Miller, who admits to being a newbie in the showbiz world, recently shared what it was like to make his first TV series with former Dukes of Hazzard TV star John Schneider. His production company, Tower 17 Productions, LLC, is his biggest project to date. Here is a closer look.
Q: What was your overall role?
A: I was the creator, an executive producer, the primary financier, the sales person for the show. I played the bass player in the other band in episode six, I was the bottom-line on most creative decisions, and I was the guy who coddled the ‘prima donnas’ when they needed it. I was under-qualified for most of these positions.
Q: Did you always want to be in the film and TV industry?
A: No, this has been an all-new, kind of out-of-the-blue experience for me. I’ve always loved film and TV, but I’ve primarily been a guy who watched a movie or show, and got engrossed in the story. I wasn’t studying or even paying much attention to how a film was produced. But, now I always want to be in the production business. I enjoy the people in the industry, and I love the idea of entertaining and telling stories.
Q: Tell us how twentysixmiles evolved.
A: I originally came up with the idea in 2005. I didn’t know where to start, so I started writing scripts, and they were pretty bad. So, I decided to focus on defining characters, whose personalities have remained. We originally thought of the show as similar to the Monkees; with a Jimmy Buffett tone, (such as) the Monkees in Margaritaville or the Renegades in Catalina. Then, I rented some old Monkees shows, and they were pretty shallow, so we committed to make something better. We decided to record music first, to help set the tone of the show. So, we went to Nashville and found a great young team of musicians.
I'm kind of a pusher, who can stir things up and make things happen. So, once we started down this path, we just kept making the next step. First, we need a producer or an agent, and we found a producer. Then, we needed a writer, and the producer helped us find one. We found out that we needed a competent producer and great writers, and luckily we found them. Our producer, Scott LeGrand wore multiple hats, and was the glue that held the production together. Then, two weeks into production, we were signed by The Gersh Talent Agency. While we had many bumps in the road, we had lots of things that fell into place for us.
Q: Did you have any unusual difficulties during filming twentysixmiles?
A: We had many of the usual difficulties; raising money and some ‘prima donna’ cast members, but our most unusual challenge was that we had too much fun between the producers, and the cast and crew. We spent five or six days a week, for eight weeks, on Catalina Island, doing something we loved. It was like being at summer camp.
Q: Will winning an award from Indie Fest help promote the show? How so?
A: An award from IndieFest provides much needed credibility. The biggest challenge for an independent TV show like twentysixmiles is convincing a network executive that there is an audience for the show, and that there are people who like it. Many network executives are given fairly narrow programming guidelines, so their network maintains continuity and their audiences know what to expect.
Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of TV that is the same-old, same-old. How many cops, lawyers, or doctors, with weird personality quirks are there on the air? They produce these shows because we watch them, and it’s a safe bet. But the more of the same old show that we produce, the more something different seems wrong. We have suffered from that. Twentysixmiles isn’t dark enough, or sexy enough, or gritty enough. But we believe there is a huge audience of people who do not always want to watch dark or gritty; or that sexy doesn’t mean only big boobs. Sexy can be a short, heavy guy named “Manny” or a bald guy named “Murph.”
Q: How long did it take to make the six episodes?
A: We spent eight months writing the pilot, and then six months writing the next five episodes. We spent two months in pre-production. Our shooting schedule was: One week in LA, eight weeks on Catalina, then two days in LA. Post-production has been a scattered process. It took us a month to edit to the six episodes. We considered this a rough edit, believing that an acquiring network would want to edit it to their needs. Then we pitched it, with Gersh Talent Agency as our agents, to many networks. We heard lots of “we like it, it’s great, but it’s not a perfect fit for us,” followed by one of these reasons; it’s too soft, too ABC Family, not teenage enough, not gritty enough, not sexy enough, too contemporary and hip, too smart, why six episodes, and can you make it a movie?
Q: How much money did it cost?
Q: To what audience is twentysixmiles suited?
A: We think twentysixmiles reaches a fairly broad audience, with the geographic being a greater indicator than age. Twentysixmiles is a “fly-over states” show. Folks, who like wholesome (subject matter), enjoy the positive messages in our show. Folks who may not get to take a vacation this year because of hard (economic) times enjoy going to the island with Jack, Murph and the gang, for one hour a week. Also, people with teenagers who are looking for ways to discuss difficult subjects, like teenage drinking and abstinence, are attracted to the show.
Q: Any bites yet from distributors?
A: We have had several networks that have shown interest, but none have inked a deal. We are working with a sales agent, Showcase Entertainment. Showcase has made a distribution deal with a company in Italy, and we are in the process of completing our deliverables for that sale.
Q: Are there other episodes in the works?
A: We have developed a five-year plan for twentysixmiles, and are ready to start making new episodes as soon as someone writes a check.
Q: What was it like working with the actors? How did you go about choosing them, such as John Schneider?
A: We did a table read of episode one, several of those actors were selected for their roles when we went into production. John Schneider as “Jack Kincaid” was a critical role for us. The actor needed to be a leading man, who could sing and play the guitar. John’s management team wasn’t too excited about John working with an independent production company. But we persisted and they allowed John to read the script. Once John read the script we had him. He felt like we had been following him around for ten years and had written the show about his life. With John as our lead actor, our credibility rose dramatically, and we were able to secure a lot of great talent.
Q: What has the feedback been so far?
A: Our initial feedback was primarily rejection from network executives. Many network executives are given fairly narrow programming guidelines, so their network is able to maintain continuity and their audiences know what to expect. On the flip side, when we released the series on HULU in June and the response was fantastic. Viewership was strong and many of the reviews were excellent.
Q: Are you working on any new projects?
A: We are developing a romantic comedy, to star James Denton and Teri Polo, titled Damaged Goods. And we are in post-production on an ultra-low budget romantic comedy titled Karaoke Man.
Q: Tell us about your own background.
A: I was born in Kentucky, and still cherish those roots. I’ve been married to Carol for 30 years, and we have three kids and three grandkids.
Q: What was the best part of the project?
A: Being associated with all the wonderfully creative people and being part of their creative process. The relationships have been great. I learned an incredible amount about making TV and the industry, and I really value that experience.
Q: What was the most challenging?
A: The fund-raising was a huge challenge and a waste of time. If I had know that my friends and I were going to be all of the funding, I could have saved a lot of time chasing film funds and investors. But ultimately, dealing with the rejection has been the hardest part. Even though they were nice, “we liked it but…” rejections, and from only a handful of people, it still felt like a very personal statement about the quality of the show.
Q: Are you pleased with the overall outcome?
A: Yes, I am. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned, but it’s close. I love the stories, characters, and music we created. After dealing with a lack of success with the networks, my confidence in the project was pretty low; but after releasing with great numbers and reviews on HULU; and after winning a couple of awards, I’m feeling very good about the show. I still believe there is a big audience for this show, and that we will find the right network.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the series?
A: I hope to have the right network run the mini-series, and that their viewers love it so much that they put in an order for 12 more; and after that we have a successful run of at least four seasons.
Tower 17 Productions