By Koraljka Suton
That came from my experience and having improved as a writer, understanding dramatic conflict a little better. Also, returning to that mythological core, a part of the hero saga is the phase of the dispirited hero. It is that phase which is addres sed in ‘Mad Max II.’ Because of his personal tragedy, Max has become a burned-out closet human being. He’s a person who doesn’t believe in acknowledging the human part of himself. He feels that the only road to spiritual survival is through a comp lete lack of emotion. Then, with a great deal of reluctance, he becomes the savior of the new order. He saves others, so that there can be a regrowth. We started off with a basic story, even though in the film, we weren’t really speculating about what the future would be like. If I had to do a documentary on what I thought the future would look like, I don’t think it would be the ‘Mad Max’ films. But that look enabled us to have a sort of hyperbole, a stylized simple story which had to be set in such a world. Every element in ‘Mad Max II’ was worked out from the present, and from the premise that, suddenly, there would be no energy. No electricity. So, people would rush down to their supermarkets and take whatever was left in the refrigerators. They would find other people already there. There would be fights. We would have no gas for our vehicles. Very quickly, things would reach a Darwinian stage where human beings would have to survive as best they could. Some would, undoubtedly, choose a brutal lifestyle, consuming whatever was left, since no more goods would be manufactured. But there would be pockets of people who would try to make a new beginning. —George Miller
George Miller made his directorial debut in 1979 with the movie Mad Max (he had only shot two short films up to that point), but the Australian filmmaker had another career before he ventured a try at the cult dystopian action movie that would mark the onset of an entire franchise. Miller was a physician who worked in the ER, where he was constantly surrounded by car accident victims, which came as no surprise given that, as he himself once stated, car culture is in Australia what gun culture is in the USA. The director said: “From Mad Max 1, I was obsessed with safety. Having been a doctor who worked in emergency, I saw a lot. In Australia we had big long roads and speed. We did not have airbags and safety belts. By the time I was out of my teens, I’d lost two friends to car accidents. On the other hand, I just love action movies. For me, the most universal language and the purest syntax of cinema is in the action movies.” His inclination towards action films combined with his immersion in car culture and its potentially scarring outcomes is what ultimately served as a thematical and aesthetical inspiration for Mad Max, a movie that follows the titular character working as an eventually vengeance-seeking Main Force Patrol officer in a dystopian Australia “a few years from now.” What Miller wanted to do was make “a silent movie with sound,” relying heavily on kinesthetic imagery and the unconventional aesthetic of the world he built, while maintaining a fairly simple story, one that could easily be understood even if no words were uttered (although, of course, they were). The movie was a surprise hit that launched lead actor Mel Gibson into stardom, while grossing A$5,355,490 at the Australian box office and more than US$100 million worldwide, with a budget of only A$350,000–400,000, thereby becoming the most profitable movie ever made according to the Guinness Book of Records (a title that would eventually go to the mockumentary The Blair Witch Project in 1999).
The budget Miller had at his disposal resulted in him resorting to creative and unusual ways of paying certain people to be a part of his film. Ambulance drivers, a truck driver and extras who played biker gang members and who were, in fact, real members of the Australian gang called the Vigilantes, were paid in “slabs” of beer (cases of 24 cans), while art director Jon Dowding confessed to having stolen the majority of the props seen outside the convenience store early in the morning and taking them back during the night. If anything, the cast and crew were truly one-hundred percent committed and managed to overcome every potential obstacle that was placed in their way, thereby creating a hero and a story that would leave an undeniable imprint on popular culture as we know it (even James Cameron claimed that The Terminator was heavily influenced by Miller’s cult movie). It was precisely that imprint that enabled the director to make a sequel two years later, in part to “overcome all my frustrations on the first Mad Max because that was such a low budget and such a tough movie that I had all this sort of pent up energy for the story and the filmmaking.” And lucky for us, Miller indeed utilized all of that pent up energy and channeled it into Mad Max 2, which is regarded as the crown jewel of the series (right up there with his 2015 Mad Max: Fury Road). With a budget of A$4.5 million, the sequel became the most expensive Australian film up to that point. Although released as Mad Max 2 in Australia and other countries, it was renamed The Road Warrior for North America, because moviegoers were not familiar with the first installment due to its limited release.
The script was written by Miller, Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant. Filming began in the winter of 1981 and lasted twelve weeks, in a remote mining town situated 800 miles west of Sydney, called Broken Hill. This location provided the perfect post-apocalyptic setting for the continuation of Max’s story in which he unwillingly decides to abandon his loner ways for the purpose of helping a group of people protect their oil outpost and their lives from a bike-riding, leather-wearing, mohawk-sporting gang led by a muscular, hockey-mask wearing man who calls himself Lord Humungus (played by Kjell Nilsson). It is a bleak future Miller decided to explore and expand on, and to a much greater extent than had been done in Mad Max. The opening sequence, one which was not used for the Australian version, gives the audience the previously undisclosed backstory on what led to the downfall of civilization, with gasoline becoming the main currency. Everything we are presented with, from vehicles to wardrobe items, are remnants from our world, one long gone. There are oil tankers and semi-trailer trucks, motorcycles and customized racing cars. There are people dressed up like Hells Angels, cops, cowboys and leather-fetishists (the costume department bought the items in junk shops, sporting outlets, second-hand stores and S&M shops, subsequently going to town with the assembly). And the only rule is that there are no rules—chaos and mayhem reign supreme with the sole objective being getting one’s hands on as much gasoline as possible, no matter the cost. The world has gone mad and started to resemble an off-the-rails Halloween party, with pure adrenaline being the driving force behind every frame and every sequence.
But even though the world Miller built is quite a distinguishable and eclectic one, the story that permeates the movie’s core is an archetypal one. Scholars consider the movie to be a western at heart—a group of settlers forced to fend for themselves against a gang of marauders, while a hardened hero decides to interfere, thereby saving the day and reclaiming his humanity. But Max is not restricted to being just a typical western leading man, but rather something much more universal, as Miller came to see for himself: “He’s all of us, amplified. Each of us in our own way is looking for meaning in a chaotic world. He’s got that one instinct—to survive. After the first Mad Max, we went to Japan and they said, ‘We know this character, he’s a ronin, like a samurai.’ In Scandinavia they called him a lone, wandering Viking. To others, he’s a classic American Western figure.” What Miller discovered after he had made the first movie was that with the character of Max, he had unintentionally tapped into a universal archetype that would be instantly recognizable in all cultures around the globe—that of the hero. He decided to expand on that concept in Mad Max 2, but this time deliberately. He read the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell’s work of comparative mythology that details all the stops of the hero’s journey, by utilizing Freudian concepts and Jungian archetypes. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Mad Max movies managed to not only be as successful as they were, but also to stand the test of time—for the archetype of the hero is one deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, pandering to that part inside every individual that is instinctually driven, stripped of all the masks, traps and facades that make up the ego and the superego. This is also the reason why it is hardly a problem (or even a noticeable occurrence) that Mel Gibson as Max has a total of sixteen lines in the entire movie—his archetype does not require him to speak, but rather to do. He is a man of action and forward movement, not one of verbal conceptualization. And that is something we as the audience immediately recognize on a subconscious level, thereby enabling Max’s very presence to become more than enough and his lack of verbalization nothing unusual.
But the main character of the movie and the background story were not the only elements of Mad Max 2 that were “amped up” compared to the first film. Thanks to its new and improved budget, the visual i.e. technical aspects of the second installment were far superior to those of its predecessor. Quentin Tarantino asserted that Australian directors “manage to shoot cars with a fetishistic lens that just makes you want to jerk off.” And Miller was certainly the kind of director he was talking about. The climactic, fast-paced highway chase scene wherein the truck Max is driving is being both pursued and defended by various types of vehicles and that lasts a total of thirteen minutes is still regarded as one of the best action sequences in the history of cinema.
Director of photography Dean Semler (who would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on Dances With Wolves in 1991) came on board without having shot any action prior to this engagement, but he soon learned not to worry all that much about things that would normally preoccupy a cinematographer, such as ever-changing weather conditions—Miller had explained that there was always so much going on in a single shot of any of their action sequences that nobody would notice the changes in weather. Semler had learned a lot from his experience on Mad Max 2—a lot of it was done on the go, with Miller not having a storyboard, but rather drawing rough little sketches in the mornings prior to filming. Semler also had the opportunity to do a lot of hand-held, as well as simulated travel, which he had never done before. The director had pushed him and taught him, telling him to be bold and do as he liked. As Semler recalls, in a lot of sequences the truck in the highway chase was not in fact moving, so he shot it on a tripod that was placed on a western dolly, moving on rough ground. The result were shaky shots, which Miller ended up loving, so he accentuated all the other shots around it to give them that same hectic energy that made the sequences so exciting and memorable. Thanks to Miller, Semler took chances both physically and artistically and “learned a lot about danger, about simulated travel, about being gutsy and shooting stunts of course.”
And the stunts were, of course, yet again all the rage in Miller’s action-packed sequel, with more than two hundred of them performed in it. According to Jon Sandys’ book Movie Mavericks, one of the craziest stunts that was caught on film and ended up in the movie was, in reality, a stunt gone horribly awry. Stuntman Guy Norris as a bike-riding raider slammed into a car, flew off his bike, smashed his legs into the car and plunged towards the camera. This was in no way planned—Norris was supposed to fly over the car, not into it. The poor stuntman, who was just recovering from a prior leg injury, broke his leg yet again. A similarly horrible accident happened the very next day, when stuntman “Mad” Max Aspin filmed a scene where he crashed a vehicle going at a speed of 50 mph into a wall of previously wrecked cars. The first time around, he was unharmed but also dissatisfied with the performance, so he ventured another try. That second time around, he broke a vertebra and a heel. But amidst these horror stories, there is one that had a more than happy ending. The most dangerous stunt in the entire movie—the rolling of the tanker—was shot without anyone getting in harm’s way, even though the stuntman had never done it before and had to do it in one take. Stuntman Dennis Williams who was in charge of driving the truck had not eaten for twelve hours before the shooting of the scene in question, so as to minimize potential complications in case he had to go into surgery. An ambulance and a helicopter were on stand-by, while a lot of crew members abstained from watching.
Apart from the amazing stuntmen who literally risked their lives in order for such breath-taking sequences to be captured, proving themselves more than worthy of being named and praised for their work, there was another addition to the movie that deserves an honorable mention. And this addition was a four-legged one. Max’s sidekick in Mad Max 2, simply called “Dog,” was a Queensland Heeler who the film crew saved from the dog pound a day before he was to be euthanized. The dog reportedly stood out because he picked up a stone and dropped it at Miller’s feet. During his training, it was discovered that the dog had severe trauma around cars (the sound of the engines in particular) so they had special earplugs made for him. Mad Max 2 ended up being the dog’s only movie. After filming ended, he was adopted by one of the crew members and went on to live a couple of more years. While on set, he grew especially close to actor Bruce Spence who played the Gyro Captain, which proved to be a problem because it was his character that the dog had to attack in one scene: “The only way I could get him to go for my throat was to play with him for hours on end, getting him to bite my scarf. That was what he was doing when we shot it.”
If you asked Miller, he would tell you that the character of the Gyro Captain has the most important function in the movie. Not only is he brilliantly utilized as comic-relief and becomes like a breath of fresh air amidst an otherwise dark world, but he is also the one who fulfills the purpose of humanizing Max and helping him go from a lone vigilante kept company by his trusty dog, to a person who manages to see himself as being of use to other people in need. And his unlikely companionship with the Gyro Captain is what enabled him to go that extra mile. Since Miller reportedly wanted the actors to make up their own character background stories (seeing as how they were not featured in the film), Bruce Spence claimed that he and the director envisioned the Gyro Captain as “venal, a good talker with absolutely no self-respect… We seem to agree that he was possibly a used car salesman or a PR consultant. If George Bush Jr. was around then, I probably would have modeled him on that bastard!”
When it came to the making of Mad Max 2, Miller was nothing short of unconventional, a trait that ultimately enabled him to prove himself as the brilliant visionary he always was. From the aforementioned crazy costume design and even crazier stunts, all the way to shooting the movie in sequence (which is an extremely unorthodox practice in and of itself, let alone for action movies) and editing it with the sound off, so he could focus solely on the images without the sound distracting him, not one part of the production process could be labeled as ordinary. Because he was unafraid to take risks and boldly go where no filmmaker had gone before, Miller managed to create not just one of the greatest action movies ever made, but also one of the best sequels of all time. And that is saying something.
Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art. Read more »
“I was very influenced by a book written by the critic Kevin Brownlow called The Parade’s Gone By. He said the main part of the parade has gone by the advent of sound in cinema. This new language that we called cinema had mostly evolved in the silent era. What differentiated it from theater were the action pieces, the chase pieces. And I really got interested in that. Hitchcock had this wonderful saying: ‘I try to make films where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And that was what I tried to do in Mad Max 1, and I’m still trying to do that three decades later with Fury Road.” —George Miller
Screenwriter must-read: Terry Hayes, George Miller & Brian Hannant’s screenplay for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
George Miller talks with Paul Byrnes about his early career in Australia: from the ‘experimental’ Mad Max (1979) and its blockbuster sequels, to his pivotal role in the golden age of the mini-series with The Dismissal (1983) and Bodyline (1984). He also touches on his first forays into Hollywood and conveys his continuing passion for telling Australian stories.
I guess the main thing going through my mind when we made Mad Max (1979) was I wanted to make a film which I saw as pure cinema. I started off being interested in mainly painting and drawing. And it wasn’t until I started to edit film, I had the opportunity to do that, where I suddenly saw—oh my god, there is the fourth dimension if you like, time, you could bring into two-dimensional space. So it became basically kinetic pictures that I was mainly interested in. And it was only later that I got interested in narrative. So with the first Mad Max (1979) I basically wanted to make a silent movie. With sound. The kind of movie that Hitchcock would say, ‘They didn’t have to read the subtitles in Japan’. A film that basically played like a silent movie and… because for me, once I got interested in cinema as moving pictures, I went back to the silent era. And I was particularly struck by the films of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and those—and those kind of very kinetic action montage movies that they made. And they were the… I think they were the true masters in that era.
And basically I saw the action movie, particularly the car action movie, as an extension of that. Just the way you could put little bits of film together and make up a kind of a whole sentence. The syntax of filmmaking was first discovered by those kinds of filmmakers. And that was the thing that really drove me to something like Mad Max (1979). And of course that meant that we had to work in genre. It wasn’t a kind of reaction to the period films being made at the time. It was mainly… it was my interest and Byron Kennedy’s interest at that time to make a film like that. And it’s still a film… I still love those films. I call them—I call them ‘pure cinema.’
So in a sense it was an experimental film for you?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think, I think every film I make, I really believe every film I make is experimental. I mean the film we’re making right now is experimental. No-one’s every made anything like this before. And I guess at the time we were making Mad Max (1979) the same thing applied. The entire budget was $350,000 and so that means you’re doing everything incredibly cheaply. It meant that Byron Kennedy and I would gestetner the script and then we’d get on the back of my motorbike and we’d ride and deliver it to the cast and crew. It meant that Hugh Keays-Byrne and all the guys who played the bikers… we couldn’t afford to fly them down. We could afford to take the bikes from Melbourne up to Sydney. They got on their bikes and rode them down and kind of rehearsed being a bikie gang on the way down.
It meant that we had to sweep up the roads after there was a car crash. Byron and I would stay back at night and sweep up the roads. It was that kind of guerrilla filmmaking. It meant that the film was cut in a flat that we borrowed from a friend and he would cut sound in the lounge room and I’d cut picture in the kitchen. It meant that the mix, which was done for $6000, was done by Roger Savage after he was mixing Little River Band in a big fancy sound studio and using a very revolutionary timecoded way of putting picture and sound together, which hadn’t been done before. And that led to Roger being one of the, you know, leading sound technicians in film in the world. So everything was done in a very innovative, resourceful way and it meant that the lenses that we had were lenses… Sam Peckinpah had a shot a movie, The Getaway (1972), one of the last movies that Steve McQueen had made. And he used these Tadayo lenses which were so damaged by the car action that they had, they were dumped down in Australia. But we were determined to do a wide action, you know, wide-screen action movie and so we could only get these Tadayo lenses. Only one of which worked properly. So the whole film was shot on this very wide 35mm lens. The other ones were too tricky to use. So that’s why people said I was very clever to use the wide angle lenses but we had no choice really if we wanted to do the anamorphic format.
We did close roads without permission (making Mad Max, 1979). We… in those days there was no… there was a legal twilight zone, I mean there’s nothing in the law to give permission to go and drive a car and smash it in the street. I mean no-one had made these kind of movies at the time. So there was no-one to go to really get a permit for. If we did… we weren’t even allowed to use radios. The walkie-talkies were on police frequencies so it was illegal to use police radios. To use the radios because the police would come and say, ‘Hey you’re interfering with our frequencies’. But what happened as the film went on, in Melbourne, the police got so interested in the film unofficially they’d come off hours and help us with the… make the film. I mean they’d block off the roads for us and whatever because no-one was making movies about these sort of things. Particularly because there was futuristic kind of cop cars in it we would often be driving these cars back to and from location and have an escort of several police on their motorbikes or police cars. Just taking us down as part of a convoy. So it was kind of pretty guerrilla in that way.
We set the film (Mad Max, 1979) in the future mainly because once I’d basically contrived the story, which was very, very intense in its incidents, it felt like it was just too hyperbolic. It was just totally exaggerated so we thought if we set it in the future we might sort of… it might take on a sort of a more fable-type quality. But we didn’t have enough money to really set it into the far future and degrade it down too much, so it was set in the near future. By the time we made the second film, Mad Max 2 (1981), we were able to do a little bit more.
The casting (of Mad Max, 1979) was a real problem. If we thought, remember that the people who… the only way we could raise the money was basically from friends and family who put in $10,000 lots. And it was very, very difficult to sort of put that money… it took us more time to gather the money, the $350,000, than to actually make the film. So we had an obligation to really try to get the film seen as widely as possible. So my thought was—’okay, let’s try to get an American name’. And I actually went to Los Angeles and couldn’t even… realised that the whole budget would be taken up by a so-called American name. So I can remember coming back to Australia and thinking—’How are we going to cast this?’. And we saw lots and lots of young men. And we tested some and it just wasn’t working and I thought—’We’re not going to find these people’. And I remember Mitch Matthews, the casting agent, said, ‘Oh there’s a couple of NIDA graduates you should meet’. And I remember late one afternoon after screen testing lots and lots of people, Mel Gibson came in and I was very, very exhausted. I remember watching through the video camera lens as he’s running this scene and I suddenly started to believe it. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, there’s something going on here’. And halfway through that test he was [snaps fingers]… I was just so grateful he was around. At the same time there was Steve Bisley. And at the time I also met Judy Davis. They were all in the same year at NIDA, in their final year. And so we cast Mel and, you know, that was it.
The rest is history. Couldn’t find a part for Judy though?
No. I tried very hard. I remember meeting her. She didn’t test but I remember Mitch said, ‘You should meet Judy, I mean there’s something extraordinary about her’. And I remember her coming in and just saying hello. I think she was waiting for Mel and Steve and just said hello. She had that rather shy smile of hers. And I didn’t know… she was obviously very interesting to talk to. I had no idea she was such a great actor.
Mad Max 2 (1981) was different. The budget wasn’t the issue. The biggest shift in Mad Max 2 (1981) was my head. I felt utterly defeated by the first Mad Max (1979). I felt that, that the film was unreleasable. I, I… it’s a mystery to me why the film still worked. All I see is its defects. And I thought that if you prepared a film well enough, the film that’s in your head, it’s just a matter of executing it. And I was quite naïve then. What I didn’t realise is that filmmaking is tough. And it wasn’t until I spoke to Phillip Noyce and Peter Weir—Phil had just done Newsfront (1978), his first feature, and Peter had done his second, probably, feature—and they said, ‘Oh it’s always tough. It’s crazy.’ And that, as simple as that sounds, that really changed my attitude. So we… on Mad Max 2 (1981), I made a point of getting really the best possible crew we could find. We were going to be out in the desert at Broken Hill. It was going to be tough. We were going to try to push things a little bit and, you know, I… but the attitude that I had and I think that the crew had was vastly different. On the first one most of the crew had come out of Crawford’s Television. They couldn’t work out why—why we were trying to shoot the film in an atypical way. They thought we were just going to make a Crawford’s cop show. But we… but by the time we got to Mad Max 2 (1981), I think this was Dean Semler’s second feature and his attitude was give anything a go—it’s crazy but give it a go, we’ll back you all the way.
And we went out there and it was much, much physically… much tougher film physically but—but with that sort of attitude that it’s always tough and let’s just go out there and make the very best film we can. That sort of… we ended up, you know, by and large having a very good experience on that film. It was… I felt as though I was able to achieve something much closer to the film in my head than I did with Mad Max (1979). It was physically arduous (shooting Mad Max 2, 1981) but if the spirit is strong… it’s when you’re demoralised as I was on the first film that it becomes very difficult. On the second film, I mean it’s wonderful also, shooting in the desert. And we were one of the first films into Broken Hill which, as you know, is a mining town so it had a lot of infrastructure. I mean there was a French restaurant for god’s sakes. And you had all that technology that they use in mines for welding and all the artisans. And it’s a decent-sized town. And it’s since then become quite a, you know, quite a location for people because you’ve got the access to the desert with a fairly decent urban centre.
There was a big shift on the second film in this way: when I, when Mad Max (1979) did come out and, to my honest surprise and relief, that it was successful. I watched the film go round the world and become a hit virtually in every culture other than the United States. This is the first film. In Japan they called it a samurai movie and said, ‘You must know Kurosawa’. I’d never heard of Kurosawa. In—in France they said, ‘Oh it’s a western on wheels’. In Scandinavia they said ‘He’s a Viking’. And basically I began to realise that somehow there was something else going on there and that was the realisation that there is a collective unconsciousness going on. That there’s a mythology out there and basically Mad Max (1979) was a kind of a weird Australian version of that. A kind of road warrior. And so that led us to Joseph Campbell and once you, once Campbell opened those doors of perception into storytelling I suddenly became… forgot about cinema all together and basically became a storyteller. I’ve been trying to figure out those mysteries ever since.
So Mad Max 2 (1981) was very influenced by that. Suddenly you saw that he was much more than just a character. That he was indeed a mythological figure, you know, a mini-version of one. He’s not—he’s not a great hero but he has that, something like that is nascent in him. And it was… so it was a little bit more self-conscious in Mad Max 2 (1981). Not following it, you know, religiously—the hero myth. But it was an understanding that that was what was at foot.
One of the other big differences between Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981)—in the time, in the interim, I spent almost every day thinking about what I’d done wrong on Mad Max 1. Why it wasn’t sort of bending itself to my will. Remember that I spent almost a year cutting it. That, so I saw every mistake. Everything… and once it’s locked on film it’s there forever and you say, ‘Oh my god, if the camera was only a little bit lower’ or ‘had I done that a little faster’ or that’s… ‘if I’d changed that line’. I was able to confront that. We all do when we’re cutting a film. But I was able to do that. So when the idea for Mad Max 2 (1981) came it was like, ‘Oh my god, here’s an opportunity to put all the theory into practice’. So in one way, Mad Max 1 was a rehearsal for Mad Max 2. And I think every film that you do is a kind of rehearsal for the next one. So you’re developing your technique. You’re trying to fathom film language. You’re trying to fathom the mysteries of storytelling, and we’ll never do it but each film helps you do that.
George Miller, director, writer & producer behind the Mad Max franchise on planning, process and penguins. This article originally appeared on Bafta Guru.
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.’
George Miller on The Road Warrior, Film Comment, 1982.
THE MAKING OF MAD MAX 2: STUNTS
This is an authorised five-minute making of Mad Max 2 that focuses on the heroic work of the film’s stunt performers—including a look at two dangerous stunts that don’t go according to plan.
GEORGE MILLER INTERVIEW, 1983
The director and producer of this surprising film discuss their sequel to the enormously successful Mad Max, Starlog 061.
An article from Films in Review.
Guillermo del Toro on George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
An article from Fantastic Films #30, featuring interviews with producer Byron Kennedy and director George Miller.
An article from Enterprise Incidents.
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.
DEAN SEMLER, ACS, ASC
“Directors tend to get all the credit when it comes to making movies. But when it comes to the visual feel and look of a film, it’s actually the cinematographer we should thank. Enter Dean Semler—one of Australia’s finiest cinematographers. His ability to tell a story through moving image, his ability to light the most breathtaking scenes, and his skill at shooting both documentary and feature film have made him a force to be reckoned with. So it’s no wonder Hollywood’s biggest names are dying to work with this Aussie. Hugh Jackman owes his whole career to Dean. Dean’s wife, Annie, discovered the actor while working in a gym. Dean even took the Wolverine actor’s very first head shot. And as they say, the rest is history. Dean and Mel Gibson started their careers working on Mad Max II. After that, Dean soon became Mel’s go-to cinematographer, working on some extraordinary productions including the critically-acclaimed We Were Soldiers and Apocalypto. With a track record like that, we bet they’ve got a few stories to tell. Dances with Wolves still holds a reputation for having the most outstanding cinematography of the American West, and won Dean Semler an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Since then, he and Kevin have worked together many times, including the now infamous Waterworld. The creator of the Mad Max franchise, director of Happy Feet, Babe and more, considers Dean Semler to be one of his best friends. Their friendship blossomed whilst filming the Mad Max II, which George directed. Stuck in the desert for months and filming in harsh conditions may have been challenging, but it was also one of the best times of their lives.” —SBS
“I don’t claim to have a particular style, every movie is different. In my early days in Australia I was recognised as an action man after the gut tearing photography in the Mad Max movies. However the genre was new to me and everyday became an exciting learning process, learning from the creator and Director of those films, the great George Miller. The constant advice I would get from him was ‘Dino… just be bold!’ He wanted a cinematographer who had not only mastered lighting, but also had a good eye for widescreen compositions and one who was prepared to take risks, photographically. Understanding that in a fast and wild action movie, when the chase begins, no-one would ever care or be aware of the change in light direction, or if it was in sun or cloud, early morning or middle of the day. The other hugely important factor was the camera movement, and if you watch Mad Max 2 (1981) you will feel the energy level go through the roof because of the fast, unsteady, shaking and sometimes violent camera movement. As I was looking through the lens and operating, the camera was jolting, shaking and almost coming off the tripod. It was just Miller wanting to stir things up a bit and give it extra adrenalin. So after those two films I became the ‘action guy.’” —Dean Semler, ACS ASC
DEAN SEMLER’S ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD
An intimate and touching portrait of legendary Australian cinematographer Dean Semler. Winner of the best cinematography Academy Award for Dances With Wolves. After the glamour of Hollywood, he returns to his humble beginnings in country South Australia. Featuring rare behind-the scenes footage from Mad Max, The Power of One and Dances with Wolves. Directed and shot by David Brill. Edited by Simon Adams. Produced by David Brill, Claudianna Blanco and Damian McDermott.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Photographed by Carolyn Johns & Lloyd Carrick © Warner Bros., Kennedy Miller Productions. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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