Not that Miller was exactly struggling; this born-surfin' Santa Monica native and Art Center photography grad was enjoying a successful decade-long career as an editorial and advertising people still shooter-entertainment highlights include the cover of Spinal Tap's Break Like the Wind and The Shawshank Redemption poster-when he felt it was time to redeem his own Shawshank and make the move to film.
So he started doing music videos via The End about three years ago. "I hate my music videos," says Miller with that laid-back surf sincerity. "I think I've since progressed into storytelling, and back then I was just throwing images together and learning how to do film." He did a popular clip for Jellyfish, another for Bobby Brown, and he had a hit on Yo! MTV Raps for Eric B. and Rakim, among other rap and R&B acts. So how come all the black groups? "Nobody knows the answer to that to this day," says a puzzled Miller. "All these guys would think I was black when I talked on the phone with them. Bobby Brown's manager was shocked when I showed up for the shoot and I was a white guy." Well, he must've had a lousy phone line, because Miller sounds more like the trippy surfer from Apocalypse Now, and the very caucasian Darley, by the way, is his real middle name, a necessary professional addition when he was mistakenly picking up the pictures of another L.A.-based Peter Miller, a shooter for Sports Illustrated. "When I came home one day with a bunch of hockey film, I knew I had to change my name," he recalls.
In any event, Miller started a spec reel on the sly, working ideas for products like Timberland boots in on the side during his video shoots, but he had little success. "At first I just got the treatment," he recalls. "You know, 'It's really interesting, but call me later.' It was very frustrating that I couldn't move laterally." Then he did an artsy AIDS PSA for MTV featuring a foreign nude couple and subtitles, and "everybody, went, like, 'Wow, maybe he can really do this.' That's when I showed the reel at places like RSA and Chelsea. However, they still didn't sign me."
He ended up at now defunct Velocity Films, which can be considered something less than a top-tier outfit, as Miller tells it. Then around the end of '95, Jeremy Postaer and Paul Venables at Goodby Silverstein, who were familiar with Miller's still work, came to the rescue with a single-bid deal for a Sega campaign. His Sega highlights include a weird custodian of the future who picks up a human tooth while sweeping (a fighting game), and a really nice scene of two mountain climbers who watch as cars plunge over a cliff above their heads, reflected in their mirror shades (a racing game). "Once that happened I could write my own ticket," says Miller. "All of a sudden I had a lot of new friends." Ironically, as his career started to pick up, Velocity couldn't live up to its name and was going under.
Not a problem. "One day, I was walking around a corner in Hollywood and I banged into Frank Stiefel," Miller swears. "It sounds like a cartoon, but it really happened. This is after I sat for a year 25 yards from Frank's office while I was at Velocity; he had turned me down twice. But now he could see that the storytelling was there, and the visuals, and he liked the casting, so we had a deal." Miller got out of his Velocity contract at some considerable financial loss to himself, but what the hell. "It's not about the money, and it never was," he says. "If it was just about money, I could've stayed with stills. It's about having really good jobs."
And now he has some really good jobs. His latest Surge soft drink spots were on the Super Bowl. In an apparent effort to one-up Pepsi's slammin' Dew, Leo Burnett is trying to launch Coke's Euro-popular Surge in the States with a frenzied youth campaign themed, "Feed the rush." It's no talk, all action, as Xers engage in rad variations on Steal the Bacon,
clawing over each other like animals, rolling in barrels and vaulting over couches to drain the one available Surge. It's all in good fun, though, like the mosh pit at a Three Tenors conert; no one gets killed.
He would have had his first Haggar spot (from Goodby) on the World Series, but someone might've gotten killed, according to the Fire Marshall, after viewers witnessed a guy entering his burning house to save his pants, so it was pulled. Also of Goodby note is his second violently amusing Haggar spot, in which a m nn equin clubs a pants thief with a wooden arm, as well as a hilarious Isuzu Hombre tough-truck parody featuring the arthritic defensive line of the 1939 University of Northern Montana Bobcats trying to stop a pickup. Elsewhere, a dumb Xer who writes notes to himself on his hand, then dunks his fist in the soda trough, for AM/PM markets and Rubin Postaer, is slacker perfect. Miller hasn't done any Goodby milk spots yet, but just wait, he's a growing boy. Michael Bay and Kinka Usher "are the level I'm moving into right now," he says, but as far as inspiration goes, David Fincher rules, though Miller's not doing any more music videos, "my heart's really in commercials. I was never really comfortable doing music videos, and I never liked the way they were done, the methods, the whole deal. I'm really into the storytelling and I'm still learning how to do it," he adds with more disarming beach style. And if that's not modest enough, when asked about features, he says, "I don't think I'm good enough to do features. If eventually it happens, that's great."
As for all the comedy that is happening on his reel right now, that's as mysterious as the rap videos. "It is a little odd," Miller muses. "I don't know. I never thought I was that funny, but people think I'm funny. I do like that demented touch," he chuckles. "The guy with the walker in the Isuzu spot was my idea, for instance."
There's no mystery at all, however, about all the dude 'tude. Though some people may think he's black on the phone, "everybody thinks I'm an Xer," says Miller, not without a touch of pride. "I surf and do all those Xer things." Miller is so much the Xer, in fact, he cautions, "I don't want to appear, like, really serious. I like to have a really good time. Frank and I have a good time making commercials." So it's a safe bet he has no problem getting into the extreme Xer mentality? "I steal waves from those guys," he scoffs. "I go out on the water and take waves away from them! That's my competition. I never think of myself as a certain age, I just keep doing what I'm doing. Grace Slick put it the best: