Another Talk With Kevin Miller
Writing Films Until It Hurts

Long a ghostwriter for several high-profile names, Kevin Miller’s serendipitous encounter with filmmaker David L. Cunningham at a hotel in Hawaii provided the nascent screenwriter with his first professional gig: After…, a psychological thriller set in the world of base jumping and urban exploration.

Miller’s latest project, starring Ben Stein, is Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary that looks at the turf wars in the science community over Darwinian evolution and the field of “Intelligent Design.”

As part of our lead-in to coverage of Expelled, I took the opportunity to spend half an hour on the phone with Miller, chatting about his experience in the business. The first half of that interview, published last week, focused on After… This week, we follow on with the second half of the interview, which focuses on Expelled.

Expelled: No Intelligence AllowedYou’ve moved from one unconventional project to another unconventional project headed for a major theatrical release, the upcoming Ben Stein movie Expelled.

Kevin Miller: That’s right. We began work on that movie a little over two years ago, and I was initially called in to do some consulting on the conceptualization of the film. And now that’s probably been the primary project of mine over the last two years. It’s a movie that basically looks at the whole issue of academic freedom in the area of evolutionary biology—looking at a group of scientists who are trying to find an audience for a theory called “Intelligent Design,” and what happens to scientists in American and European universities when they identify themselves. It’s almost like “coming out” in some form or another. When you come out in favor of I.D., strange things happen.

This seems like a strange matchup—for Ben Stein to wind up collaborating with what Canada’s Christianity online site described as “the farmboy from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan.” How does that happen? How do you get involved with a project like this? Because it sure seems like a mixture of strange bedfellows.

KM: Well, I just got involved in the project through some people I knew. One thing led to another, and I was called in with a bunch of other writers to consult, and then I ended up getting a phone call a couple of months later to come on board the project. And that was just through some people I’d met because of another script I had written and they’d read—that sort of thing. So we had a connection through a common circle of friends. And in terms of Ben Stein, I know that the producers, when they initially had this idea, thought, “Who would be the ideal person to take on an issue like this, who would have a passion for the issue, who would have the intellectual fortitude for this issue?” And a number of factors like that. Who would really be someone that the American people would want to listen to about this topic? And Ben Stein just seemed like the natural choice. So when he was presented with the project, I think it took him all of five minutes to become passionately engaged and to come on board.

It does seem like a good fit in that regard, to be the face of the movie.

KM: Yes, and he’s more than just the face. For Ben, this is a deeply personal issue. What a lot of people misunderstand is that I.D. is not a religious program; it is actually a scientific program—but it does have strong religious implications, and it attracts people who have religious motivations. The reason is that the question of whether an intelligent force was involved in the origin and development of life has religious implications, and it has moral implications. So it’s not just about science; it’s about so many other things. And I think, for Ben, it’s those other things that really drew him to the project.

To refer back to the Christianity article, it talked a lot about your experience as a writer—almost as a professional ghostwriter. How have you enjoyed your journey as a writer? How has that been for you?

KM: As I kid, it’s something that I hit on pretty early as something that I wanted to do, as a vocation. So that was always my drive: to figure out some way to become a writer. My first foray into that was through becoming a newspaper reporter for a small-town newspaper, and I moved on from there to publishing. I worked for a publisher and was the staff writer; I don’t know how many books I worked on, maybe a few dozen. And I eventually went on to become a ghostwriter for a few people. I’ve done a lot of editing; I’ve written and edited just about anything you can imagine. And you have different goals along the way. So once I was a staff writer, my goal was to become a freelancer. And behind everything, sort of, was a goal to become a screenwriter. So as a freelancer, that’s the direction I was headed.

Some experiences have been good, and some have been bad; but you learn something on every project. And I’m fortunate that I have a lot of friends who are writers, and very good writers, well-published writers. And it’s very hard for them to make a living. But I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that now for about eleven years. To me, I couldn’t ask for anything more. And my take on being a writer just gets better and better.

Now, for anyone who wants to be a writer, especially in the filmmaking world, it’s very, very tough on you emotionally. As anybody whose work is constantly held up for evaluation will tell you, any time you do something, you have a little moment of joy… before you hit the “send” button; and then begins the process of everybody knowing better than you how to write what you just wrote. I often say, on a movie, everybody knows how to make a script better; but nobody can tell a director how to make a movie better. You’re definitely on the bottom of a dogpile. That’s the life of it.

I used to tell writers, “That’s not you on the page, so if they’re criticizing what you’ve written, don’t take it personally; it’s just words.” But in the last couple of years, I’ve really changed my tune. I’ve gone through probably my two most difficult years as a writer; and I say now that if it doesn’t hurt, you haven’t put enough of yourself into it.

That’s a good point.

KM: And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot. But you’ve got to learn how to lick your wounds; and the best way to deal with that is to just get back up and make it better.