Home Case Studies Interview: Justin O’Neal Miller, the ‘Nut & Bolts’ That Makeup “Peggy”

Interview: Justin O’Neal Miller, the ‘Nut & Bolts’ That Makeup “Peggy”

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Justin O’Neal Miller or Justin Miller is a southern gentleman and time traveler. Justin is the writer, director and producer of numerous commercial and narrative projects, including the award-winning short film “Restitution.” He studied at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture, winning the Grand Prix for his thesis film project, titled “hypertecture.” After graduating, Justin practiced at the world renowned architecture firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam.

His passion for design and storytelling led to a career in set design and art direction, working for feature films and television including “Hunger Games: Mockingjay,” “Prisoners,” “42: The Jackie Robinson Story,” “Last Vegas,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Halt and Catch Fire.” In 2009, he founded Alchemy Set, a narrative and commercial production company dedicated to creating deliberate and evocative moving pictures.

Q: Give a background of your personal experience with the story, writing, production and marketing?
Justin O’Neal Miller: I’m a father of four and the core concept behind Peggy is drawn from a lot of first hand experience at kids birthday parties. I remember my oldest son opening a bunch of presents that I would never let him have otherwise: rot-your-teeth-out candy, violent video games, and the like. It felt like everyone was trying to sabotage our parenting style, and as I looked around at parents drinking beer, and coworkers without kids there for the networking, I realized that kid’s birthday parties these days are more about the adults than the kids.

Q: Did you start writing with a cast (You or any) in mind?
Justin O’Neal Miller: I wrote the first draft with Sarah Blackman (“Peggy”), Jason MacDonald (“Brad”), and Josh Warren (“Smidge”) in mind. Josh actually played the same character in my previous short film, “The Roach”, so he was easy to convince. Sarah I had to convince that no animals would be harmed. Jason, who also cast the film, made me consider every other talented actor we could get our hands on before I could convince him that he was perfect for it all along.

Peggy Teaser from Justin Miller on Vimeo.

Q: How long did you take to complete the script? (Do you have a writing process?)
Justin O’Neal Miller : Looking back at dates, I completed a rough draft at the end of 2015, and we shot the film in July of 2017. We ended up with a pink shooting script (white -> blue -> pink), so I must have made four substantial rewrites. Casting the film always makes me want to bend the world toward the nuances that great actors bring to the characters, but every writing project is different. Some come out of my head fully formed, and others I have to wrestle with to get on the page.

Q: When did you form your production company – and what was the original motivation for its formation?
Justin O’Neal Miller : My production, Alchemy Set, was originally formed with one of my best friends, Jimmie Myers. We wanted to find a way to make movies that were as entertaining as Spielberg’s, but as deliberate and affecting as Kubrick’s. We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but Alchemy Set continues to evolve, and is now mostly a partnership between myself and my brother-in-law/Director of Photography/Producer Chris Campbell.

Q: What was the first project out of the gate?
Justin O’Neal Miller: My background is in architecture, and after being let go during the 2009 recession, I jumped right into making a short film titled “a lady can live through anything”, a Flannery O’Connor inspired tale about a first date. We were pregnant with our second child, and everyone wondered what was wrong with me, but looking back, it doesn’t feel all that different from what we are doing today. We know a little more now, but the basic approach of solving problems with the resources available to you remains very similar.

Q: During production, what scene (that made the cut) was the hardest to shoot?
Justin O’Neal Miller: On a technical level, the final scene was the most difficult. Without spoiling too much, we had to shoot pieces of that out of sequence, but with special equipment that dictated a lot of our approach and schedule. Animals and humans performed with remarkable precision to get it all in the can. At one point we had three cameras and a separate sound crew (to capture internal monologue) working.

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Q: What works better in this latest production that mightn’t have worked so well in the last one you did?
Justin O’Neal Miller: I feel like every production is, in some form, a reaction to the previous one. In this case, Peggy is probably an over-the-top reaction to The Roach’s very subtle love story, which in turn was a warm-hearted reaction to the cold sci-fi of my second short film Restitution. On a macro level, Peggy succeeds in really getting noticed, and I think that was a good lesson to learn.

Q: You produced and directed the film, what measure of input did it take to don these hats?
Justin O’Neal Miller: It takes a lot to communication to build any cohesive project from idea to completion, but film requires a LOT of different disciplines. I feel that a good leader can set the course and then adjust to reality, and make the project even better in the process. I try to listen and receive ideas as much as I give input, and I hope that makes working together (often for free) a more rewarding experience.

Q: Is there anything about the independent filmmaking business you still struggle with?
Justin O’Neal Miller: The business part. [laughs] At this point, I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do, but doing things takes money, and I hate asking for it. I’m getting better at that part of it, but I also keep coming up with $500k ideas and writing a $10M script. I wish there was a better market for short films, because jumping from $50k short films to $500k features is the hardest part of making a career transition.

Q: Where do you think your strengths line as a filmmaker?
Justin O’Neal Miller: My background in architecture might sometimes be a hindrance, but I do think it gives me a unique perspective, especially with respect to structure and the ability to manage complex systems of information. I really want to make films that are enjoyable on the first viewing, but with layers of meaning built for revisits.

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Q: Let’s talk finance, How did you finance the film?
Justin O’Neal Miller: The film was self-financed by the filmmakers, and also by the generosity of friends, family and neighbours that donated their time and talent to the project. We traded a lot of favors, and made deals wherever we could.

Q: How much did you go over budget? How did you manage it?
Justin O’Neal Miller: We didn’t really go over budget, at least not until the festival submission/travel phase of the process. There were some built in costs that we knew were coming, but the music licensing cost a bit more than we anticipated, but we made up for it in other areas.

Q: How important is marketing? Do you think a project can make any dent without it these days?
Justin O’Neal Miller: Marketing is crazy important to a film’s success, but I suppose there are all kinds of marketing these days. Online. Viral. Sometimes old-fashioned word of mouth marketing can make or break a project. Shane Carruth and Jim Cummings have proven that even self-distribution can be sustainable.

Q: Can you tell us about your marketing activities on the project – and how it’s gone for you?
Justin O’Neal Miller: For this film, I’ve focused on festival presence, and following the lead of our publicist, London Flair PR, to create buzz on the ground. It’s all about planting seeds, moving on, and then coming back later to check on them. I’ve been planting a lot of seeds.

Q: What do you hope audiences get from your film?
Justin O’Neal Miller: I think that people find the humor in this project very cathartic and healing, and it seems to me that is because we are laughing at Peggy (and the Peggy we all know), but we are also laughing at ourselves, and the pressure that social media and our culture puts on us these days. We try to live up to the expectations of our curated, online profiles, and sometimes we feel like the person that can hold it all together, while nearly bursting at the seams. And then we browse our friends’ profiles and know like we’ll never match up to that. I think we are designed to never be quite fully satisfied, and Peggy acknowledges that imperfection, and says: it’s ok to laugh at it for a minute.

Q: What else have you got in the works?
Justin O’Neal Miller: Peggy is being developed into a half-hour comedy series, and I have an adventure-comedy feature script that I hope to direct as soon as I figure out how to ask for money. [laughs]

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The post Interview: Justin O’Neal Miller, the ‘Nut & Bolts’ That Makeup “Peggy” appeared first on indieactivity.

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