Ryan Coogler and George Miller praise powerful female collaborators
The Oscar season is long and grueling. It officially begins in September, with the prestigious fall festivals that launch every sort of Oscar hopeful, and it never slows until the gold statues are handed out in the new year. The screenings and events and TV shows that are now part and parcel to the awards-industrial complex can be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be a death march.
“The last time I was involved with all of this, I met Guillermo del Toro and we traveled on planes to the BAFTAs and to other awards and we became very close,” said Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller, at the fourth annual luncheon hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Tuesday. “The idea is to just enjoy the ride. It’s a bit like a primary campaign in politics — except nobody has to be terrible to each other.”
Held in a New York City restaurant setting on the afternoon after the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner and before the National Board of Review gala, the informal gathering afforded the opportunity for people from the studio, independent, and documentary film industries to mingle with each other. Miller chatted warmly with fellow legendary helmer Ridley Scott, NBR’s choice for best director for The Martian. According to some prognosticators, the two men are Oscar co-favorites heading into next week’s nomination announcement. But on this day they were comparing how many cameras each employed on their respective films. Miller used dozens — so many, in fact, that he wrapped the shoot in Namibia with 480 hours of footage. “But Ridley Scott just told me that with Matt Damon on the set of The Martian, he had GoPros everywhere,” Miller said. “And so much of what was shot is in the film. Isn’t that great?”
Elsewhere in the room, Creed director Ryan Coogler gave a big hug to the iconic avant garde musician and artist Laurie Anderson, whose meditative Heart of a Dog (about the life and death of her pet) has been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar. When Coogler told Anderson about his own childhood dog, who was euthanized in 2009, and about his reluctance to own another dog ever since, she touched his arm and said, “It’s all about love.”
Coogler also talked about his affection for Maryse Alberti, the acclaimed cinematographer of Creed. The director’s first film, Fruitvale Station, was shot by cinematographer Rachel Morrison, and he didn’t hesitate to emphasize the need for more women behind the camera. Cinematography is the only category at the Oscars (besides Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor) that has never nominated a female.
“I’ve never worked on a feature film with a male cinematographer,” Coogler said. “It might be because in both my movies I was dealing with stories where the protagonist was a man but there were several really important female perspectives, and I wanted that different energy and a different perspective that Maryse and Rachel brought. That’s the way it should be. And we need a lot more female perspectives in all movies, especially behind the camera. It terms of capability, woman are completely equal to men, obviously. It’s crazy to even have to say it.”
Asked about his rumored next movie, Marvel’s Black Panther, Coogler could only say… nothing. “Right now I’m trying to figure things out. I’m definitely anxious to get back to work but I’m also taking care of my life. I’ve been engaged to my girlfriend for a long time and if it’s not this year, then… she might walk,” he said, with a laugh.
And speaking of significant others, George Miller deflected much of the Mad Max praise showered on him by various well-wishers (including Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman and Room producer Ed Guiney), but when it came to talking about the job of editing his 480 hours of Fury Road footage into a two-hour film, Miller directed all the attention on the movie’s hard-working editor Margaret Sixel. She also happens to be his wife.
“Margaret is one of those annoying people who, whatever she does, she does it so well,” Miller said. “She’s a gardener also, and I realize that you could transpose those two skills. To be a really great gardener, like to be really great at anything, it’s much more complex than it looks on the surface. We live near the sea in Australia and so she’s very careful in choosing what works, in terms of the light and the fertility of the soil, and then creating an aesthetic around it. It’s very technical. But her truest gift is in predicting what will happen. That’s what makes her an invaluable editor. She can look at all of it, like looking at all those seeds in the soil, and see what the end result will be.”