Steven C. Miller has spent his life watching people watch movies, and over the decades he’s learned many things. Namely how to use tension and drama to get a reaction out of an audience.
“I like to think my movies offer people a moment where they can experience something different,” he says. “A moment where they don’t have a care in the world. Where whatever’s happening to them, good or bad, they can sit for a while and be transported.”
This February, Steven will take his place among the the inductees of Full Sail’s Eighth Annual Hall of Fame, and with good reason. Since graduating from Full Sail’s Film degree program in 2004, he has worked consistently as an independent writer, director, and editor specializing in horror and action films. Many of his independent films have defied the pitfalls of obscurity, becoming cult hits among devotees of the genre. Last year, he made the jump to studio director, signing a multi-picture deal with Lionsgate that has thus far resulted in two films starring action icon Bruce Willis — 2014’s Extraction and 2016’s Marauders. A third film, Arsenal, starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack is set to release January 6th.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” says Steven. “To be able to act as a role model to students is something I especially enjoy, because I didn’t necessarily have a someone to mentor me when I first started out.”
As a new grad, Steven followed in the footsteps of countless burgeoning filmmakers trying to gain a foothold in the industry by moving to Los Angeles. He arrived, as many do, excited and ready to work. But the work never came. Steven was faced with a difficult choice: stay and tough it out, or return home and try to make something with what little resources he had.
“I decide I would come back to Florida to film my first movie, Automaton Transfusion. I called Full Sail and said, ‘I’m coming back. Is there any time frame coming up where I can use some of the facilities?’ Luckily, it was around the 4th of July holiday break, so there was a nine-day window where I was able to come back and make the film.”
Nine days is not a lot of time, especially when it comes to filming a feature-length film. But throughout his career, speed is something Steven’s built a reputation upon. Most films average around 25 set-ups per day. Steven’s films average somewhere around 80 set-ups per day, but he’s gone as high as 130.
Soon, word of Automaton Transfusion began to buzz through the internet, driven mainly by an early cut of the film’s trailer. That buzz led to a meeting with New Line Cinema executives, who expressed interest before the movie was even completed. As soon as filming wrapped, Steven headed back to L.A.
“I was living out of my car and editing the movie on my MacBook,” recalls Steven. “When it was done, I took it in to New Line. I was so excited. We watched it together, and it was an immediate no. They didn’t like the film at all.”
New Line passing was a huge blow, but Steven chose to take it as motivation to fight even harder for the film’s release. He spent the next two years shopping Automaton Transfusion around to anyone who would listen. Eventually, he brokered a deal with Dimension and the Weinstein Company to release the film straight to DVD, and the film became something of a cult classic among horror buffs, which led to Steven getting an agent and a manager. More directorial opportunities followed. Notably, the action thriller The Aggression Scale and the Christmas-themed horror film Silent Night. As Steven gained more and more experience, he also built up a solid roster of collaborators and a signature style that he continues to cultivate even today.
“I like to say my movies are kinetic. They have a pace, and a good sense of excitement to them, even in scenes that are somewhat still or silent,” he says.
“This 100 percent reflects who I am as a person,” he continues. “I do not sit still. You can see that on set, you can feel it in my camera work, and in my movies. That becomes part of the movie’s excitement, that energy and pace that we push through, that we bring to set, all goes into the movie. You can feel that when you watch my films.”
The success of his work in the independent realm, coupled with his reputation for extraordinary speed and professionalism, eventually led Steven to his work at Lionsgate, where he continues to turn out high octane thrillers for both foreign and domestic markets. It wasn’t an easy road, says Steven, but it was always part of the plan. There’s more to that plan, of course, more dreams to chase and conquer. But for now, you can find him sitting in the audience, watching and thinking up new ways to entertain you.
“I’ve been hit by just about everything you can be hit with,” he says. “With each movie, I get better. As long as I’m progressing in a way that feels bigger and better, I know I can handle whatever’s next.”
For more information about Steven and this year’s other inductees, head over to the official Hall of Fame website.