“LA has similarities to Hawai‘i,” 32-year-old screenwriter Dana Ledoux Miller says of the islands she called home for nearly a decade. “The weather doesn’t change more or less, you can still get ramen.” Then, like a true disillusioned local is quick to clarify, “I mean, it’s no Sumo Ramen.”
Ledoux Miller, who recently found success on the writing staff of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, might’ve gotten her big break in Los Angeles, but it was the seven years she spent on O‘ahu riding the wave of Hawai‘i’s film and television boom that got her where she is. A graduate of the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Ledoux Miller did everything from interning on Lost and Chuck Mitsui’s indie feature One Kine Day to serving as a production assistant on The Descendants and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
It was on that last gig that she set sail with the Black Pearl to Los Angeles to help complete the final half of shooting at Universal Studios. Her degree in hand, a hard-earned shortlist of industry connections, and some momentum on her side, that’s when Ledoux Miller committed herself to a saying she’d heard so many times on Hawai‘i’s beaches: Go big or go home. She decided to stay in Hollywood.
After just a year of more production work—a schmaltzy Lifetime movie here, a straight-to-DVD Will Ferrell comedy there—something big happened: She scored a seat in one of the most highly sought-after writers’ rooms in television. What started as yet again more production assistant work, this time on the pilot of The Newsroom, became an opportunity to apply to become a writers’ assistant for the HBO drama. Ledoux Miller submitted a writing sample, met with the series’ producers, and, in a transition that was more of a jump cut than a gradual fade, she was hired. “Suddenly I had an agent, I was in the writers union, I’m in a room with Aaron Sorkin”—even after working with him for two seasons, she still whispers his name, as if she herself can’t believe it—“it all happened so fast.”
Working closely with Sorkin on the first two seasons of The Newsroom, Ledoux Miller picked up a few notes or two about writing—how can you not? “So much of what I learned from him isn’t about formatting or structure,” she says. “He taught me to trust my instincts.”
While she may have sharpened her technique and craft in Sorkin’s writers’ room, the most formative years of her life were spent on O‘ahu. It’s where she became involved in the local arts scene as the community theatre director of HEARTS (Hawaii Education for the Arts), where she cites ACM teachers such as cinematographer Anne Misawa as an inspiration, and where she also met her husband, a lifelong Kailua boy.
Today they live in Silver Lake (think LA’s equivalent to the hip streets of Kaimukī). Ledoux Miller just finished serving as the executive story editor for Narcos, an upcoming Netflix series about notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. While that films in Colombia, she continues to work on a few other personal projects.
“I just love telling stories, especially those stories that aren’t being told, but need to be,” Ledoux Miller says. Like so many ACM alums, she credits its program for helping Pacific Islanders like herself get their stories out to a broader audience. “Yes, there are big productions that roll through Hawai‘i and hire local film crews, those are great opportunities, which I benefited from,” she acknowledges, “but the exciting things happening in Hawai‘i are happening because local people are learning new ways to tell their stories through film and television.”
There are many things she misses from the islands—being able to jump in the ocean for five minutes just because you can, the way people always wave “thank you” when driving, Keneke’s plate lunches—but it’s that shared sense of community and urgency she remembers most.
“I’m in LA now, but I hope that one day I can be a part of that tradition again,” she says. “My father is from Samoa and so much of my family’s history isn’t documented on paper or in history books. There’s a rich culture and tradition that is often misunderstood or misrepresented in popular culture and I hope that I can play a role in giving those stories a voice.”