The Rover: An interview with David Michôd

Monday, 28 July, 2014

Writer and director, David Michôd has released his new film The Rover to excited audiences around the world. The film is set in outback Australia following the economic collapse of society and follows the journey of Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Robert Pattinson) across the desert.

David Michôd is a former University of Melbourne student and it best known for his award winning film, Animal Kingdom which has become something of a modern classic.

The dusty and dystopian film follows Eric and Rey who form an awkward and unlikely duo in search of Rey’s brother who stole Eric’s car. Society is hopeless and violent but the desperate surroundings are often penetrated with random, beautiful moments of humanity; dogs are rescued and wounds are stitched together by strangers.

Much like Animal Kingdom, the violence is realistic and sudden. Abrupt gunshots crack through silence and at one point in the cinema, the man in front of me audibly screamed.

I spoke to David about the process of writing The Rover, public feedback and his time at university.

What inspired you to write The Rover?

It started as an idea that I was kicking around with Joel Edgerton back in 2007. We thought we would write a movie for his brother to direct that would have cars in the desert. I very quickly started writing the script which turned into a kind of dark western about two very different but very damaged characters.

Do you have high expectations for The Rover after the success of Animal Kingdom?

Well, I don’t know, it’s such a weird art form, cinema. The process is so protracted and overwhelming that you come out the back end of it having no real idea what the world is going to make of it. That is what the last few weeks have been for me, discovering where the movie sits in the world and how it’s read by other people. I have no way of predicting its success or otherwise but I know that I feel really proud of it because it feels like a really clear execution of what I set out to achieve in the first place.

What feedback have you received?

In the last few weeks, reading reviews and talking about it with other people and that process is always surprising and in the talking you start to get a sense of what the preoccupations of people who’ve seen it are. And I remember this happening even on Animal Kingdom, we all head out on the road and we start talking about the movie and people want to talk about the same things all the time and they weren’t necessarily the sort of things we thought they would want to talk about. What’s fascinating about the way that movies land in people’s minds, every person has a different experience and yet it’s really quite interesting how frequently you can sense there being some kind of overarching collective reading of the movie.

How do you find out what the public thinks? Do you read reviews?

More often than not, those people are just members of the public. I mean, frequently, it’s kind of interesting to me that film reviews rarely talk about the craft of film making, they’re written from the perspective of a person going to the movies. On that level, they read differently to the kind of reviews that are written in other art forms. But we also live in a world where this is the year of social media, never before have we had such ready access to the thoughts and feelings of people walking out of the cinema.

Can you tell me about your time at University and what you did afterwards?

I did a BA with honours at Melbourne Uni and then went and did post-grad at the VCA in film and TV.

One of the weird things about the film industry is that it’s very difficult to work out how to have a career, and you don’t get taught at film school how to have a career in the film industry. You just get taught how to make films and so everyone I know at film school, myself included, wanted to ask anyone who was a film industry professional, what we should do when we left school and no one could answer that question. It’s only now, many years later I can understand why there is no answer to that question: the only thing you can do is keep doing it and you do that by forming and nurturing the relationships with people you met at film school, and your friends who are making films. Everything that’s happened in the last year or two I can trace back to the people I met at film school. It can just take time and arguably it should take time, making movies is hard, and like any art it takes many years of practice and study to get to a point where you can really feel like you know what you’re doing.

Did you think of yourself as an Australian filmmaker when you wrote The Rover? 

I never sit down and think to write an Australian film from the outset. All I’m ever really doing is speaking a language that I speak and translating it into script form. It’s one of the things I love about making films here and setting films here is that I love writing dialogues for Australian characters because I love the vernacular. I don’t consciously think of myself as an Australian filmmaker, it just happens that I’m from here and I love writing characters that are from here too.

What are your plans for the future?

There are projects that are bubbling away and like almost any filmmaker in the world, I’m very reluctant to talk about them in the fear that I will jinx them and they will fall apart.