Why did you want the film to take place in a garage? How much were you interested in the physical activities and tools?
I wanted the film to take place in a family-owned business, and an auto shop felt like a natural choice as a space ingrained with American values and masculinity. The garage represents home to Ryan, with all the history, nostalgia, and baggage that come with that. The layered sense of space in the garage juxtaposes the expansiveness and undefined nature of the dance floor where Ryan expresses her femininity. While scouting locations, we serendipitously found a garage owned by a transwoman. In addition to being an amazing property owner, she worked as our mechanic consultant and had a wealth of knowledge to share about auto repair, mechanic lingo, and car tools. I also visited family-owned auto shops in rural America for research and watched a lot of videos on auto repair. We rehearsed the various physical activities at the location to make sure the process felt as natural as possible before filming.
Why were you interested in picturing a transgender character?
I am genderqueer, so I have a personal interest in seeing authentic portrayals of transgender and gender nonconforming characters on screen. In Miller & Son, I was more interested in tracking Ryan’s emotional journey rather than explicitly stating her identity or creating a teaching moment out of her experience. The film asks what we risk when we express our authentic selves, and what we gain. Whether or not you identify as transgender, everyone has a desire to belong in the world and has their own stories about masking feelings in order to fit in, move ahead, or protect themselves. Ryan loves working at her family’s auto shop but knows that her femininity is not accepted in that space, so she compartmentalizes her transfeminine identity from her work as a mechanic. As a gender nonbinary person, I also compartmentalize as a coping mechanism and am often confronted with the choice of whether to speak up or stay silent. I wanted to explore this feeling of compartmentalization, and the compromises that people are confronted with on the path toward authenticity. It was important for me to cast a trans and/or nonbinary actor, and I was lucky to work with Jesse James Keitel who brought such dedication to the role.
How did you work on the rising tension?
Building tension starts in the writing process, so I worked on honing the emotional beats and pacing in the script. Once we selected our location and I began researching auto repair more intensely, I thought of ways that the physical activities in the garage and the blocking of characters could further heighten the tension. I wanted the audience to feel rooted in Ryan’s point-of-view and to experience the anxiety with her, so we used the camera to keep the audience in Ryan’s perspective.
How much were you interested in the presence of silence as a part of Ryan’s daily life?
Silence plays an important role in the film. The story is more about what is communicated through looks rather than what is said. I think silence can reveal a lot about a character. Ryan tends to keep her head down and focus on her work rather than engaging in conversations with coworkers or customers. She is an excellent mechanic and this silence is an aspect of her daily life, but it also serves a coping mechanism. Ryan protects herself by observing her surroundings, and as an audience we are forced to live in this silence and experience the tension of holding back what you feel.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
With Miller & Son, the short format provided a chance to explore a particular event that would leave an impression on the protagonist’s life. I think shorts can be a great way to investigate a moment in time and ask questions without the confines and rigor of sustaining tension and maintaining multiple storylines over the span of 90 plus minutes. That being said, I am excited to take the freedom that the short format has given me, and build upon this in the longer form as I work on developing feature content.
Miller & Son was shown in International Competition.