Miles Doleac, a Mississippi filmmaker and assistant professor of classics and film studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, recently finished post-production on his second feature film, “The Hollow.” His first, “The Historian,” was released in 2014 and received with critical acclaim. As writer, producer, director and lead actor, Doleac has created the world of “The Hollow” as a homage to some of his most revered southern authors such as Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Shelby Foote. His appreciation of southern gothic and desire to bring recognition to his home state of Mississippi all played a role in the creation of this latest work.
Put your money where your mouth is
While traveling through a small southern Mississippi town, the daughter of a U.S. Congressman becomes a victim in a triple homicide. The FBI’s involvement forces the local sheriff’s department to assist in the investigation while scrambling to prevent it from unraveling the town’s deep-seated corruption. It is not only the local sheriff’s department who is forced to battle their demons. Alcoholic FBI agent, Vaughn Killinger (James Callis), arrives in town with a suitcase full of his own. Doleac plays Ray Everett, a local sheriff who is involved in a drug ring run by the town’s deeply feared overseer, “Big” John Dawson (William Forsythe).
“I very much liked the idea that a senseless act of violence brings together these tortured, complicated characters with their own enormous baggage and forces them to reckon with their own demons, that it is the conduit through which they rise above or succumb to their baser inclinations,” said Doleac of his film.
The film is driven by the characters and the manner in which they grapple with their flaws and tribulations. While it is a murder mystery structured as film noir, Doleac is unapologetic about the film being a character drama.
“The story is not the thing. The murder is not the thing,” said Doleac. “The characters are the thing and if they find their way to their rightful literary end then that’s what I care about, and I think all of these characters do.”
Doleac feels no need to play into the Hollywood obsession of supplying audiences with amicable characters to create a film with commercial appeal.
“The vast majority of human beings are not likeable so why do we insist on writing movies with likeable characters? I spent a lot of time thinking about the emotional lives of these people. They scream and cry and fight and do all the things people do,” Doleac said.
“I think that will resonate but it’s a very fine line between being insular and being intriguing.”
Inspired by the first season of the HBO drama “True Detective” and stories relayed to him by a friend about the criminal activity of a small county sheriff’s department, for Doleac, making certain the setting of “The Hollow” was unmistakably Mississippi was a motivating factor throughout the entire creative process from writing, casting, filming and editing. Doleac claims aside from the development of “The Hollow’s” dynamic, multifarious characters, it was of importance to provide the film a distinct sense of place and that place is the “lush, eccentric, nasty world of southern Mississippi.” The film was shot entirely on location in and around Doleac’s hometown of Hattiesburg. Battling Mississippi’s elements was as much frustration for the crew as preparation for the cast.
As an artist, Doleac seeks to provide his audience honesty and such austere honesty often leaves us questioning how comfortable we truly are in our own skin. To capture Mississippi and make her accessible to his audience, it was necessary to portray her flaws which are not easily extracted from her distinct beauty.
“There’s a lot of truth that people will either be put off by or drawn to,” he said. “There are issues that are unique to Mississippi or at least to the Deep South. If people are moved by that or repelled by that are drawn to that, I think we win any way you slice it.”
To further capture the authenticity of setting, Doleac looked to local talent to serve as both cast and crew. He hired Joseph VanZandt, veteran of the Hattiesburg stage, to play deputy Lucas McKinney. While the “brain trust” of the film questioned his decision to cast someone who had never acted on film to play the third role on the call sheet, Doleac relied on his instincts. Having worked with VanZandt on stage, Doleac knew he possessed not only innate characteristics which well suited him for the part, but that VanZandt’s dedication to his craft would overcome any shortcomings from lack of prior experience with the medium. And that choice has proven, Doleac said, to be one of his most gratifying directorial decisions on this film.
The film’s original soundtrack was scored by fellow Hattiesburg native Clifton Hyde, a renowned musician whose accomplishments include being a member of the Blue Man Group and performing with several esteemed musicians such as Sigur Ros and Lou Reed. Friends in high school, Doleac trusted Hyde’s dedication to the project because it was Mississippi and because of their friendship which spans decades. Hyde’s involvement and keenness for the project led him to Mississippi to record portions of the film’s soundtrack.
“Clifton is one of those forces of nature types of talents,” Doleac said. He was intimately involved in a lot of phases of post-production. He came down here and recorded parts of the score in specific places with certain instruments because he just had to be here in Mississippi doing it.”
Doleac is ardent about contributing to the development of a thriving film industry in the state. While “The Hollow” is his second film to shoot entirely on location in Mississippi, he doesn’t expect it to be his last.
“You have to practice what you preach or what good is anything you say?” Doleac continued, “I’m really proud to have made two films in Mississippi and to have used talent from my home state. We’re not just making films in Mississippi. We’re using Mississippians to make films in Mississippi.”