Long Road to the Bijou for Eugene Man's Film
Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard
Even before the cameras started rolling, there was trouble behind the scenes of "Raising Flagg," a feature film by Eugene's Neal Miller.
In 2002, shortly before the film was set to begin shooting, Miller learned his two main stars, Alan Arkin and Barbara Dana, were getting divorced.
"When I heard that my heart sank," Miller said. "But they both said, 'No no, no (divorce) is not going to affect this. ... I was reassured by both of them that they wanted to work together on this."
Miller's casting crisis wasn't the only potential mishap to be averted while making his film, a quaint dramatic comedy set in a rural Oregon town. The indie film, which opens Friday at the Bijou, has weathered more storms than the Heceta Head Lighthouse. And even though the fate of the Oregon production is still unclear, Miller has never stopped believing in the project.
"We're not willing to give up until we see that there is no audience for it," says Miller, who put up his own assets for the $1 million plus film.
"But every time we show it at a film festival or in front of a group, the reaction is so strong."
Based on a short story by John Weaver, "Raising Flagg" was a reunion of sorts for Miller, Arkin and Dana. Twenty years earlier, the trio worked together on another Weaver adaptation called "A Matter of Principal." The program aired on the PBS series "American Playhouse" and featured Arkin and Dana playing the same characters, the rural couple Flagg and Ada Purdy.
Arkin and Dana were apparently so taken with the roles, they signed on for the project sight unseen after Miller sent them a copy of Weaver's story in the late 1990s. The two actors worked closely with Miller, trading notes back and forth and making casting suggestions.
The movie, which also stars stage/film actress and ex-wife of John Malkovich, Glenne Headly (`Dick Tracy," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'), veteran character actor Austin Pendleton (`A Beautiful Mind," "Finding Nemo') and big and small screen icon Lauren Holly (`Dragon," "Picket Fences'), was shot in 22 days in 2002 in and around North Plains just west of Portland.
Best known for his work on the "American Playhouse" series, Miller, 65, has been involved in independent films since 1976. He cast Darryl Hannah and Virginia Madsen in their first film roles, and has worked with Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken and Jonathan Demme. He wrote the original screenplay for the adaptation of Isaac Asimov's "Bicentennial Man" and has remained active in the industry while earning a living on the real estate properties he owns with his wife, Nancy.
Miller relocated to Eugene from Chicago in 1988 in search of a better climate and a more liveable community. Miller and his wife live on a former alpaca farm on Fox Hollow Road. He is also the captain of the U.S. Masters basketball team.
Miller says he wanted to shoot "Raising Flagg" in Lane County, but the costs were prohibitive and he was unable to find a local production manager. He relied on more than 25 Northwest actors and a handful of Oregon crew members.
Springfield journalist and playwright Dorothy Velasco co-wrote the screenplay with Miller and his wife.
"The material struck a chord with me," Velasco said. "I think (the story) was extremely funny in a very humane way. These were really unusual characters."
The story line for "Raising Flagg" revolves around Arkin's character of Flagg Purdy, a stubborn handyman who calls himself "a man of principal."
After losing one too many games of checkers to friend/rival/general store owner Gus Falk (Pendleton), Flagg takes his longtime acquaintance to court on a trumped-up charge involving grazing sheep and a contaminated well. He becomes alienated from the community he lives in and announces to his family that he is dying, which prompts his six children to return to the rural farmhouse where they grew up. …