Sonny Miller

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Sonny Miller
Sonny Miller enjoying a beer after a long filming session at Teahupoo
Sonny Miller enjoying a beer after a long filming session at Teahupo'o
Personal information
BornSonny "Harold" Miller
San Jose, California
DiedJuly 8, 2014(2014-07-08) (aged 53)
La Jolla, California
NicknameCap'n Fun
ResidenceEscondido, California
Surfing career
SponsorsRip Curl
Major achievementsSearching for Tom Curren
Video of the Year by Surfer Magazine in 1997.[1]

Sonny Miller (July 18, 1960 - July 8, 2014) was an American cinematographer and waterman specializing in surfing and nature photography. He achieved success filming surfing related dramas, In God's Hands (1998). Riding Giants (2004), The Big Bounce (2004), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Blue Crush (2002) and Die Another Day.[2][3][4] Miller experienced a heart attack and could not be revived just one week after the passing of his mother, Suzanne Gilliland.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Born in San Jose, California in 1960, Miller moved to Encinitas, California, sometime prior to 1971, where he learned to surf.[1][6] He attended San Dieguito High School and studied photography at Palomar College.[7] His career began with the accepted submission of still surfing photographs to Surfer and Breakout magazines,[8] he was also a contributor to Snowboard Magazine with his work appearing on the début cover.[9] Miller soon expanded into 16 mm film for motion photography.[2]


Also known as Cap'n Fun,[6] Miller and Tom Curren teamed to produce the series, The Search (1992).[10] Filmed and directed by Miller,[1] the series would travel the world and focus on Curran's freestyle surfing as most of the footage at the time, focused on Curren in competition.[11][12] Miller's surfing documentaries include: Breakin’ on Thru (1992), The Search (1992), The Search II (1993), For the Sea (1994), Beyond the Boundaries (1994), Feral Kingdom (1995), Aloha Bowls (1996), Tripping the Planet (1996) and Searching for Tom Curren, which was awarded Video of the Year by Surfer magazine in 1997.[2][8][12]

In 2000, Miller's work began to include Hollywood feature films,[6] his work includes, In God's Hands (1998), Blue Crush (2002), Riding Giants (2004), The Big Bounce (2004),[4] Lords of Dogtown (2005) and the James Bond film, Die Another Day.[2][3] He appeared onscreen opposite Michelle Rodriguez and Kate Bosworth as a surf contest announcer in Blue Crush,[13] and his work is said to appear in the remake of Point Break (2015).[14]

In 2014, it was announced that Helen Hunt's, Ride, Miller's final film, would be dedicated in remembrance of Miller.[15] In 2015, Hunt memorialised her friend and their experiences in "Sonny Miller's Lesson for Us All: 'Nature Dictates'", for the Huffington Post.[5] At the time of his death, Miller was filming, Ricochet Surf Dog for an ESPN feature, a story of a service-dog whose balance helps to allow the disabled to enjoy the experience surfing.[3][16]

Film vs videotape[edit]

Miller was known to have a preference for film over videotape and the (16 mm film) format likely due to its compact size for action filming. Film boasts distinct differences in contrast, resolution, color and unlike videotape, 16-millimeter could also be filmed in slow-motion. Miller's work was transferred to videotape after editing.[12]

Helen Hunt recalls, "He carried this box, this box that paid for his house, and his motorcycles and his dying mom's care, and his food and his way of life. I don't know what that was, his way of life, but I heard rumors it included putting up friends and their babies who found themselves between places to live, five dogs, that sort of thing. All paid for by this box he made to make movies in the water. That thing never left his side. I took him to breakfast once, and he brought it to the table."[5]

The box that Hunt refers to is the waterproof camera housings that Miller specialized in. In a recently discovered interview of Miller, filmed at his home and workshop coined "Rancho Relaxo", in Escondido California, Miller displays a collection of waterproof housings containing various 16 mm, 35 mm, videotape, high-definition and high-speed cameras.[17]

  • "Sonny Miller, one of surfing's finest lensmen." Surfer Magazine[8]


Year Nominee / work Award Result
1997 Searching for Tom Curren Surfer magazine's Video of the Year[1] Won
2006 X Games Eleven: Surfing Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Camera Work[18] Nominated
2007 ESPN: Down the Barrel Sports Emmy Award Outstanding Camera Work[19]
Shared with: eff Alred, Brian Brousseau, Samson Chan, Pascal Charpentier, Daren Crawford, Matt Goodman, Mark Healy, Craig Hoffman, Trent Kamerman, Maik Kuhne, Garrett McNamara, Joel Parkinson, Per Peterson, Michael Prickett, Kelly Slater, Mike Stewart, Raimana Van-Bastolae


  1. ^ a b c d Jamie Brisick (9 July 2014). "SONNY MILLER: 1960–2014 Longtime surf filmmaker (aka "Cap'n Fun") passes away at 53". Retrieved 14 July 2014. There was no such thing as a bad time with Cap’n Fun. Plane delays, flat tires, waveless weeks at remote surf spots --Sonny always saw the bright side, always found the humor.
  2. ^ a b c d Jake Howard (10 July 2014). "Surf cinematographer Sonny Miller dies". ESPN. Retrieved 14 July 2014. Miller was largely considered to be one of the great filmmakers and photographers in the history of surfing.
  3. ^ a b c "Filmmaker Sonny Miller Dies; Surf Community Remembers". The Inertia. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b c James Marriott (10 July 2014). "Sonny Miller has died, leaves us with amazing films". Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Hunt, Helen (30 April 2015). "Sonny Miller's Lesson for Us All: 'Nature Dictates'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2015. They made exactly one like him. "Nature dictates." I'm going to be like that. In the water, smile on my face, loving the world anyway. I am like that, just not quite as much as him.
  6. ^ a b c "Surf filmmaker Sonny Miller passes away". Surfer Today. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014. "We did a mission to Tonga in '92 together and I realized then that no matter how far from home or how bad the surf, Sonny was always happy and positive and truly epitomized the meaning of being stoked," reveals Kelly Slater.
  7. ^ Chris Cantore (9 July 2014). "Sonny Miller, legendary local surf filmmaker, dies at 53". Retrieved 14 July 2014. Arguably one of the most well-regarded and prolific surf filmmakers of his generation, Sonny is the creative force behind groundbreaking surf films including The Search, Tripping the Planet, and Searching for Tom Curren.
  8. ^ a b c Justin Housman (9 July 2014). "R.I.P. Sonny Miller, 1960–2014 Cherished filmmaker passes away". Surfer. Retrieved 14 July 2014. Beginning in 1992, Miller made a number of movies for Rip Curl, all beautifully composed and lavishly shot on 16-mm film. The Search, Feral Kingdom, Tripping the Planet, and Searching for Tom Curren remain among the finest surf films ever made.
  9. ^ "Rip Sonny Miller Pioneering Snowboard Photographer 1960 2014". 11 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Sonny Miller: 1960–2014". Rip Curl. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  11. ^ Miller, Sonny (11 June 2013). "Live The Search Series: Tom Curren Collection "Jeffrey's Bay"". Rip Curl YouTue Channel. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  12. ^ a b c "Miller, Sonny". Encyclopedia of Surfing. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  13. ^ "Cameraman Sonny Miller dies at 53". 11 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  14. ^ Anita Busch (10 July 2014). "R.I.P. Legendary Cameraman Sonny Miller". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  15. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (9 September 2014). "Helen Hunt's 'Ride' Gets Screen Media Deal". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Surf dog Ricochet on ESPN's Sport's Center KLEENEX ALERT". Surf Dog Ricochet Surf Dog Ricochet. 27 August 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  17. ^ "TALK STORY: SONNY MILLER (1960–2014)". Surfline. 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2015. Shortly after it was shot, the computer the footage was on crashed, and we thought it was gone forever. Somehow, someone backed it up on a forgotten hard drive and it was recently discovered at Surfline's HB office.
  18. ^ "2006 Sports Emmy Award". Awards and Winners. 2006. Archived from the original on 15 May 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  19. ^ "1 The 29th Annual Emmy Awards for Sports" (PDF). Emmy Online. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 May 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2015.

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