Independent filmmaker Michael Miller served as both the writer and director of a new science fiction war movie titled “Battalion” which was recently released via High Octane Pictures. Michael made his film debut in 2013 via the sci-fi drama titled “The Summit” before earning his stripes on multiple episodes of the sports series called “White Lines.”

“Batallion” is Michael’s latest film and it is an epic war movie about soldiers who take on the aliens that have invaded their planet. The movie was shot in his native Australia, and he cleverly made Queensland and New South Wales stand-ins for big-city America.

Via an exclusive interview, Michael Miller recently explained how easily it was to have Australia play America, which of the cast were actually American, and his advice for hungry independent filmmakers.

Making movies, story, and casting

Meagan Meehan/Blasting News (BN): What provoked you to seek the life of a movie maker and how did you dive into this competitive industry?

Michael Miller (MM): I've always been making up stories, as far back as I can remember, so being a filmmaker is just an extension of that. And working with visual effects is like this incredible added bonus. I get to play with toys again, it’s great! I went to film school which helped lay the groundwork, but I only really got heavily into Filmmaking when I started working with Chris Malseed back in 2010.

He's been the executive producer for all my films since then, providing all the equipment and covering a lot of the overheads. Apart from that, it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it, messing it up and trying again. I suppose you could say I'm still "getting my start," will probably feel like that for a long time.

Funny enough, “Battalion” is the first time I’ve ever gotten to actually shoot a film! If there were a check, I would totally frame it, but it's all electronic funds transfers these days so I'll have to settle for printing the confirmation from my net banking and framing that instead! I might have to redact the account information first though, can't have that hanging on my wall…

BN: What sort of filming equipment do you use?

MM: Anything I can get my hands on. “Battalion” was shot on a Panasonic GH4. Next film we're upgrading to the GH5S. I like to work with smaller cameras and DSLRs; you can really run around with them and get right up in the actors' faces. I also enjoy working with the new stabilizers and gimbals that are coming out on the market these days; you can get some incredible tracking and panning shots with them.

BN: How did the idea for “Battalion” dawn on you, what about its story appealed to you, and how much control did you have other things like casting?

MM: Actually, it seems unlikely when you watch it, but the story was loosely inspired by a true World War II story of some Australian soldiers stationed on an island called New Britain, near Papua New Guinea, who were forced to retreat when the Japanese invaded.

The soldiers had to survive for months in the jungle while being hunted by the Japanese. I’ve wanted to make that into a movie for years, hopefully, will one day, but for now, we can’t really afford a proper WWII movie, so I settled for an alien war movie instead. I love old war movies, and I’ve always wanted to make one, but I’m also a huge science fiction fan, so for me, this is the perfect mashup of genres. Using the natural landscape was a great bonus too, being able to shoot on location and spend time in these amazing beaches and environments, there’s something really special and unique about it. Can’t make beaches like that with VFX.

I had a full say in casting. I knew it was going to be a pretty arduous journey, so I focused on choosing a cast that would be really committed to their roles and work well as a team, and it paid off.

We had a great time, and everyone gave it their all. I’d work with any of them again in a heartbeat.

Advice, Australia, and America

BN: Is it true that you shot “Battalion”--which is supposed to take place in America--in Australia and was it easy to fake Australian cities for American ones?

MM: Yes, this movie was shot entirely down under! Some of it is easy – the houses look similar, at least the more modern ones. But anything on a road or in a car is incredibly challenging – it's all backwards! There a couple of car scenes in the movie where we had to cheat the whole thing – in one of them the main actor Jesse Richardson is trying to start a car, but he's actually sitting in the passenger seat.

He just pretended there was a steering wheel and an ignition.

MM: The actors have great accents – were any of them actually authentically American!?

MM: Only one was – Troy Mackinder who plays the Sergeant during the training scenes. Unfortunately, he passed away not too long ago. He provided accent coaching to a lot of the cast. But most of them just did it themselves. I guess we watch a lot of American movies and TV in Australia, which helps!

BN: What do you like most about being in the film industry and where do you hope to go from here?

MM: Honestly, I love every bit of it, even the boring and tedious bits, and there are plenty of those, but the best part is just being on set, working through a scene with an actor until it all falls into place.

That’s when the magic happens. I guess it’s like skydiving or abseiling, part of the thrill is in knowing that it could all go horribly wrong at any moment, but then it doesn’t, and you’re like, “Yes! I’m invincible!” It is the best job I ever had. I’ve got like twenty films in me that I want to make, but I also get that maybe they’re not all films that people necessarily want to see. So, I see some compromise, making some films to reach the bigger audience but, hopefully, one or two that are more personal for me. I guess that’s what a lot of filmmaking is about. The next one is science fiction too which isn’t much of a surprise as they are all science fiction. I can’t say too much about it except that it’s about 300 feet tall, and has a sense of humor!

BN: What advice have you for the science fiction filmmakers of the future?

MM: It’s pretty easy to make a movie these days, so if you want to make one, just make one, but what’s harder is making a movie that connects with people, and I see a lot of filmmakers struggling with that part. That was me about five years ago. I was always asking “What film do I want to make?” and then wondering why I wasn’t progressing further. Then I started asking, “Who am I making my film for?” and that’s when it all clicked. A trap a lot of people fall into is thinking they’re just an “amateur," that they don’t have the resources to make a proper film, but that’s rubbish. Anyone can make a great film. Use your phone if you have to. But before you start, think about who you’re making it for. Even if it’s just your grandma, it has to be for someone.