By Tim Pelan
I just watched ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ again last week, and I tell you I couldn’t direct 30 seconds of that. I’d put a gun in my mouth. I don’t understand how [George Miller] does that, I really don’t, and it’s my job to understand it. I don’t understand two things: I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead. I could almost see that’s kind of possible until the polecat sequence, and then I give up. We are talking about the ability in three dimensions to break a sequence into a series of shots in which no matter how fast you’re cutting, you know where you are geographically. And each one is a real shot where a lot of things had to go right. I’m going to keep trying; I’m not going to keep trying in the sense that I’m going to volunteer to direct the next ‘Mad Max’ movie. I’m going to keep trying in the sense that when I have sequences that demand a certain level of sophistication in terms of their visual staging, I’m going to try and watch the people who do it really well and see if I can climb inside their heads enough to think like that. But he’s off the chart. I guarantee that the handful of people who are even in range of that, when they saw ‘Fury Road’, had blood squirting out of their eyes. The thing with George Miller, it’s not just that, he does everything really well. The scripts are great, the performances are great, the ideas are great. He’s exceptional. I met him once for about 30 seconds at the Directors Guild Awards in Los Angeles the year of ‘Fury Road.’ But you don’t want to say that stuff to somebody’s face; it’s embarrassing. —Steven Soderbergh
A few months ago I met George Miller in Sydney. He’s such a nice gentleman. I asked so many things about ‘The Road Warrior.’ I’m a huge fan, crazy fan. I watched that more than 30 times. And his reply was “Bong, I cannot remember.” It was 40 years ago. And the new one is also amazing, ‘Fury Road.’ I cried watching it. When the cars are swept into that big sandstorm and the music escalates, I felt like my soul was escalating too, and tears just came out of my eyes. I was like, “Wow, this is a master at work.” —Bong Joon-ho
I ended up watching it four times in five days. I was going to do a Q&A with George Miller, so I watched it privately at Warner Bros, and I was so dumbfounded by it that the next day, when I was doing the Q&A, I was saying, ‘I wanna watch it again!’ Then I went to the premiere, and then when it came out at the cinema, I saw it another three times with audiences. It’s usually all to savour the same moment in the movie. There’s lots of amazing moments in ‘Fury Road,’ just, gasps from the audience. At the end of the sandstorm sequence, when that amazing set piece finally ends and you see the little fuse of the dynamite going down, and then it wipes out and goes to black, everybody breathes out, and then everybody claps. It’s such an amazing feeling. I can enjoy that film at home, but whenever I do I’ll think about what that sound was like when I saw it—that gasp of astonishment, and then the applause. Once you’ve seen a film like that with a crowd response, it’s almost like that is part of the audio track in your head. —Edgar Wright
Like its eponymous wandering haunted hero, seen long ago on screen in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and lately hooked up intravenously to Warboy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, director/creator George Miller, together with co-writers Brendan McCarthy (familiar as an artist to readers of 2000AD) and Nico Lathouris, provided a long-needed shot in the arm and jolt to the gonads of action cinema. And not just action—the spectacle, verve, color and pared down themes recalling and improving on so much of 100+ years of cinematic technique. Such as: the spectacle of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance as the cruel Immortan Joe lords it over the gasping, supplicant hordes of the harsh Citadel with its abundant “Aqua cola,” or water, which could be a haven for all; Buster Keaton’s The General, for the energy and imagination of the vehicular chases; and the lush, breathtaking cinematography of Apocalypse Now, colored flares popping over the antithesis of received wisdom for dystopian landscapes, George Miller and his team cranking up the color to show the harsh beauty of the wasteland spread before our heroes escape. Apocalypse WOW. An amazing thrill ride wrapped around a simple message—the world is screwed, and to survive, good people are going to have to work together. We are not cannon-fodder or trophy wives, nor should the sins of the past weigh us down either—all this to wacky races through the most beautiful reclaimed junk yard post-apocalyptic wasteland ever put on screen. Music and image in perfect soaring synergy: for instance, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in a War Rig steel—ploughing through glorious ochre sand dunes, extinguishing flames whilst she and Tom Hardy’s Max shoot vaulting motorcycling bad-ass Max-verse Jawas(!) from the air above them, strings soaring to the action beat. And that’s just some mid-level action. Everything about this film is lean, economic, yet BIG—big score, crazy action and seamless VFX augmentation, with astounding sound design. Kinetic, crystal clear jaw-dropping editing that serves character and story in symbiotic blood-bagged ballsiness. Buckle up, it’s Miller time.
Mad Max: Fury Road had a long gestation while Miller was beavering away on other projects. It was finally announced in the early 2000s, with a proposed budget of $100 million (this was to double by the time filming was eventually completed). The story first came to Miller crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing, coalescing later during a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. “I don’t know how, but the story started to play out in my mind,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Company. “I got two thirds of the way through and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a Mad Max story!’. It took another 18 months to get it onto paper, and we were about to shoot it when the Iraqi war started, and the American dollar crashed against the Australian dollar.”
Principal photography flip-flopped between Namibia, which was eventually settled on, with additional shooting in Australia, and the area of Broken Hill, where Mad Max 2 was filmed in Australia. That plan was scuttled when the area experienced substantial rainfall for the first time in years, and the arid landscape blossomed into a verdant garden. “The salt lakes had pelicans on the water,” Miller recalled. Mel Gibson respectfully declined returning to the role of Max, stating he was too old, and Tom Hardy was cast. At the time of casting, he spoke about the concept of the film to First Showing. “It’s a relaunch and revisit to the world, an entire restructuring. That’s not to say that it’s not picking up or leaving off from the Mad Max you know already, but it’s a nice re-take on the entire world using the same character, depositing him in the same world, but bringing him up to date by 30 years.”
That updating was the boldest decision Miller made, some misogynists accusing him of sidelining Max in his own story, although they missed the point of the character as he developed through the series. In the first film Max is a Pursuit driver for the Main Force Patrol, a cop in the dying throes of civilisation, driven mad with grief and rage by the gang murder of his wife and child. But in subsequent films he’s more of a mythical nomad, fetching up in other people’s stories and conflicts, aiding the helpless but unable or unwilling to settle down, driven by his own ghosts and demons, much as John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (Miller also called Fury Road “a western on wheels.”). By the time of Fury Road, he’s a barely functioning human being, captured and chained to the ailing Nux, a “half-life” Warboy foot soldier for the monstrous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original, unrecognisable beneath white fright wig and horse toothed breathing apparatus). “People only speak when it’s necessary, and as much as possible, the story is told by visuals—in that sense it’s very operatic,” Miller told Total Film. Max speaks almost half his lines in expository voice over at the beginning of the film, when he views the wasteland, chomping down on a two-headed lizard:
My name is Max. My world is fire. And blood. Once, I was a cop; a road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy. Me… or everyone else. Here they come again. Worming their way into the black matter of my brain. I told myself… they cannot touch me. They are all dead. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead. Hunted by scavengers. Haunted by those I could not protect. So I exist in this Wasteland. A man reduced to a single instinct: survive.
Captured by a war party and taken back to the Citadel, where he’s assessed and tattooed as a prime blood source, he then escapes during the pursuit of formerly trusted lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), driving contraband in her supposed supply run to one of the other two fortresses in the area. That contraband is Joe’s “wives,” chastity belt-clad fertile “property” she’s taking to the childhood sanctuary from whence she herself was snatched: “The Green Place.” Hooking up and putting aside distrust in a common goal, some kind of redemption (he doesn’t even deign to give her his name until he later carries out the task he was chained up for, a life giving blood transfusion) they (and a side-changing Hux) are bitterly let down when they hook up with the last surviving Vuvalini, Furiosa’s former matriarchal tribe—The Green Place is now diseased and barren, where stilt people traverse the sucking swampland, and crows feed on what little life remains. Max puts it to the women that the new Green Place is back where they came from, and they must do something their enemies would never expect—charge through the gathered forces of Immortan Joe and block the canyon’s passage behind them, securing the Citadel for themselves…
Questions and statements are thrown to the wind, the uncaring universe, the audience—“Who killed the world?” “We are not things.” Few films catch the zeitgeist in such a refreshing, challengingly entertaining way as this. Before #MeToo there was Fury Road, the stealth feminist action film. Miller enlisted the aid of Vagina Monologues/activist Eve Ensler, who workshopped with the five “wives” on issues like rape and domestic abuse. She related to Time magazine on reading the script that “I was blown away. One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—it’s a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice. This movie takes those issues head-on. I think George Miller is a feminist, and he made a feminist action film. It was really amazing of him to know that he needed a woman to come in who had experience with this.”
Furiosa is a badass, a buzzcutted, oil-smeared and resilient ass-kicker, with a mechanical arm, able to repair her rig on the move and plan two steps ahead. The film is full of tiny details that hint at backstory and a desire to make a new form of expression from the ruins of the old. Her War rig door has a skeletal arm painted on it in the driving position where her original arm should be. Detailing covers every inch of the vehicles and habitats, Miller believing it’s a mistake to suggest a primitive world should be without expression. Women are the questioning keepers of knowledge, and cherish growth and understanding. The Vuvalini bikers are mostly elderly, but steel tempered survivalists with a nourishing core. The wives and old women pinch and gaze at each other in curious delight. One of the most moving moments in the film is during the climactic chase when the seed bearer (literal seeds, plants saved from The Green Place in a saddle bag for replanting) has been shot but saves Furiosa. As the remaining gang evacuate the War Rig for Joe’s reclaimed vehicle, a beatific smile plays across her face in death’s repose, one wife taking back the seed bag she grasped for in her dying moments, saluting her with an open palm to the windscreen. Eve Ensler again: “George was looking to create empowered women, not victims, and I think he accomplished that. I don’t remember seeing so many women of all different ages in any movie before. I was really blown away by the older women in the film who were just as good fighters as the men. I’d never seen that before. They all have so much agency and independence.”
Stories are handed down verbally, or tattooed on bodies—the wives’ old crone of a teacher/midwife is illustrated over every available inch. Was it she who planted the idea of “kidnap” to Furiosa, determining these young women would not be abused like her? Joe has mothers on an assembly line nurse dead babies to continue producing milk, a luxury for the dominating patriarchy. Jacqui Barr—“To see an adult male drink it is transgressive not just because we are squeamish about such things—after all this is a post-apocalyptic world and the film starts with Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky eating a live two-headed lizard—no, it is because this milk is being coerced from mothers—dead babies in arms—in order for men to trade it. In the brutal patriarchy that has risen in the wasteland even a woman’s breast milk is not respected. Therefore when Max, covered in another person’s blood, washes himself in mothers’ milk, he is definitively reborn.”
Reborn, not emasculated. Casting Hardy, Miller was reminded of what he first saw in Mel Gibson. “It’s probably a cliché, but the notion of an animal charisma. In the presence of an animal is a wonderful majestic unpredictability that I think all the great charismatic actors have.” Max unleashed does what he does best—rain down merry hell on the bad guys, even when he seems a hair’s breadth away from disaster. In the finale chase, when Max is hanging from the War Rig cab and Furiosa grabs him just in time, she then gets stabbed. The plant carrier snaps out of her own post shooting to kill Furiosa’s attacker. The music, close-ups of the strain on Furiosa’s face and the leather strapping of her mechanical arm fraying, looking across at a kidnapped bride’s face pressed to the glass of Joe’s vehicle—not like this, the entire armoury of cinematic storytelling seems to say. Don’t let it end like this. Furiosa swings Max to the bonnet of the next vehicle, and the action kicks into yet another gear, Max eventually swinging across the foreground on a Pole Cat pendulum like a metronome of mayhem as vehicles explode behind. This mother just builds.
Instrumental to that building, escalating drama is the incredible score, a riot of “an insane rock opera” according to composer Junkie XL, AKA Tom Holkenborg. One that at times fuses with the immense drum/guitar rig that powers Immortan Joe’s Warboys on their chase after Max, Furiosa and the five wives, like an overseer with galley slaves. The score also switches to powerful strings and woodwinds for the moments of human connection with our heroes later, and rises to a crescendo when the stakes get ever higher. Holkenborg said to Miller, “Let’s do this insane rock opera where everything clashes and there is like choir and there’s sound design and there’s mad drums and mad electronic sounds and over the top strings and very small strings and very emotional little things and he said, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’ And so ‘Escape’ was one of the earlier cues that I started on and it needed to be crazy. Max in this case is a very troubled character. He’s not the stable, funny guy that we know from the earlier Mad Max movies in the 80s. He’s been through this so many times and he’s got post-traumatic stress and whatever he has, he’s very troubled. And so the music needed to be very troubling too.”
Holkenborg is classically trained, and teased unusual sounds from the orchestra’s classic repertoire of string and bass instruments:
“They have to get really out of tune. There’s that whole string section in there with a really haunting motif which was very inspired on the great late 40s, 50s, 60s, the golden era of Bernard Herrmann and some other classical composers.”
For the emotional moments of connection, the quiet respite from the madness, “That’s when we need to go to that musical language (of classical composition) and again we discuss the 50s, late 20s, 50s early 60s and we took best elements out of that era and we use it in a very modern film score.”
The score mirrored the film’s world, in that pieces of junk were adapted to tease unusual sounds by Holkenborg:
“It’s like there’s a lot of sounds used in the score that actually come from metal cans, oil drums, all kinds of metal objects that I sampled and did some sound design on that are being used. I mean, generally, in music, I come from a world where you sample bits and pieces from other records so you compile it together into what then becomes a dance track. That’s the world that I come from, so when George starts talking about creating objects out of other objects I was like, ‘Oh I know that world.’”
And that crazy guitarist who shoots flames from his axe on top of a moving vehicle? He’s Australian musician/actor/writer iOTA, AKA Sean Hape, and his character has a name—Coma-Doof Warrior (Doof is Aussie slang for “doof parties”—electronic music events where house or techno beats go “doof doof doof.”), and his rig is the Doof Wagon.
He auditioned for the part, dressed in Mad Max gang gear. The part was sold to him as “a mix between Keith Richards and a scarecrow.” He and director George Miller created a backstory for Coma-Doof Warrior. He was a child music prodigy who watched as his mother, also a musician, was beheaded. Immortan Joe found him, clutching his mother’s severed head. Joe took him in, and he grew up to be Joe’s troop-rallying rocker. The mask he wears is actually his mother’s skinned face–gross!
On location, he just jammed. “It’s a double-neck guitar, so it’s a bass and six-string electric, but there’s a base that I’m standing on and below that is a partial amplifier, so it’s blaring, and it’s totally squealing all the time. You’re just thrashing on it, and making noise. I’m playing Zeppelin or Soundgarden or AC/DC or whatever I was feeling inspired to do.”
When Miller introduced the first teaser of Fury Road to Hall H at San Diego Comic Con, he said, “There are rhythms, when you talk to the composers, you are talking about the exact same thing as we’re talking about in the editing room and so on. As a film exercise, it’s really interesting. And as a story, you’re just trying to get the story out of your head and into some real world up on the screen.” Miller asked his wife Margaret Sixel to edit the film, a first action film assignment for her. He told her that if he asked a guy to edit it, it would look just like every other action film. He didn’t make it easy for her:
“There were massive amounts of footage. Margaret had to find two hours to make it work. Mad Max 2 had 1200 cuts. This has 2700—and it’s not much longer. She’s got a low boredom threshold and she’s a big problem solver.”
She told The Huffington Post, “Editing this film was tough because there’s very little dialogue, which is how scenes are structured, so the options are endless. It was a relief to find a scene with dialogue. You cut them in a day. It’s ridiculously easy. The biggest challenge are notes from test screenings. You can’t get defensive. You focus and try and address it. But there are times when you have to say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ There was a point in the last few years where I decided I didn’t mind not being liked. It gave me courage. You can’t lose your integrity because someone in the test audience didn’t like it.”
“Filmmaking is not for crybabies,” she went on. “There’s no, ‘I’ve got a school concert,’ or ‘I have to go to the doctor.’ You are on call 24/7. But I have an editorial team—25 percent are women—and a very good assistant editor. Your workflow has to be very well organized. You have to be obsessive. You assemble the footage so you can follow the action, rather than make it good. If you have a picture of Charlize looking out the window, then you make your choice, but add all the options, so when George looks at it, he knows he’s mined each frame. He’s forensic about it.”
She agrees with her husband that there’s a core of feminine strength at the center of Max’s “wild dog” journey in Fury Road:
“There’s a zeitgeist out there that resonates, of women healing the world. It becomes the subtext of the story. The idea that men and women have to find accommodation. It’s not war. It’s by mutual regard that those characters survive.”
The crux of that cooperation comes in the final quote that plays on a black screen as Max melts away into the joyous crowd at the Citadel, Furiosa and her fellow women elevated, the base of the elevator platform blotting out the picture as they nod their goodbyes and acknowledged mutual debt: “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?”
Max is by now a mythic figure, a folk tale. He’s found some redemption, but not peace. He leaves this story, which is now Furiosa’s, to be passed down the generations, further blurring the lines between what is real, and what is not. What we know is real is the outcome, and at the end of the day, that is what really matters.
Ann Billson interviewed George Miller in October 1985 for Time Out with regards to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The piece was ultimately spiked to make space for a tribute to Orson Welles, who had just died. Ann has put the interview up on her blog. I thought this extract resonated with the ending of Fury Road:
“If you go back to the theory—this is the mind of Joseph Campbell—that heroes are the agents of evolution, the means by which one world is shattered and the new world is created, they’re not for their own sake, their purpose, like Mad Max at the end of Mad Max 3, is over. Once the kids (women in this instance) are free, they’re going to go off and start something new [and] he can’t be part of that. He’s too fixed in his ways. At least that’s his function. He recognizes that he’s not so important, just a chance of a renewal is much more important than an individual.”
Back to the wasteland Max goes, ever the Littlest Hobo…
Tim Pelan was born in 1968, the year of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (possibly his favorite film), ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Barbarella.’ That also made him the perfect age for when ‘Star Wars’ came out. Some would say this explains a lot. Read more »
Because the movie is basically a two-hour chase scene, the script began as a storyboard, created in part by the comic-book artist Brendan McCarthy. It contained some 3,500 drawings detailing the film’s narrative, including the complicated set pieces and stunts—most involving dozens of cars speeding across the sand. “I wanted to make a movie [in which], as Hitchcock [once] said, they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan,” Miller says. “A full visual exercise.” The 3,500 storyboards are a fantastic document with which to produce a film that has very little dialogue, where everything is spatial. Where that vehicle is, where that character is, and so on, and what the intention of the shot is. But getting out there in the reality, you’re not looking at the storyboards, you’re looking at what’s in front of you. What’s in the camera lens as you’re setting up the shot? So you have to let the storyboards go. It’s surprising that they are the things that free you to respond to what’s in front of you. And you’re always making many mid-course corrections in everything you do, when you’re making a movie. So it’s not like throwing out the storyboards; this is better. —George Miller
Yup, this is the Mad Max room where I wrote and designed Fury Road circa late 90s. What’s annoying about the text here, is the continuation of the made-up bollocks that there wasn’t a script. Miller still have a copy of the first draft. George is a showman who is ‘creative’ with reality and put out the story that there wasn’t any script. After I reminded him last time we met, he now refers to a ‘written document’ in interviews. The final screenplay was put together after the storyboards wrapped up. I also did a design pass on the whole movie as we wrote it. The production designer (who got an Oscar) who was hired some years after I finished up, has never mentioned this. About 50% of the design of the final movie was by me. —Brendan McCarthy
Screenwriter must-read: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nick Lathouris’ screenplay for Mad Max: Fury Road [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein is available at Amazon. Absolutely our highest recommendations.
THE ORAL HISTORY OF A MODERN ACTION CLASSIC
Production was shut down three times, the stars often clashed, and studio executives were baffled. Here’s how a difficult shoot led to an Oscar-winning masterpiece. —Mad Max: Fury Road: The Oral History of a Modern Action Classic
“A younger filmmaker who has done very well called me before his first feature and said, ‘Any tips?’ I told him, ‘The day will come on the shoot when you think you’re completely crazy and what you’re doing makes no sense. Just keep going.’ When he finished that film, he told me, ‘Remember what you said? What you didn’t tell me is that it’s going to happen every day.’ And it’s true.” —George Miller
Some previously unseen Fury Road concept art by Brendan McCarthy.
Here is a selection of storyboards.
Well known in the comic book and feature film disciplines, Peter Pound’s work shocks, inspires and seeks to illuminate the darkest fears of our personal and social conscience. Pound has had a long and distinguished career as a storyboard and concept artist in film and television. His CV includes classic Australian films and TV shows such as Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Looking for Alibrandi, Death Defying Acts, Babe, Dark City and the TV drama, Cleverman.
The Celluloid Warrior, from Good Weekend.
From Empire magazine.
From Entertainment Weekly.
GOING MAD: THE BATTLE OF FURY ROAD
Join host Sean O’Connell and cohost of the ReelBlend podcast for a behind the scenes documentary Going Mad: The Battle of Fury Road.
Precisely as the title suggests, Maximum Fury is a thorough look at the production, particularly on the visual design, the amazing stunt work, endless amount of preparation, practical effects and the deliberate approach of using as little CGI as possible.
Back when Jimmy Carter was president, an Australian director named George Miller made his first, super-low-budget movie. It starred a little-known Australian actor named Mel Gibson. Mad Max was a hit, and Miller’s vision became the blueprint for post-apocalyptic cinema. Now, at 70, Miller has resurrected the franchise he invented. In Mad Max: Fury Road, a warrior played by Charlize Theron runs from a tyrannical warlord. Like all the Mad Max films, it’s high on epic action and low on dialogue. Fury Road is up for 10 Academy Awards—including Best Picture and Best Director. In this extended conversation with Kurt Andersen, Miller explains how he created some of this year’s most thrilling action scenes with very little CGI—and why Mad Max would be better in black-and-white.
There was CG involved in an enormous number of shots, but it was always supportive of the real world stuff. This is a film that didn’t defy the laws of physics. There were no flying men or spacecraft, so if you’re going to go out into the desert and have two vehicles colliding, why do it artificially? It was much better to do it for real. Our brain is very efficient at reading things very quickly, so the moment we see something artificial, we acknowledge its artificiality.
Mad Max: Fury Road without special effects makes the movie even more mind-blowing.
It never goes the way it’s planned. When I finished the original Mad Max, I thought I wasn’t cut out to make movies. Then I spoke to other directors who had made their first movies, especially Peter Weir who’d done two, he said, ‘George, it’s always like that! It never goes the way it’s planned. You’ve got to go into a movie as a military exercise, never quite sure where the landmines or the snipers are.’
Don’t be bewildered by the process. By the time we got to the second Mad Max movie, we went with the flow. That’s the difference between the two films—one I was prepared to be bewildered and the other I was shocked by my bewilderment.
Think about the audience while you shoot. I wish I’d read Frank Capra’s The Name Above The Title before I started. He said play something three times faster than you think is normal because on a movie set, there’s so much activity, so much adrenaline that things read faster than they do in the cinema when the audience are in repose. In the performance of scenes, I would have sped them up a little bit.
Learn something from every project. The Witches of Eastwick was a big lesson. It was the worst of Hollywood in that not only were you punished for good behaviour, you were rewarded for bad behaviour. I walked into a production meeting and said I didn’t need a trailer. That was code for ‘this guy’s negotiable on everything’. The big thing I learned from that was to spend just as much time casting your crew and your collaborators and your producers and your writers as you do your cast.
Listen to Jack Nicholson. I’ve learned more from about filmmaking and acting and life from Jack Nicholson than any other person. He was my protector on Eastwick and a great sage. I quit several times, but he said ‘hang in there’. One of the things I learned from him is be grateful for good luck because it doesn’t happen very often.
Always stay curious. When I read Dick King-Smith book The Sheep-Pig [which became Babe], I saw immediately it was a classic hero myth story. I was curious about the story and definitely curious about the technology. It was just a case of waiting to see if the animals could talk. It didn’t lend itself to flamboyant animation, so we waited a long time for the digital age.
Dream big. CGI was the biggest shift in filmmaking since sound. When cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who shot the Babe movies, went off to shoot Lord of the Rings, he showed me the first motion capture of Gollum. And the moment that happened, I thought ‘we can make penguins dance.’
You’ll never master it, but you’ve got to keep trying. By the time I got to Mad Max: Fury Road, it was an amplification of all of these things. I say to myself, ‘you can do this for a thousand years George and you’ll never master it, but you’ve got to keep trying.’
In a conversation with NPR, Miller reveals that it was the ferocious story which came first, and the thematic elements followed.
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Growing up in rural Australia in the midst of teenage car culture, director George Miller’s youth served as the vision for Mad Max. As the fourth installment, Mad Max: Fury Road gains an Oscar nomination, Miller joins Elvis Mitchell to discuss his range of filmmaking from action flicks to children’s films and his Alfred Hitchcock-inspired intention to make films work without dialogue.
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Robert Rodriguez interviews George Miller to discuss his career as a director, writer, and producer of ground breaking films ranging from Babe and Happy Feet to the Mad Max series with a special section on Fury Road.
George is a wonderful collaborator. He loves talking things over and throwing ideas around. As we live together I am involved directly and indirectly with most aspects of the film—writing, storyboards, casting, production design. I have been very fortunate to have gone through the ‘George Miller school of filmmaking.’ He has been thinking about the language of action films for over 30 years so that’s a wealth of knowledge to draw from. As the editor I am humbled by how much thought goes into a project before we even start. He does respect my opinion but to such a degree that I am careful not to pass judgment on anything unless I am pretty sure I am right. I don’t want to mess with the vision. It’s a big plus having that level of trust and familiarity with the director. I know exactly how George likes to approach the edit so the whole editorial department work towards expediting that. —Art of the cut with Margaret Sixel
JOHN SEALE, ASC ACS
Quite early in my career, I shot an episode of an Australian television program in which the director and I center-framed the actors’ eyes during a rapidly edited fight scene. The viewers’ eyes then didn’t have to find anything—the fight was just presented to them, bam, bam, bam. So I was most intrigued with George’s idea. It was hard on the operators at first. It’s so against the grain! Whacking everything in the center and not worrying about what’s happening on the edges of the frame is counter-intuitive. Early in principal photography, the operators would offer up a beautiful composition, only to hear George on the comms yelling, ‘Put the red dot on his nose! Put the red dot on his nose!’ It was a great lesson, though, because as an operator, you have to always keep utmost in your mind what the essence of the shot is. What is the core moment? And George’s request [enabled] the rapid pace of the editing to unfold with total clarity. My overarching belief as a cinematographer is that I am helping the director keep the audience in the film, and you both use all the tools of your trade to do that. —John Seale
The Australian Cinematographers Society (Victoria) presents this wonderful explanation of what went into filming Mad Max: Fury Road. Presented by the film’s cinematographer John Seale ACS ASC and 2nd Unit cinematographer David Burr ACS in Melbourne, Australia before the theatrical release of Fury Road for the Victorian Branch of the Australian Cinematographers Society. At the time of this event, John had not yet even seen the final cut of the film.
BAFTA-winning cinematographer John Seale gives an in-depth look at his craft and shares insights on the making of Mad Max: Fury Road.
John Seale describes George Miller’s decisions about what could be ‘fixed in post’ and how he incorporated visual effects to create the final look of the film.
The final vehicular chase scene in Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterclass of well directed action, utilising a clear rhythm to keep it easy to follow and entertaining.
George Miller in rare conversation reflecting on the fifth anniversary of the instantly iconic action classic, Mad Max: Fury Road, and what comes next.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Photographed by Jasin Boland © Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Kennedy Miller Productions. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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