Gahanna Lincoln High School alumnus Todd Miller premiered a documentary he directed about one of the greatest dinosaur finds in history.
Immediately following the Dinosaur 13 debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last week, Miller helped negotiate an approximately $1 million deal with Lionsgate and CNN Films to acquire the North American rights to the film.
The purchase of the North American rights will give Miller a theatrical release by Lionsgate, followed by airings on CNN. Lionsgate is best known for its Hunger Games film series.
"There are a lot of twists and turns with the movie," Miller told ThisWeek. "What I want people to walk away with is what scientists bring to us as a society. I also want to get paleontologist Peter Larson's story to a wider audience."
Dinosaur 13 chronicles Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute unearthing the largest, most complete tyrannosaurus rex ever found in the Badlands of South Dakota on Aug. 12, 1990.
The film's name comes from the dinosaur being the 13th T. rex skeleton ever unearthed. But the dinosaur is better known as "Sue," named after Sue Hendrickson, one of the paleontologists who found it.
Two years after the find, the FBI and the National Guard became involved and battle lines were drawn over Sue's ownership.
A Sundance review describes the battle as the federal government, world-class museums, Native American tribes and competing paleontologists becoming the Goliath to Larson's David as he and his team fight to keep the dinosaur and wrestle with intimidation tactics that threaten their freedom.
"With consummate skill, filmmaker Todd Miller excavates layer after layer, exposing human emotion in a dramatic tale that is as complex as it is fascinating," the Sundance review states.
Miller owns a production company called Statement Pictures and self-financed Dinosaur 13. He resides in Brooklyn.
"It has been a pretty remarkable response so far," he said. "We look forward to getting it to a wider audience."
He said the theatrical release would be in the summer through Lionsgate, with a television broadcast to follow sometime in the fall.
"We're working now to sell some international rights in England and Australia," he said. "Peter Larson is a big celebrity in Japan. They love dinosaurs. I'll be interested in who ends up with the rights in Japan."
In addition to Miller, the film's music is by Matt Morton, with select artwork by Chance Pinnell, former classmates of Miller at Gahanna Lincoln
"Both are talented artists," Miller said.
Gahanna resident Brian Thom attended the film's premiere at Sundance to offer moral support to his friends. He graduated with them in 1995.
"We're all best friends, and we've supported each other," Thom said. "The premiere itself was neat. It got a standing ovation. It was like a once-in-a-lifetime deal, but with their talent, I don't think it will be once in a lifetime. I think there will be more to come."
Thom said the 105-minute documentary seems more like five minutes.
"You get that involved with it," he said. "It's one of those where you expect a happy ending. It's a good ending but the opposite of what you think will happen."
Miller said he didn't get the opportunity to meet Sundance founder Robert Redford, but he heard Redford liked the film.
"I was supposed to go to a directors brunch," Miller said. "I'm usually a good navigator, but I got lost. I was supposed to be there at 11 a.m., and it turned into noon. I didn't want to walk in late, so I missed the brunch. I found some guys ice fishing on a reservoir, so I spent time ice fishing with these guys."
While at Gahanna Lincoln, Miller said, he took some theater classes. He also served as goalkeeper for the soccer team in 1995.
"For any students wanting to be a filmmaker, I'd tell them to just get out there with the camera and start making movies," he said. "I'm 37, and it took me this long. Keep going and pursue your dreams and goals."
Miller has been making films and short-form content for more than a decade. His films include Gahanna Bill and Scaring the Fish.
His work with shorts has won numerous international and national awards.
Since 1981, Sundance Institute has evolved to become an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that actively advances the work of risk-taking storytellers worldwide.
Originally founded by Redford in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, Sundance Institute has provided a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures.