Last November, we learned about and later confirmed the existence of Higher Grounds, a movie based very loosely on the World Barista Championship starring Kate Nash, Derry Girls’ Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Fleabag’s Jenny Rainsford, and none other than the Veep Finnish Prime Minister Minna Häkkinen herself Sally Phillips. It was all very exciting; coffee competition was finally getting the goofy ‘90s comedy treatment it deserved. And Sally Phillips, what an absolute delight! I may have even promised to host a screening of the movie on my own dime. Those were halcyon days.
Since then, we’ve seen the release of the official movie poster, which we shared on Twitter, as well as the teaser trailer—the move doesn’t, strictly speaking, look good or accurate, but had the potential to be a campy fun 90 minutes for those involved with that particular nook of the coffee world.
When we first shared news of Higher Grounds, little was known about it (including information on the film's director and producers) outside what could be gleaned from a leaked screening invite and a cast photo on Instagram. There were a couple of reasons why: the crew was likely asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement; the movie was officially untitled during much of its production; and well, it’s about coffee competitions, a topic that does not exactly have a long storied history of making for a barnstorming box office gross.
But there may be another reason why advance information on the film was so hard to come by last year, and it relates to a tragedy.
According to IMDB, Randall Miller is listed as the director of Higher Grounds. Miller's previous directing work includes the 2008 wine movie Bottle Shock and a range of TV projects from yesteryear including Northern Exposure, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, and the pilot of Salute Your Shorts. In 2014 Miller helmed directing duties on a film called Midnight Rider, a biopic of musician Greg Allman. During a film shoot that took place on a rural Georgia train trestle, second assistant camerawoman Sarah Jones was killed after being struck by a train.
This tragedy made major news in 2014, and was covered extensively by entertainment media around the world, including articles in the LA Times, The Guardian, ABC News, Deadline, Variety, The Daily Beast, The Wrap, Indie Wire, the Sydney Morning Herald, and dozens more publications. Production on Midnight Rider was scuttled, and Jones was honored at the 2014 Oscars broadcast ‘In Memoriam' segment. The Hollywood Reporter, in particular, has covered this tragedy extensively, authoring a narrative recreation of the filming day and continuing to cover the story as the fallout from Jones' death played out in court.
In 2015, Miller plead guilty to criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter, ”a rare assignment of criminal liability for safety violations on a film set,” per the New York Times. For this, Miller was sentenced to serve one year in jail and 10 years probation where he was “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production,” per a Deadline report. Miller was released from jail in March of 2016.
News of Miller’s involvement with Higher Grounds was brought to our attention over the last 24 hours by a number of concerned entertainment industry professionals, who reached out to Sprudge across a range of social media avenues and via email. This appears to be part of a wider effort to inform the public about Randall Miller's involvement in directing the film, which includes the registration of a URL—highergroundsmovie.com—that contains a range of accusations against Miller and his wife, the producer Jody Savin, as well as updates made to the “Trivia”, “Crazy Credits,” and “FAQ” sections of the film's IMDB page.
We've updated our original stories about the film Higher Grounds, published prior to public awareness of Randall Miller's involvement, with a link to this feature.
This story is developing…
A Train, a Narrow Trestle and 60 Seconds to Escape: How ‘Midnight Rider' Victim Sarah Jones Lost Her Life — The Hollywood Reporter
Randall Miller, Film Director, Pleads Guilty in ‘Midnight Rider’ Manslaughter Trial — The New York Times
‘Midnight Rider’ Director Randall Miller Freed From Jail In Shock Ruling — Deadline
‘Midnight Rider' Case: Ongoing Lessons On Accountability And Safety — Forbes
‘Midnight Rider’ Director’s Attorneys Say FBI Is Investigating His Prosecution — Variety
‘Midnight Rider’ Death: Sarah Jones Becomes a Symbol as Bizzers’ Emotions Surge — Variety