It is almost universally agreed upon that Hollywood is a terrible place. A soulless corner of the earth where creativity, ingenuity and love go to die. Watch any film or read any book about making movies, and you’ll find a coterie of deceitful producers, unpleasant agents and wide-eyed blondes from the mid-West who do Terrible Things for fame. It’s the James Ellroy school of thought.
Then there are the Miller brothers.
Logan and Noah Miller, twin brothers from Northern California, had a very singular experience with the Hollywood machine, which they describe with pinache and infectious style in their first book “Either You’re in, or You’re in the Way.” The brothers, after the death of their father, made a promise to get their script “Touching Home” made into a film within one year, with Ed Harris as the star. One year. With no money, and no real contacts in Hollywood. THe book tells the story of that eventful year, in which they wheeled, dealed, and maneuvered every level of the film industry to make their dream come true. They worked with everyone from non-professional actors and young hopefuls, to method actors, to angry teamsters, to Academy Award-winning production people. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that they’re successful in their quest; though the book is a mix of memoir, family history, and how-to book for young, aspiring film makers, “Either You’re In” is actually a fascinating look at the way such success always happens in America: a madcap combination of hard work, daring, embellishment and a heavy dose of pure dumb luck.
In case you’re keeping count, there are literally thousands of ways this enterprise could have failed, and part of the great fun of the book is watching two young, gregarious, slightly wild men walk into big important offices, with big important people, and manage to wrangle talent, support and money out of them. Instead of the faceless monster of Big Hollywood, we see reasonable people who truly, actually want to see a creative duo succeed in their quest. The brothers wrote the film about their father, a brilliant craftsman and roofer who fell to alcoholism and became homeless for years before his death.
The brothers (who speak as one being, saying in the beginning of the book “Bro is me and I am bro.”) have a knack for easy and capable, if not terribly complex, storytelling. As the overarching arc (two guys with a dream) is somewhat trite, the true gems lie in the characters who people the landscape of their story. Especially delightful is their strange experience working with brilliant character actor Brad Dourif, who loves astronomy and cannot work without a hi-definition television, a moving scene where they have lunch at a burger joint with true mensch Ed Harris and a hysterical night they spend in Tuscon pulling off a difficult scene while their ruffian assistants get drunk on the set.
This is a truly American story — a couple of outlaws breaking all the rules and getting fame and glory in the process (there’s a reason one major chunk of the book is called “Desert Shoot-Out”). I’m a pretty cynical person, but who doesn’t want to see these guys strike it rich with a little film they wrote, produced, directed and starred in themselves, with nothing to their names but about $50,000 in credit card debt? If anyone in the sunlit universe of Southern California can prove Ellroy wrong, these are the two to do it.