Exclusive Interview with Justin O’Neal Miller: “Peggy’s apparent perfection became the ideal vehicle to explore this concept”

Peggy tells a story about a woman who appears to have it until..until the cracks begin to show. A film that cleverly makes us women think that we don’t HAVE to be perfect, especially in today’s modern society where having social status and a million likes on social media seem to be of great importance. We have the absolute pleasure of talking to the director of this brilliant film Justin O’Neal Miller. We spoke to him about where the idea of Peggy came from, how he brought the concepts on social status and appearance into this film, how long the film took to make and what his upcoming projects are.

Hi Justin, how are you doing?

Hi Just Celebrity Magazine! I’m doing pretty great! How are you?

Great thank you. Congratulations on your latest short film, Peggy. Where did the story for this wonderful film come from?

Thank you! The story came primarily from being a parent, and both hosting and attending kid’s birthday parties. In particular, I remember my oldest son opening a bunch of presents that I would never let him have otherwise: rot-your-teeth-out candy, violent video games, and the like. It felt like everyone was trying to sabotage our parenting style, and as I looked around at parents drinking beer, and coworkers without kids there for the networking, I realized that kid’s birthday parties these days are more about the adults than the kids.

Do you also see it a little bit as a reflection of the modern society in which appearance and social status is key?

Absolutely. The subtitle for the film is “The Art of Coveting in the Age of Social Media”, but this was a theme that I brought to the surface during pre-production (but after the main writing phase), after realizing how much of this phenomenon is fuelled by our image-centric culture. Peggy’s apparent perfection became the ideal vehicle to explore this concept, in a world where the pressure to keep up appearances seems to build and build.

As the title already suggests, the film is about Peggy and Sarah Blackman is amazing in the leading role. How did you come across her and how was the casting process?

Casting Director Jason MacDonald (who also plays Peggy’s husband) introduced me to Sarah Blackman while casting for a dramatic short film I produced. Her performance was real and visceral, and Jason mentioned that she is also quite funny, and he was not wrong. When the idea for Peggy began to take form, I knew that we needed an actress that was not only beautiful, but capable of a wide range, and so I wrote Peggy with Sarah in mind. Without ruining anything, she was nervous about the ending, which I assured her would be done with VFX, and then we were off to the races.

How did the rest of the cast come together?

Josh Warren (“Smidge”) and Jason MacDonald (“Brad”) are two of my key collaborators, and I wrote with each of them in mind. The rest of the cast we sought to balance each other out, and it kind of helps that I am married to the gorgeous woman in the mini-van (Mindy Sparks, who plays “Denise”), and that all of the minors with speaking roles were played by my children (Mies, Jude & Ziva). Turns out, I’m a pretty lucky man.

Even if it’s just a short film, there’s been a lot of people, work and effort involved in this film. How long did it take to make the film, from the first idea to the last minute in the editing room?

I’m scared to answer this question. Hahah. The bulk of the work, happened in a very short span of time, with about one week of prep, two weekend shoots, and about three weeks of editing, but a rough draft, was finished at the end of 2015, and our festival submission screener was completed in May of 2018. We shot in July of 2017, and a lot happened in between all of that. When I am art directing, I really don’t have the energy or time to keep with my own projects, and Peggy was virtually on hold for about eight months while I worked on Ed Zwick’s Trail by Fire and Damien Chazelle’s First Man, before I was able to return to it and complete the VFX. 

What was the easiest part to film? And the most difficult moment? Or did it all go as smoothly as you’d hoped for?

Surprisingly, the animals were probably the easiest part to film. We did everything you aren’t supposed to on this one: kids, animal, all exteriors with no rain cover (it rained), and VFX. That said, the animals were pretty much one-take-wonders. I also remember Sarah and Jason nailing their conversation at the end. We might have gotten that in one take. Maybe one for posterity.  The most difficult moment was probably the introduction of the party, where we have several characters being introduced, and getting the timing of everything was pretty difficult on a short schedule.

What do you hope people will take away from this film after watching it?

Great question! This answer might be different after sharing the theater with a lot of audiences. I think that this film is a cathartic experience, especially for women that have to deal with the dilemma presented by Peggy’s character. She somehow juggles the responsibilities and grace of a 50s housewife with the presence and glamour of a modern, empowered woman, and somehow has time to blog about it. I think that we all feel some of that pressure, regardless of gender, and that Peggy helps us let off some steam. We are laughing at ourselves just as much as the Peggy we all love to hate, and hate to love.

Since the start of its festival run, “Peggy” has won multiple awards. Did you ever expect this whilst making this movie, that this film would win various well-deserved awards?

I’m not sure anyone makes comedy these days with daydreams of winning awards. Maybe that will change soon, but I didn’t expect any awards, let alone “Best Short” and “Best in Show” awards. I think this is a testament to the sophistication of the performances in Peggy, but also to cosmic timing. I think we might need to laugh a little more right now than normal, and I’ll be eternally grateful to the judges who have chosen to honor this film. 

[For this film, you were writer/director/producer but for other films, you were involved in the art department or visual effects. Do you have any advice for people who want to gain experience in one of those areas and who are dreaming of getting into film?

For writer/directors, my main piece of advice is just to get out there and start making stuff! I came to filmmaking by way of architecture, but there is a unique path for every individual, and that path is a part of your voice. I’d encourage people to make mistakes, so that you can keep learning and improving. You’re never going to “be ready”. For those that are interested in getting onto larger projects, move to a production hub city and if you don’t know anyone, seek out the local indie community. 

What was it that made you want to be part of the movie industry?

The short answer is “The Lord of the Rings”. The long answer is “I don’t know”. Hahah. There is definitely an insatiable voice that compels me to create visual stories, and four insatiable mouths that compel me to make a paycheck, but I think it is ultimately a medium through which I am able to ask large questions, and to navigate complex topics. By the end of the process, I’ve hopefully arrived at some answers, but I tend to approach film as a platform to raise questions rather than make statements. 

One last question: Do you already have more upcoming projects? Maybe a first full-feature film?

Due to its unexpected success, we are currently developing Peggy into a half-hour comedy series, while also trying to push an adventure-comedy feature into production later this year!

Dear Just Celebrity Magazine, Thank you for your interest in Peggy, and for this interview! – Justin


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