Meet the key grip of Cutchogue, a man who fixes things

11/02/2011 8:16 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Bill Miller with the clock he fixed in Cutchogue.

In what tends to be a throwaway society, one Cutchogue man still has the skills to fix broken items, restoring them to usefulness.

Bill Miller, 62, is the man Cutchogue residents can thank for a downtown clock that keeps accurate time.

A retired independent key grip who spent his career overseeing the set rigging and assuring continuity of lighting, camera placement and movements and other technical aspects of filming, Mr. Miller was the natural choice to tackle the broken clock. He had, after all, spent his life fixing movie sets to make sure shadows were consistent scene to scene, clocks set to proper times and thousands of small but significant details were correct.

If you’ve seen films such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Married to the Mob,” “The Sixth Sense” and “Terms of Endearment,” you’ve seen the fruit of Mr. Miller’s efforts. He’s worked with talented and demanding directors from Jonathan Demme and Sidney Lumet to Brian De Palma and M. Night Shyamalan.

“My job was to solve problems,” Mr. Miller said.

So when Cutchogue-New Suffolk Park District commissioner Dave Allison, whose organization is responsible for maintaining the clock, told him about the plight he faced in trying to get the old clock working again, it seemed a natural step for Mr. Miller to jump in and offer to help.

Both men are part of a regular group that meets at the Country Deli in Cutchogue every day for breakfast and a chat about how to tackle the world’s problems, according to Mr. Miller’s wife, Rita.

“I had just retired,” Mr. Miller said, and was looking for projects to keep him busy.

“It’s already broken so I can’t hurt it anymore,” he said of the clock. He fully expected to open it and find springs jumping out at him. Not the case. What the clock needed was a new small battery. Mission accomplished.

Then he looked at the clock face and pronounced it “kind of raggy.” So he took it home to spray paint and face the next challenge: getting the numbers back in the right place so the hands mark the time appropriately. That was something of a challenge, Mr. Miller said.

He discovered that the clock hands themselves were troublesome. Because of their length and weight, when they moved to the bottom of the hour they required extra torque to swing back up.

A consultation with experts at Clockworks in Huntington, Mass., enabled Mr. Miller to make the necessary adjustments. Now the clock’s ongoing maintenance requires changing its battery every six months. He keeps it on the same schedule as his home smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms, he said.

“It was just a fun thing,” Ms. Miller said of the project, in which the couple’s eight grandsons also participated from time to time.

They still love riding out here and checking to be sure the clock is registering the correct time, Mr. Miller said.

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