Michelle Danner: A Legend and A Rising Star

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by ELYSIAN Magazine

“You have the right to be silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law….” 

We all know this line, hopefully from “Law & Order” and not personal experience. If you do know the line, you know where it’s from: Miranda Rights. But do you know the story of how those rights became precedent or the origin of the name?

In Michelle Danner’s upcoming Miranda’s Victim audiences will learn about the woman whose story has been forgotten. It’s the true story of Trish Weir (Abigail Breslin), who was kidnapped and raped by Ernesto Miranda in 1963, only to have her life further destroyed by the legal system. The film is circulating film festivals, and the buzz is already growing. 

Big picture, the percentage of women working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers has increased just 7 percentage points, from 17% in 1998 to 24% in 2022.

Michelle Danner is helping increase that percentage with another movie, Helios¸ which is currently in development. Her conversation with us highlighted the impressive person she is and has us excited for all that she will create in the future. 


ELYSIAN: You’ve acted, directed, produced, and written… As a multi-hyphenate woman, can you tell me about how you define yourself?

Danner: I define myself as a creative person. I love anything that has to do with the arts, whether it’s literature, whether it’s painting and sculpture, music or movies, television shows, certainly stage… I love the theater. And I am lucky enough to be a teacher. So, I get to have a conversation with a younger generation of students, aspiring artists. And that is something that I am very grateful for.

ELYSIAN: How do you balance your personal creativity and your role as a teacher?

Danner: Being a teacher, you’re always trying to inspire a younger generation to be proactive. When they see that their teacher is actually doing it, taking action and not just talking about it, I think that’s a good mirror to hold up. 

And to say, “You see, there’s a way, there’s a path, there’s a way to get it done. I’m a great believer in studying. I study all the time. And I share that with my students. I’m constantly watching, traveling, reading. I think it’s really important, as part of the process, to do that – to always keep learning. So, I think that a teacher that is actually doing as well is a good mentor.

ELYSIAN: It’s easy to trust your wisdom when you have so many ongoing projects. 

Tell us about your childhood in the business.

Show business in my life, sure… My dad was an important force. In the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, he was a producer. He opened the very first William Morris Agency in Paris… I think was ’67 or ’66. He opened these beautiful offices of the Champs-Élysées. I watched him mentor a lot of artists that came into his office.

He would bring me to work, and I would hide under his desk and play. And I was privy to all these great conversations about artists, vision boards… And so that was part of me growing up, as I was very attached to my dad. And he got things done. And he traveled a lot. It wasn’t just the business skill, it was also artistic, and he took a lot of pride in that. 

ELYSIAN: Producing is essential to the creation of impactful art. One example of this is the recent series on Paramount+, The Offer, which is a show that features the production of The Godfather. It shows how a book and an idea in the hands of a good director can make a classic film that elevates the genre. It highlights the unique work of how entertainment becomes an art form.

You’ve managed to keep your family so well connected. Having two thriving children must be a challenge with such a prolific career. Though it is cliché, how do you manage to do it all?

Danner: You know, even when there are days where maybe I don’t accomplish as much as I would like to accomplish, I have to always remind myself that at the end, I do get it done. I have that chip in me that drive me, so I get it done. Sometimes it’s OK to go at a slower pace. 

First of all, you have to be so judicious in your choices, but you have to make sure you know what you need to do. 

Moments at the playground, just time together, shopping for a toy, walking in the park, these are things that you just have to be grateful for what you lived. And you know, those are the memories. Those are the memories. It’s everything that everybody says. It does go really fast. And that’s that. There’s just nothing that you can do about it. You can freeze the moment, certainly. But it’s the passage of time, and it just goes. 

ELYSIAN: Tell me more about Miranda’s Victim. What a powerful topic to take on. 

Danner: It was just the 60-year anniversary of this story. She was 18 when this happened to her. She was so courageous in 1963. And she went against her family, she went against her husband. And she spoke out. She wanted to speak her truth and go after him several times, and of course she had to relive the nightmare several times. Really, it’s a major act of courage.

I went to Phoenix, Arizona. I went to the courthouse where he was indicted. I went into a museum there with Miranda’s presence. I went to the place where she worked at the Paramount Theater that night and how she took a little bus because she had a crush on this kid. And I went to the bus stop where she was abducted. I did the ride to go to the desert where he took her, his house, when he was arrested, her house where she lived and then lives in later when she was married. 

I went to all those places. And I remember being at the bus stop, and just feeling such a jolt of emotion take me over. Because I thought to myself, what if it hadn’t been her, and she had taken another bus, and then I thought to myself… Well, he would have found someone else and maybe that other person would have not been so courageous to speak out the way that she did. And because of this, the Miranda Rights came about. 

It’s an intricate story. That’s an interesting story. And I’m just really happy that I got to tell it.

ELYSIAN: So powerful. And to tell this story you have such an incredible cast.

Danner: I was really able to get a lot of my first choices in terms of casting. So, at some point, it started to dawn on me that something really special was happening as people started to say ‘yes.’ And they brought so much heart to this process of working and telling the story. Everybody really wanted to be there to contribute something. 

I was very much in the moment, and very much in awe, and just trying to stay focused. Every time I speak about the experience directing this, I’m reminded that, ‘Oh my God, I got this cast.’

ELYSIAN: When can we see it?

Danner: We are on the festival circuit, having just premiered, so stay tuned for when it comes to your screen.  

ELYSIAN: Congratulations on becoming the director of Helios. You’ll be just the second woman taking on a big-budget disaster movie, since Deep Impact decades ago. 

Danner: Thank you. I hope it will be a great thing

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