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Traverse City Film Festival, Norman Lear documentary, Brent Miller producer, Act iii, overnight success myth

From Toledo to Hollywood – The Road to Success is Often a Long One

“It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” – Eddie Cantor

By this standard, Brent Miller is ahead of the game. With 18 years in Hollywood under his belt, and after trying his hand at acting, writing and event planning, Brent has broken through and made his mark as a co-producer of “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You”, the new documentary about the legendary Hollywood producer which will be playing at the Traverse City Film Festival this week.

The “overnight success” is largely a myth. We only become aware of someone after he or she becomes successful, so we think their success happened overnight. But almost every story of overnight success has chapters full of toil, stress, rejection, and dogged determination that never make it into the manuscript or, perhaps more aptly for this analogy, the screenplay.

As with most overnight success stories, Brent’s experience involves a long, circuitous journey and a serendipitous meeting that led to a breakthrough. You could say he got lucky. I’d say he made his own luck.

You Make Your Own Luck

Heather and Brent went to Whitmer High School together in Toledo, Ohio. All three of us attended Bowling Green State University, where Heather and I met. I then went on to Law School. Heather took a job at a design firm in Dayton and Brent went off to Hollywood to pursue a career in entertainment, first acting then writing.

A few years ago he founded his own event planning company. Enter serendipity, stage left.

Brent was offered an opportunity to offer his services, exclusively for a period of six months, to a prominent businessperson in the event planning industry. He said no to her on Saturday – he didn’t want to tie up his time to that extent. By Sunday he reconsidered and said yes. On Monday morning she called and told him that he’d be working with Norman Lear and his family to throw a series of events and parties in celebration of Lear’s 85th birthday and his wedding anniversary. This gig turned into a position with Act iii, Lear’s multimedia holding company with interests in the television, motion picture, and licensing industries.

Brent recalls that early on in the relationship, he went to Lear with a script, and Lear said, “Why are you writing? You should produce.” Brent questioned how he could produce since he didn’t know anyone who could help get him started. Lear replied, “You know me.”

For Brent, that was the start. He began by getting heavily involved in Declare Yourself, Lear’s youth voter registration organization. Following President Obama’s election, Brent produced an “unofficial” ball at the inauguration for Declare Yourself, which featured a number of entertainment heavy-hitters such as Jessica Alba, Hayden Panetierre, Ben Affleck and Maroon 5.

This was around the time that Lear began writing his memoir. When the book was completed, discussions about also documenting Lear’s story on film began. Brent remembers those in Lear’s close circle telling him, “Your story exists forever in your book, in your voice. Now is the time to have another voice tell your story.”

As far as Brent was concerned, it was no question: Academy Award nominated directors (“Jesus Camp”), Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were the right people for the job. Brent says, “They were so passionate and enthusiastic. We knew it would not be a valentine to him. They had the strength to dig in and tell the authentic story.” Despite never directing a biopic before, Brent says, they were the right choice to document “94 years of a life well lived with only 91 minutes to tell it.”

Coming to a Screen Near You in Traverse City

“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” is the story of one of the most successful television creators, writers and producers of all time. He is the man who brought the world Archie Bunker while producing iconic shows such as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. The documentary chronicles Lear’s remarkable life, from poor kid in Connecticut to Hollywood legend.

There will be two showings of “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” at the Traverse City Film Festival:

  • City Opera House on Friday, July 29 at 9:00 pm
  • Bijou by the Bay on Sunday, July 31 at 9:00 am

Brent is excited for people to experience the documentary at the Traverse City Film Festival. “Film festivals are great because they promote the cinematic experience. Particularly at a time when so much content is being consumed on devices, festivals such as Traverse City’s encourage people to get out and share an experience with a room full of other people,” Brent says.

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A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Brent offered some advice for those interested in pursuing a career in entertainment. “If you are a writer, you should write. If you’re a producer, you should produce. If you’re an actor, act. Follow your passion. Tell good stories. There’s no secret recipe. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Brent says.

That’s great advice for anyone working towards a life well lived.

Make sure to check out upcoming projects that Brent is working on with Act iii, including a remake of “One Day at a Time” set to be released on Netflix in January, 2017, and 4-part docu-series “America Divided” which premieres on Epix this fall.