A filmmaker with local roots is bringing his most recent project to his hometown.
Eau Claire native Justin Johnson will screen his debut feature-length documentary, “Double Digits: The Story of a Neighborhood Movie Star,” Friday at Micon Downtown Budget Cinema, 315 South Barstow St.
“Double Digits” takes audiences into the world of 52-year-old black filmmaker Richard “R.G.” Miller. He has been creating action and superhero-type films since childhood while handling all camera duties and directing his cast of dolls and action figures.
“Normally when you think of a YouTuber, you think of a 20-something British kid talking to a camera,” Johnson said, but he discovered a “really inspiring, unique guy down in Kansas.”
While most YouTubers and online creatives strive for viewership in the thousands or millions in order to consider a project successful, Miller is content just to reach viewership in the double digits — hence the title of the documentary, Johnson said.
“For him to look at it from that kind of perspective really blew my mind,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who now lives in Los Angeles, said he first heard of Miller in 2008 in an interesting turn of events.
He and his production partner Erik Beck were part of an Internet startup called Next New Networks and one of the channels they co-founded for the company was called “Indy Mogul,” dedicated to aspiring filmmakers with a do-it-yourself flair.
It just so happened Miller was a fan of the network and wanted to showcase his work to a wider audience.
“He mailed a physical DVD to the lawyer of our startup,” Johnson said with a laugh. “The lawyer thought it was a computer virus at first.”
After watching the video, “I just needed to figure out what makes this guy tick,” Johnson said.
It took a while, but Johnson began filming the documentary three years ago — on his 30th birthday.
“It was kind of a perfect way of starting my 30s and starting the film,” he said.
He traveled to Miller’s home in Wichita, Kan., a few times over the course of about two years and the project continued to grow. They became good friends, Johnson said, calling Miller a “real treasure.”
“The very first hour of the very first day he told me his life story — from being addicted to drugs to being homeless,” Johnson said.
“Double Digits” officially will be released Tuesday, Dec. 8, on Video on Demand, but the documentary had its world premiere in August in Austria.
It has since been making its way around various festivals, receiving awards and acclaim. IndiWire named it one of the Top 10 films at the Tallgrass Film Festival.
While the response to the documentary has been great, Johnson said he’s excited to bring the film to his hometown of Eau Claire.
“I knew if I ever did a feature film, I always wanted to show it in my hometown,” he said. “To be able to showcase something I’ve spent years working on to the local community is really special to me.”
Johnson attended Memorial High School, graduating early and later garnering the Public Access Impact Award and other honors for a compilation of his online works.
Johnson fondly recalled the inspiration and support he found growing up here, telling stories of tinkering with gadgets, filming on a Fisher Price camera with his dad at a young age and recording his friends while bowling or hanging out at Oakwood Mall.
His mother, Randi Johnson, said her son has always been a creative person.
“At age 2 he could draw things, and my mouth would drop,” she said. “He’s always had a very creative edge to him for sure.”
Randi Johnson said she could not be more excited or proud.
“We’re very excited and we just love the subject matter that he chose,” she said. “R.G. Miller has become special to us, and we’ve never met him.”
There will be two screenings of “Double Digits” at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, both of which will be followed by a Q&A session with Justin Johnson.
Johnson said he hopes the documentary inspires passion and creativity among viewers.
“From the very beginning I wanted to not just create a film about a filmmaker,” he said. “(Miller) is a filmmaker, but at the end of the day he really is an artist. For me, I want this film to speak to anyone who’s ever had a creative dream.”
Johnson said his dream is to do more films and continue to tell the stories of interesting people.
“Travelling the world and talking with and documenting interesting people — I couldn’t imagine anything better,” he said.
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