April 14, 2009

Professor Donald Miller Serves as Consultant and Writer for Five World War II Television and Film Projects

He is working with the History Channel, HBO, PBS, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg

The author of three books about World War II, Donald L. Miller, John Henry MacCracken Professor of History, has been working as a creative consultant and writer for several upcoming television and film projects on the war.
He has helped to shape World War II programs scheduled to air on the History Channel, HBO, and PBS, and is wrapping up work on an exciting IMAX film project for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I’m working with creative people. It’s very satisfying,” Miller says.

Miller has been working closely with the Hollywood producers of “The Pacific,” a 10-hour miniseries that will debut on HBO early next year. The executive producers are Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, the creative team behind the Emmy-winning 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

“It will be the most expensive production ever to appear on TV,” Miller says.

The dramatic series was shot in Australia and is based on the stories of three U.S. Marines–Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge, and John Basilone–who fought in the war’s Pacific theater. Each episode of the series will open with a short prologue to set the historical context. Miller is leading the effort to create and write the prologues and will be featured in them on screen.

Miller is also working with Hanks on a film that will be the signature attraction of the National World War II Museum’s IMAX theater, which is currently under construction. Miller is creative consultant for the film, which features voice-overs by numerous well-known actors, and he has been traveling to California to meet with Hanks to work on the project.

The museum is undergoing a $300 million expansion that will quadruple its size. Included in the expansion is the 250-seat Victory Theater, which will feature “Beyond All Boundaries,” a multi-sensory cinematic experience designed exclusively for the museum by Hanks and director Phil Hettema. The film is being completed now and will be premiered at the theater’s grand opening in November during a gala four-day affair, which Miller plans to attend.

Miller says that it will take four months to install the theater’s special effects that will add to viewers’ experience. “The film and the stage effects are supposed to work in complete symphony,” he says. For example, the seats will rumble in concert with explosions on screen, real search lights will accompany those in the film, and “the whole theater turns a horrible bright white when the atomic bomb goes off,” Miller says.

A strong supporter of the museum, Miller is also the creative consultant for a documentary film called “La Fiere,” about a small but important battle in Normandy on D-Day, which will air nationally. He was also recently invited to be a speaker in the museum’s prestigious Mason Lecture Series, which honors the work of outstanding writers and historians on World War II. He will give a presentation on the topic, “Does Bombing Work? The Lessons of Dresden,” at the museum on May 6. Previous Mason lecturers include Tom Brokaw; Carlo D-Este, author of a new biography of Winston Churchill; and Pulitzer Prize winning historian Rick Atkinson.

Miller has been working with Lou Reda Productions of Easton on a 10-part series that will air on the History Channel this November. One of the History Channel’s most ambitious projects to date, this full-color, high-definition series uses footage borrowed from collections in the United States and dozens of locations around the world.

“It’s a very powerful show,” Miller says. As senior creative consultant, his role has been to help conceptualize the series, which is based in part on his book, The Story of World War II (2001). Both the book and the series are character-driven, telling the story of the war through the lives of individuals whose paths often intersect in serendipitous ways.

“There is a range of really interesting characters,” Miller says. The series weaves together 10 lives, including an Army nurse, a Japanese American who fought in the war while his parents were interned; an Austrian Jew who escaped and fought for U.S. in the Pacific; and an African American man who flew with Tuskegee Airmen.

Miller is also a creative consultant for a documentary on the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany being produced by Boston PBS station WGBH for its acclaimed history series “American Experience.” Miller has worked on more than a dozen projects with WGBH during the past 20 years. The documentary is based strongly on Miller’s book Masters of the Air (2006), and Miller has worked closely with the producers on crafting the film, which will air early in 2010.

posted in News and Features