Alumni documentary, One Day in April, premieres April 24 in Bloomington

The Media School Report • Feb. 25, 2015
One Day in April poster
One Day in April premieres at Cinequest Feb. 28 and in Bloomington April 24.

— By Janica Kaneshiro

A documentary about “the world’s greatest college weekend” will premiere Saturday at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California, and four IU alumni couldn’t be more proud.

At least, not until they show the One Day in April in Bloomington April 24, the day of the women’s race and eve of the men’s 2015 Little 500.

Tom Miller, BAJ’12, was in Bloomington recently to work on a video project for a political candidate, and he made time to talk about his film well as to meet with the IU chapter of the Online News Association. 

During interviews and in the meeting, Miller recounted the joys and struggles of producing a long-form documentary, which he and telecommunications majors Black, ’12, and Kirsten Powell, BA’12, and Peter Stevenson, BA’12, among others, worked on for two years.

The film follows four teams — Cutters, Delta Gamma, Delta Tau Delta and Teter — as they train for the 2013 and 2014 men’s and women’s Little 500 races. Miller shot, produced and wrote the music for the film.

“Before wanting to do this, all I wanted to do was be in a heavy metal band,” Miller told the ONA members. “I learned music first, so when I learned Final Cut and video editing, in my head, I thought editing is just like writing a song.”

The film also gave him a chance to explore his lifelong love of movies.

“My dad used to take me to movies when I was as young as three,” said Miller, a Fort Wayne native. “He always talked to me after; he was always a critic.”

Miller also drew on his IU journalism experiences to describe how the film evolved. He worked as a photographer and photo editor at the Indiana Daily Student, but developed a love for documentary when he purchased a DSLR video-capable camera.

“I got a camera, shot video, played with audio, and I thought, ‘OK, I can do this,’” Miller said. “I spent most of college catching up to technology.”

A problem, Miller noted, that will be solved in The Media School, with its curriculum that will provide students with a broad array of media courses.

“From my perspective, I would have had a lot to gain from having the teachers and talents from the different schools combined,” Miller said.

Waiting out the rain; One Day in April
During the 2013 filming, the team, including Tom Miller, center, erected a tent to protect them — and their equipment — during rain. (Mark Felix The Media School)

Miller dove into video, producing a short film with Black and others that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival his senior year.

After graduation, he applied his video expertise to the political scene, working for the White House, then documenting Obama’s 2012 campaign throughout Ohio. He, Black and Powell formed Treeline Creative Media in Bloomington, and he and Black started Fox Frame Productions to handle their projects. 

At this point, Miller said in an interview, he found himself at a crossroads: on one hand, he had his passion for political documentary, but he also wanted to explore his roots as a Hoosier. That’s where the idea for One Day in April developed.

“I just didn’t think anyone had told the story of why southern Indiana rocks,” Miller said. “This is literally the most Indiana thing to ever happen. It’s a bunch of teams riding bikes around a track, and we call it the greatest college weekend. 

But it’s more than the race itself that made Miller interested in documenting Little 500.

“People really thought this film was going to be a puff piece,” Miller said. “But when I thought about what made Little 500 special, I knew there was something there. There’s a thread of existentialism that runs through this event. They change nothing about the race year after year, the teams train as hard as they can, then on race day, whatever happens, happens.”

So in early 2013, Miller began shooting One Day in April, though he had no firm plans for a film at the time.

“We had no grand vision or planning,” Miller said. “We had a couple cameras, no fancy equipment, and we were just like, ‘Let’s pick four teams and follow them.’ We got really lucky with how it all turned out.”

Throughout filming, Miller dove into researching the race’s history. He knew if he was going to avoid the documentary turning into a “puff piece” that he was going to need extensive knowledge on previous winners, feuds, surprises and more so he could figure out which teams to follow. What he found fascinated him.

“I spent a lot of time at the Wilcox House,” Miller said, which is where the Little 500 archives are located. “You can actually see in the women’s articles the fight for gender equality. There was a women’s team that tried to qualify for the men’s race one year, and after that, the women’s race started.”

Miller said he knew that the film had potential in its early stages, but he was unsure how it would all turn out.

“I know people are infinitely fascinating, and I came to find out all these people have amazing stories, so we just committed to being as honest with these people as we could.”

Next, he had to figure out how to fund production and all the necessary, and expensive, equipment it required. He and his team used social media’s IndieGoGo to fund the majority of the project. The campaign closed in March 2013 after raising more than $8,000 

With that funding, along with an estimated $50,000 of his own money, One Day in April was born. Though Miller acknowledged over $50,000 seems like a lot of money, it is a relatively low budget for a feature-length film.

The funding allowed Miller and his staff “to have the right cameras in the right places, and the right equipment to get the shots we needed to tell this story in an interesting, cinematic way,” according to the funding section of the One Day in April website. 

Shadow shot of ODIA team
From left, Ryan Black, Tom Miller and Peter Stevenson conferred during the filming of their documentary in 2013. Most of the footage in One Day in April is from the 2013 Little 500 race. (Mark Felix | The Media School)

But Miller said he didn’t realize One Day in April would be “something cool” until the end of the 2013 Little 500. Delta Gamma won the 2013 women’s race. Both the Teter women’s team and men’s Cutters team suffered “heartbreaking” losses. In a final showdown, Beta had physical contact with the Delta Tau Delta team, and Beta edged ahead to barely beat them.

“Courtney, the Delts’ coach we followed, gets really angry,” Miller told ONA members. “He yells at the race director, and he feels like they just don’t like him for other reasons. Then suddenly this film was talking about race and conflict. It was just a really truthful moment that helped us understand the insanity of Little 5.”

After the conclusion of the race, Miller and Black realized they had to go back during the 2014 season to tie up some loose ends. Then, it was time to edit the hundreds of hours of footage.

“The first cut of the movie was six hours long,” Miller said.

When he and his team – with input from his wife, Beth McManus, a 2013 IU business grad —  eventually narrowed it down to a 90-minute film, they began entering it in film festivals, including Cinequest.

The team also reflected on their experience and decided to establish a scholarship to help other IU students in their filmmaking efforts. The One Day in April Scholarship will fund IU students endeavoring to make a film of their own in and around Bloomington. Otherwise, the subject and presentation are up to the student or student team. The first scholarship deadline is Sept. 21.

Miller said he’s unsure of where the One Day in April film will go from here, though he hopes to distribute it through the close network of IU alumni around the world.

“At this point, I’m really proud of it,” Miller said. “And my wife is going to kill me, but I really want to make another one.”