Craig Miller - Georgia Gravitas and Tribeca Cool

July 17, 2019

Craig Miller has been on a mission for more than 30 years to tell the stories
of Georgia communities and businesses via film and video. For much of that time, his mission focused on longer format corporate work and playing a
lead role in helping establish Georgia as the nationʼs No. 1 state to make a feature film.

Miller is the executive producer of Craig Miller Productions in Atlanta, a full-service film production company he founded in 1985 that provides creative strategy, script writing, production design, production management, directing, animation, editing, music, sound design and packaging. He’s also been a critical member of two groups that have promoted Georgia to studio executives in the film and entertainment industry. One of those is the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Advisory Commission, which the governor appoints and whose members include decision makers in the film, music and digital gaming arena, and which Miller has chaired. The other is the Georgia Production Partnership (GPP), a grassroots organization chiefly responsible for establishing and maintaining Georgia's tax credit program, of which Miller is a founding member.

 

Before venturing into feature films, Miller built his reputation as a highly regarded producer in the corporate and production world. He did that by creating award-winning projects for an extensive list of Fortune 500 companies and advertising companies. He’s also created video projects for various civic, tourism and trade groups throughout Georgia that have allowed him to express his passion for the state’s diverse landscapes, people and cultures. “A lot of the work I’ve done over the years has been based around Georgia tourism,” Miller says. “My first job when I went out as a company owner was with Callaway Gardens. They were my very first account.”

 

Marc Pilvinsky, senior editor at Craig Miller Productions, echoes praise for Miller as someone who is incredibly kind and fun to be around. “We've done a lot of pro-bono work over the years, and whenever I start to feel like maybe it's too much or someone is taking advantage of us, things change, and we start to see folks returning the favor,” Pilvinsky says. “When Craig produced his first feature film Still, I saw how well-liked he is and how he was able to parlay those favors we've done for people into things that really helped get that movie made."

 

“In fact, Still would not exist if Craig Miller was not a part of it,” says Philip Wages, a freelance director of photography who works with Craig Miller Productions. Still, starring Madeline Brewer (Handmaid's Tale), Nick Blood (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) and Lydia Wilson (Netflix's Requiem), is a suspense movie about a lost hiker in the North Georgia Mountains. It won the Georgia Film Award at the 2018 Atlanta Film Festival and was purchased by The Orchard for worldwide distribution.

 

“During the filming, we had some major hurdles to overcome,” recalls Wages. “One of these hurdles was that we needed a 150-year-old cabin in the middle of a field. Craig didn’t bat an eye. The next thing I knew, we had the perfect cabin, and he negotiated it well beneath our budget. That was one of many ‘miracles’ he pulled off on that film.”

MILLER’S PASSION FOR GEORGIA’S FILM INDUSTRY

Pulling off miracles is something Miller seems to have a knack for. However, it's his work as a founding member of the GPP of which he seems most proud of. The crowning achievement of that work was gaining legislative approval for the most generous film tax incentive in the country, the 30 percent tax credit for qualifying projects filmed and edited in Georgia. The tax credit forever changed the direction of Georgia's film and TV industry and is a key reason so many TV shows and movies are being made in Georgia.

"Leadership is often driven by innovation and forward thinking."

Miller and others formed the GPP in 1995, but Miller said the story that led them to create the group is rooted in a much earlier era of Georgia movie making. He dates that era to the 1972 release of Deliverance. Jimmy Carter was the governor at the time and, in a move that would have lasting implications, Carter established the nation’s first film commission office outside of California. It was a time that Miller calls a “heyday” in Georgia filmmaking. The era, he adds, extended into the '80s with movies such as Smokey and the Bandit and included support with TV productions such as In the Heat of the Night (1988-1995) and I'll Fly Away (1991 to 1993).

 

Then, Miller says, Georgia production seemed to hit a lull. "So, we all got together and asked, 'How can we change this?'" The answer, Miller says, was that he and others formed the Georgia Production Partnership. As serious as those efforts were, occasionally, the GPP meetings produced some light-hearted moments. “I remember a time at Manuel’s Tavern when the guest speaker didn’t show up,” Miller recalls. “Tim McCabe and I were running the meeting, and we had to figure out something to fill up an hour. We decided on the fly to select a GPP member from each table and called the event Meet Your Newest Friend in the Film Industry. Tim and I interviewed a dozen members in front of a room of 200. It was one of the most entertaining and engaging GPP meetings we had that year!”

 

What the GPP will be remembered for, though, are its major successes. Miller says two of those stand out. The first came in the early 2000s when the group won approval for a sales tax incentive of seven percent that Miller says helped boost the industry a little bit. The big break, however, came in 2008 when the Georgia Legislature passed the Entertainment Industry Investment Act, the 30 percent tax credit for projects shot and edited in Georgia. "In 2008, the economic impact of filming in Georgia was approximately $243 million," Miller points out. "This past year, we had $9.5 billion of economic impact in Georgia." In addition, the industry supports more than 92,000 jobs in entertainment production and support services in Georgia, according to MPPA data.

 

What the GPP will be remembered for, though, are its major successes. Miller says two of those stand out. The first came in the early 2000s when the group won approval for a sales tax incentive of seven percent that Miller says helped boost the industry a little bit. The big break, however, came in 2008 when the Georgia Legislature passed the Entertainment Industry Investment Act, the 30 percent tax credit for projects shot and edited in Georgia. "In 2008, the economic impact of filming in Georgia was approximately $243 million," Miller points out. "This past year, we had $9.5 billion of economic impact in Georgia." In addition, the industry supports more than 92,000 jobs in entertainment production and support services in Georgia, according to MPPA data.

 

MILLER LEARNED TO LOVE GEORGIA AS A CHILD

Relocating to Georgia from Virginia when he was nine-years old Miller affectionately says, “I grew quickly to love Georgia.” When it came time to go to college, Miller stayed true to his passion for his adopted state. He attended the University of Georgia, graduating with a radio, television and film degree. “I’m a DAWG!” he proudly proclaims. With his degree in hand, he went to look for a job. "Back then, you were pretty much going to work for one of the local radio or TV stations." Unlike some who were lured to the big media and entertainment centers in Los Angeles or New York, Miller had set his mind on another career path. "I wanted to stay in Georgia. I was a happy guy."

 

As it turned out, he got two job offers on the same day. One was to be an on-camera news reporter, the other was to be the video producer. Miller couldn’t resist a little laugh in recalling how he immediately transitioned from a college student to a producer responsible for making decisions and telling stories.

 

MILLER'S SECRET SAUCE FOR SUCCESS

Miller is quick to say that his break into the business was not a traditional way a person becomes a producer. “If your goal is to become a producer,” he explains, “your first job is probably going to be as a production assistant, a prop master, a grip or a gaffer.”

 

A key ingredient in Miller’s secret sauce: “I'm not afraid of hiring people who know more about something than I do. I'm always going to have people around me who know more about what they are doing than I do so that I can always rise to their level of capability versus keeping a cap on a project because of the limited amount of knowledge I probably have (in that area)."

 

Dave Werner, creative director at Craig Miller Productions, vividly remembers an example of how Miller is open to bringing in new talent. “He stepped in on a tricky job I was freelancing for and decided to bring me on to his team full time to smooth things out. Craig saw an opportunity to grow his company and in turn, bolster the local production and post production community by adding new creative talents. Leadership is often driven by innovation and forward thinking, and I feel that Craig is always looking for new ways to solve problems and support those around him.”

 

Miller ranks perseverance as probably the one thing that he relies on more than anything else. "We started the company with an account. We didn't take out any loans because we knew we would have some regular income from a particular client. That helped get things going. But, then, you've got to believe in yourself, and you've got to go out and sell. You've got to market yourself and know enough people and network."

 TRIBECA COOL

Now, Miller's on a new mission that combines his visionary leadership with his passions for film production and Georgia. Miller's seeking distribution for Only, a feature film he co-produced about a mysterious virus that is killing all the women on Earth. The movie, which was released in a world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York, was shot almost exclusively in Atlanta's Old 4th Ward. In another local connection, it was written and directed by Takashi Doscher, who grew up in Gwinnett.

 

An apocalyptic sci-fi romantic drama, Only features Freida Pinto (Guerilla, Slumdog Millionaire) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) as the romantic partners, Eva and Will. Eva apparently is among the planet's few remaining women, and Will tries to protect her by quarantining her in her apartment. The apartment happens to be in the loft conversion 1930s-era Western Electric Telephone Factory, which also features one of Atlanta's trendiest restaurants, Two Urban Licks. Will's plan works until Eva becomes revealed. Even worse, they realize savages are searching for her.

 

So why would Miller, who built his career and legacy doing mostly long format corporate work, want to co-produce a narrative feature now? As is often the case in life, timing is everything. "What was very unfortunate to me was that all my corporate business went away in roughly 2013," says Miller. "It just went, poof! I told myself, everybody goes through this. The world just changed, and this is the new normal. So, I said, 'You know what? I'm open to other things.' "

 

One of those other things was film director Doscher, who was introduced to Miller 10 years earlier. "He'd just graduated from the University of Florida, wanted to be a filmmaker, and I hired him to be a production assistant on his first three jobs in the business,” says Miller. “He moved to Los Angeles, and we stayed in touch; we would meet for lunch when he would come home to visit his parents. So, he calls me one day and says, 'Hey, Craig. I've written a script, I've got the money, I'm going to direct it, and I need a producer. Will you help?' I said, 'Man, yeah! I'm in.'" That was the Georgia-based indie Still.

"Leadership is often driven by innovation and forward thinking."

 

Doscher never forgot Miller’s helping hand in getting him started in the industry. “Craig gave me my first job in the industry out of college. I graduated in the spring of 2008, not the best time to be job-hunting, but Craig was one of the few Atlanta producers who agreed to meet with me and give me some advice. Without his kindness and generosity, I am not sure where I would have ended up. He did such a fantastic job producing on Still that when the time came to film Only, he was one of my first calls.”

 

While Miller is quick to say that scifi apocalypse is not his favorite genre, there were several reasons he jumped at the chance to work with Doscher again on Only. "Building a track record with a good friend and a rising director is good for everyone. The budget was 10 times bigger than the budget for Still, and I felt like Only was a better script.” And, Miller confesses, “Plus, it was going to be shot here in Atlanta, which I loved."

 

There was much that Doscher loved about reuniting with Miller. “Craig is a ‘people person’ through and through. He knows everyone in the business and everyone knows him. But more than that, Craig is also just a good human being. The director/producer relationship is filled with friction by the very nature of those roles. When those creative differences arise, it is so important to know that ultimately you are dealing with a good human being on the other side. I think, over the years, people have recognized that quality in Craig and love doing business with him because of it.”

 

Miller was not able to attend the premiere, of Only. He went to one of the multiple screenings several days later. "I was thinking, well, I hope our film held up well enough. We're talking about major filmmakers, and I knew that night we were up against Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (the new Ted Bundy movie), which stars heartthrob Zac Efron. It is a serious movie that was going to draw a lot of media and a lot of attendees. And we had a full theater!" Miller states.

 

While the attendance was great, he confesses to initially having that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling wondering what the people filling all those seats were thinking. Miller knew the story inside and out and had seen the edited version before it hit the big screen. He remembers looking around at the audience and thinking, "I hope they caught that moment…I hope they see that foreshadowing. You're sort of clinging or searching for those moments when you feel like the audience has really bought into the story. If it's too quiet, you are going to become really nervous. We had a good audience reaction the night I went. That was great. Then we had two more screenings. So, I was thrilled that we had at least grasped enough audience attention to come and see our work."

 

He was also happy with the critical reaction! The Musicbed blog called Only one of five Tribeca films to see, Rolling Stone Magazine published what Miller called a “nice write-up,” and CBS senior editor, David Morgan, included Only in the top 15 highlights of the festival. "In general, we were very, very pleased with the reviews,” says Miller.

 

Now comes another challenging part, waiting to see if the movie sells. "The project was produced by a company in New York called Tadmor," Miller says. "They have done some very successful films, and they're looking to use Tribeca as a platform to find distribution. That's the next step, and how will it be distributed? Will it be bought by a streamer and will viewers see it on Netflix or Hulu? Or, will it just be a video on demand? Could it get a theatrical release? Sure. It could show up in theaters somewhere. We're all anticipating what it might do."

 

Tribeca, like many mainstream film festivals, can be extremely overwhelming but also has its less stressful moments. One of those, Miller says, was a chance to catch up with two young people, an editor and producer, he hired for their first jobs out of college who are currently working in New York. "We all met up to go see the screening of Only. It was exciting to think that their first

 

 

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