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Exclusive Interview with ďThe Still Life" Director Joel Miller

Posted by Fara Kearnes on August 29, 2005 11:26 PM |

First-time director Joel Miller explores the fragile separation between failure and success in his debut film "The Still Life" due out next year. The film stars Jason Barry ("Titanic" "Conspiracy of Silence") who plays a reclusive, alcoholic artist who accidentally develops a new genre of art one night during an emotional breakdown.

Called Destructionism, the new art form makes him a star. He struggles to cope with his newfound fame while dealing with his own self-loathing. As Julian loses touch with the artist he truly desires to be, his personal life spins out of control. The movie co-stars Terry Moore ("Welcome Back Little Sheba"), Rachel Miner ("Bully"), and Don S. Davis ("Stargate SG-1").

I talked with Joel Miller in this exclusive interview for biggeststars.com:

FK: Why do you choose this story of an artist for your first film?

JK: I wanted to make an independent art film, and what better subject is there than art for an art movie? I figured I would take the idea of art film to the max and try to get my script made. Iíve actually written twelve feature films now, but I chose "The Still Life" because this film is more personal for me than some of my other screenplays and because of budget purposes. I knew it would be a cheap film to make ó or could be. I also have a strong background in art and it helps to be doing something that means something to you personally. This film means a lot to me.

FK: You have a background in so many areas besides art ó modeling, writing, music, film ó was becoming a director the next logical step, a way to mesh these talents together?

JM: I never thought of it that way but it sure does sound good. For me, my next "step" was to complete a film project and impress the leaders in the field. I set out to learn about filmmaking while doing it. I surrounded myself with very talented people and kept pushing no matter what happened. I know that my film is not just good but a feat!

I also know from my experiences in both the arts and in business that the best way to appeal to an audience is to impress them. I set out to impress both the people who go to watch movies and the people who go to make movies. While I enjoyed directing, I also enjoyed producing and I have always loved writing. I hope to continue my career by doing all three, depending on the project.

FK: Was the screenplay you wrote for "The Still Life" a long-brewing idea, or was it one of those light bulb inspirations that kind of write themselves?

JM: No, it came through many, many phases and rewrites ó definitely a long brewing project. I have other screenplays that I wrote in a weekend, but not this one. "The Still Life" developed over about five years, maybe even longer.

FK: Is it somewhat autobiographical?

There are some biographical elements in it since any good writer has to include a piece of himself in every screenplay. I either expand on pieces of myself in my characters or expand on my fears and develop those. I think [the main character] Julian Lamont was developed out of my fears. I don't want to ever become Julian, but I felt at times I could lead that way. Maybe it helps me to create the character to make sure I never become him.

FK: And the love interest, Robin?

JK: Robin is a woman I'd like to find one day. She has a heart of gold and wants the best out of her life and Julianís. It hurts me that she tries so hard to make their relationship work and it doesn't. The way the screenplay ends was my heart bleeding out for the characters I created. I cried a lot writing some of the scenes. Theyíre really heavy. At the end I cry for Robin though but not for Julian. It isn't fair how she is left at the end. And by left I mean where she ends up ...

FK: Any of the characters based on real people?

JM: No, none. The main character, Julian, was modeled to be a rock star who is off the road. He is a complex individual with multi-layered emotions and talents.

The only character who sort of based on a real person is Mrs. Stratford, Julianís landlady. When I was in elementary school we used to go to this old folks home as a field trip. I remember we all wanted to visit this one guy because he always had chocolate. But there was this one lady that they didn't want us to talk to. She apparently hated kids. Yet she would always look out of her window at all of us when we walked in. I think she was lonely and wanted to reach out but was just too stubborn to let her guard down.

That is how Mrs. Stratford was created, and [the character] Rodney was created because I wanted my friend Angelo Moore to have a part in the movie. Actually, he didn't end up playing the part because he was on the road. But Raz kicked ass. Razaaq Adoti plays Rodney, and heís a phenomenal actor.

FK: What did you see in Jason Barry when you cast him in the lead?

JM: Jason is one of the few people that I just knew would be right. I looked at his head shot and wanted him ó he really was perfect for the part. We met up and the guy just screamed perfection. The other person who was perfect was Patricia Belcher and I have to tell you Jonathan Davis makes a hell of a liquor store clerk!

Joel Miller and Jason Barry

Director Joel Miller and Jason Barry

FK: Since this is your directing debut, how did you approach working with the actors? Did they question your direction, or do you tend to leave them alone to explore and develop their characters?

JM: A bit of both. I feel that the strength of a good director must lie in subtlety. The reason I say that is because you need to use your own strengths, but you also need to be open to, and even be excited about, each individualís ideas. I had the opportunity to work with very accomplished actors. I mean, Terry Moore has been acting for over fifty years. She knows how to act! I think that instead of directing I often had conversations with the actors. We were a team, but I knew what I wanted out of my characters. A lot of it has to do with good casting. When you have good people around you then you look good too.

FK: So how would you rate yourself as a first time director?

JM: I think that I did a pretty good job for a newbie. Terry Moore said I was a very good director. If she says I did okay, then I feel I did a pretty good job. I think the only thing I would do differently is what I couldn't do this time around.

FK: For example?

JM: Having another producer around would have been a God send. And a good Assistant Director and a line producer would have been really helpful. What is difficult is wearing all the hats and trying to stay sane. My Director of Photography, Richard Barbadillo, helped me a great deal. He's been around the camera a lot and really helped me out when my brain was just fried. Itís hard to concentrate on how a scene should look when the food person is bugging you about Costco closing in 15 minutes. During lunch I would lock myself in my room and make calls because I was still casting parts while we were shooting. It was just crazy...

FK: Which directors do you admire?

JM: Iím a really big Tim Burton fan. I admire him because at heart he is an artist. I get very excited about his films and rush to see them as soon as they come out. I am a Martin Scorsese fan as well. I admire his character development, and I love the intensity and life in all of his characters.

FK: The synopsis for your film reminds me of Scorsese's "Life Lessons" short from "New York Stories" where Nick Nolte played a self-destructive artist. Did that Scorsese picture influence you on this film?

JM: You know, I'm going to sound pretty bad when I say I haven't seen it, but I never saw the movie. I have seen tidbits of it Ö and I do remember Nick Nolte playing an artist but that is about it. So no, not much of an influence.

FK: You mentioned that Scorsese's daughter, Domenica, is in the film. Is she a friend? You seem to have a lot of friends willing to do cameos which is pretty cool.

JM: Domenica has become a friend but no, I didn't know her at all. I like speaking to her because she always makes me feel good about myself. I could tell that she believed in me the first time I met her. That makes you feel not only good about what you are doing but able to push on to complete what you set out to do. There is a certain charm to an individual who can make you smile and make you think. That is what I think about Domenica...

FK: It sounds like the music score will be an awesome feature to this film, can you bring us up to date on how that is going?

JM: Having real rock musicians compose both the score and the soundtrack is crucial to the way I envision my film. The music is currently being composed by Dizzy Reed (Guns N Roses), Eddie Hedges (Blessid Union of Souls), Dean Dinning (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Louise Post (Veruca Salt), Matthew Nelson, Doug Carrion (The Descendents) etc., and will feature people like Adrian Young (No Doubt). I've been collaborating with some of the musicians as well and Iíve written the lyrics to many of the songs. Thatís been super exciting for me. The soundtrack is all new material and is going to blow you away!

FK: You were a studio tech and roadie who worked with many of those guys. What was it like to tour with Guns N Roses, Stone Temple Pilots, The Cranberries, Chili Peppers ...?

JM: I think I said in another interview that it was like getting a season pass to Disneyland when Mickey Mouse is your hero. It is really hard work being a roadie, but what is cooler than working your ass off all day and knowing that at the end of all your hard work you're going to get to see Stone Temple Pilots perform in front of thousands of people who know all the words to all their songs? For me, there isnít much. I was singing with them, too. I learned a lot touring, and appreciated every moment of it. I plan to bring all that energy into my films and will continue to interlace music with all of my film exploits.

FK: What emotions do you hope this film will convey to audiences?

JM: A mixture of fear and hope. I want the audience to hope that the characters end up well. But more importantly I want this film to make people think about their own lives. I want the film to inspire its viewers into seeking out and developing their own creativity. I hope that they will fear that they will never get started in what they truly want to do, and furthermore, be successful doing it. And do it on their own terms. Julian becomes successful doing something that he doesn't believe in. That must be a horrible feeling...

FK: Why is that? Lots of people become successful that way ó take the business world. Why is Julian's situation different?

JM: He does want to be a successful artist. But the film is about an artist who is forced to destroy his own artwork to find critical acclaim. The art dealer creates Destructionism ó a new, "profound" art movement. Julian is not just destroying his artwork ó he is being forced to destroy himself.

Additionally, I don't believe that we are here to become successful doing things we don't believe in. Including working in the business world. I've done my fair work in the business world so I do know a bit about it. If itís your gig doing what you do, then right on. If your pretending it is to appease yourself, you are selling yourself short.

FK: How would you describe your approach to working?

JM: I never take no for an answer and just give it a go. If it doesn't turn out the way I want, thereís only one person I can blame and that is Fara Kearnes ...

FK: Yeah, funny ...

JM. I mean, itís just that there is something to be said in doing things yourself. When you try your hardest to do something well, chances are you will. The reason is you've put more thought into it than the person who did a half-ass job. And those people should get out of your way and focus on what they want to do.

FK: Letís talk about future plans for a minute, you mentioned in the interview with Sp1at that you want to manage talent as well as work on another film for Albion.

JM: Iím now managing some of the musicians from "The Still Life" as actors. I wanted to show people that rock stars are multi-layered. Louise Post is a really, really good actress. Talent never comes through one medium. Actors are musicians; musicians can be actors; artists can be athletes.

FK: And your management company is ...?

JM: We're calling it Miller Payne Management and we are already representing about fifteen actors and musicians ranging from Dizzy Reed to Al Snow. As far as for Albion, I am now speaking with Michael Grais who I have become friends with, and we might work on some projects together. I also might work with Moore Cramer productions, which is Terry Moore's company, on yet another project. I'll keep people updated with posts on our website www.albionentertainment.com but I have a lot of good stuff going on.

FK: Is there anything you would like to add?

JM: Anyone can ask me questions on the message board at our official website at www.thestilllifemovie.com. I'll be sure to answer them.

FK: Thanks, Joel, and good luck with the film.

"The Still Life" will be in selected theaters in the U.S. early next year. The film is now listed on www.netflix.com and can be saved in the cue. You can read more about "The Still Life" at imdb.com.

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