“Everything Is Unfinished” Logan Marshall-Green Talks ‘Adopt A Highway’
Logan Marshall-Green is a well-known face on both the big and small screen. He boasts an impressive acting resume including Spiderman: Homecoming, Snowden, The Invitation, 24, and Law And Order to name a few. Last year he worked on Upgrade for Blumhouse. This year, the actor-writer-director turned hand behind the camera in his film Adopt A Highway starring Academy Award-winning actor Ethan Hawke. He spoke with Creative Screenwriting Magazine to discuss bringing his story to the screen.
“The story of Russ Millings was born inside me,” exclaimed Marshall-Green who wrote the story of Milling’s release from prison as he tries to find his bearings and move on with his life. Coming from a theater, film and television background, Logan Marshall-Green approached his story from a deep character rather than plot.
Russ Millings is a quiet, meditative, self-contained character. “Apart from the motley crew of people he meets along the way, he is his own family,” said the writer-director. “I‘m not sure people would have a lot to say about Russ Millings, and that’s what interests me. He’s not looking to be in the history books. He’s not looking to compete for your attention. He’s not looking to win the day. He’s not looking for anything except for his next meal.” The simplicity of Millings allows for deep character exploration.
A character without overly heroic goals is certainly a unique angle to drive a film for almost ninety minutes. Russ Millings lives in the moment and relishes the everyday things in life. He’s not wanting a different life. “He’s completely content,” added Marshall-Green. “He’s almost a touched by Jesus type of character.” Millings is not an ostensibly religious man, but he exudes a spirituality that perhaps he’s not yet fully aware of. “Millings just exists and touches people in ways he doesn’t intend.” There is an angelic quality to this former felon.
Adopt A Highway is a meandering film that doesn’t slavishly adhere to textbook screenwriting conventions. That doesn’t mean the isn’t a discernible three-act structure. It definitely has a beginning, middle and an end. However, the narrative is peppered with tender character-revealing moments that reveal his kind and caring nature.
The writer-director claims his film style represents his “all over the place” writing. He decided to start his screenplay with a rich character rather than dozens of plot points that must be reached by a certain page number. ” I wanted Millings to end at the beginning and begin at the end,” Logan stated cryptically. This is a sharp departure from dramas with a well-defined problem, goal, and conclusion. Adopt A Highway depicts a more circular, existential style of storytelling which allows the audience to appreciate their short time with Russ Millings. This does not make Adopt A Highway a fractured stream of consciousness, high-art, non-linear, interpretive film by any means.
“I only wanted to show a slice of Millings’ life, which means we had to deepen his character even more. I wasn’t relying on the breadth of the story, but rather the depth of his character,” he reiterated. Logan Marshall-Green had set few key plot milestones during his writing process. “All I knew is that Russ would find the baby in act 1 and lose her in act 2.”
The screenwriter was also determined to not neatly resolve all the loose plot threads. “Everything is unfinished.” Unlike other filmmakers who rely on duplicitous or ambiguous endings to invite their audiences to draw their own conclusions, Logan wanted to “continually imbue a feeling of unfinished” in the production value, in the characters and the relationships which more closely represents real life. He deliberately defied the traditional mode of screenwriting by this approach.
“All the characters surrounding Russ Millings are like moths attracted to a torch. They appear, they shine and flare up in the light and then they’re gone again.” The impermanence of life. Make every moment count.
Great films are defined by their characters and the choices they make to propel the narrative forward. Russ Millings is no exception. After finding Baby Ella in a dumpster, he cares for her and lies to the police and places his parole in jeopardy even after discovering he could potentially be charged with kidnapping. “Millings lied because he was in danger and deeply mistrustful of authority. This is life or death for him,” said Logan Marshall-Green.
Millings has also forged a great love for baby Ella during his short time with her, so his deception to the police is for the greater good in his mind. “It’s something he doesn’t truly understand because it’s triggered in his survival. He knows he can’t leave California, but he can’t go back to prison.” When the police eventually find holes in his reporting of events surrounding Ella, he flees to his native Wyoming.
Since Russ Millings is such a sparse character who lives in the moment, Marshall-Green is mindful to create an emotional bridge to the audience in Adopt A Highway.
“In the first act, we want to understand his situation of the horror of everydayness.” Life is tough for Russ Millings, but he lives each day with fortitude and magnanimity. In a later carnival scene, it was intended to remind Russ Millings of a childhood lost, a childhood he’ll never get back. He’s a beta boy. An observer. He makes the decision not to stand up for himself which echoes within his existence.
He has an emotional intelligence and seeks out purpose. Ella gave him that purpose for a while. That purpose remains even after he loses Ella.
After Ella was taken from him, one lie led to another and he did the thing he was most afraid of and run away to Wyoming. “We are experiencing the scope of the world Millings is experiencing.” He lives in a sterile room and shops at sterile stores devoid of real beauty. “We realize just how small we are and how great the world is.” Losing Ella made Millings broaden his emotions and outlook of life.
“Russ finds a release for Ella after he returns to his hometown and sets up a trust fund for Ella. We have a sense of foreboding that something terrible will happen to either Russ or the baby, but we see that everything is going to be okay.”
On its deepest level Adopt A Highway is a film about self-forgiveness. We are always primed for battle and punish ourselves for every mistake we’ve ever made. People have become so internalized that we’ve become inept when it comes to communication.
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