“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
On Film Directing
“One of my notions [in making Mad Max] was that if I make the action sequences as a silent movie, and it reads as a silent movie, then it can only get better with sound.”
Mad Max director/co-writer George Miller
Today is the last day of a month of posts centered around filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (with help from a few of his director friends and acquaintances). And we end with the bang looking at the journey of George Miller, the 70-year-old director of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) who not only started working with an unusual career for a film director (medical doctor), but was raised in an unlikely place (Chinchilla, Queensland, Australia—population 5,000 today).
“I grew up in a remote, rural town in the Outback of Australia. And there was no television then. There was a Saturday matinée and there were comics. And I grew up with brothers and we’d play out what we saw in movies and the comics. It was an invisible apprenticeship to make movies. I’d read American Cinematographer magazines and we’d scrutinize them about, and go, ‘Oh, that’s how they did the car rigging,’ and anything Hitchcock said became a little dictum. I learned where I think we should all learn— in the cinema. I just consumed everything…The big influence on me was Buster Keaton because cinema—the silent era—they were able to do things you could see nowhere else. It wasn’t a recording device, it was actually creating a language. And I suddenly thought, wow, this is amazing.”
Producer/writer/director George Miller
The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez interview
(On the El Rey Network and available on iTunes)
While in medical school he entered a one-minute silent film contest with his brother which led to winning the competition and both attending a filmmaking workshop. Within ten years he made his debut feature film Max Max starring Mel Gibson.
Two remarkable things about that low-budget feature is its strong action photography (shot by director of photography Dean Semler and the lack of dialogue by Gibson. (Under 20 lines of dialogue in the entire film for the lead role.)
Miller told Rodriguez of Mad Max, “I definitely had the Hitchcock dictum in my head, he said, ‘I try to make movies where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And as it turned out, the Japanese took to it.” (It’s important to remember that while Alfred Hitchcock is known for his classic films Psycho (1960), North By Northwest (1959), and Vertigo (1958), that he actually began making films in the early 1920s— in the silent era of movies. Read Hitchcock Loved ‘The Hurt Locker’ to see some of his takeaways of visual storytelling.)
As the global market today is more important than ever in the Hollywood film industry, there is much to learn from Hitchcock about visual storytelling. As well as from another director who bridged the silent era into “the talkies” with great effectiveness—John Ford. He also informed Miller’s visual style. In fact, the Mad Max movies have been called “Westerns on wheels.” Watch an action scene from Stagecoach (1939) and compare any of the four Mad Max films. (By the way, Orson Welles watched Stagecoach 40 times before making Citizen Kane.)
One of my all time favorite movie entrances by a character is in Mad Max 2:The Road Warrior. The surprise intro of Gyro Captian doesn’t quite have the same impact on DVD or You Tube as it did on the big screen when I first saw it, but here’s a clip of it I found online:
Here’s the dynamic character intro of John Wayne in John Ford’s Stagecoach.
The movie Ben Hur (1959) also informed Miller’s visual style.
And lastly, to show the diversity of Miller, he directed Lorenzo’s Oil, and was the one responsible for bringing prolific author Dick King-Smith’s Babe to the movies, and he won his sole Oscar for his 2006 animated feature Happy Feet. When asked the connection between Babe, Happy Feet, and Mad Max. Miller said they all follow the classic hero-myth story.
The real inspiration from Miller is if you’re from a remote, rural town in the Outback or a farm in Iowa, if you’re closer to 7 or 70, or if you just graduated from medical school or grammar school— some interesting things can happen if you take that first step and make a one-minute movie. (Start Small…but Start Somewhere.) For Miller, it eventually led him down Fury Road.
“George and Brendan McCarthy and a couple of other storyboard artists basically wrote [Mad Max: Fury Road] in storyboards.”
“There were 3,500 [storyboard] panels around the room and I would say a good 80% of those panels are reflected in the images that you see on the screen today…It was something that was very non-verbal. People obviously speak in the movie, but they speak only when it’s necessary.”
P.S. If you can combine classical mythical storytelling with classical silent movie visual storytelling you will be tapping into powerful stuff. Two core books on the mythical journey are Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
Here’s a video from the post The Editing of Mad Max: Fury Road by Vashi Nedomansky where he explains how Miller, DP John Seale, and editor Margaret Sixel used a “crosshair framing” or “center framed” technique in Mad Max: Fury Road so the quick cutting action would be visually friendly for audiences.
Also, it appears that later in the day after wrote this post that George Miller did a live stream Q&A with Michael Radford after a screening of Mad Max:Fury Road. So if you haven’t had your George Miller fill yet the Q&A begins at the 5:04 mark:
‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’ (Tip #82)
The Best Film School
Mr. Silent Films
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Harold Loyd vs. Buster Keaton
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46) “One of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.”—Hitchcock
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)—Chaplin
Scott W. Smith