'Touching Home': How two Hollywood nobodies convinced Ed Harris to play their father in 2010's most heartfelt movie
Image Credit: Designed by John MavroudisFour years ago, on Jan. 6, 2006, Logan and Noah Miller stood over the body of their father, Daniel, in a morgue in California’s Marin County and made a promise. The twin brothers vowed that in the next 12 months they would make a movie about their dad, a longtime alcoholic who had died from a ruptured aorta on a concrete jailhouse floor the day before, at age 59.
“This year,” the pair told their father, “this year.”
It was a crazy promise to make. The brothers had spent the previous half decade writing screenplays in Los Angeles, including a fictionalized depiction of their troubled relationship with their father, but they hadn’t sold any. And the story of their dad — a homeless roofer who was repeatedly arrested for alcohol-related offenses and who spent most of the last 15 years of his life living in a truck — was not the stuff of which studio executives’ dreams tend to be made. To complicate matters further, the brothers had told their increasingly frail father before his death that he would be played in the movie by Ed Harris. On top of all that, Logan and Noah intended to direct the movie and play the fictional versions of themselves, despite having no experience as either film-makers or thespians. “We’d never acted in anything” Noah recalls. “We said we were going to direct, but we had no reel. We didn’t even own a video camera.”
What they had was each other — and a determination to get the job done. And get the job done they did. Before the end of 2006, the pair had fulfilled that promise to their father and made a movie about him called Touching Home which was released to selected cinemas on Friday. In addition to the brothers, the movie stars Brad Dourif, Robert Forster, and Book of Eli actor Evan Jones. And the part based on the twins’ father? Yeah, they got Ed Harris to play that, too.
Well, after all, a promise is a promise.
NEXT: “Our father wasn’t a functioning drunk. When he got drunk, he went to Mars.”
Image Credit: Tim PorterThe Miller twins never intended to be filmmakers. Their plan, at least for the first twenty or so years of their lives, was to become major league baseball players. While they were growing up in the small North California town of Fairfax they would break into the local gym and spend their nights practicing with their wiffle ball machine. Three times a week, they got up at 5 a.m. to lift weights before going to school. “We never thought of the future other than in terms of baseball,” says Logan. The brothers admit their self-imposed regimen was in part a reaction to the example of their heavy-drinking father, who had divorced from their mother when they were just 11 months old. The twins may have loved their dad, but they most certainly did not want to end up like him. “He had tremendous flaws,” says Logan. “And he wasn’t a functioning drunk. When he got drunk, he went to Mars.”
Alas, it eventually became clear that the twins’ baseball dreams were going to remain just that. Logan was released from the minor league team that had recruited him while Noah flunked out of college. For the better part of a year they returned home and worked for their father roofing houses and it is this period that would ultimately be dramatized in Touching Home. In time, the pair headed to Arizona for more baseball tryouts, but were eventually forced to admit that they were not going to crack the majors. It was a devastating realization. “We were in a pretty low place,” says Logan. Adds Noah, “We didn’t want to go back home and do manual labor.” So, instead, they headed to Los Angeles and crashed on the floor of a friend. Before long they decided to do what everybody around them seemed to be doing — write a screenplay. “We didn’t even have a computer at the time,” laughs Noah. “We just wrote it out on a notepad. A buddy of ours was working the night shift at a post-production house. He snuck us in at midnight and we’d type until three in the morning.”
The brothers finished Touching Home in a month and then started writing another script. And then another. And so on. To support themselves they took odd jobs, including a brief spell as models during which they booked gigs with both Vogue and Abercrombie & Fitch. That career ended when Noah, who like his brother has an “Aw, shucks”-y country boy demeanor, declined to pose in a thong for famous photographer David LaChapelle. “The shoot was in some big abandoned hotel,” he recalls. “There’s this huge buffet like I’ve never seen before. They say they’re going to put me in a thong. I go, ‘That’s genius!’ I get my brother, we stuffed our bags with food, and walked out the back door.”
Sometimes the brothers would drive north to see their father, whose situation was becoming more and more desperate. “He had nothing,” says Logan. “He had lost his truck. He was living in a tent up in the hills.” In 2005, Noah and Logan visited him during one of his stints in jail. Daniel Miller had read the Touching Home script and was excited at the prospect of being portrayed on the big screen.
“When are you gonna make our movie?” Miller asked his sons.
“Soon, Dad… Soon,” they replied.
“Who’s gonna play me? He’s gotta be good-looking.”
“Ed Harris,” answered the brothers, who had always been reminded of their father whenever they saw films starring the craggily handsome actor.
“Yeah, he’s good,” said Miller. “I’ll give him permission to be me. The sheriff will negotiate on my behalf.” The three of them had a good laugh about that, one of the last they would ever share.
In December, the brothers’ father was once again arrested after being found drunk and sent to Marin County Jail. On January 1, Noah and Logan tried to visit him but were told by his cell mate that he was too ill to see them. Daniel Miller died four days later.
NEXT: “I remember thinking, ‘Holy s—, we’ve got Ed Harris, and we don’t have any money.’”
Image Credit: David MoirNo one would have blamed the brothers for not even attempting to follow through on the seemingly impossible promise they had made their father — except the brothers themselves. The twins admit they were haunted not just by the vow they made Daniel but also by the fear they would end as broken-spirited as the man they were mourning. So the brothers got to work. They convinced Panavision to give them one of their New Filmmaker grants. They sweet-talked the coach of minor league team the Colorado Rockies to let them shoot some footage of Logan practicing with the players at spring training. And they filled in every credit card application that came their way. Which was a lot.
Then the twins discovered that the San Francisco International Film Festival was giving a lifetime achievement award to Ed Harris at the end of April. As part of the festivities, the actor would attend a screening of his new movie “>A Flash of Genius at the Castro Theatre. Noah and Logan decided to “ambush” the Harris at the event and, after a pre-film Q&A, rushed backstage and hurriedly told him their story. “Looking back it’s nuts,” concedes Noah. “But our dad had just passed away in jail. We were still waking up every morning in tears. Our memory was so raw. We had so much guilt and shame. And we had made this vow. At that point there was a certain amount of desperation.”
What the twins didn’t know is that Ed Harris is a huge baseball fan. In fact, as a kid, Harris too dreamed of playing in the major leagues. “I was a catcher,” says the Apollo 13 star. “I played through freshman year in college. I wasn’t good enough to go any further than that. But, yeah, baseball, football were pretty much my focus growing up.” Harris was intrigued by the twins’ tale. Intrigued enough to step outside into the alley and watch the spring training footage on a computer the twins set up on a dumpster. Harris liked what he saw and asked for a copy of the script. Within a week he had agreed to play their father. “My agent was like, ‘No, man, not again!’” laughs Harris, who has appeared in many low-budget ventures over the years. “They’re smart and I just couldn’t say no. They wouldn’t let me say no. They’ve just got this energy that’s pretty undeniable.”
With Harris attached to the project the brothers were able to secure other acting talent, including Robert Forster and Brad Dourif, to appear in what they planned to be a $2 million production. The problem? They didn’t have $2 million. In fact, thanks to their heavy usage of no fewer than 17 credit cards they were $45,000 in the red. “Once we got Ed that put a tremendous amount of pressure on us,” says Noah. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy s—, we’ve got Ed, and we don’t have any money.’”
The brothers went back to work, talking up their project to anyone who might give them their money and hoping like hell that Ed Harris’ agent didn’t find out that they had, literally, less than no money. Harris confirms he was oblivious to the fact that the pair were lacking the funds to make the film he had agreed to star in. “But that wasn’t my problem,” he says. “If they had called me and said, ‘Well, we don’t have the money, we can’t do it,’ I would have said, ‘Well, I’m sorry about that.’ But I never got that call.”
Just days before cameras were due to roll, they struck a deal with a Sacramento real estate developer and arts patron named Brian C. Vail, who agreed to finance the whole movie. Logan says the shoot itself was “nerve-wracking” but that the pair’s sports pedigree helped to lessen the fear factor. “The level of baseball we played was one where you’re up against a guy throwing a 90 mile an hour fastball, and if it hits you in the head then you die,” he says. “There’s a certain amount of confidence and composure you get from that.”
There were some very emotional moments for the twins, who shot the film in many of the actual locales where they had hung out with their father. The first time Ed Harris appeared on set, looking just like their dad — even walking just like their dad — the pair were forced to turn away from this seeming resurrection of their loved one and gather themselves before continuing work. “Not knowing their dad, I don’t know how closely I resembled him,” says Harris. “But I guess to them, I sure did.” The brothers insist that was the only pain the actor caused them. “He said, I’m here to help you guys,” recalls Logan. “I know what you’re up against. If you want another take, it’s your show, let me know.”
The brothers struggled to find a suitable distribution company for their movie, which they were determined should get a theatrical release, but eventually inked a deal with the California Film Institute, an arts nonprofit, who are putting out the film through its newly established CFI Releasing division. In addition to making the movie, the brothers have also penned a book about their cinematic quest, Either You’re In Or You’re In The Way, which was published by HarperCollins last year and which, like the film, is dedicated to Daniel Miller. The book hasn’t made them rich, and nor has the film, at least not yet, and the twins currently share a $750-a-month apartment in LA. But for the moment, at least, they happy enough to have fulfilled the promise they made on that sad occasion for years ago.
“We just needed to do it,” says Noah. “We made a vow to our father,” adds Logan. “We wanted to turn that tragedy into something positive.”