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Film Interview

Elijah Drenner 
Originally published in 2014 ahead of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Documentary about veteran character actor Dick Miller, whose career in and outside of Hollywood has spanned almost 200 films across six decades, featuring a diverse range of interviews with directors, co-stars, and contemporaries.


Hello Elijah how's it going, thank you for talking to tNC?


My pleasure. Happy to talk to you.


Your film has already had such a great reception on the film festival circuit, has the attention it has gotten surprised you?


Not really. When you talk to some people, particularly film fans, there is a sort of unspoken kinship you discover with certain topics. You can connect right away with someone if you bring up a certain movie, a certain director or actor. When you bring up Dick Miller – I’ve never met a casual admirer of his work. You not only know who Dick Miller is – but you also love him. So this documentary is a love letter that fans of his work can really get excited about.


Did you have any nerves premiering 'That Guy Dick Miller' at SXSW?


No. There was no time for nerves. We were working on the movie so intensely that it was still very fresh and there was no time to second-guess ourselves. Besides, Dick made the original “Piranha” in Austin back in 1977 – so I knew he would be welcomed back. And he was.


What was the audience's reaction?


Very good, but very different too. I knew we would hook the film fans, but we wanted to reach beyond that; find filmgoers who knew him, but didn’t know that knew him. It was fun hearing people in the first few minutes of the film, whispering to one another when the cavalcade of movie clips start: “Oh that guy!”

The film is going to have its UK Premiere screening at the EIFF, what does it mean for you to be able to be part of such a huge festival?

I’m thrilled. It’s always special when your movie plays at such a prestigious film festival, but this means a lot to all of us – most of all, Dick.

RIP Dick Miller HD.png

Tell me a little bit about "That Guy Dick Miller", what can we expect from the film?


First of all, I think it’s a funny movie. It’s also a film for film fans and there are some surprising facts that not a lot of people know about Dick’s personal life and his career. We found lots of home 8mm movies shot by Lainie Miller while Dick was making movies – footage that no one has ever seen.


How did you get connected to the project?


It was a job that was pitched to me, but something that I really got behind – harder than I ever have before. Tino Zimmermann of Subkultur Entertainment, our German producer, came up with the idea and I’m shocked it took this long to happen. 


What was it about Dick that made him such a great documentary subject?


I knew we could make the clip show, but when we started I did not know how personal we could get. Dick is a private man who does not put himself out there and has not really thought of himself as more than just a working actor. So getting him to open up was a challenge. But having his wife Lainie as our producer was crucial. She knew the value of what we wanted to do and backed us 100 per cent. Without her, we wouldn’t have a movie.


Were you surprised at the amount of work he had done?


No. I knew his career very well, even if I had not seen everything he made. What surprised me were the things I discovered about his personal life that are in the documentary. 

What have been the biggest challenges you faced bringing the film to life?


The biggest challenge was hitting all the right beats and creating an arc to his story. We discovered that there was actually a perfect 3-act structure that existed, so we just had to pepper it with clips and interviews. But we also wanted to show that Dick is still working. We received a gift from The Movie Gods when he was offered a role and they allowed us to follow him to New York to shoot it. Incorporating that movie into ours gave it a whole new level.


Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?


Maybe. Maybe not. It was a very intense experience and it's still very fresh with me right now. There has not been a lot of time for hindsight. 


What has been the best feedback you've gotten from the film? 


That people are glad it exists and that Dick is still around to experience it with us.


What made you want to get into filmmaking? 


Movies like the ones Dick has been making for 60s years. He’s worked with some of my favourite directors and been in some of my favourite movies. 

Who have been your biggest inspirations? 


I’ve stumbled into making documentaries about films – so naturally, I’m inspired by those films and filmmakers, but their work has had no impression on my creatively in my two docs. But other documentaries like “Grey Gardens”, “Vernon, Florida”, “Crumb” “Burden of Dreams” and “Man With A Movie Camera “, are examples that I would say I creatively strive for.


What has been the biggest lesson you've learned on this production?


Stick true to the material and the story will reveal itself. Jonathan Kaplan described Dick’s acting style to me as “the truth at 24 frames per second”. That sounded good, but it took me a year to examine what that really meant. Dick’s “truth” is his essence and soul. If we kept true to that, we were doing right. Another lesson I learned, that I think is a throughline that runs through not only his films but for all our productions as well, is that Dick embodies the collaborative spirit that it takes to make a movie. This movie is not only about movies, but the “come-hell-or-high-water” force it takes to make one.  He’s been there from the beginning of the American independent movement of the 1950s, right up to 2014. It’s something to celebrate.


What has been the best advice you've been given?  


Bite The Monkey.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?

An excitement to watch, or re-watch some of Dick’s movies. 

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