My Interview with Director, Writers and some Cast Members of “Hard Miles”

I interviewed some of the cast of “Hard Miles” recently and am sharing the discussion with you here. The absence of the actor playing Haddie, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, because she was halfway across the country doing Q&As for the film, was a disappointment. I had several questions prepared for her. I feel I missed something not having her be a voice in the discussion, but those who were on the panel were lovely and very open with me.


Here are: Jahking Guillory, Jackson Kelly, writer/director of the film R.J. Daniel Hanna and co-writer/producer Christan Sander.




Shari: Jahking, when you got the part, what made you decide to take it? (What pulled you in?) The challenge of it? The script?


Jahking: Well, first when I got the script, and when I got the audition I got the script, and then I read the script before I looked at the sides, and I fell in love with the story, and I was like, all right like that. I would like to bring it to life. And I wanna have, you know, a part in it. And so I’m just going into the process of auditioning for Woolbright. It was like I saw myself in him, and I see plenty of other kids in him, and I know that he just had…. he needed a chance to, you know, get out of his environment and see the world. And in a way like, that’s what I needed as well. And so. Yeah, that that was pretty much the process. You know. I I fell in love with the story, and it’s a true story, and you know, real Greg Townsend. He’s he’s like a real life superhero. And then I mean, he’s played by Matthew Modine, who is another like real life superhero and a leader, and a, you know, a great mentor. So it yeah, all worked out well.


Shari: Daniel: Instead of taking the narrative approach, why not create a documentary?


Daniel: I mean, that’s kind of what, you know, Christian, my producer and I… who’s on here, thought, too, but this is just sort of our area where exist more, you know? I mean I think it is something where a documentary could be a really interesting process and interesting thing to see of his life. But, you know, with the narrative you can kind of be a little bit more, you know, a documentary kind of shows more, like, can kind of show more like literally show the factual side of things. But maybe with a film you can, because you can kinda be a little bit more impressionistic. You can kind of get a little bit more of the thematic truth, perhaps in a way, without having to get, maybe lucky that everything proceeds the way you wanted to on a documentary… or hope it will. So, it’s kind of, uh, just, there’s a different approach of trying to finalize what you’re trying to say. Maybe what you want to say first and approach that based on a real person’s story rather than finding the path through the through the documentary. Well, I guess you’re always. You’re always sort of finding your way through. Yeah.
Christian: He’s being modest. He’s a storyteller. He wants to explore the human condition, which you can do in a documentary but there’s a lot tighter guardrails. But, we can have our cake and eat it, too, because Greg Townsend, who’s the inspiration for the movie, is going on his final cross-country, he’s getting older and has some health problems that are documented in the movie. He’s going on his final cross-country bike ride this summer so, I’m going to document that. We’re going to be following his with a film crew and, yea, there’s going to be a non-scripted spin-off.

Jackson: I did not know that. That’s really cool.
Christian: Yeah, that’s partly why Max Burnell is coming up this weekend. And one of one of the real-life students.
Jackson: I wish him the best. I mean, he’s gonna do it obviously, cause he’s a machine.
Jahking: Greg had more miles on his cars, I mean, he has more miles on himself, on his legs, than he has on his cars.


Shari: I wanted to say good job on casting because the movie stayed with me for quite a while after, so excellent work!


Christian: Our casting director, Ron Pennywell found these guys, but it was always his cast. Jackson talked about it earlier. He knew when he walked in the room that, that roll was his. Jahking felt the same… and we’re just so happy we had ‘em.

Jackson: I knew when Jahking walked in the room that it was his. I remember him sitting in the audition room waiting for the final call-back chemistry read, and Jahking walked in and I just went, “There’s Woolbright. There he is.” He walked the walk. Talked the talk and it was like the character had come to life in front of my eyes.

Jahking: Same thing with you, bro. Jackson rode thirty miles to the chemistry read. If that doesn’t set the tone, I don’t know what does.



Shari: Jackson, were you really at the Grand Canyon, or was that in post?


Jackson: We were really there. There’s no green screens in this movie. Everything that you see, that’s where we were. We were really doing it. We’re really on the bikes. We’re really climbing those hills. We’re really in the Arizona heat in the desert and that’s not fake, make-up glycerin sweat. That’s real. (They all laugh). And that’s not us faking being out of breath. We’re just tired and, uh…
Daniel: I was just saying, sometimes, when shooting, you are kinda like, okay, are you guys, are you okay? You guys really, okay, can you do another one, or you actually die on those things. It was a little bit of both, I think. Yeah. 


Shari: What was it life when you first saw the Grand Canyon… if this was your first time?


Jackson: It was great because it was actually all of our first time. None of us had ever seen it before so we all got to share that experience together. And I’ll let Jahking talk about this because it was a big moment in the film for him, but we captured it on camera those, uh, our first reactions. So, what you see in the film is what really happened.
Jahking: Yeah. Our first time seeing the Grand Canyon was with each other and, you know, I’m blessed that it was, that it’s on film, you know, like, to share that experience with everybody. I mean, it’s beautiful. And as I’ve said in the previous interviews, we’re intertwined in each other’s history, you know? We’re always going to remember and share that experience of the first time seeing the Grand Canyon was with each other and filming “Hard Miles.” Yeah. It was beautiful. But no green screens. No effects; nothing. The whole looks like a greeting card, like it’s a postcard. Everything is real.
Jackson: See it on the big screen. You really don’t understand the scope of it on your home TV or your I-Pad. You gotta see it on the big screen cuz we have these… we filmed using these incredible locations, these giant red rocks and these vast mountains and it’s… it’s really incredible to see it on some giant screen. The biggest screen you can see it. Just briefly back to the Grand Canyon, kind of the action of it that you see in the film of, like, us, you know, Greg Townsend, Matthew Modine, telling us to, like, close our eyes and then to open them… that’s what Greg does in real life. It’s sort of a tradition. When they make if there, he lines up all the boys at the edge and they’re not allowed to look up or open their eyes and then he counts down and all the boys open their eyes together to see it at the same time. I’m really glad I made it into the movie.


Shari: I am, too. That’s great to know.


Christian: Speaking of Phoenix, Shari, one other note. I don’t think even these guys know this. Dan does. We came pretty close to shooting in, because we knew we had to shoot in Arizona. We knew we weren’t faking… you can’t fake the Grand Canyon. We came pretty close to shooting in Phoenix because there is a Rite of Passage facility in Queen Creek, just south of you guys. And they were amenable, we just couldn’t quite, we couldn’t quite sell it enough to look like Colorado and the logistics just didn’t quite work out, but we did shoot all over northern Arizona and Navajo Nation, Marble Canyon…


Shari: Did you get to Page?


Christian: We got to Page. We got to Page. Matthew got stranded in page. He ran out of gas on his off day and had to hitchhike back to set.


Shari: Well, that’s a nice place to get stranded.


Christian: He came back with a fresh watermelon. Somehow. (Laughs)
Jackson: Navajo Nation’s land is beautiful. The most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, and they blessed our film and they actually made it into the film. The paramedics helping Matthew.


Shari: That’s so good to know.


Jahking: They’re beautiful people, you know? Down to earth and they were very inviting to us, you know, and even when we were eating at—do you guys remember what that diner was called?
Daniel: Can’t remember.
Jahking: There they were, just so happy. They’re asking…
Daniel: Marble Canyon Lodge. Shout out to Marble Canyon Lodge.
Jahking: Beautiful people. Beautiful spirits.


Shari: I have to ask… and be honest. What was training like and was there Butt Butter used?


Christian: People ask that question a lot.
Jackson: It’s weirdly been a popular question, but, uh, we avoided it. In hindsight it probably would have helped.
Jahking: We probably needed it, but we avoided it.
Christian: But I used it. (laughs)
Jahking: Training was challenging. Probably like the first… I’d say like the first couple days, like, understanding of like tyring to figure out how to “clip in” and “clip out” of that bike. Everybody. Like, we got bumps and bruises, stuff like that, but we just got back up and kept on pushing, but yeah, that was tough. I know how to ride a bike but that is like a… that road bike is completely different than an actual BMX bike, something that I’m accustomed to. You have to clip in, and you have to keep your balance. It has gears, you know, to go faster. And… it was tough.


Shari: To either of you, how long did it take to build a rapport with your fellow actors?


Jahking: It was quick. I mean, you kind of, at the chemistry read, you know, like, you feel it. As an actor you can feel who you have the most chemistry with and then you know, when everybody gets cast it’s like, okay. I was… I was, uh, I was right. And, umm, the chemistry was there from the get-go. At the end of the day, it felt like making a movie with family. Right? And then, I’ll let Jackson cap it off with that. But, yeah, it just felt like making a movie with family.
Jackson: Yeah. It was instant, really, and it’s so interesting because we all come from different—very different walks of life and we are very different people, but these guys are my brothers for life and I love them so much and we really connected over this movie because… it’s not the type of filming experience where you, umm, you know, you just go home at the end of day. You go back to your trailer, and you don’t see them. We’re out on these locations and we’re hanging out 24/7 for, you know, a month and a half and we all got really close and it’s a beautiful thing and you know… we’re all… independent filmmaking is my favorite. It’s… you’re the underdogs, you’re up against a challenge. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable but it builds this comradery and this, you know, you feel like a team. You’re making things happen and you’re all there just for the sheer love of it. Yeah.


Shari: Was abuse by his father really a factor in Greg’s life or was that something you wrote in?


Daniel: No. That was a real part of the story. We initially, you know, Christian had read a couple articles, there’s a great one by Tracy Ross that was in Bicycling Magazine and that detailed some of that… Gregs’ past and some of that history. It was one of those things where, I guess in a way, maybe, that’s why we wanted to approach a film like this from the narrative perspective is, you know, you could, I guess, approach it from a documentary point of view through re-enactments or something like that, but it really felt like this kind of story’s kind of mythic in a way. You have this character who’s got a lot of the same history as these boys and was maybe driven to do good as a result. And then realized his brother did end up in prison, you know? Greg went one path, his brother went another path, and so you’ve got someone who kind of sees the part of the road, the fork in the road, and how things can go well or badly for somebody and how that, umm, you know, how you can make an impact and try and steer people in the right direction.

Christian: He did ultimately reconcile with his father. His father was a prisoner of war and he loved his kids, Greg will say, but he didn’t really… he did it in a way that, uh, wasn’t proper. He was too strong and too stern. He thought he was helping Greg out but, with the stretching and just trying to kind of toughen him up, but… you know, war does.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s all about breaking the cycle, you know. That’s a big part of it. You know, the cycling movie about breaking the cycle is kind of the ironic thing. But… but yeah.


Shari: Was there anything that you guys took from working with Matthew Modine? Did he influence you in any way?


Jackson: In every way. I mean, he… he… I can’t say enough good things about Matthew. He was such a mentor to us. He is full of wisdom, and you know when he talks, you just lean in a listen and… and, I was always observing him and umm… I’d go home at night and, like, try to remember everything he told me and write it down because it’s such great stuff. No one will ever say a bad thing about him. He’s everything you could ever want him to be.
Jahking: A great leader. A great mentor and he taught us a lot of things, you know, and one of those things was just being present, being in the moment, you know. Focusing on what’s happening right now and even, like, you know, performance wise, he’s like, “Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Once it’s done, it’s done.” On to the next and keep it moving and uh… yea… great guy all around, great guy. I mean, I’m honored to have… it’s a big deal to have shared the screen with him, really.


Shari: I would imagine. Was there anytime you thought, “Forget it. This is too hard. It’s too hot out here, I can’t do this?”


Jahking: No… no.
Jackson: I felt every second of it and it was 110 degrees days in Arizona where we were just…
Daniel: That’s why we’re here. That’s what we signed up for. You love it. You lean into it. Bring it on, like, everyone on that movie had to have that attitude. Everyone’s a hard worker. Everyone is doing their best and we’re all in it together and you just embrace it.
Jahking: It wasn’t just like, we were the only ones who were hot. Everybody else was hot. The crew was hot, you know? People had to… I mean, props to everybody. We were all, basically dying together, you know? But we got through it. And yeah. It’s what we signed up for. So, I know everyone else was on board, we locked arms and kept movin’.
Jackson: The thing that kept me going and, it’s like, we really can’t complain, because, let’s say we’re riding ten miles a day, the real Ridgeview boys were riding these insane fifty to seventy-five, to 100 plus miles a day, like, so what am I going to complain about because the real Ridgeview boys who are actual sixteen-year-old boys with no cycling experience are… they’re doing the real thing. We’re just out here playing pretend. We can go back to our trailer and our fan and eat watermelon, you know? They’re out there really doing it so in those times when it gets hard and you feel like you want to complain and give up you kinda gotta check yourself and just say, “What are we doing here?” Like, “Who’s story are we telling?”


Shari: Right. So, you drew inspiration from the real guys.


Jackson: Oh, there’s, they’re so inspired. That’s the thing you gotta keep in mind is, these… it’s not just a movie. These are real people we’re representing. These are real stories we’re telling, and I think, yeah, you can get caught up in, you know, everything else but I think, always turning back to that was very important to me.


Shari: Well, it was beautifully done. Kudos, gentlemen! But before we leave, I want to hear what’s, what’s next? What’s coming from, you guys?


Jahking: More!
Daniel: Yeah.


Shari: What’s coming down the pipeline, Daniel?


Daniel: I’m, I’m wrapping up a different movie, another like a horror movie that we shot about a year ago, or ex exactly a year ago, I think, is when I started pre-production. And so that’s gonna be really fun, very different kind of movie. But you know, I think in its own way explores interesting themes and and ideas. So be curious how that one stacks up against hard miles. “Hard Miles” is a tough one to follow. It’s hard to. It’s hard to beat this one. We’re all very proud of it. Yeah.


Shari: I wouldn’t want to try.


Daniel: Yeah.
Christian: Oh, thank you very much.


Shari: You’re very welcome.


Christian: Yeah, we’ve got a a, a romantic comedy set in a Kentucky stud farm called “Breeders” coming up, and Dan and I co-wrote a bitcoin heist action comedy called the “Hoodle Up,” but it’s still in development. But we’re excited about that one, too. It’s, yeah. 


Whatever these guys do next, I’m in!! After seeing this film, you will be, too.


Here’s a link to my review of “Hard Miles.”

Hard Miles:

Directed by: R.J. Daniel Hanna
Written by: R.J. Daniel Hanna, Christian Sander
Starring: Matthew Modine, Cynthia McWilliams, Jahking Guillory, Jackson Kelly, Damien Diaz, Zach Robbins, Leslie David Baker, Sean Astin

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 1h 48m
Genres: Drama, Sport

Distributed by: Blue Fox Entertainment
Production Company: Pensé Productions contributor: ShariK.Green tmc
I'm the Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager for I write, direct and produce short films with my production company, Good Stew Productions. Though it's difficult to answer this question when asked, I'd say my favorite movie is “The Big Chill.” I enjoy photography, poetry, and hiking and I adore animals, especially elephants. I live in Arizona and feel it's an outstanding and inspirational place to live.

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