After Tim Miller built a successful career in visual effects with his company, Blur Studio — whose work spans from the Ninja Ninja arcade sequence in 2010's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," to the opening credits in 2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" — he became a savior in some corners of the fanboy space by directing 2016's long-delayed "Deadpool" feature film.
The movie went on to be the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever at the worldwide box office until it was recently dethroned by "Joker." But due to creative differences, Miller exited "Deadpool 2" before it was made.
Now Miller is back to helm of another IP in triage.
"Terminator: Dark Fate" (in theaters Friday) is a complete overhaul of the franchise. "Dark Fate" ignores parts three, four, and five, and picks up where "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" left off. This time there is a new future in despair, and a new Terminator, but Linda Hamilton is back to play Sarah Connor, along with franchise creator James Cameron in a producer role (the most hands-on he's been since "T2").
Miller talked to Business Insider about some of the major decisions made behind-the-scenes, including talk of the movie having simultaneous PG-13 and R-rated releases, and the disagreement Miller had with Cameron over a time-travel element.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Guerrasio: These are some of the better reviews a "Terminator" movie has had in over a decade. That has to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Tim Miller: Well, there are enough split reviews that I just feel warm maybe not fuzzy. I know lots of people have franchise fatigue and it was going to get dinged for being the sixth "Terminator" film, even though it's the third one. So I was disappointed but not surprised.
Guerrasio: When you came on the project was it already established that the other movies were going to get essentially erased from the canon and this one would take place after the events of "T2"?
Miller: When I came onto the project Jim [Cameron] had not even decided to come back. There were a lot of rights issues, who had what rights, and it was messy. So when I came in it was sort of blank page. [Skydance Media CEO] David [Ellison] asked me to rebuild the franchise. I told him that two things were very important to me: that Jim comes back and that we continue the "T2" story. Many people made different choices since then, which is fine, but I didn't want to feel beholden to those choices.
Guerrasio: And is it true that while you were filming it wasn't decided yet if the movie would be PG-13 or R rated, so there was talk at one point that the movie be released simultaneously in a PG-13 cut and an R cut?
Miller: You're absolutely right, which I think was slightly problematic but overall I think it was a good thing. And here's why: the disparity of budgets that come with PG-13 and R.
Guerrasio: And not to mention box-office projections.
Miller: Totally. So we didn't decide to make it an R movie until we were into post. That meant I got all the benefits of making a PG-13 movie in terms of budget and scope and then we switched it to R, which is what we all hoped for.
Guerrasio: So when you were shooting did you basically act like you were making an R movie and if that didn't happen you would tweak in post?
Miller: I would have just used alternate takes. Say I did five takes of a moment, four of them would have "f–k" in it and one of them would not have it. I didn't think we would do an R because of the temperature at the studio and Skydance, so worse case we do an R-rated release along with a PG-13. So we did talk about a simultaneous release.
Guerrasio: But why does everyone eventually agree it should just go out as R?
Miller: This is going to sound arrogant, I don't mean it to be, but I do I feel a little bit indirectly responsible for that. "Deadpool" was successful at an R rating, that allowed "Logan" to be made with an R rating, and because "Logan" made more money than any PG-13 Wolverine movie I think there was a realization that some stories are meant to be told a certain way. The DNA of "Terminator" is R rated, and when you change that the fans punish you for it because they feel the false step.
Guerrasio: I don't think you should feel arrogant at all because I was going to ask, through all this back and forth on if "Dark Fate" should be R or not, couldn't that all have stopped by you speaking up and saying, "Guys, I made 'Deadpool' as an R, why are we f-ing around?"
Miller: [Laughs.] If only I had that kind of juice, oh would I use it. But we did make the case that there are two directors who have made enough money on R-rated movies to justify the budget of "Terminator." One of them is directing the movie and the other created the franchise.
Guerrasio: How difficult is it to make a movie with a time-travel element in it?
Miller: Well, I think you can do it poorly and make it really confusing because by its nature it's a confusing structure. We had a lot of conversations and a lot of complexity in making it simple because I don't believe the audience wants to hear a lot of exposition and theoretical talk about time travel.
Guerrasio: But give me a glimpse behind the scenes, were there some involved with the movie who really wanted to go far out in regards to time travel?
Miller: Everybody was pretty on board with keeping it simple. At the beginning of the writers' room, Linda hadn't agreed to come back. Jim had to make that call to Linda and he didn't get a no, let's say, so that made us go down that road feeling she would eventually say yes. The biggest discussion with Jim was at some point there has to be a first time that someone comes from the future. Is Dani (the person the Terminator is on the hunt for, played by Natalia Reyes) a natural in this movie? Is everything that's happening to her happening for the first time? And that was really the decision to be made, which Jim held onto for a while but I immediately knew we couldn't do it. Jim really wanted to try to do that and eventually he came around. It wouldn't have worked when you add in certain plot points in the movie that Grace (a soldier from the future ordered to protect Dani, played by Mackenzie Davis) knows. Future Dani wouldn't know all that stuff if this was the first time.
Guerrasio: That's what I mean by time travel getting messy.
Miller: But we do think all that s–t out. For instance, you get dinged in a few reviews when people say, "Why are they calling them Terminators when it's a new future," and I thought about that. Dani calls them Terminators because when she meets up with Sarah, she calls them Terminators. So Grace calls them Terminators because Dani called them that. So the cycle makes sense.
Guerrasio: How has the experience of "Deadpool 2" and making this movie made you grow as a filmmaker?
Miller: That's a tough question to answer. I honestly don't feel I'm any different a person than I was before I made "Deadpool." I felt pretty fortunate then. I had a good career in visual effects, I own my own company and get to work with artists everyday. What I love about the live-action filming experience is it's an intense experience that creates these relationships with people. Many people have said it was the best movie they worked on in terms of the experience, because we have a good time on set. I have some fights with the people above me in the chain of command but never below. Then you're a dick. Save the anger and fight the people above you. I don't shy away from that. I feel I used my 15 minutes of fame to collect the greatest concentration of nerd projects ever. I'm the luckiest guy around.