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Filmmaker Spotlight: Miles Davis Murphy (Open Projector Night Audience Vote Winner)

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Miles Davis Murphy talks about process and inspiration behind his film that won the audience vote at Open Projector Night.

We'd like to congratulate our last Open Projector Night winner, Miles Davis Murphy, and his film 'Bestial Ones'. Nicholas Hartman from the Grand Rapids Film Society sat down to have a conversation with Miles to learn more about him, his process, and filmmaking background. 

Sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with an award winning filmmaker; Miles Davis Murphy.

1) Hey Miles! I hope you’re doing well and are all settled back home. Let’s kick this interview off with a simple question: who is Miles Davis Murphy? Give us a little bio.

Let’s see...I was born at home in Grand Rapids, in the Eastown area. My mom is a home birth midwife herself, so I grew up within that community. Music is a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was pretty young and — from my teens into my twenties — I played in various local bands. Mostly punk stuff, but I was part of a ‘dark wave’ project at one point. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Short stories, poetry, music and songs. It’s always been something I’ve done. Most likly similar to people reading this, I’ve been obsessed with film my whole life, and as soon as I was able to get my hands on a camera I’ve been shooting. I don’t know, I never know what to say in these things. I think I’m a pretty nice person. My friends would probably say I’m a rascal. I love pizza and cats.

2)  For those who haven’t seen your film 'Bestial Ones' can you explain what it’s about and your inspiration behind the film?

Bestial Ones is a family drama which follows Fiadh (fee - ah) a young single mother who spends her days working as a home-care nurse and her nights amongst the grit and grime of Dublin’s DIY punk scene. She shares an inner-city flat with her father Danny and her eight year old son Maithi (ma - hee), who is having difficulty both in and out of school. There is a distance between the members of this small family. Maithi is a troubled child and needs the guidance and support of a present force, but Fiadh is struggling to connect with motherhood and mourns the loss of her independence. This friction has caused Fiadh to feel restless. When an old acquaintance returns to town, it presents an opportunity for escape, forcing her to choose between her child or the chance to leave everything behind. The film is set in Dublin, where I am currently based, but I took inspiration from my experience growing up in the GR punk scene, my relationship with my own mother as a young boy, and having a child myself when I was a teenager.

3) I feel like every filmmaker has that ‘spark,’ That moment where they say to themselves: “Yes, this is what I want to do, I want to make films.” Did you have that moment, and if so, could you share it with us?

I’m sure that I did, but I honestly can’t recall a specific moment. I’ve always been fascinated with film, and I think I got that from my dad. He’s a big cinephile, and when I was a kid I would go over to his house and we would just watch movies. He had a pretty big VHS collection, and he’d show me the all the classics or else we’d go to the rental store and watch something more current. I had access to so many films — a lot of which I shouldn’t necessarily have been watching at a young age — but that exposure definitely planted a seed. I eventually got my hands on a Sony Handicam and from there on out I was constantly making short films, either by myself or forcing anyone around me to be in them. In high school I had a film class, and for my final project we made a silly zombie comedy/musical. The story was intentionally bad, but the film itself was the most polished thing I’d made up to that point. It was the first time I had an actual crew as opposed to me and a few friends doing everything ourselves. I suppose that was when I had the idea that this was something I could actually do with my life, but I didn’t begin to pursue filmmaking in earnest until many years later.

4) Bestial Ones has a strong punk rock feel to it. From the costuming, music, and overall attitude. As one who grew up in a punk/hardcore scene myself, can you talk about your experience with the genre/scene and why you wanted to explore it in your film?

I got into punk music when I was pretty young, like 12/13, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started going to local shows and connecting with other people in the Michigan scene. I feel like that period in the early 2000s was a great time for the scene; you were really spoiled for choice between venues like Skelletones and the DAAC, and then all the shows happening in basements and DIY spots. And that was just in GR — there were great spots all over Michigan. There was just so much going on, and these experiences and meeting all of these people happened at such a formative point in my life that it definitely shaped me into who I am today. I’ve always loved the idea of setting a story within that world, but not necessarily making the “world” the focus of the narrative. Like you’ve got punk films like Suburbia (I actually love the film) that are loud, silly, and punk with an exclamation point, but then you have more understated things like This Is England, which has its setting within a counterculture but is really a film about grief and finding a place to belong. With Bestial Ones I wanted to make something more within that vein. I loved making the film, but I feel like I didn’t get to explore that world as much as I would’ve wanted. I didn’t scratch that itch, if you will, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to the world of punk in some capacity with future projects.

5) Let’s talk a little bit about your journey. You’re a Grand Rapids, MI native but moved to Ireland to pursue film. What was the decision behind the move and how has that shift helped mold your creativity?

So the journey was actually much more complicated. In 2013, I was working at a bookstore and one of GR’s plethora of breweries while playing in bands in my free time. I was in my early twenties, it was fun, but overall I wasn’t really happy. I was feeling stagnant. I had saved up a bunch of money over the years and was plotting a potential move out of state but, on a whim, decided to use the money to travel around Europe. Because this isn’t a biography of my life, I’ll condense the next few years down as much as possible. What was meant to be a summer trip turned into me falling love with the city of Berlin and deciding I wanted to stay there. I lived there for almost a year, busking on the street and doing bits of work under the table while I attempted to get a visa, which I was eventually denied. During that time, I met the Irish woman I would eventually marry and was able to secure a visa for Ireland and moved there instead. During that year, I started to make connections in the Irish film Industry and when my visa expired, we got married and moved to GR. We were in Michigan for almost a year before Donald Trump got elected, and we fled the country. That was when I made the decision to apply to the National Film School of Ireland. I absolutely feel like living abroad has expanded my influences. Having the opportunity to experience different cultures and meet people from all over the world has been invaluable. I’ve been exposed to art of all mediums which I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and it has absolutely molded my creativity for the better.

6) As you know, Open Projector Night is a Michigan-based festival, and we do our best to celebrate MI filmmakers. We understand your film was shot in Ireland; however, can you express how your Michigan roots made you the filmmaker that you are?

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having grown up in Michigan. I think all of the traits that are necessary to be a good filmmaker are bred into us here. There’s this fierce resilience that all Michiganders are brought up with which comes along with having to endure the extremes of each season, an adaptability and a DIY mentality when it comes to getting things done. We’re also so lucky to have access to all of this nature, even if you’re brought up in the city you’re almost never more than 20 minutes from the country. With that being said, there’s definitely things that I don’t like about the state, namely the religious and political conservatism that’s quite common, but despite that I am very proud to be from Michigan, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

7) Let’s be honest: there’s so much that can go wrong on set, and it’s almost inevitable something will happen. Did you have a moment where something didn’t go according to plan and, if so, how did you resolve it and what did you learn?

We were honestly so lucky with how well everything went on this shoot. There was a lot stacked against us with the amount of locations and having to work around the constraints of child hours, but we’d done so much work in preproduction that when any issues arose I feel we were quite prepared for them — but that’s not to say that we didn’t have our stresses. One instance that stands out is halfway through the shoot we were on an exterior scene; it was freezing, and we were chasing the sun trying to make the day when our child actor reached a point where he did not want to continue. Working on set can be hard on anyone but particularly so for young actors. At the end of the day, they’re still kids. The hours are long and despite how prepared you may be there’s still a lot of sitting around between takes. Hughie was eight years old at the time, and this was his third full day in a row, which is a lot for an actor of that age, so as soon as I could see he was distressed we wrapped him out. We had to rewrite the scene on the fly as a result, but because of all the prep we had done we knew the important beats within the scene, so from there it was just finding a creative new way to land them. This is why I can’t stress enough the importance of really tearing apart your script in preproduction. If you’ve done your work, and know what’s important in each scene, then it’s so much easier to be open when things inevitably change.

8) I know this is a difficult yet cliché question, but I’m curious to know your favorite film, why, and how/if it played a role in your life.

I definitely do not have a favorite film. I have a list of about twenty films, and it is constantly changing, so I’ll give you five from it in no particular order. Blue Valentine by Derek Cianfrance, Chungking Express by Wong Kar-Wai, Fishtank by Andrea Arnold, Jaws by Steven Spielberg, and Titanic by James Cameron. I don’t even care what anyone may think about the last one, I unabashedly love Titanic — it’s a beautiful film. I’d also probably put Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies on there. And maybe Seven Samurai. Also The Thing. See? I cannot answer this question, I’ll just go on and on. I do think that Blue Valentine doesn’t get the attention it deserves, I never really hear anyone talking about the film, and I think it’s fantastic. It’s a beautiful yet heartbreaking depiction of how a relationship begins, grows, and eventually ends. Powerful performances. On the topic of films about relationships ending, 45 Years by Andrew Haigh is also brilliant. I also love Shane Meadows. I’m going to stop now.

9) Filmmaking is like a game of telephone. You write your script and then pass it off to others such as the actors, cinematographer, etc. I know you wrote Bestial Ones so I must ask: do you feel like your vision was compromised in any way or do you feel what you wrote was delivered how you visioned it?

There are a couple scenes and beats within scenes that were shot but inevitably didn’t make the final cut of the film. They were either superfluous or I didn’t cover them properly, so we didn’t have what we needed to make them work in the edit. Some of these I really wish we could’ve made work, but it’s all part of the learning experience. Ultimately, the film is stronger without them, but it’s also stronger because of the collective talents of everyone involved. The actors were able to transform these characters from something on a page into “real” people with aches and needs, the cinematographer captured the nuances of their performances and used lighting to create appropriate moods for each scene, and the production designers created the whole world. That’s what I love about filmmaking: the collaborative nature of the medium. As a writer/director, I get to design a story, but it’s the strengths of the team that turn that world into something greater. Obviously there are times out of necessity where, as filmmakers, we are forced to wear many different hats, but there is always someone who is better at a particular craft, and if you have the luxury of gaining their inputs and expertise then you are going to have a better film as a result. So no, the final version of Bestial Ones is not exactly how I envisioned it. It’s very close, but I actually believe that our end result is better.

10) This is kind of a cheesy question, but it’s something I like to ask all of our award-winning filmmakers: if you were granted an unlimited budget and you can make your dream film — what would it be?

I think my answer to this question would change constantly depending on what I am working on at that moment in time. My taste in film is all over the place, and I have favorites in pretty much every genre. As much as I love an old-fashioned big epic, I’ve never had a desire to make one, so I don’t think I’d need an insane budget for anything I’m excited about at the moment. I’m currently developing a story for a feature and because its the freshest in my mind that would be my dream film right now. Ireland is currently in the midst of one of the worst housing crises in the world. In Dublin, rent prices are quadruple the average wage and foreign vulture funds are snatching up property and sitting on them to drive up prices. That’s the backdrop for our story. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s kind of a fish-out-of-water crime thriller about a group of housing activists who attempt to get even with a local slumlord by trashing his house, but things go horribly wrong in the process. Think Green Room meets Good Time.

11) What’s next for Miles? Any new films in the works or any other creative endeavors you’d like to share?

Something great about Ireland is they have a state development agency for the film, television, and animation industries called Screen Ireland which provides funds for the development, production, and distribution of films. It’s extremely competitive but an incredible resource. I have a production company attached to my new short film script titled Hounds, and we’ll be applying for production funding from Screen Ireland this year. So, if successful, we’ll hopefully be shooting that sometime this year. Then there’s the feature I’m developing, plus a few other ideas I’ve been tossing around. And probably one of the biggest goals of mine is to come home and make something in Michigan. Whether that be a short or feature (most likely a short to start), it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. That’s one thing that really drew me to Open Projector Night, the chance to meet other Michigan filmmakers and make connections. I’ve been gone for a long time now and am very much in the dark about what’s happening on the film scene here, so it was really exciting to check out some of the local talent and meet — hopefully — future collaborators.

12) How do we stay up to date with you and see more of your work? Do you have any social media/websites you’d like to share?

I do have an Instagram, but I’m not the most active person on social media. You can give me a follow (at) voidtalk and keep up to date with my life and projects, or you can always shoot me an email at [email protected] if you ever want to get in touch.

13) If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self when you were just starting out as a filmmaker, what advice would you give?

In a lot of ways, I feel like I still am just starting out. I’m still discovering new things about myself and filmmaking with every project, experimenting with different genres, techniques, etc. If I had to say something, I suppose it would be that perfection is an illusion — it doesn’t exist — so don’t put off writing that script or making that film because you’re waiting for everything to be perfect. Just do it, and however it turns out you’ll have made something, and you’ll have learned something. I basically have to remind myself of this every day.

14) Any words on Open Projector Night?

I think it’s incredible that Open Projector Night exists. It’s wonderful for the filmmakers to have this platform to showcase their work, and it’s great for the community to be able to experience the creative talents of Michigan filmmakers. It’s clear that a lot of thought goes into the curation of films, the organization of the event, and the night itself. Big, big love to everyone involved in Open Projector Night, GR Film Society, and the Wealthy Theater for all that you do for Michigan film, and I hope to have the opportunity to screen more of my work at future events. Thanks for letting me ramble to you...and if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Open Projector Night winner, Miles Davis Murphy, and we hope to see you at our next event on March 20th, 2024.

Are you a filmmaker and looking to screen your film on the big screen? If so, please visit for submission rules and guidelines.














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