Longtime Warner Bros executive James (Jim ) R. Miller who worked at the studio for 20 years and guided many of its financial deals and joint ventures, died June 6 at age 72. He was battling pancreatic cancer but was undergoing a surgery on Monday and was expected out. He died suddenly and no exact cause of death is known yet.
Miller initially joined the studio in 1979 and was instrumental in creating off balance-sheet financing and financial joint ventures that propelled slate after studio slate. Simply put, he was the financial brains behind the studio to get movies financed and produced — the financial architect, if you will. He began at the studio as VP of business affairs and left in 2000 as president of worldwide theatrical business operation. He set the entire financial course for all of the studio’s motion picture operations.
Miller helped establish long-term relationship with Village Roadshow, helped with the PolyGram deal to acquire CastleRock Entertainment, and also set up the joint venture between such companies as Arnon Milchan’s New Regency Enterprises; Jim Robinson’s Morgan Creek; producer Jerry Weintraub; producers Joel Silver; and Jon Peters.
“Jim was an extraordinary executive,” said Bob Daly (former Warner Bros. co-chair) in a statement, “and the way Warner Bros. approaches deals today reflects the creativity and strategic thinking he instilled during his long tenure at the studio.” He was known as a smart guy in structuring deals but also known as a tough guy and negotiator for the studio. And in true tough guy fashion, we cannot find any photos of him except from early 1979.
Producer Arnold Kopelson, who worked with Miller for many years, said, “Jim was respected by all as an expert in the business of motion pictures. He was an extremely tough negotiator. And his memory lives on with those who had the opportunity to observe him in action. My condolences to his family.”
“He was tough but one of the smartest studio executives there was, and he taught me most of what I know about building and growing equity film finance deals,” said Clifford Werber, president of Worldview Entertainment who was mentored by Miller during the late 1990s when Werber worked under him at the studio as senior VP of worldwide co-productions and acquisitions. “Companies like New Regency, Village Roadshow and Alcon all prospered under his watch.” He also helped with the deal structure for Morgan Creek.
“You always knew how things were and there were no bad surprises later in the deal,” said Morgan Creek chairman Jim Robinson who had been friends with Miller for about 25 years. “He was a tough guy but a very honest guy and he’d give you the straight scoop, even if it didn’t sound good, but better upfront than find out later,” Jim Robinson. “I am truly am sorry that he is gone.”
“Jim had a huge heart,” said former Warner Bros. production president and now chairiman/CEO of Village Roadshow. “He was a sheep in wolves’ clothing who wasn’t afraid to say no to his own colleagues, but when push came to shove, and you really needed a deal to get done, he was the consummate closer.”
“The very concept of film joint ventures and financing is due, in large part, to Jim’s creativity,” said producer and former Warner Bros.’ president of production Bill Gerber, who worked with him the entire 12-year career at the studio.
Added New Regency’s Arnon Milchan: “What made Jim so unique was his ability to be such an adept problem-solver but above all else, he was a great friend and partner and he will be forever missed.”
Miller left the studio to join Bel-Air Entertainment, a co-venture between Warner Bros and Canal Plus, where he served as co-chairman and CEO. After that, he served as CEO of Wild Brain Animation Co. and then joined Stereo Pictures 3-D as a partner.
Burial services will be held June 30 at 2 PM at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, NY, with a memorial service to be held next June 25 at 10 AM at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. The family asks that donations be made to the temple or to a charity of your choice in Miller’s name.