George Miller didn’t start out as a filmmaker. In his 20s, he was an ER doctor. While completing his residency in medical school he was also honing his skills as a director. By 1978, Miller had quit medical school and borrowed enough money to produce his first feature film, the dystopian “Mad Max.”
In the film, war and oil shortages (a very real thing in the 1970s) create a post-apocalyptic setting where only the vilest and most vengeful survive. Miller has described the film as taking place “next Wednesday, when all the bad things we read in the news come to pass.” When a former cop’s family is murdered, he sets out for revenge against the gang responsible for their deaths.
Miller made “Mad Max” on a shoestring budget, using a then-unknown Mel Gibson as the eponymous protagonist. In an interview with The Guardian, Miller admitted that the production made him question if he was cut out to be a filmmaker:
“The film was a complete disaster to me in terms of what I wanted to do. I really thought I wasn’t cut out to make films. We had no money for an editor, so I cut the film myself for a year. And every day for a year I was faced with the evidence of what I hadn’t done, what I’d failed to do. Every day facing this film, this wreck.”
As it turns out, “Mad Max” was anything but a disaster, becoming a global hit. Miller wowed audiences with innovative camera shots and editing that were far ahead of their time. The success of the film kickstarted a franchise that spawned several blockbuster sequels and allowed Miller to explore far beyond the Australian wastelands.