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Rookie Film Makers Hit Homer
by Don Schwartz
South Carolina, Hollywood, How 'Bout Marin? Noah and Logan Miller block out ideas between scenes on the set of their freshman film, "Touching Home," now being released nationwide.
Self-Taught Twins Turn Family Tragedy in to a Narrative of Self-Healing, Good Writing, and Success
This is as magical a nonfiction story I've experienced since I-don't-know-when. Two guys - identical twins, 28 years old, born and raised in Marin County, aspiring baseball players, day laborers, with no experience whatsoever in front of or behind the camera - decide to write, produce, direct, and star in a feature film. Called "Touching Home," it turns out to be studio quality, utilizing the world famous local facilities of Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic, and features Ed Harris.
They are the Miller Brothers, Logan and Noah, or "The Bros," as they like to call themselves, a couple of handsome and friendly kids but already embedded in the film business and there to stay.
Chronicling their hardscrabble lives growing up in the supposedly idyllic Marin County but with an alcoholic father (Harris), "Touching Home" premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival last year, and opens at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on April 29. The first offering from the Mill Valley Film Festival's new distribution wing, CFI Releasing, see
, with an "art house open" nation-wide April 30.
The Bros first book will also be premiering. "Either You're In or You're in the Way" covers their incredible film journey and has just been published by HarperCollins, with a paperback edition coming out for the film's opening.
For the purposes of this interview, I suggested addressing them as "the royal you," not specifying who is speaking, to which they agreed.
Don Schwartz: Where were you born?
Noah/Logan: We were born in Lagunitas, California.
Where did the story on which "Touching Home" is based take place?
Where it was shot - Fairfax, Lagunitas, Nicasio, out in the redwoods where our dad used to park his truck, and Page Mill Creek Saloon.
When did you start playing baseball?
When we could first hold a baseball.
Like we see in the movie, have you always been together as a team?
We've always stuck together. We lived in different states for a little while when we were on the road playing baseball.
What were you doing before you made the film?
After playing baseball we were writing every day and working any odd job we could find to pay the bills, so that we could write.
Did you have any previous experience whatsoever with film or television before you tackled this film?
You said you were writing?
We were writing screenplays, but nothing produced. Nothing paid for. No work for hire.
How did you learn to write screenplays?
We bought a book called "Lou Hunter's Screenwriting 434." And we read as many screenplays as we could.
When, how, and why did the idea of producing the movie happen?
Once our father passed away, we made a vow that we were going to make "Touching Home" that year. Early on we had talked to people who called themselves producers, we waited around, and they didn't do anything. And we just said, okay, we're not going to wait around for people to produce our movie. We're gonna produce it. It just got to the point where we were leading the charge, and we weren't going to wait for anybody. We hadn't planned on producing it. We had no idea how to produce a movie. We had no experience. And so we went down to the bookstore and bought some books on how to produce.
Getting back to the vow. Did your father participate in that vow, or was that your idea?
We were at the morgue and we were saying good-bye to our dad, and in that moment of grief and overwhelming pain we just said okay, we're not going to let this tragedy keep us down, we're going to turn it into something positive. And it's also because our dad knew about the movie, and he always used to ask us, 'when are you going to make our movie?'
So he knew about your idea, your dream?
A Scene From 'Touching Home' leading up to an explosive scene where the brothers go at it hard.
Yes, he knew about the screenplay. And also we had joked about getting Ed Harris to play the role of our dad. We were visiting our dad shortly before he died, and he asked us, 'Who's going to play me? He's gotta be good-lookin.' And we said, 'Oh, yeah, we're going to get Ed Harris to play you dad.' And it was a joke, though. We were just playing around.
Why Marin? Why the Bay Area?
That's where we're from, and since it's an autobiographical piece we wanted to shoot it where we grew up. It was one of those rare situations where we could have access to the real places where the events took place.
In addition to everything else, you acted for the first time. How did you tackle that?
We took a cold reading class several years ago. That was our introduction to acting. We also read a lot of books and observed people talking, having coffee, dinner, eavesdropping - forming our own opinions of good acting. If you were to hide a video camera at a coffee shop and record the conversations, the acting would be full of truth. It's when people get on camera that they stop being themselves, stop being sincere, stop being genuine. They become affected. Everyone can read a fake smile off camera. Why would it be any different on it? The point is to tell the truth and listen. Listen and react. But then again, what do we know? As far as preparation, we needed to go back to our former selves, strip down the emotions, forget about the tools we've developed over the years that have allowed us to stay out of trouble. We were terribly impulsive back then. We didn't have the intellectual outlets or tools we have now. It was all about going back to an earlier time in our lives. A mean time. A desperate time.
What were the highs and lows of establishing your locations?
The highs were that we could film a lot of the locations where the scenes actually took place. It helped us to go deeper into those memories. We were standing on the ground where something happened. It made it much more of an emotional journey. And it's also, in a comparison to sports, like having a home game. You're on your home field, in front of your supportive people, and you could go home at night. After work, if there was any time, you could meet with some friends that you'd grown up with. It was a wonderful experience.
And the lows? What was it like getting permission to shoot?
For the most part, it was a lot of work, but it was easy hard work. Does that make any sense? For the most part, people were very supportive - allowing us to use their house, their locations.
What about dealing with municipal or county bureaucracies?
Yeah, you're always going to have that. I don't want to go too deep into that, but that is, sort of, never easy. And just is part of the business.
And so you went through those hoops?
Only when we absolutely had to. There were some times when we decided to ask for permission... after the fact. We had some calls where there were agreements in place, and I can think of one instance where we were supposed to shoot the next morning, and we got a call that afternoon saying we couldn't use it. We had to drive out to Nicasio, and plead with the people, and get on the phone. We ended up working it out.
Another way of phrasing that question is given that you are producers now, and you can now get funding based upon your success, would you be willing to shoot again in Marin?
Oh, we'd love to. We were just taking a walk last night, in Fairfax and San Anselmo, talking about this movie idea we have that we'd love to shoot here. It'd be perfect.
What did you do and what happened to enable two inexperienced or non-experienced people to produce a studio quality movie with Ed Harris, Skywalker Sound, and ILM?
A couple things that we told ourselves early on was to surround ourselves with grey hair and listen. And so we tried to create the best team possible. You know, making movies is a team art, and so we just assembled the best team that we could. And people provided their expertise. Gordon Radley is the former President of LucasFilm, and he's been a mentor to us for a number of years. And he has contributed significantly to our education.
How did you finance the film?
We found an investor - in Sacramento - actually three investors. But a guy named Brian Vail underwrote 93% of it.
We're busy writing. We just finished writing a TV pilot, a new screenplay, and we just started a book of humorous essays. But we can't wait to get out and direct something again. There's just no financing in place yet for the next project. So, we're just writin' away.
What is your ideal vision?
We'd love to be making movies out of here, have a company up here, based out of here, makin' movies.
Don Schwartz is an actor/writer from Larkspur, CA. working to bring production back to N. California.
Posted on Apr 03, 2010 - 11:41 AM