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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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8 Gonzo Facts About Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
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Like any real-life legend, there are many myths surrounding the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. But in Thompson’s case, most of those stories—particularly the more outlandish ones—are absolutely true. The founder of the “Gonzo journalism” movement is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. In celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday, here are some things you might not have known about the eccentric writer.

1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCOTTISH SURGEON.

Hunter S. Thompson was reportedly named after one of his mother’s ancestors, a Scottish surgeon named Nigel John Hunter. But Hunter wasn't just your run-of-the-mill surgeon. In a 2004 interview with the Independent, Thompson brought along a copy of The Reluctant Surgeon, a Biography of Nigel John Hunter, a biography of his namesake, which read: "A gruff Scotsman, Hunter has been described as the most important naturalist between Aristotle and Darwin, the Shakespeare of medicine and the greatest man the British ever produced. He was the first to trace the lymphatic system. He performed the first human artificial insemination. He was the greatest collector of anatomical specimens in history. He prescribed the orthopaedic shoe that allowed Lord Byron to walk."

When pressed about what that description had to do with him, Thompson responded: "Well, I guess that might be the secret of my survival. Good genes."

2. HE MISSED HIS HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION … BECAUSE HE WAS IN JAIL.

Just a few weeks before he was set to graduate from high school, at the age of 17, Thompson was charged as an accessory to robbery and sentenced to 60 days in jail. 

“One night Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter, was driving, and Hunter and another guy he knew were in the car,” Thompson’s childhood friend Neville Blakemore recalled of the incident. “As they were driv­ing through Cherokee Park, the other guy said, ‘Stop. I want to bum a ciga­rette from that car.’ People used to go park and neck at this spot. And the guy got out and apparently went back and mugged them. The guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested.

“Just before this Hunter had been blamed for a nighttime gas-station rob­bery,” Blakemore added, “and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze under­age at Abe's Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks. So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation. He was given an ultimatum: jail or the military. And Hunter took the Air Force. He didn't graduate with his class.”

3. IT WAS A FELLOW JOURNALIST WHO COINED THE TERM “GONZO.”

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While covering the 1968 New Hampshire primary, Thompson met fellow writer and editor Bill Carodoso, editor of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, which is where Thompson first heard him use the word “Gonzo.” “It meant sort of ‘crazy’ or ‘off-the-wall,’” Thompson said in Anita Thompson’s Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson. Two years later, in June 1970, Thompson wrote an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which became a game-changing moment in journalism because of its offbeat, slightly manic style that was written with first-person subjectivity.

Among the many fellow journalists who praised Thompson for the piece was Cardoso, who sent a letter to Thompson that “said something like, ‘Forget all the sh*t you’ve been writing, this is it; this is pure Gonzo.’ Gonzo. Yeah, of course. That’s what I was doing all the time. Of course, I might be crazy.” Thompson ran with the word, and would use it himself for the first time a year later, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

4. HE TYPED OUT FAMOUS NOVELS TO LEARN THE ART OF WRITING.

In order to get the “feel” of being a writer, Thompson used to retype his favorite novels in full. “[H]is true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. “He used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way, and Fitzgerald’s novel was continually on his mind while he was working on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published, after a prolonged and agonizing compositional nightmare, in 1972.”

"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it,” Thompson told Charlie Rose in 1997. “Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald—these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me—so yeah, I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

5. HE RAN FOR SHERIFF IN COLORADO.

In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on what he called the Freak Power ticket. Among his political tactics: shaving his head so that he could refer to his opponent as his “long-haired opponent,” promising to eat mescaline while on duty, and campaigning to rename Aspen “Fat City” to deter "greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen.'" Unfortunately, he lost.

6. HE STOLE A MEMENTO FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY.

In 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at his cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, Thompson traveled to the late author’s home in order to write “What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?” While there, according to his widow, Hunter “got caught up in the moment” and took “a big pair of elk horns over the front door.” Last year, more than a decade after Thompson’s death, Anita returned the antlers to the Hemingway family—which is something she and Hunter had always planned to do. “They were warm and kind of tickled … they were so open and grateful, there was no weirdness,” Anita said.

7. HE ONCE USED THE INSIDE OF MUSICIAN JOHN OATES’ COLORADO CABIN AS HIS PERSONAL PARKING SPACE.

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Earlier this month, musician John Oates—the latter half of Hall & Oates—shared a story about his ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado, just outside of Aspen, which is currently on the market for $6 million. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio, Oates recalled how when he first purchased the cabin, there was a red convertible parked inside. “I happened to ask the real estate agent who owned the convertible, and he said ‘your neighbor Hunter Thompson,’” Oates said. “Why is he keeping his car in a piece of property he doesn’t own? The real estate agent looked at me and said ‘It’s Woody Creek, you’ll figure this out. It’s a different kind of place.’” After sending several letters to his neighbor to retrieve his vehicle, Oates took matters into his own hands and deposited the car on Thompson’s lawn. Oates said that the two became friends, but never mentioned the incident.

8. AT HIS FUNERAL, HIS ASHES WERE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON.

On February 20, 2005—at the age of 67—Thompson committed suicide. But Thompson wasn’t about to leave this world quietly. In August of that year, in accordance with his wishes, Thompson's ashes were shot into the air from a cannon while fireworks filled the sky.

“He loved explosions," his widow, Anita, told ESPN, which wrote that, “The private celebration included actors Bill Murray and Johnny Depp, rock bands, blowup dolls and plenty of liquor to honor Thompson, who killed himself six months ago at the age of 67.”

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15 Memorable Quotes from George A. Romero
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Hollywood has lost one of its most iconic horror innovators with the death of George A. Romero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 77. “He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time,” his manager, Chris Roe, said in a statement.

Though he rose to prominence as the master of zombie flicks, beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero honed his filmmaking skills on a far less frightening set: shooting bits for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made,” Romero once said. “What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.” (Rogers returned the favor by being a longtime champion of Romero’s work—and even called Dawn of the Dead “a lot of fun.”)

It’s that high-spirited sense of fun that made Romero’s work so iconic—and kept the New York City native busy for nearly 50 years. To celebrate his life and career, here are 15 of his most memorable quotes on everything from the humanity of zombies to the horror of Hollywood producers.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR

“For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings—by classmates, not the nuns—was to be the funny guy.”

ON THE HOLLYWOOD WAY

“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.”

ON BEING PIGEONHOLED

“As a filmmaker you get typecast just as much as an actor does, so I'm trapped in a genre that I love, but I'm trapped in it!”

ON ZOMBIES AS A METAPHOR

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.”

ON FINDING OBJECTIVITY AS A FILMMAKER

“There are so many factors when you think of your own films. You think of the people you worked on it with, and somehow forget the movie. You can't forgive the movie for a long time. It takes a few years to look at it with any objectivity and forgive its flaws.”

ON THE REAL VALUE OF THE INTERNET

“What the Internet's value is that you have access to information but you also have access to every lunatic that's out there that wants to throw up a blog.”

ON THE HORROR OF DEALING WITH PRODUCERS

“I'll never get sick of zombies. I just get sick of producers.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION

“Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

ON THE BEAUTY OF LOW-BUDGET MOVIEMAKING

“I don't think you need to spend $40 million to be creepy. The best horror films are the ones that are much less endowed.”

ON HUMANS BEING THE REAL VILLAINS

“My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they're where the trouble really lies.”

ON BEING IMMUNE TO TRENDS

“Somehow I've been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I'm not particularly affected by trends or I'm not dying to make a 3-D movie or anything like that. I'm just sort of happy to still be around.”

ON THE HUMANITY OF HORROR

“My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I'm pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible.”

ON THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HORROR

“If one horror film hits, everyone says, 'Let's go make a horror film.' It's the genre that never dies.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SURROUNDING ZOMBIES WITH STUPID PEOPLE

“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

“I'm like my zombies. I won't stay dead!”

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