Read Rebecca Miller’s bio and you can’t help but think that this is one lucky girl.

And she’d tell you that herself. But she’d also tell you that even though her first film, the 35mm feature Angela, won the Filmmakers’ Trophy at Sundance in 1995, and her second, the mini-DV Personal Velocity, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year; even though she’s the daughter of one of our greatest writers (Arthur Miller) and the wife of one of our greatest actors (Daniel Day-Lewis)—she’d still tell you that this moviemaking thing is not as easy as it seems. At 40, the former actress is hoping that Personal Velocity, based on her book of the same name, will find its audience quickly when it hits theaters in November. If it does, then maybe getting her next film made won’t be quite as long a road.

Miller has a boldly original, yet poetic directorial style, and her stories about ordinary people can’t be easily packaged and marketed for a mass audience. She won’t be swayed by those kinds of considerations, though. She’s an artist to the core. Which means, because her medium is this notorious bastard lovechild of art and commerce, that it’s a very good thing she’s making her art in the 21st century. A new technology called “digital video” is making her art more viable. As usual, she’s in the right place at the right time. To talk with Rebecca Miller about work and her take on the art form is to be inspired. But this is hardly about luck…

Timothy Rhys (MM): I read your book (Personal Velocity) recently, and of course saw the movie. I’d like to ask you about adaptation. I noticed several times you chose to depict something differently on screen than the way it was described in the book. Specifically, in the “Delia” segment, for instance, her husband was at the cellar door crying after he beat her up. In the movie you chose not to show him crying. To me, that got to the heart of who his character was. Walk me through the way you make those choices.

Rebecca Miller (RM): Well partly, of course, you’re at the mercy of what the actor does. You’re embracing performances as a director, you’re not creating performances. You’re enabling an atmosphere where performances can happen. I did feel as if he was regretful, but it wasn’t the same level of remorse that I had indicated [in the book]. But one of the things that’s so exciting about filmmaking is that you don’t know. You’re at the mercy of the actors but it becomes much more because of them. It can be lifted up beyond what you had.

Like Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), when she’s outside the house and she does that scene where she cries and we do all that jump-cutting that was meant to be a brief scene, and I just let it go on and on. One of the beauties of DV is you can just keep shooting. At the end of that when I finally said “cut,” I realized the whole movie was right there, in that scene. Her pain and her decision to make the most of her life is all in that scene. That’s one of the reasons I love directing. It’s just a miracle when actors are that honest and that generous.

MM: When did you make the decision to go with some of the stylistic choices. The narration, the freeze-frames, the slow-motion

RM: I wrote all that stuff in there. And one of the reasons was that I knew I couldn’t afford to shoot a lot of scenes the way I wanted to. But I felt I was working in a kind of tradition, like Truffaut, especially, who did all those wonderful films with narration. So I watched his films, and Scorsese’s films, and I learned how to use narration. I mean, you can just fly from one place to another with narration. You can fly into the past and back again and it makes it very much the filmmaker’s piece.

MM: When you met with your cinematographer, Ellen Kuras, how much did you talk style?

RM: When I talked with Ellen we discussed how to shoot things and we developed the look of the three segments. We decided Delia’s segment would have a handheld, documentary feel. With the Greta (Parker Posey) segment, most things were on a tripod and the camera didn’t move very much. And with Paula (Fairuza Balk), we did a lot of extreme close-ups, because that’s how she sees the world—she can’t see the bigger picture. Also, of course, DV works better in close-ups. Not necessarily huge close-ups, but in general wide shots don’t hold as well.

MM: What camera did you use?

RM: We used two Sony PD-150s. PAL.

MM: Small crew?

RM: Yeah, pretty small. Everybody had a key and one person. We worked one six-day week, two five days. 12-hour days. I hate that whole 16-hour-day thing. You should be able to get done what you have to do in 12 hours. I mean, we did go over on two days, and normally you’d have to pay overtime. But in our case, the nice thing was that all the keys owned part of the film. So now they’re all going to be paid more.

MM: Do you think about how you’d shoot the film as you were writing the stories?

RM: No, I wrote the book as a book. And then Gary [Winick at InDigEnt] asked me “Do you have anything?” All my screenplays were really big, but this one really fit the DV format. I think that’s a really important thing for people who are thinking of working in DV. They should make something that’s right for the medium. It’s not right for every story.

MM: Do you ever get the urge to act again?

RM: No. It just wasn’t the thing I did best. I actually love the fact that when I’m directing, although I have to make a lot of decisions and obviously the whole thing is in a way radiating out of me, the focus is not on me. I prefer that.

MM: Many of your characters have a quality that makes you want to reach out and hug them. What would you say is the theme of your work?

RM: I think I just empathize very much with outsiders. They’ve always really moved me. Although, at the same time, I tend to think in a humorous way, as well. And I think in this movie more of that comes out.

MM: There was a great comment by John Anderson in the LA Times when Angela came out. He said “Angela has taken more than a year to get a theatrical release. The reasons why are so symptomatic of the intellectual stultification of the film business. How do you describe this film in simple, marketable, terms? You don’t.” Almost the same thing could be said of Personal Velocity. You don’t write for the market, do you?

RM: No.

MM: You shot this film a year ago, and the market has gotten tighter since then. Do you think that, if Gary hadn’t called, you’d have been able to raise the money to shoot this film? Could Joe Averagefilmmaker get this movie financed?

RM: Eventually, I’d have raised the money. But it might have taken years. The problem is, not to be pessimistic about it, but I’ve had a lot of trouble [raising money]. I would have made a lot more movies in my life had it not been so hard and were I not so stubborn. At the end of my life, I want to look back and think I’m proud. To know that I’ve made films that I really wanted to make, you know? As for Joe Averagefilmmaker, he can convince people to give him what he needs to shoot something on mini-DV. Tape is cheap. Post-production is another story, because it’s still morphing. That’s one of the things that drove us nuts—there’s no protocol. And we’re pretty experienced filmmakers. We used experienced actors. There was no amateur element.

MM: That’s the secret with this technology, isn’t it? None of your elements can be less than the best.

RM: Right. If you have a voice, you can do it. But should you? I think most filmmakers really don’t have very much to say. They just want to be directors. And they want to be directors because, let’s face it, it’s the best job in the whole world.

MM: Why?

RM: It gives you a feeling of such exhilaration. It’s a fundamentally childlike enjoyment of having your game be everybody’s game, and everybody’s playing it. I’ll always remember the moment I walked onto the first set in Angela. There were the two little beds I’d written about. The feeling that I had It was like I had woken up in a dream. Like on “Bewitched,” I’d twinkled my nose and all of a sudden everything was there. It was amazing. But sometimes people put the cart before the horse and don’t realize that what makes good work is a feeling that you’ll be tortured unless you get to say these things. With film you’re [tempted to] think, “Okay, what’s a marketable theme?” If you really need to tell the story, and it’s coming from a genuine place, then at least you have a chance to do something interesting. Never worry about being too original.

MM: You grew up in a family with one of our greatest writers [playwright Arthur Miller]. Was that ever intimidating? Did you ever run your writing by him? Do you ever now?

RM: Oh yeah, I sometimes do that. I think I was encouraged as I was growing up, and I was given a great example of how to wake up every morning and go do your work when nobody’s telling you to. When you could just as easily go swimming. So I have a good work ethic, and I have the ability to drive myself. I wasn’t intimidated because I always felt like I’d tread different ground, thematically.

MM: We’re the same age. Any midlife crises on the horizon?

RM: [laughs]. Wow. I guess it is the middle, isn’t it? I have to admit, having little kids, and I don’t know if you feel this way, but I feel so young. And I say my age or whatever and it just seems like an absurdity. Not that I look so young. But I just feel really young. In some ways, younger than I did in my 20s.

MM: A couple of times in your book you wrote “She looks good for 40.”

RM: I know, I know. It’s amazing to me that I’ll be there any minute now. But then I look at my father, who’s 86, and he’s like one of the most youthful people I know. I’m not kidding, he really is. People always ask how old you are, like that’s going to tell them something. I mean, who really gives a shit how old I am? I want to say “I’m 12. Isn’t it amazing? Haven’t I lived too much?” The truth of the matter is age is just a fiction. But it does help to have lived in order to make art. MM