Clark Collis
April 30, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Four years ago, on Jan. 6, 2006, Logan and Noah Miller stood over the body of their father, Daniel, in a morgue in California’s Marin County and made a promise. The twin brothers, who were 28 at the time, vowed that in the next 12 months they’d make a movie about their dad, a longtime alcoholic who had died from a ruptured aorta on a jailhouse floor the day before, at age 59. ”This year,” his sons said. ”This year.”

It was a crazy promise to make. The brothers had spent the previous few years writing screenplays, including a fictionalized depiction of their troubled relationship with their father called Touching Home, but they hadn’t sold any. They were working a series of odd jobs, and even had a brief career as models, posing for Abercrombie & Fitch and Vogue. What’s more, the story of their dad — a roofer who was repeatedly arrested for alcohol-related offenses and homeless for 15 years — was hardly blockbuster material. To complicate matters further, the brothers had told their increasingly frail father before his death that he would be played by Ed Harris. And one more thing: They intended to direct the movie and play the fictional versions of themselves. ”We’d never acted in anything,” recalls Noah, now 32. ”We said we were going to direct, but we didn’t even own a video camera.” Yet before the end of 2006, they had shot Touching Home, which opened April 30 in limited release — and stars Ed Harris.

How did the Millers do it? First, they filled out every credit-card application that came their way to finance a couple of days of shooting in Tucson, Ariz. Then, in April 2006, they approached Harris while he was being honored at the San Francisco Film Festival and hurriedly told him their story. As the star recalls, ”They said, ‘We promised our dad we’d make this film about him, and you’re the only guy that can do it.’ So we went into the alley and they showed me on a computer some stuff they’d shot that looked pretty good.” Harris asked for the script and within a week agreed to play their dad. ”My agent was like, ‘No, man, not again!”’ laughs Harris, who has appeared in many low-budget ventures over the years. ”I just couldn’t say no. The twins wouldn’t let me say no.”

The projected budget for Touching Home was $2 million, which the twins didn’t have. After drawing on no fewer than 17 credit cards, they were $45,000 in debt. Just days before cameras were to roll, a Sacramento real estate developer agreed to finance the movie. The shoot itself was often emotional for the brothers, particularly the day Harris first appeared on set. ”Not knowing their dad, I don’t know how closely I resembled him,” says Harris. ”But I guess to them, I sure did.”

Last year, HarperCollins published the twins’ book about their cinematic quest, Either You’re In or You’re in the Way, which, like the film, is dedicated to their dad. The Millers haven’t earned much from either the movie or the book — they currently share a $750-a-month apartment in L.A. — but they’re happy to have fulfilled their promise. ”We needed to do it,” says Noah. ”We made a vow to our father,” adds Logan. ”We wanted to turn that tragedy into something positive.”

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