that Danny’s situation is unfair, and the two make love. At an audition for Juilliard arranged by Mr. Phillips, Danny impresses the jury; however, they insist they need his school records, which are still “missing.” While in New York City, Danny goes to the home of Annie’s wealthy parents and pretends to deliver a pizza just so he can catch a glimpse of his grandmother. Later, Mr. Phillips meets Annie for coffee and tells her about Danny’s successful audition. Annie pretends not to be surprised and agrees to help retrieve Danny’s misplaced school records. Later that night, she tells Arthur that their son has secretly applied to college, and he insists Danny cannot go, swearing they will never see him again if he does. Annie laments their choice to have children, and suggests they turn themselves in to authorities. Arthur refuses to go to jail for fifteen years and reminds her that they must raise Harry. Seeing her father for the first time in fourteen years, Annie meets Mr. Patterson for lunch in New York City. They argue about her decision to bomb the research laboratory, and he reminds her that a janitor was blinded and paralyzed by the explosion. Annie says the man was not supposed to be there, and defends her choice to protest the Vietnam War. When Annie informs him that Danny has been accepted into Juilliard, Mr. Patterson asks why she squandered her chance to go to the same school. Annie taught Danny to play piano, and asks her father to take custody of him so he can study at Juilliard. She promises to turn herself in to authorities when Harry is old enough, but says she cannot speak for Arthur. Although he says she is asking too much of him, Mr. Patterson agrees to take Danny before they part in tears. When Arthur gets news of Annie’s plan, he announces the family must move again. At school, Danny informs Lorna that he is leaving town, but she insists she needs him too. Danny explains his father’s strict rule that the family must stay together, but Lorna does not understand. At work, Annie learns that the FBI is questioning one of her patients, whose credit card was linked to the rental car used in Gus’s bank robbery. She panics and pulls the boys out of school, then meets Arthur at their designated emergency meeting spot by the highway. Before Danny gets in the car, however, Arthur stops him. He tells his son to stay with friends and attend Juilliard. Danny cries but remains behind as Arthur drives away with Annie and Harry. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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