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“I wanted to protect my actors so they felt safe exploring” – Director Michelle Tanner talks Miranda’s Victim

7 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movies being covered here wouldn't exist.

Victim blaming and sexual abuse have sadly been woven into our society. And despite being in the 21st Century, women are still afraid to speak up because people might not believe them or even blame the victims. Throughout history, a few women dared to stand up, including Patricia ‘Trish' Weir.

Her incredible story wasn't only the start of the Miranda Rights but is now the centre point of Miranda's Victim, the latest movie by Hello Herman director (Hello Herman). To mark the film's release in the US, FILMHOUNDS chatted with Danner about its emotional subject, which still feels painfully relevant despite being set in the 1950s/60s.

Hi Michelle, congratulations on the film. How did you come across the story?

I was on a list of female directors to look at and got an email asking if I was interested in directing this. It was Sunday, and usually, I'm not in the office. However, I answered it straight away because I immediately understood it was about the Miranda Rights. I knew there hadn't been a movie about that and it could be very interesting. So I answered, saying ‘This is right up my alley. Yes, I'm interested in finding out more.'

After that,  I went, met, and talked, and then I didn't hear for four months. I said, ‘Oh, well, they went with someone else.' They were interviewing a lot of other directors. But it came back around and they said I had a powerful vision for the movie's storytelling and they were sold. The rest is history. A year later, we were shooting the film.

And how is directing a movie from someone's script different from directing your own?

I've never written an entire script. I've never gotten writing credit. When a director comes on board, the script is called the shooting script. You work with the writers, and sometimes, you change a line of dialogue when the line doesn't work. I was changing lines of dialogue on the set. The first time Flynn (Ryan Phillippe) was introduced to us, there was a lot of dialogue I didn't like for him. I was brainstorming, then I changed it a lot in the editing room. I honestly took it apart.

The script that is written is not the script that we necessarily shot or the script that we edited. I put it upside down. That's the job, the discovery and process. Sometimes, the process is tedious, overwhelming and frustrating. However, when it works, it's refreshing and exhilarating.

The cast of this movie is wonderful. How did you get all those fantastic actors together?

I did work with an excellent casting director, Nancy Bishop. I've worked with other casting directors before, and everybody has their list of people they want to cast. And she had one person she wanted to cast, which was the husband of Anne. However, she didn't tell me it was one of her students. She sent me a bunch of auditions, and he was the best one. And immediately, I picked him, not knowing he was on her list. That worked out. I had some solid ideas, and many actors were my first choice, such as , , , ,  and . A lot of first-choice actors that came to mind said yes.

 As a director, it must have felt amazing that your first choice was to work with you.

Yeah, Donald Sutherland was the first one that said yes. And I just jumped up and down because he always reminded me of my father my whole life. So, I had a strong connection to Donald Sutherland. And then he came on set, and we just hit it off. We've exchanged some lovely emails since last year. He wrote me, and it was just beautiful. I need to frame all his emails and put them on the wall.

Do you still remember his reaction after seeing the film?

Yeah, he was very positive. Abigail, Mireille and I visited my house to see it. They were pleased with it. A lot of the cast came out the first time we showed it. We were the opening night movie in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, in the historic Arlington Theatre. It was just great to see it with an audience and to see it with the cast. The cast loves and supports it. It was amazing.

Because many of those actors were your first choice, did they still have to do a casting?

No, not when offering the role to this calibre of actors. People have often asked me why these actors and I said, ‘They had the gravitas to play these important characters in this important story.' It's a very emotional film and very heavy regarding the topic.

The topics can be daunting and emotional. How were you guys able to create a safe space for each other?

The set was very harmonious. Everybody always comments on how calm I am. That's the only way I can be creative and get the best out of everyone. If somebody doesn't fit, it just doesn't work. I like a lot of positive energy around, so even though the subject matter is heavy, the atmosphere on the set is light. However, we needed to shoot those complex scenes. Many people walked away from the monitor the night we hit the rape scene. They didn't want to see it, but even then, I stayed very focused. That was the last night of the shoot, and the light was coming up. So I went into the car and directed it right there in the car handheld. I was afraid and I didn't want Abby to hurt her head.

We had safety people and intimacy coordinators and all of that, of course. But I was very sensitive about the subject matter and didn't want anybody to get hurt. It was a rough scene to shoot. I wanted to protect my actors so they felt safe exploring and taking risks to try things. However, since I shot Miranda's Victim, I shot another comedy movie with a different atmosphere on set. If you shoot something more dramatic or a comedy, there's just a different energy on set. There's no question about it.

In this movie, the mother doesn't believe her daughter. She wants to protect her family and ego and try to avoid it. Do you think there are still mothers who don't believe what their daughters tell them, even though it's true?

Absolutely. Mireille so beautifully portrayed what a mother was like in those times. It's a realistic portrayal of a mother in 1963 who loves her daughter, wants to protect her daughters, and understands the reality of the times. However, even today, a postscript plays at the end of the movie says that for 1,000 crimes, only five get convicted. So that means 995 crimes, for whatever reason, don't. Whether it's the pressures of people who love you, the shame associated with it, or the fear of not being believed, there are so many reasons why people would not come forward and share their stories of sexual assault.

There was a need for the Me Too movement a decade ago. Where people just rose and said enough is enough. That was the sentiment behind it. There's been a lot of bad behaviour that went unpunished. I think that there are things that are unspoken and that there's an elephant in the room. A woman who goes to report a crime to detectives and police and who's afraid of not being believed. This is because the police are a men's club. It's ‘He said, she said.'

You recreated the fantastic 1960s atmosphere and it looks so real, whether it's the cars, clothing, or even the very nice, colourful fridges. How were you able to bring it all together?

George Kolber was the person who found the story. He asked the question, what happened to Miranda's victim? He was responsible for the cars because he knew this automobile club of period cars. The courthouse was in the 60s. The police station was in the 60s. They tore it down. Right after we finished shooting, we built courtrooms and Mammoth University. There's a lot of authenticity in the movie. And, of course, I had an excellent art director and production designer. I shared with my artistic team my colour palette and what I wanted it to look like.

I wanted to shoot it on film, which was conducive to the look. It's different if you shoot on HD and film. So I thought as if I was ever going to fight for a movie to go on film. It's this movie of the era from 1963 to 1975. All of those elements were conducive to the richness of how the movie looks and how you're transported into the world of the period.

The movie is out now in cinemas and on-demand (US only). Will you still screen it at film festivals, too?

Yes, we're entering it for award consideration across the board. We're going to play a couple of other festivals, St. Louis and San Diego, that were residues of our festival circuit. We're excited to be part of it because going to film festivals is great. It opens up a conversation. It's a community watching together a story and responding. We were just in Catalina, where the movie won for best actress (Abigail Breslin), best director and best film. It was something very special that evening. We've been lucky and will continue to do more of the festival circuit. There are going to be screenings for award consideration. It will go out worldwide, and people will hopefully watch it.

Do you already have, apart from the comedy, projects you're working on and are allowed to discuss?

I'm allowed to mention Helios. It's a big movie that I'm working on. It's a sci-fi action thriller movie. with some great people attached from before the strike. We'll return to work on Helios and go into pre-production as soon as the strike ends. The Italians, this movie I just shot, is hilarious. I'm having a great time editing it. It's hilarious. We start post-production in a couple of months.

Miranda's Victim is out now in theatres and on-demand in the US.