Miller and Son

Exclusive Interview by Jayjay Epega :

Miller and Son,  a wonderfully shot, moving  and celebrated Short, is an authentic heart-rending story about a  transwoman mechanic who lives between running her family’s auto shop during the day and expressing her femininity at night, until an unforeseen event threatens the balance of her compartmentalized life.

I was delighted to be able to talk to the Director Asher Jelinsky, and Producer Kate Chamuris to get an insight into this memorable feature, which has already shone on the festival circuit and made its own distinction  in story telling.  In the end the simple message that we can all share, is that it is all about love.

Q and A

1. How did you come up with the concept/idea for Miller & Son?

Asher: I am nonbinary, so I have a personal interest in seeing authentic portrayals of transgender and gender non-conforming characters on screen. Thematically, I wanted to explore compartmentalization and examine the ways people express themselves differently under different circumstances to fit in, move ahead, or protect themselves. Whether or not you identify as trans, everyone can relate to the experience of wanting to belong. Family is at the root of this desire, so it felt like a natural choice to set the story in a family-owned auto shop.

2. How long did it take to pull it all together?

Asher: I developed the story for a few months, visiting family-owned auto shops in rural America and researching mechanics. During development, the structure of the story stayed the same for the most part, but the script became more layered and textured as I learned more specifics about mechanics and refined the characters.

Kate: We then had about 12 weeks of pre-production. Once we found the auto shop location, we made some changes to the script to make the best use of the space. We filmed over 4 and a half days; 3 days at the auto shop, and a day and a half at a warehouse. Editing and post was about 2 months. So all in about one year from script to delivery.

3. Is Ryan’s Story one you are familiar with?

Asher: As a nonbinary person whose gender identity is often misunderstood, I regularly find myself faced with the choice of whether to speak up or stay silent. Explaining my identity can be exhausting, and I am familiar with compartmentalizing under circumstances where I don’t feel seen. That being said, I live in a relatively liberal environment, whereas Ryan’s community is more conservative and her father has more traditional expectations around gender. With MILLER & SON, I wanted to portray a transwoman whose interest in mechanics and connection to her family’s garage was just as much a part of her identity as her trans identity. Ryan compartmentalizes in order to continue working at her family’s garage and continue expressing her femininity.

Watch the film here:

Miller & Son from Asher Jelinsky on Vimeo.

4. Do you feel society is still not accepting of transgender issues/lifestyle changes?

Asher: Yes, transgender people face disproportionate discrimination. Trans people still get fired from their jobs, turned away from housing opportunities, and harassed for their gender identity. In 2019, the HRC reported at least 24 trans and gender-nonconforming people who were fatally shot and killed in the United States, most of whom were transgender women of color. Acceptance or lack there of really depends on the context as well. Some regions have more trans literacy or institutional support than others.

5. Please tell us a bit more about the cast… Jesse James Keitel did an outstanding job!

Asher: I wanted to have authenticity in the casting of a story centered around a transgender character, so I was specifically looking for trans and/or nonbinary actors. Jesse James Keitel submitted a self tape, and we were impressed with their performance. Because the script doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, it was important to find someone who could naturally live in the silences. After a callback Skype session, we decided to cast Jesse and bring them to LA for the film shoot. We worked with Russell Boast as our casting director, and he was a great collaborator and champion of the film.

6. Kate, Asher – How did you both come to work together, please tell us a bit more about your background.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Kate Chamuris and Asher Jelinsky attend BAFTA Los Angeles Garden Party at The British Residence on August 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Kate: I had just moved from NY to LA and was producing some other AFI films. Asher and I were introduced at a mutual friend’s birthday party when they told me they were at the stage of attaching a producer to the project. A few weeks went by and the mutual friend had put in a good word for me, so we set a meeting.

Asher: We met through a mutual friend at the American Film Institute. Kate worked on a lot of AFI sets and was always professional and a great creative problem solver.

7. The film has been shortlisted for the Oscars 2020, how did you feel when you heard the news and what has been the build up?

Asher: We’re thrilled! I went on a hike to clear my head the morning before the announcement. When I got back to my phone I had a bunch of texts and voicemails. It was surreal. It’s such an honor and very humbling.

Kate: The film has had such a warm reception during its festival run and we were winding down to the point of releasing the film publicly and saying goodbye. We qualified very close to the initial voting, so it was such a slim window to get this film seen by voters and come this far. We were up against 191 other amazing films. At the time of the announcement – I was on set, in the middle of a take, when I felt the texts start to come in – definite “pinch me” moment. We are very grateful that this story is reaching and touching so many people.

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