Michelle Danner is an American acting coach, visionary founder, and artistic director of the Edgemar Center for the Arts. Having made her mark as an actor, director, and acting coach, Michelle’s journey is filled with achievements and groundbreaking works. In 2006, she made her directorial debut with the film ‘How to Go Out on a Date in Queens,’ earning accolades, including the ‘Best Acting and Best Movie’ awards at the LA Film Awards. Michelle is not the one to shy away from thought-provoking storytelling, as she also directed the impactful film ‘Hello Herman’ in 2013, exploring the impact of peer abuse and societal issues on a high school student’s life.
Yet another of Michelle’s projects tackled sensitive issues. Her latest project, titled ‘Miranda’s Victim’ explores the life of Patricia “Trish” Weir and her attack at the hands of Ernest Miranda. It also explores the origin of ‘Miranda Warning.’ We had the opportunity to discuss the project with Michelle and gained insight into her inspiration, expectations, and how this biographical crime drama was made.
Fiction Horizon: What initially drove you to tell this story?
Michelle Danner: I was approached with this story by George Kolber, who had the idea to ask the question of what happened to Miranda’s Victim. He did the research and found out who she was, a very brave young woman, Patricia Weir, who, in 1963, stood up for herself. After I was offered this project and started to research it, I realized how important it was and how it impacted me. Someone close to me experienced a similar event, and I was compelled to tell a very important story.
Was it hard to balance the personal aspects of Trish’s story with the need to stay legally and factually accurate?
We tried to stay very faithful to it since it was based on a series of interviews with Trish and courtroom transcripts. I feel we achieved that, but ultimately it’s a human story about courage and determination and about how justice can come full circle.
Were there any challenges that you came across while you were recreating the 60′ on the set?
We were fortunate enough to work with a great team. Our wonderful production designers, Lilly Guerin and Rick Butler. Our costume designer Jennifer Leigh-Scott, our hair and make-up team, Allison Imoto-Suh, and Stephanie Barr. Eddie Collyns, our location manager, the list goes on. We were also lucky to shoot in an authentic police station and courtroom of the 60s, thanks to George.
As a matter of fact, no one shot there before or after we finished filming since they tore it down a few days after we wrapped. The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank added to the authenticity. It was an incredible artistic team that made it all come to life in a very believable way.
Can you discuss the research process behind the film?
For me, the research entailed watching many courtroom thrillers. ‘The Accused’ was my inspiration first and foremost, but I also saw ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘Justice for All,’ ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ and ‘The Verdict’ many times. I also thought it was important to shoot the movie on film because it added to the texture of the period. I’m glad I fought for that. If you’re able to create the world of the story, you can immerse your audience in it.
Are there some fictionalized elements in the story, or did you follow the events as they unfolded?
There are always fictionalized elements in any story, you always heighten certain things, but we followed a road map in terms of the series of events with the two trials, the supreme court ruling, and of course, the event at the end (that I won’t reveal) which I found fascinating when I heard it. We wanted to be very accurate, and I think we achieved that.
What do you hope will be the overall message that the viewers will take from the movie?
I hope that this is a story that will inspire many to not stay quiet and speak up. Since 1963, there have been many brave women that spoke their truth. It has been very clear with the #MeToo movement that we are still working through this. There are too many injustices where the people responsible never face the consequences.
Why do you think that this case has never been put on the big screen, especially seeing how true crime has become such a popular genre in the last few years?
That is a mystery that no one has the answer to. Everybody that came together to be part of Miranda’s Victim has asked that question. On that Sunday night, when I received the email about this project, I asked: Why hasn’t this story been told? Not through a film, a documentary or mini series. This is what makes the story unique. Of course, partly the answer is that Trish never told anyone her side of the story, but now she felt it was finally time.
Do you plan on tackling some other projects of similar nature?
It’s so funny you should mention that. Yes, I am working on several projects that are based on true, socially relevant stories. It’s something that I care about deeply.