EXCLUSIVE | Wes Miller believes 'A Day To Die' made him feel like complete filmmaker
Filmmaker Wes Miller began his career with short films like 'In Your Hands', 'Chapter One: The Date' and 'What a Wonderful World'. He was waiting for the perfect moment to direct a feature film and that moment came in 2015 when he directed his first feature titled 'Lily Grace: A Witch Story'. Since then, he has donned the director's hat for movies like 'River Runs Red', 'Prayer Never Fails', 'Atone', and 'Hell on the Border'.
The filmmaker is back with another movie and this time he is not leaving any stone unturned to have another success to his name. Titled 'A Day to Die', the movie revolves around a man named Connor (Kevin Dillon) who has just one day to pay reparations to Tyrone Pettis (Leon). Connor is forced to ask his old military ops crew, led by Brice Mason (Frank Grillo), to come together to get him two million dollars before he loses everyone he loves in the process.
The movie also stars legendary actor Bruce Willis in a pivotal role and currently holds a 97% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
MEAWW caught up with Wes Miller and discussed what was the idea behind the movie. Also, he opened up about how he gave up his career as a civil rights lawyer and became a filmmaker.
Q) You have a diverse resume. You started with short movies, then directed a horror film. Since then, you have directed a lot of action thrillers. So, how's your journey been? and do you worry sometimes that producers are going to just label you as someone who only takes up action-thrillers?
Wes Miller: Umm, I am not really worried about it because I feel like I am genre-agnostic even though I do think I have a nice leaning toward action-thrillers. But honestly, if I can tell a good story, I’ll be happy. Meanwhile, my journey has been really amazing. You know the transition was very difficult and emotional, from being going from an attorney to a filmmaker. My philosophy is and was based on watching a lot of great Hollywood directors. They just worked their hearts out and that’s how they got better at their craft. So, for me, when I was committed to making a change, you gotta work. This is a craft and you have to get better and you have to be dedicated to doing that. Learning the directing, the writing, and even the producing side, are all so different and difficult. I am really happy with the journey. There’s a part of me that thinks I wish I would have just gone straight out of college, but then I think about all the life lessons I learned being a lawyer.
Q) If you can, just tell us about your background? Was filmmaking and writing something that you always wanted to do? or it was something that came in the latter part of your life.
Wes Miller: Oh yes, movies have been a huge part of my life. I had my own Pixel-2000 and made black and white films with my friends in the neighborhood. Even when I was in law school, films were one of the mediums that I would turn to for motivation. I would watch movies like ‘The Rainmaker’ and ‘The Verdict’, you know just to kind of get extra motivation when things got tough. Even when I was practicing, my entire law office was decorated with movie posters. It wasn’t until the DSLRs came that I actually had access to a tool that allowed me to make a cinematic-looking image. I got my first camera and just started shooting. My first screenplay got picked in 2013 by a producer who is now an Emmy-winning director and he brought me out to the set. That’s when I really fell in love with film-making. It just lit a fire and a few years later, I was like I really want to do this and just went ahead with it.
Q) Now, talking about 'A Day To Die'. Just wanted to start by asking what was the idea behind the movie? And how did the movie come about?
Wes Miller: So, a friend of mine brought me the script and I was at a point when I just finished doing a western, and again, I just love going genre to genre. But I really wanted to do something active. I wanted a little challenge for myself was to try to infuse myself in something that is a straightforward action piece and try to give it meaning. Also, we wanted to make a movie as big as we can on a limited budget and then do that while working with actors, you know as a director that’s my sweet area and that’s how it came about. I really wanted to do something that kind of expanded my muscles as a filmmaker and also my brand to the foreign world and to distributors so they understand that Wes Miller can make really explosive movies, but also say something in them.
Q) You have included a lot of socially-relevant issues in the movie. Fitting those things in the movie was always the idea?
Wes Miller: What happened was when I went into a re-write, I asked myself what are these characters going through and what’s missing. That’s when I came up with the Leon character and when this character came to life, it set up a really interesting dynamic between his world and the world of our protagonist. It saw the clashing of two different worlds which kind of resonates with the world we live in. We are so divisive right now, but there comes a time when we have to put our differences aside and attack a common evil.
Q) You worked with three amazing actors in the movie - Bruce, Frank, and Leon. How was your experience working with them?
Wes Miller: While growing up, Leon was like an icon in the African-American community. So, getting an opportunity to work with him was like ‘oh wow’. He plays such a bad guy sometimes that you’d be like ‘Man, is he really that mean?” which he’s absolutely not. He’s the sweetest dude ever and it was amazing that I got to work with him. I have worked with Frank before. He is really intense and he’s a guy that brings it every single time when the camera comes on, pushes you to be your best.
Meanwhile, Bruce is just a legend. You just sit back in a corner and be like “Hey, that’s Bruce Willis”. It was amazing to see everyone bring in their magic for the movie. It was humbling that these guys were ready to trust me with their craft.
Q) The production of the movie had to be paused because of the pandemic. Did that affect any of the written material? Did you change anything?
Wes Miller: No, because when we got paused we hadn’t started shooting yet, we were just in pre-production. We were aiming to start shooting in the first week of April 2021. We were building sets and getting everything ready and everything stopped. I did re-write stuff, but that did not happen because of the pandemic, but just really trying to tap into the story and get it to the best place when the cameras are on.
Q) How was the experience of making 'A Day To Die' compared to other films you've done?
Wes Miller: With ‘A Day to Die’, I personally felt like all the lessons that I learned before turned out to be really handy. I didn’t attend any film school and for every film I did I would be dedicated to working on a specific piece of the craft. With this one, everything came together. We had an amazing team, from the stunt team to the VFX team, everyone did extraordinary work. Most of the things we did in the film were practical. We used practical guns, practical explosions and that’s what I always wanted to do. I wanted to make viewers feel it as real as possible. It was just a wonderful experience. It took a lot of pre-planning and I used a 6K camera. This movie made me feel like a complete filmmaker.
Q) What's next for Wes Miller?
Wes Miller: Currently, we are in pre-production of another movie titled 'Three Mile In'. It's kind of 'Reservoir Dogs' meets Smokin' Aces and stars, Kelly Rowland from 'Destiny's Child'.