George Miller is back in Cannes with ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ – Deadline

EXCLUSIVE: George Miller is distracted. Five minutes into our meeting, he begs forgiveness to take a quick call. And then, on an iPad tilted in his direction, the filmmaker watches as a camera feed from the Australian outback offers him a live view of a pre-shoot for his next feature, Furiosa. His supervising stunt coordinator and second unit director, Guy Norris, whose work with Miller stretches back to 1981’s Mad Max sequel The Road Warrior, is already shooting sequences for the new film.

Set 15 years before the events of Mad Max: Fury Road, the film will tell the backstory of Charlize Theron’s enigmatic Furiosa, this time played by Anya Taylor-Joy. “Here I am doing an interview with you halfway across the world, and I’m able to look at this footage being shot far west from where I am and we’re discussing it as we go through the process,” says Miller, marveling at the technology. “It’s amazing, really.”

It has been seven years since Fury Road established itself as the most innovative and exciting blockbuster in decades, earning six Oscars from 10 nominations. Miller was nominated for Best Director and the film for Best Picture. And now here he is, on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival, where he will premiere his next feature — the film he shot in-between — Three Thousand Years of Longing, perhaps suggesting that Miller’s movies can be likened to that old adage about buses: you wait forever for one to come along only for two to stack up in quick succession.

Miller has described Three Thousand Years of Longing as the “opposite” of Fury Road — an “anti-Mad Max” — and in many ways, he’s correct. It is dialogue-driven; a lingering two-hander in which a scholar on a trip to a speaking engagement in Istanbul inadvertently summons a Djinn who details his long journey through fantasy and history as he endeavors to tempt this scholar — who claims she wants for nothing — to make her three wishes. Tilda Swinton plays Alithea, the scholar, and Idris Elba the Djinn.

But the director of Mad Max: Fury Road does scale in his sleep, and Three Thousand Years of Longing doesn’t just tell us about the Djinn’s complex journey to a modern-day hotel room in Istanbul. It shows us, too, bringing us into the courts of the Queen of Sheba and the Ottoman rulers, the bedroom of a 19th Century Turkish slave courtesan, and all the way to present-day London; despite the film having been entirely shot in Australia during the pandemic. There is magic, and there is war. Mythical creatures and conquering armies all conjured in exquisite detail. It is a chamber piece in the George Miller mold, which is to say that it flatly refuses to be confined to a single chamber.

It is also a project that has burned brightly for Miller for more than 20 years. The filmmaker optioned A.S. Byatt’s short story, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, a little while after it was published in 1994. He has tinkered away at it, in between other projects ever since, collaborating with his daughter, Augusta Gore, on a screenplay that took on added dimension as time and technology developed. It is a film about love and human connection — even if one of the parties may not strictly be human — but it is also a story about a world that is becoming increasingly distracted by other, less essential, priorities.

Three Thousand Years of Longining
George Miller directs Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba on the set of Three Thousand Years of Longing.
Elise Lockwood/MGM

DEADLINE: How did this journey start?

GEORGE MILLER: A.S. Byatt had won the Booker prize in 1990 for Possession, and then in 1994 she put out a series of stories, or of fairy tales, called The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. I probably read it in the late ’90s, just before the turn of the millennium, because I remember a lot of newspapers were asking people to comment on the best music of the millennium, the best books of the millennium, and so on. The New York Times had asked her to write about the best stories of the millennium. And because she’s a big advocate for story in literature, she wrote a wonderful piece called “Narrate or Die”, and it was on The Arabian Nights — the One Thousand and One Nights — and talked about the evolution of that story. I realized she was deeply interested in this stuff.

What I saw in the short story was that it probed a lot of stuff. There was a lot of detail, in a relatively compact narrative, about all the mysteries and paradoxes of being human, or of being alive as a human. And, of course, it was allegorical; it’s a fairy story.

That was the starting-off point, and then during the making of the other films, it was always around, and we kept working on it. Kept coming back to it.

DEADLINE: You wrote the screenplay with your daughter, Augusta Gore. How did that come about?

MILLER: I’d written the screenplay for Lorenzo’s Oil with Nick Enright, a wonderful actor, playwright, teacher and director. We had a wonderful time doing that and we had talked about wanting to write something else together. I remember talking to Nick about this film and we wanted to collaborate on it, but very sadly he got cancer, and he didn’t have much time left. My daughter Gussie was his godchild, and she and Nick were very close. He said, “Look, if I’m not around to write it, why not Gussie? Far more than me, she’s just got the skill to understand this.” Even when she was a little kid, there was a poetic quality to her language, and more particularly to her writing.

So, we set off. I’ve always loved collaborating with people, one way or another, and as we started talking about it, we knew the pressure was off and we didn’t ultimately have to do anything with it. It happened, over the years, that I was working on other projects, and she was doing other things as well, so we took our time, and that’s how it came about.

I’m very glad of that experience because, apart from anything else, as we went through the process, I taught her, and she taught me.

DEADLINE: If it was an unhurried affair of which nothing might have come, what happened that finally made it your next movie?

MILLER: I think what happened was what has happened on most of the projects I’ve done. I mean, I never, ever intended to make a fourth Mad Max, and then an idea comes one day and it’s there, seated in the back of your brain. It’s competing with all the other ideas that seem to bang around in there, and then it just takes hold. Suddenly, it insists on itself in some way. Even now, there are several ideas rattling around, and I’ll never get to make them all. There are always several things happening. I find that’s the best way to approach it.

Often, you’re waiting for the opportunity to make it real. With Happy Feet, I had the film, I had the story. I really wanted to work on the story, but I wasn’t sure how to do it as an animation. And then, back in the early 2000s, Andrew Lesnie, who shot the Babe movies, went on to shoot the Lord of the Rings movies. He came back from Lord of the Rings, and he showed us the first motion capture of Gollum. With the permission of Peter [Jackson] and everybody, he’d give little talks. When I saw that first motion capture of Gollum, I remember I’d never seen anything like it. I didn’t even know it was possible, I’d never even heard of motion capture, even though I tended to be up to date with things.

In that moment, I thought, Oh my God, the penguins can dance. Suddenly, that then made it a reality, because I didn’t think we could get good dancing from animation, or we would have to do ‘rotomation’, like they’d done when Gene Kelly had danced with Tom and Jerry. But motion capture made it much more viable. And with that, we happened to end up with wonderful dancers and we were able to capture every detail and every moment.

That happens a lot, and it was the same with Three Thousand Years of Longing. It was there on and off, and we’d go back to it when it felt right. It’s not that typical thing where you engage a writer, and there’s a first draft and a second and so on. I think that was ultimately to the advantage of the film. The film would be made when it was ready. It wasn’t something that we had to make by a certain time.

DEADLINE: That approach, I guess, is also why you’re always so hesitant to discuss upcoming projects. You’ve said previously that you feel it jinxes them.

MILLER: Yeah, for me it does because it has happened several times. I’ve been sacked off a film — that happened with Contact and I was very enthusiastic about that. Then, we were very keen to do Justice League back around that time, and there were already photographs and publicity out, and then that fell away. I’m not saying that’s what jinxed it, but I think it’s just better to finish the film and offer it to audiences; to let them take on the story or not.

 DEADLINE: You’ve described Three Thousand Years of Longing as the “anti-Mad Max”. Was the desire to do something diametrically opposed to Fury Road part of that impulse?

MILLER: Well, it’s certainly a palate-cleanser for Fury Road. And there was a lot of pressure to go straight into another [Mad Max movie]. In a way, things got chaotic with the studio going through changes of regimes, and I knew I really wanted to make this film regardless.

But when I say it’s the anti-Mad Max, I mean it only in the sense that it’s got way more dialogue than the very laconic Fury Road. Most of that was shot on location in the deserts of Southern Africa. This one was shot basically indoors, with only a couple of outdoor scenes. Its scale is smaller, at least in terms of its physical scale, even though, yes, it is set over 3,000 years. But also, Fury Road was a story that essentially happened over three days and two nights, and this happened over 3,000 years, so that’s what I meant by the anti-Mad Max.

DEADLINE: Much of the film takes place in a hotel suite in Istanbul; that’s our backdrop to the many stories the Djinn tells Alithea. The hotel is the Pera Palace, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed at.

MILLER: Oh, you have? Well, I’m almost reluctant to say this now. Our intention was to shoot in Europe; London and Istanbul. We had locations, we had all the government permits and so on. And then Covid hit. We were literally there in Europe and we weren’t too far off shooting, but of course, the film was then delayed several months because of Covid, and we eventually had to relocate the whole thing to Australia.

There were very strong restrictions. Every single actor that came — there were several Turkish actors, obviously some from England, and a couple from America — had to quarantine. We lost some of our Turkish actors because they had already gone onto other productions due to the delay and the long wait. We were very rigorous with the production, like we had to be. And once we shot, we weren’t affected by Covid at all.

But so, we couldn’t go to the hotel. We couldn’t go. It all had to be done digitally. Obviously, the whole place was scanned, and we did the same for the Topkapi Palace. You can do that today. In the past, of course, you couldn’t.

DEADLINE: I recognized the place from its interior almost instantly, and it has been over a decade since I was there. So, you did a pretty good job.

MILLER: Oh, good [laughs].

DEADLINE: Why that hotel?

MILLER: Well, in the book, she mentions the hotel, though she mentions it in a way that is different. The character in the story, she says, “I would have liked to have stayed in that hotel because that’s where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express,’” — which is true — “but I stayed on the other side of the Bosporus in another hotel.”

Obviously, you change quite a bit when you take on a story like that, so that was one of the things. I thought we should have her stay in that hotel.

Three Thousand Years of Longing
Tilda Swinton as Alithea and Idris Elba as the Djinn in Three Thousand Years of Longing.

DEADLINE: There’s a huge curiosity to these characters; about each other and about the world. And the attention to detail suggests that you had no less curiosity for the history and mythology you were playing with here, everything from pre-Islamic folklore through to the effects of modern technology. Is it fair to say this was a deep dive for you?

MILLER: Look, there’s no doubt you need curiosity. In fact, it’s probably the first thing you need. It goes to the question of whether it’s worth it to go through the challenge of making any film, and it’s only happened to me a couple times where you lose your curiosity for the film. For the film, and for life in general. You retreat into a smaller life. You must have a relentless curiosity as a filmmaker because you’re riding a very wild beast when you’re making films.

If you look at the history of cinema, it’s always changing. And with more technology, it’s changing much more quickly than ever before. You can never really comprehend it all, but you’ve got to try, and the thing that leads you into it is the curiosity you carry.

To make the film, however, you also must dig as deeply as you possibly can. You’re looking for some grounding authenticity because that basically earns you the right to attempt fantasy. So, it’s that balance.

There’s no historical record of the Queen of Sheba [played in the film by Aamito Lagum]. She’s in mythology more than she is in history. So, we had to think about what that world would be. If you notice that world, it’s much more fantastical compared to the real world that we end up at by the end, and there are all sorts of variations along that path. But you had to come to some understanding in your own mind as to what that was like.

Then you end up at the time of the Ottoman Empire for a hundred years of the story, and then 19th Century Turkey and the story of Zefir [Burcu Gölgedar]. Finally, you have today’s London representing the modern world with all its apparent dysfunction. You must really ask yourself about those worlds and start picking up little details.

One of those little details, if you notice, is Prince Mustafa [Matteo Bocelli] is riding a white horse, and it has got a pink mane. That’s not just a fantasy of the designers. In many of the illustrations of that time, they dyed the horses’ manes pink. Right, so you learn that, and you put it in. The tiniest little things like that. Now, the unexpected nature of that, I believe might lend some subtle authenticity to it, just because it was there.

But remember, this film is also a fantasy played out in the mind of Alithea as she’s being told the story, or in the Djinn’s retelling. And what was interesting to me was I live in Sydney, and in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, there’s a 19th Century painting by Edward John Poynter that depicts Sheba visiting King Solomon. Solomon is in his court, and she visits him. I always assumed that was the case. Alithea says, “Didn’t she go to Solomon?” And the Djinn says, “No, no, he came to her.” “But,” she says, “It’s in all the books, and Handel wrote ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’” that now gets played at weddings. And the Djinn says, “Madam, I was there.” So, it’s the Djinn’s insistence that his version of the events is right. And that was in the original short story. At least, the idea that Solomon visited her was in the original.

Those little things we played with. But if you’re going to play with them, you’ve got to somehow ground them as much as you can in that real detail.

DEADLINE: It’s the difference between an audience wondering why the director thought it would be cool to dye the horse’s mane pink, and that same audience wondering how these people hundreds of years ago pulled that off. Those little details are what transport you off a film set and into to a different world.

MILLER: Exactly. If you look at human behavior, and language, dress, and gesture… All cultural behavior is learned, of course, and shared, and it is always evolving. We pick up so much from movies. even before we can read as infants. And I think you’ve got to be careful because it keeps on feeding back on itself.

There was a documentary — that I didn’t see, but I read about — about how modern-day military based their language on World War II movies. I became aware that even in our social behavior, and even in our courtships and so on, those details are learned and absorbed.

I was once, many years ago, a doctor. I remember the very first time that I had to tell a family that one of their loved ones had died. We were treating them in the emergency room; a man who had collapsed in the street. A lot of people were working on attempting to resuscitate him, and sadly he died. I remember we sat back in the doctors’ room, and I happened to be sitting next to the slot where the card was, and I picked up the card and it became my case. All the other doctors looked at me. I was just a junior, but they said, “You’re going to have to go and tell the family.”

That was in those days, and I’m sure it has changed now, but I remember that no one ever told me how to tell a family that they had just lost someone suddenly. I remember thinking, How do I handle this? I walked into the room and there was a young woman, her mother, and a Catholic priest, and they all looked at me.

I know that what I did — and the only other place I’d seen it was in endless movies — was I walked in, and I just shook my head. I’d seen that scene over and over again. Now, the interesting thing was, they’d never been in that situation before. And their behavior, including the young Catholic priest, was something that was also out of the movies… Because it could only be. That behavior is learned and mimicked.

I think that’s a wonderful thing and, also, there’s a certain danger to it as well. When you’re telling stories, you will fall into those traps, and you’ve got to find a way to work off those traps. Otherwise, it just ends up being cliché.

DEADLINE: How a film is received and interpreted is also a moveable feast, and audiences can read things into a movie that even the filmmaker might not have appreciated.

Babe (1995)
Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

MILLER: I think that’s always the case. Ultimately, it’s a poetic medium, regardless of how didactic you might want to be. Even the best documentaries have an allegorical quality to them. And like all stories, they are always in the eye of the beholder. They are for whatever the individual members of the audience wants to take from them. And there is an enormous number of examples of that, depending on the culture or the worldview of the person.

I think your obligation as a storyteller is to tell it as well as you can, according to your own instincts. But I can give you some astonishing examples for me, going way back to something like the first Babe. I remember being in South Africa and people telling me, “Oh, it’s a film about Apartheid, isn’t it? It’s specifically about Apartheid.” I said, “Well, not exactly, even though it’s about prejudice and the lack of prejudice.” They said, “No, no, it’s specifically about Apartheid, because at one point the farmer looks out of the window and he sees that the pig has separated the brown chickens from the white chickens.” That wasn’t the overt intention of it. The scene required there to be some separation of the brown chickens and white chickens. But obviously, having said it, that becomes true.

I’ve found that over and over again, with just about every film, and it has led me to the realization that, ultimately, every film is allegorical and it’s there for you to feel its undercurrent and decide what it means to you.

DEADLINE: Is the allegory sometimes subconscious, do you think, or must it always be built in by the filmmaker, even if just foundationally?

MILLER: Oh, it must be designed by us. It’s not random. You put anything out there and hope it has some resonance with people, but it has to have meaning to you, and all of us who are working on the film. You must have very clear dramaturgical strategies to find your path through. There is a craft to it.

That said, if you try to close the narrative at every point and be very didactic about it, it becomes something else, and it’s not a story, it’s an instruction. The best example of that is that someone came up to Freddie Mercury at one point, very excited, and said, “I’ve figured out what ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ means.” The person told him everything that he thought the song was about and Freddie Mercury said, “If you see it, dear, it’s there.”

I think I’ve learned that a lot. It’s not just the artist unloading all this stuff. Every bit of it, there is a craft. You have to apply the craft. Otherwise, it becomes an incoherent mess. There’s a lot of rigor to it, but that’s the paradox of it. Despite all the rigor, you’re looking for that poetry as well. And the interplay between the two is what makes the process fascinating, I think.

DEADLINE: You’ve faced your share of struggles to get every project of yours across the line, and it has been the better part of a decade since your last movie was released. Is Three Thousand Years of Longing — this title — an adequate description of the filmmaking process?

MILLER: Well, yes [laughs]. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way that’s the case. But look, that applies, I think, to any kind of worthwhile work. It has a long gestation, and part of that gestation ultimately proves the value of the effort, I think.

You’ll hear stories of people who say, “I read the script in a weekend, and we went out and shot it, and it’s fully and perfectly formed.” Well, if you really inquire about it, that weekend is the culmination of a huge amount of work; often a lifetime’s work. And that applies to all areas of design and creativity. There’s a very wonderful story about how Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater. He didn’t put pencil to paper until 45 minutes before the client arrived to see it. But, of course, he’d been working on it for many, many months in his head beforehand, after a lifetime of dedication. When you interrogate everyone’s process, you’ll find that’s true. They all take a long time.

One of the best analogies of the process of making a film is that it’s like going to war. You can’t really describe the experience to any anybody — what it feels like to do it — but you need to develop a kind of agility to respond to whatever comes at you. You need to be able to work out where the landmines are, where the snipers are. Somehow, you’ve got to fulfill the mission in some way. You’ve got to get there, and the ability to adjust and to shift with that is part of the process.

Now, making a film is a process that takes a lot of time and resources, money, and the collaboration of a lot of people. But I believe the same thing happens if someone is writing alone. It’s not a smooth ride, but it all comes good in the end.

With my first film, the first Mad Max, I really thought I didn’t have the makings of a filmmaker. I found the process way too hard, and the film was nothing like I wanted it to be. I had a film in my head, I thought we were highly prepared and had figured everything out, but it all just went off in so many different directions. But after, on films with more resources, I realized that was just how it happened. I’m someone who, on the one hand, I like things to be calm and go smoothly. But on the other hand, I realize that’s never going to happen.

I think I learned that lesson when I was practicing medicine. When you’re working in hospitals, and particularly working in the emergency department, you have to be prepared to adjust to every contingency. The unpredictability of it is just something you have to manage. And had I not had that, I just don’t think I’d be making films. Had I not had that experience, and at least felt all those anxieties and the wilderness that I felt I was in back then, I simply don’t think I’d be making films today.

DEADLINE: As you’ve gone on, have you been able to get closer, by the end, to that image of a film you hold in your head at the start of the process?

Mad Max
Mel Gibson in Mad Max (1979)
Kennedy Miller

MILLER: As you accumulate some degree of craft and work with people that you worked with before, you can get pretty close to what you set out to do. That’s not to say that there aren’t surprises, both positive or negative, but you learn to adjust or adapt them into the process. On that first film, even though I used to sketch out drawings we didn’t even have a photocopier, so any drawings I did, I had to write them down in words. In comparing it to the storyboards of the intention, it was a long way off. I would say it was about 50 percent off.

The second film — the second Mad Max — was a much more difficult film to make. I remember going through that process and then watching the film. I thought, Oh, we got it to about 75 percent of what it was meant to be. But in that case, that other 25 percent was even better. So, it goes on.

There’s no excuse anymore for making a film that is technically below par. Working in the digital medium is enormously helpful. There’s a huge amount of plasticity within the frame and you can really get there. Once, the only question was, “Where do you make the cut?” But for example, within Three Thousand Years of Longing, we did a lot of cross-shooting with cameras. And if we saw the other camera, it was so easy to erase. In the old days, we’d have boom arms coming in, and you’d have to cut the shot or live with it. In this case, because I really didn’t want to do much ADR and I wanted you to be able to hear every breath and so on, the boom is quite often in the frame and the actors can tolerate it being much closer. You didn’t have to worry about it because you can lift them all out in post. You can get a lot closer today than I think you could do in the past.

DEADLINE: Is there a risk of using the technology as a crutch, though? Do you have to be careful not to lean into those possibilities so heavily that the life drains from the picture?

MILLER: Absolutely you do. There’s no sense of felt life in a film if it’s utterly perfect. And that’s why I believe that when you do animation, you have to introduce abstraction in order to take away from what you see as too perfect.

In the past, a couple of people have said to me, “George, be careful you don’t overthink it.” And I would think, Gee, am I overthinking things? But then I realized, no, you can never overthink it, because ultimately, if you’re drawn to a particular process, you are drawn by intuitive responses which are much harder to grasp or to rationalize. And particularly if you’re in the creative life, the intuition can never, ever be overwhelmed by the intellect. It simply can’t. In fact, there’s a feedback loop; your intellect informs and gives you all the grit for the intuition. And then, the intuition basically does the job of making the final decision for you.

So now, I’m at ease of that. Every time I think I’m overthinking it, I just relax and say, “No, you’re just fueling your engine.” And once again, it applies to everything that one does where you’re attempting some degree of excellence. You think of a basketball player and the constant drilling from when they’re a child. Or a musician, and the hours upon hours of practice. Performers are completely surrendering to the instinct. I mean, there’s a pattern to it, but you can’t sit and think about where you’re going to place your fingers on the violin; it’s ultimately given over to intuition.

The greatest actors are like that. They’ll sit and worry about the role, they’ll intellectualize it. You start to worry it’s going to be a little bit mechanical or staged. But the moment you start shooting, all that’s gone, and it is purely intuitive.

DEADLINE: We’re in an era in which cinema’s power has been challenged by other distractions, like television, streaming, and the internet. Do you think that the power of cinema has lost any of its potency?

MILLER: One thing I will say that hasn’t changed, and I don’t believe will ever change, is the need for story. But the way we tell and receive stories is always changing.

There’s a certain bewilderment by some to what’s happening with streaming. Three Thousand Years of Longing is obviously a film that has absolutely been made for the cinema, both in sound and picture. It’s 4K resolution, where Fury Road was 2K. With the sound, every nuanced breath, every lip smack, every note of music or sound design is there to be heard in some sort of perspective that can only be best heard in the cinema. So of course, you make it for the cinema. But if I’m paying any attention to the world, I know that the majority of people who will watch this movie in its lifetime — the majority who watch movies period — will be seeing it on a smaller screen. Sometimes, on a phone. And sometimes — perhaps most times nowadays — people will be watching it, even in the cinema, with two screens.

I can get upset about that as an old-school filmmaker. But if I do, I’m being very foolish, because it has always been so. When radio dominated and everyone would go to the cinema, it pushed aside vaudeville in the United States, and people went to the silent cinema. And then, when the television came, it was going to be a major disaster, and cinema, as we all know, reacted to television by putting on epics in Cinerama and stereo sound. It was trying to get a competitive advantage. Now it’s changing again, and it has never, ever been any other way.

Mad Max Fury Road
Nicholas Hoult and Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road (2015).
Warner Bros/Everett Collection

For filmmakers, we have to adapt to that. If people are too busy scrolling through their cellphones, on TikTok and Instagram and whatever else, you have to acknowledge those things are addictive simply because they’re telling stories in such a quick and efficient way. We are speedreading the moving image now, and if you don’t take account for that in your cinema… That’s not to say you can’t have slow-burning films, but there has to be a dramatic purpose to them.

So, cinema itself will definitely lose its ubiquitous influence, but stories won’t, in whichever form those stories are told. When I think about superhero movies and that whole debate, to reject them simply as something other than cinema doesn’t make any sense because it’s denying that we are in a cultural evolution and have always been in that process.

I think the argument for the cinema experience is, for me, two things. One is all that technological effort that goes into creating something that’s immersive, and that must always start with story before everything else. Because a good story can be appreciated even if the film is being watched on a phone. But the other thing that’s special about cinema is that congregation of the audience. That congregation of strangers that people often talk about. There’s almost a quality to cinema where it’s like a kind of a secular temple.

And to be honest, that’s why I’m just so happy that the first audiences that are going to see this film — just as happened with Fury Road — are going to be in Cannes. For an old-school filmmaker like me, that makes me very happy.

DEADLINE: You’ve had a long association with this festival.

MILLER: Yes, and I’ve been lucky enough to be on the jury at Cannes three times. A long time ago I was on the jury with William Goldman, the screenwriter, and he was such a wonderful man. We came up with an experiment. He said, “How many times in your life do you ever pick up a novel or go to a movie or turn on a TV show that you know nothing about?” Because most times you walk into a cinema, you’re carrying something about the film with you.

There’s an expectation in Cannes to go to the big screening — the evening premiere — but he said, “Let’s go to the press screenings; the first screening of the movie. And let’s make a point of not reading anything about the film, nor the filmmakers, the country of origin, nothing.” We would watch films, if you like, in a completely virginal way. It was wonderful, because to sit in a movie theater and not know anything about the film and just let it unfold was unlike anything I’d experienced. I’ll never forget that experience, time and time again.

DEADLINE: It’s the magic of a film festival, and it seems like something at the heart of your curiosities as a filmmaker. It’s true that you’ve made plenty of sequels, but then a film like Three Thousand Years of Longing comes along, and it’s like nothing you’ve done before, and nothing cinema has done before. It may be based on a short story, but it feels like an original.

MILLER: Oh, well, that’s a lovely thing to hear because that was one of the reasons why the story wouldn’t let me go. I couldn’t — and I can’t — really figure out any kind of genre for the film. I mean, you can figure out a genre for a Fury Road, it fits into well-established patterns and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, most stories, one way or another, you can put into some kind of template. I think that’s inevitable and necessary. And the person who shed light on that the most was Joseph Campbell, who saw them across all cultures, across all time. But in terms of the confines of a story told in under 100 minutes, I can’t quite put my finger on what genre it would fit into, which I really do think of as a virtue.

I always look to the notion of making something ‘uniquely familiar’. It’s got to be itself, and yet, because it’s built on all the stories that came before, it harnesses a collective sense of story. It has got to be uniquely familiar. And I think that those films that have a level of uniqueness are the ones that are somehow much more likely to stick in the mind.

DEADLINE: You say that Fury Road can be easily categorized into a genre, and of course it can. But even there, what you do with the action movie template is elevated and given new dimension.

George Miller/Deadline
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MILLER: I mean, that’s something important to strive for. Even in telling stories with each other. I know for my family, when I start on an anecdote and they say, “We’ve not heard that before,” I get more excited to tell it.

I have a twin brother, and I think that’s another one of the reasons I became a storyteller, because we were always telling each other stories of our day. He’s way funnier than I am, and I was always interested in his take on the same day that we had. We spent virtually the first 22 years of our life together, through school and university. And yet, we were not identical twins. So, he’d have an experience in the classroom or the playground, or of playing with other people, and he’d come back and tell me, and then I’d tell him. And the ones that had that extra flavor, that extra surprise, the ones that weren’t the sort of standard that you’ve heard so often before, are the ones that stick in the mind. I think it’s same with movies, or with any form of storytelling, any article someone writes, any piece of music, any artwork, any building, anything.

DEADLINE: With all that said, I suppose you aren’t going to want to tell me anything about Furiosa, are you? Are you at least excited about how the process is developing?

MILLER: I’ll tell you how it’s going when it’s finished, but it has got off to a lovely start. All I can say about my excitement about doing it is that it’s definitely exciting, because even though it’s certainly of that world of Fury Road, it’s also got a lot of the differences we’ve been talking about. Again, it’s uniquely familiar. And probably the biggest difference is the timespan. Fury Road happened over three days and two nights and this one happens over 15 years. So, it’s a saga.

For more than that, we’ll have to talk again in the future [laughs].

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