Filmmaker Jeff Miller was sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles brainstorming ideas for a new screenplay. “Paul Bunyan came to me,” said Miller. “Why do people think he's so friendly? I mean, here's this giant guy that walks around carrying an axe. There could be some sinister back story there.” From that thought, Miller wrote his first draft of Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan. The film tells the story of young adults at a first-time offenders’ boot camp who discover that the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real, but is much more horrifying than they could have imagined. The film stars B-movie legends Joe Estevez and Dan Haggerty (TV’s Grizzly Adams).
Miller's film will have its South Carolina premier at the Nickelodeon Theater on June 8th at 9:30 PM.
Miller is a Columbia native, and a graduate of the University of South Carolina's Media Arts program. While in Columbia, he produced three horror films: Freakshow and Hellblock 13, directed by Paul Talbot, and Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader, directed by Miller himself. The success of these films encouraged a move by Miller to Los Angeles in May of 2001 to continue his filmmaking efforts. At first the experience was not what he expected. “I spent a lot of time taking meetings at studios and nothing would come from it. It felt like a waste of time,” Miller says.
Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had also starred in Miller's film Hellblock 13. Hansen and Miller remained friends, and stayed in touch with each other after Miller moved to Los Angeles. “A few months after I moved to LA, Gunnar introduced me to Gary Jones.” Jones had made a name for himself working in the special effects department on films such as Evil Dead 2 and John Woo's Hard Target. Miller and Jones had lunch, and found out they shared a love of horror films.
Their first project together was the film Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove. The film was eventually sold, and aired on the Sci-Fi Channel.
So when Miller pitched the idea of a new twist on the Paul Bunyan tall tale, Jones was interested in tackling idea. “We started the project in 2007”, Miller explains. “At first it did not work out the way we had planned. We went back and completed many drafts of the script before eventually getting a draft we were happy with.” The pair also made a change in how they approached raising funding for the film. “I went back to the old way of how I financed my films - raising money from friends and family.”
With financing in place, production began in late 2010, and completed in early 2011. Filming took place in southern California outside Los Angeles, and on location in Ohio and Michigan. “Post production was a different process. We have over five hundred visual effects shots in the movie,” Miller explains.
The film was completed two days before its premier at the Shockfest Film Festival of Hollywood in 2012. At the festival, the film received the Audience Award for Best Film, and Miller received the Best Writing award for his screenplay.
After the festival, Miller was contacted by a company in Minnesota who offered to distribute the film theatrically. “I told him please try to get it in the Nickelodeon in Columbia.” Due to scheduling conflicts Miller won't be able to make the trip back home, but to have his latest project screen in his hometown excites him. “It's a great feeling to have it play in Columbia. I know friends and family will be excited to see it.”
Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan
Nickelodeon Theater - June 8th at 9:30 PM
Tickets are available online at www.nickelodeon.org , or at the theater box office.
~ Wade Sellers