Australian sci-fi action flick Battalion was released by Uncork’d Entertainment and High Octane Pictures this January, which I reviewed recently for Popgeeks here. This action drama from Michael Miller director of Battalion, takes a unique perspective on the worldwide alien invasion trope, so I decided to interview the writer-director on how he brought his vision to the screen.
AP: What inspired you to take on the role of writer and director for such an ambitious production like Battalion?
Michael Miller: I always think big when I’m coming up with an idea for a movie, honestly I can’t really do it any other way. The challenge for me is to figure out how to use the tools we have to realise that vision, or if we don’t have the tools, to find them, or make them. So for me really the inspiration is already there – I just have to figure out how to make it real.
AP: Do you identify more as a writer or director? Is one more challenging than the other?
Michael Miller: Well, I can write a script while I’m sitting on a train, so that’s definitely the easy part for me. But as for how I see myself, I guess I think of myself more as a storyteller than a writer and director. Whatever stage the movie is at, we’re always telling a story, even in the edit suite.
AP: In the film you establish the alien threat right away, but the invasion action seems to be secondary to the character drama. Was that always your intention?
Michael Miller: I guess for me the action and the drama are two sides of the same coin. With this type of film, the big action scenes are what people come for, but the best action movies are always about characters. When you feel strongly about the characters, you’re invested in them, you have to see their story through.
AP: Do you feel that given a larger production budget for CGI, special effects, pyro, you would have staged the film differently in any way?
Michael Miller: Honestly I don’t think the film would have changed that much if we had a bigger budget. Maybe it would be longer. We could have used real ships like in Dunkirk. But no, this is the film I wanted to make.
AP: Do you have a particular interest in the military? Is there a personal experience with veterans for you that inspired these characters?
Michael Miller: My family has a connection to the island of New Britain, which is a real place near Papua New Guinea, so I’ve been interested in its history for a long time. The Japanese invaded the island in World War II, and drove the Australian soldiers there into the jungle where they had to survive for months. Obviously this movie is quite different, but at its core I wanted it to be based on something real. So I used some of the real stories of those soldiers as inspiration for the characters in this film.
AP: Did the cast go through any boot camp style military training to prepare for the film?
Michael Miller: We had a military advisor on set, Daniel Potts, an Aussie veteran, he was also in charge of our props. We had a day before we started shooting where Daniel ran our cast through the paces, taught them how to advance, how to retreat, how to defend your squad when under attack. And during the shoot we were always asking “Dan, what would you do?” Basically anytime you see a someone with a weapon, Dan was there telling us what to do.
AP: Ellen Williams and Jesse Richardson are a strong pair of lead actors with great chemistry and screen presence. Had you worked with them before? How did they come to join Battalion?
Michael Miller: I’d worked with both of them before. Jesse I’ve known since I was at film school and he was studying acting, we’ve worked on a few films together. Ellen and I worked on a small project before and I wanted to work with her on something bigger. Though neither of them had worked together before, that was something new. It was exciting to watch that chemistry develop.
AP: My one criticism of the film (which I very much enjoyed) was the inability of most of the Australian cast to keep a consistent American accent. Was there a reason you decided to base the story around soldiers from the United States as opposed to Australia?
Michael Miller: I wrote the script while I was in the U.S, in Hawaii actually. I’d spent some time in California and in New York, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to make a movie in Australia that was set in the United States. Plus the Australian market, although its our home, it’s pretty small mainly because of our population and it’s hard to get films released here, so I wanted to really make this for an international audience. Unless you’re George Miller it’s kind of hard to make an “Aussie” movie that will carry overseas, so you have to give it that international flavour to make it work.
AP: Has there been any difference in critical response to the film in Australia versus international audiences? Do you find those audiences to have different expectations?
Michael Miller: Well the film hasn’t officially been released in Australia, so I guess that says something, though in the few screenings we’ve had it’s been well received. We have an interesting mix of audiences in Australia, and often films that do better in Asia do well here also, but because there aren’t as many of us, it’s harder for the smaller indie films to get a release here except on one of the streaming services. I’ve found that when I’ve visited the U.S, there’s so much over there that we don’t see. I think it’s a shame, but it’s just how distribution works.
AP: Is there a particular moment in the film you are most proud of?
Michael Miller: Definitely storming the beach with the soldiers. It was our first day of shooting, and we took over that beach with about 30 actors dressed up in military gear. It’s one of those experiences you carry with you, like I could be standing in line at the supermarket checkout and I think, “Yeah, I did that.” Not many other professions you get to do something like that.
Battalion is now available on VOD.