Millers' crossing: Bay Area-born brothers Logan and Noah Miller (here with Brad Dourif) wrote, directed and star in "Touching Home." (Photo courtesy SFFS)

SFIFF51: The Miller Brothers on writing, pitching, acting, directing, and hitting one out of the ballpark

Susan Gerhard April 16, 2008

Right about now, San Franciscans could use a baseball story that warms hearts as opposed to chilling souls. Touching Home by Bay Area-raised identical twins Logan and Noah Miller is a largely autobiographical coming-of-age film that radiates sincerity. Two major league hopefuls contending with their alcoholic father and some bad luck round the bases of West Marin with steadfast purpose and occasional humor. More impressive than the gleam of these two new actors’ smiles and the polish of this debut film’s editing and cinematography is the chutzpah the twins demonstrated in getting actors like Ed Harris and Robert Forster to play major roles. Less likely, perhaps, than being called up to the big leagues was their capture of actor Harris’s attention in the alley of the Castro Theatre after a 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival tribute. They showed him a short trailer of their project, and a short while later, they got the call that he would be solidly behind it. The film makes its world premiere Saturday, April 26, during SFIFF51. got a chance to ask the twins about baseball and miracles over email last week.

This week, runs a special series of interviews with Bay Area filmmakers in the upcoming San Francisco International Film Festival. SFIFF51 runs April 24-May 8 at the Sundance Kabuki, Castro, Pacific Film Archive, Clay Theatre and other locations. Where are you from? Can you describe it in a little detail?

Logan and Noah Miller: We were born in Lagunitas, California. It probably wasn’t even a town then, just a bunch of redwood trees and outlaws. But they ran off the outlaws, so now we live in Fairfax, which is just a little bigger, but still small. What was your training as filmmakers?

Millers: Playing baseball, books, movies, people watching, and spending a lot of time in nature, observing how it grows, dies, its cycles, noticing the gradations of light through the trees and on the hills, how it alters the way things look throughout the day. and listening to the various sounds and how they affect the mood of the environment. When the creeks are running, nature can be loud and tumultuous, like after a storm, or vibrant and rhythmic in the spring, or buzzing with heat in the summer; these rhythms are similar to the drama and pacing of a movie. They tell a story, both visually and aurally. Baseball taught us the value of working with others, discipline and hard work. Baseball is a team sport. Making movies is team art. They’re both collaborative. There are many parallels between sports and art, only the training differs, that’s all, but so does the training for each art form. A sculptor and a pianist study different techniques, work in separate mediums. But they’re both artists. Perhaps the only difference between an athlete and an artist is our narrow definitions. Is a ballerina an athlete or an artist? Or both?. You see, sports and art might not be as dissimilar as some might think. When did you first start conceiving of this film?

Millers: Playing pro baseball had been our dream since we had dreams. When it didn’t work out, we asked ourselves what is our second love—MOVIES! We knew we could/can always go back to digging ditches or tearing-off roofs, and we weren’t ready to surrender. So we bought a book on screenwriting, Lew Hunter’s 434. We read it. It made sense. And we started writing. Touching Home is a story about us and our father, about his struggles with alcoholism and our struggles with him. It gave us a way to express our frustrations, our pain, our anxiety, our insecurities. Athletics had always been a way for us to escape. Whenever we played baseball we were happy, we tuned out everything else. Writing. making this movie, was a way to channel and reconcile the pain of our father’s death, a way to say goodbye. To memorialize him, really. It was cathartic. What’s been your main pursuit for your lives thus far?

Millers: The perfect cup of coffee. What was your big break in terms of getting it made?

Millers: Receiving the Panavision New Filmmaker grant and Ed Harris. The grant allowed us to shoot a two-minute trailer, which we then showed Ed on our laptop in an alley outside the Castro Theatre. Ed liked what he saw, took our script, and called us at our apartment nine days later saying he wanted to be in our movie. Ed Harris took a huge risk on a couple of unproven nobodies. This was just a few months after our father died. We were pretty low, and Ed picked us up. You always hear about the bad that celebrities do, but you seldom hear about the good. Well, Ed did the good. The deal was sealed on a handshake over a cup of coffee, no joke. What Ed did for us is extraordinary. He put his career on the line and at the same time allowed us to say goodbye to our father. Where did you film it?

Millers: Three days in Tucson, and the rest in West Marin, where we grew up. What were the biggest challenges in filming it?

Millers: When you’re filming, every day is the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your world could blow up. And our world nearly blew up many times. Trivial matters (like a flat tire on the grip truck) can throw you into a nuclear winter. We produced the movie, raised the financing, so we had financial obligations that we needed to fulfill. Simultaneously wearing the business and creative hats was rough. Our brains felt like ping-pong.

One minute we’d be on a technical scout and the next we’d be rehearsing with an actor, then somebody would call and say we lost a location because the owner of the house doesn’t want us to shoot there unless we cough up more money that we don’t have and then an actor’s agent wants to scream at us about travel arrangements and then we call our line producer, Jeromy—great guy—and see if we can afford a first-class plane ticket—which we can’t—and then we need to rewrite a scene because it’s not playing well and we still haven’t hired a caterer for tomorrow, and if we don’t hire a caterer pronto the crew will riot and eat us. And we still need to learn our lines for the scene we’re shooting in 5 minutes. We straddled two worlds throughout filming. We didn’t sleep much, but we were living life at its top. What was your biggest surprise?

Millers: How Ed transformed into our father. He resurrected him; his posture, his speaking cadence, his gestures, his laugh, his sense of humor. It was uncanny, especially when you consider that we have no video or voice recordings of our dad, only photos. When Ed walked onto the set, it shocked people who knew our father, made them gasp. We gave Ed some letters that our dad wrote to us from jail. They helped inform Ed’s choices. Then we read the script with Ed, and answered questions about our dad, as we watched Ed transform. Our father died penniless in jail, and Ed Harris, a movie star, resurrected him. Ed respected our father for all his difficulties, for all his troubles. He didn’t judge him. What movies helped you model this one?

Millers: This is a reflection on our father’s life, an evocation of our relationship with him, so we never really looked at other movies to model. But if we had to name a few, let’s go with Tender Mercies, Breaking Away, beautiful, simple movies that do a lot with a little. What are you working on next?

Millers: We just finished writing the book about making Touching Home; starting with our father’s death, to the Panavision Grant, to cornering Ed Harris in the alley, raising the money, shooting, and now premiering at the SFIFF. We’re also polishing up the script for movie number two. It’s a juxtaposition of Godzilla’s inner fears of tall buildings and power lines with Rambo’s quest for the World Presidency in 2012. Stupid jokes aside, we have a shelf of scripts that we can’t wait to shoot!

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