There's Always Something Better Over the Horizon
A conversation with author/filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller
by Amy Tsaykel
Logan and Noah Miller were working-class twentysomethings chasing big baseball dreams when their homeless, alcoholic father died in Marin County Jail. Against considerable odds, the tenacious twins parlayed their grief into the film Touching Home. Its creation was unorthodox, from the financing (17 credit cards) to the contracts (what contracts?) to the casting (ambushing Ed Harris to offer him the lead role). Their memoir, Either You're In or You're in the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months, and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father chronicles the adventure in a story likely to inspire creative people of all stripes. Here, "the Bros" open up about their hard-won success and the events that led them to it.
Much of your film and book are set in West Marin County, where you grew up. What was your childhood like there?
[Miller Brothers]: Back then, West Marin was just sort of a bunch of hippies and people who wanted some space-dairy ranchers, people working in construction, and artists. It's always been a fairly rich artistic community.
We loved just being outdoors-running in the hills, fishing, riding our bikes, catching crawdads in Samuel P. Taylor Creek. We started playing baseball as soon as we could pick up the ball. It was just sort of natural for us, because you need two people to play catch. And our dad loved baseball, so I think he kind of infected us with his love for the game.
Your film and book are inspired by and dedicated to your father. Talk a bit about him. How old were you he became homeless?
[Miller Brothers]: We were maybe 14. He was an enigma, very difficult to figure. He worked every day as a roofer; he just happened to live in his truck. As kids, I don't know that we ever understood. We thought, "Dad, how do you work every day, but you live in your truck and you're broke?" Later, we found out that he was drinking and gambling.
He was a beautiful man when he wasn't drinking ... very charismatic and funny. That's what was so tough about it. We couldn't give up on him, because we saw all those beautiful qualities when he wasn't drinking. Just when we were about to give up, he'd sober up, and we'd have the time of our lives.
The book is a memoir of your filmmaking experience. How did writing it compare with making the movie?
[Miller Brothers]: Making the movie was a very unstable, precarious situation, and it brought on so much anxiety because we had no experience to guide our actions. Everything was just sort of instinctual. We had mentors that we would consult, but still, we were battling the weather and money.
But then writing the memoir was kind of like this release-a pleasurable experience, an extremely enjoyable experience.
The crazy thing is that for everything we've ever written previously -- 12 screenplays and a 700-page novel -- we know on exactly which day each passage was written, where we were, distinct moments. But we don't have a clue about this book. We don't even remember writing it, other than that we got up each morning and wrote before Robert Dalva, our film editor, showed up. We were still making the movie at the time.
On Saturday, June 6, Touching Home will screen before thousands at AT&T park as part of Bookstock.
Forum Radio Interview of Logan and Noah Miller
Listen online to the interview by Michael Krasny.
What do you each bring to the creative process — to writing and filmmaking — that allows you to work as a team?
[Logan]: For the film, Noah did more of the visual planning and storyboarding with our digital camera, and would usually speak to our cinematographer. I noticed the nuances of acting, and would usually talk to the actors a little bit more. We divided the labor up that way.
[Noah]: As far as the writing goes, I prefer to write freehand, and Logan prefers to type. That's just sort of a matter of circumstance, because when we first started writing, we didn't have a computer. Once we got a computer, we had to learn how to type. When we got the typing software, somehow Logan just started typing, and I continued to write freehand. What we'll do is usually just go for a couple of hours, then we'll blend what we wrote. There's definitely a lot of arguing and fighting!
Do you have any advice for people who are trying to tell their stories, in whatever medium?
[Miller Brothers]: Go after your dreams, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. It takes a lot of hard work, and you have to be prepared. But luck will come.
It took a long time for us to get lucky. We've always kept this hope and optimism, that, "Okay, this is just short-term. But long-term, there's where we're gonna go. The next step is gonna be better; whatever is next is gonna be better..."
It's that sort of attitude that you find out in the West — that there's something over the horizon, always something better over the horizon.
Also on KQED.org this week ...
Drought Watch 2015: Record-Low Sierra Snowpack
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which typically supplies nearly a third of California's water, is showing the lowest water content on record: 6 percent of the long-term average for April 1. That shatters last year's low-water mark of 25 percent (tied with 1977).
"Boomtown" History of the San Francisco Bay Area
KQED's "Boomtown" series will seek to identify what is happening in real time in the current boom, and also draw out the causes and possible solutions to the conflicts and pressures between the old and the new.