George Miller:

January 13th, 2016 by Karen Burg

Main Photo
The Wasteland… Director George Miller, creator of the entire series of Mad Max films, works out a scene with Tom Hardy, the current Max Rockatansky… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

From director George Miller, originator of the post-apocalyptic genre and mastermind behind the legendary MAD MAX franchise, comes MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a return to the world of the Road Warrior, Max Rockatansky. Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max [Tom Hardy] believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa [Charlize Theron]. They are escaping a Citadel tyrannized by the Immortan Joe [Hugh Keays-Byrne], from whom something irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the warlord marshals all his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows.                     
The quest to immerse today’s audiences in Miller’s mad future with “Mad Max: Fury Road” would cross continents and span more than a decade. It would leverage the talents of hundreds of artists to design and fabricate an authentic post-apocalyptic universe, from the creation of 3,500 storyboards to thousands of props and costumes. In a logistical operation of unprecedented scale, the monumental production would hurl cast, crew and 150 hand-built drivable vehicles through the deserts of Namibia to stage a real-life Road War across multiple units for 120 days.
–Warner Bros. Pictures  
“George essentially invented the post- apocalyptic atmosphere we now see in so many videogames and movies,” says actor Tom Hardy. “That’s his canvas, and he’s continuing to paint on it with all of the assets he has at his fingertips.” The assets include Director of Photography John Seale and his crew, Editor Margaret Sixel, the integral work of Production Designer Colin Gibson and Set Decorator Lisa Thompson SDSA and their teams, and myriad other departments and collaborators.
“One of the ideas that drove the first MAD MAX, and drives FURY ROAD, was Alfred Hitchcock’s notion about making films that can be watched anywhere in the world without subtitles,” Miller reflects. “You’re trying to achieve what great pieces of music do—no matter what your mood, they take you to a place outside yourself, and you come out the other end having had an experience. That’s what we’ve tried to do with these films.”
Miller talked with SET DECOR about the making of this further-into-the-future Mad Max world…
SET DECOR: Much of this film is set in the expanses of a vast desert, but you do still have some specific sets, such as the Citadel, the labyrinthine cave-structure from which the evil Immortan Joe and his marauders rule… 
Director George Miller: Well, I will say I’m very happy to talk about any sets, but the vehicles themselves were sets—our main sets! I mean when you look at it, an enormous amount of time was spent decorating the vehicles because we knew that we’d be seeing a lot of them. There’s huge amount of detail on the ceilings, on the floors, on the doors, all the paraphernalia inside. Most of the time they were very story-appropriate, so they helped tell the tale on many levels…
SD: Each one was definitely unique, and there were unexpected details, for instance the ceiling shot you did. That was beautiful, where one of the young escaping wives is staring up, almost transfixed, then tracing the imagery on it…
George Miller: Well, it’s interesting how a movie works, because Colin said, “I want to use pressed tin with the Immortan Joe logo on the ceiling.” And it looked really great. I remember one afternoon, I saw Abbey Lee who played The Dag doing exactly that, just tracing it with her finger, and the light was hitting it, and I thought, “Oh wow!” And we used that at the beginning of a particular scene.
So there’s a really good example of how set decoration leads to an onscreen moment, a moment of reflection. It’s a pretty kinetic movie, but it was a quiet moment and it helps character, it helps story. And until this moment, it never occurred to me to talk about it.
SET DECOR: Lovely. This film is set in a post-apocalyptic period that has not greatly evolved in the time since the setting of the original films, but you have noted during the making of the film, that even decimated societies still have an artistic value:
“It’s critical to honor the human instinct for invention and art. Just because it’s a Wasteland doesn’t mean that people don’t make beautiful things. I’ve been all over the world and even impoverished cultures have a powerful aesthetic. So everything in our film had to have a function but be fashioned with great care and personalization. These found objects have survived where human bodies fail, and they can take on a nearly religious significance because of that.”
George Miller: Well, when we made the first MAD MAX movies—that was 30 years ago—in some way or another they helped kick-off a post apocalyptic aesthetic. But what tended to happen was that everyone made it look like a junkyard, all rust and disuse.
And I realized two things. One, if we were going to be in this world for all this time, it could get very maddening. Too much visual noise can become annoying.
The second thing, and the most important one, is when you look at us as humankind, no mater how impoverished we are, we still have a path of an aesthetic.
I always loved Paleolithic man, with the rock drawings and carvings. In Australia, where I come from, we have with in our indigenous culture the oldest continuous culture, and some of their work is gorgeous and it’s at least 40,000 years old. So, that’s key.
Anything that exists in the Wasteland is a found object that’s been repurposed. There’s no mass production. And once people grabbed onto that, it was always their personal interpretation of objects repurposed. So, even if you didn’t have a lot of technology or a wide color palette, you could still take a steering wheel or a brake or an accelerator on a war rig and repurpose it. I mean, one of my favorite shots in the movie, is when Furiosa locks in the accelerator while driving in order to move over so Max can take over driving. And the brace is one of those metal things used to measure feet for shoes! And that sort of thing happened over and over again, once everybody was working from the same sort of rules.
SET DECOR: Colin and Lisa mention a bible that you put together, which they then expanded upon. Colin says…
“George was very big on what he called ‘polymorphous’…brutally efficient function that could be wrought from any and all things and adapted as needed. A stick starts out as a spear, but breaks, then becomes a crossbow bolt, and then splint, and a toothpick, and then fuel for a fire.”
As you said, once you can get into that groove, that way of thinking/seeing, you’re literally stepping into the world that you are creating.
George Miller: Yes, definitely! Colin and Lisa and their people…and then Jenny Beaven and all her department who did costumes, and Lesley Vanderwalt who did all the makeup and hair – with the same rules always applying. And in many ways, it’s quite liberating because, providing everyone worked within those same boundary conditions, they could express themselves freely.
SET DECOR: Did you have a lot of rejects?
George Miller: Not so much rejects, but there were a lot of iterations. For instance, Furiosa’s arm was a tricky one, mainly in how it was going to work and remembering that Charlize had to carry that through 8 months of shooting. It needed to be light enough and it needed to work! But it also had to look, again, as if it were made from repurposed found objects. I must say, it was fun to work out. It was interesting and we’d have to go in and build and change. We couldn’t repeat an idea, everything had to be special.
And everything had to have multiple purposes, like a Swiss army knife. The guitar started out as a hospital bedpan. It became a double neck guitar, but it was also a flamethrower, because he had to have a weapon as well. You know, before amplified sound, or modern communications, war always had its music, the drums and bugles and bagpipes, but now none of those would be heard [over the noise of the vehicles and firepower]. So he had to have ways to amplify. All of that had its own logic. Otherwise it’s a pretty wild, kinetic movie anyway, so without the underlying logic for each piece, it would be just visual noise.
SET DECOR: Were there visual elements that you had specifically wanted? Specifics you asked for?
George Miller: Yes, always. I mean I’ve always been visual more than I’ve been aural. I think of action movies as a kind of visual music, and FURY ROAD is somewhere between a wild rock concert and an opera.
The first iteration of the movie was in storyboards. I worked with 3 storyboard artists, but particularly with Brendan McCarthy, who is a wonderful graphic artist/graphic novelist, very influential in the ‘80s and ‘90s. When we started to work together, he was doing concept drawings, and then we developed it from there.
So it’s for the eye first. I like to call this movie a silent movie with sound. Everything ultimately is about story—that is the experience that the audience takes from it. And it’s allegorical, so in many ways, it’s in the eyes of the beholder.
It’s very, very important for us to have a kind of unified coherence to the plan, to all of its design. So that filtered through all of the departments, and in many ways, they became one.  There are some images that we worked on and they appear in the movie almost exactly as they were drawn, and then others I never dreamed of…
SET DECOR: It must have been fun to be surprised with some of the things they came up with…
George Miller: Oh yeah! Even just little things like on Nux’s car, Nick Hoult’s, there’s a little bird made of car parts with eyes made of bolts…and it wobbles!
I saw that in the car and I thought, “Wow, that’s great, we’ve got to film it.”  
So, as we’re talking, I’m just now remembering all this stuff. There were all these little delights and surprises. So the more detail, the better for this, especially the war rig… You see, I knew that when we’re on the road, when the story is moving, it’s often the same set, the same vehicle, the War Rig. It’s the same all the time through a 2-3 hour movie, so it had better be interesting! So every part of the War Rig had to be very, very detailed.
When it got to the bigger sets, we had to be careful to get the balance of a world in the aftermath of an apocalypse that was all the worse-case scenarios you hear on the news but all at once…and now we’re 45 years into the future on a continent that is a little bit like Australia, a semi-arid continent.
The Citadel had a backstory that before Immortan and his big marauding gang had taken over, it was probably built by mining engineers who used it to haul all of their equipment up into safety. And then he took it over and repurposed it for his more military pupose. So we built this layered world. And we created a place called Gastown, which you barely see briefly in the movie, and the Bulletfarm, which we only ever allude to. We’ve got maps of the world and legends of the world, so we all worked within that.
One of the things about the Immortan’s Citadel was that they would have carved his symbol on the rocks, but they wouldn’t have spent too much time chipping away on it, so it’s rough-hewn.  We had to get that balance right between spectacle for its own sake, and what this world could have achieved.
SET DECOR: Well, one of those was the Altar of the Steering Wheels, which also served as a storage facility of sorts…
George Miller: Yes. And the artistry was in the steering wheel. If a machine survived and it worked, they distorted into basically folklore and mythology, and the Immortan manipulated it into kind of a religious cult. So the steering wheel obviously has significance: it’s the way you steer your vehicle, it’s the symbol that gives you the authority to drive, it’s literally the key. And you do the sign of the V-8, the V-8 engine!
And that room is, as you say, kind of a storage room and an altar room, and a going off to war staging room, ...
SET DECOR: And there’s the blood bank that butts up to it…
George Miller: Yes, it’s the hangout, the quarters of the War Boys, military quarters of a sort. The War Boys cycle half-lives. They’re suffering from some disease…I didn’t specify what, I imagine some tumors and a leukemia-like blood disease…so they need what they call Full Lives, which Max is, and they hook up to them to get healthy blood.
SET DECOR: The film includes such a range: from this extreme society, to the artistry, to addressing environmental concerns. We’re pleased that you are here to receive an award re: the environment, the Environmental Media Association’s Lifetime Achievement award.
George Miller: That was really quite great. I never thought about it until that award, but I grew up in remote, rural Australia, spent so much time in the bush playing with indigenous kids, and we’re on horses and bikes and so aware of the landscapes. And then later on in life, I went to medical school. I had the benefit of a scientific education. And so I’m very aware of what science is, and its ability to predict…and of environmental issues. But when they gave me the award, that was a happy surprise. I’m a storyteller, not a scientist!
I think they considered me because of both the HAPPY FEET movies and the MAD MAX movies. My wife Margaret cut the HAPPY FEET movies, and then this one, so she deserves a lot of credit.  
SET DECOR: Yes! We understand it had to go from “400 hours of footage into 110 minutes of pure emotion and action.”  You said you brought her on “to engineer the dimensions of time and forge all the pieces into one seamless immersive experience.”
George Miller: And she kept on asking, “Why do you want me to cut this movie? There are many great action-movie editors.” And I kept answering, “Because you’re not really into action movies.” It’s not that she doesn’t like them, there are just others that catch her interest more. And I said to her, “That’s the very reason why, because, otherwise, it would look like every other action movie.”
I wanted this to be different, to have its own look. She has a very clear problem-solving logic and a has very, very strong aesthetic, and won’t let a false note come through.
SET DECOR: That comes across through both of you. Yes, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a wild west ride through the desert, but it has the true essence of the western in that it has spirit. It has art. It doesn’t preach, but it has soul. You feel it. It comes across in the midst of all of this wild action.
George Miller: I’m glad you feel it. That’s great. I’m so glad you said that, because we worked so hard for that. I like to say, “We have a lot of iceberg under the tip.” And you worry that people will only read the tip. Because you don’t really know about your movie. It’s other people who tell you what your movie is. And now that I read the reactions and have conversations, and people say that about the movie, I realize, “Oh my god, they’re really looking down deep into it. They’re getting a lot out of it.”  That’s extremely gratifying.

Photo 3
The Wasteland… Miller and Hardy check a video playback of a scene. Most of the stunts were live in this literally action-packed film! Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 4
The Wasteland… Miller confers with Charlize Theron who stars as Imperator Furiosa, an imposing warrior whose rage and boldness will trigger the coming Road War… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 5
War Rig extraordinaire… “Max and Furiosa are very similar characters and they develop an unspoken understanding of kindred spirits,” says Hardy. Theron adds, “All of a sudden, they’re stuck with each other on this journey of hope, in a place where there really is no hope.” Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 6
The War Rig… Note the artistry of the window armor. This is the most elite of the war machines… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 7
The War Rig… Furiosa’s journey as a female warrior in a world that enslaves women is what first compelled Miller into taking the Mad Max world further. Here she scouts, as Max drives the escapees… Charlize Theron, Zoe Kravitz, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult. Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 8
The War Rig, interior… Capable [Riley Keough], Cheedo the Fragile [Courtney Eaton] and The Splendid Angharad [Rosie Huntington-Whiteley], three of the escapees. They were slave wives of the tyrannical warlord The Immortan Joe whose icon is stamped into the tin ceiling… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 9
The War Rig, interior… Capable [Riley Keough] lives up to her name, adapting quickly to help her fellow escapees…note the textural details and patterns inside the war rig… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 10
The War Rig… Max [Tom Hardy], Furiosa [Charlize Theron] and War Boy Nux [Nicholas Hoult, hanging off door] defend the escapees… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 11
Nux’s car, detail… One of the “set” details that epitomized the film’s spirit…humor, artistry, raw materials, repurposing, wild & quirky, danger, joy… Photo ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 12
The War Rig, detail… Another set detail… Production Designer Colin Gibson refers to it as the “Frankenstitch”… Note also the coin, which would now have no monetary value, repurposed as an upholstery button… Photo©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 13
The War Rig, detail… One of Director Miller’s favorite details, the accelerator “lock”… Furiosa uses this to brace the accelerator in place so she can move while the vehicle maintains speed… Photo©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

Photo 14
The War Rig… Watching the enemy approach… Note the detail in the foreground right… Photo by Jasin Boland ©2015 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.


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