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Nathan Adloff on Volleyball, Technology, and the 90s of Miles

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By Tom Ue.

Nathan Adloff made his feature film debut with Nate & Margaret, for which he was director, co-writer, and producer. It sold for worldwide distribution prior to completion and received a commendatory review from Roger Ebert. Nathan acted in Joe Swanberg’s early films and IFC series. His short film “Cock N’ Bull,” in which he acted, screened in the Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival.

His second semi-autobiographical feature film, Miles, has completed post-production. The story centers around a high school senior (Tim Boardman) who joins the girls volleyball team in hopes of winning a college scholarship. It stars Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Missi Pyle, Boardman, Annie Golden, Yeardley Smith and Stephen Root. The film is screening as part of the 26th Annual Toronto LGBT Film Festival.

Thank-you for this cleverly conceived and well executed film, your second feature! The film is semi-autobiographical. What elements of it are biographical?

Thanks! My first feature, Nate & Margaret, was also semi-autobiographical and can be taken as a loose sequel to Miles. As far as what is inspired by real experiences in my life, I did play on my school’s girl’s volleyball team (there was no boy’s team) and my father did squander my college money on a lady friend just before passing away. The fictional element to tie these two things together is the volleyball scholarship that Miles is going for. I played for a year in junior high and for the sake of higher stakes and a more interesting experience, Miles is a high school senior seeking a new path to get himself to Chicago.

What was so important about returning to this period in your life?

Writing stories based on my real life really appeals to me. They say “write what you know,” and I just think that’s so true. It’s not only easier, because I had so much to pull from: it’s also quite cathartic. This was a difficult time for my mother and I but I think it is a story that many can relate to when thinking about our upbringings.

What parts of it did you change?

Miles05In addition to making Miles a high school senior and adding in the volleyball scholarship component, there were many small details that were changed to better shape the script. The small town name is also fictional and my mother didn’t date the school superintendent. The ending also differs from real life, but I don’t want to spoil anything!

The style and sound of the film are well matched. Tell us about some of your decisions there.

That’s great, thank you! I set out to make this film as a sort of love letter to the 1990s. That point in my life was so significant. It’s when I knew I wanted to make films as well as being forced to deal with a parent dying at such a young age. In a perfect world, the soundtrack would be full of recognizable 90s tunes. However, for an independent film, it doesn’t make sense to use such a large chunk of the budget to license music. So you do what you can to best match your dream songs with affordable tracks that sound like they came out of that era. I also had two incredible composers (Justin Bell and Jonathan Levi Shanes) and music supervisor (Melany Mitchell) knocking it out of the park. Everything else, like the old dial-up internet sounds, beanie babies and movie posters are pulled directly from my childhood.

The casting is spot-on and there is remarkable chemistry between Miles (Tim Boardman) and his mother (Molly Shannon). How did you cast the film?

Casting this movie was such an amazing and surreal experience for me. My main producer, Ash Christian, connected us with casting director, Rich Delia. They had worked together recently on a big budget project and Ash thought he would be a good fit for Miles. Things happened very quickly after Rich came on board. He is known to cast huge studio movies as well as smaller project and is the real deal. Rich asked me to put together a “dream list” of cast for each role, where Molly Shannon was my first pick for Pam. I met with her and spent a few hours with her three days later and the rest is history. The same thing happened with Paul Reiser and Missi Pyle. I’m still pinching myself and am so grateful to Ash and Rich for making it all happen.

Miles12As far as casting Tim Boardman as Miles, we got tapes from all over the place. It was really important to me to cast an actor of the same age as Miles. It’s so distracting and unbelievable in movies and TV shows when I see thirty-somethings playing high schoolers. Well, I understand now why that happens—it’s very difficult to find young actors that have the chops to carry their own movie opposite such seasoned actors. After seeing Tim’s audition videos, we met over Skype a few times (I was in LA and he is New York-based) and he got the role. I didn’t get to meet him in person until I arrived in New York days before we began filming. So I was very thankful that Tim and Molly immediately hit it off and had great chemistry.

How did the actors prepare for their roles, especially the dance sequences and the volleyball matches?

I like to be as available as possible to my actors. Some like to have many lengthy discussions about the script and my real life experiences, where others really find what they need on set in the moment. We didn’t have the luxury of having any rehearsal time before shooting. Tim and the volleyball girls had a couple of days where they went to volleyball practice and Molly loves dancing, so she was good to go with her scene.

Why set the film in 1999?

I was a high school senior in 1999, so it was naturally the time period to set it in. Before going into pre-production, I did get the question of if it needs to be a period piece or can it take place today. Growing up with dial-up internet, AOL chat rooms and no iPhones with dating apps, meeting people was very different, which I also wanted to show.

Do you think that technological advances would have changed the story? How do you think the use of instant messaging and the slow internet communication through a dial-up modem affected Miles’ friendship online?Would it have figured differently today?

Yes, it absolutely would have. Today, it’s so easy to swipe a few times on your phone and then meeting up for coffee or sex moments later. Back in the early days of the internet and chat rooms, things were so much slower and also very anonymous. You could easily hide behind a screen name with no photos or location information. I wanted to draw attention to how important it was growing up different in a tiny town and using the internet allowed you to connect with people in similar situations all over the world. It was comforting and encouraging to know that I could go to places where I could surround myself with such accepting and supportive people after graduating high school.

Is there any truth to what Miles’ mother says about staying back in Illinois? Is Miles romanticizing Chicago too much?

Miles03I think Pam is being very realistic when she tells Miles that it’s ok to stick around for a year or two after high school to save up money so he can move away being a bit more financially secure. Staying in a small town was never really an option for me. I knew I wanted to be in a big city, surrounded by creative people and making films. Many people I grew up with still live in my home town, married their high school sweetheart, and had kids. I think that is a perfectly fine life, but I wanted a different future. Chicago was the closest big city that I was most familiar with. Thinking back and wondering why I didn’t have my eyes set on New York or Los Angeles, I think that was sort of my way of compromising. I thought if I stayed somewhat close to home, maybe I could convince my mom to get on board with the idea.

The film does not condemn the choices of Miles’ mother, who is quite content with her job, cooking, and cutting out coupons. Was this on purpose?

Absolutely. As I touched on in the previous answer, I never felt there was anything “wrong” with living in a small town and being perfectly content. I’m glad that shows through. My mom actually got out of town and moved to Florida immediately after she retired as a school teacher. She is re-married, loving life and quite tan.

We never see Chicago in the film. What do you envision as Miles’ future?

My last feature, Nate & Margaret, could be loosely viewed as the next phase in life for Miles. I think he would be having a fun, creative life surrounded by accepting, like-minded people in the big city making films. He would of course be taking the bus often back to Pondley to visit his mom.

What is next for you?

Writing, writing, writing! I’ve spent the better part of the last year making Miles. There are a handful of projects in the works on the writing side of things, but I’m also on the hunt to find a very personal script of someone else’s to fall in love with and direct. I’m also gearing up for a packed summer film festival tour with Miles!

Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue was a Visiting Scholar at Yale University and at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer, and he has held an Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

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