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Word of Mouth: Logan and Noah Miller defy odds in making 'Touching Home'

They had no show business experience, only a resolve to fulfill a wish to their dying dad: that they would make a movie based on their father's difficult life.

December 16, 2010|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times
  • Twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, right, multi-tasked on their first feature film, "Touching Home," which they wrote, produced, directed and starred.
Twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, right, multi-tasked on their first… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

The new indie drama "Touching Home," arriving at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood on Friday, is unlikely to register more than a blip at the box office. Starring Ed Harris as a man who wrestles with sobriety and compulsive gambling as he labors to raise two sons, the film hasn't been generating the level of reviews that art-house releases must have to flourish; in limited rollout from upstart distributor CFI Releasing, "Touching Home" has grossed just a little more than $100,000 over the course of several months in a handful of cities.

But the film represents something that's always refreshing — and constantly rare — to see in Hollywood: filmmakers whose passion repeatedly defied the laws of show business physics.

Written and directed by 33-year-old newcomers Logan and Noah Miller, baseball players who didn't quite have the talent to play in the big leagues, the movie is based on their real-life experiences with their father, Daniel Miller, who died in early 2006 at age 49.

Before his death, the identical siblings promised their father they would make a movie inspired by his difficult life, and despite their lack of show business experience, Noah and Logan pledged to themselves and his memory that they wouldn't be deterred.

"We wanted to prove that his life was important, that he was loved, that his final chapter was not the shameful end on a jail cell floor — that his life had been worth living," the Millers write in 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 Made to Their Father."

Harris plays Charlie Winston, a character based on the twins' father; Logan and Noah play Winston's adult sons in the film. Strains between father and children are pushed beyond limits, especially after Winston steals money set aside by Clint (Noah Miller) so that the young man can pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

"They set their mind on something," Harris says. "And they studied the heck out of it."

The obstacles to making the movie were both obvious and profound — which they will discuss with Harris in a question-and-answer session following Sunday's 7:40 p.m. screening at the Sunset 5.

The Millers, who lived in Northern California and now reside in Santa Monica, didn't know how to write a screenplay, let alone direct a movie. They had neither money nor contacts. What they lacked in essentials, though, they more than made up for with determination, and no small amount of good fortune.

"We had no road map — no experience — other than common sense," Logan says.

Having furiously read up on what it takes to make a movie, the Millers knew they needed a star, and approached (some might say accosted) Harris after a retrospective screening of 1984's "A Flash of Green," one of the actor's first films, at San Francisco's Castro Theatre. After crashing their way up to Harris, the twins showed him a trailer for "Touching Home" that they had cobbled together and handed the star of "Pollock" and "Apollo 13" their screenplay.

In talking a few weeks ago about that 2006 meeting with Harris, the Millers downplayed the enormity of their request. "All we were asking from Ed was for him to be in the movie," Logan says. "We weren't asking him to produce it or finance it."

Nine days after the Millers met him, Harris called to say he'd do the film. The actor says he was moved by the twins' sincerity. "They were irrepressible and they were very passionate about wanting to tell the story about their father," Harris says. "And they seemed like decent guys. I told them I would give them two weeks."

If every movie that gets made has its share of luck — some of it bad, most of it good — the Millers might have used up a lifetime of providence in assembling "Touching Home." Chance encounters yielded access to key locations, weather miraculously cooperated, money came through at the last minute, and several other recognizable actors — including Robert Forster and Brad Dourif — agreed to act for the untested filmmakers alongside Harris.

"We like to think that we had such bad luck for so many years that it has all evened out," Noah says. Adds Logan: "We certainly had an extraordinary amount of good luck. But our dad died in jail and was homeless for much of his life."

If making the film itself was difficult, finding a distributor was just as challenging. "Touching Home" is being released by CFI, a new offshoot from the organization that presents the Mill Valley Film Festival and runs the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, a nonprofit movie house outside San Francisco.

The twins are now represented by a major talent agency ( William Morris Endeavor), and are finishing a young adult novel they hope can be turned into their next film. "I'm glad we jumped into the fire," Noah says. "Because it gives you a decent understanding of everything it takes to get a movie made."

Harris says "Touching Home" won't be their last film.

"I think they do have a future as actors and directors," Harris says from France, where he is promoting his Peter Weir film "The Way Back." "I'd work with them again. I really love their attitude about life. It's really refreshing."

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