Dan Miller stars as Vernon in the short Pack Co. He and writer-director Ryan Weise hope to expand it into an episodic series.
Dan Miller and Ryan Weise are just about inseparable these days. Despite performing in Detroit's rock 'n' roll circuit around the same time in the early 2000s, the two became fast friends by chance after Miller's wife and bandmate Tracee was in a car accident. The nurse at the emergency room happened to be Weise's wife; eventually, the Weises bought the house right next door to the Millers in West Bloomfield Township.
Aside from music, the two shared a passion for film, and soon started working together through Weise's Pontiac-based production company, Tibbs, Inc. Miller has worked as an actor, including a Hollywood role as Johnny Cash bandmate Luther Perkins in the 2005 Oscar-winning biopic Walk the Line
. Through Tibbs, the two began working together on commercial projects, filming short videos on the side and playing music on the weekend.
"We kind of have this running joke when we leave our office in Pontiac, we drive side-by-side down Orchard Lake Road and hit all the same lights and then pull into our respective driveways and wave to each other like it was just coincidence," Weise says with a laugh.
As musicians, Miller and Weise both enjoyed some success. Miller fronted the alt-country bands Goober and the Peas and Blanche
; the former featured a young Jack White on drums, the latter went on tour with the White Stripes. Meanwhile, Weise was guitarist for rock band the Satin Peaches
, who were signed to Island Records for a time and shared a manager with Oasis, though the label never released a planned album.
After the Satin Peaches' brush with fame, Weise says he found himself in a "dead-end job" that "was the complete opposite of the creative greatness of being in a touring band," he says.
That experience was the inspiration for Pack Co.
, a short film — literally 15 minutes long — written by Weise and starring Miller that debuts online at packco.tv
on Thursday. In the film, a mustachioed Miller plays Vernon, a man who works in a dreary office of a shipping company. One day, Vernon gets into a car accident on his way to work. The same day, a co-worker announces his retirement, and suddenly drops dead, and Vernon dreams of something more. From there, things take a surreal turn; the film has the gritty black-comedy feel of something like Better Call Saul
mixed with a bit of Lynchian oddity. You'll just have to see for yourself.
"When I read it, it definitely clicked pretty much right away," Miller says. "We were talking the other day about it, about the different crappy jobs we've had, or even decent jobs but that aren't fulfilling, and what goes through your mind as you're in a day like that and where your mind can kind of wander to."
Weise says he was inspired to write the story after attending the Sundance Film Festival last year, going through about "20 to 30 revisions." When the pandemic hit last March, Wiese and Miller found themselves with a break from commercial work and decided to film it.
Due to the pandemic, the two decided to source the small cast and crew using only close connections. Vernon's office friend is played by Anne Damman, who Miller had worked with together on "some kind of a spoof of The Office
for some kind of a training film, but that was really fun," he says. "It was just a lot of improv, comedic stuff." Miller had never worked with Ryan Carlson, who plays Pack Co. boss George Packer, but was familiar with his work.
"He is the complete opposite person that he plays really in the short, which is just incredible," Weise says. "He's like light and funny and just joyful, and he then he just plays this perfect asshole boss."
They shot it over a few days in an office in Southfield and in one of the many abandoned rooms in Detroit's labyrinthian Masonic Temple. "Those rooms are kind of time capsules, completely untouched from the '70s," Weise says. "You know, the set decoration was just already there for us." The total production took about six months or so, Weise says.
Weise says the short has been accepted in film festivals including the New York Tri-State International Film Festival and the Montreal World Film Festival, and is waiting on a response from a few others. He and Miller both hope to be able to continue the story in the form of an episodic series.
"It was never intended that way, but that's kind of how everyone felt when they were on set or when we left," Weise says. "On the last day of filming, we were like, alright, that's a wrap. And everyone was like, 'Well, what happens to Vernon?'"
Weise says the series would be "a little bit of a deeper dive into the world of Pack Co. and what they may or may not be hiding, and what Vernon uncovers the day Michael falls over dead at his retirement party." Miller describes it as a "mix between comedy and drama and psychosis, with maybe a tinge of sci-fi."
If it did get picked up for a series, Weise and Miller hope they could continue to film it right here in Michigan.
"I was watching something the other day, and it was just the same L.A. backdrop and everything," Miller says. "It's like, man, how many times are we going to see that? And I think with this, we can do something that's not going to be whatever has become the cliche of what Detroit is, and could be more like an odd, normal thing about Detroit."
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