Office Race is a running movie for runners, by runners… well, by one runner. It’s the first feature written by James Kilmoon and Jared Lapidus, also known as the sketch comedy team Reverse Cowboys, and is Jared’s directorial debut. James ran on the NYU cross country team while the two were college roommates, and is still an avid runner.
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The film has plenty of laughs for non-runners, but a lot of the humor will probably go over their heads. Beneath the slapstick exterior though, there’s a genuine love of the sport, and the depiction of the warmth and camaraderie of the running community may very well make them want to get in on the joke.
James and Jared grew up on sports movies like Major League, Kingpin, and Happy Gilmore. They knew that they wanted to make a film like those, and, James says, “Obviously as a runner, running is near and dear to my heart, and we wanted to set the comedy in that world. And so it’s about a guy that’s not a runner, played by Beck Bennett, who ends up agreeing to run a marathon to try to win over a client at work and it becomes a winner-take-all event when he steals his charity’s money to bet it up against his boss, played by Joel McHale. And then hilarity ensues, which is something you’re never supposed to write out. You’re never supposed to say it’s funny; you have to show it. But for the podcast, I’ll say that.”
The making of Office Race was a marathon itself. In 2016, Jared was directing a short form scripted series, Poker Nights, and one of the producers, Brian Hunt, asked him how he would feel about developing a feature-length film about the world of running with him. Jared told him that not only did he feel great about it, but his writing partner was a runner, and so the seven-year odyssey from conception to release began.
Jared and James initially thought that they would write a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary, like Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman. “We figured that would just be much more producible,” Jared says. “And we were thinking pretty small at that point. And then we said, ‘Let’s just go for broke here. We really want to make a scripted narrative.’” They wrote a treatment and after trying unsuccessfully to raise money to finance writing the screenplay, decided to go ahead and write it on spec. “Finally, in 2019, we felt like we had it at a place where we were excited to take it out to the industry at large and try to attach some talent. Initially we were an indie film and we were gonna shoot in the fall of 2019, but couldn’t put the money together. We said, ‘Let’s push to 2020,’ and COVID scuttled us. Then we found out Comedy Central was getting into the movie business. They took us on, we developed it with them for about two years, reconstituted the cast, and then finally got the green light to shoot it in the spring of 2023.”
Comedy Central wasn’t specifically looking for a running movie, but they wanted an ensemble comedy that harkened back to the films of the 80s and 90s, which was exactly what James and Jared had in mind when they wrote the screenplay. As an additional homage to the movies of that era, producer Hunt was dead set on getting original songs for the film, like Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” from Top Gun, or Lindsey Buckingham’s theme for National Lampoon’s Vacation, “Holiday Road.”
“He managed to get the script into the hands of Bryan Adams who read the script, loved it,” Jared says. “We were hoping to get a song out of him. He wound up writing two songs for the film, both of which are featured, and it’s insane. He also took it upon himself to make music videos for the songs and he put them on his YouTube channel. One’s sort of a pop anthem and the other one’s more of a somber ballad. They’re really great songs in their own right, and he did a really nice job incorporating the themes of the movie and the themes of Pat [Beck Bennet’s character] into the lyrics.”
While the comedy is broad, the movie is surprisingly nuanced in its depiction of runners and their world. Running scenes in a movie are often unrealistic, but James and Jared made sure to avoid that pitfall. Some of the cast are runners themselves; Joel McHale is an accomplished marathoner. Knowing that James is a runner, actors would ask him for tips about their stride, or what stretches they could do to appear convincing in their roles. “Also, when we’re hiring the crew and stuff, we really want people that have a personal connection to it,” James says. “Like our props mistress, Rebecca Kenyon, is a big runner and she’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ve got everything.’ So she had the sticks, the lacrosse ball, the golf ball, all the different size balls you roll out for your feet, all that. And so little drips and drops come out throughout the movie and you kind of notice it in the background stuff. We really wanted to feel authentic.”
The current SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes have meant that Office Race’s cast haven’t been able to promote the movie. There couldn’t be a big premiere to celebrate its release, although Jared and James held a screening for the NYU track team and flew down to Atlanta to watch it with the crew. “So those both felt really fun and were great,” James says. “But we’ve never been able to have that really big, ‘This is it’ moment that we thought we would have. But overall, we’re just so proud of this movie and that we’re able to do it and the product itself, so it definitely calls for celebration. But yeah, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a muted part of it.”
“My heart goes out to all of the productions that were shut down or delayed indefinitely because of the strike,” Jared adds. “So I’m just thankful that we got it made. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to have that sort of cathartic premiere, and the opportunity to watch it with the cast, and have that sort of stamp of finality to it. But, as James is saying, we got our own version of that. We were just down in Atlanta screening the film for the Atlanta Track Club and we shot the film in Atlanta. And thankfully, a lot of the crew came out and it was really nice to be able to share and experience the film with them. And that was the closest thing we’ll have to a premiere. So that was a really special moment. And sort of a nice full circle. It provided closure, I think, on the whole thing, which was great.”
Office Race is available on demand from Comedy Central on cable, and through streaming services.
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