Neal Miller : Writer - Producer - Director
In 1976, before “independent” films became a force at the box office, Neal Miller began his award-winning career as an “Indy” filmmaker. He ignored the prevailing wisdom that you have to live in Hollywood to make it, and it never hindered his ability to mount critically-acclaimed productions in Chicago with major stars and directors – including Alan Arkin, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Joanne Woodward, Fred Gwinn, Sean Young, Glenn Headley, Lauren Holly, Austin Pendleton and Jonathan Demme. Neal has produced an enduring body of work that has been hailed by many of the nation’s top critics and endorsed by many major film festivals around the world (including those in Venice, Munich, Barcelona, and the Sundance Film Festival).
Among other industry “firsts”, Neal cast Darryl Hannah and Virginia Madsen in their first film roles, paired Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken in one of their most celebrated performances, and gave Joanne Woodward the opportunity to direct her first feature-length film. He is also notably the only filmmaker to produce six films for the American Playhouse series on PBS – which continues to rank as a hallmark in television history. The New York Times called Neal’s adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story an example of “what American Playhouse did best.”
Neal has taught several extended screenwriting classes at the university level and continues to consult and collaborate with aspiring screenwriters.
Neal grew up in Chicago where he excelled in basketball and won the city title for his high school with two free throws in the final seconds of the championship game. He went on to play basketball at the University of Illinois where he received a B.S degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Neal’s professional career began as an information systems consultant for Brunswick Corporation and Litton Industries while working nights on a master’s degree in computer science at Illinois Institute of Technology. He became general manager of the venture capital fund, High Technology Investments, Inc., and served as president and chairman of the board of several corporations in the fund's portfolio. Neal eventually formed New Century Management, a real estate development company that acquired and renovated Victorian era apartment buildings in Chicago.
Entering the Film Business
In 1976, Neal was bitten by the film bug and formed Rubicon™ Productions, Ltd. He created the 6-part mini-series Sense of Humor, which became the backbone of the PBS series American Playhouse in its first broadcast year. Among the many accolades received by films in Sense of Humor, Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times, called Who Am I This Time? ”a smashing adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut story.” Daily Variety chimed in with praise for Demme (“directed with finesse”) and Neal Miller (“coaxes his characters along with becoming humor”). Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tom Shales of the Washington Post called it “a ripe slice of honeydew, a really beguiling charmer.” Who Am I This Time? went on to win the “Best Television Production Award” at the Setmana International De Cinema de Barcelona, invitational screenings in Russia (ACT I) and Italy (Venice Film Festival), and at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Daily Variety wrote: “American Playhouse hits its stride with one of the finer Christmas specials of this or any recent past season. A Matter of Principle reflects genuine truths in rural wrappings… the drama sings of the redeeming values of love, no matter what form it takes.” TV Guide noted that the film “deserves to become an annual TV tradition. Don’t miss one of the dramatic firecrackers of 1984.”
The Roommate, based on a John Updike story, was the buzz of the original Sundance Film Festival, only to be surpassed by the Coen Brothers first film, Blood Simple. However, the film went on to win the Gran Prix at the Los Angeles International Film Festival as well as Special Jury Awards at the San Francisco and USA Film (Dallas) Festivals. The Roommate was also an official selection of the Chicago and Munich Film Festivals as well as the American Independent Film Market in New York. Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called it “a gem!” and the Hollywood Reporter wrote: “high grades are due Neal Miller, who has written a human and often subtle narrative.”
Neal’s last production for American Playhouse was Under the Biltmore Clock, which also marked his directorial debut. Starring Sean Young, the adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story was lauded by the New York Times as “one of the examples of what American Playhouse did best” and called “first class” by the Chicago Tribune.
After American Playhouse
Neal then wrote and directed the ABC After-School Special, Love Hurts, which won the Golden Apple Award from the National Educational Film Video Festival in 1993. In 1998, Walt Disney Pictures acquired Neal’s screenplay based on the Isaac Asimov story, Bicentennial Man. He served as a producer on the Chris Columbus production starring Robin Williams.
Neal’s next project was Raising Flagg, which renewed his collaboration with Alan Arkin and Barbara Dana and marked his feature film directorial debut. The film premiered in November 2006, and won Best Feature Film awards at several film festivals.
In 2009, Neal formed The Shaggy Dog Project, a community consortium designed to guide aspiring filmmakers through the process of creating short, dramatic films using professional screenwriting and filmmaking techniques. Once the projects were Green-lighted by Neal, short (5 to 10 minute) films were produced with class members serving as the production crew. The goal was to provide a total filmmaking experience, from basic-idea-to-finished-film, and is based on the premise that learning is best accomplished by doing. Neal directed four films for the group, providing the opportunity to experience how a professional film production is organized. The films premiered at the Eugene (Oregon) International Film Festival.
Neal continues to develop feature-length screenplays – four currently in development – with the intension of directing them.