Director George Miller, who is the originator of the post-apocalyptic genre and mastermind behind the legendary Mad Max franchise, is now releasing his fourth film in the world, with Mad Max: Fury Road hitting theaters on May 15th. This time around, Road Warrior Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is haunted by his turbulent past, and even though he believes the best way to survive is alone, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig that is driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is transporting stolen cargo from the evil Immortan Joe.
Following a recent press screening of the film there was a Q&A moderated by fellow filmmaker Edgar Wright, in which George Miller talked about making his first pure action film in 30 years, why the start of production got delayed, shooting all of the stunt work practically, having shot 480 hours of footage (or three weeks worth of continuous watching without sleep), preparing 3,500 panels of storyboards prior to filming, how everything with the production design all had to be unified by the same sets of rules, and how he feels about the test screening process. From the interview, we’ve compiled a list of 18 things you should know about what went into making Mad Max: Fury Road.
This is Miller’s first pure action film in 30 years. Miller didn’t know that he would continue telling stories in the Mad Max world, and thought he was done with the first film. And then, the second one came along and it was a way to try to do something better, as he learned to make films. And then, he thought the third one was it. But, it always stayed in the back of his head and wouldn’t go away.
- The plan for this film preceded Happy Feet. Miller said, “We were to kick this off in 2001, but it fell away. The American dollar collapsed with 9/11 and the budget ballooned. We had to get onto Happy Feet because the digital facility was there. It rose again, but we had unprecedented rains in the outback of Australia and where there was red desert, there was now flowers. We waited a year for it to dry out and it didn’t, so we had to go to Namibia where it never rains.”
- All of the stunt work in the film was shot practically. Miller said, “Because we did it old school – this is not a CG movie – we don’t defy the laws of physics, so we had to stage it. For 120 days, every day was a big stunt day. Because of the digital cameras, we shot 480 hours of footage. That’s three weeks of continuous watching without sleep.”
- There was a lot of wasted footage that was then all dropped into the lap of the editor, Margaret Sixel, who’s also Miller’s life partner. She had to find the two hours to make up the film, out of all of that footage, and she had never cut an action movie before. She had mainly cut documentaries. There was a team of assistant editors who would prepare all of the various takes and any footage that might be useful. They assembled the movie in Australia while it was being shot in Namibia for nearly eight months.
- According to Miller, Polanski said, “There is only one perfect place for the camera, at any given time,” and that’s what he learned from doing animated movies. You can experiment with the camera in animation, at absolutely no cost, until you find the ideal camera position for every moment. He sees cinema is a mosaic art of all of the little pieces that fit together to make a whole.
- The camera crew was led by John Seale, who came out of retirement to shoot the film and who is not intimidated by having multiple cameras. He turned 70 on the movie, and he was actually on top of the War Rig for some of the shots.
- Everything in the film was meticulously planned out to the millisecond, through storyboards. Miller did the storyboards before actually doing the screenplay. Even the cast had the storyboards, so that they knew where they were meant to be, at any given moment. There were 3,500 panels, and so much of that is what you see now.
- The notion of hurting somebody really badly was there, so they were obsessed with safety. They had the guys who did the Olympics in Sydney and Beijing as riggers because they are so on top of their game. It allowed for them to use the real cast for so much of the film.
- Miller has said, “I think of action movies as a visual music, and Fury Road is somewhere between a wild rock concert and an opera.” The movie not only had to sustain a chase for as long as it does, but also pick things up, along the way. Characters are actually introduced in motion, during the moving car chases. The editing helped the film find its rhythms.
Miller learned to be a great action filmmaker by watching movies and learning in the cinema. He lived near a drive-in that was on top of the hill, and he would park outside and watch the movies silent, which he became obsessed with. And he also became obsessed with anything with action. He sees action as a language that cannot be rendered in any other medium because you can’t do it live.
- With this film, they didn’t set out to make another Mad Max or Road Warrior. They set out to make Fury Road. Those movies are at its roots, but 30 years on, there’s a whole new language and world.
- The villain, Immortan Joe, is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original Mad Max. Of his casting, Miller said, “Hugh is an amazing man. He trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company. All of his ancestors were military, and he was the first one to break that and become an actor. Unfortunately, we killed the character at the end of the first movie. For years, I’ve been trying to get him into a movie, but this is the first one we could do. With the mask, he was perfect for the Immortan. He would walk on the set as the Immortan. It was always playful. He insisted on everyone calling him Daddy. Of course, Tom [Hardy] and Charlize [Theron] didn’t, and the wives didn’t, but any War Boy or any stunt performer who was a War Boy all did. And Nick Hoult called him Daddy because he was a War Boy.”
- Even though there is a man’s name in the title of the film, there are three generations of bad-ass females. Miller said, “Everything in the story is pretty organic. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Let’s have a bunch of aging warrior biking women.’ It started with the notion that the MacGuffin should be human cargo, so it became wives in a toxic wasteland, looking to create healthy heirs. Their champion would be unlikely to be another male because it would be one male taking a group of women away from another male. So, it had to be a warrior that was going to do it, which led to Charlie [Theron], going to find a matriarchal tribe. It was a natural, organic extension of the story.”
In regard to the characters, Miller said, “We had big, thick bibles, not only for the character, but for the world. If I picked up a prop, the person who made that prop, or the actor or performer working with that prop, had to tell me its backstory. It all has some sort of perfectly logical extension.”
- There had to be one strong idea for everything. So much of the design of the movie, including the costumes, the vehicles, the weapons, the make-up and the language, all had to be unified by the same sets of rules. One of those rules was that, just because it’s a wasteland, that doesn’t mean that people can’t create beautiful things. Anything that survived the wasteland was, to some extent, revered, such as the vehicles and the steering wheels.
- There was not much choice in the color of the film. The default position for post-apocalyptic movies is to de-saturate them. Miller said, “The best version of this movie is black and white, but people reserve that for art movies now. The other thing you can do is go really all-out on the color. Teal and orange are the colors we had to work with. The desert is orange and the sky is teal, and you can either de-saturate it or crank it up. It can get really tiring just watching dull, de-saturated color, unless you go all the way out and make it black and white.”
- In regard to how he feels about the test screening process and why he screened this film quite a bit, Miller said, “I’m a big fan of testing, provided that it’s used properly. Because I was lucky enough to be successful with my first film, I’ve always had final cut. Once you have that, you’re very secure with the knowledge that you can invite opinion, and I really love opinion. But, you can get so much opinion that it can become difficult to differentiate. If you do a test screening and just listen to every opinion, it’s a waste of time, but you can get a really good gauge for what happens. In a movie like this, I really had to make sure that people were getting enough information to avoid confusion. We also had to make sure that the important bits of dialogue were heard. It’s a big aid to the filmmaker because it makes you really address your movie.”
- The film has 2,700 cuts in 114 minutes of movie. For the action, they would just reset the scenes automatically, as they would drive along the landscape. They would drive as long as they could, until the land was no longer clear, and get seven or eight takes of the same action. They had snake wranglers to make sure that the snakes were all moved out of their path.