Exclusive Interview: Bryan Q. Miller – Part One: Smallville

In comics, writers come from all walks of life. Some of them luck into it, some of them work their way from the bullpen up, and others migrate from other writing fields. Beginning as an unpaid intern for Smallville he soon joined the writing team of the show which opened the doors that allowed him to become the current Batgirl scribe, Bryan Q. Miller is a fast growing name in the superhero comics field. He gave me some of his time to sit down and discuss his career, his transition to comics, and what the future has in store. In Part One of this exclusive interview, we find out how he cut his writing teeth on a little show called Smallville.

Comics Nexus: How did you get started writing professionally?

Bryan Q. Miller: While I was in graduate school for Screenwriting (and holding down a full-time retail job), I took an unpaid internship here on Smallville (Season 5) — that way, while I was was honing my craft over on the academic side, I was watching how a living, breathing production worked in the real world. I got hired up as Writers’ Assistant on the show in Season 7. During my time on the front desk, I submitted to and was subsequently accepted into the WB Writers’ Workshop. Hired onto Smallville as Staff Writer in Season 8. And here we are!

Nexus: So you worked your way all the way up, that’s very inspiring. Were you a fan of the show or comics going in?

Miller: I had watched the pilot when Smallville premiered, but didn’t really steadily watch until Season Three (my favorite season of the show). I used to only catch the last few minutes while waiting for Angel to start. Then, I saw those last few minutes of the Season Two finale (Exodus), and made sure to start catching all the reruns of the second season leading up to that point.

I hadn’t been exposed to the comics side of things much before I got a job working at a bookstore after college. Back home (outside of New Orleans) growing up, there really weren’t that many comic shops around. And even then, I didn’t really have the pennies set aside to get into it. During breaks at the store, I found myself reading comics from the newstand more and more, and then trades. Most of what I knew about the DCU is what I had learned from what I had seen on TV (Super Friends when I was a wee thing, then Superman and Batman Animated when I was a less wee thing, etc.). I’ve filled in a lot of the gaps with reading since then, but some things will always stick — it’s why I insist on Batgirl’s night skies being red. And the appearance of a villain here and there (Roxy Rocket and a version of a Batman:TAS favorite in Batgirl #15).

Nexus: There are far worse way to pick up comics than the DC Animated Universe, I mean, I was raised on that stuff. So you sought out the Smallville internship because you were a fan of the show?

Miller: What happened was my school required an internship for graduation. A friend had forwarded me the UTA job list (a great tool for Hollywood job openings if ou can get your hands on it), wherein Tollin Robbins Productions had intern openings. TRP is the company that helped get Smallville off the ground. I knew they did a handful of 1-hour dramas, which is what I wanted to write for. I interviewed and got an internship position with them. TRP offered to place me on a reality show they were producing at the time, and though I was tempted to take it, I put on my “big boy” pants and asked if I could instead be positioned on one of their dramas. At the time, that would have been between One Tree Hill and Smallville. I swung for the fences and asked for Smallville. So it was kind of a confluence of a few different things at once.

Nexus: And then you never looked back? What was it like coming in as an intern on a show like Smallville? I mean, was there the added pressure of being a fan of the show and then working on it, especially given that it had already been on the air for several years?

Miller: I think I would have felt the same amount of pressure, had it been any other show, too. It helps that I was a fan, but was in no way fanatical. For me, the bigger thrill was to be on the inside of a television show. The bonus was working on a show that I liked. What also helped is how open and welcoming the entire staff was (and still is!), top to bottom. The whole gang was (and is!) very inclusive.

Nexus: When was the first time that they tapped you to write or collaborate on an episode? What was that like?

Miller: We all collaborate on every episode (or on most of them, anyway). It was awesome. And you certainly have thousands of ideas and takes on things, but it IS a collaborative process at the end of the day. We all sit together in the room, and hash out each and every last detail of the script. Then the individual writer turns that somewhat detailed outline into a fill-blown 10-13 page document. From there, it’s off to script, at which point dialogue falls on the writer. The story beats and character turns are all decided by the group before the writer goes out on script. So, there was definitely a learning curve, and I’m sure it would have been much more drastic if I hadn’t already been in the office as an assistant with an idea of how the process here works.

Nexus: I’ve always wondered how all of this works. How big is the writing team?

Miller: Five individuals and four teams, so there’s thirteen heads around the table, total.

Nexus: What are some of your personal highlights from your time writing on the show? Any episodes or moments that you’re especially proud of?

Miller: A lot of it has to do with a combination of the writing and how our wonderful actors and production have added to those bits, completing the whole. It’s just words until cast and crew work their magic. Committed – Clark expecting to get electrocuted when Lois says she loves him… and then nothing happens. Tom’s reaction really sells the moment. Hex – Chloe’s speech to Clark, breaking not only the spell placed on her, but on the hero. The Man-love scene at the end of Echo between Oliver and Clark, post suicide attempt. Warrior – the soup can. Sacrifice – Zod and Faora’s final scene together. And easily 95% of the forthcoming “Luthor” airing in December.

Nexus: Man, now I’m getting the urge to go sit back and watch a lot of Smallville! How closely did you work with the cast?

Miller: We actually don’t get up to Vancouver (where set is) all that often. I did however get a chance to work fairly closely with Justin Hartley and his writing partner Walter Wong when we wrote “Sacrifice” together last year. All of our actors have a really great sense not just of their own characters, but of the show itself. And our crew is top notch.

Nexus: What led you to start writing for comics?

Miller: Geoff Johns came through the show during Season Eight (“Legion”). We had lunch one afternoon, and I asked how someone like me could get involved in the comics world. He suggested I find a way to get some face time with some of the folks in DC editorial, and that the NYCC (which was rapidly approaching) would be a great way to do that. So, I went out, hung around after the Sunday Afternoon panel and met Ian Sattler. We played phone tag for a little while after that. There was a vignette in a Superman anthology that almost happened, but never materialized – so I thought my adventure had come to an end. Then, one morning, I get an email from Brian Cunningham about doing some fill-in issues on Teen Titans. Naturally, I said “yes!” The Teen Titans scripts put me on the Bat-group’s radar when Batgirl was getting kicked around. I got a call from Mike Siglain (who wound up being my first editor on the book) asking if I could put together a pitch for Batgirl. They were taking some from several writers, and mine was chosen.

Nexus: It seems as if a lot of creators try to go back and forth between TV and comics, to mixed results. What do you find to be easier as well as more difficult about the differences between writing for the two formats?

Miller: I actually find them to be remarkably similar. In place of “can we afford to spend money on this sequence/gag” (on the TV side), you now have “can we afford to spend page space on this sequence/gag” (on the comic side). The writing staff on the TV side works with production and the director to help get their vision to the screen. In much the same way, the comic writer works with his or her artist to make sure their ideas translate to the page. The artist on a given book (in addition to the inkers and colorists and letterers, who should ALWAYS get mention!) acts in many ways as the “director” — placing the camera, getting the right “emotion” out of the actors/characters. So, though on the surface the medium are very different, the approach (I think) is quite similar.

That’s it for today, but check back tomorrow when we start talking about how he built a better Batgirl!

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