Q&A with Justin McMillan

 In Talent

If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing his work, you know exactly who Justin McMillan is.

With breathtaking work as the Surf Unit Director for Simon Baker’s Breath, to his heart-wrenching short-film Gone, Justin’s work as a director demands the attention of its viewers.

His gentle touch when portraying the human condition paired with his strong sense of adventure creates thoughtful and highly visual portraits of the brands he works with. He has built a strong reputation in the industry because of it.

We caught Justin between crafting TVC’s for global brands and surfing waves, to have a chat about his stand out moments as a director, and where he sees the industry heading in 2019.

What is your main inspiration as a filmmaker?

I always find it’s easy to revert to a cliché response when answering this question and quote a few names of directors and films to try and sound like I know my craft, but the real truth is I simply love movies.

Ever since I was a kid nothing made me happier than seeing the opening credits of a major Hollywood Studio animating on screen. It meant that for the next 90 minutes I was going to be transported to someplace new and exciting and all I had to do was sit there and watch. I didn’t have to take notes, there wasn’t going to be a pop quiz after the film on the structure of the narrative. It was entertainment, pure and simple.

I’m pretty sure this love of storytelling is what keeps me going. Whether it’s long form or a commercial, I simply love the challenge of translating the script to screen.

Across the span of your career, do you have a particular job that stands out to you?

This year I wrote and directed a short film which was an amazing experience. The project was motivated by a situation I had with my son, who asked me about the disappearance of William Tyrell one night during story time.

I didn’t think he was old enough at the time to handle the truth around William’s disappearance, so I manufactured a fantasy version to help protect him from the truth.

After he fell asleep, something didn’t feel right, and I felt compelled to find out more about what parents and kids can do to avoid abduction. I wrote a script for a short film designed to create some attention to the issue and workshopped the idea with a few mates on how we could turn it into something more.

Gone was launched on International Missing Children’s Day 2018. The project was fully endorsed by the Australian Federal Police and was shared around a few parenting blog sites with a number of other mainstream press appearances. Even though it was a tricky subject to talk about in a public forum, I felt like I’d finally used my skills as a filmmaker to do some good.

Watch the trailer.


From your perspective, can you give some insight into the difference between making feature-length films and TVC campaigns?

In 2017 I was asked to work as the Surf Unit Director on Simon Bakers Breath that was shot on WA’s south coast. It was my first experience working on a feature film and I was terrified I was going to stuff it up.

I had co-directed a long-form documentary before (Storm Surfers 3D) so I knew what it takes to acquire 90 minutes of engaging story from a weather-beaten coastline – but feature films are different to documentaries or commercials.

With a feature film, there are loads of people involved in the production with special requirements and that makes it a slow-moving process.

Commercial filmmaking is a lot more service oriented because at the end of the day, it’s the creatives script. They’re the ones who’ve been through the hard yards getting approval from the client to make the film and it’s the director’s job to ensure their vision translates to the screen. Whereas a feature film typically allows a director to execute his interpretation of the script.

I personally love making all formats of film. If I can make a living telling stories with a camera then I’m a happy man.

What motivated you to establish and co-own your drone company, Heliguy?

I watched my father work 6 days a week my whole life, so it’s natural for me to be constantly chipping away on multiple projects and improving my craft.

I’ve always loved aerial cinematography and how it gives the audience a sense of geography within the story. So a few years ago I developed a drone company with a mate www.heliguy.tv which keeps me on top of all advances in filmmaking tools available to the storyteller. 

What do you predict for the film industry in 2019?

I’m not really sure advances in technology dramatically affect commercial filmmaking. Sure, there’s always a new tool that might give you an edge if you mention it in a treatment, but I don’t think it’s wise for any filmmaker to align themselves with anything too specific when it comes to tech as there’s always going to be something new.

One thing that will never change is how a filmmaker handles the narrative in every story.

A solid narrative is what motivates me. I want to always evolve and become a better storyteller on each and every project I work on.

Any final thoughts?

What I love about commercial filmmaking is that it requires you to be resourceful to find the magic in each individual project, regardless of the budget. I believe there’s a way to make any piece of communication an enjoyable experience for the audience and I really love the challenge to find and deliver it every time.

At the end of the day, I just love collaborating with creative people and making films.


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