Eau Claire native launches Kickstarter for inspiring documentary

Eric Koeppel |

Wichita-based DIY filmmaker Richard
Wichita-based DIY filmmaker Richard "R.G." Miller is the subject of a documentary made
by Eau Claire native Justin Johnson and his partner Erik Beck.

The Indie Machines are a filmmaking duo comprised of former Eau Clairean Justin Johnson and California native Erik Beck. The pair co-created the online DIY filmmaking network Indy Mogul, as well as over 300 short films to date. Since their formation they have received a number of awards including a Webby for their "low-budget special effects show," Backyard FX.

"He delivers high-caliber performances, packed with genuine emotion, and he's the only one in the room. He's a confident artist and simply a wise person who has experienced a lot of ups and downs. Every time we go back and talk to him it feels like a great re-centering of our creative souls." – filmmaker Justin Johnson on his latest subject, R.G. MillerOver the past two years, the duo has been working on their first feature-length film, an inspiring documentary titled Double Digits. Up until now, The Indie Machines have covered all of the production costs themselves, and as the film nears completion they decided to put together the first trailer to compliment a new Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising enough dough to properly complete their "dream project."

The film tells the inspiring story of an ambitious Wichita, Kansas-based DIY filmmaker named Richard "R.G." Miller. With a beat up Handicam and his action figure collection taking on the role of the supporting cast, Miller creates highly imaginative movies from his studio apartment. The name Double Digits comes from R.G.'s personal definition of creative success: if one of his movies gets over 9 views online, he's happy.

The Indie Machines discovered Miller when he submitted one of his first videos to the Indy Mogul YouTube channel back in 2008.

"It was this amazing sci-fi movie called The Garden of the Heathens (he's got the best titles), and he was playing every part, sometimes having conversations with himself in split screen," Johnson said. "It kind of blew our minds, and we even had a special screening for it on our Manhattan rooftop."

Over time, the filmmakers grew to admire R.G.'s sincerity and desire to challenge himself.

"He delivers high-caliber performances, packed with genuine emotion, and he's the only one in the room. He's a confident artist and simply a wise person who has experienced a lot of ups and downs. Every time we go back and talk to him it feels like a great re-centering of our creative souls."

The documentary covers R.G.'s entire 35-year history in filmmaking, from his black and white videos in 1979 all the way up to his most recent endeavor, The Mask Man. One of the main reasons that The Indie Machines launched the Kickstarter campaign is to fund the documentary's third act, for which the duo rented out a theater in Kansas for a screening of The Mask Man.

"The film will explore what it means to be an aging artist in the 21st century, while diving into the life and creative process of a gifted and truly unique person," explains their Kickstarter page.

Double Digits is the first feature-length film from The Indie Machines, however it's not their first documentary; the duo made a 25-minute documentary last year titled Father Son Run: A Father & Son's Cross Country Journey.

Straight outta the Chippewa Valley ...

Johnson got his start in filmmaking when he was growing up in Eau Claire.

"I started out at a very young age, probably like 8, doing  these wacky magic shows on my dad's Pixelvision camera, and recreating the Battle of Hoth from Star Wars in the snow with Lego figures," he reminisced.

"I think a lot of my passion for this stuff comes from my dad. He's always had a lot of side projects, and side businesses going on, and I found that really inspiring. Even though we didn't have a lot of money growing up, there was always a computer in the house and some kind of camcorder. I just loved the act of creating something from nothing, converting spare time into something someone else could enjoy … potentially forever."

Johnson has lived all over the U.S., but as someone looking for a career in the arts he gravitated towards California, where he met Beck.

"I discovered Erik after he started submitting to an online film competition site I created in 2003 called Film Fights," he said. "He was doing a lot of fun stuff with puppets and DIY special effects, and when I first moved back to San Francisco in 2006 he was living in Oakland and so he was one of the first people I called up."

Much like it has for R.G., the internet has played a huge role in both Beck and Johnson's creative life.

"I've been posting online since back in 2000/2001. In fact, I'm occasionally credited at 'the internet's first video blogger.'  Being a kid from Wisconsin, seeing that I can connect with a near unlimited audience from anywhere was a real game-changer. For The Indie Machines, we really grew as filmmakers through creating videos online, and through our work at Next New Networks and Indy Mogul we were able to give hundreds, maybe thousands, of young filmmakers their start."

Funding the final push ...

Johnson and Beck are asking for $25,000 by April 11, but unlike most crowd-funding campaigns, this one was launched to finish a production that is already near completion but still needs the extra boost. The duo has already been working on Double Digits for two years and there's no way they're stopping now, but they need your help. Donations will help cover final production and post-production costs, as well as festival expenses.

Take a gander at the trailer for Double Digits on the Kickstarter page, and try not to be inspired by both the story and Johnson and Beck's passion for telling it.

"I've been so proud to see how Eau Claire has blossomed as a town for creative people," Johnson said. "I was only aware of the first inklings of that when I was heading off to California. My little brother has the same kind of creative drive, and it feels like he's very committed to the scene out there.  I hope that people back home look at this guy creating these impossible blockbuster-style films in Kansas and realize that they shouldn't limit their creative vision by what they think they have access to. With the right drive, you can make anything and reach an audience."