From CBC to USC, a Career in Film

At the Vagabond Inn, in Los Angeles, where the hotel scenes from Thelma and Louise were shot, Tracy Wren talked with Dr. Bob Miller, a native Canadian who is now a filmmaker and professor at University of Southern California. The interview follows:

Tracy: What sparked your interest in film?

Bob: I came from, not exactly a film background, but my father was in broadcasting for thirty-seven years as a newscaster on CBC and went out for the English section for many, many years and, after that, the Montreal Repertory Theatre.

I had it in my blood to a certain degree to be in, if not the film industry, somewhere in between the industry. I was on the radio with my Dad and I was trained in children’s theatre when I was very young and did stage plays, and then when I went to college after having discovered that I was never going to be a chemist which I early on wanted to be, I decided I’d go into communication studies at Loyola College at that time; it’s now Concordia University.

Tracy: In Montreal?

Bob: In Montreal, and then I put myself through college by writing and producing my own radio programs for CBC FM. I did radio and television mostly when I was in undergraduate school. And then came to the United States and figured I’d put in the last element of the crown which was film and that’s what drew me to the University of Southern California.

I got my doctorate in communications with an emphasis in film which basically allowed me to work in the film school, now the School of Cinematic Arts. And then went back and was teaching at Concordia for five years, then came back down to USC to teach.

Tracy: Did you get your degree through Annenberg?

Bob: Through the School of Communications and it was an interdisciplinary degree.

Tracy: When you were a young person in Montreal, were you aware that there was a strong film community at that time or was it mostly radio and theatre?

Bob: I was in college I guess around 1969; there wasn’t much of a film industry. They were just laying the ground work for cinema and they had developed the Canadian Film Development Corporation which was a government agency that gave seed money to filmmakers trying to build an industry.

Film wasn’t something I went into because I thought it was necessarily going to be a successful career, and I was at that time, being of the sixties generation, going with the flow and I wanted to do what I liked to do and see where that took me.

And when I got into graduate school I realized I also loved teaching as much as I loved film making. And I wanted to pursue that, which was why I went for the doctorate. I could go either in the professional world or in the academic world; through a series of good fortune I ended up in the academic community.

Tracy: How did your family feel about your journey?

Bob: My dad was thrilled, basically. He just passed away earlier this year and was delighted that I was in the same business, the communication industry. He always believed in education. I think he was happier that I was following through and going to graduate school and preparing myself for a productive life.

Tracy: What kinds of films did you like as college student? Did you have favorite filmmakers then?

Bob: I sure did. Back when I was going to school, my big influence was the French New Wave filmmakers. Still to this day, my absolute favorite filmmaker is François Truffaut and I was totally charmed by his wonderful intimate little stories, basically autobiographical, about Antoine Doinel growing up and coming of age. He was definitely a big influence.

Tracy: Do you speak French?

Bob: Enough to get by. Not as much as I ought to being form Quebec, but it’s been 25 years. I’ve lost a lot of it over the years, but I go back from time to time and I have a number of good French Canadian friends and they help me polish it back up a little bit.

The other end of it would be Stanley Kubrik. I remember seeing 2001 and being totally blown away by that. The spaghetti westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West and just being amazed by the visual context of what you could do with the camera and the editing and the acting and it all seemed to come together. It was a magical experience in the theater and I was enchanted by that.

Tracy: Have you been to Cannes or do you go to many festivals?

Bob: Not to the festival, I have been to Cannes because I wanted to see it, but I have not been to the festival, no.

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