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submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 02.12.2015

Spectacular visual effects ... Mad Max: Fury Road

After winning the year's best film by the National Board of Review, Mad Max: Fury Road is lining up for Oscar nominations

December 1, 2015

Garry Maddox
Writer

Fury Road revisits Oscar-winning filmmaker George Miller's post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy.


As a new poll suggested it could receive a swag of Oscar nominations, Max Max: Fury Road has been named the year's best film by the National Board of Review in the US.

The New York organisation, which celebrates international cinema, gave its top award to director George Miller's action blockbuster with Ridley Scott winning best director for the sci-fi hit The Martian, Matt Damon best actor for the same film and Brie Larson best actress for the drama Room.

While the Board of Review, which draws on votes from 120 film fans, is not considered a predictor of Academy Awards results, Fury Road's win backs up the support it is receiving for six, seven or even eight Oscar nominations next month.

While Cate Blanchett is a virtual certainty for another nod next month, the latest predictions of Oscar pundits on the well-regarded Gold Derby web site suggest Fury Road could continue its success at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Industry Awards this week.

While it is still almost a month before voting opens for the nominations and Hollywood's Oscar experts are yet to see some films, including Star Wars; The Force Awakens, there is surprisingly strong support for Fury Road in the behind-the-scenes categories.

To no-one's surprise pundits from such publications as Variety, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone.are almost unanimous - predicted by 20 out of 21 - that Blanchett will receive her sixth Oscar nomination for the lesbian romance Carol. She has previous wins for Aviator and Blue Jasmine.

But there is just as much support - 20 experts out of 21 - for Fury Road's John Seale being nominated for best cinematography. A previous winner for The English Patient, he has also been nominated for Witness, Rain Man and Cold Mountain.

Almost as many experts - 19 out of 20 - believe Fury Road's Colin Gibson will get an Oscar nomination for best production design.

George Miller's fourth Mad Max film also has a chance of receiving a nomination for best costumes.

An overwhelming majority - 18 out of 20 - also believe Margaret Sixel will be nominated for best editing.

And while it was beaten at the AACTAs for best costume design by The Dressmaker, a fair number of experts - nine out of 20 - believe Fury Road's Jenny Beavan will get a nomination too.

But there seems to be no doubt when it comes to the two sound categories- sound editing and best sound mixing.

Contender: production designer Colin Gibson atop the War Rig from Mad Max: Fury Road.
Contender: production designer Colin Gibson atop the War Rig from Mad Max: Fury Road. Photo: Peter Rae
Every single expert - 16 out of 16 - believes Fury Road will be nominated in both categories.

And an overwhelming number believe Mad Max will also get nods for best visual effects (15 out of 18) and best make-up and hairstyling (18 out of 19).

The glowingly reviewed action film won six awards at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts industry awards on Monday, including best cinematography, production design, editing, sound, original music score and visual effects.

It is an excellent chance of adding best film and director at the main ceremony on December 9.

While Oscar voting does not open until the end of the month, the poll suggests Fury Road will be surprisingly prominent for a film released seven months ago when the nominations are announced on January 14.

In an entertaining twist, Tom Hardy, who took over as Mad Max from Mel Gibson, is considered a strong chance of an Oscar nomination as well - as predicted by 11 experts out of 21 - but for his supporting role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's western epic The Revenant.

One of Australia's greatest directors, Miller's record at the Oscars includes a best animated feature win for Happy Feet and three other nominations - best screenplay (with Nick Enright) for Lorenzo's Oil and, for Babe, best picture (with Doug Mitchell and Bill Miller and best adapted screenplay (with Chris Noonan).

He has just scattered support for a best direction nomination for Fury Road (three experts out of 22), as there is for a best picture nod (four out of 21).

But that won't dampen the enthusiasm of a crew that took 12 years - overcoming countless setbacks - to bring Mad Max back to cinemas.

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 08.10.2015

Tom Hardy in George Miller's Mad Max Fury Road.

Miller reveals the magic and madness behind Fury Road

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday October 9th, 20125, page 2-3

Garry Maddox


Director George Miller has good news and bad news for fans of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Yes, he still wants to shoot the two sequels that were written during the 12 years it took to get that movie to the screen. But it is still too early to say when or even which new instalment – one centring on Tom Hardy's Max, the other on Charlize Theron's Furiosa – he will film next.

"We're certainly talking about them but exactly the timing of that, I don't know," Miller said. "We're still working all that out."

The sequels, which would be shot in Australia after extended rain at Broken Hill forced a shift to the Namibian desert for Fury Road, have been a hot topic since the movie became a rare box office hit, taking $US375 million worldwide, that was almost universally acclaimed by critics.

The fourth Mad Max movie started with an idea that flashed into Miller's head as he crossed a street in Los Angeles in 1998. Then two years later, the former doctor had what he calls a waking dream – with the movie playing out in his head – on a flight from from Los Angeles to Sydney.

Ahead of a talk on creating Fury Road at the Graphic Festival on Sunday, Miller said it grew out of his "strong sense of inquiry".

Recasting changed the storytelling: Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road. Photo: Jasin Boland

"One of the things that drew me to this film was the notion of an extended chase and seeing what [viewers] could pick up on the run as it were," he said. "We were trying to put as much iceberg as possible underneath the tip.

"So you read it on the surface as a kind of visual poem but underneath you're trying to pick up as much subtext as possible."
As well as being one of the country's great storytellers – an Oscar winner whose celebrated directing career includes four Mad Max movies, two Happy Feets, Lorenzo's Oil, The Witches of Eastwick and the mini-series The Dismissal – Miller has long been a deep thinker about how stories work and why they matter, drawing on the theories of American mythologist Joseph Campbell.

"One of the major attractions of working in this wasteland world with Mad Max and all his cohorts is that you're going forward to the past," he said. "You're going back to a much more elemental world, which allows you to basically work in allegory.
"So you're drawing on history. You're drawing on present-day events. You're drawing on speculations as to the future we may be heading towards. You're conflating all of those and putting them into the mix and being rigorous about the design criteria that you're working with ... so that even though the movie plays at a helter-skelter pace, [viewers] are picking up enough on the run to make it believable. You hope they're drawn up into the world of the screen without questioning it."

Miller, 70, said "dreaming" a movie was far from rare in his life.
"It probably means I'm crazy but I do it all the time. Ever since I was a little kid, I've been living this imaginative life.
"The more you do something, the more your neurology adjusts to it and I'm pretty well hard-wired for story. Out of habit now, stories are playing in my head all the time."

Every movie Miller has written has come from a similar experience.
"They're not sleeping dreams," he said. "They're what I call hypnagogic dreams or daydreaming – that place between sleep and wakefulness. That unguarded moment when you're in a kind of dissociated state ... It's always in those sort of moments: on a long flight or in the shower.
"I remember having a conversation with George Lucas once and he said just about every great idea he's ever had has come in the shower because you can't be on the internet, you can't be on the phone, you're not watching TV.
"You're just there in that kind of state and the ideas come to your mind."
Miller said it necessarily changed the storytelling in Fury Road when Hardy took over from Mel Gibson as Max in the action series.
"The essential architecture of the story is always going to be there. But the actual tones and colour are going to vary depending on what the actor brings.
"You have something in your mind as you've written or devised it but when it's captured in the camera, that becomes the new reality. That's what you've got to work with.
"It's impossible to know exactly how different it would be but it must be different and pretty soon you've forgotten what you had in your imagination."

After that waking dream one night over the Pacific, Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris developed Fury Road in an inventive way. Instead of a script, they created 3500 storyboard panels – effectively comic book scenes – that outlined what happened in the movie shot by shot.

"The task was to see how much story or experience or felt life you could create for an audience during a very fast action piece," he said. "I'm always interested as to how film language is evolving.
"It's an acquired language. It basically laid down its syntax in the silent era. In many ways Mad Max is a silent movie with sound."

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 30.04.2015

Charlize Theron muscles in as Furiosa. Photo Jasin Boland Warner Bros. Entertainment

On the set of Mad Max: Fury Road with director George Miller

Sydney Morning Herald

April 25, 2015

Garry Maddox


The badlands of the latest Mad Max movie have never looked more forbidding. But for director George Miller, it’s a happy homecoming.

Mad Max: George Miller's enduring anti-hero
Thirty years on, the iconic Mad Max franchise has been reimagined by its original creator.The result is an explosive, 'very Australian' modern action movie. George Miller talks to Garry Maddox.

Inside a cavernous sound stage in sweltering heat, a surreal scene is taking place. A band of skinny, shirtless men wearing filthy shorts and bandannas are clambering onto two giant steel turbines. On a command, they begin to pedal. The job of these sorry souls, called Treadmill Rats, is to operate a platform that brings battle vehicles and warriors up to a mountaintop citadel then back down to a desert wasteland.

Milling around nearby are a group of bald youths, also shirtless and wearing combat pants. They are daubed in white paint and marked with a menacing skull tattoo. Called the War Pups, they answer to a masked warlord known as Immortan Joe, who styles himself as a cult leader in the post-apocalyptic future.

Charlize Theron with director George Miller.
Charlize Theron with director George Miller. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

While the Treadmill Rats pedal, the War Pups lounge around waiting for their scene. A make-up artist touches up the white paint on one. Another has found a spot in the sun to study a school book.

Watching the action intently on a monitor is George Miller, the acclaimed director who is about to finally finish filming Mad Max: Fury Road at Sydney's Fox Studios.

The former doctor made his name with Mad Max in 1979, then followed up in 1981 with Mad Max 2 (known as The Road Warrior in the US) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. While he has had many other successes, including the Oscar-winning Happy Feet, the trilogy about a damaged cop roaming the lawless Australian wasteland remains a cinema landmark.

Tom Hardy fires up as Mad Max.
Tom Hardy fires up as Mad Max. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Still one of the most profitable films ever made, the first instalment launched an unknown Mel Gibson to stardom as Max Rockatansky and influenced countless celluloid versions of the post-apocalyptic future. Out of Miller's vivid imagination came such memorable characters as Toecutter, Goose, the Feral Kid, the Gyro Captain, Master Blaster and Aunt Entity, as well as an inspired range of futuristic vehicles.

And there, on the platform the Treadmill Rats have been lowering, is one of the icons of the series – Max's Interceptor, the black V8 muscle car he drove at turbo-charged speed in his battered leather jacket with a cattle dog by his side. Despite the heat, Miller is also wearing a black leather jacket as he directs one of the last of 135 gruelling days on the movie.

"I liked being hot from when I was making the first Mad Max," he says, joking that it might be an attempt to raise his metabolism, or just an idiosyncratic security blanket on set.

Charlize Theron muscles in as Furiosa.
Charlize Theron muscles in as Furiosa. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Miller describes Fury Road as a "wild and operatic" chase movie that is neither a reboot, prequel nor sequel. "It's revisiting the world," he says. "For me, it's revisiting old friends."

Pursued by Immortan Joe's marauding hordes, a one-armed female warrior named Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, drives a giant tanker carrying a precious cargo – his five young wives – through the wasteland. Along the way, she gets help from Max, played this time by Tom Hardy.

In its 114 minutes, Fury Road features no less than 300 stunts, all performed for real on set rather than simulated in a studio with digital effects. "Old school", Miller calls it. There are enough crashes, jumps, tumbles and explosions for producer Doug Mitchell to describe the movie as "Mad Max 2 on steroids".

Future shock: It took only minutes for George Miller to be inspired to make Fury Road. It took 12 years to bring it to the big screen. Photo: Tim Bauer

As epic as that sounds, the movie's production has been even more so. Over 12 years, Miller has had to persevere during three major delays, with three actors down to play Max – including Heath Ledger until his tragic death – a switch of continents, three different Hollywood studios and enough financial challenges to sink just about any other movie.

And with up to 10 cameras shooting the action, Fury Road has been assembled from a huge 480 hours of footage. Back in the sound stage, it's time for a shot that has two War Pups reacting to Max's arrival off screen. They are joined by one of Immortan Joe's sons, Corpus Colossus (Quentin Kenihan), in a harness seat.

"Can we ask Jamie to just drop his head a little
bit," Miller says calmly into a microphone. "Crouch down. Not too far forward, Riley. And we're in action. The vehicles arrive. We're watching Max."

Around the corner, production designer Colin Gibson prepares for another shot. Up a ladder, he is painting a slogan on the wall of what looks like a cave: "There's a new world coming … she's already on her way."

This is the mountaintop vault where Immortan Joe keeps The Wives, played by a glamorous group of actresses and models: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Courtney Eaton, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough.

Gibson describes the cave as a combined harem, library, crèche and museum for all the flotsam and jetsam of history. "In a world of horror, this is an attempt to keep all the other bits of civilisation you don't worry about anywhere else," he says. "There's music, art, literature, plants."

A short walk away on the busy lot – Angelina Jolie is directing Unbroken and Russell Crowe is shooting The Water Diviner on other sound stages – Mitchell and Gibson show off more
of the dystopian world. Their team
has built 150 metres of tunnels, where Max is held prisoner and treated as a blood donor.

In another corner stands the truck that Furiosa pilots across the desert. Called the War Rig – one of three built for the movie – it looks like a battered dusty petrol tanker with chunks of two other vehicles welded on top, spiked wheels and a fuel-pod trailer.

"For George, this was Stagecoach, this was John Ford," says Gibson in a reference to the classic John Wayne western that takes place on the move. "There may be 10 million stunts happening out there but this is the stage for the drama. The beating heart."

Upstairs in the elegant Metro Theatre in Potts Point, three kilometres away, is an office with a rich history that dates back to some of the famous miniseries Kennedy Miller made in the 1980s. It was the prime minister's office in The Dismissal, a ship's bar in Bodyline, and a prison in The Cowra Breakout. Now it's Mad Max Central. George Miller's office.

With only weeks until Fury Road opens worldwide on May 14, the director is still flat out finishing all the different versions required for a Hollywood blockbuster: subtitled, dubbed, IMAX and various sound and 3D formats.

Beneath three whirring ceiling fans, signs of the movie are everywhere. There are large black models of the War Rig and another vehicle called the Doof Wagon, which urges warriors into battle in the movie with musician Iota playing a flame-throwing guitar. Elsewhere, some of the ornate steering wheels worshipped by War Boys, grown-up War Pups, hang on a wall, and a pile of movie posters are waiting to be approved.

For much of the production, the office was lined with 3500 storyboard panels that outline what happens shot by shot in Fury Road. "That's how we conceived the film," says Miller.

A genial figure behind glasses, the 70-year-old has long been one of the country's finest filmmakers, telling serious, thoughtful stories in a variety of genres.

Since forming Kennedy Miller with the late Byron Kennedy in the 1970s, George Miller has directed and mostly produced The Dismissal, The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo's Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, two Happy Feet films and the Mad Max trilogy. He also produced Babe (which he co-wrote), Bodyline, Vietnam, The Year My Voice Broke, Dead Calm and Bangkok Hilton. And he's done it all while living in Sydney rather than moving full-time to Los Angeles.

The four-time Oscar nominee – he was a winner for Happy Feet – traces his intense imaginative life back to a childhood based around play, without television, as one of four sons of Kytherian Greek immigrant parents in the Queensland town of Chinchilla.

After studying medicine at the University of NSW with his twin brother John, then working at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Miller was already making short films when he met Kennedy at a University of Melbourne film workshop.

He worked as a locum while they shot Mad Max around Melbourne, with the story influenced by seeing the damage caused by the country's car culture: the "death by autocide" in rural Queensland, and then dealing with the trauma as an emergency doctor.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've basically lived the imaginative life," Miller says. "I'm pretty hard-wired for that now. So these characters you've come up with, they live like imaginary characters in your head."

One of these characters, Max Rockatansky, unexpectedly jumped back to life as Miller crossed a street in Los Angeles in 1998. "Halfway across, this idea popped into my head," he says. "I thought, 'Oh my, that's a Mad Max movie.' By the time I got to the other side of the road, I said, 'There's no way I'm going to go anywhere near that because I've already done three.'

"Two years after that, I was on a plane flying across the Pacific during the night – from Los Angeles to Sydney – and the whole movie played in my head. It was in a rough form and it was very misty but the scenes played.

"By the time I landed, I told everyone, 'I think we're going to make another Mad Max movie.' "

Influenced by a love of silent movies and Alfred Hitchcock's theory about making films so people in other countries do not need to read subtitles, Miller conceived Fury Road as a helter-skelter action movie told largely through visuals rather than words.

After the apocalypse, there are no books, internet or TV, and language has become purely functional. So Max speaks just 41 lines and Furiosa less than 100. "There's very specific language in Fury Road but people don't do it recreationally and they don't think aloud because they're in extremis," Miller says. "They don't have time to think aloud."

The director and his team devised a new dark age. "All the worst-case scenarios we see in the news come to pass all at once. Economic collapse, power-grid collapse, oil wars, water wars and things we just didn't see coming. There's wholesale organ failure of all the things that glue us together. You jump 45 years into the future. All the coastal cities so far as we know have been razed. Great gangs have marauded like locusts across the land. In the centre of a continent like Australia, there's a new dominance hierarchy, where all the resources are controlled."

Immortan Joe controls artesian water from his citadel and trades with other warlords who run Gas Town, which has the fuel, and the Bullet Farm, which has the weapons.

With computer systems wiped out, the wasteland is filled with whatever can be cobbled together from a more robust technological era. "Everything is found objects," says Miller. Everything on screen, including the wardrobe, weapons, vehicles, dialogue and the way the actors behave, was created from these found objects. Two other rules governed what takes place in the movie. "Just because it's after the apocalypse, it doesn't mean people can't make beautiful things. We see that in early man. The palaeolithics did all that wonderful rock art. In refugee camps in the most impoverished parts of the world, they can make beautiful things. And just because it's the wasteland, it doesn't mean people lose their sense of humour. There's a certain rambunctiousness to the world and the story."

As he talks, editor Margaret Sixel – Miller's partner – arrives in the office. When he praises her "massive brain", she jokes that "together we make the complete person".

He chimes in: "If you can imagine the world's biggest Rubik's Cube, that's what Margie had to deal with."

She chips back: "It takes you three months to view all the material, just watching, before you can do anything – it's the bloody digital cameras they can stick everywhere. Then everyone leaves and the poor editor is left in the cutting room. 'See you later, guys. There's 400 hours. Good luck.' "

The movie has a rapid-cutting style that reflects Miller's view that audiences can process information much quicker than years ago. While Mad Max 2 was made up of 1200 shots, Fury Road has more than twice that many at 2750. "Film language – this relatively new language – has evolved that much in 30 years," says Miller.

What keeps him making movies is the same intense curiosity that once drew him to medicine, a fascination with the power of stories and a passion for new filmmaking technology. "It took us 10 years to get the technology to make Babe talk," he says. "The Happy Feet movies came from seeing motion capture and developing it when [cinematographer] Andrew Lesnie came from Lord of the Rings and showed me the first Gollum motion capture."

Doug Mitchell, who joined what is now called Kennedy Miller Mitchell after Mad Max 2 and took over as producer when Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983, says the good doctor's genial nature is deceptive. "You've got to be tough," Mitchell says. "George is very gentle and very humorous and very affable but behind that he's a very capable, strong man. You can't lead a company into a filmmaking venture like this without that."

Back when John Howard was still prime minister, Miller planned to shoot Fury Road in and around Broken Hill in western NSW, with Mel Gibson returning as Max. But shortly before filming in 2003, production stalled due to the looming Iraq War, the rising US dollar, insurance issues and problems with the star's deal.

When the movie was eventually revived – with Miller making two Happy Feet movies in the interim – filming was delayed again when heavy rain caused the desert around Broken Hill to bloom in 2009. And it was delayed again when the desert was still too green in 2010 for a start the following year.

After the first delay, Gibson was no longer young enough (and becoming too controversial) to play the role. Miller wanted to replace him with Heath Ledger until his sudden death in 2008. So the role went to Tom Hardy, best known for Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. "In casting sessions, Tom Hardy walked through the door and I just got the same intense vibe that I got when Mel Gibson first walked through the door," Miller says. They both have "an animal-like charisma".

While Beyond Thunderdome was made with Warner Bros, Miller's unhappy experience trying to make the sci-fi movie Contact with the studio meant Fury Road would be made with Universal Pictures, which had great success with Babe. But after the movie stalled for the first time, it went to 20th Century Fox because of its deal with Gibson. When he dropped out, Warner Bros, with a new executive team, took over the movie.

Without Broken Hill, the filmmakers considered deserts in China and Chile but decided to shoot in Namibia in southern Africa, which had a variety of landscapes, a population that spoke English and enough accommodation for a crew that ranged from 1200 to 1700 during the shoot, plus a cast of 55. But it was prohibitively expensive to ship more than 200 vehicles and all those people across the world. "By the time we got to Namibia, the cost and the additional expense of getting there required us to cut back on what we were going to shoot," Mitchell says. They also found themselves fielding flak from Hollywood executives, who were fearful about what else could go wrong so far from home.

While Miller and his crew wanted to shoot for 150 days, the extra costs meant cutting back to 100 days in the Namibian desert and another 20 days in a South African studio. "The sacrifice was to cut off the start and the end of the film," Mitchell says. "George wisely agreed that was the way to go because at least we could get all the action in the desert, which was what we needed – the essence of the film. We'd find somehow, later on, a way to cope with the problem."

Two units went out to shoot moving vehicles every day – one with Miller directing, the other with stunt co-ordinator and second-unit director Guy Norris at the helm. Along the way, they abandoned plans to shoot the movie in 3D because it was taking too much time, deciding to convert the movie in post-production.

They persevered, making safety a priority as they shot from June to December 2012. From their base in the town of Swakopmund, they had to move a giant tent city six times to shoot in locations that allowed more rugged terrain, canyons and bogs.

Heat was not the only challenge. At times it was so cold the Wives wore overcoats and carried hot water bottles between takes. "I must confess I got massively stressed for a period out there in Africa, where I'd be on the phone at four in the morning to the States," Mitchell says. "There was a lot of noise going on through the film."

Former model Megan Gale, who plays a rifle-toting warrior named Valkyrie, describes the shoot as "completely surreal". "It was just wild," she says. "There were hundreds of guys in character. My first impression
was – everyone says it – it's mad, it's mental, it's just this crazy world that's just full of people who are desperate to survive and are ruthless. It was just a trip to see it on day one."

Gale was so thrilled to be involved that she took on the stunts she could handle safely, including one that involved rolling out of the way of pursuing vehicles after a motorbike crash. "I just had to trust that they would all drive and hit their mark and miss me," she says. "I had to just roll to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right over rocks. That was pretty exhilarating."

Gale says they shot the scene several times for different camera angles and that the expert stunt crew did exactly what they had to do each time. Even working in extreme conditions, Miller still made himself available to discuss dialogue and costumes to help her with the role.

"It was a gruelling shoot," she says. "I came in quite a few months after they'd been there and he was just collected and calm. I never saw him lose his cool, even logistically a lot of things were happening. There's always something that can go wrong, whether it's a car that breaks down or someone's sick or a stunt is not quite working, and he was just so calm."

Miller says shooting stunts "where if it went wrong, it could go horribly wrong" plus the heat, dust and long days in remote locations, were exhausting. "Every day for 120 days was doing heavy-duty action. It was the relentless quality of it that really took its toll."

Security was also an issue, especially with so many actors and the families of crew members who had joined the shoot. A former SAS soldier, John Iles, headed a security team and moonlighted as a warrior named Ace in the movie. "There were a number of burglaries and he was first there," Mitchell says. "John billeted himself near where the Wives were, so if
anything happened, I had an emergency hotline to him to get down and help."

Mitchell takes great pride in completing Fury Road without anyone sustaining serious injuries during filming. "Without patting ourselves on the back, we got through an extensive war in terms of the potential carnage with real vehicles going at speed – massive vehicles – not just one behind the other but in a convoy attacking each other."

If Fury Road is a hit, it will not be the last audiences see of Mad Max. While working on the movie, Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris came up with two other stories. One was due to be made as a Japanese-style anime but, with a full script written, has been held back as a live-action movie. The other story has been written as a 200-page novella. There are also plans for a Mad Max live-action arena spectacular with producer-director David Atkins.

Clearly as resilient as he is driven, Miller seems calm about what's at stake. A movie made with a budget of $US150 million to $US200 million – and possibly costing more than $US240 million, including government subsidies – will open on the same weekend in every major cinema territory bar Japan and China.

"Our test screenings have gone well," says Miller. "I'm very cautiously hoping for the best but that's not to say that all this effort won't be for naught."

Miller plans some family time – he and Sixel have two sons aged 19 and 14 and he has a 27-year-old daughter, Augusta, with former wife Sandy Gore – but clearly wants to turn more of those ideas that leap to mind crossing roads into movies. "I often say that if I end up in a nursing home staring into the distance, I'll be playing some movie in my head," he says.

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 30.04.2015

Tom Hardy fires up as Mad Max. Photo Jasin Boland Warner Bros. Entertainment

On the set of Mad Max: Fury Road with director George Miller

Sydney Morning Herald

April 25, 2015

Garry Maddox


The badlands of the latest Mad Max movie have never looked more forbidding. But for director George Miller, it’s a happy homecoming.

Mad Max: George Miller's enduring anti-hero
Thirty years on, the iconic Mad Max franchise has been reimagined by its original creator.The result is an explosive, 'very Australian' modern action movie. George Miller talks to Garry Maddox.

Inside a cavernous sound stage in sweltering heat, a surreal scene is taking place. A band of skinny, shirtless men wearing filthy shorts and bandannas are clambering onto two giant steel turbines. On a command, they begin to pedal. The job of these sorry souls, called Treadmill Rats, is to operate a platform that brings battle vehicles and warriors up to a mountaintop citadel then back down to a desert wasteland.

Milling around nearby are a group of bald youths, also shirtless and wearing combat pants. They are daubed in white paint and marked with a menacing skull tattoo. Called the War Pups, they answer to a masked warlord known as Immortan Joe, who styles himself as a cult leader in the post-apocalyptic future.

Charlize Theron with director George Miller.
Charlize Theron with director George Miller. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

While the Treadmill Rats pedal, the War Pups lounge around waiting for their scene. A make-up artist touches up the white paint on one. Another has found a spot in the sun to study a school book.

Watching the action intently on a monitor is George Miller, the acclaimed director who is about to finally finish filming Mad Max: Fury Road at Sydney's Fox Studios.

The former doctor made his name with Mad Max in 1979, then followed up in 1981 with Mad Max 2 (known as The Road Warrior in the US) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. While he has had many other successes, including the Oscar-winning Happy Feet, the trilogy about a damaged cop roaming the lawless Australian wasteland remains a cinema landmark.

Tom Hardy fires up as Mad Max.
Tom Hardy fires up as Mad Max. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Still one of the most profitable films ever made, the first instalment launched an unknown Mel Gibson to stardom as Max Rockatansky and influenced countless celluloid versions of the post-apocalyptic future. Out of Miller's vivid imagination came such memorable characters as Toecutter, Goose, the Feral Kid, the Gyro Captain, Master Blaster and Aunt Entity, as well as an inspired range of futuristic vehicles.

And there, on the platform the Treadmill Rats have been lowering, is one of the icons of the series – Max's Interceptor, the black V8 muscle car he drove at turbo-charged speed in his battered leather jacket with a cattle dog by his side. Despite the heat, Miller is also wearing a black leather jacket as he directs one of the last of 135 gruelling days on the movie.

"I liked being hot from when I was making the first Mad Max," he says, joking that it might be an attempt to raise his metabolism, or just an idiosyncratic security blanket on set.

Charlize Theron muscles in as Furiosa.
Charlize Theron muscles in as Furiosa. Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Miller describes Fury Road as a "wild and operatic" chase movie that is neither a reboot, prequel nor sequel. "It's revisiting the world," he says. "For me, it's revisiting old friends."

Pursued by Immortan Joe's marauding hordes, a one-armed female warrior named Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, drives a giant tanker carrying a precious cargo – his five young wives – through the wasteland. Along the way, she gets help from Max, played this time by Tom Hardy.

In its 114 minutes, Fury Road features no less than 300 stunts, all performed for real on set rather than simulated in a studio with digital effects. "Old school", Miller calls it. There are enough crashes, jumps, tumbles and explosions for producer Doug Mitchell to describe the movie as "Mad Max 2 on steroids".

[[picture:"Future shock It took only minutes for George Miller to be inspired to make Fury Road It took 12 years to bring it to the big screen. Photo Tim Bauer.jpg" ID:22902]]

Future shock: It took only minutes for George Miller to be inspired to make Fury Road. It took 12 years to bring it to the big screen. Photo: Tim Bauer

As epic as that sounds, the movie's production has been even more so. Over 12 years, Miller has had to persevere during three major delays, with three actors down to play Max – including Heath Ledger until his tragic death – a switch of continents, three different Hollywood studios and enough financial challenges to sink just about any other movie.

And with up to 10 cameras shooting the action, Fury Road has been assembled from a huge 480 hours of footage. Back in the sound stage, it's time for a shot that has two War Pups reacting to Max's arrival off screen. They are joined by one of Immortan Joe's sons, Corpus Colossus (Quentin Kenihan), in a harness seat.

"Can we ask Jamie to just drop his head a little
bit," Miller says calmly into a microphone. "Crouch down. Not too far forward, Riley. And we're in action. The vehicles arrive. We're watching Max."

Around the corner, production designer Colin Gibson prepares for another shot. Up a ladder, he is painting a slogan on the wall of what looks like a cave: "There's a new world coming … she's already on her way."

This is the mountaintop vault where Immortan Joe keeps The Wives, played by a glamorous group of actresses and models: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Courtney Eaton, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough.

Gibson describes the cave as a combined harem, library, crèche and museum for all the flotsam and jetsam of history. "In a world of horror, this is an attempt to keep all the other bits of civilisation you don't worry about anywhere else," he says. "There's music, art, literature, plants."

A short walk away on the busy lot – Angelina Jolie is directing Unbroken and Russell Crowe is shooting The Water Diviner on other sound stages – Mitchell and Gibson show off more
of the dystopian world. Their team
has built 150 metres of tunnels, where Max is held prisoner and treated as a blood donor.

In another corner stands the truck that Furiosa pilots across the desert. Called the War Rig – one of three built for the movie – it looks like a battered dusty petrol tanker with chunks of two other vehicles welded on top, spiked wheels and a fuel-pod trailer.

"For George, this was Stagecoach, this was John Ford," says Gibson in a reference to the classic John Wayne western that takes place on the move. "There may be 10 million stunts happening out there but this is the stage for the drama. The beating heart."

Upstairs in the elegant Metro Theatre in Potts Point, three kilometres away, is an office with a rich history that dates back to some of the famous miniseries Kennedy Miller made in the 1980s. It was the prime minister's office in The Dismissal, a ship's bar in Bodyline, and a prison in The Cowra Breakout. Now it's Mad Max Central. George Miller's office.

With only weeks until Fury Road opens worldwide on May 14, the director is still flat out finishing all the different versions required for a Hollywood blockbuster: subtitled, dubbed, IMAX and various sound and 3D formats.

Beneath three whirring ceiling fans, signs of the movie are everywhere. There are large black models of the War Rig and another vehicle called the Doof Wagon, which urges warriors into battle in the movie with musician Iota playing a flame-throwing guitar. Elsewhere, some of the ornate steering wheels worshipped by War Boys, grown-up War Pups, hang on a wall, and a pile of movie posters are waiting to be approved.

For much of the production, the office was lined with 3500 storyboard panels that outline what happens shot by shot in Fury Road. "That's how we conceived the film," says Miller.

A genial figure behind glasses, the 70-year-old has long been one of the country's finest filmmakers, telling serious, thoughtful stories in a variety of genres.

Since forming Kennedy Miller with the late Byron Kennedy in the 1970s, George Miller has directed and mostly produced The Dismissal, The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo's Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, two Happy Feet films and the Mad Max trilogy. He also produced Babe (which he co-wrote), Bodyline, Vietnam, The Year My Voice Broke, Dead Calm and Bangkok Hilton. And he's done it all while living in Sydney rather than moving full-time to Los Angeles.

The four-time Oscar nominee – he was a winner for Happy Feet – traces his intense imaginative life back to a childhood based around play, without television, as one of four sons of Kytherian Greek immigrant parents in the Queensland town of Chinchilla.

After studying medicine at the University of NSW with his twin brother John, then working at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Miller was already making short films when he met Kennedy at a University of Melbourne film workshop.

He worked as a locum while they shot Mad Max around Melbourne, with the story influenced by seeing the damage caused by the country's car culture: the "death by autocide" in rural Queensland, and then dealing with the trauma as an emergency doctor.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've basically lived the imaginative life," Miller says. "I'm pretty hard-wired for that now. So these characters you've come up with, they live like imaginary characters in your head."

One of these characters, Max Rockatansky, unexpectedly jumped back to life as Miller crossed a street in Los Angeles in 1998. "Halfway across, this idea popped into my head," he says. "I thought, 'Oh my, that's a Mad Max movie.' By the time I got to the other side of the road, I said, 'There's no way I'm going to go anywhere near that because I've already done three.'

"Two years after that, I was on a plane flying across the Pacific during the night – from Los Angeles to Sydney – and the whole movie played in my head. It was in a rough form and it was very misty but the scenes played.

"By the time I landed, I told everyone, 'I think we're going to make another Mad Max movie.' "

Influenced by a love of silent movies and Alfred Hitchcock's theory about making films so people in other countries do not need to read subtitles, Miller conceived Fury Road as a helter-skelter action movie told largely through visuals rather than words.

After the apocalypse, there are no books, internet or TV, and language has become purely functional. So Max speaks just 41 lines and Furiosa less than 100. "There's very specific language in Fury Road but people don't do it recreationally and they don't think aloud because they're in extremis," Miller says. "They don't have time to think aloud."

The director and his team devised a new dark age. "All the worst-case scenarios we see in the news come to pass all at once. Economic collapse, power-grid collapse, oil wars, water wars and things we just didn't see coming. There's wholesale organ failure of all the things that glue us together. You jump 45 years into the future. All the coastal cities so far as we know have been razed. Great gangs have marauded like locusts across the land. In the centre of a continent like Australia, there's a new dominance hierarchy, where all the resources are controlled."

Immortan Joe controls artesian water from his citadel and trades with other warlords who run Gas Town, which has the fuel, and the Bullet Farm, which has the weapons.

With computer systems wiped out, the wasteland is filled with whatever can be cobbled together from a more robust technological era. "Everything is found objects," says Miller. Everything on screen, including the wardrobe, weapons, vehicles, dialogue and the way the actors behave, was created from these found objects. Two other rules governed what takes place in the movie. "Just because it's after the apocalypse, it doesn't mean people can't make beautiful things. We see that in early man. The palaeolithics did all that wonderful rock art. In refugee camps in the most impoverished parts of the world, they can make beautiful things. And just because it's the wasteland, it doesn't mean people lose their sense of humour. There's a certain rambunctiousness to the world and the story."

As he talks, editor Margaret Sixel – Miller's partner – arrives in the office. When he praises her "massive brain", she jokes that "together we make the complete person".

He chimes in: "If you can imagine the world's biggest Rubik's Cube, that's what Margie had to deal with."

She chips back: "It takes you three months to view all the material, just watching, before you can do anything – it's the bloody digital cameras they can stick everywhere. Then everyone leaves and the poor editor is left in the cutting room. 'See you later, guys. There's 400 hours. Good luck.' "

The movie has a rapid-cutting style that reflects Miller's view that audiences can process information much quicker than years ago. While Mad Max 2 was made up of 1200 shots, Fury Road has more than twice that many at 2750. "Film language – this relatively new language – has evolved that much in 30 years," says Miller.

What keeps him making movies is the same intense curiosity that once drew him to medicine, a fascination with the power of stories and a passion for new filmmaking technology. "It took us 10 years to get the technology to make Babe talk," he says. "The Happy Feet movies came from seeing motion capture and developing it when [cinematographer] Andrew Lesnie came from Lord of the Rings and showed me the first Gollum motion capture."

Doug Mitchell, who joined what is now called Kennedy Miller Mitchell after Mad Max 2 and took over as producer when Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983, says the good doctor's genial nature is deceptive. "You've got to be tough," Mitchell says. "George is very gentle and very humorous and very affable but behind that he's a very capable, strong man. You can't lead a company into a filmmaking venture like this without that."

Back when John Howard was still prime minister, Miller planned to shoot Fury Road in and around Broken Hill in western NSW, with Mel Gibson returning as Max. But shortly before filming in 2003, production stalled due to the looming Iraq War, the rising US dollar, insurance issues and problems with the star's deal.

When the movie was eventually revived – with Miller making two Happy Feet movies in the interim – filming was delayed again when heavy rain caused the desert around Broken Hill to bloom in 2009. And it was delayed again when the desert was still too green in 2010 for a start the following year.

After the first delay, Gibson was no longer young enough (and becoming too controversial) to play the role. Miller wanted to replace him with Heath Ledger until his sudden death in 2008. So the role went to Tom Hardy, best known for Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. "In casting sessions, Tom Hardy walked through the door and I just got the same intense vibe that I got when Mel Gibson first walked through the door," Miller says. They both have "an animal-like charisma".

While Beyond Thunderdome was made with Warner Bros, Miller's unhappy experience trying to make the sci-fi movie Contact with the studio meant Fury Road would be made with Universal Pictures, which had great success with Babe. But after the movie stalled for the first time, it went to 20th Century Fox because of its deal with Gibson. When he dropped out, Warner Bros, with a new executive team, took over the movie.

Without Broken Hill, the filmmakers considered deserts in China and Chile but decided to shoot in Namibia in southern Africa, which had a variety of landscapes, a population that spoke English and enough accommodation for a crew that ranged from 1200 to 1700 during the shoot, plus a cast of 55. But it was prohibitively expensive to ship more than 200 vehicles and all those people across the world. "By the time we got to Namibia, the cost and the additional expense of getting there required us to cut back on what we were going to shoot," Mitchell says. They also found themselves fielding flak from Hollywood executives, who were fearful about what else could go wrong so far from home.

While Miller and his crew wanted to shoot for 150 days, the extra costs meant cutting back to 100 days in the Namibian desert and another 20 days in a South African studio. "The sacrifice was to cut off the start and the end of the film," Mitchell says. "George wisely agreed that was the way to go because at least we could get all the action in the desert, which was what we needed – the essence of the film. We'd find somehow, later on, a way to cope with the problem."

Two units went out to shoot moving vehicles every day – one with Miller directing, the other with stunt co-ordinator and second-unit director Guy Norris at the helm. Along the way, they abandoned plans to shoot the movie in 3D because it was taking too much time, deciding to convert the movie in post-production.

They persevered, making safety a priority as they shot from June to December 2012. From their base in the town of Swakopmund, they had to move a giant tent city six times to shoot in locations that allowed more rugged terrain, canyons and bogs.

Heat was not the only challenge. At times it was so cold the Wives wore overcoats and carried hot water bottles between takes. "I must confess I got massively stressed for a period out there in Africa, where I'd be on the phone at four in the morning to the States," Mitchell says. "There was a lot of noise going on through the film."

Former model Megan Gale, who plays a rifle-toting warrior named Valkyrie, describes the shoot as "completely surreal". "It was just wild," she says. "There were hundreds of guys in character. My first impression
was – everyone says it – it's mad, it's mental, it's just this crazy world that's just full of people who are desperate to survive and are ruthless. It was just a trip to see it on day one."

Gale was so thrilled to be involved that she took on the stunts she could handle safely, including one that involved rolling out of the way of pursuing vehicles after a motorbike crash. "I just had to trust that they would all drive and hit their mark and miss me," she says. "I had to just roll to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right over rocks. That was pretty exhilarating."

Gale says they shot the scene several times for different camera angles and that the expert stunt crew did exactly what they had to do each time. Even working in extreme conditions, Miller still made himself available to discuss dialogue and costumes to help her with the role.

"It was a gruelling shoot," she says. "I came in quite a few months after they'd been there and he was just collected and calm. I never saw him lose his cool, even logistically a lot of things were happening. There's always something that can go wrong, whether it's a car that breaks down or someone's sick or a stunt is not quite working, and he was just so calm."

Miller says shooting stunts "where if it went wrong, it could go horribly wrong" plus the heat, dust and long days in remote locations, were exhausting. "Every day for 120 days was doing heavy-duty action. It was the relentless quality of it that really took its toll."

Security was also an issue, especially with so many actors and the families of crew members who had joined the shoot. A former SAS soldier, John Iles, headed a security team and moonlighted as a warrior named Ace in the movie. "There were a number of burglaries and he was first there," Mitchell says. "John billeted himself near where the Wives were, so if
anything happened, I had an emergency hotline to him to get down and help."

Mitchell takes great pride in completing Fury Road without anyone sustaining serious injuries during filming. "Without patting ourselves on the back, we got through an extensive war in terms of the potential carnage with real vehicles going at speed – massive vehicles – not just one behind the other but in a convoy attacking each other."

If Fury Road is a hit, it will not be the last audiences see of Mad Max. While working on the movie, Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris came up with two other stories. One was due to be made as a Japanese-style anime but, with a full script written, has been held back as a live-action movie. The other story has been written as a 200-page novella. There are also plans for a Mad Max live-action arena spectacular with producer-director David Atkins.

Clearly as resilient as he is driven, Miller seems calm about what's at stake. A movie made with a budget of $US150 million to $US200 million – and possibly costing more than $US240 million, including government subsidies – will open on the same weekend in every major cinema territory bar Japan and China.

"Our test screenings have gone well," says Miller. "I'm very cautiously hoping for the best but that's not to say that all this effort won't be for naught."

Miller plans some family time – he and Sixel have two sons aged 19 and 14 and he has a 27-year-old daughter, Augusta, with former wife Sandy Gore – but clearly wants to turn more of those ideas that leap to mind crossing roads into movies. "I often say that if I end up in a nursing home staring into the distance, I'll be playing some movie in my head," he says.

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Australian Financial Review on 06.12.2011

The tragedy and the trilogy

Australian Financial Review.

December EDITION, 2011

p. 32

Brook Turner

Photograph: Brothers-in-arms. George Miller (right) with his business partner and collaborator Doug Mitchell


It’s a measure of George Miller’s pulling power that his long-time studio Warner Bros has not only persevered with Mad Max 4: Fury Road, but pumped additional millions into a budget, initially reported at $100 million, to allow it to transfer to the Namibian desert, where it will begin shooting in April next year.

So, too, is the fact that Screen Australia has invoked the ‘Gallipoli clause’ – named for the 1981 World War I film that was shot partly on location in Egypt – to allow the film to still qualify as Australian for the purposes of the 40 per cent producer tax rebate that has single-handedly sustained the local film production industry.

Warner Bros gave Fury Road the go-ahead to shoot in Broken Hill in September 2010, 25 years after the last film in the series, Beyond Thunderdome. Then it rained and the desert blossomed. Pictures pinned to the walls of the ‘Fury Road meeting room’ at Miller’s Dr D studio show the desert around the lone pub, familiar from a thousand TV commercials, buried under a coral garden of brilliantly coloured flowers, alongside shots of some of Africa’s more extravagantly weird tribal people and a suite of swirling sunset-coloured sets straight off the side of a 1970s panel van.

“Happy Feet Two was made here because we live here and we want to make our lives here: the last thing we want to do is not make Mad Max here,” says Miller. “I seriously had to think about whether I wanted to disrupt my life and my family’s . . . it still weighs heavily. We were out at Broken Hill with a huge number of massive vehicles – they were built and parked for almost a year there. Some of them are back here, in secret locations not far from here. A full Australian crew picks up and goes there to shoot the desert scenes, and comes back here to do other scenes, then all the post-production and digital work is done here.”

As for the final size of the budget, “it’s confidential but it’s massive”, Doug Mitchell says. “Because the studio has so much money on the table, they did bravely step up their exposure. If you’re talking about a big film, an action film, find a budget that’s big and it’s that.”

So what’s a big budget for an action franchise these days? “If it’s above $100 million it’s a big budget,” says Mitchell. “This is a bigger budget. People have speculated around $200 million [which] I’d neither deny nor confirm. It’s a massive film.”

But not as massive as it may get. If Happy Feet Two fares as well as its predecessor, which took just under $US200 million according to Box Office Mojo, “there’s every expectation Happy Feet Three might be possible,” says Mitchell. That pales beside the potential of Mad Max. Because Miller has, in fact, written a whole new trilogy. “We started with [Fury Road], but we then started to do a second story and a third,” he says. “We’ve written the script for the second and almost finished the third. We never intended to, they were part of the exploration of the characters.”

The punchline is that “they’ll all come back to Australia,” says Mitchell. “So if we can bring a film from a different era alive again, there’s a huge amount of work for a lot of people.”


AFR Magazine

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Australian Financial Review on 06.12.2011

George Millers new script

Australian Financial Review.

December EDITION, 2011

pp. 1, & 28-34

Brook Turner

Photograph: Dr D studios at Sydney’s CarriageWorks, Redfern, Sydney. Photo by Nic Walker

Millers Crossing


Four years after reaching the pinnacle of his pfofession, George Miller has embarked on a whole new game.

As Brook Turner writes, it's one that has profound implications for the future of filmaking, not least in Australia


Sydney, Mid-October and summer has arrived in a day. By 10am, the skies have stormed and cleared, the bitumen steaming, the air drinkable. Not that you’d know to look at George Miller, a woollen scarf around his neck, tucked into a huge leather bomber jacket as he slumps in a chair at his Dr D Studios in Sydney’s CarriageWorks.

Gone is the trademark chilli shirt, adopted years back because it meant one thing less to decide each day. It’s four years since his last major roll of the dice, the penguin musical Happy Feet, which took out the Oscar and confirmed him at the pinnacle of his profession; six weeks before its sequel Happy Feet Two, opens in the US as Warner Bros tent-pole hope for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Miller has been the prototype of all his blue-eyed heroes, from Mad Max to the penguin Mumble, his landscapes always interior. “It’s almost embarrassing,” he says. “I live way too much in my head.”

Right now he is dressed for Antarctica. Or one last aerial raid. “At this point you’re always on a war footing,” he says. “When I made my first film, Mad Max, I was constantly bewildered, it felt so chaotic. I remember Peter Weir telling me a film was like a battle zone, and it’s true: you have to be alert, resilient, prepared for anything. There are lots of stumbling blocks along the way, but you have to prevail.”

Around him, out in the cavernous halls of what he calls ‘Penguin Prison’ (“but I’ll be on parole soon” ), geeks sit in the gloom adding feathers to bird carcases onscreen. They are the survivors of a workforce that peaked mid-August at 670. Pretty soon, however, even the stragglers will be gone. Some will be picked off by the the talent scouts who have already flown in from the northern hemisphere, while their handiwork flies north to lift (or not) the Warner Bros big top on a crucial US weekend.

The rest, the 50 or 60 on the longer-term contracts, will be made redundant within weeks. It’s the latest setback in a story that dates back to when George Miller last spoke to The Australian Financial Review Magazine in 2007. Back then, Miller deplored the creative brain drain under way, not least the computer-generated-imagery (CGI) talent he helped develop on Happy Feet, then watched disappear offshore to work on other international projects.

In the intervening years a director who has always kept Hollywood at arm’s length has done something about it, opening Dr D three years ago with his partner, Doug Mitchell, and Omnilab Media Group, to handle Happy Feet Two, their next project, Mad Max 4: Fury Road, and other animated-feature projects down the line. Even with most of the staff gone in mid-October, it’s a true Tardis of an operation. Outside the punters stream past from the Saturday growers market, eyes down as they navigate the puddles, oblivious to the dream factory lurking behind Dr D’s heritage facade.

Inside it’s day for night. Old rail carriages have been repurposed as offices. A single frame of a dancing penguin is frozen onscreen in the empty in-house cinema. The place is so big it requires its own generator, the sheer number of departments you pass through – art, animation, surfacing, stereo (3D), digital-crowd – an indication of the complexity of a project in the final fortnight of an extraordinary two-year production. In the middle of the main warehouse, the now deserted motion-capture stage faces what is effectively the bridge of this ship: a suite of demountables that serve as HQ for Miller and Mitchell, though they prefer to be interviewed in the ‘Fury Road meeting room’, a roofless cubby at one end of the hall, lidded in blackout fabric so it cannot be seen – worse, photographed – from the walkways above.

That is because their next Warner Bros-funded adventure, the most anticipated film of Miller’s career and the one he has fought longest and hardest to make – the one, too, on which this particular dream palace is about to founder, it transpires – is storyboarded around the walls in hand-drawn cells.

The Fury Road room is actually more a cubby within a cubby, given Dr D itself is just the largest and latest of the playhouses Miller has been building all his life, from Mad Max 2’s desert outpost to Beyond Thunderdome’s Bartertown, or the forts and tree houses that he and his brothers built as part of what he calls “an invisible apprenticeship in play” in Chinchilla on the edge of Queensland’s Darling Downs.

Problem is, this particular version was conceived in the good old days – pre-GFC, before a levitating Australian dollar and unseasonal rains in the NSW outback – as Miller’s answer to the mini-Hollywood Peter Jackson had conjured across the ditch in New Zealand, which has pumped out everything from James Cameron’s Avatar to his Hobbit films and Steven Spielberg and Jackson’s new blockbuster Tintin.

Dr D’s original ambitious scale was premised on handling at least a couple of major projects simultaneously. And, as anyone who’s cast an eye in the direction of the Australian film industry lately knows, that premise no longer pertains. The dollar’s impact on big-budget foreign-film production in Australia was confirmed by the annual production report Screen Australia issued in October, with no major foreign films shooting here for the first time in decades and even local features down almost 70 per cent in the last financial year to $88 million, from $400 million two years ago.

But even that isn’t Dr D’s essential problem. The studio was established to handle Miller’s creative projects. The workflow issue it faces is his rather than the broader industry’s. Fury Road was to shoot in Broken Hill in September last year, then April 2011, but heavy rain had turned the desert into a flower garden and the water table stubbornly refused to drop. The film will now shoot in Namibia from April (see box, p.32) with additional filming and post-production back in Australia. With Happy Feet Two poised to finish production when we speak, Dr D faces a reckoning familiar to boa constrictors: without decent-sized prey in view, it is about to shrink much as it grew, on the films it swallowed.

Not only is Max not ready, those headaches have “diluted” Miller and Mitchell’s “creative overview of other animated projects”, Doug Mitchell says, including what Miller refers to as “the most ambitious thing we’ve done”, a new animated bear film, Fur Brigade. That has meant a rethink of the Omnilab joint venture. Not that Miller’s latest and greatest cubby will necessarily cease to exist. At the time of writing, Miller and Mitchell were keen to continue on their own account with some restructured version – possibly renamed ‘Dr G’. And they could see a critical mass of work going begging that would sustain it between major films.

Mitchell is the latest in Miller’s long line of fraternal collaborators, from his actual twin John and brother Bill – his co-producer on everything from the Babe films to Happy Feet – to the late Byron Kennedy, with whom he founded Kennedy Miller in 1973. An accountant by training, Mitchell joined Kennedy Miller nearly three decades ago, becoming so central to its fortunes that it was renamed Kennedy Miller Mitchell four years ago. “It’s definitely part of the twin thing,” Miller says. “We’re brothers in arms.”

Six months prior the pair embarked on a concerted, behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade the federal government to extend the 40 per cent Australian producer tax rebate introduced in 2007, which has significantly mitigated the impact of the foreign production downturn by allowing star Australian directors such as Miller, Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby) and Alex Proyas (Paradise Lost) to bring big-budget, foreign-studio-funded projects to Australia. So much so that Screen Australia estimates production will almost return to 2009’s $350 million, when the likes of Gatsby and Paradise Lost are counted.

Miller and Mitchell want that offset extended to cover what are still quaintly referred to as video games. But if that sounds minor, it’s not. Because by video games they mean the whole interactive entertainment industry, which they suspect may yet prove the salvation of not only Dr D, but Australia in the fast-converging game of 21st century storytelling.

It’s a punchline Miller has been working towards for years. When he spoke to the Financial Review Magazine four years ago, he had just joined Hollywood's biggest agency, Creative Artists, for some heavy Hollywood help in understanding the way “the storytelling of games and the storytelling of cinema [were] converging”. Since then, “what everyone predicted would happen has happened,” he says. “This fantastic convergence, but to an astonishing degree, and much more rapidly than people had imagined.”

Which is why immediate action is required. Filmmaking has reached a tipping point, he says. Distinctions between platforms or genres no longer make sense, with a film’s release windows – cinema, DVD, download, even game – ever shorter stops on a single trajectory. “Multi-platform, that’s the thing,” says Miller. “Create once; publish many times, on multiple platforms. You create a world and then you go in to all the different platforms – your iPhone, your iPad, on the net . . .

“At the same time, animators are moving to live action and vice versa. I tend to conflate digital animation with the game world, but Pixar’s Brad Bird – who did [acclaimed animated features] The Incredibles, Ratatouille – just made [the Tom Cruise live-action film] Mission: Impossible IV, and Andrew Stanton, who did Finding Nemo and WALL-E, has just done his first live-action film, while Spielberg and Jackson have just moved into animation with Tintin. The result is that there are more roads leading in to the intersection, and they’re cross-fertilising much more rapidly than one might have predicted.” (The moment is commemorated within a fortnight of our interview in a Time cover devoted to Spielberg’s 30-year wait for the motion-capture technology to finally allow him to film Hergé’s classic comic strip).

The problem is that, unlike Jackson, Miller and Mitchell don’t have a compliant government to rush through emergency legislation, as the NZ Parliament did last October, amending employment laws to ensure the Hobbit films were made there. Not that federal arts minister Simon Crean, at work on his big, new cultural policy, hasn’t taken them seriously. “Simon’s popped in several times over the last six months,” Mitchell says, including a day spent watching Dr D at work. “And we’ve also had Kevin Tsujihara [president, Warner Bros Home Entertainment] visit Australia and meet Screen Australia. Simon has definitely understood it, and he’s discussing it with the treasury. And they get the point, but given the budget situation, it’s difficult to persuade treasury.”

Film-production incentives need to keep pace to capitalise on what Miller calls “an enormous opportunity for Australia”. As he sees it, potentially exponential shifts lurk in the cross-fertilisation of those previously distinct genres, platforms and formats. TV has long been hailed as the new film, the medium of choice for high-concept, long-form storytelling from The Sopranos to Mad Men. Now games, too, have turned filmic (and vice versa if you look at films like 300).

The examplar is LA Noire, the game developed by Australia’s Team Bondi using MotionScan to capture actors' performances, including hyper-real facial expressions, for New York-based Rockstar Games, home of Grand Theft Auto. Set in the 1940s Los Angeles of LA Confidential, but with multiple digressive story lines, LA Noire became the first video game to premiere at a film festival – Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival, no less – in April.

The Guardian’s perfect-score review is symptomatic of the fairly stunned reaction: “Ever since it first worked out how to assemble pixels so that they resembled something more recognisable than aliens, the game industry has dreamed of creating one thing above all else – a game that is indisting-uishable from a film, except that you can control the lead character. With LA Noire, it just might, finally, have found the embodiment of that particular holy grail.”

Not that that helped Team Bondi. Like filmmakers, local video-game makers had thrived for a decade while the dollar was low, and were decimated as it rose, Mitchell says, unable to compete with Canada, which offers a 40 per cent rebate for games, and Ireland, which recently introduced similar measures. Team Bondi got into difficulties as LA Noire emerged, as did Brisbane-based Krome, which Mitchell says had offices in Melbourne and Adelaide and employed 400 people at its peak, and was several million dollars into working on the game of Happy Feet Two at the time.

It was Krome’s travails that initially led to the formation of Kennedy Miller Mitchell Interactive, with Krome maintaining its Brisbane office. Since then they’ve “taken the risk and absorbed not only the Krome team but Team Bondi’s last standing warriors,” says Mitchell. “There’s never enough critical mass in this country to keep going,” adds Miller. “What’s fascinating, though, is that Team Bondi immediately went to work on Happy Feet Two. People can move from a game to a movie and be completely at home, because it’s the same skills, process – the same game.”

Which is why, after resisting the impulse for years, and watching imitators clean up, Miller is now finally going to make Mad Max, the game. Backed by Warner Bros, the game version of Fury Road was to be made in Sweden, until Miller saw what Team Bondi could do. He has also acquired the rights to Team Bondi founder Brendan McNamara’s next game, Whore Of The Orient.

“With the government’s support we can immediately go forward with two games,” says Mitchell. “Warner Bros is standing by, willing to do Fury Road; the incentive would bring it back here in a New York minute. It’s not immediately obvious but the potential in the video games sector is massive. Just from the statistics people are showing me, it’s a $60 billion industry fast-tracking towards $90 billion. And it’s not dominated by any particular country. Films are very expensive, so studios . . . are making drastically fewer of them, but much higher quality, and they invest in sequels, because they know that they’ve got an opening which they don’t have to buy with their marketing dollars as aggressively.

“They’ll make 10 films where they used to make 20. So, instead, people are drifting to game acquisition because of the budgets. The cost of a film may be $170 million – twice that to market it – whereas the basic cost of making a game might be 10 per cent of that. Look at LA Noire, they sold about 3 million units in a week, about $US135 million ($130 million) net revenue, off a cost base which was infinitely lower than even your average low-budget film.”

That will inevitably change how films are made. “There are technologies they have to develop in games because things need to happen more quickly in a game,” Miller says. “Those are going to speed up digital filmmaking and television way more, because they’re obliged to do it if they want things to look as real as possible and happen in real time. And that’s really pushing things – so that instead of years to make an animation film, that time could collapse.” Adds Mitchell: “Video games will end up the engines to distil TV episodes, movies, and generally move stuff very quickly in a much more cost-effective way, back out and deliver almost instantly to situations where you’re buying it online.”

But that’s just the business case. Characteristically it is the storytelling possibilities that have really seized Miller’s imagination. His apparently disparate oeuvre, with no film resembling its predecessor, has always been about finding fresh, compelling ways to entice punters into cinemas to watch essentially archetypal heroes’ journeys, from Mad Max and Lorenzo’s Oil to the cutting-edge animatronics that allowed him to film Babe a decade after he read the book; CGI with Happy Feet and now 3D with Happy Feet Two.

Each time, a technological breakthrough enabled a story to be told in a new way, providing a point of difference, a selling point. Games potentially represent the next quantum leap, he says. “It’s four-dimensional storytelling. A game can literally become the equivalent of a novel. That is the thing that people like me who write screenplays envy about novelists: that you can actually stop time and explore little cul de sacs. Whereas in a movie, you’d love to stop and examine that character, but you can’t. You’re on a rail . . . and if you talk to Brendan [McNamara], who is the brilliant mind behind this, it’s all the same issues as film. Instead of writing a 100-page screenplay, he wrote a 2800-page screenplay. But it’s the same dialogue, acting, blocking, wardrobe, costume, lighting, vehicle simulations. It’s a movie that’s played interactively at home.”

Which leaves Miller at yet another interesting juncture. Happy Feet Two won’t materially affect his future: Warner Bros long ago gave Fury Road the green light; indeed the studio has supported its darling through hell and high water – literally. Nor does the old saying that “you’re only as good as your last work” apply as much in the film world. “If you have one success, one conspicuous success, it allows you about three failures before people start to question your efficacy,” Miller says. “I don’t know how Happy Feet Two is going to perform; no one does,” he says.

“But the great attraction of sequels is it gives you a chance to do it better. What makes me quite relaxed at the moment is I know we’ve made a better film than the first one. There’s no question this film is significantly better in virtually every dimension. And that makes me feel, well, at least I’m progressing. It’s incredibly tempting to just phone it in, to say, well, let’s just cash in. That’s absolutely not what drives me.”

So what, at 66, is it that makes him trade Penguin Prison for the Namibian desert and whatever work camp comes next. “Curiosity,” he says. “To work with this new media, it’s like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. It’s just so exciting.

“At my age, the saddest thing to me is that I’ve got way more stories than I’ll ever have time to tell. I somehow thought my imagination would plateau. It might mean that I’m in early dementia, but my imagination is way more fervent than it was, and it stands to reason. I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. My imaginative powers are probably the most muscular part of myself.”

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 20.11.2011

Snow Business

Sydney Morning Herald

Garry Maddox

November 19, 2011

Photograph: Cold feet ... (from left) Bo, Erik and Atticus were created for Happy Feet Two
.

On the set of Happy Feet Two Oscar winner George Miller opens up about emotional, intellectual and visceral storytelling (and dancing penguins).

A brutal deadline for Happy Feet Two is looming but George Miller could hardly be calmer as he reflects on how he has spent the past 3½ years.

''Here I am telling stories about singing and dancing penguins and six or seven hundred people are following me down that yellow brick road,'' he says, genially. ''It could be a madness.

''There's a millennium-and-a-half of human years put into this film. That's a crazy effort to put into a 90-minute film. So you've got to ask yourself the question: what's the purpose of doing it?''

..The acclaimed filmmaker is working with animation so complex it requires a ''render farm'' with 19,000 computer processors to create scenes, yet the location of the enterprise is decidedly 19th-century industrial.

Miller, beaming behind glasses, is talking in an old railway carriage converted into a conference room in the middle of the cavernous former locomotive workshop at CarriageWorks. His office is a construction hut plonked inside the building, near a crane.

All around, more than 600 crew recruited from 30 countries are working at computers, finessing the details of wings flapping, penguins waddling and snow scattering for the 3D sequel.

''You go back a century and there would have been people forging steel and making railway stock and massive cranes and people shouting,'' Miller says. ''Now they're making water and snow and fluff and hair and feathers on their computers.''

And the purpose of doing a sequel? For Hollywood studio Warner Bros, that's easy. Made in Sydney, Happy Feet charmed audiences worldwide with a comic story about Mumble the tap-dancing penguin, taking an impressive $US384 million at the box office. It beat Pixar's Cars to win an Oscar and entered popular culture to the extent that a lost penguin in New Zealand was named after the movie.

But for Miller, it's all about the storytelling. It's certainly not the awards, given he needs to ask his assistant where his Oscar is kept when Spectrum asks and has given away most of the rest.

The former doctor, 66, is deeply interested in not just how to tell stories but why we are driven to tell them.

''When you get down to it, you realise that stories do have a function,'' he says. ''It's clear that the way we survive as much as anything else is through narrative - the way we make the world coherent. I think it's wired into us …

''Our ancestors needed very powerful narratives and accurate narratives to help conduct their lives - all their moral codes, all their observations of the world, all their science was held in stories. Probably the most spectacular example of that is the Australian indigenous culture. We continue to do that, mostly unconsciously, but we do it.''

Happy Feet Two, which opens in more than 3600 cinemas in the US this weekend, has Mumble dealing with a son, Erik, who can't dance but wants to fly. Elsewhere in the Antarctic, a krill named Will tires of living at the bottom of the food chain and sets off on an adventure with his terrified friend, Bill.

The voice cast includes Elijah Wood returning as Mumble and Robin Williams as Ramon and Lovelace, with singer Pink replacing the late Brittany Murphy as Gloria.

Miller started thinking about a sequel before Happy Feet was released. He traces his vivid imagination back to a childhood based around play - without television - with his brothers in the Queensland town of Chinchilla.

''I thought as I got older my imagination would diminish,'' he says. ''But because I've been doing it all my life, it's even more active. Maybe a sign I'm going crazy. I have an intense imaginative life. There are so many stories; they just keep on coming.

''That's why I like writing: once you immerse yourself in a world, the characters and the world keep on playing on you … You live in an imaginary world with your imaginary friends.''

While it has an environmental theme that could easily upset conservative commentators just as happened with the original Happy Feet, the sequel is partly about parenting.

''It's Mumble trying to deal with his child as the world is in a rapid state of change,'' Miller says. ''Events are taking over. It's not leisurely parenting - he has to do it while the world is swirling around them, which is as it is for us. So it's not so much what he says to his child that influences him, it's what he does.''

The movie started with a script written by Miller with Gary Eck, Warren Coleman and Paul ''Flacco'' Livingston, which reflected what was learnt during a weeklong workshop with Antarctic experts. More than two years ago, this was turned into a rough prototype of the movie called a story reel, with basic animation and temporary voice-overs.

''We had a full run of the film that we could play for the whole crew, before the incredibly detailed and expensive work where we've got A-list actors coming in,'' says the co-director and director of photography, David Peers.

''We can actually watch the film and go 'this part's kind of slow, that doesn't work at all, people are confused at what that scene's about and everyone finds that character annoying' and all those kinds of things. So we can go in and revamp it.''

Miller wanted to know how everyone responded to the story reel, even the receptionists and cleaners. He is famous for remembering the names of crew members.

''We'd have big rallies out on the motion-capture floor where there was a wandering microphone so people could say 'I think Mumble is a dickhead because he did this' and so on,'' Peers says. ''You just find out where things are working and where they're not.''

At an early stage, every element of the Antarctic setting, including landscapes and characters, had to be created on computer. In the motion-capture process, performers including star tap dancer Savion Glover were covered in reflective discs, filmed dancing, then converted into digital penguins a second later on nearby screens.

Animators visited a zoo to study the way water beads off penguin feathers or take photos of leopard seals. Other times, they made faces in the mirrors on their desks and re-created the expressions on their characters.

The photorealistic style that made Happy Feet stand out from other animations five years ago adds to the complexity. Carrying it off for birds and animals is highly detailed work, especially when it comes to something like non-verbal communication.

''To be able to convince an audience that Mumble is unsure of something or is questioning something or is worried by something, all of that comes from facial expressions that are animated frame by frame,'' the animation director, Rob Coleman, says. ''So there's incredible detail put into what I call the micro movements around the eye - the movement of the eye itself, the dilation of the pupils, the movement of the head, just the slight pursing of the beak - just to tell you he's a thinking character.''

It doesn't stop there. Making the Antarctic landscape look realistic is a scientific as well as creative exercise.

''[We study] the behaviour of light on surfaces,'' says the production designer, David Nelson. ''We trace the light bouncing through the surface of the snow and how the light scatters about in the snow. We work out the refraction indexes of things, we talk in terms like 'sub-surface scattering' and we consider the absorption of the colour of the light as it goes into water.''

All those ''millennium-and-a-half of human years'' have gone towards the movie working on multiple levels - not just as fluffy entertainment.

''Stories have to be experienced at every possible level of the human being,'' Miller says. ''You have to experience a story emotionally, intellectually, viscerally. It affects the groin, the heart, the brain, the spirit. It affects an audience anthropologically …

''Some people look at the film and just might enjoy the dancing or some of the songs. It's very spectacular in 3D, so you might just enjoy being in Antarctica and seeing the spectacle … The thing I most want is that people get an immersive and hopefully meaningful experience from being in the cinema.

''The other thing is: the better the film, the longer it will follow you out of the cinema. You might remember it 10 years later or you might forget it before you get to the car park.''

Happy Feet Two opens in cinemas, in Australia, on December 26.

The storyteller

As writer, director and producer, George Miller has been a leading figure in Australian film for more than three decades.

His first success was with 1979's high-octane Mad Max, followed by the sequels Mad Max 2 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. He plans to shoot a long-delayed fourth Mad Max,Fury Road, in Namibia next year.

He also directed the landmark mini-series The Dismissal (1983) and followed up by producing Bodyline, Vietnam and Bangkok Hilton.

Back in film, he produced The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Flirting (1991), which both won best film at the AFI Awards, as well as Dead Calm (1989).

In Hollywood, Miller unleashed Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick (1987).

In 1993, he had his first Oscar nomination with Nick Enright for the screenplay for Lorenzo's Oil, which he also directed. He was nominated again as producer and writer with director Chris Noonan of the global hit Babe (1995).

Four years ago, Miller won the best animated feature Oscar for Happy Feet.

The star power

It says a lot about George Miller's standing that when he created two new creatures - tiny krill - for Happy Feet Two, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, two of Hollywood's biggest stars, took the roles.

''Matt Damon was between two Clint Eastwood movies and literally had a three-day break,'' the director says. ''He said his kids insisted he do it.

''And Brad, we'd talked in the past about doing a couple of films together. I said, 'Hey, do you want to do this one?'''

There was just one problem. The script had Pitt's character, Will, saying the line ''Will you please shut up.''

Miller says: ''He said, 'Can I please not say that line? I'm constantly telling my kids, ''Do not say shut up.'' If I say it in the movie, it's going to give them a licence to say it.'''

Miller agreed. The character now says: ''Will you please be quiet.''

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 20.11.2011

George Miller and the value of patience

Garry Maddox

Sydney Morning Herald

November 17, 2011

Photograph: George Miller and Lovelace from Happy Feet
.

He has been shooting films since Mad Max burst onto the screen more than 30 years ago but George Miller says he is still learning.

"The big thing about animation is you learn much more forensically so much about filmmaking and storytelling and, indeed, life," he says. "I know more about eyes than I ever did as a doctor. And I know more about snow for someone who's never really been in the snow. Most of all I know more about camera."

Miller, the Oscar-winning director of Happy Feet and now Happy Feet Two, cites fellow director Roman Polanski's dictum that there is only one perfect place for the camera at any given moment.

"It's not until you do an animation that you realise how absolutely true that is," he says.

"When you're shooting a [live action] film, you're basically winging it. You go on instinct as to where the camera should go. Compositionally there are intuitive rules about how you might do things.

"But what's striking about animation is you can take absolutely the same performance, the same sound, and vary the camera and the cutting pattern and substantially influence or change a scene depending on what you choose.

"It's a bit scary because you realise it's incredibly subtle. It's a big commitment but the level of learning is very, very intense."

Miller has also learnt the value of patience.

"I'll never forget that quote from Billy Wilder," he says. "He said the life of a director is waiting. In all the years – and he had a prolific career – he said I was waiting for actors, I was waiting the light, I was waiting for camera, I was waiting for studios or decisions.

"In all the years I shot, the time the film was actually running through camera totalled two weeks. All the rest of it was waiting."

The Sydney filmmaker has certainly needed that patience when it comes to shooting another Mad Max movie. He now plans to shoot the long-delayed fourth instalment, Fury Road, next year, with Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior) starring.

The movie was due to shoot around Broken Hill until heavy rain turned the desert into a garden, making it decidedly unsuitable for a post-apocalyptic landscape. After an international search for a new location, the movie will be shot in Namibia.

Miller has also been seeking studio backing for another animated film he has written and expects to take "a godfather role" in its production while directing Fury Road.

If his interest was once in how best to tell stories for the screen, Miller says his focus has shifted in recent years to why we tell them. It's a subject he has discussed at length with his friend and "storytelling brother" Nico Lathouris, who would ask questions like what are the ethics of what you're doing, what's the purpose of what you're doing, and what are the ethical requirements of storytelling?

Says Miller: "I think [writer and director] David Hare pointed this out: the extraordinary thing is we have more stories available to us than any other time in history so we have a deep need for them.

"Napoleon read every single book in French because there weren't so many books written in French during his time. Now you go into an airport book store, and on one shelf – let alone what you can find on Amazon and Kindle and everything else – there are massive amounts of stories ... We have this intense need for stories."

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Kytherian World Heritage Fund on 21.05.2011

Mark Drolc, graphic designer, with George, his passion

a book written about her father, by Ruby Brown Feros.

Mark is the preferred graphic designer and book compositor for the Kytherian World Heritage Fund.

He always strives for excellence, and makes an effort above an beyond the "call of duty".

In the case of George, his passion, Mark, at his own initiative, drove down to the Brown family property near Gunning, in south western New South Wales, to collate the photographs for the book, and get a "good" feel for the content.

He has designed a number of books for the KWHF in the past, and is currently working on three more.

On the Mark Design

Level 1, 135-137 Harris Street
Pyrmont 2009
NSW

p: +61 2 9566 1577
m: 0420 520 684
f: +61 2 9566 4495

Email On the Mark Design

http://onthemarkdesign.com.au/

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Kytherian Newsflash on 02.02.2011

Professor John Prineas. Medical pioneer awarded.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Reporter: Branwen Morgan
ABC

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Professor John Prineas has spent almost fifty years conducting research into MS (Source: MS Research Australia/YouTube)

Australia Day honours Doctors from various fields of medicine have been recognised in today's Australia Day Honours list.

Professor John Prineas, who specialises in neurology, has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his multiple sclerosis (MS) research.

Prineas has spent almost fifty years trying to understand the basis of the disease, in which nerve cells are gradually destroyed by a process called demyelination. MS affects an estimated 2 million people around the world and causes gradual disability.

Prineas, now an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney, where he was also a young medical student, says he is absolutely delighted to receive this honour.
"It is not just for me; it's a recognition of the all people and the groups I've worked with. And it's a terrific thing for the neurologists in Sydney," says Prineas.

The first of Prineas's seminal discoveries was published in 1979 in the journal Science. He produced evidence that the myelin sheath that coats and protects a nerve cell - like insulation tape - can regenerate.

In 1993, he demonstrated that the cells which make myelin, called oligodendrocytes, are recruited to sites of damage. These observations around the capacity of the nervous system to repair itself underpin today's 'remyelination' therapies for MS.
But it's his love of microscopes and desire to observe everything under a lens that has changed the course of MS research.

"We used to think that MS was an autoimmune condition, where the body's own immune system turns on itself and destroys the myelin," says Prineas. "But by examining tissue from people who have died when the disease is in its very early stages, we've shown that the myelin is not targeted in this way; rather the oligodendrocytes are committing suicide by apoptosis [programmed cell death]. And we don't know the trigger for this. So, now we have a whole new set of questions."

In 2009, Prineas was the first Australian to receive the biennial MS International Federation Charcot Award for lifetime achievement in research into the understanding or treatment of multiple sclerosis. He has treated a multitude of patients during his clinical career and authored more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Jim Saltis on 29.10.2010

ΤΑ ΤΕΣΣΕΡΑ ΣΠΙΤΙΑ. ΜΥ FOUR HOMES.

Author: Protopsaltis Dimitris ( Jim Saltis)

When Published: September 2004

Publisher: STAFILIDIS PUBLICATIONS Athens GREECE.

Available: Jim Saltis Ph. 93999767, and

Email Jim Saltis

and Kytherian Association

Email KAA

A book by Dimitris Protopsaltis ( Blaveri), known in Australia as Jim Saltis

PRICE: $25.00

The book is about growing up in the dynamic Greek community of Alexandria, Egypt during the Depression and right through the affluence that the WW2 brought to the city. It is narrative about the second Hellenistic époque in the History of this glorious city. Although it appears to be autobiographical it is in reality a mosaic of people that the author encountered during his growing up in Egypt. Their own and the author’s “ yom assal yom basal” as the Egyptians say, days of honey and days of onion. It is written in the distinctive Greek Alexandrine dialect, daringly sincere to the point of embarrassment.

The following independent anonymous critique describes the mood of this compacted literary attempt.


THE FOUR HOMES
Alexandria as I lived it (1926 till 1949)



Australia became his second country but Alexandria took roots to his heart and his memories of the twenty-three years that he lived there, are deeply etched in his memory and his heart and signposted his subsequent journey.

Dimitris Protopsaltis, a Greek from Egypt, remembers and reminisces the good and bad moments when he lived in a country so much different from Greece, a country filled with mystery and wisdom, where a mixture of civilisations is trying to coexist, struggling for a better tomorrow.

In a period of upheaval and a period of critical historic developments, a Greek from Egypt is confronted with the common destiny of all the foreigners in Egypt, the expulsion and uprooting. In his troubled childhood when the affluence and the poverty alternate following the historical developments, the romanticism, the eros, the friendship, refuses to submit to the harsh reality. They remain lively sentiments creating the heroes (real people) that are approachable and ordinary with human dimensions.

The conditions that the author lived are familiar to the Greeks from Egypt. But the manner that he is presenting them is simple yet at the same time gently he renders them a possession for everyone. The reader together with the author lives as an adolescent, an adult and attains manhood in Alexandria of yesterday that never returns.

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Kytherian Cinema Review on 12.04.2010

George Miller awarded France’s most prestigious artistic award, the Order of Arts and Letters.

Sydney, 10.03.2010

Honoured: Oscar-winning director George Miller. (Getty Images: Lucas Dawson )

Director George Miller was awarded France’s most prestigious artistic award, the Order of Arts and Letters. Miller received the award, known in France as Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, by French ambassador to Australia Michel Filhol at the opening of the French Film Festival in Sydney on Tuesday night.

The director of iconic films such as Mad Max, Babe and Happy Feet joined an elite group of artists outside France to receive the award, including Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg.

The Order of France was established over 50 years ago to recognise people who have made significant contributions to the arts.

George Miller

More detailed Biography

Miller was born in Brisbane, Queensland, to Greek immigrant parents: Dimitri (Jim) Castrisios Miliotis and Angela Balson. Dimitri Miliotis was from the Greek island of Kythera and he anglicised his "nickname" to Miller, and adopted it as his surname when he emigrated to Australia; the Balson family were Greek refugees from Anatolia. The couple married and settled in Chinchilla and had four sons. The first two were the non-identical twins George and John, and later, Chris and Bill Miller arrived.

George attended Ipswich Grammar School and later Sydney Boys High School, then studied medicine at the University of New South Wales with his twin brother John. While in his final year at medical school (1971), George and his younger brother Chris made a one minute short film that won them first prize in a student competition.

In 1971, George attended a Film Workshop at Melbourne University where he met fellow student, Byron Kennedy, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. In 1972, Miller completed his residency at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, spending his time-off crewing on short experimental films. The pair collaborated on numerous works after that.

Miller wrote and directed the Mad Max movies starring Mel Gibson (Mad Max, Mad Max 2 (known in the United States as The Road Warrior), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome); co-wrote Babe and wrote and directed its sequel; and co-wrote (with Nick Enright) and directed Lorenzo’s Oil. He also directed The Witches of Eastwick, starring Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Miller co-produced and co-directed many acclaimed miniseries for Australian television including The Dismissal (1983) and The Cowra Breakout (1984).

Miller’s role as producer of Flirting, Dead Calm and the TV mini-series Bangkok Hilton and Vietnam, all starring Nicole Kidman, was instrumental in the early development of her career.

Miller was also the creator of Happy Feet, a musical epic about the life of penguins in Antarctica.The Warner Bros. produced film was released in November 2006. As well as being a runaway box office success, Happy Feet has also brought Miller his fourth Academy Award nomination, and his first win in the category of Best Animated Feature.

Miller is the Patron of the Australian Film Institute and the BIFF (the Brisbane International Film Festival) and a co-patron of the Sydney Film Festival.

He is currently working as director for the upcoming film Happy Feet 2. On October 24th, 2009, Miller also confirmed that his next project will be the highly-anticipated third Mad Max sequel, currently titled Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sources: kythera-family.net, Wikipedia, Big Pond News

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 05.02.2010

Tap-dancing penguins return in Happy Feet 2

Kytherian, George Miller, at an event to launch the start of filming of Happy Feet 2 in Sydney

Picture: Peter Rae

Sydney Morning Herald

February 5, 2010


Hot and steamy conditions would frighten off most penguins, but not the batch tap-dancing and thumping around energetically in Sydney weather yesterday to give a taste of the sequel to one of Australia's most successful films.

The reason was they hadn't become penguins yet. They were still humans, but clad in all-black bodysuits – covered in what resembled tiny white lightbulbs – that help facilitate the technological wizardry that will transform them into animated penguins for Happy Feet 2.

During filming, "not only do we watch the dancers live, but if I look at the computer they are penguins live", filmmaker George Miller said at the launch of the sequel's production in Sydney's Fox Studios yesterday. "And not only that, they're in Antarctica".

"This is the exactly technology that drove Avatar, that drove Lord of the Rings."

Choosing Sydney to make the film is a boon to the local film industry, which has done it tough in a hard economic climate. The NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, said the choice was "terrific for our economy, terrific for our film industry ... it's supporting over 500 jobs locally over three years".

Happy Feet, about a tap-dancing penguin who succeeds against the odds, earned about $US384 million at the box office worldwide and won the 2007 Oscar for best animated feature.

Actors Robin Williams and Elijah Wood return as starring voices and both were on site yesterday but behind closed doors. Miller said the movie had "a different story – a lot of new characters".

The filmmaker said the movie industry was moving towards the intersection of arts and technology. Avatar – the biggest-earning film ever, with gross earnings topping $2.1 billion – had "shown us the way. And there's no reason that this can't be done in this country.

"In NSW and Australia I do believe we've been too lazy. We've let others steal the march. And now it's changing."

Miller pointed to what he called "the most advanced motion-capture studio in the world" at the vast CarriageWorks precinct in the inner city suburb of Eveleigh, a new studio reportedly set up under a deal in which Miller's production company leases the premises from the NSW government for a year.

Motion-capture technology enables people's movements to be filmed then fused onto computer-generated characters to enhance their real-life naturalism.

Miller, who came to prominence as the director of Mad Max three decades ago, will also use the studio to work on his planned fourth instalment in the franchise, Fury Road.

"There will be a huge amount of production going through there if we can keep it in this country," he said. "Everyone thought cinema was dead and now we're getting the kind of movies you're seeing now."

Keneally said the state government invested $5.7 million in 34 local film or television projects in the last six months of last year. "That generated $69 million in expenditure – a good return on investment, growing this industry in NSW."

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Sydney Magazine on 04.12.2008

Ed Psaltis. Sailor.

Winner of the Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. 1998. Ten year anniversary. 2008.

Eye of the storm

The Sydney Magzine. Issue 68, December 2008, pp. 42-51


Ten years after the most tragic events in the Sydney to Hobart’s history, the iconic race has moved on, writes Malcolm Knox


From a distance, the start of the
Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race looks as picturesque as a painters tableau, silent and graceful. Up close, it feels more like a rugby maul. There is yelling, sledging and sometimes a collision. Partly it is the combat of each yacht timing its run across the starting line; partly it is the congestion of more than 100 boats in Sydney Harbour.

The start of the 1998 race was typical. Barely had the starting gun tired at 1pm on Boxing Day than the 115-boat fleet’s biggest yacht, the 83-foot Nokia, crashed into two competitors less than halt its size:
Sword of Orion and Bright Morning Star. Accusations were shouted and red and yellow protest flags went up. The only boat ot the three to suffer moderate damage was Sword of Orion.

She was one of the best-crewed yachts in the race. Owned by Rob Kothe, she had as principal helmsman Admiral’s Cup sailor Steve Kulmar, a highly experienced yachtsman from Sydney’s northern beaches who’d sailed 16 Hobarts and five Fastnet races. Kothe and Kulmar had met for the first time that September, and Kothe had impressed the sailor with his professionalism. They started to put together an 11-strong crew that included an Englishman, Glyn Charles, 33, who had sailed in the Olympic Games and Admiral’s Cup as well as countless top-flight offsnore races; and a full-time sailing master, the “manager” of the boat, Sydney sailor Darren Senogles.

Among the crew was 24-year-old Sam Hunt, a junior member eager to learn. The professional ethic with which the Sword of Orion crew approached the race was typical of an era when the Hobart race was transforming from a “Corinthian” or amateur event into a professionalised, big-business one. Hunt embraced this fully, having wanted since he was a child to work his way into the elite ranks of offshore sailors who are known by skippers around the world and drawn on for crewing in the big "category one" races, such as the Fastnet off England, the big-budget racing off Newport, Rhode Island and Bermuda, and the Sydney to Hobart. Largely due to the rigours of the Hobart race, Australian offshore sailors are held in high esteem.

Sydney to Hobart sailors are generally versatile, able to squeeze into small boats of about 33 feet in
crews of six, or man maxis with crews of three times that, in more comfortable cabin conditions. But for the serious sailors, the three, four or five days it usually takes to sail the 1170 kilometres to Hobart are all about pushing themselves through sleep deprivation, seasickness and any number of unforeseen emergencies to race their boats quickly and safely.

Once Kothe and Kulmar had put their team together, they won the Hamilton Island regatta, a major lead-up to the race. Hunt remembers their serious team spirit mixed with family feeling. The day before the race, Kulmar and his wife, Libby, entertained crew and family at their Manly home.

Like the rest of the fleet, Sword of Orion’s crew had heard ominous if imprecise news from the pre-race weather briefing. Forecaster Ken Batt, from the Bureau of Meteorology, told the skippers there was a storm brewing further south, but due to the complex way in which different weather systems were converging, the three main models used for forecasts were in conflict. It was impossible, Batt said on the eve of the race, to know precisely how severe the storm would be. That there would be a storm was not in doubt; the only question mark was around its strength.

Once they turned out of the Heads, the crews were on a high. The 115-strong fleet tore down the east coast in the first 24 hours so fast that the leaders, Brindabella and Sayonara, were several hours ahead of race record time. The fleet was past Eden in a day — by comparison, in the tough 1984 race, the fleet had taken four days to get past the south-coast town.

The joy of high-speed racing was tempered, however, by the knowledge that the forces pulling the fleet south were connected to opposite forces awaiting them. The clockwise-spinning low pressure system forming up of the edge of Bass Strait was, like a spiral, perfectly balanced: the leg that was slinging the fleet south would soon be met by the rotation of the system pushing up the other way.

The first yacht to retire from the 1998 race was ABN Amro Challenge, skippered by former world champion lain Murray and navigated by Adrienne Cahalan, the Sydney yachtswoman who had achieved almost everything in world sailing, from 18-footers on Sydney Harbour up to Whitbread Round the World flyers. As a navigator, Cahalan was, and is, right at the cutting edge of weather forecasting technology and interpretation.

“It’s hard to imagine from today’s perspective, but we had no internet on board, none of the instant computerised information that we rely on now,” she says. “Instead, we had paper charts and a VHF radio with a fax machine pumping out weather faxes.” Not all boats had barometers.

In 1998, ABN Amro Challenge didn’t make it as far as the storm that was building down south. They were sailing near Batemans Bay late on the afternoon of the 26th when Cahalan had just picked up a weather fax, which showed the low developing in Bass Strait.
‘I was looking at it with lain, and we were saying there wasn’t much space between those isobars — it looked severe. We were flying south under a 30-knot northerly, and then, bang, the rudder sheared off.”

The jolt nearly tossed Cahalan overboard through the lifelines:
“We had to turn in to Batemans Bay and were the first boat ashore.”

Cahalan was fully aware, however, of what was developing. “Bass Strait is very shallow, and when the seas are big and the wind is blowing strong against the direction of the current, the waves can stand up and break like waves on a beach. By comparison, you can have 85-knot winds in the Atlantic Ocean and be reasonably comfortable because it’s deep water and all the waves are the same height coming from the same direction and not breaking. Boats that had retired and wanted to sail away from the worst of it sailed north, which meant getting beam-on [side-on] to the waves, which increased the chance of the boat being rolled.”

Meanwhile, during the night of the 26th and the morning of the 27th the fleet was flying. Even the older wooden yachts were well ahead of where they would usually be, and Ian Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia and a veteran of a dozen Hobart’s, was aboard his vintage 37-footer, Canon Maris. Twenty-four hours into the race, Kiernan believes his boat was running second on handicap. Also up there was Winston Churchill, Richard Winning’s wooden veteran, which had been an entrant in the very first Hobart race 53 years before. There was a special affinity between Canon Maris and Winston Churchill, Kiernan recalls.
“They were treasured mates of ours, and embodied the qualities of mateship and helping each other that are the best things about this sport,” he says. “We were going like hammer and tongs to beat each other, as we would with any other boat, but it was always fair and tough competition.” As fair as it could be, of course, when father and son race against each other: on Kiernan’s boat was Jonathan Gibson, the son of John Gibson, a crewman on Winston Churchill who’d soon be involved in one of the most dramatic and tragic battles within the battle.

On a hunch, Kiernan had put some improved safety equipment on Canon Maris before the race; yet he had also lightened its weight, taking some equipment off. “I blame myself for what happened,” he says now. “I’d always carried a system of heavy line on the boat which would control the way the boat surfs when it’s going down a wave. We were lighter that year, and not getting that control. It’s fair to say that I always carry that heavier weight now.”

The turning point came with a ferocious suddenness on the race’s second afternoon. As it entered the funnel-like Bass Strait —known as “the paddock” — the fleet was met by winds from the south-west not only at the forecast 40 to 50 knots, but gusting to almost twice that strength. The sea’s surface was whipped white.

At 2pm on December 27, the boats did their “sked”, the twice-daily call-in. In a sked, the radio operator would ask each yacht for its position. It was forbidden for the yachts to give any more information — reporting weather conditions or anything else might give a competitive advantage to other yachts. But on Sword of Orion, Rob Kothe saw fit to break the rule, and for good reason: he reported that his crew was being mauled by winds gusting up to 78 knots.

The bombshell was registered by the entire fleet, all of whom were in severe winds and seas of up to 20 metres by then.

Ed Psaltis was skippering AFR Midnight Rambler, a 35-foot sloop he and Bob Thomas had bought only four weeks earlier. Psaltis was a second-generation Sydney to Hobart veteran; his father Bill was one of the best-known members of the sailing fraternity.

APR Midnight Rambler had been sucked into Bass Strait by the force of the cyclone with the rest of the fleet and was just off Gabo Island at the 2pm sked* (*slanguage for schedule(?) on December 27.

“When we heard Sword of Orion give the wind speed,” Psaltis says, “someone aboard said, ‘Hey, they’re not meant to do that.’ But I realised immediately that it was necessary for safety.”

AFR Midnight Rambler was close to both Sword of Orion and Winston Churchill, and bore the brunt of the storm. Being further southwest than much of the fleet, Psaltis decided to aim “high” into the wind, that is, in more of a southerly direction than most of the fleet, who were tempted to ease off towards New Zealand.

“It was a decision based purely on the direction of the waves coming at us,” Psaltis says. “If we’d headed away from the waves, we would have been beam-on and might have rolled. So we tried to attack the waves more directly. It wasn’t a racing decision; we weren’t racing, we were surviving. If our chances of surviving had been improved by turning around and heading north, we’d have done that.”

Having raced ahead of schedule into Bass Strait, the smaller boats were being pounded the worst. By 3pm rain was driving in like horizontal needles flung by the wind. On Canon Maris, Kiernan had had enough.
“I was off watch at the time and came up on deck,” he recalls. We were cascading down off huge waves in different directions. I said to [then the most experienced Hobart racer and navigator] Dick Hammond, ‘We’re going to roll this boat tonight.’ As a skipper, you have a huge responsibility to the people on board, and to the boat itself. I felt that even if we survived the night, we’d probably do great damage to this boat. So I said we should pull out. Dick growled, ‘Well, Ian, I agree.’"

One incident over the radio “put a dagger of icy fear in me”, Kiernan says: a mayday call from the Winston Churchill. “They were our mates, and we believed that they might all have been lost. Three of them died.” Jonathan Gibson, the member of Kiernan’s crew whose father was on Winston Churchill, would sail back to land and wait for several more hours, not knowing if his father was alive, before learning that he’d reached safety.

On Sword of Orion, the competitive drive, as strong as it was, also had to bow to nature. The crew had been fairly confident of racing on until about 3pm when wind gusts of an extraordinary 92 knots hit them and the irregular angles of the breaking waves, on average 12 metres high but up to 20 metres, put the yacht in constant danger of being rolled. When the barometer was down to 982 kpa — a massive drop in just a few hours — it flew off the wall with the force of a wave and smashed; Kothe and Kulmar decided it was time to retire from the race.
“It was a tough decision and a few of the guys were disappointed,” Hunt recalls. “It’s bad when you think of the time and effort you’ve all put in. But it’s the owner and skipper who make these decisions.”

The boom was lashed to the deck and the boat jibed ahead of the wind, not aiming for land so much as trying for the safest way to get out of the exploding low pressure system. Darren Senogles and Glyn Charles stayed on deck while the others went below to rest.

“I was lying on the middle of the floor sleeping on some sails,” Hunt says. Suddenly, at about 4pm, he was woken when everything went black and the boat was being pitched sideways down a massive wave. Then it rolled. The force of the capsizing motion bent the mast and wrapped it around the starboard side of the boat. After a few seconds the hull righted itself, but the crew below decks had been flung about like rag dolls, some sustaining minor injuries. Immediately, Hunt heard the sickening cry from above: “Man overboard.”

When the boat righted itself, Senogles discovered that Charles’ harness had broken and the Englishman was in the water with the boat drifting away from him in the wind and swell. Senogles told leading sailing writer Rob Mundle in his book Fatal Storm that he saw Charles try to swim a few strokes, labouring with an obvious injury, before losing sight of him.

“It’s self-explanatory what happened,” says Hunt, still emotional about the death of Charles. Senogles has found it hard to talk about the day, and politely declined the Sydney Magazine’s request for an interview.

After drifting on the sea for several hours more, Sword of Orion was located by a navy helicopter, and most of the surviving crew were winched up by a rescue team in the middle of the night while others stayed on board to get the boat to land. Glyn Charles’ body was never found.

There was mayhem in Bass Strait, with emergency services being swamped by calls and the navy called in. Winston Churchill had been abandoned. Three of its crew, Mike Bannister, Jim Lawler and John Dean, died during the night of the 27th when their life raft was rolled by a giant wave. John Gibson and John Stanley were the only two occupants of the raft to survive. On Business Post Naiad, one of the toughest handicappers in the race, skipper Bruce Guy died of a heart attack on board the boat and a crewman, Phil Skeggs, died on board from injuries sustained when the boat rolled. On the mid-fleet yachts there had been capsizes and rescues. In the space of a night, the fleet was decimated by nearly two-thirds.

Even for those boats that finished the race, the survival imperative overrode the racing instinct. AFR Midnight Rambler came through the terrible night of the 27th and progressed south. By the time Psaltis and his crew were alongside Tasmania, we had a lot of water down below, we were baling out constantly, we had no radio, no GPS, and were using only the compass to steer”.

Psaltis felt they were in a good position competitively, but it wasn’t until the high-frequency radio started working again off Bicheno that he realised the race had paled into insignificance.
“That was when we heard on ABC Radio that other boats had rolled, Winston Churchill had sunk and nine men were missing on its life rafts.”

Psaltis and his crew crossed the finishing line on the Derwent at dawn on December 30, tenth across the line and the winner of the race on handicap, the smallest yacht to win in a decade. Only 44 of the 115 starters got to Hobart; 24 boats were abandoned or later written off and 55 sailors were rescued. It was, says Psaltis, “the pinnacle of my career, a fantastic feeling, but mixed with terrible sadness. Jim Lawler had been a good friend of my father. When we were in Hobart, my father told me that Jim had died in the water. It was a tough conversation.”

Before 1998, in 53 years of the race, more than 35,000 sailors had contested the Sydney to Hobart. Only two had ever died from injuries sustained during the event and none had been lost overboard. The old saying about the race — wooden boats and iron men” — was confirmed by the 1998 event and enhanced by the heroics of the rescuers.

Nevertheless, changes were necessary, and 10 years on, this year’s race will carry the legacy of the 1998 event. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) held its own investigation, and combined its findings with the recommendations made by the NSW Coroner, John Abernethy, to reform the race.

Matt Allen, now the commodore of the CYCA and a sailor in 20 Sydney to Hobart races, summarises the new requirements:

“Fifty percent of each crew must have done the Safety at Sea course, a theoretical and practical course involving life rafts and other safety equipment and what to do during aerial rescues. Two crew must have first-aid training. Half the crew must have completed a category one ocean race, and all must be 18 years old or over. Before the start, all skippers must attend the 8 am weather briefing. There is a lot more compulsory safety equipment, such as personal EPIRBs [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons], personal strobes, and approved life vests. All yachts must carry a barometer.

“On Sydney Harbour before the race, all yachts must go past the starter with their storm sails up, to show they’re in working order. Then, during the race, all yachts must report their condition when they pass Green Cape and enter Bass Strait — just to give them pause to think and consider whether they’re ready for the rigours of the crossing.”
And then there is the “Sword of Orion” rule; “When winds are above 40 knots, it is mandatory for the boat to report those winds.”

These requirements have a financial cost, as well as changing the underlying character of the race. As Vanessa Dudley, a former world champion who is also editor of Australian Yachting magazine, says; “The overall experience has changed. The Hobart used to be the race that just came around at Christmas time, but now it’s a much bigger deal.
“There are a lot more full-time professional sailors and crews involved, and the cost of racing has gone up a lot. That’s the case with the sport generally, but the Hobart always used to be a very accessible race for ordinary club boats, unsponsored, with amateur sailors. It would be a shame it the race became inaccessible for dinghy sailors, like I was when I started.”

For all the skippers in the Sydney to Hobart race, preparation are now on more of a professional footing, whether they are full-time pros or not. They assemble their crews earlier, do more racing together day and night, improve their personal fitness, prepare their on-board weight carefully, and test out their boats as rigorously as possible.
Although the past few years have been relatively calm, every Hobart race is an endurance event by its nature and all sailors know that any given year could be another 1998.

But Matt Allen says the amateur spirit hasn’t been drained from the event.
Love and War won the race on handicap two years ago, with an amateur crew and a 33-year-old boat. Of course it costs a lot to put together a line honours contender like Wild Oats XI, but you can still compete at any level. Yes, there used to be more crews that were dad and his sons and a few mates, but people take it more seriously now in a lot of respects, and that’s not a bad thing.”

In this year’s race, weather forecasting information available on the yachts makes 1998 seem like generations ago — which, in yachting terms, it is. Adrienne Cahalan will be navigating on one of the line honours favourites, Wild Oats XI. This will be her 17th Sydney to Hobart race.

Psaltis will be skippering another APR Midnight Rambler, the fourth yacht he has raced under that name. Kiernan will be sailing Canon Maris again, for the first time in the Hobart race since 1998. The reason he hasn’t done the race since then, he says, “apart from the fact that my family didn’t want me to do it again after that race”, is the need for a generous sponsor. This year, with Sanyo, he has managed that, and is racing again in a crew of six.

Hunt, now 34, achieved his dream of becoming a full-time sailor with a high reputation in all positions around the boat. Having spent most of his career doing the daredevil work on the bow, he has graduated towards the leadership positions on and around the helm. This year he will be on the brand-new 63-foot entrant Limit. But little, he says, was left to chance on Sword of Orion in 1998. Like other boats that got into trouble and lost sailors, it had one of the toughest and most gifted offshore racing crews. Yet so traumatic was that year that three of its crew decided not to race the Hobart again.

Not Hunt. “In 1999, Rob Kothe bought a new boat and called it Sword of Orion, giving it the same paint job as the old boat. Some of the guys had their doubts about that, but we went in the Hamilton Island regatta that year and raced together as a group. That was how we closed it all off.
‘A lot of good things have come out of ‘98. Ever since I was a kid, this race was one of the biggest things I could ever do in sailing. It still is. I’ve done the Fastnet and other ocean races overseas, but none of them is quite as big a test as the Hobart. And since ‘98, people have learnt to watch their safety all the time, down to the smallest detail. It’s safety first, all the time.”

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Australian Financial Review on 21.09.2007

George Miller. Filmography.

From the May 2007, Australian Financial Review Magazine article.


Entire Australian Financial Review Magazine article

George Miller. Notable Kytherian


George Miller’s Filmography

2006
Happy Feet
producer/director/writer

1998
Babe: Pig in the City
producer/director/writer
Fragments of War: The Story of Damien Parer (TV)
producer
The Clean Machine (TV)
producer

1997
White Fellas Dreaming
producer/director/writer

1995
Babe
producer/writer
Video Fool for Love
producer

1992
Lorenzo’s Oil
producer/director/writer

1991
Flirting
producer

1989
Bangkok Hilton (TV)
miniseries, producer
Dead Calm
producer/second unit director

1988
The Dirtwater Dynasty (TV)
miniseries, producer

1987
The Year My Voice Broke
producer Vietnam (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Riddle of the Stinson (TV)
producer
The Witches of Eastwick
director
Tausend Augen
(Thousand Eyes)
actor

1985
Mad Max Beyond
Thunderdome
producer/director/writer

1984
Bodyline (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Cowra Breakout (TV)
miniseries, producer

1983
Twilight Zone: The Movie
(segment four)
director
The Dismissal (TV)
miniseries, executive producer/
director/writer

1981
Mad Max 2
director/writer/additional
editor

1980
The Chain Reaction
associate producer
1979
Mad Max
director/writer

1971
Violence in the Cinema, Part 1
director/writer

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Australian Financial Review on 21.09.2007

George Miller. Films $1 billion man.

by Brook Turner

The Australian Financial Review Magazine May 2007
Front cover, pp. 26-38.

Curious George


To his friends he's the innocent Mumble. To his crew he's Lovelace, the Arctic witch-doctor, while the man himself thinks he's probably closer to Mad Max. Australia's king of the screen, George Miller, has drawn on aspects of all his heroes in his journey from Chinchilla to the pinnacle of the international game.

It's a hot Wednesday morning in February, the day after Sydney has migrated as one to see the Queen Mary and the QE2 outscale the harbour foreshore. Along the way, many have trawled past an old theatre down a side street in Kings Cross. It’s an easy building to miss; an art deco picture palace painted the colour of the sky, like a bluescreen. Inside, another leviathan is passing through town, almost unnoticed. But within days, filmmaker George Miller will dwarf even the big ships.

The following Saturday, Miller takes out the Oscar for his all-dancing, all-singing penguin musical Happy Feet. After two decades, the old croc hunter Mick Dundee is finally knocked from his perch as the top-grossing Australian film ever. Even pre-Oscar, Village Roadshow managing director Graham Burke predicts the film, which has taken more than $460 million in cinemas, will do a billion dollars before it’s finished, DVD and TV included. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair’s pre-Oscar special hits the street, its cover a chorus line of tuxedoed leading men and, on the gatefold, some rather bemused-looking penguins — the only guys who get lucky on the night.

As Miller sits in the stifling Metro Theatre, fiddling with the bits of sticky tape that replaced cigarettes 15 years ago, the coup seems anything but assured. The smart money is on the Disney/Pixar hit Cars, which beat Happy Feet (HF) to the Golden Globe. “The bookies have Cars winning, so I’m going in with fairly low expectations,” Miller says. “I’m definitely not going to be disappointed if we don’t win.”

That apparent equanimity belies just how much has been riding on HF. Miller’s last film, 1998’s Babe: Pig in The City, did comparatively poor business, just $US69 million ($85 million) as against the original Babe’s $US254 million. The filmmaker’s relationship with Hollywood, too, has often been fraught, largely because of an almost pathological determination to do things his way.

“He tried Hollywood; he went there and made The Witches Of Eastwick [1987], which he found the most galling experience,” says fellow director Phillip Noyce. “George is a single-minded creator, an auteur. He doesn’t like people telling him what to do. Others of us who are maybe not as exacting were able to work within that system. George decided he would create his own Hollywood in Australia, exploiting the Hollywood machine for its ability to sell and distribute movies, but retaining absolute creative control and business control.”

With HF, Miller has, as usual, started from scratch, telling an entirely new story in an entirely new way over a $US100 million, four-year production, despite the fact that neither the director nor Sydney effects house Animal Logic (AL) had made an animated feature before. To realise the film’s CGI (computer-generated imagery) ambitions, AL’s staff swelled from 150 to 550 at one point, redefining the possibilities of the medium and challenging America’s CCI supremacy.

The budget, too, grew “significantly”, says AL director Greg Smith. “Every time we would go back to [financiers and distributors, Warner Bros and Village Roadshow Pictures, and say we need a bit more, because the film did grow over its life, they had confidence in George’s vision, and they had confidence in our ability to execute it and so they kept saying yes, OK, we’re still with you’.”

Along the way, what started as a smaller film became a linchpin of Warner’s schedule, defending its honour in a signal year for animated features, and an era — as David Mamet noted in his recent book on the movie business, Bambi vs. Godzilla (Random House, 2007) — in which “studios bet their all upon the big-tent franchise film. It is increasingly difficult to market the non-quantifiable film, as the franchise model continues its advance toward total control of the studio’s budget and, thus, of the market,” Mamet noted. HF was both sui generis and a ‘tent-pole’ production; the need to match or better Babe’s almost fluky success was intense. “They put a lot more pressure on HF to deliver,” Miller confirms. “It’s a very tough business out there. It’s a huge gamble, for everybody, and for the studios it’s a big roll of the dice on the strength of the screenplay and filmmakers.

“The studio game is the toughest there is, aside from politics,” Miller continues. “They’re booking theatres
— 18,000 around the world — and they have to slot into their dates almost a year ahead. You’ve got advertising, promotion departments, toy makers, publishers with all that lead time ... people are seeing the movie in rough form and they’ve got to decide ‘how much do we put into the promotion of this film?’, ‘do we believe George Miller when he says he can deliver a film that is going to work with the public?’ It’s an act of faith for a studio. And it’s much more than a $100 million decision prints and advertising can double that, though a good proportion is shared by promotional partners.”

At stake is not only the film and studio’s fortunes, but also where exactly Miller gets to play in the increasingly high-stakes game that is mainstream cinema. “I think a lot was riding on HF,” says old friend Lynda Obst, the woman behind Sleepless in Seattle, The Fisher King and Contact, and author of the ‘surviving Hollywood’ bestseller, Hello, He Lied (Little, Brown, 1996). “George does work in such an uncompromising way, and so much on his own terms, that he had to show that his terms worked; he had to show that he was the king of the market, as we all knew he was.”

Another observer is blunter: “The support of Warner Bros to George over the years has been extraordinary ... and they were there again on HF, but it wasn’t going to happen again if this didn’t work.”

In the end, Miller does it again. Rolls the dice and breaks the house, as he’s done consistently, from Mad Max at the end of the seventies, through the rash of acclaimed, high-rating miniseries that Kennedy Miller produced in the eighties, to the phenomenon that an unassuming pig flick called Babe became in the nineties. On Oscar night he treads the boards with Scorsese, Spielberg and Lucas, the company in which it seems he will only become further entrenched. For, as The APR Magazine hears after the February meeting, Miller is talking to US monolith Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
— home to everyone from Brad Pitt and George Clooney to, it transpires, the new global player Animal Logic. When it comes to Hollywood power, CAA has the game sewn up — so much so that the satirical film site Defamer habitually pictures it as a ‘Death Star’ bent on movie-world hegemony.

At 62, after more than 30 years in the business, a director who has always kept Hollywood at arm’s length — living in Australia, dropping into LA when he needed to, some say to his detriment — looks to have finally come in from the cold. All the way into the Tinseltown mothership. As one observer puts it: “To the extent that George worked less than he should have — I think CAA will really help him. They’ll help him negotiate with real leverage and, when he’s not there, get his way.”

As Miller himself tells it, there’s much more to his CAA move than dumb ambition, however. Sure he’s been talking to the agency, he confirms back in Sydney a month later, specifically his old friend, CAA co-chairman Bryan Lourd, a super-heavyweight even among Hollywood heavyweights. But not because he wants — or needs — the muscle. He and Kennedy Miller (KM) partner Doug Mitchell can “go to the heads of studios directly”, he points Out. What he wants help navigating isn’t Hollywood power. It’s 21st century storytelling.

“It’s really about trying to understand what’s happening to the world out there, because it’s moving too rapidly and everyone’s stuck in a kind of old-school way of thinking,” Miller says. “On the one hand, it’s fragmenting into lots and lots of forms of media: everything from movies you can make on your phone to stuff you can almost self-distribute on the net to big blockbuster movies.

“And there’s a huge influence on world cinema from Asia, and, at the moment, Latin America. I’m very interested in anime [Japanese animation]; I’m very interested in the way that the storytelling of games and the storytelling of cinema are converging. There’s a constant interplay between narrative and the zeitgeist, in terms of both your own culture and of the global monoculture.”

In other words, the CAA deal isn’t about the tuxedoed giant who loomed across our TV screens from LA on Oscar night so much as Sydney George, local filmmaker and Tropfest patron. Still in his signature ‘chilli-shirt’. Still trying to figure out how to tell tales that seize the popular imagination; that chime with the times. “The nicest thing anyone has said to me — and this was someone in Hollywood I’d never expect it to come from — was that I was more interested in wisdom than power,” Miller says. “I’m driven by my curiosity; people don’t believe me but it’s true. I’m just trying to understand how to tell a good story on film. I’ve never thought in terms of career, if I had I would’ve been working in Hollywood and I would have made a lot more movies.

You can see his point. For a man whose hits have made fortunes — for years, The Guinness Book Of Records listed Mad Max as the world’s most profitable film — Miller seems uninterested in the trappings. Sydney’s always been his base. And while he splits his time there between the record-setting $3.75 million Whale Beach house he bought from Nick Whitlam in 1996 and an equally salubrious waterfrontage at Watsons Bay, both are said to be considerably more discreet than many of their neighbours.

As for the man himself, he wears one of two pairs of boots and seven identical chilli-emblazoned chef’s shirts every day. “It’s simpler,” he says. “I make so many decisions, particularly on animation, why should I have to think what I’m going to wear?” Film may have provided a very good living, but “if I’d really wanted to make money, I would certainly have put this energy into something else,” he says.

“I would be better off working in Hollywood, where you can line up film after film. There’s certain A-list directors doing one film a year or so ... whereas I’ve made very few. Because I like conceiving ideas, and writing and producing them, I like to get the story right. That’s why we try to stay as independent as possible, then you have a chance to control something of your own destiny.”

The marathon that was HF has allowed him to ‘download’ into screenplay form three of the stories always competing for attention in his head. At the February meeting, he’s fresh from talking to the studios about how they might roll out. One is Mad Max 4, titled Fury Road, which was set to go before HF until the US dollar’s post-Iraq collapse took with it the film’s budget and star, Mel Gibson. Fury Road will now re-emerge as a different kind of sequel, with a different kind of Max. There’s also a smaller, more intimate project he won’t discuss but will probably make next. An HF sequel is likely, as is greater involvement in the latest narrative form, games.

As he enters his seventh decade, Miller’s curiosity and appetite for filmmaking are undiminished. “In fact, they’ve only grown,” he says. “There’s many more stories I want to make than I have time to. And I’m realising it’s harder to make a successful film; the playing field itself is moving. We can barely grasp hold of it.” In fact, the movie business is shifting so fast that it’s gone from a traditional flat-field game, such as hockey, to one vast game of Quidditch, played in multiple dimensions, he says. And therein lies a dilemma, both for George Miller and Australia.

Technology means films can be made anywhere, as HF has again proved. But Australia has failed to keep pace in ways that are more profound. If film is our collective dreaming, as Miller said in his 1997 history of Australian cinema, we now find ourselves asleep and dreamless. “I tried so hard in this country to make local films ... but we are too small a nation in terms of our population and narrative history,” says the man who, as Kennedy Miller, mined those stories throughout the 1980s. “There are isolated pockets of brilliance, but it’s so difficult to sustain that; there’s just not the critical mass of people thinking rigorously enough, really trying to understand what cultural evolution is.”

It’s something Miller has long lamented. “I feel like I’m having this conversation with myself,” he says. “My kids know more about America because of The Simpsons, than they do about Australian culture — and I’m a cultural worker.” Australia’s ever-swelling creative diaspora is the result. “It’s not only our actors. Most of our top cinematographers have left and I’m watching it happen with CCI; all this great talent leaving for Hong Kong, Singapore, London, the US, Canada,” he says.

To stem the tide, Miller says, Australian governments of all persuasions need to be much cannier, not just about upping the tax rebate for film production to make us competitive internationally, but more generally about co-ordinating efforts to harness, and husband, local talent. “The Btacks government understands it because Victorians do,” says Miller, who estimates the production of HF injected $130 million into the NSW economy.

“I think a whole succession of South Australian govern­ments have, because Adelaide is a city dependent on the arts
But NSW and the federal government really haven’t paid much attention. There aren’t any votes in it. Bob Carr pretended he was some kind of patron of the arts — he was anything but. There was the rhetoric, but very little was done.

“People talk about film culture or moving-image culture. I’m talking about culture at large,” he says. “If you talk about film culture you’ve got to talk about moving-image culture and all digital media, and if you talk about digital media, you’ve got to talk about the national culture in every form. And if you talk about the national culture you’ve got to really try to figure out the world culture and where it is at the time. Unless you can contextualise all of that, you’re not in the game.

“That’s the reason why we’ve hooked up with Bryan Lourd and CAA, so that Doug and I can get into hardcore discussions about the state of the world,” Miller says.
“There are few people I can really have that conversation with here. And if you don’t, how can your work have any coherence. You’re going to end up very bewildered. And that’s what’s happening; there are a lot of people walking around very bewildered about what’s happening to — not just film culture — what’s happening to our culture at large.”

George Miller might have been born to make movies. Only the camera was ever missing. Not that that was immediately apparent, least of all to the kid himself. It was Phillip Noyce who first taught him to use an old wind-up Rolex at a 1970 students’ union workshop. Miller had won a place with a one-minute short. Noyce, five years younger, was his tutor. “All I could see was a film genius,” Noyce says. “I thought, well, I taught him how to load a movie camera, but I think that’s all I’m going to teach this bloke.

“He was the equivalent of a child who could already speak Latin, in terms of his film fluidity and vocabulary,” says Noyce. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole career. We gave the students one roll of film, two minutes and 45 seconds long, and they had to shoot a meeting, a chase, a confrontation and a resolution ... George came back with a primer of film grammar which absolutely had that puzzle in perfect place without any editing required. It was a movie, a finished movie, but completely constructed in the camera.

“He’s very instinctive but all of his decisions are guided by an astute, acute intelligence. Whereas most mortals might look at a problem from five different points of view, George has the capacity to look at it from 55.”

Graham Burke, who through Village Roadshow became the first investor in the Mad Max goldmine, a $25,000 investment that yielded a 1,500 per cent return, calls Miller “a genius; one of the guys who every so often gets a direct line to god. What George did with Mad Max was take Hollywood and action to a new level, as he’s done with [CCI in] Happy Feet,” Burke says. “It took Hollywood years to catch up with the visual style that George created in action. Lethal Weapon 1 was the first film that mirrored the quality that George had taken it to.”

“He’s not like anyone else at all in any country,” agrees Lynda Obst, speaking from LA. “He has a unique background and a unique vision and a unique way of working. Now what is that uniqueness? Well, for one thing, it’s self-invented. He doesn’t subscribe to any sort of theory of development or any school of development or any classical narrative technique, which can sometimes frustrate writers, because he has nothing at all conventional or circumscribed in what he is looking for.

“When we do development here, there’s a sort of conventional three-act narrative that we have imprinted inour brains like ducks and we cleave all of our ideas into that. Eventually George gets there but he doesn’t start there. And he does that in every aspect of production, whether he’s reinventing animation, or he’s reinventing characters ... he has to learn everything from scratch.”

With his non-identical twin John, and younger brothers Bill and Chris, Miller grew up in the small rural town of Chinchilla on the edge of the Darling Downs, about 300 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. His grandfather had anglicised the family name, Miliotis, well before George’s father Dimitri (Jim) emigrated to Australia from the rugged Greek island of Kythera. “The moment I landed there for the first time in 1989, in the middle of summer, it unlocked a great mystery for me,” Miller recalls. “I had no idea why my father, who left at the age of nine and never saw his mother again, felt so at home in this loamy, flat, dry place but there, on this Greek island was the same burnt grass, the same sound of the cicadas, the same intensity of light.”

It’s tempting to trace Miller’s intense feeling for landscape — the apocalyptic deserts of Mad Max (MM), HF’s glacial tundra — to Chinchilla. Certainly the local film screen dominated his childhood. The worlds he improvised with his brothers and the local kids as part of what he calls “an invisible apprenticeship in play”, also sound like early versions of what he would later create on film, from MM2’s cubby-like desert outpost to Thunderdome’s Bartertown.

“That was the big advantage of growing up in rural Queensland, without television,” Miller says. “We’d go to the Saturday matinee; it was a window to the outside world, and it would affect our whole week of play. I do not remember doing any homework. It was just out in the bush, on our bikes, on our horses, doing stuff with our hands. If we watched a serial or a movie about knights or gladiators, we’d make swords; we’d turn bin lids into shields, paint emblems on them. We’d dress up our horses and we’d be knights or cowboys and indians. There were the tree houses and the forts and everybody was involved, all the kids in town.”

The communal make-believe of movie sets, Miller constantly at their centre — he’s never had much use for a trailer
— suddenly seems inevitable. As does buddying up with CAA in the new, ever more global game. “Throughout my childhood, Sunday lunch was a dinner table of 20, 30 people, with kids from all over the countryside running around, spending the whole day together. My father reproduced the life he had as a kid in Greece. It’s rather like a film crew, really. You all run away to the circus together and you’re all intensely bonded, often on a distant location.”

Miller’s has always been a familial, often fraternal, enterprise. His first one-minute short was made with brother Chris. And it was at the Noyce workshop, after he and his twin John’s paths had diverged in their clinical years at medical school, that Miller met his MM partner fellow film fanatic Byron Kennedy, who became “like a brother”. Brother Bill, a lawyer by training, has co-produced everything from the Babe films to HF (a title he came up with). George Miller’s HF co-writers and co-directors included long-term collaborators John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman.

Miller’s wife of 12 years, Margaret Sixel is also his film-editing partner. The couple have two sons. (Miller also has a daughter, Augusta, currently studying at NIDA, with his former wife, actress Sandy Gore). A tall, natural beauty, as un-Hollywood as her husband, the South African-born Sixel is “very influential in a low-key way”, says one friend of the couple. In fact, her husband credits Sixel with turning Babe around, declaring an early cut too episodic and lacking in narrative tension, and suggesting the linking devices of chapter headings and singing mice. Doug Mitchell, an accountant by training who came to KM 24 years ago as Kennedy’s protégée, has been so central to its fortunes since Kennedy’s death that Miller plans to change the company name to Kennedy Miller Mitchell.

As Miller says: “You can’t run a country, you can’t run a business, you can’t run anything alone ... I’m very at ease collaborating; I think it’s because I had a twin brother with whom I spent every day for 24 years, so I’m very used to that dance that happens between individuals.” Others say the intense personal and professional bond Miller enjoyed with Kennedy — they founded KM together in 1983, just months before Kennedy’s tragic death in a helicopter accident — has been harder to replicate. After all, Miller has left the company name unchanged, until now. “Byron was his perfect partner,” Noyce says. “George has been the ultimate right brain, intuitive thinker, and Byron was left and right brain, and together they were the perfect filmmaking combination.”

“Knowing George and loving George you get to hear wonderful stories about Byron Kennedy, and how perfect it was when their partnership began,” says Lynda Obst, who collaborated intensively with Miller on Contact, flying in for three months at a time she calls “the most fascinating 18 months of my life”. “I think there was a half missing for a really long time that [Margaret] has filled to some extent, but that is still unfilled to another extent.”

From Chinchilla, George ended up at Sydney Boys High, around the same time as NSW Chief Justice James Spigelman, Nick Whitlam and Rene Rivkin. But even as he was fulfilling the second-generation-immigrant professional dream, something was missing. As a child he’d always drawn, made things. “There was a whole other part of me, that so-called creative side, that went almost unrecognised,” Miller says of his childhood. But his mother’s cousin was the sculptor Andrew Mayson, a legendary art teacher at Sydney’s Cranbrook School. “Andy was the only member of my extended family who gave me any encouragement in the arts,” Miller says. “And then I encountered that second generation of European Jewish families who went to Sydney High. They just instinctively put store by the arts.”

Miller has Mayson’s ceaselessly creative hands, the same hands that form endless sticky-tape origami as he sits talking in the old Metro Theatre. It helps him think, he says, as the paraphernalia of smoking used to. “I’m driven,” he says of the creative process. “I must say, I still get this incredible — erotic’s not the right word, but it’s almost an erotic feeling of creativity, that endorphin high.”

Miller’s first big eureka moment came when he attended a lecture by the maverick American thinker and polymath Buckminster Fuller at university in the late sixties. “I’ve often been asked to talk about what a medical education meant to my filmmaking,” Miller says. “Probably the two most valuable hours I spent were in an architecture lecture listening to Bucky Fuller. There I was, a medical student who heard the word ‘synergy’ for the first time ... suddenly I thought ‘oh my god, the sum is greater than the parts’. I’d sensed that, but the idea had never consciously come into my mind ... I really set about trying to be a ‘comprehensivist’, as Fuller called them. I found myself going to the theatre, painting a lot, watching movies endlessly. And of course what’s more comprehensive than filmmaking ... everything becomes part of your purview.

“The campuses are dead now,” he adds as an aside. “Once they were great hotbeds of Australian culture. I think the govern­ment’s afraid that they’re hotbeds of political movements.”

Miller’s second great epiphany came when he heard the American writer Joseph Campbell speak on a rainy night in Santa Monica after he had made MM. Campbell’s thesis — that all religions and myths are basically one endlessly shifting and evolving hero’s journey — became Miller’s; an influence shared with the likes of Lucas and Spielberg. Indeed, Miller has worked in such a variety of genres — from MM’s R-rated action through miniseries as diverse as Bodyline, Vietnam and The Dismissal, to the passionately personal story of Lorenzo‘s Oil and the family-friendly Babe and HF — that it is hard to remember they’re all one body of work, let alone that Miller’s is always essentially a Campbellesque hero’s journey; that Max and Mumble — or Nick Nolte’s Augusto Odone in Lorenzo's Oil for that matter — all share the same blue-eyed gaze.

“They are the agents of change,” Miller says of the clear-sighted outsiders who are always battling deadly ortho­doxies in his films. “They’re the agents of evolution really, and it’s always been like that in our narratives — not just fictional stories, but those of our scientific, artistic, religious and political heroes. Any effective change basically follows the same pattern.”

And all, in a sense, are Miller. To Graham Burke, Mumble is Miller, from his “engaging freshness” to his “lovely innocent naïve quality”. Miller jokes that the HF crew thought he was more like the penguin nation’s shameless shaman Lovelace, the Arctic’s very own wizard of Oz. As for himself, “I like to think I’m Mad Max,” he laughs, quickly adding: “Not really.”

There is quite a bit of Max in George Miller though. “You need to be a creative warrior to make films,” he says at one point, and his career, from student filmmaker to the pinnacle of Hollywood, has been its own kind of hero’s journey. In person, he is surprisingly boyish, genial, unassuming, albeit with that ease particular to very successful individuals. He throws himself into the lengthy portrait shoot for this magazine, patiently taking direction to dance, to re-enact Oscar night, bend down to talk to an invisible penguin who’ll be superimposed later — “Oh God, I feel like an actor,” he moans — even giving a second lengthy interview on the hop.

He’s quite without ‘side’, as the English say. Perhaps as a result, he can also be hard to read. There’s a reticence, almost a Cheshire Cat quality, that may just be that childlike quality on which all who know him agree. “He seems to still have an innocence about him,” actress Nicole Kidman says, echoing Obst and Burke. Miller himself speaks of being “like a mirror . “Behind the camera, you’re an observer,” he says by way of explaining why it makes him self-conscious to talk about himself. “For the actor, I have to be a coach and provide an objective response to their work ... be a true mirror, as it were."

Everyone also agrees that Miller is singularly tenacious in pursuit of his story, and that seems to include the story of who he is, what he does, and why. Babe director Chris Noonan sparked headlines after he claimed in an interview with The AFR’s Michaela Boland in December that Miller had stolen the credit for the film’s success. “It was like your guru has told you that you are no good and that is really disconcerting,” Noonan, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, subsequently told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I regard George as one of the great Australian filmmakers and I don’t want to talk about our relationship. It’s a bad time to go there; it was a mistake to say it.”

“Chris said something that is defamatory: that I took his name off the credits on internet sites, which is just absolutely untrue,” Miller says, his first words on the controversy. “You know, I’m sorry but I really have a lot more to do with my life than worry about that.” The episode clearly still rankles, however, and he wants to set the record straight. “The Year My Voice Broke (TYMVB) was unquestionably John Duigan’s vision and Dead Calm was Phillip Noyce’s,” Miller says of two earlier films he produced. “But when it comes to Babe, the vision was handed to Chris on a plate.”

Miller’s battle for his version of the film of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact forms a whole subplot in Obst’s Hello, He Lied. The film finally emerged in 1997 under another director after Miller refused to agree to a release date until the studio agreed to his changes to the screenplay it had already green-lighted. Warner Bros called his bluff. “Oh is he tough!” Obst exclaims. “I mean he has incredible softness as well, but he’s fierce in his vision and he’s fierce and uncompromising in how he wants to work. He can’t be charmed ... I mean he loves to be charmed, he loves to be wooed but, at the end of the day, he’s going to do exactly what he wants.”

“Film is tough,” points out Foxtel CEO Kim Williams, who has known Miller for 20 years. “Making a film is the toughest thing you can do in creative life, and it’s not for the faint­hearted and you’ve got to have a will of iron, and you’ve got to be extraordinarily stubborn and you’ve got to be incredibly assertive and you’ve got to be confident even when you’re full of doubt, and you’ve got to fight ... it’s horrendously speculative and you’ve got to work so hard to protect your vision. And he does all those things.”

It was The Witches of Eastwick in general, and Jack Nicholson in particular, that forged that toughness. “It was an extreme version of Old Hollywood,” Miller says of the film, which he made after the three Mad Max films in the mid-eighties, the only time he’s directed from another’s script. “I ended up working with the highly dysfunctional producers who were deal makers but weren’t filmmakers, namely Cuber-Peters, Jon Peters in particular. The shocking thing behind any dysfunction in Hollywood is that you not only get rewarded for bad behaviour, you get punished for good behaviour. If you are polite, it’s seen as a weakness and if you make a commonsense suggestion to cut costs you are suddenly negotiable on everything.”

The director and his satanic leading man, on the other hand, “really bonded”, Miller says. “He’s one of the cleverest guys I’ve ever met, a true sage; I learnt more from him than from anyone else. And he just kept on saying ‘look George, you’re too nice, make them think you’re crazy’ ... and I started enjoying the bad behaviour. The more tantrums you threw, the more people paid attention. But after a while, I remember one old-timer said to me: ‘Be careful, because I worked on all the last three or four Sam Peckinpah movies — after a while it’s about getting back at them; it’s not about getting the movie made’.”

Instead, Miller returned to Australia and the Metro Theatre, which Kim Williams’s father, Greater Union boss David Williams, a film buff, had helped KM secure. He didn’t direct again until Lorenzo’s Oil five years later. The Metro is a building steeped in cinema history: Ginger Rogers danced there, Peter Finch played there, as did the original production of Hair. But many more layers have been added over the past quarter of a century. Parts of The Dismissal, The Cowra Breakout, Vietnam, Bangkok Hilton, and Babe were shot there. Miller worked there with Obst and Sagan on Contact. And it was in an old video alcove of the main theatre that John Duigan handed him the one perfectly formed script he’d ever read, the coming-of-age masterpiece The Year My Voice Broke.

Mel Gibson shot part of MM3 at the Metro and Kidman screen-tested first for Vietnam and then Dead Calm, the film that helped break her internationally. Like Michelle Pfeiffer, whom he cast in Witches against much more high-powered actresses, Kidman’s natural facility in front of the camera immediately impressed, as has her subsequent creative adventurousness. Miller compares her with Pfeiffer who, despite her technical prowess, “underachieved because she was just, creatively, completely conservative,” he says.

“Whereas Nicole takes my breath away because, unlike most of those people, she’s creatively incredibly daring, so she’s growing in her ability. Success often means the opposite.” That admiration is mutual. “He has always supported me and encouraged me,” Kidman says. “He is one of the primary reasons I went to America and was able to have a career internationally, and I think coming from a young girl to where I am now ... you never forget that.”

When Miller speaks to The AFR Magazine in February, KM’s Metro is empty, between projects, with few of its core staff of 12 to 15 in evidence. Miller says he’s kept the operation as lean as possible since moving out of television. “It’s very deliberate, because if you run too big a machine, you’ve just got to keep the machine fed,” he says. “It gives us the flexibility; we’re not forced to do anything. We’re not doing it because we have to.” To Obst, such independence has been the key not only to Miller’s success, but to that of “all the great Australian directors” who also just happen to be, she says, Hollywood’s best filmmakers. “I think they have a tremendous advantage. Hollywood wants them, so they can have Hollywood on their terms and, at the same time, they’re not of Hollywood so they can maintain their integrity.”

While KM may have scaled back in the ninties, there is no doubt it has been one of the few truly successful artist-as-busimsessman-run production companies. "George and Byron were always very astute businessmen,” Noyce says. When the rest of us started making hasically state-sponsored features in the 1970's, George and Byron did the most unusual thing of financing Mad Max [produced for just $350,000] 100 per cent from privàte investors, when noone else could find one, less than the usual 50% ownership. The company belongs to a utopian, and- rarely so suceessful tradition; founded on MM’s success much as Francis Ford Coppola founded American Zoetrope on the back of The Godfather in the early seventies and George Lucas Lucasfilm after Star Wars at the end of the decade.

But where Zoetrope petered out, and Lucasfilm turned into an expensive party to which no one came, as Peter Biskind wrote in Easy Riders/Raging Bulls (Bloomsbury), KM has gone from strength to strength. “George [Miller’sl idea was that they would establish something like....Zoetrope,” Noyce explains. "Coppola had the idea that they would reinvigorate the concept of the artist-as-businessman by taking a number of writers and directors onto salary. George and Byron took the same idea and decided that, initially, they’d create a stable of directors and writers who would be on salary and work within the comfort zone of a studio and that they would initially embark on revolutionising the face of Australian television.” It was the era of 10BA*. [*Australian Government taxation concessions at or beyond 100%, which attracted considerable funds for film investment in Australia in the 70's & 80's]. Miller takes up the story: “Rupert Murdoch bought Channel Ten and he did something that HBO has done in recent years, which basically transformed television,” Miller says. “He said ‘I want drama. I don’t care what it is, provided it's really bold’, and we said ‘well we’re not that interested in doing television but if we were we’d have to have no interference’.”

"There was nothing shallow about the way they approached the work on any level,” says Noyce, who co-directed The Dismissal and The Cowra Breakout. ‘Thev reached outside the film industry into theatre and brought in George Ogilvie who was a great theatre director, and he began to stage a series of workshops for actors, writers and directors which explored the nature of storytelling. And then the miniseries became a further investigation into storytelling, because they were making 10-hour miniseries, not to be screened one hour a week, but 10 hours in one week. It was absolutely unheard of....... what a commitment you’re asking from an audience, to turn up all night for four nights in a row to watch one story."

It was event storytelling.in a medium - television - that Miller helped redefine in Australia. In other words, that same synchronicity of medium, story and zeitgeist that he is still chasing with CAA something so novel, with such an attendant sense of occasion, that it captures people as the Queen Mary and QE2 have just done when he speaks to The APR Magazine. “I just know that every film you do has to have something that distinguishes it, lets it stand out,” he says. With Happy Feet; it was a revolution in CGI; with Max it was a new kind of road movie; and with Babe it was the cutting edge animatronics that finally allowed him to film Dick King-Smith's novel a decade after he read it.

As Murdoch moved on from Channel Ten in 1987, Alan Bond bought Channel Nine. "Sam Chisholm [then at Nine], called us and said, 'we don't do drama well; you guys do drama successfully. Do you want to take ours over?'.....Then Kerry Packer bought Channel Nine back and didn't like the agreement. Basically he wanted creative autonomy and he wanted to influence the way we worked too much." KM took [the 1990 agreement] to court, becoming one of the few to best Packer when an appeal was dismissed on their $8.1 million suit in 1994. By then Miller was playing a new game but, along the way, KM had helped hothouse generations of Australian talent, from Kidman and Gibson to Noyce, Duigan and Noonan to cinematographers Dean Semmler (Apocalypto), Don McAlpine (The Chronicles of Narnia, Moulin Rouge) and John Seale (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Talented Mr Ripley).

It's a roll-call that lends a singular weight to his concern about Australia's growing creative diaspora. It also points up his extraordinary versatility. Even if HF had tanked, there's no doubt he would have had several further Hollywood lives as a producer and director in another of the genre's he has mastered. “The extraordinary thing about George is how many filmmakers he started and how he has affected Australian culture,” says Obst. And yet ar the same time to he able to make great American and international movies as well. I really think you can only compare him to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas....He's one of the patriarchs of this generation of breakthrough Australian filmakers."

Kim Williams adds a local, historical perspective. “I think George is in that pantheon of great Australian filmmakers which stretches from Raymond Longford and Ken G. Hall and particularly Charles Chauvel.” Which begs the question Miller himself raises in speaking of the difficulty of making Australian films in Australia. In the l980s he helped refine our identity, telling this country its own story through a string of historic miniseries, even making that achingly Australian bildungsroman, The Year My Voice Broke. But, says Phillip Noyce, “George hasn’t made his quintessential Australian film statement personally. As a producer he has, working through other directors and storytellers, but it will be interesting to see if he feels compelled to make a uniquely Australian film with an Australian setting.”


QUOTES

“What George did with Mad Max was take Hollywood and action to a new level, as he’s done with [CGI in] Happy Feet. It took Hollywood years to catch up with the visual style.” Graham Burke.“

I’m realising it’s harder to make a successful film; the playing field itself is moving. We can barely grasp hold of it.” George Miller.


“He has incredible softness, but he’s fierce in his vision and he’s uncompromising in how he wants to work. At the end of the day, he’s going to do exactly what he wants. Lynda Obst


You can only compare him to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas...He's one of the patriarchsof this generation of breakthrough Australian Filmaker." Lynda Obst.


George Miller’s Filmography


2006
Happy Feet
producer/director/writer

1998
Babe: Pig in the City
producer/director/writer
Fragments of War: The Story of Damien Parer (TV)
producer
The Clean Machine (TV)
producer

1997
White Fellas Dreaming
producer/director/writer

1995
Babe
producer/writer
Video Fool for Love
producer

1992
Lorenzo’s Oil
producer/director/writer

1991
Flirting
producer

1989
Bangkok Hilton (TV)
miniseries, producer
Dead Calm
producer/second unit director

1988
The Dirtwater Dynasty (TV)
miniseries, producer

1987
The Year My Voice Broke
producer Vietnam (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Riddle of the Stinson (TV)
producer
The Witches of Eastwick
director
Tausend Augen
(Thousand Eyes)
actor

1985
Mad Max Beyond
Thunderdome
producer/director/writer

1984
Bodyline (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Cowra Breakout (TV)
miniseries, producer

1983
Twilight Zone: The Movie
(segment four)
director
The Dismissal (TV)
miniseries, executive producer/
director/writer

1981
Mad Max 2
director/writer/additional
editor

1980
The Chain Reaction
associate producer
1979
Mad Max
director/writer

1971
Violence in the Cinema, Part 1
director/writer

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Australian Financial Review on 21.09.2007

George Miller. Front Cover. Australian Financial Review Magazine. May 2007.

by Brook Turner

The Australian Financial Review Magazine May 2007
Front cover, pp. 26-38.

Curious George


To his friends he's the innocent Mumble. To his crew he's Lovelace, the Arctic witch-doctor, while the man himself thinks he's probably closer to Mad Max. Australia's king of the screen, George Miller, has drawn on aspects of all his heroes in his journey from Chinchilla to the pinnacle of the international game.

It's a hot Wednesday morning in February, the day after Sydney has migrated as one to see the Queen Mary and the QE2 outscale the harbour foreshore. Along the way, many have trawled past an old theatre down a side street in Kings Cross. It’s an easy building to miss; an art deco picture palace painted the colour of the sky, like a bluescreen. Inside, another leviathan is passing through town, almost unnoticed. But within days, filmmaker George Miller will dwarf even the big ships.

The following Saturday, Miller takes out the Oscar for his all-dancing, all-singing penguin musical Happy Feet. After two decades, the old croc hunter Mick Dundee is finally knocked from his perch as the top-grossing Australian film ever. Even pre-Oscar, Village Roadshow managing director Graham Burke predicts the film, which has taken more than $460 million in cinemas, will do a billion dollars before it’s finished, DVD and TV included. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair’s pre-Oscar special hits the street, its cover a chorus line of tuxedoed leading men and, on the gatefold, some rather bemused-looking penguins — the only guys who get lucky on the night.

As Miller sits in the stifling Metro Theatre, fiddling with the bits of sticky tape that replaced cigarettes 15 years ago, the coup seems anything but assured. The smart money is on the Disney/Pixar hit Cars, which beat Happy Feet (HF) to the Golden Globe. “The bookies have Cars winning, so I’m going in with fairly low expectations,” Miller says. “I’m definitely not going to be disappointed if we don’t win.”

That apparent equanimity belies just how much has been riding on HF. Miller’s last film, 1998’s Babe: Pig in The City, did comparatively poor business, just $US69 million ($85 million) as against the original Babe’s $US254 million. The filmmaker’s relationship with Hollywood, too, has often been fraught, largely because of an almost pathological determination to do things his way.

“He tried Hollywood; he went there and made The Witches Of Eastwick [1987], which he found the most galling experience,” says fellow director Phillip Noyce. “George is a single-minded creator, an auteur. He doesn’t like people telling him what to do. Others of us who are maybe not as exacting were able to work within that system. George decided he would create his own Hollywood in Australia, exploiting the Hollywood machine for its ability to sell and distribute movies, but retaining absolute creative control and business control.”

With HF, Miller has, as usual, started from scratch, telling an entirely new story in an entirely new way over a $US100 million, four-year production, despite the fact that neither the director nor Sydney effects house Animal Logic (AL) had made an animated feature before. To realise the film’s CGI (computer-generated imagery) ambitions, AL’s staff swelled from 150 to 550 at one point, redefining the possibilities of the medium and challenging America’s CCI supremacy.

The budget, too, grew “significantly”, says AL director Greg Smith. “Every time we would go back to [financiers and distributors, Warner Bros and Village Roadshow Pictures, and say we need a bit more, because the film did grow over its life, they had confidence in George’s vision, and they had confidence in our ability to execute it and so they kept saying yes, OK, we’re still with you’.”

Along the way, what started as a smaller film became a linchpin of Warner’s schedule, defending its honour in a signal year for animated features, and an era — as David Mamet noted in his recent book on the movie business, Bambi vs. Godzilla (Random House, 2007) — in which “studios bet their all upon the big-tent franchise film. It is increasingly difficult to market the non-quantifiable film, as the franchise model continues its advance toward total control of the studio’s budget and, thus, of the market,” Mamet noted. HF was both sui generis and a ‘tent-pole’ production; the need to match or better Babe’s almost fluky success was intense. “They put a lot more pressure on HF to deliver,” Miller confirms. “It’s a very tough business out there. It’s a huge gamble, for everybody, and for the studios it’s a big roll of the dice on the strength of the screenplay and filmmakers.

“The studio game is the toughest there is, aside from politics,” Miller continues. “They’re booking theatres
— 18,000 around the world — and they have to slot into their dates almost a year ahead. You’ve got advertising, promotion departments, toy makers, publishers with all that lead time ... people are seeing the movie in rough form and they’ve got to decide ‘how much do we put into the promotion of this film?’, ‘do we believe George Miller when he says he can deliver a film that is going to work with the public?’ It’s an act of faith for a studio. And it’s much more than a $100 million decision prints and advertising can double that, though a good proportion is shared by promotional partners.”

At stake is not only the film and studio’s fortunes, but also where exactly Miller gets to play in the increasingly high-stakes game that is mainstream cinema. “I think a lot was riding on HF,” says old friend Lynda Obst, the woman behind Sleepless in Seattle, The Fisher King and Contact, and author of the ‘surviving Hollywood’ bestseller, Hello, He Lied (Little, Brown, 1996). “George does work in such an uncompromising way, and so much on his own terms, that he had to show that his terms worked; he had to show that he was the king of the market, as we all knew he was.”

Another observer is blunter: “The support of Warner Bros to George over the years has been extraordinary ... and they were there again on HF, but it wasn’t going to happen again if this didn’t work.”

In the end, Miller does it again. Rolls the dice and breaks the house, as he’s done consistently, from Mad Max at the end of the seventies, through the rash of acclaimed, high-rating miniseries that Kennedy Miller produced in the eighties, to the phenomenon that an unassuming pig flick called Babe became in the nineties. On Oscar night he treads the boards with Scorsese, Spielberg and Lucas, the company in which it seems he will only become further entrenched. For, as The APR Magazine hears after the February meeting, Miller is talking to US monolith Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
— home to everyone from Brad Pitt and George Clooney to, it transpires, the new global player Animal Logic. When it comes to Hollywood power, CAA has the game sewn up — so much so that the satirical film site Defamer habitually pictures it as a ‘Death Star’ bent on movie-world hegemony.

At 62, after more than 30 years in the business, a director who has always kept Hollywood at arm’s length — living in Australia, dropping into LA when he needed to, some say to his detriment — looks to have finally come in from the cold. All the way into the Tinseltown mothership. As one observer puts it: “To the extent that George worked less than he should have — I think CAA will really help him. They’ll help him negotiate with real leverage and, when he’s not there, get his way.”

As Miller himself tells it, there’s much more to his CAA move than dumb ambition, however. Sure he’s been talking to the agency, he confirms back in Sydney a month later, specifically his old friend, CAA co-chairman Bryan Lourd, a super-heavyweight even among Hollywood heavyweights. But not because he wants — or needs — the muscle. He and Kennedy Miller (KM) partner Doug Mitchell can “go to the heads of studios directly”, he points Out. What he wants help navigating isn’t Hollywood power. It’s 21st century storytelling.

“It’s really about trying to understand what’s happening to the world out there, because it’s moving too rapidly and everyone’s stuck in a kind of old-school way of thinking,” Miller says. “On the one hand, it’s fragmenting into lots and lots of forms of media: everything from movies you can make on your phone to stuff you can almost self-distribute on the net to big blockbuster movies.

“And there’s a huge influence on world cinema from Asia, and, at the moment, Latin America. I’m very interested in anime [Japanese animation]; I’m very interested in the way that the storytelling of games and the storytelling of cinema are converging. There’s a constant interplay between narrative and the zeitgeist, in terms of both your own culture and of the global monoculture.”

In other words, the CAA deal isn’t about the tuxedoed giant who loomed across our TV screens from LA on Oscar night so much as Sydney George, local filmmaker and Tropfest patron. Still in his signature ‘chilli-shirt’. Still trying to figure out how to tell tales that seize the popular imagination; that chime with the times. “The nicest thing anyone has said to me — and this was someone in Hollywood I’d never expect it to come from — was that I was more interested in wisdom than power,” Miller says. “I’m driven by my curiosity; people don’t believe me but it’s true. I’m just trying to understand how to tell a good story on film. I’ve never thought in terms of career, if I had I would’ve been working in Hollywood and I would have made a lot more movies.

You can see his point. For a man whose hits have made fortunes — for years, The Guinness Book Of Records listed Mad Max as the world’s most profitable film — Miller seems uninterested in the trappings. Sydney’s always been his base. And while he splits his time there between the record-setting $3.75 million Whale Beach house he bought from Nick Whitlam in 1996 and an equally salubrious waterfrontage at Watsons Bay, both are said to be considerably more discreet than many of their neighbours.

As for the man himself, he wears one of two pairs of boots and seven identical chilli-emblazoned chef’s shirts every day. “It’s simpler,” he says. “I make so many decisions, particularly on animation, why should I have to think what I’m going to wear?” Film may have provided a very good living, but “if I’d really wanted to make money, I would certainly have put this energy into something else,” he says.

“I would be better off working in Hollywood, where you can line up film after film. There’s certain A-list directors doing one film a year or so ... whereas I’ve made very few. Because I like conceiving ideas, and writing and producing them, I like to get the story right. That’s why we try to stay as independent as possible, then you have a chance to control something of your own destiny.”

The marathon that was HF has allowed him to ‘download’ into screenplay form three of the stories always competing for attention in his head. At the February meeting, he’s fresh from talking to the studios about how they might roll out. One is Mad Max 4, titled Fury Road, which was set to go before HF until the US dollar’s post-Iraq collapse took with it the film’s budget and star, Mel Gibson. Fury Road will now re-emerge as a different kind of sequel, with a different kind of Max. There’s also a smaller, more intimate project he won’t discuss but will probably make next. An HF sequel is likely, as is greater involvement in the latest narrative form, games.

As he enters his seventh decade, Miller’s curiosity and appetite for filmmaking are undiminished. “In fact, they’ve only grown,” he says. “There’s many more stories I want to make than I have time to. And I’m realising it’s harder to make a successful film; the playing field itself is moving. We can barely grasp hold of it.” In fact, the movie business is shifting so fast that it’s gone from a traditional flat-field game, such as hockey, to one vast game of Quidditch, played in multiple dimensions, he says. And therein lies a dilemma, both for George Miller and Australia.

Technology means films can be made anywhere, as HF has again proved. But Australia has failed to keep pace in ways that are more profound. If film is our collective dreaming, as Miller said in his 1997 history of Australian cinema, we now find ourselves asleep and dreamless. “I tried so hard in this country to make local films ... but we are too small a nation in terms of our population and narrative history,” says the man who, as Kennedy Miller, mined those stories throughout the 1980s. “There are isolated pockets of brilliance, but it’s so difficult to sustain that; there’s just not the critical mass of people thinking rigorously enough, really trying to understand what cultural evolution is.”

It’s something Miller has long lamented. “I feel like I’m having this conversation with myself,” he says. “My kids know more about America because of The Simpsons, than they do about Australian culture — and I’m a cultural worker.” Australia’s ever-swelling creative diaspora is the result. “It’s not only our actors. Most of our top cinematographers have left and I’m watching it happen with CCI; all this great talent leaving for Hong Kong, Singapore, London, the US, Canada,” he says.

To stem the tide, Miller says, Australian governments of all persuasions need to be much cannier, not just about upping the tax rebate for film production to make us competitive internationally, but more generally about co-ordinating efforts to harness, and husband, local talent. “The Btacks government understands it because Victorians do,” says Miller, who estimates the production of HF injected $130 million into the NSW economy.

“I think a whole succession of South Australian govern­ments have, because Adelaide is a city dependent on the arts
But NSW and the federal government really haven’t paid much attention. There aren’t any votes in it. Bob Carr pretended he was some kind of patron of the arts — he was anything but. There was the rhetoric, but very little was done.

“People talk about film culture or moving-image culture. I’m talking about culture at large,” he says. “If you talk about film culture you’ve got to talk about moving-image culture and all digital media, and if you talk about digital media, you’ve got to talk about the national culture in every form. And if you talk about the national culture you’ve got to really try to figure out the world culture and where it is at the time. Unless you can contextualise all of that, you’re not in the game.

“That’s the reason why we’ve hooked up with Bryan Lourd and CAA, so that Doug and I can get into hardcore discussions about the state of the world,” Miller says.
“There are few people I can really have that conversation with here. And if you don’t, how can your work have any coherence. You’re going to end up very bewildered. And that’s what’s happening; there are a lot of people walking around very bewildered about what’s happening to — not just film culture — what’s happening to our culture at large.”

George Miller might have been born to make movies. Only the camera was ever missing. Not that that was immediately apparent, least of all to the kid himself. It was Phillip Noyce who first taught him to use an old wind-up Rolex at a 1970 students’ union workshop. Miller had won a place with a one-minute short. Noyce, five years younger, was his tutor. “All I could see was a film genius,” Noyce says. “I thought, well, I taught him how to load a movie camera, but I think that’s all I’m going to teach this bloke.

“He was the equivalent of a child who could already speak Latin, in terms of his film fluidity and vocabulary,” says Noyce. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole career. We gave the students one roll of film, two minutes and 45 seconds long, and they had to shoot a meeting, a chase, a confrontation and a resolution ... George came back with a primer of film grammar which absolutely had that puzzle in perfect place without any editing required. It was a movie, a finished movie, but completely constructed in the camera.

“He’s very instinctive but all of his decisions are guided by an astute, acute intelligence. Whereas most mortals might look at a problem from five different points of view, George has the capacity to look at it from 55.”

Graham Burke, who through Village Roadshow became the first investor in the Mad Max goldmine, a $25,000 investment that yielded a 1,500 per cent return, calls Miller “a genius; one of the guys who every so often gets a direct line to god. What George did with Mad Max was take Hollywood and action to a new level, as he’s done with [CCI in] Happy Feet,” Burke says. “It took Hollywood years to catch up with the visual style that George created in action. Lethal Weapon 1 was the first film that mirrored the quality that George had taken it to.”

“He’s not like anyone else at all in any country,” agrees Lynda Obst, speaking from LA. “He has a unique background and a unique vision and a unique way of working. Now what is that uniqueness? Well, for one thing, it’s self-invented. He doesn’t subscribe to any sort of theory of development or any school of development or any classical narrative technique, which can sometimes frustrate writers, because he has nothing at all conventional or circumscribed in what he is looking for.

“When we do development here, there’s a sort of conventional three-act narrative that we have imprinted inour brains like ducks and we cleave all of our ideas into that. Eventually George gets there but he doesn’t start there. And he does that in every aspect of production, whether he’s reinventing animation, or he’s reinventing characters ... he has to learn everything from scratch.”

With his non-identical twin John, and younger brothers Bill and Chris, Miller grew up in the small rural town of Chinchilla on the edge of the Darling Downs, about 300 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. His grandfather had anglicised the family name, Miliotis, well before George’s father Dimitri (Jim) emigrated to Australia from the rugged Greek island of Kythera. “The moment I landed there for the first time in 1989, in the middle of summer, it unlocked a great mystery for me,” Miller recalls. “I had no idea why my father, who left at the age of nine and never saw his mother again, felt so at home in this loamy, flat, dry place but there, on this Greek island was the same burnt grass, the same sound of the cicadas, the same intensity of light.”

It’s tempting to trace Miller’s intense feeling for landscape — the apocalyptic deserts of Mad Max (MM), HF’s glacial tundra — to Chinchilla. Certainly the local film screen dominated his childhood. The worlds he improvised with his brothers and the local kids as part of what he calls “an invisible apprenticeship in play”, also sound like early versions of what he would later create on film, from MM2’s cubby-like desert outpost to Thunderdome’s Bartertown.

“That was the big advantage of growing up in rural Queensland, without television,” Miller says. “We’d go to the Saturday matinee; it was a window to the outside world, and it would affect our whole week of play. I do not remember doing any homework. It was just out in the bush, on our bikes, on our horses, doing stuff with our hands. If we watched a serial or a movie about knights or gladiators, we’d make swords; we’d turn bin lids into shields, paint emblems on them. We’d dress up our horses and we’d be knights or cowboys and indians. There were the tree houses and the forts and everybody was involved, all the kids in town.”

The communal make-believe of movie sets, Miller constantly at their centre — he’s never had much use for a trailer
— suddenly seems inevitable. As does buddying up with CAA in the new, ever more global game. “Throughout my childhood, Sunday lunch was a dinner table of 20, 30 people, with kids from all over the countryside running around, spending the whole day together. My father reproduced the life he had as a kid in Greece. It’s rather like a film crew, really. You all run away to the circus together and you’re all intensely bonded, often on a distant location.”

Miller’s has always been a familial, often fraternal, enterprise. His first one-minute short was made with brother Chris. And it was at the Noyce workshop, after he and his twin John’s paths had diverged in their clinical years at medical school, that Miller met his MM partner fellow film fanatic Byron Kennedy, who became “like a brother”. Brother Bill, a lawyer by training, has co-produced everything from the Babe films to HF (a title he came up with). George Miller’s HF co-writers and co-directors included long-term collaborators John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman.

Miller’s wife of 12 years, Margaret Sixel is also his film-editing partner. The couple have two sons. (Miller also has a daughter, Augusta, currently studying at NIDA, with his former wife, actress Sandy Gore). A tall, natural beauty, as un-Hollywood as her husband, the South African-born Sixel is “very influential in a low-key way”, says one friend of the couple. In fact, her husband credits Sixel with turning Babe around, declaring an early cut too episodic and lacking in narrative tension, and suggesting the linking devices of chapter headings and singing mice. Doug Mitchell, an accountant by training who came to KM 24 years ago as Kennedy’s protégée, has been so central to its fortunes since Kennedy’s death that Miller plans to change the company name to Kennedy Miller Mitchell.

As Miller says: “You can’t run a country, you can’t run a business, you can’t run anything alone ... I’m very at ease collaborating; I think it’s because I had a twin brother with whom I spent every day for 24 years, so I’m very used to that dance that happens between individuals.” Others say the intense personal and professional bond Miller enjoyed with Kennedy — they founded KM together in 1983, just months before Kennedy’s tragic death in a helicopter accident — has been harder to replicate. After all, Miller has left the company name unchanged, until now. “Byron was his perfect partner,” Noyce says. “George has been the ultimate right brain, intuitive thinker, and Byron was left and right brain, and together they were the perfect filmmaking combination.”

“Knowing George and loving George you get to hear wonderful stories about Byron Kennedy, and how perfect it was when their partnership began,” says Lynda Obst, who collaborated intensively with Miller on Contact, flying in for three months at a time she calls “the most fascinating 18 months of my life”. “I think there was a half missing for a really long time that [Margaret] has filled to some extent, but that is still unfilled to another extent.”

From Chinchilla, George ended up at Sydney Boys High, around the same time as NSW Chief Justice James Spigelman, Nick Whitlam and Rene Rivkin. But even as he was fulfilling the second-generation-immigrant professional dream, something was missing. As a child he’d always drawn, made things. “There was a whole other part of me, that so-called creative side, that went almost unrecognised,” Miller says of his childhood. But his mother’s cousin was the sculptor Andrew Mayson, a legendary art teacher at Sydney’s Cranbrook School. “Andy was the only member of my extended family who gave me any encouragement in the arts,” Miller says. “And then I encountered that second generation of European Jewish families who went to Sydney High. They just instinctively put store by the arts.”

Miller has Mayson’s ceaselessly creative hands, the same hands that form endless sticky-tape origami as he sits talking in the old Metro Theatre. It helps him think, he says, as the paraphernalia of smoking used to. “I’m driven,” he says of the creative process. “I must say, I still get this incredible — erotic’s not the right word, but it’s almost an erotic feeling of creativity, that endorphin high.”

Miller’s first big eureka moment came when he attended a lecture by the maverick American thinker and polymath Buckminster Fuller at university in the late sixties. “I’ve often been asked to talk about what a medical education meant to my filmmaking,” Miller says. “Probably the two most valuable hours I spent were in an architecture lecture listening to Bucky Fuller. There I was, a medical student who heard the word ‘synergy’ for the first time ... suddenly I thought ‘oh my god, the sum is greater than the parts’. I’d sensed that, but the idea had never consciously come into my mind ... I really set about trying to be a ‘comprehensivist’, as Fuller called them. I found myself going to the theatre, painting a lot, watching movies endlessly. And of course what’s more comprehensive than filmmaking ... everything becomes part of your purview.

“The campuses are dead now,” he adds as an aside. “Once they were great hotbeds of Australian culture. I think the govern­ment’s afraid that they’re hotbeds of political movements.”

Miller’s second great epiphany came when he heard the American writer Joseph Campbell speak on a rainy night in Santa Monica after he had made MM. Campbell’s thesis — that all religions and myths are basically one endlessly shifting and evolving hero’s journey — became Miller’s; an influence shared with the likes of Lucas and Spielberg. Indeed, Miller has worked in such a variety of genres — from MM’s R-rated action through miniseries as diverse as Bodyline, Vietnam and The Dismissal, to the passionately personal story of Lorenzo‘s Oil and the family-friendly Babe and HF — that it is hard to remember they’re all one body of work, let alone that Miller’s is always essentially a Campbellesque hero’s journey; that Max and Mumble — or Nick Nolte’s Augusto Odone in Lorenzo's Oil for that matter — all share the same blue-eyed gaze.

“They are the agents of change,” Miller says of the clear-sighted outsiders who are always battling deadly ortho­doxies in his films. “They’re the agents of evolution really, and it’s always been like that in our narratives — not just fictional stories, but those of our scientific, artistic, religious and political heroes. Any effective change basically follows the same pattern.”

And all, in a sense, are Miller. To Graham Burke, Mumble is Miller, from his “engaging freshness” to his “lovely innocent naïve quality”. Miller jokes that the HF crew thought he was more like the penguin nation’s shameless shaman Lovelace, the Arctic’s very own wizard of Oz. As for himself, “I like to think I’m Mad Max,” he laughs, quickly adding: “Not really.”

There is quite a bit of Max in George Miller though. “You need to be a creative warrior to make films,” he says at one point, and his career, from student filmmaker to the pinnacle of Hollywood, has been its own kind of hero’s journey. In person, he is surprisingly boyish, genial, unassuming, albeit with that ease particular to very successful individuals. He throws himself into the lengthy portrait shoot for this magazine, patiently taking direction to dance, to re-enact Oscar night, bend down to talk to an invisible penguin who’ll be superimposed later — “Oh God, I feel like an actor,” he moans — even giving a second lengthy interview on the hop.

He’s quite without ‘side’, as the English say. Perhaps as a result, he can also be hard to read. There’s a reticence, almost a Cheshire Cat quality, that may just be that childlike quality on which all who know him agree. “He seems to still have an innocence about him,” actress Nicole Kidman says, echoing Obst and Burke. Miller himself speaks of being “like a mirror . “Behind the camera, you’re an observer,” he says by way of explaining why it makes him self-conscious to talk about himself. “For the actor, I have to be a coach and provide an objective response to their work ... be a true mirror, as it were."

Everyone also agrees that Miller is singularly tenacious in pursuit of his story, and that seems to include the story of who he is, what he does, and why. Babe director Chris Noonan sparked headlines after he claimed in an interview with The AFR’s Michaela Boland in December that Miller had stolen the credit for the film’s success. “It was like your guru has told you that you are no good and that is really disconcerting,” Noonan, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, subsequently told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I regard George as one of the great Australian filmmakers and I don’t want to talk about our relationship. It’s a bad time to go there; it was a mistake to say it.”

“Chris said something that is defamatory: that I took his name off the credits on internet sites, which is just absolutely untrue,” Miller says, his first words on the controversy. “You know, I’m sorry but I really have a lot more to do with my life than worry about that.” The episode clearly still rankles, however, and he wants to set the record straight. “The Year My Voice Broke (TYMVB) was unquestionably John Duigan’s vision and Dead Calm was Phillip Noyce’s,” Miller says of two earlier films he produced. “But when it comes to Babe, the vision was handed to Chris on a plate.”

Miller’s battle for his version of the film of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact forms a whole subplot in Obst’s Hello, He Lied. The film finally emerged in 1997 under another director after Miller refused to agree to a release date until the studio agreed to his changes to the screenplay it had already green-lighted. Warner Bros called his bluff. “Oh is he tough!” Obst exclaims. “I mean he has incredible softness as well, but he’s fierce in his vision and he’s fierce and uncompromising in how he wants to work. He can’t be charmed ... I mean he loves to be charmed, he loves to be wooed but, at the end of the day, he’s going to do exactly what he wants.”

“Film is tough,” points out Foxtel CEO Kim Williams, who has known Miller for 20 years. “Making a film is the toughest thing you can do in creative life, and it’s not for the faint­hearted and you’ve got to have a will of iron, and you’ve got to be extraordinarily stubborn and you’ve got to be incredibly assertive and you’ve got to be confident even when you’re full of doubt, and you’ve got to fight ... it’s horrendously speculative and you’ve got to work so hard to protect your vision. And he does all those things.”

It was The Witches of Eastwick in general, and Jack Nicholson in particular, that forged that toughness. “It was an extreme version of Old Hollywood,” Miller says of the film, which he made after the three Mad Max films in the mid-eighties, the only time he’s directed from another’s script. “I ended up working with the highly dysfunctional producers who were deal makers but weren’t filmmakers, namely Cuber-Peters, Jon Peters in particular. The shocking thing behind any dysfunction in Hollywood is that you not only get rewarded for bad behaviour, you get punished for good behaviour. If you are polite, it’s seen as a weakness and if you make a commonsense suggestion to cut costs you are suddenly negotiable on everything.”

The director and his satanic leading man, on the other hand, “really bonded”, Miller says. “He’s one of the cleverest guys I’ve ever met, a true sage; I learnt more from him than from anyone else. And he just kept on saying ‘look George, you’re too nice, make them think you’re crazy’ ... and I started enjoying the bad behaviour. The more tantrums you threw, the more people paid attention. But after a while, I remember one old-timer said to me: ‘Be careful, because I worked on all the last three or four Sam Peckinpah movies — after a while it’s about getting back at them; it’s not about getting the movie made’.”

Instead, Miller returned to Australia and the Metro Theatre, which Kim Williams’s father, Greater Union boss David Williams, a film buff, had helped KM secure. He didn’t direct again until Lorenzo’s Oil five years later. The Metro is a building steeped in cinema history: Ginger Rogers danced there, Peter Finch played there, as did the original production of Hair. But many more layers have been added over the past quarter of a century. Parts of The Dismissal, The Cowra Breakout, Vietnam, Bangkok Hilton, and Babe were shot there. Miller worked there with Obst and Sagan on Contact. And it was in an old video alcove of the main theatre that John Duigan handed him the one perfectly formed script he’d ever read, the coming-of-age masterpiece The Year My Voice Broke.

Mel Gibson shot part of MM3 at the Metro and Kidman screen-tested first for Vietnam and then Dead Calm, the film that helped break her internationally. Like Michelle Pfeiffer, whom he cast in Witches against much more high-powered actresses, Kidman’s natural facility in front of the camera immediately impressed, as has her subsequent creative adventurousness. Miller compares her with Pfeiffer who, despite her technical prowess, “underachieved because she was just, creatively, completely conservative,” he says.

“Whereas Nicole takes my breath away because, unlike most of those people, she’s creatively incredibly daring, so she’s growing in her ability. Success often means the opposite.” That admiration is mutual. “He has always supported me and encouraged me,” Kidman says. “He is one of the primary reasons I went to America and was able to have a career internationally, and I think coming from a young girl to where I am now ... you never forget that.”

When Miller speaks to The AFR Magazine in February, KM’s Metro is empty, between projects, with few of its core staff of 12 to 15 in evidence. Miller says he’s kept the operation as lean as possible since moving out of television. “It’s very deliberate, because if you run too big a machine, you’ve just got to keep the machine fed,” he says. “It gives us the flexibility; we’re not forced to do anything. We’re not doing it because we have to.” To Obst, such independence has been the key not only to Miller’s success, but to that of “all the great Australian directors” who also just happen to be, she says, Hollywood’s best filmmakers. “I think they have a tremendous advantage. Hollywood wants them, so they can have Hollywood on their terms and, at the same time, they’re not of Hollywood so they can maintain their integrity.”

While KM may have scaled back in the ninties, there is no doubt it has been one of the few truly successful artist-as-busimsessman-run production companies. "George and Byron were always very astute businessmen,” Noyce says. When the rest of us started making hasically state-sponsored features in the 1970's, George and Byron did the most unusual thing of financing Mad Max [produced for just $350,000] 100 per cent from privàte investors, when noone else could find one, less than the usual 50% ownership. The company belongs to a utopian, and- rarely so suceessful tradition; founded on MM’s success much as Francis Ford Coppola founded American Zoetrope on the back of The Godfather in the early seventies and George Lucas Lucasfilm after Star Wars at the end of the decade.

But where Zoetrope petered out, and Lucasfilm turned into an expensive party to which no one came, as Peter Biskind wrote in Easy Riders/Raging Bulls (Bloomsbury), KM has gone from strength to strength. “George [Miller’sl idea was that they would establish something like....Zoetrope,” Noyce explains. "Coppola had the idea that they would reinvigorate the concept of the artist-as-businessman by taking a number of writers and directors onto salary. George and Byron took the same idea and decided that, initially, they’d create a stable of directors and writers who would be on salary and work within the comfort zone of a studio and that they would initially embark on revolutionising the face of Australian television.” It was the era of 10BA*. [*Australian Government taxation concessions at or beyond 100%, which attracted considerable funds for film investment in Australia in the 70's & 80's]. Miller takes up the story: “Rupert Murdoch bought Channel Ten and he did something that HBO has done in recent years, which basically transformed television,” Miller says. “He said ‘I want drama. I don’t care what it is, provided it's really bold’, and we said ‘well we’re not that interested in doing television but if we were we’d have to have no interference’.”

"There was nothing shallow about the way they approached the work on any level,” says Noyce, who co-directed The Dismissal and The Cowra Breakout. ‘Thev reached outside the film industry into theatre and brought in George Ogilvie who was a great theatre director, and he began to stage a series of workshops for actors, writers and directors which explored the nature of storytelling. And then the miniseries became a further investigation into storytelling, because they were making 10-hour miniseries, not to be screened one hour a week, but 10 hours in one week. It was absolutely unheard of....... what a commitment you’re asking from an audience, to turn up all night for four nights in a row to watch one story."

It was event storytelling.in a medium - television - that Miller helped redefine in Australia. In other words, that same synchronicity of medium, story and zeitgeist that he is still chasing with CAA something so novel, with such an attendant sense of occasion, that it captures people as the Queen Mary and QE2 have just done when he speaks to The APR Magazine. “I just know that every film you do has to have something that distinguishes it, lets it stand out,” he says. With Happy Feet; it was a revolution in CGI; with Max it was a new kind of road movie; and with Babe it was the cutting edge animatronics that finally allowed him to film Dick King-Smith's novel a decade after he read it.

As Murdoch moved on from Channel Ten in 1987, Alan Bond bought Channel Nine. "Sam Chisholm [then at Nine], called us and said, 'we don't do drama well; you guys do drama successfully. Do you want to take ours over?'.....Then Kerry Packer bought Channel Nine back and didn't like the agreement. Basically he wanted creative autonomy and he wanted to influence the way we worked too much." KM took [the 1990 agreement] to court, becoming one of the few to best Packer when an appeal was dismissed on their $8.1 million suit in 1994. By then Miller was playing a new game but, along the way, KM had helped hothouse generations of Australian talent, from Kidman and Gibson to Noyce, Duigan and Noonan to cinematographers Dean Semmler (Apocalypto), Don McAlpine (The Chronicles of Narnia, Moulin Rouge) and John Seale (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Talented Mr Ripley).

It's a roll-call that lends a singular weight to his concern about Australia's growing creative diaspora. It also points up his extraordinary versatility. Even if HF had tanked, there's no doubt he would have had several further Hollywood lives as a producer and director in another of the genre's he has mastered. “The extraordinary thing about George is how many filmmakers he started and how he has affected Australian culture,” says Obst. And yet ar the same time to he able to make great American and international movies as well. I really think you can only compare him to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas....He's one of the patriarchs of this generation of breakthrough Australian filmakers."

Kim Williams adds a local, historical perspective. “I think George is in that pantheon of great Australian filmmakers which stretches from Raymond Longford and Ken G. Hall and particularly Charles Chauvel.” Which begs the question Miller himself raises in speaking of the difficulty of making Australian films in Australia. In the l980s he helped refine our identity, telling this country its own story through a string of historic miniseries, even making that achingly Australian bildungsroman, The Year My Voice Broke. But, says Phillip Noyce, “George hasn’t made his quintessential Australian film statement personally. As a producer he has, working through other directors and storytellers, but it will be interesting to see if he feels compelled to make a uniquely Australian film with an Australian setting.”


QUOTES

“What George did with Mad Max was take Hollywood and action to a new level, as he’s done with [CGI in] Happy Feet. It took Hollywood years to catch up with the visual style.” Graham Burke.“

I’m realising it’s harder to make a successful film; the playing field itself is moving. We can barely grasp hold of it.” George Miller.


“He has incredible softness, but he’s fierce in his vision and he’s uncompromising in how he wants to work. At the end of the day, he’s going to do exactly what he wants. Lynda Obst


You can only compare him to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas...He's one of the patriarchsof this generation of breakthrough Australian Filmaker." Lynda Obst.


George Miller’s Filmography


2006
Happy Feet
producer/director/writer

1998
Babe: Pig in the City
producer/director/writer
Fragments of War: The Story of Damien Parer (TV)
producer
The Clean Machine (TV)
producer

1997
White Fellas Dreaming
producer/director/writer

1995
Babe
producer/writer
Video Fool for Love
producer

1992
Lorenzo’s Oil
producer/director/writer

1991
Flirting
producer

1989
Bangkok Hilton (TV)
miniseries, producer
Dead Calm
producer/second unit director

1988
The Dirtwater Dynasty (TV)
miniseries, producer

1987
The Year My Voice Broke
producer Vietnam (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Riddle of the Stinson (TV)
producer
The Witches of Eastwick
director
Tausend Augen
(Thousand Eyes)
actor

1985
Mad Max Beyond
Thunderdome
producer/director/writer

1984
Bodyline (TV)
miniseries, producer
The Cowra Breakout (TV)
miniseries, producer

1983
Twilight Zone: The Movie
(segment four)
director
The Dismissal (TV)
miniseries, executive producer/
director/writer

1981
Mad Max 2
director/writer/additional
editor

1980
The Chain Reaction
associate producer
1979
Mad Max
director/writer

1971
Violence in the Cinema, Part 1
director/writer

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Herald Sun, Melbourne on 28.02.2007

All-night party for Miller.

Miller George and furry friend pose with the Oscar for best animated feature film for Happy Feet

Peta Hellard

Los Angeles


Aussie director George Miller described his Oscar win as the biggest party of his life.

The Sydney film-maker, whose penguin extravaganza Happy Feet won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, did not get any sleep after a night of celebrating before hitting the media circuit yesterday.
"I'm still running on an adrenalin high -- it's all still a blur," Miller said.

"It was a really great night, certainly one of the best parties of my life.

The Oscar-toting Miller was a guest of honour at several glamorous post-ceremony parties.

The 61-year-old and wife Margaret rubbed shoulders with Hollywood's biggest names at the Governor's Ball, the Vanity Fair party and chart star Prince's bash at the Roosevelt Hotel.

"I talked to some people I really admire, like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep," Miller said.

"And Jack Nicholson, who I have worked with before, was really happy about the win.

"We went to the Vanity Fair party where we bumped into all these Australians -- Anthony LaPaglia, Gia Carides, Hugh Jackman, Deborra-lee Furness, Nicole (Kidman) and Naomi (Watts).

"I realised I'd be in trouble if I had too many drinks so I paced myself and only had three or four glasses of wine.

"By the time we got back to the hotel at 4am the phones just didn't stop ringing -- we've been up all night."

There was no chance for rest yesterday, with the in-demand director running between media commitments and last-minute meetings with studios before he flies back to Australia.

On getting back to Sydney, Miller plans to give the Oscar to his 86-year-old mother, Angela, in the northern suburbs.

"I have got this superstition that whenever I get an award I give it away to a loved one," he said.

"So this heavy little guy is going to mum, who's been such a good mum."

Miller said one of his three children was yet to find out dad had won Oscar gold as he was away on school camp.

The former doctor, who raised money to make his 1979 classic Mad Max working as an emergency room locum, said he never intended to be a film-maker.

"I got interested in making films but never thought there was a real career to be had," he said.

"In Australia in the '70s, there was no real film industry where you could make a living from it."

During the interview on Hollywood's famed Sunset Boulevard, passers-by literally stopped their cars in the busy street on seeing the gold statuette, with the affable director happily handing it to excited strangers to hold.

Miller said while he was overwhelmed at winning the major accolade, he had not become teary.

"I honestly don't take them (awards) that seriously," he said.

"The times I do cry and get really nervous is when the film comes out, because you've worked so hard and you never know if it's going to be successful or not.

"It's important to remember awards are the . . . icing on the cake.

"Everyone in the movie industry works so hard, so after all the hard work it's good to party."

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Adelaide Advertiser on 27.02.2007

Happy Feet steps up.

George Miller at the Oscars. Oscar & Penguin in hand.

February 26, 2007


There was joy for George Miller but disappointment for fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett at today's Academy Award ceremony. And, as expected, Britain's Helen Mirren took the Best Actress Oscar.
Miller's Happy Feet won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at today's Academy Award ceremony.

The news wasn't so good for fellow Australian Cate Blanchett , who failed to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 79th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Mirren was honoured for her acclaimed turn as Queen Elizabeth II in the movie The Queen.

It was the first Oscar for Mirren, 61, who had already won more than 20 other major awards for her sympathetic portrayal of an out-of-touch monarch in the days after the sudden death in 1997 of Princess Diana.

Miller's dancing and singing penguin musical, Happy Feet beat overwhelming favourite Cars.
"Oh gosh," a surprised Miller said as he collected his award.
It is a monumental victory for the Australian film industry and 61-year-old Miller, who had been nominated for Oscars three times before but never won.
Happy Feet was made at Sydney's Fox Studios with a largely Australian crew of more than 500 and used the voices of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Steve Irwin and other Hollywood stars, including Robin Williams and Elijah Wood.
Animal Logic, the Australian special effects house based at Fox Studios, built an animation studio from scratch to make Happy Feet.

Bookmakers did not believe Happy Feet could beat Cars, the blockbuster made by San Francisco-based, Disney-owned animation house Pixar, which had won two of the previous three Oscars for The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
The other animated feature film nominee was Sony's Monster House. The bookmakers' would have been far happier with Hudson's win in the best supporting actress category - she was their red hot favourite.

Blanchett was not given much chance of winning the Academy Award, although earlier in the night Hudson's Dreamgirls' co-star Eddie Murphy was snubbed for best supporting actor.

It signalled Academy voters may not be fans of the Motown-era musical and raised the prospect of a Blanchett upset.

Murphy was a runaway favourite, but Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin took the Oscar.

Chicago-born Hudson scooped all of the lead-up awards for her role in Dreamgirls, including the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA prizes.

Today's Oscar caps an astonishing rise for 25-year-old Hudson.

Dreamgirls was her first major acting role and her previous claim to fame was being a failed contestant on U.S. reality TV show American Idol.

Melbourne-born Blanchett, 37, was nominated for the British drama, Notes on a Scandal, in which she played a school teacher who has an affair with a 15-year-old student.

It was the third Oscar nomination of Blanchett's career, after 1999's best actress nomination for Elizabeth and her 2005 best supporting actress win for The Aviator.

The other best supporting nominees today were Adriana Barraza (Babel), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine).

Australia's other nominees, Peter Templeman and Stuart Parkyn, however, did not win the short live action film Oscar.
Earlier, Mexican film Pan's Labyrinth was the first film honoured at the 79th Acacdemy Awards in Hollywood. Labyrinth took the award for best art direction.

Guillermo Del Toro's film about a little girl who escapes the horrors of fascist Spain by inventing an imaginary world is nominated for six Oscars, and is favored to win the best foreign-language film award.

The award for a Mexican film fit well with host Ellen DeGeneres's opening comments about the Oscars' global reach.
"This is the most international Oscars ever, and that's a huge deal,'' said DeGeneres, noting the presence of a record number of nominees from Mexico and the best actress nomination of Spain's Penelope Cruz.

"I think there are even a few Americans -I'm talking about the seat-fillers," DeGeneres quipped.
Eddie Murphy's hopes of an Oscar were dashed when Alan Arkin won the supporting-actor Academy Award on Sunday for his role as a foul-mouthed grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, which also starred Australia's Toni Collette.

http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,21287888-5007700,00.html

Photos > Working Life

submitted by Kytherian Cinema Review on 16.02.2007

George Miller holds the Award for Animated Feature Film for Happy Feet at BAFTA.

by, Maev Kennedy

February 13, 2007

The toe-tapping penguin film Happy Feet has picked up an award at the British version of the Oscars, but whether that has improved its chances of securing a Hollywood gold statue remains to be seen.
George Miller's film edged out Cars and Flushed Away to take the Bafta for animated feature, but the awards have only a patchy record of predicting who will pick up Academy Awards.

Helen Mirren, on the other hand, is an Oscar favourite after picking up another best actress award for her role in The Queen, which also won best film.
The movie's success continues to astonish even those involved. "We always thought it was a small film. Obviously it's a pretty parochial film in some ways," Mirren said. "But we had a clue when it was chosen by the critics in Venice that it would have a broader appeal."

On a cool, bright evening, the stars marched along one of the longest red carpets ever seen. For the first time the ceremony had an air of Hollywood gloss, having moved to the crimson plush of London's Royal Opera House.
Surrounding streets were closed, and with memories of the disastrous recent occasion when rain caused the red carpet to erupt into white foam, the last stretch was protected by a huge canopy.

The triumph for best actress and best film were the least surprising results of the night - the bookmakers stopped taking money on Mirren on Friday - but the awards were not the British clean sweep predicted by some. The James Bond movie Casino Royale failed to shake or stir, picking up just one of the nine nominations it received - winning the sound quality category. Its willowy new-style Bond-girl, Eva Green, took the hotly contested rising star award, the only one voted for by the public.

American Forest Whitaker took best actor for his mesmerising performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
The Spanish movie Pan's Labyrinth took best foreign language film, and the prizes for the extraordinary costumes and best make-up and hair, despite all the barnacles and octopus masks of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, nominated in the same category. Pan's Labyrinth's three prizes made it one of the night's biggest winners; The Last King of Scotland also took three.

The British director Paul Greengrass took best director for United 93, the documentary-style no-stars film about the passengers' struggle to take control of one of the hijacked planes on September 11, 2001. The film also took the editing award.

One of the most surprising losers - and there was an instant buzz of gossip about what this meant for its chances at the Oscars - was the hit Notes on a Scandal, based on Zoe Heller's bestselling novel, which was nominated in several categories, including for Judi Dench as best actress.
Another surprise was the success of a small American film about a dysfunctional family, Little Miss Sunshine, which won the best supporting actor for Alan Arkin, who plays a drug-addled grandfather, and the best original screenplay.

American Idol's Jennifer Hudson took best supporting actress for Dreamgirls, edging out Toni Collette for Little Miss Sunshine.

Guardian News & Media


BAFTA Home page

http://www.bafta.org/site/jsp/index.jsp


BAFTA Background

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), is a British organisation that hosts annual awards shows for film, television, children's film and television, and interactive media. Since 1948, selected films have been awarded with the BAFTA award for Best Film at an annual ceremony.

Until 1968, two Best Film awards were given each year: Best British Film and Best Film from any Source (for non-British films). It was possible for British films to be nominated in both categories and, occasionally, to win both awards. Beginning in 1969, these awards were replaced with the single 'Best Film' award, and British films were longer distinguished.

Until 1981, the award was given to the director.[1] From 1981 to 1985, it was given solely to the producers, and then in 1986 it was shared between the Director and Producer. In 1998, it was once again given to only the producers.

There have been two ties for the award: in 1962, Ballad of a Solider tied with The Hustler for Best Film from any Source, and in 1996, when Sense and Sensibility tied with The Usual Suspects for Best Film.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAFTA_Award_for_Best_Film

More background

This year's Orange British Academy Film Awards were held on Sunday, February 11, 2007, at the Royal Opera House in London. The awards were sponsored for the tenth year running by Orange and were broadcast on BBC America in the U.S. BBC presenter Jonathan Ross hosted the event for the first time.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of the BAFTAs, cementing their position within the awards calendar as the largest globally recognized international film awards ceremony outside of the United States. The BAFTAs has steadfastly remained an international rather than a purely British showcase.

The BAFTAs are awarded by the British Academy of Film & Television Arts. As one of the organization's principal functions, BAFTA works to identify and reward excellence in the artforms of the moving image. It achieves this objective by bestowing awards on those practitioners who have excelled in their chosen field of expertise.

http://www.darkhorizons.com/news07/070212a.php


BAFTA winners

Year 2006


February 12, 2007

The Queen clinched best film and Helen Mirren best actress for her portrayal of the monarch at the BAFTA British film awards today, while The Last King of Scotland scooped three awards.

Following are the winners on the night:

Best film - The Queen

Best British film - The Last King of Scotland

Best director - Paul Greengrass (United 93)

Original screenplay - Little Miss Sunshine

Adapted Screenplay - The Last King of Scotland

Foreign language film - Pan's Labyrinth

Animated feature film - Happy Feet

Best actor - Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Best actress - Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Best supporting actor - Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)

Best supporting actress - Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)

Best music - Babel

Cinematography - Children of Men

Editing - United 93

Production design - Children of Men

Costume design - Pan's Labyrinth

Sound - Casino Royale

Visual effects - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Make up & hair - Pan's Labyrinth

Short animation - Guy 101

Short film - Do Not Erase

Rising star (voted for by the public) - Eva Green

British debut director/writer/producer - Andrea Arnold (Red Road)

Reuters