If filmmaking is still considered a young man’s game, apparently no one has told prolific Australian director George Miller. At age 70, he’s about to unleash quite possibly the craziest practical action masterpiece you’ll see in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Daily Dead recently had the distinct pleasure of attending a special screening for the latest chapter in the Max Rockatansky saga that also featured a Q&A afterwards with Miller and our moderator for the evening, Edgar Wright. The duo chatted about the filmmaking business, the risks and rewards of doing practical stunts, Miller’s return to live action filmmaking for Fury Road and so much more. Here are some of the highlights from the pair’s highly engaging chat.

Miller on whether or not he had always envisioned Mad Max as a franchise: "I didn’t; I thought I was done on the first one, but then the sequel came around. And so that was a way to do something again but do it better because I was just learning to make films- I’m still learning how to make films. Then I thought after the third one that was it, but these things stay in the back of your head and then they’d go away, but then they’d come back again and soon enough, you find yourself obsessed again. Mad, is right."

Miller breaks down Fury Road’s long production process: "We kicked this all off in 2001, but then the American dollar collapsed after 9/11 so it fell away. We had to get onto Happy Feet  because of the studio and the animation facility was available and then the dollar rose again. But then we had these unprecedented rains in The Outback of Australia where the red desert became overgrown with flowers and greenery. So we waited a year for it to dry out, but it didn’t, so we had to take everything from the East Coast of Australia to the West Coast of Africa in Namibia where it never rains.

Because we had to do it old school, because this isn’t a CG movie- we don’t defy the laws of physics, so we had to stage everything for 120 days. Every day was a stunt day. And then we shot, and because of digital cameras these days, we had something like 480 hours of footage by the end of everything. And that’s three weeks of continuously watching footage without sleep (laughs). But in the old days, you couldn’t shoot like you can now with these digital cameras- you used to have to let the high-speed cameras rest or they’d overheat after something like 40 minutes. So if you were doing an explosion, you really had to plan it out with your camera guy; now you can let those things run and run and you get much more coverage.

So then all of this was dumped in the lap of Margaret Sixel, the editor, who is my partner and was back in Australia working while we were off shooting. It was her job to find those two hours in there, somehow (laughs)."

How Happy Feet helped Miller prepare for Fury Road: "Yes, that’s really true; the things I learned from Happy Feet really informed this. Polanski, a master filmmaker, said that there is only one perfect place for the camera at any given time. And when you shoot animation, and you have exactly the same performance, exactly the same words, exactly the same lighting, but you shift the camera, from your point of view you are virtually able to prove that. You are able to experiment with the camera in animation with very little cost.

Bernard Herrmann said that cinema is a mosaic art. It's all the little pieces that go together that make up the whole. So you find those little pieces. And that's why I think some of the best filmmaking comes out of places like Pixar and DreamWorks and all the animation houses, because they do have a lot of action in their films and so they know where they can put the camera."

Miller discusses bringing veteran cinematographer John Seale out of retirement: "Going into Fury Road live made me a little uneasy, because you don’t have a whole lot of time to experiment with the camera. We had a really great camera crew though, led by John Seale. He’s not intimidated by the idea of having to use multiple cameras and so we set out a very clear path from the start. And he even turned 70 while we were making the movie, and he was out there, hanging off of stuff every day- he’s a very fit sailor. He even put off his retirement to come and shoot this film for us."

How Miller and his team managed to create the jaw-dropping stunts for Fury Road and still keep things safe: "We pulled Fury Road off with a lot of help. We had Guy Norris, who did second unit directing and was the principal stunt coordinator - he was a 21-year-old when we were working on The Road Warrior. Partly because of the delay of the weather, we were able to rehearse all the stunts back in Australia. Every stunt you see, we’d rig everything up and get all the weights right, and they’d test out the engineering through the computer and then we’d test it out in reality. So when you see those stunts at the end with the Big Rig, we had to figure out a way to pull all that off safely but we also had to really prepare ourselves a great deal for anything that could possibly go wrong. It was very painstaking preparation.

The storyboards were great, though, because everything was just visualized right there. You didn’t have to write, “look right or look left”, because you could just draw it there. We even gave the entire cast the storyboards while we were shooting so they knew how to prepare and be ready to react at any given moment.

And those giant polecats that we have in the film, I never thought we were actually going to be able to pull those off just because I didn’t think we’d be able to get them moving back and forth. I was expecting to have to shoot those separately and then comp in the cars as they race through the shot but gradually, they began to figure them out. Then one day, Guy sent me some footage while I was working on Happy Feet 2 with several guys up there, using the polecats how we had envisioned them, so that was great. Time really was essential on this.

But the notion of really hurting someone badly was very real and was right there all the time. But we had great riggers- the guys who did the stunts for Olympics in Sydney and Beijing- and they were really on top of their game. We even ended up being able to use real cars in this because of them."

Miller on the operatic nature of Fury Road: "That was the initial concept, to see if we could sustain a chase sequence for that long and see how much you could pick up along the way. And we had to unfold the information too, throughout those scenes, and budget all that out across the movie. The editing was a big deal, to find its rhythms, and once you start at a certain tempo- you can’t slack off at all. You have to either keep it going or find moments of quiet within the frenzy and that was tough. By and large, it was all mostly established when we did the storyboards, but things always pop up."

Miller’s trial and error process as an action film director for 30+ years: "Watching movies, like we all do, you learn in the cinema. I also used to live near a drive-in that was on top of a hill and often driving home, I wouldn’t go into the drive-in, but I would park outside and watch the movies silent. Then I became interested in silent movies because I realized that the basic syntax of film were the visuals. Then I just became obsessed with action because I understood that you’re not ‘slumming’ in action because as a director, you’re trying to use a language that cannot be rendered in any other medium. You can’t do it in the theatre- you can’t do it live.

So for Mad Max, we sort of did storyboards, but more like I had to write it out and then we’d copy it on these old wax copier machines because that was all we could afford. So I’d write out all these descriptions including all the camera movements- like the crane would move this way to that way at this specific height- so it ended up being a 175-page script for a 90-minute movie. This time, we had a copier (laughs) and could do storyboards the right way."

How the story of Fury Road came together before the script: "We did the storyboards before the script; once I decided to do it this way, I got in touch with Brendan McCarthy who is a wonderful artist who had sent me terrific drawings of Mad Max. I asked him if he wanted to come down and work on it and he did. We sat in a room and basically laid out 3,500 panels - so much of it is what you see today in the film. Obviously, there are little beats that come from the performances, so that as a director you have to find moments for those while keeping up that rhythm of the action."

On the importance of practical stunts and effects: "I don’t think there was a choice, really; you couldn’t make this movie with a bunch of CGI. I mean, I guess you could but it would have to look really, really good. The thing is, you’re looking at a car, and a human being, so we have to utilize those things all while keeping in mind physics. There are no spaceships and no one can fly in this film, so it must be done in the real world. It’s the vehicles, the actors, the sky and a lot of sand and that’s it.

And one thing you have to keep in mind is when you’re filming and you’re doing all these things live, there are always things that happen unexpectedly and most of the time, you have to hope you got what you needed in the end because it can be so unpredictable. But it’s much easier doing it this way because you don’t have to wait for months to get the shot back to see if it worked or not- most often, we shoot, check the camera, and if we got what we needed, that was good enough for us to move on."

Miller discusses reteaming with Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) for Fury Road: "Hugh was amazing; he trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company and worked on some very celebrated productions back in the day. I knew nothing about acting back when I did the first Mad Max, so it was Hugh who sort of steered everything. To give you an idea, we were so low-budget that we were shooting near Melbourne and he and his theater group were in Sydney, so we told them we were unable to fly them down because we just didn’t have the money. I offered him train tickets and instead, he told me to put the motorbikes from Mad Max on the train and send them to Sydney so that they could ride them down themselves. It took them three days to finally get to where we were shooting and by the time they arrived (we had sent them some wardrobe too), they had become this biking gang and they remained that way throughout the entire shoot. I saw the immersion that these guys were able to do and Hugh really became the glue to that movie in particular.

Unfortunately we killed his character in that first movie, so I had been waiting for years to get him into the right movie project and Fury Road was the first that came along. And with the mask, and with those eyes, he was perfect as Immortan (Joe). When he would walk onto set, he was Immortan- the War Boys would even do the sign for him whenever he’d enter the room and he insisted on them all calling him “Daddy” even while we weren’t shooting."

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.