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[Interview] – Thomas Miller – ‘One Day In April’ – A Documentary

 

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Posted January 23, 2017 by

 
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“One Day in April” is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the triumphs and failures of four collegiate cyclist teams competing to win the Little 500. The film is a bittersweet portrait of life in the midwest and the drama from training through race day.

Trailer:

Interview:

1) To begin with, tell us about your latest film ‘One Day In April’…

One Day in April” is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the triumphs and failures of two men’s and women’s collegiate cyclist teams in competition with each other to win the Little 500. We followed four teams, the Delts, Cutters, Delta Gamma, and Teter (2 mens and 2 womens teams) throughout the 2013 season. The film is shot in a cinema verite style which gives the audience the feeling of being in the room with the riders.

2) How did you come to make the film?

The idea for “One Day in April” originated in two places. I had done a few projects with my childhood friend Ryan Black and after our short film “All We’ve Built” was selected by Campus Movie Fest to go to the Cannes International Film Festival, we knew we wanted to try our hand at something more substantial. Those plans got interrupted when I was hired as a cinematographer for the Obama campaign in June of 2012. After that ended I was figuring out what my next move was and I ended up crashing on Peter Stevenson’s floor. Peter had been my managing editor at the IDS, as well as a fellow photographer, and we spent a lot of the nights I was there talking about great sports documentaries. We realized – almost shockingly – that nobody had a done a sort of “Pumping Iron” style film about the Little 500. The race had all these great quirks, was basically a state treasure, and Breaking Away had won an Academy Award, but outside of the more historically focused “Free Wheels” there really wasn’t anything out there.

Pete and I, pretty much at that moment, realized that we were the people to make that film. Both of us were in between projects, had covered the race as photographers for the IDS, and felt like we had a pretty good understanding of what the film would be. I started texting Ryan about the idea and he was immediately on board. Pete and I came up with the initial vision of the project, brought Ryan in, and it was on from there.

3) ‘One Day In April’ is a documentary as we know, would you say this is your favorite genre of cinema?

The thing I love about documentary filmmaking is the unpredictable nature of the storytelling. You’ve got an idea of what you think the story is going to be and then life happens. On a narrative you’ve got the ability to perfect everything, but with a doc you’re really just reacting to what’s happening around you. Especially for a passion project like this, there’s a level of excitement about experiencing things with your subjects. With a documentary I think the audience can feel that excitement and the end product, if you do it right, has this authenticity that you can’t get any other way.

4) What are your influences as a Filmmaker?

Having worked pretty extensively making video content in a political setting, I had come to believe that there was something very powerful about giving regular people the opportunity to see their life through a cinematic lens. Obviously on the campaign there was a strategy behind those videos, but I felt like I could make a film that would really show people what’s so amazing about the Little 500. This is a race that has no professional companion and no money to win; folks love it because its all about your team and the community. It’s totally unique and it’s very Indiana.

Certainly in terms of trying to capture that more earnest tone, films like “Hoosiers” and “Breaking Away” were an influence, but that’s about as far as it went. I was heavily influenced by verite style documentaries like “War Room”, “American Movie”, “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and “Hoop Dreams” and knew I wanted to do a sports film with that kind of authenticity, while trying to be as cinematic as possible. “Breaking Away” is mostly a coming of age film, whereas “One Day in April” was envisioned as an insider look at the Little 500 season. Because we had so many more events in the film that affected everything, ODIA became a very different film than “Breaking Away.”

5) When & where can we expect to see ‘One Day In April’?

One Day in April is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, and on our website One Day In April.com

6) What is the next step for you both? Do you have any other projects in production?

I took a break after One Day in April to figure out what I wanted to do next film-wise. During the election I got really interested in the battle between Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and his state legislature about restoring voting rights for folks convicted of a felony. I spent some time with some amazing people in Richmond talking about that issue and we’re in post on it now.

7) …And any final thoughts you have about the process as a first-time documentarian. Feel free to muse here on anything I missed.

There are few things I think are really special about ODIA. I’m especially proud of the diversity of our cast of characters. Too often sports films get reduced to “good team” and “bad team” and the characters are cut outs. I was really inspired by both iterations of Friday Night Lights – especially the TV show – in the way that it handled race, class and gender. I wouldn’t say that ODIA has a specific message, but I did try my hardest to include a diverse set of voices and perspectives. I think a lot of people assumed we would include the women’s race, but treat it as second tier to the men’s race or that we’d reduce a team to be the antagonist. That was something that didn’t make a lot of sense to me because one of the races strongest points is the diversity of folks involved. Every time I watch the film I get a little emotional listening to the speech from the first ever women’s race. Both of the women that you hear from are talking about the importance of the first women’s race and you can hear history changing in what they’re saying. I always get overwhelmed thinking about how powerful that is.

I think from a story telling perspective, not having a clear antagonist makes the film less traditionally dramatic, but I don’t think I could’ve made the film any other way. All of these people have motivations and things going on in their lives. It would have been very easy to make the film be Delts vs Cutters or Teter vs DG, but that film would’ve been a lie. Kevin Depasse said to me that the Little 500 is the only sport where you need your opponents to train. Because of how weird the event is, you have to train surrounded by those other teams and in a sense even when two teams hate each other they’re always connected together.

Finally I think from a production standpoint the film is a great example of a community making a film for themselves. Our entire crew were volunteer students who had a crash course in how to do the specific job they volunteered for. This certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to make a film, but I hope the fact that it was made by volunteers and a few diehard folks will inspire more people to make films. As Midwesterners, we can’t wait around for folks on the coast to tell our stories, we have to take ownership of that and do it ourselves. I’ve found with One Day in April that folks are hungry for that kind of work and really hope more students and filmmakers start doing projects for the community they live in.

Making One Day in April was the most professionally challenging and personally difficult thing I have ever done in my life. For two years I was totally consumed by it and it’s hard for me to watch the film and not see myself in it. I remember all the moments in the film, I remember all the things that were going on in my life while I was making it and I remember all those feelings that compelled me to make it in the first place. I spent so much of my life focused on getting to the next level. Eventually you get to a point where you realize that the only thing that can satisfy you is the work you do. You can’t outcompete everyone. You practice, you execute and then you move on. That’s what the races teaches you. You train as hard as you can, give it your all and whatever happens on Race Day happens. Even if you win, there’s another race and over time people forget. But you carry that race, that year, with you forever. I think that’s true for me too.

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