By Kevin Zimmerman
(Frasier, Becker, Designing Women and The Man From Hope)
This year’s recipient of the SESAC Legacy Award in recognition of his many accomplishments in film and tv composing, Bruce Miller’s credits stretch back to 1981, encompassing everything from Knots Landing and Wings to Becker and the forthcoming Kirstie Alley TV movie The Manzanis. Along the way he’s picked up two primetime Emmy nominations, including one for co-writing the familiar theme song for Frasier.
“I started in Los Angeles as an arranger for records and eventually was asked to update theme songs for TV shows,” he explains. “At that time I was very green regarding the mechanics of scoring, but just decided to take the plunge. I enjoyed the process right from the beginning.”
A beloved talent throughout the industry, equally at home with drama and comedy, one of Miller’s most notable relationships has been with producers Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Not only has he worked on their series Designing Women and Hearts Afire but, through the Thomasons’ friendship with Bill Clinton, he also composed the music for The Man From Hope, the biographical film shown at the 1992 Democratic Convention that is widely credited with helping to familiarize much of the country with Clinton’s life story.
Miller also scored the follow-ups to that campaign film – Legacy and Hillary 2000, both shown at that year’s convention – and the 2004 Clinton documentary The Hunting of the President, co-directed by Harry Thomason. When asked to name his favorite works, Miller acknowledges that “the Clinton campaign films were special to me.”
For all of his accomplishments, Miller says he still tends to compose by feel. “I’ve gotten used to creating on a keyboard, while still maintaining a lot of ‘in my head’ creating, without an instrument reference. With computers we can do mock-ups with the sounds of the ensemble we write for, but the main point is to actually hear the real instruments. Just coming up with everything on a piano can limit your imagination based upon your keyboard skill, and it’s crucial to realize that it will sound quite a bit different when the instruments play your music. That is the true test -- when the orchestra gets it!”
Realizing one’s limits is key, he says. “Be as prepared as you possibly can. Saying no to a project can be a fatal move in your career -- and accepting a project where you’re in over your head can be even worse.”