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2014 Nashville Film Festival Interview: Steven Wesley Miller, Shadowland

Shadowland Still 4

Shadowland, by Steven Wesley Miller

Murfreesboro Pulse: How would you describe your film?
Miller: Civilization is at its end. America has been reduced to a land where only a few, strictly-governed communities still exist. All else is Shadowland, where there is no rule of law and where fear is the common denominator of all men. Gil Parsons is a wanderer in that place, wary of the strangers he encounters, as the circumstances of his existence call into question the inherent nature of mankind.

What challenges did you/your crew encounter while making the movie?
The overall ambition of the project. The writer, David Peacock and myself, spent three days in freezing weather cleaning out and setting the location that we shot in. It was an abandoned cabin that was filled to the roof with years and years of junk. Once production started, we spent two days shooting inside. Being completely uninsulated, I think we marked the temperature at about 25 degrees inside and 35 degrees outside. The fire that we built outside for another scene, actually ended up being the warmest place on set.

How long have you been working in motion pictures?
Working? For about four years. But, I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember.

In the process of film-making, how much of the creativity is found in production? How much improvisation do you find on set?
Well, we had about three weeks of rehearsal before shooting so by the time we got to set, I was able to let the actors do their thing and I think they found the middle between what we rehearsed and their own improvisation.

What attracted you to the medium of film?
Paul Thomas Anderson, Victor Nunez and a River Runs Through It.

What would you say of the place motion pictures have in our culture?
For some it’s a light-hearted escape from their lives. For others, it’s experiencing the intense reality of someone else’s life. For me it’s both.

What makes a great movie? What elements do you think an audience should look to appreciate?
Alfonso Cuaron said that time makes a great movie. He couldn’t have been more right. Some movies, win countless awards and make a huge noise and then disappear after a couple of years. Others lay underground for decades and find huge followings later on. It’s hard to determine what elements an audience should look to appreciate, it really just depends on what kind of day they had when they watched it.

If you could change one thing about the process, what would it be?
The funding. I think any filmmaker wishes they could change the process of gathering funds for their work.

How did you learn your craft?
By watching as many films as I can and then all of their special features.

What themes do you like to explore in film?
Mostly the best and worst in people. I’ve always been fascinated with the reasons people do the right thing or do the wrong thing. I think when a film makes me deal with questions or issues that make me uncomfortable, then it’s done it’s job. I’d say that Terrence Malick and Lars Von Trier are the best at it.

What inspires/influences you?
Watching other films. When I see a good one, usually all I can think of is I want to make a good one of my own.

Are there any particular genres you favor over others?
I’ve always been drawn to drama, but I love a witty comedy.

In terms of motion picture production, what would you like to see from the state of Tennessee? What advantages does the state currently have, and how do you think it could improve?
As any filmmaker, I just want to see the independent film market grow in my own state.

On what projects are you currently working?
I’m currently preparing for a music-based short, as well as writing my first feature.

What advice do you have to aspiring filmmakers?
If you haven’t made your first film yet, then make it. After you’ve made it, make another one. Repeat. They will only get better.

What do you see for the future of storytelling through motion pictures?
Hopefully the same that we’ve seen in the past. That new directors will come along and show us something we’ve never seen before and challenge other directors to do the same.

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About the Author

I'm a contributing writer for the Murfreesboro Pulse. I'm also a filmmaker and a founding member of the MTSU Film Guild. My interests include screenwriting, producing, coffee, beer and philosophy. I'm a huge fan of films, particularly horror, action, science fiction and crime.

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