‘Mad Max’ Director George Miller Reveals What Drove Him to Filmmaking

Australian filmmaker George Miller, director of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” was in L.A. briefly to accept an Environmental Media Award for his work, including his activism on Save Watsons Bay. He spoke with Variety about his early creative influences.

What were some of your early movie experiences?
I was highly influenced by Saturday matinees. It was a ritual of the town where I grew up. There would be an A feature and B feature — or if it was a big Technicolor Cinemascope movie like “Ben-Hur,” it would be one movie with an intermission. Plus, cartoons, newsreels, 10-minute serials like “Batman” and “Sir Galahad.” There was a relatively new theater in Chinchilla, a town of 4,000-5,000.

It had 1,000 seats. There was no Internet, no cell phones, and Australia was late in getting television. So moviegoing was a major ritual and the theater was like a secular cathedral. It was an inadvertent apprenticeship.

Did you want to be a filmmaker?

I never thought I’d be able to make films. There was no opportunity. My twin brother, John, and I went to medical school. One day I walked past a cinema with a movie poster showing a woman’s legs, but the top half of her was a hand giving the peace sign. Hm. So I walked in. It was Robert Altman’s “MASH.” I knew nothing about him or the film. After the movie ended, I walked right out, and then paid to see it at the next show. That was a big deal to buy a movie ticket, much less two, because I was in medical school and didn’t have much money. When I walked out again, I was on a high. I passed an arthouse and bought a ticket, because I wanted to see whatever was there. And it was “Battle of Algiers”!

I was cinema-driven from that day. That was a good day.

“I never thought I’d be able to make films. There was no opportunity.”
GEORGE MILLER

Did that change your goals?
After that day, I thought, “I have to try to understand film language.” I saw silent films, like “The General” and Harold Lloyd. This brand new language! It’s a universal language and its syntax was developed pre-sound. So I try to conceive of each movie as a silent movie, and then when you add sound and music, see how much more you can get out of it. Byron Kennedy and I decided to make a satirical short, “Violence in Cinema, Part I.” It was one of the first shorts ever distributed in Australia. With the arrogance of youth, we said, “We should make a feature film.” And that was the first “Mad Max.” It was very difficult to make, but I hadn’t realized at that point that all films are difficult to make.

When did you develop your eco concerns?
I think it comes from growing up in the bush. Australian cinema is very much about landscape. This is a vast continent, the size of the United States but with a population that’s only half of California. So you’re very aware of figures in the landscapes, and that shows up in our songs, films, in the culture.

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