5 Questions for ACL's Cam Dude: Rex Miller

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You may know Rex Miller as the taller half of A CHEF’S LIFE’s camera dudes and photographer extraordinaire behind the images in Chef Vivian’s forthcoming cookbook. Beyond his work on A CHEF’S LIFE, the NY native is the father of two lovely daughters, an avid tennis buff, and has a long, rewarding career in both photography and filmmaking, which makes you wonder how he makes time to do it all. His most recent film, “Althea,” chronicles the rise and fall of tennis genius, Althea Gibson, the first African-American tennis player ever to win Wimbledon. His filmography is vast and his drive is inspiring.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Rex and your introduction to cameras
I grew up as somewhat obsessed with magazines, and the photos in them, especially Nat Geo and Sports Illustrated. My father was a Magazine Editor/Writer, and we read the NY Times together most days, from when I was about 7-8, that's how we bonded. By the time I was 14 I knew the names of all the Times' and SI photojournalists.

During college years I bought a camera somewhat randomly, a decent one, with a zoom lens, and became very focused on photojournalism. After college I taught tennis for a year in NYC, saved up and then spent 8 months traveling, through Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, then from Nairobi to Cape Town overland, which is about 5,000 miles. Just my backpack and camera. That I feel, is where I got my education, where I became "who I am," which I would describe as a "visual storyteller.” I shot for Forbes roughly once a month for the next 6-7 years, which really helped pay the bills (and would often lead to more assignments) while I pursued the work that got me up early in the morning.

I’m an escaped New Yorker, born and raised there. I did a longtime photo essay project about “Music and Life in Mississippi.” The result was a book called “All the Blues Gone." I’ve been in NC since 2003. I only tell my "Escape From New York” story over beers.

How would you describe your role on the show?
I am the DP, Director of Photography, but I’m known on the team as one of the Cam Dudes, along with my mates Josh and Blaire (who’s not a dude but she’s in the club). I try to make the show "look great,”so that the visuals add 1) to the storytelling and 2) to the emotion of the show. In photojournalism and sports photography, it’s all about capturing the “decisive moment.” Of anything, a moment that is different from the one before and the one after. Then a photo has a chance of being something special. On the show, we try to do the same, capture real moments. No manufactured “reality" here. Cynthia, our Director is a doc filmmaker first, so it’s all about the story.

I like to say that "we shoot food like sports,” because there is so much action that we cover. We might be shooting Vivian prepare a 3-course lunch for 400 people on location (that’s 1200 plates of intricate, complex food, served one at a time) in Mississippi at a high pressure venue. It’s complete organized chaos, the clock is ticking, there’s dozen of “combatants” (sous chefs, servers, sponsors, etc), not to mention an audience of 400 foodies looking to be impressed (or just judge Vivian). Or we might be searching for oyster beds off the NC Coast on a shaky boat at high speed, so you’ve got to have the right equipment and really be concentrating or you might wind up in the drink with equipment, not a good situation.

Vivian doesn’t rehearse so once we get somewhere we are shooting right out of the car. We work with a skeleton crew—no network show would dream of shooting this show with 3 people (2 cameras and a director, who also does audio). We have a long checklist of things to keep track of in our heads and we can’t afford to miss these magic moments, or we might get a kick in the butt from our fearless leader Cynthia. It’s all about catching those moments.

Vivian challenged me this year by having me shoot the pix for her cookbook (a great honor!), which has been a combination of documentary and then a few hundred recipes on a tabletop, something I’ve done very little of. Vivian put a great team together, including Angie Mosier, a top food stylist, so it became a real learning experience, proof that the education never stops. Can’t wait to see the final book next year.

What's your favorite episode of A CHEF'S LIFE?
Season 2, Ep. 14, “Eggs Two-Dozen Ways
This is the episode when Vivian and crew go to NYC to cook at a high-profile venue, the famous “James Beard House,” for 85 people, all dishes plated, no buffet. It became high drama for Vivian because 1 minute before starting to fry the catfish, which was due to be served to 85 people in 10 minutes, she learned the fryer had automatically shut off earlier and was dead. “Holy cow, bad news!” To top it off, dozens of guests were filing through the kitchen, snapping pix and saying hi and it was all on the verge of chaos. Vivian, Alan and Justise went into crazy mode and got a bunch of skillets going and saved the day and Vivian got a Standing-O.

For me, as a shooter, when the craziness starts is when the challenge begins. The adrenalin is flowing and all that matters is inside the lens. That’s F-U-N. and the longest shoot day, with the most challenges, but what really makes it magical is seeing the final results on the screen. I thought our editor, Tom Vickers, and Cynthia did a great job telling a dramatic, unique story (great behind-the-scenes, real-life look at a chef’s life, y’all) honestly, nothing manufactured here, and so all told it’s my favorite.

What is your 'spirit food'?
A great breakfast lets me know it’s gonna be a great day. It all starts with that awesome cup of strong coffee. That’s my solo time, before the action starts. If I’m lucky enough to land a sausage-egg-cheese biscuit, we are off to the races, unstoppable!

If you were stranded on a desert island (or just outside of Kinston) with only one food item and one utensil, what would they be?
I’m gonna have to say, as Vivian puts it, a bowl of perfectly cooked rice. Am I allowed to have a spoon?

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