Seeking more than "Double Digits" at Loft Film Fest

A long-time Internet filmmaker known for his DIY YouTube videos turned his camera on another filmmaker who takes the concept of “do it yourself” to its furthest extremes. What was originally intended as a week-long shoot to make a short documentary transformed into a multi-year process when director Justin Johnson delved into the story of Richard “R.G.” Miller, a 52-year-old in Wichita, Kansas who shoots home movies that have the scope of a blockbuster. 

Today the feature-length documentary “Double Digits: The Story of a Neighborhood Movie Star” will play at the Loft Film Fest, with director Johnson in attendance.

His appearance at the Loft Film Fest marks the first time Johnson has been to Tucson, and he has Jeff Yanc, Program Director at The Loft Cinema, to thank. Yanc believed that “Double Digits” fit well into the festival’s eclectic fare.

“It’s a really great film about the importance of film, and sort of the therapeutic qualities of film,” Yanc said. “It’s also very entertaining, and it made me want to watch R.G. Miller’s films.” 

Yanc noted that Miller’s films would also probably go over very well at The Loft’s First Friday Shorts, a monthly film competition that panders to films off the beaten path.

Johnson, along with Erik Beck, co-created YouTube channels Indy Mogul and The Indie Machines: webcasts intended to teach independent filmmakers how to produce good-looking films on a budget. Most of these educational videos don’t run longer than 10 minutes, and the turnaround time is days, instead of years, so how did Johnson approach a project that would be over an hour long? 

He just made the big, small.

“Because it was so daunting to think about putting together an 80-minute film, what I actually did was I broke it up into little five-minute films, [which] were their own little separate pieces,” Johnson said.

The inception of this journey was when Johnson received a DVD in the mail. Immediately, Johnson’s attention was caught by the fact that the submission didn’t come from a teenager. 

“Beyond that, it was just the scope that he was trying to create, the ambitious concepts that he was getting across,” Johnson said. “If you read the script, and you saw that there’s a car chase and there’s a scene with a helicopter, and there’s a motorcycle and explosions, you’d think, ‘This would cost $50,000,000 to make.’”

The DVD was Miller’s “Ace Thunder Ace,” a 30-minute military action thriller set in war-torn Africa, but filmed in Miller’s house and nearby side lots. 

However, Johnson still originally didn’t believe that his subject would result in a lengthy piece. During his first trip to Wichita, Johnson realized there was much more to Miller’s story.

“His spirit and his ambition: I just had to understand the story behind it,” Johnson said.

Without going into the finer details of the documentary, Miller’s story is one of redemption, as he had to overcome substance addiction and incarceration in order to ultimately make his movies.

Johnson and his documentary haven’t been on the festival circuit for long. The world premiere was at the Filmfestival Kitzbühel on August 26. The North American premiere took place just last week at the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas, and with the film actually being shot in Wichita, the homecoming of sorts made for an emotional experience for both audience and filmmaker.

“We got three standing ovations, … and there were people kind of in tears asking questions during the Q&A,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty amazing, eye-opening experience for me, having worked on this in a tiny edit room for the last three years.”


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