|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XVIII NUMBER 3 Spring 2003|
Geof Miller: Film Geek
A skier dressed in black terrorizes a group of teens at an abandoned ski area. One by one the teens are slaughtered, in a story line that seems to be the staple of horror filmmakers. Geof Miller, an independent film producer and screenwriter who lives in Seattle, Wash., makes no apologies for his taste in films.
"There are two ways to go if you want to make and sell your own movies," explains Miller. "Erotic thrillers or horror films. I've always liked horror films." His latest offering, the teen/ski/slasher film Shredder, which he produced and co-directed, was released on video in 2002.
Miller, who attended Keene State from 1979 to 1981, has worked in the film industry for the past 20 years. Since 1998, he's been a partner in Iris Entertainment, a Seattle-based film development and production company. A self-described "film geek," Miller has run the gamut of filmmaking experiences, from selling his scripts to studios, to convincing financiers to invest in his films, to jumping in and directing sequences to assist a new director.
It was while working as a photographer in Seattle that Miller first became interested in filmmaking. First, he dabbled in making short films, but then decided he needed to study the art. "I hadn't made movies as a child or anything," he says, "but I wanted to go back to school and I was interested in films." He cut his cinematic teeth at Keene State, where his father, the late Robert Miller, taught as an adjunct science faculty member.
Although he was still a newcomer to the industry, Miller had plans. He wanted to attend film school at the University of Southern California and needed a portfolio piece to support his application. Miller also needed money to make his film and, with help from Larry Benaquist, professor of film studies, applied for a $1,000 grant from the KSC Alumni Association.
"Larry pitched the project to them and really went to bat for me," said Miller. "I think they were impressed that a teacher would do this for a student." With the grant in hand, Miller made The Time Machine, which got him accepted into USC. Benaquist then used the film to successfully support his effort to introduce a film production program at KSC. Miller was one of the first students to take the course, which started in 1981.
Miller earned his bachelor's degree in film production at USC in 1983, where he specialized in cinematography and screen writing. "At first I hated writing," he explained. "But then I discovered I liked the abstract part of writing – the noting down of vague ideas and reworking them until they were less vague."
After making a living rewriting scripts for different studios, Miller and his friend Lewis Abernathy, whom he met at USC, pitched their own script for DeepStar 6 to TriStar Pictures. Miller and Abernathy intended their story, which is set in an underwater base and involves an attack by an alien, to be a low-budget psychological horror film. They had raised $1 million to make the film, which Miller would shoot and Abernathy direct. It was then that the studio intervened.
But DeepStar 6 was his break. Miller went on to pitch and sell scripts for the horror flicks House IV and Lovers Lane. He's also written many scripts that may never be filmed. "That's part of life," he explains. "Most of this stuff never sees the light of day."
But, even when rejection looms, pitching a story idea can be fun. Miller recalled one boardroom experience when the executive stood and went to the bathroom, leaving the door open and shouting, "Don't stop." Other times, he said, he would be called in to describe a story idea simply because an executive was bored and needed cheering up.
There's another reality to being an independent filmmaker that Miller described – the making-a-regular-living part. Over the years, he's had several different writing jobs to help pay the bills. He's rewritten scripts for other writers, shot music videos, created the story and the script of Hellbender, a Microsoft videogame, and edited the translations of Russian business plans. He worked with two other writers on the biography of Playboy magnate Hugh Heffner, "a nice and charming guy." And, since 1994, Miller has been the lead instructor for the screenwriting program at the University of Washington Extension.
But, he said, nothing beats the first day of filming. He remembers visiting the mountainside set for Shredder, after taking a year to close a deal with the film's investors. Miller got straight to work, helping the crew schlep gear through 18-inch snowdrifts. The weather had caused filming delays and the lead actor dislocated his shoulder, but Miller was happy.
"It's a great feeling that first day on the set," he explained. "All these talented people from all over the country are there just because of you."
Dave Orsman is a writer and editor in the College Relations Office.