This year the Santa Barbara film festival opened with “Miranda’s Victim”, the latest movie by director Michelle Danner (“The Runner”, “Bad Impulse”). The film tells the gripping story of Patricia “Trish” Weir, a young girl who was abducted and raped in the ‘60s by Ernesto Miranda. We spoke with Danner about why she chose this important and emotional story for her next film, how the superb Abigail Breslin came on board and how the shooting of this movie went.
Liselotte Vanophem (OC Movie Reviews): Hi Michelle, congratulations on this stunning film and the world premiere of it during the SBFF. How was that evening for you?
Michelle Danner (“Miranda’s Victim”): Thank you so much for doing this! The world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival will be an unforgettable evening in my book. The support for the movie from the actors, and the love on the red carpet was overwhelming, scary and exciting but the culmination of it was to watch it in a theatre with over 2000 people and have them respond to the movie. That energy is something that you cannot duplicate anywhere else. Ultimately I was incredibly grateful for this special experience.
LV: This movie is based on actual events. How did you come across of story of Patricia “Trish” Weir?
MD: I was approached to direct this movie, and the moment I read what it was about, I was immediately excited because I have a fascination with true crime stories. I immediately connected to what it took for her to stand up and seek justice. I went to Phoenix, Arizona and walked her path that night from the theatre to get on the bus to being taken to the desert and the Maricopa Court House. Later I found out that someone very close to me had a very similar experience, and maybe that is why I connected so deeply to it.
LV: Do you think a lot has changed regarding criminal cases regarding rape victims? Do you think it’s easier/harder than in the 60s for them to tell their story?
MD: Things have changed, absolutely, since the ME Too movement, there is no question about it, but unfortunately it’s still scary for people to come forth in 2023. There is a line of dialogue by the mother where she says, “nothing has changed”, and in a way that is still true today. The truth is that we need more people to not be afraid of the repercussions when they come forward the repercussions are that they are not believed, and sometimes the tables are turned, and the victims are accused of making it up.
LV: Abigail Breslin is exceptional as Trish. How did she come on board?
MD: I was trying to cast, and I had a lot of pictures on my desk and was looking at clips from a lot of different young actresses, and then I had a thought: stop and don’t mess around. Just cast a real actress. I sent the script to Abigail, she read it the day after, and we met the next day. We looked into each other’s eyes and said: Let’s do this. The rest is history.
LV: When watching the film, it becomes clear that this must have been a very emotional experience for her. How did you guys ensure she felt comfortable on-set doing those scenes?
MD: Well, one of the things that Abbie is, is very brave, and that, of course, infused the character of Trish, whose bravery is what made justice prevail. There were a couple of scenes that were tough to shoot, but we had many conversations about them and worked slowly and deeply it did become very raw at times, there is always a price to pay for going there, but it’s important to take risks. Sebastian, who plays Miranda, had a great friendship with Abbie and was very thoughtful, and we had an intimacy coordinator who ensured that everyone stayed safe.
LV: The supporting cast is stunning as well. Can you tell me a bit more about their casting process?
MD: Donald Sutherland has always been one of my very favourite actors because he reminded me of my dad. When he said Yes, I felt that there was a guiding force in this movie. All of these actors were my first choice. I worked with Enrique Murciano before, a student of mine years ago, and whenever I approach him for a project, he is not available in true fashion, his agent said he was not available this time, but Enrique pushed to make it work. I have always admired Andy Garcia, Ryan Phillippe, Luke Wilson, Kyle MacLachlan, Dan Lauria. As many people, I watched Revenge with Emily VanCamp and Josh Bowman! And having loved The Killing with Mireille Enos and Brent Sexton, later sitting at dinner with all these amazing actors around the table, I felt that something exceptional was going to happen.
LV: This movie is filled with many emotional, hard-to-watch, but essential scenes. For me, the one that stood out the most was, without a doubt, the doctor’s visit. When looking back, what scene stood out the most for you?
MD: Yes, the doctor scene was a hard scene to shoot and uncomfortable, but as you said very necessary. The last day of the shoot was the most difficult. We had lost time because there was an alert for a thunderstorm, I had given us the whole last day to shoot the rape scene, and now we only had half a day. I walked on set with 27 set ups, and everybody said it was never going to happen, and I told everybody, “watch me”. I was very focused, I took deep breaths. So that particular scene inside the car, I will always remember because we were all emotional.
LV: The events are taking place in the early 60s, and the vibe and feel of this movie feel very authentic. Think about the cars, the hairstyles, etc. How hard/easy was it to re-create that era?
MD: We were lucky enough, George Kolber, our wonderful writer-producer, had a connection with an automobile club that had the cars for the time period. But our entire team was incredible! Rick Butler and Lily Guerin were our production designers and created these intricate sets; Jennifer Lee Scott made all the stunning costumes; Stephanie Barr and Allison Imoto-Suh created the perfect hair and make-up. All the teams were outstanding. It really takes a village. Of course, my cinematographer, Pierluigi Malavasi helped to create that authenticity. I also want to say that my producers, editor, and everyone behind the scenes was so committed and truly wonderful!
LV: After the screenings during the SBFF, will this movie go to other film festivals, and will it get a worldwide release?
MD: Yes, the movie has already been invited to other festivals. We will announce them on social media, I love film festivals! It’s a great way to build momentum and nurture films, and we’re looking for a distributor to have a worldwide release.
LV: One last question: Do you already have other films you’re working on?
MD: Yes, I am very happy to be working on some comedies and another movie based on a true story. So stay tuned.
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