By Jerry Seale
I recently spoke with John Winn Miller, Executive Producer of “Band of Robbers.”Miller has been a producer for three movies, as well as a foreign correspondent, editor and investigative reporter.
Q: “Band of Robbers” features actors of multiple different styles, ranging from a comedian like Hannibal Buress to a method actor like Stephen Lang. What was it like working with a cast that had such a diverse range?
A: It became like a family because we worked so many hours together. And everyone had to pull their own weight. So there weren’t a lot of obvious differences between them because they were working very long hours, and were very pleasant. For example, Melissa Benoist, who was pretty well known from Glee and is now Supergirl. Her first day on the set, she walked around to every crew member and introduced herself and shook their hands. Matthew Gray Gubler, who’s been on Criminal Minds, he was a goofball and a funny guy, and friendly to everyone. And he’d do things like sending off for coffee for 60 crew members. And on our last day of shooting he brought in a gourmet food truck to feed the crew and the cast. They were all different, and they came from different backgrounds… but they were all fun to work with.
Q: How did this project get started?
A: The original idea started ten years ago when Adam Nee auditioned for a Huck Finn movie, when he was a 22-year-old in New York. Obviously the wrong age, so he walked out very embarrassed, but soon started laughing about it and thinking, “What would it be like if Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were adults and said the exact same things they said in the book?” He talked to his brother Aaron about it… and about three or four years ago, they got serious about it again. I was in L.A. trying to sell a TV series, and I had a producer who liked it who was introducing us to other producers and production companies. I introduced that producer to Adam at a party. He heard Adam pitch Band of Robbers and he said, “You’ve got to do that.” And they started working on it together. They originally wrote is as a TV show, then decided that wouldn’t work and wrote it as a feature. They were able to put together the financing, and the cast and crew in a very short amount of time. It was nothing but magic.
Q: Stephen Lang came in as a last-minute replacement to play the role of Injun Joe. How did that happen?
A: There were so many connections. One of the producers was Stephen Lang’s son, and one of the crew members was also Stephen Lang’s son… Stephen just happened to be in town when the first actor backed out, and agreed to do it, came in on very short notice and just knocked it out of the ballpark. And he was really pleasant to work with.
Q: Was this your first time working on a movie with family before?
A: This was my third movie. On the first, my cousin Jennifer and I were co-producers… I had worked with family before, but this is the first time I’ve worked with a really big crew on a big movie, with Adam. And I was very careful, because I was a relative but also an investor, to not impose anything on anybody… I really tried to not get in the way, and not give Adam special treatment just because he’s my son-in-law.
Q: You’ve shown the movie in several theaters now, including the Kentucky Theater. What’s the next step for “Band of Robbers”?
A: We opened in January in 11 big cities for a limited run. And the reason you do that is to get reviews, which we did. The New York Times liked it. Variety liked it. A bunch of newspapers called it “comedy gold.” But it’s done there, and the showing at the Kentucky was a one-time deal. So what we’ll do is do the same for one night in a few other cities… Now it’s all on On-Demand, Amazon, iTunes, anywhere you can find video on-demand. It’s also in 11 languages, so we’ll have foreign distribution. Eventually it’ll go to Netflix, probably sometime later this year.
Q: How do you feel about the reactions you’ve seen at all the screenings?
A: They’ve been fabulous. The audience really enjoys it because it’s surprising. It’s an indie film, but it looks like a big picture. The production value was really good. It’s unexpected because it’s quirky. It’s dark but it’s funny. It’s whacky but it’s also grounded in all the Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain lore. There are all sorts of subtle hints of things people might remember from the book.
Q: What do you think Mark Twain would say if he could see “Band of Robbers”?
A: I think he would like it. To me, it’s the closest adaptation of his tone, his voice, his whacky humor and dark side. So I think he’d like it. I think he’d find it amusing. We do take a good chunk of the dialogue from the book, which is what makes it funny, because you put it in an adult’s mouth in modern times.