Miles Doleac does a little bit of everything – he’s a teacher, an actor and a filmmaker. He is a Hattiesburg, Mississippi native with a phd degree. He graduated with a bachelor degree in fine arts in drama from North Carolina School of the Arts, did masters from University of Southern Mississippi and finally got his doctorate degree from Tulane University.
He has been doing both teaching and acting all his life and released his first feature film The Historian as a director in 2013 which was based on a screenplay he had written. The feature movie showcased his excellent skills as a director and writer and now his second feature movie is going to be released in 2016. He has worked as both the director and writer of The Hollow; it is a captivating murder thriller, a southern-noir murder thriller to be exact. We had a chance of talking with Miles Doleac; let’s listen to what he has to say about his career and his two feature movies.
You seem to be juggling a few professions at the moment, Miles. What’s the day job, though? The main one?
That’s a very good question. It often depends on the week. Acting and directing are, have always been, the deepest passions of my heart, but teaching has certainly helped pay the bills and it has become something far bigger than just a job for me. I’ve come to see teaching as a kind of service, especially at a time when humanities education at the university level is faltering, for a number of reasons. My chosen professions, perhaps better, ‘vocations’, are closely related to my view. At the end of the day, both are about improving the state of things in some way. At the heart of all good art and teaching, there exists a need to deepen peoples’ understanding and appreciation of the human experience, to make people laugh, cry, re-evaluate their preconceptions and, hopefully, to open some eyes to the broadest version of the world possible.
Was that always the plan? Growing up?
Teaching, no. Acting, absolutely. I knew I wanted to be in or make movies since I was six years old. I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that year. I was never the same after that.
Did you have support and encouragement from your parents to follow that path?
I certainly did, which is maybe something of an amazing thing, given that both my parents were born and raised in the deepest part of the Deep South and neither was particularly creative. My father has always been in the construction industry. He’s a very nuts and bolts kinda guy. I don’t think he really got the acting thing, at least not until fairly recently, but he supported my dream, nevertheless, perhaps against his better instincts. He’s been fairly closely involved with my first two features. It’s been nice having his no-nonsense business acumen to balance my more mercurial tendencies.
Did the job require you to relocate at any stage?
I went to college in North Carolina (at the North Carolina School of the Arts), moved from there to New York, where I lived for eighteen months or so, but I had to get to L.A. and, eventually, I headed west and lived there for a few, tough years, before coming back down south. I wounded up in New Orleans, getting a PhD at precisely the wrong (and maybe just right) time, moving there five days before Katrina hit. In the wake of that tragedy, Hollywood invested in Louisiana and I was one of the recipients of that patronage. Interestingly enough, at a time when, for the first time in my life, I had decided I could live without being in the movies.
When did you decide you wanted to make your own movies?
I was in New Orleans and I was fortunate to be a part of some really incredible indie projects. As an actor, I had the great fortune to work with a couple of terrific directors, Dustin Schuetter (“Rejects” and Mike Mayhall (“Jake’s Road”), who were taking the reins of their own destinies, doing their own thing and doing it well. They weren’t waiting around for someone else to wave a magic wand and make their careers happen. They were making it happen themselves. Those experiences were really inspiring for me. At the same time, I wanted to tell a story about what I was seeing happening in academia. So, I sat down and started writing “The Historian.”
Did you have to get schooling to direct or had you spent enough time on the sets of other people’s films that you knew it inside out?
I had directed theater, but never film before “The Historian.” But, I had been acting a long time, been on a number of sets, and in the theater a great deal. On that first one, I focused primarily on the actors and the acting and gave my DP (Ben S. Powell) a lot of latitude to create the visuals. I knew what I’d want a director to tell me in a given circumstance, so I used that. I was, of course, blessed with actors like William Sadler and John Cullum, who really didn’t need much help. Those guys just brought it every day. But, short answer, no, I’ve never been formally trained as a director.
What’s one thing that people don’t realize about directing though?
If your cast trusts you and the story, the impossible becomes possible. Trust can overcome a number of technical and budgetary hurdles. I think it’s about making it personal for your cast and, hopefully, your crew as well. When the project becomes about something more than a pay check, that’s when magic starts to percolate. When James Callis, who plays our lead in “The Hollow”, read my script and told me, “This is a script that matters,” I knew he’d pour his guts out in service of the role and he absolutely did. It doesn’t always happen, but belief is such a powerful thing and, if a director can inculcate that passion in his or her cast and crew, well, the sky’s the limit. The other thing to know: hot, fresh coffee is a moral imperative at all hours of the day on a film set. It’s amazing how many productions haven’t figured that one out yet.
One of the hardest tasks, I imagine, is finding the money to make movies. What routes did you try?
Which ones didn’t we try? That part is so hard and so unpleasant. Trying to convince people that you’re worthy of a significant monetary investment. Sometimes begging and pleading, worrying the crap out of people. Very few people want to write you a six-figure check for something that’s so uncertain. It’s about selling yourself. It’s about convincing people that you’re going to create something that’s good enough or marketable enough or sexy enough to break through. And, it’s utterly exhausting, but I’ve seen the alternative. People walking around with scripts they wrote ten years ago, still trying to get some studio interested. Or actors auditioning for hundreds and hundreds of projects and not booking and getting so down on themselves. There are just so many variables you can’t control. If you’re making your own work, you’re steering the ship. Are the waters sometimes choppy? Sure, but you’re only at the mercy of your own patience and stamina. And thing is, it changes your attitude. When I started making my own movies, I also started booking more and higher-profile acting gigs. Maybe that was because I needed them less.
Was The Historian harder to get up, being the first one?
Yes, for sure. “The Historian” was pretty personal. And it’s a character drama set in academia, written and directed by a first-time director. Doesn’t exactly scream box-office bonanza. But, I’m so pleased we got it made and I’m humbled by the responses it’s received, especially from folks in higher education who’ve reached out and told me we nailed it.
Great movie. Were you happy with how it performed? Critical feedback?
Thank you very much. I sincerely appreciate that. Reviews were mostly positive, some quite so. Even the biggies like NY Times and Hollywood Reporter had nice things to say. Smaller critics with higher word limits, who could really dig into the story and characters, seemed to like it even more. How it performed? I wish more people could have seen it in theatres. I wish more people were watching it online. But, it’s just so hard as a small independent production company, with limited resources, to get your film’s name out there, to generate buzz without a significant marketing budget … I truly hope that, if “The Hollow” achieves a modicum of success, that “Historian” can ride its coattails a bit and benefit by extension. I love the movie and I believe it deserves to be more widely seen.
When did The Hollow come about?
I wanted to write a film that was more immediately commercial than “The Historian.” I wanted to write a film set squarely in my home state of Mississippi. I had been watching and reading a lot of true crime type stuff. It just seemed there was a synergy there. I also hoped to hearken or pay tribute in some way to some of my literary heroes (and fellow Mississippians) like Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. There’s a little bit of all that in “The Hollow.” The culture, people and climate of the Deep South is just so rich and complicated, beautiful and tarnished; it’s just rife with pathos and dramatic possibility.
Is there anything personal in the story?
Certainly. It’s a kind of dark fever dream of my version of small-town life in Mississippi, for well and, mostly (at least in the movie), for ill. It also addresses some issues that I explored in “The Historian” that continue to move me artistically and interest me personally, like the often complicated relationships between parents and children or what fidelity really means nowadays. Addiction was a new wrinkle in this one.
Who do you think the movie is going to appeal to?
I think anyone who dug “No Country for Old Men” or season one of “True Detective” or “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (book or movie)” or any number of other southern gothic crime dramas will really get into this film. If you loved those wonderful character dramas of the 1970s, Sidney Lumet’s films (especially “Dog Day Afternoon”) or something like “Straw Dogs”, you’ll probably like it too.
Would you like to do something from a different genre next?
To me everything is about story and characters. I almost don’t think about genre. I just relish the opportunity to plumb the depths of the human psyche by way of a compelling narrative. If there’s more fighting or jokes than what has been typical of my first two films, well, that’s OK too.
What’s next for you?
“Hollow” EP Lisa Bruce has asked me to direct a film called “Comes An Angel”, written by Lisa’s partner and “Hollow” co-producer, Mark Ryland. We hope to shoot that in 2016. I’ve just completed another script that I’m very excited about and I hope to get that one in the pipeline soon as well. Both that script and “Angel” are incredibly timely. They’re both scripts that are just screaming to be made, at least in my view. I’m also returning to my roots to direct some theater next year and I’m very excited about that as well.