Max Miller’s father would bring home a plethora of rentals from the video store, allowing the young boy to marvel at the magic of film and television.
The pictures on the screen would inspire him to one day become a director himself and a very successful one at that.
The half Greek, half Scottish director grew up surrounded by his mother’s family.
“There’s no one from my dad’s side of the family in all of Australia, except for my dad. He came out here on his own, whereas with my mum, all the family is basically here so I very much grew up with the fully Greek side,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
Between spending time with his yiayia and pappou and running off to Greek school classes, the then year 9 student would find a love for directing.
“It always seemed like filmmaking and directing was always done by an old person because the only directors I knew back then were the famous names like Spielberg,” Mr Miller said.
“I had this realisation one day, I think I saw a behind the scenes of a movie and the director was there and he was this young Indian guy and I went ‘oh, it’s possible for other people to be directors too. After that moment I became pretty convinced this was something I wanted to do.”
In year 12 Mr Miller really got a feel for his creativity, making short films in school which he later carried on into his university studies at Swinburne.
It was in those years that comedy group Aunty Donna was born.
“I had some friends from high school who were doing acting at Ballarat University, that was Broden and Tom who are members of Aunty Donna…They and some other friends there decided they wanted to do comedy and wanted to do a live show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. To get a spot at the festival you need to film some stuff and send it off to them,” Mr Miller explained.
As the “filmmaker friend” he jumped in to help the budding comedians find their way onto the main stage. Eventually the group managed to make it onto the festival bill and soon after their performances were offered to do some sketches for a Channel 31 show.
Aunty Donna continued on their upward trajectory, using the momentum to put content on YouTube.
“It’s definitely harder to start a YouTube channel now, we were also lucky to be in a bit of a sweet spot because it was a newer thing, it was easier to get a following. I would hate to start a YouTube channel now, people are a lot more used to it and there’s a lot more competition,” Mr Miller said.
Since starting their YouTube channel in 2011, the group has amassed over 400,000 followers and close to 75 million views.
You can tell the the young director’s passion hasn’t faltered since finding the spark that set it off, going beyond comedy and finding every opportunity he could to direct.
“Doing Aunty Donna at the end of uni was great, but I was also always pursuing the other side career wise generally, trying to do short films and commercials. That’s always been a big thing as well. Ultimately I’ve always tried to do as much as possible, probably too much sometimes,” he laughed.
“It’s kind of believing that ‘10,000 hours’ idea, doing the thing you want to do as much as you can, to be as good as you can. So being on set as much as possible and getting to direct.”
His love for his profession comes down to wanting to make sure he can make his audience “connect” with his work which he finds “most rewarding” about the whole process.
The process of creating the final product prior to hitting screens of passionate fans however, is a meticulous task.
“My favourite part is really what the core of a directors job is, which is the visualisation of the script. So it’s ‘how do I take these written words and make them visual?’…You can choose to do something in a very basic way and it can be easy and straightforward,” Mr Miller said.
“…Or you can do things in a much more interesting kind of way and think about it a lot more and how the camera can translate the story or emotions from that page onto the screen. And using certain music, sound and lighting, props and framing, the blocking and the way people move within the scene and of course the performance as well. So getting to use all of those individual tools to help that overall visualisation to happen is my favourite.”
It is with this gusto and keen eye for detail that Mr Miller helped bring Aunty Donna their international Netflix debut.
Getting there was not without its challenges. The group dealt with rejection from major home grown broadcasters like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and streaming service Stan, who Mr Miller says are more reluctant to “take risks” and fund more “niche” projects.
The young director explained that despite this, it is the solo project knock backs that sting a little more.
“It definitely helps when you’re in a group because I’ve had rejection in the past with Aunty Donna and then I’ve had rejection as a solo director with short films. It definitely hurts much more on the solo side because this is just your film that you’ve made that been rejected. It’s hard to shake that feeling of ‘I’m not good enough’, especially when it happens more than once,” Mr Miller said.
“With the group it’s much easier because it is shared, you don’t feel it as personally because it’s a team thing. Team success and team failure.”
On group terms, Mr Miller and the Aunty Donna team took both rejections as learning opportunities, “developing [their] style and humour” in the time between getting the ‘no’s’ before turning it into a big Netflix ‘yes’.
Although larger broadcasters passed on the pilots, Mr Miller credits Screen Australia for being a significant help in funding their web series which he believes got them onto Netflix.
All of his work had brought him to the moment of getting the call, telling him the series had been given the green light to head to Los Angeles and start work.
The team spent four weeks in late 2019 filming with the likes of comedy and parody legend “Weird Al” Yankovic, actor Ed Helms and Greek-American comedian Alyssa Limperis to name a few.
All the editing happened soon after, just before the coronavirus pandemic took over the world leaving the team a small window to get back home.
“We finished the bulk of the editing by early to mid-March and things were getting worse and worse every day. We though we should probably go home before we get stuck here. Sure enough we left a week earlier than planned and that one week later when we were supposed to leave, QANTAS and Virgin stopped flying and the mandatory hotel quarantine came in,” Mr Miller said.
Since the premiere of Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun on 11 November, the group has garnered incredible reviews along with an IMDb score of 8/10 and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Mr Miller’s favourite review was one that described the group as “the illegitimate grandchildren of Monty Python”, as it referenced one of his most beloved British comedies that he grew up watching.
Whilst the young director continues to revel in the success of Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun, he also looks forward to making a full length feature film in due time.
He doesn’t forget his roots either, hoping to “do a full month in Greece” and the very next opportunity he gets.
You can keep up with Max Miller’s future projects on his website and tune into the Aunty Donna television series on Netflix.