Victor Miller, a screenwriter whose credits include writing “Friday the 13th,” and many episodes of “All My Children,” sat down for an interview recently at a restaurant in Alamo, Calif. He has won three daytime Emmys and four Writers Guild Awards for his work. Miller discussed what the film industry is really about, focusing on the screenwriting aspects.
What inspired you to write “Friday the 13th?” I was sitting at home and Sean Cunningham called me up. We had just written two family films that made no money, so we decided to try a different genre. We realized that Halloween was killing at the box office, so we decided to give it a try.
What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters? Marry someone with a real skill. My wife kept us out of the poor house. Don’t screw them over after you get famous. You might not want to stay with someone who remembers you when you were just a schmuck getting rejection letters.
Would you have continued writing if you had not married your wife? I don’t think so. It would have been too difficult.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did it just develop? No. I wanted to be an actor, and then a director, envied and loved by millions of people. At college, I was in a show, and afterwards, a friend of mine came up to me and said I was too self-conscious. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t pursue that. So I started writing.
Do you still write for TV or film? No, I’m retired. However, I am on the board of the Poppy Jasper Short Film Festival, which is located in Morgan Hill, near San Jose. The films are 30-40 minutes long, and any age can enter in it. People who want to participate should get involved in it.
Were you involved in the recent writers strike? I did some picketing in San Francisco and New York.
What motivated you to write the screenplay? The best thing I ever wrote was never seen, or bought. Instant gratification is something that is not normally associated with writers. If you are truly a writer, you write everyday.
How did you go from “Friday the 13th” to “All my Children?” They asked me if I was interested in writing for soap operas. I auditioned and started getting regular work, which is rare in a writer’s profession. There are many students at CSUN who want to be famous actors and actresses, directors and writers. What does it take to survive in such unstable professions? If you can be a ‘Popeye doll,’ get knocked down and pop back up, then you can do okay. Also, you have to be able to separate yourself from your ideas. Too many people get so invested in their own ideas that they get offended when they are rejected.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up and just pursue a more regular job? It’s actually easier to be a writer, because a writer can write at strange times, as opposed to an actor who has to audition at a certain time. In 1974, I quit my real job to pursue writing. My mother had told my wife, “Tell Victor to give up this writing thing, it’s never going to work out.”
What is the difference between writing for film versus writing for television? Writing screenplays can be done on your own, at any time. But I so adored improv, and that’s how I got into writing soap operas. We would just improvise scenes.
In the end, does success rely on how naturally talented you are, or who you know? All of the above. Also, it is important to see how much crap you are willing to put up with.
How many tattoos do you have? Also, who is the guy tattooed on your leg, as some people debate over who it is? Well, let’s count them. (Counts his tattoos.) 16. The guy on my leg is a clipart of “Happy Dad,” from the 1950s.
Why does Jason have a hockey mask? The hockey mask came in part three. I personally did not want Jason to be disfigured, but that is why he has the mask.
Who thought of the eerie theme noise in “Friday the 13th?” Harry Manfredini. He saw the part in the screenplay where Betsy Palmer, or Mrs. Voorhees, is mouthing the words “Kill her,” in Jason’s voice. He took that, recorded it himself so it sounded scary, and that’s where it came from.
Did you prefer writing for film, or writing for a soap opera? That is like asking a runner if he/she likes running the 220 low hurdles or the mile. Soap was constant and tense and exciting. Film was slow and individual and spoke more to my soul. What kept you inspired to write, even when you had enough rejection letters to wrap around your trash can and your mother wanted you to stop writing?
As I think I mentioned, I was determined to be rich and famous and I hated telling people that I was a writer but they would not have read anything or seen anything I had written. I guess one of the “rewards” of not getting enough nurturing as a child is that you won’t stop trying to get attention.