EXCLUSIVE: Midnight Rider filmmaker Randall Miller has picked up the camera again, this time from inside jail. Details are emerging on what duties Miller actually performed on the film, a project for the Drug Court in Glynn County, GA, which was deemed part of his community service. Miller, who is serving time in the Wayne County, GA jail for criminal trespass and felony involuntary manslaughter in the on-set death of young camera assistant Sarah Jones has been asking for early release since last fall. Miller was sentenced to two years in jail and eight years probation in March of 2014, becoming the first filmmaker ever to serve jail time for a film-related death. According to the special conditions of that sentence, he is “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”
According to Miller’s attorney, Ed Garland, the film project did not violate the terms of his client’s sentencing. Sheriff John Carter also said that he didn’t feel at the time that it violated the sentence either.
How did Miller come to be involved in a film while incarcerated? According to the early-release motion filed by his attorneys on Nov. 30, 2014, Miller “embarked on the creation of a film project” highlighting the benefits of the Drug Court program “at the request of Sheriff John Carter and Judge Stephen Kelley.”
Sheriff Carter, however, said that that is not entirely accurate. Asked if he requested that Miller do a film project, Carter said, “No ma’am, I did not. That was Judge Kelley on our Drug Court and he asked me to bring him (Miller) to his chambers to talk to him. I did that. They asked me to look at it and I agreed that it didn’t violate terms of his sentence because he wasn’t involved in directing or in charge of safety.”
This is the second inaccuracy discovered in Miller’s initial motion for an early release. Miller’s attorneys also said that at the time of sentencing that Carter agreed to a 2-for-1 deal in which Miller would see his prison sentence cut in half for good behavior, meaning he could be released as soon as March 9 of this year. Carter has adamantly denied that as well, saying that he agreed to nothing of the sort and there is no agreement about a 2-for-1 written into the sentencing statement.
Judge Kelley, who knows Miller’s attorney Ed Garland from being on the other side of the table from him when Kelley served as a District Attorney, asked Miller to help on a Drug Court film.
“He’s been doing community service while in jail. He teaches some GED classes,” said the judge, who explained that they have been videotaping in the Drug Court for about ten years or more to show people when they come in and then after they graduate from their program. He said they wanted a film compiled to share the success stories for the in-house program. Miller’s role? “I had him editing,” he said, later adding that Miller actually picked up the camera and filmed a segment of the project, but he said that “99% of the filming was done by college students.”
Miller filmed in the Drug Court briefly before being pulled out and put back in jail by Sheriff Carter. According to Judge Kelley, “He (Miller) filmed about five minutes’ worth of it. I wanted him to see what Drug Court was like. He did have a camera in his hands for about five minutes and the Drug Court lasts about an hour.”
The judge said that Miller “sat in drug court one time. Maybe two. After that, we thought it best that he stayed in jail. Actually, it was the Sheriff’s call. 98% of the filming was done by either the student or interns.”
According to the Sheriff, he pulled Miller out of the courtroom and took him back to jail after he received a letter from Sarah Jones’ parents who were strongly opposed to Miller working as a filmmaker while in jail.
Carter had also put Miller to work doing community service on still photography for the County Administrator’s office after the County asked for help on a project. “He advised us only about lighting for still shots on the outside,” the Sheriff said. “In my opinion, we used his expertise but we were careful and I made sure that he didn’t violate his sentence. Just as we would use an inmate who is an electrician for maintenance problems, we did the same here.”
Carter said that Miller wasn’t on the outside for a long stretch of time. “He wasn’t out long,” he said. “He hadn’t been outside the facility in a while. He was out on the still shots probably altogether a couple of weeks but not consecutive days. We had a photographer here — the chief detective since retired used him — to help on lighting and how to set up a shot.” He said between that project for the County and the one for the Drug Court, the time that Miller was out of jail was “probably in the area of two to three weeks. Altogether about a month at the most.” He added also that he was under supervision the entire time.
That same chief detective since retired was Wayne County, Captain Joseph Naia who was the lead investigator on the Midnight Rider case. Naia later wrote a letter of support for Miller asking that he receive an early release from jail. He also wrote about the Drug Court film in that letter, stating that he “was assigned by Sheriff John Carter to aide Randall Miller in filming the Drug Court film project. Following the advice of Judge Stephen Kelley and Sheriff Carter I worked with Randall in the filming of it and the editorial process. Judge Kelley and Sheriff Carter felt it was a worthy project and from what I witnessed, all involved thought it had the makings of a great film that would be a great service to the community. I worked together with Randall for several months in the filming process as we interviewed both drug addicts and those caregivers trying to stop the epidemic in our small community.
“Prior to my retirement after 26 years on the force here in Wayne County, I had shown long sections of the film to the pastors, ministers and leaders of the community and they all were thrilled with what they saw. And it greatly saddened me and them that my involvement ended when the film was sidelined due to political forces.” The retired Captain added that, “In the 10 months that I have come to know Randall I feel that we have become friends. He is a good man who cares about this community, a community 3,000 miles from his town. He is trying to help these people and is trying to make a difference.“
Volunteers and probation officers from Judge Kelley’s court appear in the film.
Also in the Miller motion for an early release was this: “Because of Mr. Miller’s status in the film industry, he was able to raise money from actors and Hollywood executives to film and edit the project, which all involved felt was a worthy endeavor.”
Asked about getting the financing for the film from an inmate, Judge Kelley said, “There was no financing to it. We had a stipend for him from our Drug Court budget. Other than that, we don’t have any – we are running on a shoestring budget. We have a video camera.” Asked if the film was shot on a video camera or a digital camera, he said a digital camera was used. Pressed about the motion’s claim that Miller’s friends in California helped finance the film, the judge said: “I’m not going to comment on the accuracy of Miller bringing in financing.”
Garland said his client did nothing wrong in picking up a camera and filming. “He is not prohibited from being a director. It says he can’t be a director with responsibility for safety.” Garland said that Miller “has worked two shifts and well as supervising the projects.” He said Miller “assisted the intern in putting together the film for the benefit of the Drug Court.”
Sheriff Carter noted that “boxes were mailed out from California that contained camera equipment from Los Angeles,” but said he wasn’t sure just who they came from. He said the boxes arrived via Fed Ex and UPS, which were accepted at the jail. Asked what they might do with the equipment afterwards, Carter said that they don’t own the equipment. “Whomever owns the equipment, I don’t know what they plan to do with it. I don’t know if they want it back or they’re going to donate it somewhere like to Judge Kelley or the intern or what.”
Captain Gary “Bo” Jackson, the administrator of the jail in Jesup, Georgia, where Miller is being held, says that the director has spent “countless hours” working on the film. In a letter of support for Miller’s early release, Jackson wrote: “I have viewed a large portion of the film and I am quite impressed with the work and care he has put in this project. He has spoken to many of the inmates and officers for countless hours about the problems of drug abuse in an attempt to understand and document it correctly on the film.“
Judge Kelley said that the film is “not even near completed yet. My film project is various things. I would like to have a success story of a white female and a black male and a black female. One might be eight minutes and one might be 20 minutes. A defendant could watch that and it would give them hope.”
He noted that because the filming was done inside the courtroom, no filming permit was needed.
Miller has been editing the film “from inside the jail in a corner of the multi-purpose room,” according to his motion for an early release. Sheriff Carter said that is correct and that Miller has had access to the Internet to work on the film, although he told Deadline that he’s not allowed to be on social media.
Meanwhile, someone (it’s not clear who) has been posting messages from Jesup, GA on the Facebook pages for Miller’s films CGBG and BottleShock that called for the filmmaker’s early release from jail and asking followers to sign a petition.
There is also a post on Miller’s personal FB page, which asks his friends, “Please Post This On YOUR FACEBOOK PAGES” with a link to the petition that states: “Have mercy on Randy – his family needs him, send him home.”
Those posts came after the motion was filed in the court last year asking for early release through a modified sentence. Deadline has been told that Miller’s full access to the Internet has since been cut off.