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HomeInvestingDirector George Miller Used to Be an ER Doctor

Director George Miller Used to Be an ER Doctor


By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director

George Miller is one of the bigwig movie directors in the world of film. It’s been that way since 1979 when the then-26-year-old directed Mad Max, the post-apocalyptic action film that introduced Mel Gibson to the world and extolled the dangers of a renegade cop to murderous motorcycle gangs. Since then, Miller won an Academy Award for 2006’s Happy Feet, directed one of the best pig-centric movies of all time in 1995’s Babe, and continued the Mad Max franchise that gets credit for introducing some of the best action movies in cinematic history.

He also used to save lives.

Before he stepped into the world of filmmaking, Miller was an emergency medicine doctor in Australia. He treated car accident victims. He did overnight shifts. He dealt with those in need of help.

With Miller this weekend releasing his fifth installment of the Mad Max series, Furiosa, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, the director who’s now 79 years old has come miles and miles from the young doctor who had to raise money for his film-making hobby by working at the hospital. And even then, he wasn’t sure he was taking the right path.

 

Director George Miller Was a Physician

Growing up with three brothers in Queensland, Australia with Greek immigrant parents who ran a Greek café, the Miller family lived without a TV in the house. But the boys would watch matinees on Saturday at the local movie theater, and according to the Sydney Morning Herald, those films “inspired jousting contests on horseback among the brothers, using garbage-can lids as shields, building forts, digging tunnels and setting up ziplines to fly like Superman.”

George and his twin brother, John, eventually went to medical school, and George thought he’d be set for life as an emergency medicine doc. Instead, he’d become, as the Morning Herald calls him, “one of cinema’s great storytellers.”

“I always found this quote, that John Lennon line, ‘Life is what happens when you are making other plans,’ and it’s definitely true in my case,” Miller said, via theworld.org. “I always wanted to be a doctor, enjoyed being a doctor. But at the same time . . . I suddenly became interested in cinema at a time when you couldn’t really have a career . . . I immediately got hooked. And there was a whole cohort of people who were just basically driven by enthusiasm . . . and suddenly an industry and I got caught up in that, always with the intention of going back and working as a doctor. I kept working as a doctor while I was making films, basically to earn a living.”

One week, Miller would work as a doctor in Brisbane. The next week, he’d be filming one of his low-budget films. Eventually, Miller, almost accidently, hit it big. In the late 1970s, Australia was known for its high automobile mortality rate. Inspired in part by the high-speed car accident injuries he was treating in the ER, Miller co-wrote and directed Mad Max in 1979. The film would become a cult classic and make nearly $9 million, which was extraordinary for a film that took about $300,000 to create (it’s actually one of the most profitable films of all time).

 

 

Miller later called the film a disaster and believed he wasn’t cut out to make movies. But Mad Max got good reviews and made good money, and he later realized, according to the Los Angeles Times, that the movie had inadvertently “stepped into an archetype, the kind of allegory American Westerns were for so many years. The Japanese saw [Max] as a samurai, the Scandinavians as a lone Viking, the French called it ‘a Western on wheels.’ That led me to not only how to tell stories but also to the why. Once you have that world in your head, even when you’re trying not to, you keep coming back.”

Miller practiced as a physician for a few more years (even serving as his own on-set doctor where he dealt mostly with crew members who had been stung by insects), but by 1982, he was ready to leave medicine. His father questioned his judgment.

“‘Why do you want to give up medicine to make movies? Isn’t medicine better?’” Miller remembers his dad asking.

He’s spent the next 40 years trying to figure out how to answer that question.

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George Miller’s Film Resume Is Impressive

george miller director medical doctor

Photo by Gage Skidmore/CC BY SA 3.0

His father’s query (and the subsequent identity crisis that might have resulted from it) didn’t stop him from creating popular, award-winning, money-making films, including Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), Babe (1995), Happy Feet (2006), and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Now, he’s unleashed Furiosa, his latest entry into the Mad Max canon.

But he never forgot his medical training while working in his new craft.

“Oh, I definitely would not be making films in the way I make them had it not been for medical school,” Miller told The Guardian. “First of all, it’s all about point of view. As a doctor, you’re looking at the complete human being, down a microscope or on an X-ray or as part of a collective. Viscerally, intellectually, spiritually, anthropologically. And then, on a practical level, it’s invaluable. The first night shoot reminded me of night sessions on emergency. Problem solving. Thinking on your feet. Never knowing what was coming through the door. So I had a lot of practice before I went on a movie set.”

While Miller isn’t regarded on the same level as all-time director greats like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, or James Cameron, his impact on the world of film has been immense.

“I have ambitions to direct,” Idris Elba, who worked with Miller on 2022’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, told the Morning Herald. “Going to work with him every day was an absolute masterclass. It was like the best seat in the best film university you could ever have.”

The question Miller has likely long received isn’t all that difficult to answer. Would he have been a better doctor than a director?

“I think I have a bit of authority to answer this one, because I have a twin brother, John, who I went through medical school with,” Miller told The Guardian in 2022. “ . . . He’s a really excellent doctor. I’m not saying that because he’s my brother. He’s everything you’d wish for in a doctor. He’s treated three generations of the same family. Ex-pats come back to Australia to see him. He’s involved in community health, in preventing diseases. I would not have been anywhere near the doctor that he is. I would have been OK. But not compared to him.”

Luckily, George could fall back on Max.

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Money Song of the Week

I’ve mentioned before that my all-time favorite singer is Mike Patton, and even though I don’t love the latest release from his first-ever band Mr. Bungle, I would never miss an opportunity to see Patton in concert.

med school scholarship sponsor

Even though the show I attended earlier this month mostly featured songs from Mr. Bungle’s latest album—The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, which is actually a re-recording of a bunch of thrash metal songs the band members created when they were in high school in the 1980s—it’s still a treat to hear Patton’s six-octave vocal range. He can growl and scream one minute and then, in the next, croon cover songs like Spandau Ballet’s ‘80s classic “True” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Mr. Bungle, in its heyday, was an avant-garde, experimental band (not unlike something Frank Zappa would create), and its most mainstream album is 1999’s California. Which is where you can find today’s Money Song of the Week, Retrovertigo.

As bassist Trevor Dunn said, he wrote the song while living in San Francisco in the late ‘90s and noticing how vintage clothes and retro music had become so popular.

“I remember being annoyed that vintage T-shirts cost so much,” Dunn told the Carl King podcast in 2022. “I was a little disgusted by the retrogression. The vertigo part was my own sort of nausea by this trend. That was the initial spark. I also talk about famine in that song. The idea is if you want to be retro, famine has been around for a long time. Why isn’t that a trend? It’s pretty sardonic. While you’re being fashionable and looking back at this gold era, people are still starving to death. The subject matter is this disparity between economic groups, essentially.”

For a band that combines metal and ska and glockenspiels and weird demonic screams, Retrovertigo has to be one of Mr. Bungle’s most accessible songs. Hopefully, it won’t weird you out too much.

 

 

As Patton sings:

“Now I’m finding truth is a ruin/Nauseous end that nobody is pursuing/Staring into glassy eyes, mesmerized.

There’s a vintage thirst returning/But I’m sheltered by my channel-surfing/Every famine virtual, retrovertigo.”

If you dislike this type of music, I understand completely. After all, as I was in the middle of writing this passage, a buddy who I hung out with at the Mr. Bungle concert called me to tell me just how much he hated the band, its music, and the show. Ah well, can’t please everybody.

 

Tweet of the Week

Can you relate to this?

What’s your favorite George Miller movie? What other former medical doctors went on to huge heights in other fields? Comment below!

[Editor’s Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]





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