Five years ago, Salisbury native Jeff Miller sipped an iced mocha in a Hollywood coffee shop and thought about Paul Bunyan.Miller wondered how an enormous axe-wielding lumberjack ever got to be a “good guy.”He drifted into a world where Bunyan was far from the beloved folklore giant. The idea that Bunyan might have been a real person with a dark past was enough to get Miller writing.Miller, 42, an independent film producer living in Toluca Lake, Calif., took his Bunyan idea to his producing partner, Gary Jones. Jones loved it, and together their producing company, Kinetic Filmworks, starting working on the horror movie “Bunyan.”On Nov. 17, Miller watched his nefarious 15-foot monster come alive in marvelous terror at the Shockfest Film Festival in Hollywood. Nominated for eight awards at the world premiere, “Bunyan,” a sinister, contemporary take on the tall tale, features Joe Estevez – brother of Martin Sheen and uncle of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez – and Dan Haggerty (TV’s “Grizzly Adams.”) By the end of the evening, Miller left with three awards, including the Audience Award for Best Film, Best Writing, and Best Poster.The premiere was sold out, and audiences raved about the film. One audience member was very excited about the experience and Miller’s talent, in spite of having her eyes covered when the music became suspenseful. That fan was Miller’s mother, Susan Miller, who traveled to Hollywood with her son, John Miller, and 13-year old grandson, Hollis Miller, all of Concord. “Young people these days are accustomed to more things than me,” Susan Miller said. “It’s not something that I prefer.”The visit to Hollywood and the red-carpet affair was a new experience for the Concord residents. “Well, it was an awfully big place with lots of people and lots of excitement and lots to see,” said Susan Miller, a Kannapolis native.After marrying Lutheran pastor the Rev. Dr. Hollis Miller, Susan Miller had two boys, and the family moved several times around the Carolinas. Hollis Miller ultimately accepted a job as a pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Concord in 1989, and Susan returned home. “It was good, because I had family and I was familiar with Concord,” said Susan, whose biggest adjustment proved to be rooting against her own high school when her youngest son, Jon, played football for Concord.Although both boys played football, Susan recalled the differences between her oldest and youngest sons. Jeff Miller was interested in stories and writing from an early age, and understood the power of storytelling to instill fear.“He was a frightful one when he was young,” Susan said. “He was always the first one to be scared. We had to check to make sure the monsters were not under the bed or in the closet.“He has always been creative and imaginative. Maybe (writing horror stories) was his way of conquering his fears.”Jeff Miller’s father died in 1996, but Jeff returns to Concord twice a year to visit his family and friends, including friends who helped finance the movie.“I had an interest in telling stories from an early age,” Miller said.“I wrote a serial called DragonQuest in seventh or eighth grade. My friends were characters in the series. Each issue would be passed around class for everyone to read. I did a couple of sequels and some characters would be killed off and some married off, and all my friends wanted to see how their character would end up.”In high school, Miller started reading Stephen King and writing short horror stories published in the school literary magazine. At 18, he wrote his first screenplay, followed by many scripts in college.Through his father’s church, Miller met James Lineberger of Concord. Lineberger wrote the 20th Century Fox movie “Taps,” starring Timothy Hutton and Tom Cruise. “He’s become a mentor to me. He’s the best writer I’ve ever met,” Miller said. “He just has great ideas and instincts.”“I’ve written many scripts but nothing had been made. It’s a competitive business,” Miller said. “I decided to be more proactive in getting movies made.“I knew of some guys in Columbia (S.C.) who had made a horror movie, so I got on board with them, first as an associate producer – raising money and helping secure cast, crew and locations, gathering props and helping with marketing – then as a writing partner and producer on the next film. That’s how my first features, ‘Freakshow’ and ‘Hellblock 13,’ got made.“I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to try to make more and bigger films.”He created and co-wrote “Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove,” which had a television premiere on the SyFy Channel and has played on the Chiller Network. “I also helped produce ‘Ballistica,’ staring Martin Kove and Robert Davi,” he said. For the hardworking local writer, “Bunyan” stands tall on the list of accomplishments. “The movie is a fun, rollercoaster ride and is made for an audience,” Miller said. “We have close to 500 visual-effects shots … and that’s why it’s taken some time to finally finish.” More information on the movies is available at www.bunyanmovie.com.
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012
Concord filmmaker getting attention
Latest film, ‘Bunyan,’ out Nov. 17
Jeff Miller said he enjoyed the world premiere of "Bunyan" on Nov. 17 in Hollywood. The horror movie won three awards and is a dark take on the tall tale of lumberjack Paul Bunyan. COURTESY OF JEFF MILLER
Jeff Miller, second from left, enjoys the Shockfest Film Festival in Hollywood on Nov. 17 with brother Jon Miller, nephew Hollis Miller and his mother, Susan Miller, all of Concord. COURTESY OF JEFF MILLER
Producer Jeff Miller of Salisbury with Dan Haggerty, TV's "Grizzly Adams,” on location in Ohio for Miller's horror movie “Bunyan.” COURTESY OF JEFF MILLER