“Bro is me and I am bro.”
This marks the beginning of “Either You’re In, or You’re In the Way,” a memoir and how-to book by young film-makers (and twin brothers) Logan and Noah Miller. After washing out of minor league baseball, the boys decided that instead of working on construction back home in Northern California, they’d crash on their buddy’s floor in Los Angeles and become screenwriters. Their first film, “Touching Home,” chronicles the story of the brothers and their father, a talented craftsman and roofer who died in poverty after succumbing to alcoholism.
With no money, no contacts, and no initial clue about how to make a movie, the two young men proceeded to produce, direct and star in their film, opposite famed actors Ed Harris and Brad Dourif, within one year. The film is tentatively slated for release sometime this fall. The Millers gave Blast movie critic Emma Rose Johnson a call from their home in Northern California to discuss inspiration, fate and Brad Dourif’s theories on goat milk. In form true to the first line of the Millers’ book, they speak in one voice.
Emma Rose Johnson: First, I just want to congratulate you on the film and on the book — it sounds like it was great experience for you guys. And, really, quite extraordinary, the fact that you guys managed to pull this together, with nothing that people usually would have. I would just like to talk briefly about how you became interested in film. You two started out wanting to be ballplayers. When did you think this was a better route?
Miller Brothers: Thank you first of all for the compliment. We always loved movies growing up. We tried to go to as many movies as possible — we’d usually go to the 11 a.m., the matinee, and then you know, just sneak around jumping from one movie theater to the next (laughter). Actually, no, we paid for every single movie — I just want to make that clear we don’t do that anymore. And we had a buddy who was living in Los Angeles — I don’t know if you know the geography out West, but we were living in Tucson at the time, and Tucson is connected to Los Angeles on I-10, it’s a straight shot and I-10 would take us to I-5, which would take us up to Northern California. We didn’t really want to go back home and pound nails, and our buddy said, “Hey look, you guys need to go through L.A. on your way home, why don’t you guys just crash on the floor of my apartment for a few months until you figure out what you want to do with your lives.” (Actually it was a few weeks, which turned into a few months.)
So we went and crashed on our buddy’s floor. Baseball hadn’t worked out, and we wanted to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. And we always had people growing up telling us, “Do what you love.” So baseball was our first love and movies were sort of our second favorite thing to do. And we had this story that we wanted to tell about our dad and we wanted to turn it into a movie. So we bought a book on screenwriting, called “Lew Hunter’s 434” and we read it. It just sort of made sense to us. So we started writing the screenplay for “Touching Home” about us and our dad. We got the writing bug after that.
EJ: When I read the book, it really is a fascinating insight into the world of film making, especially on the West coast. You worked with non-professional actors in Tucson, you worked with people who’d just come to California to get their start and then you worked with major people in production, people like Robert Dalva, and then of course with Ed Harris and Brad Dourif. What was it like working in this nexus between A-list people and people who were just hoping for a break?
MB: It was a very exciting dynamic, I think. You had a passion and a desire and the really intensive enthusiasm of people that were like us, like first-timers; and then you had the insight and the wisdom and the experience and also the passion of the veterans. It really created a very exciting sort of mixture with a really diverse crew. Each side sort of fed off of each other you had the young, passionate up-and-comers, and the seasoned veterans that provided insight and experience. So it was pretty fascinating. I think the veterans got a kick out of working with the people who were trying to break in, and the first-timers did with them.
EJ: You did get to work with some truly terrific actors. Was it frightening being in control of all that talent?
MB: I think you have the same fears and doubts as anyone going into this. But we weren’t going to allow that fear to prevent us from realizing our dream from making this movie. And at the same time we tried to break out of that intimidation by saying “These are people just like us who are actually here to help us make our movie, not hinder us from making our movie.” We said in the book that making movies is a team art. So we had this extraordinary team of people who are helping us make the movie. Ed [Harris] came up two days early to rehearse and get to know us a little more and we drove out to all the locations and talked about our dad quite a bit; Ed was trying to discover who our dad was. And he asked us where we could have a good cheeseburger, and we knew this burger joint called Ebenezer down the road, and we got burger and shakes. About half way through he said, “I want to let you know that I understand what you guys are up against, and that you’ve got a tremendous amount of pressure on you. But I’m here to help you realize your dream, so I’m here for you guys. Whatever you need just let me know.” And that released a lot of pressure, the moment he said that.
EJ: So it almost helped having a guy there who knew that this was hard, who knew the score.
EJ: You talk a lot about angels in your book, people who just sort of fell into your lap who were just terrific and really brought you forward. I think a lot of people have this image of the film industry as just soulless and unhelpful, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for you.
MB: Well, it’s not like we didn’t meet a lot of soulless people. No, we just highlighted the people that we were able to get on board and who believed in us. We were really extremely fortunate, that there were so many people that helped us along the way. It definitely gave us a really positive outlook of the movie business in general, I would say. At least the people that made movies, from the actors to the crew, to everyone involved overall in the production — we were really, really, fortunate to assemble a team that we did. We got really lucky.
EJ: There were so many ways that this could have failed. Do you think there’s an idea that maybe fate was in play here?
MB: I guess whatever you call it — faith, luck, coincidence, I think you could bundle them all together. We never had many breaks prior to that, and then all of a sudden it just started happening for us. I guess I feel like our dad was with us, because there were so many times when it seemed like this kind of miraculous event occurred that actually was in our favor. So we definitely felt like our dad was pulling some strings from somewhere. Whatever you luck he had that he wasn’t able to use in life he used it to help us in death. I think that also, we’re not afraid to ask people for help or to place a phone call to a stranger. I think the world opens up to you if you’re willing to just go after it.
EJ: I’m a massive fan of Brad Dourif, and I was wondering if you could just talk about working with him for a minute. He sounded just so interesting and strange.
MB: He’s a fascinating, fascinating man. We call him a genius. He’s one of the smartest people we’ve ever met. You can have a conversation with him on astronomy, and rocket science, and then switch right into the nutritive qualities of goat milk. I’m serious.
EJ: You had a conversation about goat milk?
MB: Oh yeah, absolutely! He told us all about the health benefits and the importance of rearing children on goat milk — I wish I could remember more of the details. He has an expansive intellect and he’s really extraordinary artist. He’s very eccentric, in a good way, a way that keeps you fascinated and keeps you curious. He taught us quite a bit about the art of not just acting but of film making in general. He’s done so many movies that if he wanted to, he could direct. That’s how extensive his knowledge is of the overall craft. He’s definitely one of a kind. I’ve never met anybody like him.
EJ: I have to ask — you guys talk about “sleep-directing” which is this weird hallucination/dream while you were in production. Has that stopped?
MB: Oh, no, that just lasted a short time. Now we just don’t sleep. I’d much rather be sleep-directing than have no sleep. Yeah it’s pretty crazy — I think because it’s so intense when you’re shooting you don’t…that’s you’re still in it when you’re sleeping because you’re so completely focused with your entire mind, solving all these problems. So then when you try to go to sleep you’re still in that, you can’t escape it. I don’t know if you’ve ever waited tables, or done any sort of job where it’s the same exercise over and over and over, and you try to go to sleep that night and you’re still doing that, that’s what happens when you’re directing.
EJ: What gave you the idea to write a book about your experience?
MB (Logan): We had no intention of writing a book, until we started telling people how we made our movie. We got in the editing room, and had a little bit of time to where we would run into people on the street and catch them up on what we’ve been doing for the past year. And almost to the person, when we would tell our story, they would go, “Wow, you should make that your next movie, or write a book about it.” For a while we didn’t really give much thought to it. We figured we needed time to finish the movie. But we kept hearing it over and over, and Noah kept saying, “Look, we should write the book,” and I kept saying, “We’re editing the movie right now, we don’t have time, how are we going to write this book?” And he kept saying, “Look, Robert, our editor, he doesn’t show up until 10:30 or 11. We could get up at 5:30, write until Robert shows up, and we’ll have first draft in a few months and we’ll be glad that we did it.” He kept pounding me every single day, over and over again. “We gotta write this book, we gotta write this book, we gotta write this book.” Finally, I just gave in because I just wanted him to shut up.