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Troy Miller, Director of the Hulu Series Deadbeat

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There's little that producer/director Troy Miller hasn't done over the course of his three-decade-long Hollywood career. He's helmed episodes of your favorite television shows (including Parks & RecFlight of the Conchords, and Bored to Death), filmed shorts for the MTV Movie Awards, directed feature films, produced specials and shows with his company, Dakota Pictures, and shot segments for the Oscars. And last year, Miller teamed up with Mitch Hurwitz to revive Arrested Development—six years after the show's cancellation by Fox—producing and directing the show's fourth season for Netflix.

Miller's latest series, Deadbeat, follows hapless medium Kevin Pacalioglu as he helps ghosts while trying (and failing) to get his own life together; Hulu will drop its first season on April 9. We talked to Miller about the benefits of binge watching, the end of appointment television, and whipping up the perfect recipe for ghosts.

How did you get involved with Deadbeat? What drew your interest?
Kevin Beggs, who runs Lionsgate, had taken the writers' pitch, and then sent it over to me, as a friend, to read the pilot. I liked the pilot idea so much that I said "Count me in!" Then I developed the script with the writers, and with Charlotte Koh, the programmer at Hulu, driving it. We had all the scripts done before we started shooting, and then, from a director/producing standpoint, I treated this show like a movie.

Do you find that that's the standard procedure now when a show is being released all at once, on the Internet? That it's developed more like a feature film than like a typical TV show?
Not really. I think it becomes a financial necessity because the budgets are smaller. Also, when all the shows drop all at the same time, like what Hulu or Netflix are doing—I don't know so much about Amazon—you can weave in better story arcs. I've directed Parks & Rec and The Office and other shows, [where] you may only be a few weeks ahead. [This way, if] we just finished episode 8 and found out a lot of good things here, we can back and change up episode 2 and 3 so episode 8 is more fulfilling. When I write features or direct movies, the real fun of it, as a director, is stepping into something and crafting a whole world.

These people in these new companies can create apps that allow you to watch television on whatever device it is. I'll watch Hulu or Netflix on my television—it's pretty seamless now. It's a little bit alien but it's exciting to see they're trying in a different way. Not because they want to be different, but because they don't know any better and they're all such smart, creative people at these companies, it kind of engages you again. The creative community in Hollywood, anyway.

Are there benefits to this sort of method of releasing all the episodes at once? It changes the viewing experience, obviously. I have a lot of friends who binge watched LOST and they were like, "All the plot points were so obvious!" Because they were watching all the episodes one after the other.
It's funny that you mention Lost. That was my first binge viewing experience—Lost in its second year. It was over Thanksgiving, I think, and I hadn't even seen one [episode]. I got the first year on DVD and I watched all of them in three or four days. I'm a video game guy, too—I could play Call of Duty for six straight hours—and [watching Lost that way] was an immersive experience, like playing a video game. It made me really only want to have On Demand, whereas other shows, like The Sopranos—which is one of the greatest shows ever made—I would really look forward to watching it and seeing where the stories were going and I liked the anticipation.

But when there's so many other choices, what I find myself doing, even now, is recording them and waiting until I have three or four because I'd rather create a feature experience for myself, trick myself into watching more than one. It's like having the power like watching six episodes of Deadbeat—having the power to watch when I want to watch overrides the want of anticipation of the event of it coming in.

But it's changing. I have teenage kids, and all they know is Hulu and Netflix and this new world of television, as opposed to making an appointment to sit down and watch a television show. I think it's going away pretty quickly. So to be a director working there in this kind of revolution that's starting to happen, it's exciting because I'm crafting it as a fan, as a viewer, but also as a filmmaker. [Before, you'd think], I can't put something in Episode 3, because by Episode 6 or 7, the viewer will forget about it, but now, they're going to see it in another hour and a half.

Arrested Development was that way. That's the brilliance of Mitch Hurwitz. He was adding so many little clever nuggets throughout the show—the original series and the one we did this past season—so the binge seers were really rewarded and many went back and watched it again, to find even more little nuggets.

That's what we have in Deadbeat. Ultimately, in repeat viewing, people will find little things that we put in. Having all the scripts in advance, and doing it all at once, like a feature, it allows you to spend a little more precious time there.

I want to talk a little bit about the cast. I was surprised by Cat Deely, who plays Chamomile. Everyone knows her as a very sweet host on shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but she's such a villain in Deadbeat, and she's good at it. Can you talk about how she got involved and how you came by the rest of the cast?
That's in testament to our casting director, Cindy Tolan. She liked Cat on House of Lies—she had a guest role in that. I honestly haven't seen her dance show, but I saw that clip, and she did embody what an outspoken medium could be, but adding in an element of self-preservation with her evilness. Cat brought all that in. She just had such a strong point of view of what that character would be. And being able to kill them with kindness and then how she would react when the cameras were off, and she brought it on the first day. She just has this innate instinct at a performance level.

We looked and auditioned for [the Kevin Pacalioglu part] for four months. Tyler Labine is such an affable guy in life. He really did a lot of improv too. He took that character on and created it. He's really the breakout. He's been a working actor in subordinate roles and a couple of leads, but this is his first really lead role. We have an ensemble, but Tyler drives every scene. Everybody else has their own story arc, but it all seeds what Kevin's motivations are.

We were looking for a sidekick for Cat's character and we wanted someone who wasn't the same look—someone who was harried and put upon. Lucy Devito was in a play in New York, and she sent in a self-tape with only two takes on it with nobody off-camera. She just did it on her own. It became kind of a monologue and it was just captivating. She came in so well-prepared and had such a good grasp of the character that the writers quickly expanded it, and you will see toward the end of the season, her part just gets bigger and bigger.

And then Brandon T. Jackson, who is Kevin's sidekick/drug dealer, he was a real get, because it wasn't a big role for him and he's had lots of starring roles. He and Tyler already knew each other, and they knew from a comedic standpoint they'd have the right rhythms. As an improv director, I kind of just guided them a little, and let it go. A lot of the stuff they do, it was all them just riffing it out on the set.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the ghosts themselves. There are obviously some visual effects involved. How did you film them?
You know Freddy Wong? He's an example of a guy who does great homemade effects. With us, the budget is relatively low for a major effects show, but high for one of these cable or internet companies. So I had to basically retro-fit what effects I could do.

I wanted the ghost to be unobtrusive, in the everyday life, like Bringing Out the Dead. Not to align myself with anything as great as that, but just how Scorsese captured the ghosts in that film—the Nicolas Cage character can see people who have passed on, and they're just walking among us.

As a show that shoots in New York, we move very quickly, and we have portable green screens with us. Often times, you'll shoot and then shoot the ghost or transparency weeks later just on a green screen stage. But on Deadbeat, doing comedy, I had to have the rhythm of the scene. So it was not always the most cost efficient way, but we would do a scene with the ghost actor in it, and then do it again [without them], and I would direct Tyler or whoever the person driving the scene was where to look. It's a lot of cheated eyeline. And then we would pick it apart for how we would do the effects.

So that's kind of the technical part of it, but it's driven by, I think, the filmmaker's point of view—how do we make these ghosts just appear as if they are all around us and this one guy, Kevin, has a special gift that he can see them? It's hopefully discreet enough that when you're watching the show, you only see the ghosts in Kevin's point of view and you're occasionally reminded that oh, other people can't see them. Most times, when I cut to a wide or distant shot, you won't see the ghost, but when you're in coverage with Kevin, that's when you see the ghost. It's really driven by the point of view and then secondarily it is how do we do it and the economics.

The ghosts have a very distinct look—almost like they're undulating. How did you come up with that?
It's kind of a special recipe in the effects company we used, and I added in a kind of waviness to it. Our DP is a very talented filmmaker, and he was really pushing when we were doing our scouting, looking for reflections as if we’re seeing [the ghosts] through windows. We went for a few different paths while working and then came back to, what if the ghost was in a mirror? Then we added, basically, an after-effects layer. And it undulates and moves as if the ghost body is refracting the light. It came alive, and it's a lot of work. You’re doing frame by frame animation, and we had many effects artists working on many scenes at one time to make our schedule. I'd go in and supervise each one. Once you create the recipe, then everyone’s just following suit like any animated show.

When you're directing, you're sometimes also doing Steadicam. Why is that important for you to do? Does it give you a different take on the scene than standing back and watching it happen would?
I'm always active. I'm not a passive viewer. I'm very physical when I’m working. If I go off and freelance a show, I can just watch the monitor—I’m really crafting the rhythm of the scene. Whereas the shows that I’m creating, I’m in there with the actors talking as I’m going, and I’m doing repeated takes. I’ve been a handheld camera operated my whole career, and then it was a natural progression to being a steady cam operator which I’ve been for about the past ten years. On almost everything I direct, I’m also Steadicam, because I need to be with the actors—when I’m directing from a monitor in between takes, I’m talking to a DP, who's talking to a camera guy, who's talking to his dolly operator. There’s like three or four layers that it has to get through. [If I'm on Steadicam,] I can physically design the shot by telling an actor to step left or step right or say it again or do it louder or softer.

On Deadbeat, there are a lot of Segways—I have this system of mounting a big heavy Steadicam on a Segway, which allows me to do more repeats, faster shots. We used it a lot on Flight of the Conchords, too, in the last season. It's like a trick, part of my secret sauce that gives some of my stuff a different look. I find the tools that I need to get there quickly. When you're doing low budget shows, I keep my crew size to single digits by shooting it myself.

What's coming up next for you?
When I'm not on a movie or television series, I tend to fall back into development at my production company, Dakota Pictures, trying to get into more interesting projects going. We are bringing out new reality shows that are done from a film point of view. We're expanding our company, adding directing executives to the development department, all driven by this success we had with Netflix last year and Hulu this year.

The want of most of new cable seems to be going towards this lower budgeted, high production value alternative comedy world—which my company, if you look its history, it’s kind of a last man standing. There are not a lot of companies that still are independent, not owned by a studio, they take all the financial risk, and also have a creative showrunner such as myself in senior management.

As a producer, I'm producing an incredible pilot now called Dr. Brown for FX with Phil Burgers, who is a really talented performance artist. It's a perfect show for us because much like Mr. Show or Tenacious D or Flight of the Conchords or even Bored to Death—those are all shows we produced—it has a cult following. There's specialness to them. Whereas Arrested Development, Mitch Hurwitz brought me in on that, but it kind of encapsulated all that specialness, so I do feel like the audience and the world is catching up to what I've been doing for 25 years. Now, it's more exciting that the stuff I've wanted to do, people are asking me to do instead of me asking them. It's coming to us, so I just want to take advantage of those opportunities.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy
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Judge Judith Sheindlin was 54 years old when her namesake TV show premiered on September 16, 1996. Two years later the diminutive (5’1”) adjudicator was trouncing the powerhouse Oprah Winfrey Show in the Nielsen ratings. Today, she is one of the highest paid TV celebrities, earning $47 million per year—which she will continue to do through 2020, thanks to a new extended contract.

Fervent fans are familiar with Judge Judy’s more outrageous cases, like The Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer, but they might not know some of these fun facts about both the show and the woman behind it, who turns 75 years old today.

1. THAT GRUFF, NO-NONSENSE STYLE OF JURISPRUDENCE IS NOT AN ACT.

Judge Judy spent a little over 20 years in New York City’s family court system, where she earned a reputation early in her career for being blunt, impatient, and tough-talking. “I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow,” was one of her oft-repeated “Judyisms” at that time. She also frequently warned attorneys appearing before her: "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives ... circumcision being the first." 60 Minutes filmed her in action as part of a 1993 profile, and while her hair color and eyebrows have softened since then, her impatient rants and verbal smackdowns haven’t changed a bit.

2. SHE BEGAN WEARING HER TRADEMARK LACE COLLAR AS SOON AS SHE WAS APPOINTED AS A JUDGE.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Judith Sheindlin to the bench in 1982, and to celebrate she and her husband Jerry—both civil servants at the time—took a $399 package trip to Greece for two weeks. While passing by a row of street kiosks with various locally made crafts for sale, she impulsively purchased a white lace collar from a vendor. She explained to her husband that male judges wore stiff-collared white dress shirts and colorful neckties that peeped out of the top of their robes, so that they had a nice colorful “buffer” between the austere black gown and their face. Female judges, however, had nothing but neck peeping out of their robes and the unforgiving black color revealed every minute of sleep deprivation as well as any skin tone irregularities. The white lace collar, she decided, would not only perk up her face but would also be a bit disarming for litigants—she could picture them thinking “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly!”

3. DESPITE THOSE NEW YORK CITY SCENES ON THE COMMERCIAL BUMPERS, JUDGE JUDY IS TAPED IN CALIFORNIA.

Sheindlin spends 52 days per year taping her show. She flies to California via private jet every other Monday and hears cases on Tuesday and Wednesday (occasionally Thursday if there are production delays). One full week’s worth of shows are filmed each day. Many viewers, however, are fooled into thinking Judy is holding court in her native New York, thanks to the scenic Manhattan footage in between station breaks and the New York state flag behind her chair. That is, until something oh-so-unique to the west coast—like an earthquake—occurs on-camera. (Note that in the clip below, Judge Judy quickly ducks beneath her bench once the room begins to tremble.)

4. SHE IS BRIEFED ON THE CASES BEFORE SHE ARRIVES ON THE SET.

Judge Sheindlin does not go to the studio unprepared; producers FedEx the sworn statements and relevant information on each upcoming case to her home (Naples, Florida in the winter; Greenwich, Connecticut in the spring and summer) and she familiarizes herself with enough details to have some background, but not enough so that the case doesn’t appear “fresh” when she questions the litigants during filming.

5. THE CASES REALLY ARE REAL.

The production company has a staff of 60-plus researchers across the country who spend their days poring over lawsuits filed in local small claims courts. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they are able to photocopy cases that they think might make for interesting television and those copies are forwarded to the show’s producers. Any cases that make it to the next stage (about three percent) involve contacting the litigants involved and asking them if they’d like to forego their civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles, an $850 appearance fee, and a per diem of $40 (as of 2012). An added incentive is that any judgments awarded are paid by the show, not by the plaintiff or defendant. The best cases, according to the executive producer, are those that involve litigants with a prior relationship—mother/daughter, father/son, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Such cases engage the audience because it’s an emotional tie that’s been broken (the recurring plot on many soap operas).

6. THE AUDIENCE, HOWEVER, IS NOT SO REAL.

Regular viewers will note that the same faces seem to pop up in the audience regularly. Those folks in the spectator seats are paid extras (often aspiring actors) who earn $8 per hour to sit and look attentive. Prospective audience members apply for the limited amount of seats by emailing their contact information along with a clear headshot to one of Judge Judy’s production coordinators (sorry, we cannot provide that info). If chosen, the spectator must dress appropriately (business casual or better) and arrive promptly for the 8:30 a.m. call time. Audience members must pass through metal detectors on their way in and are not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronic devices with them, and food, drinks and chewing gum are also verboten. Spectators are rearranged after each case so it’s not as obvious that it’s the same group of people, and the most attractive folks are always seated in the front row (it’s Hollywood, after all). The audience is instructed to talk animatedly amongst themselves in between each case so that Officer Byrd’s “Order in the court!” admonition has more impact. Bad behavior is grounds for immediate expulsion (in front of 10 million viewers, as Judge Judy likes to remind us).

7. JUDGE JUDY DRESSES CASUALLY FOR THE JOB.

Sheindlin has been known to publicly chastise litigants who come to her courtroom in skimpy clothing or “beach attire,” but behind that bench and under that robe she is usually sporting jeans and a tank top or T-shirt.

8. OFFICER BYRD IS A REAL BAILIFF.

Brooklyn native Petri Hawkins Byrd earned his B.Sc. degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989 and started working in the Brooklyn Family Court system. He first worked with Judge Sheindlin when he transferred to the Manhattan Family Court. “We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “She was just hilarious.” Byrd relocated to San Mateo, California in 1990 to work as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal and a few years later he read an item in Liz Smith’s gossip column about Sheindlin’s upcoming TV show. He sent his old colleague a congratulatory letter and added, “If you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”

9. DESPITE HIS SOMETIMES IMPOSING COURTROOM DEMEANOR, OFFICER BYRD IS ALSO A VERY FUNNY GUY.

He is a talented impressionist, but his sense of humor almost cost him his job—or so he thought at the time. Once, back when he was working with the feisty Judge Sheindlin in New York, he donned her robe and reading glasses to entertain his co-workers with a barrage of Judyisms. Of course, as always seems to happen when one mocks the boss in the workplace, he was caught in the act.

10. THE OCCASIONAL CELEBRITY RELIES ON JUDGE JUDY’S BRAND OF JUSTICE.

Depending upon your own definition of “celebrity”, of course. Actress Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) appeared on the show in 1996 as the plaintiff, suing her plastic surgeon for a leaky breast implant that was impeding her acting career. One year later, former Sex Pistol John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) appeared as a defendant when drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to support Lydon on a solo tour, sued the singer for lost wages and an assault. Despite Lydon’s occasional bad courtroom behavior, the decision was made in his favor.

11. THE STAR ORIGINALLY DIDN’T WANT THE SHOW NAMED AFTER HER.

Sheindlin first envisioned calling her show Hot Bench, a term used frequently in the appellate court, but the producers wisely advised her that the term was meaningless to TV viewers who didn’t work in the legal system. Her next thought was Judy Justice, since she’d overheard her court officers warning deadbeat parents who were delinquent in child support payments that they were in for a load of "Judy Justice" if they weren’t prepared to cough up some money. In retrospect, Sheindlin realized the wisdom in calling the show Judge Judy: She couldn’t be easily replaced, as the various judges had been on The People’s Court. However, after 19 years on the air, she still does not refer to herself by that sobriquet; whether introducing herself to someone or advertising her show in a promotional clip, she is always either “Judge Sheindlin” or “Judge Judy Sheindlin.”

12. JUDGE SHEINDLIN INHERITED HER SENSE OF HUMOR FROM HER FATHER.

Murray Blum, Judy’s beloved father, was a dentist whose office was in the family home. In those days—before sedation dentistry was an option—a dentist’s best tool to distract nervous patients was the gift of gab, and Murray became a master storyteller out of necessity. Years of listening to her father at the dinner table and at family gatherings taught Judy how to deliver a punchline. One evening outside of a hotel in Hollywood, Sheindlin was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Lorna Berle. She told the judge that her husband Milton was a huge fan and asked if she would mind talking to him for a moment. The elderly comic slowly emerged from a limo and Judy greeted him by singing the theme song to Texaco Star Theater, her favorite TV show as a child. Milton Berle complimented her in return, saying “Kid, you’ve got great comic timing.”

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