The box office disaster of ‘Three thousand years waiting for you’ should not make us forget a detail: despite his extraordinary quality, George Miller had not filmed for seven years, since ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘. Y the agonizing legal problems that this one suffered in its post-production and distribution, which confronted Miller with Warner, are responsible for this long hiatus, as well as for the fact that it has taken so long to activate the spin-off ‘Furiosa’. But… what exactly happened to what is already considered a modern classic of post-apocalyptic science fiction?
The problems started already in pre-production, as reported by The New York Times in his oral history about the film (and that has recently become a magnificent book by the same author as that report: ‘Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road’, by William Morrow). Already in 1998 they were trying to get the project off the ground, and at that time they were still thinking of Mel Gibson to take up his iconic role of Max Rockatansky.
Another performer Miller considered was Uma Thurman in the role of Imperator Furiosa. The planned production company was Fox and filming was scheduled to start in 2003. And then… in 2001 the 9/11 attacks took place. According to Miller, such important elements for the production of an action movie like that were the insurance companies, and these, like so many other businesses in the global crisis that followed the attacks, collapsed. Pre-production stopped.
Interlude with penguins and back on the road
George Miller then went on to direct ‘Happy Feet,’ the animated Dancing Penguins movie, which was a considerable box-office hit (and had Miller briefly considering taking Max’s movie into animated form). The impact of the film allowed Miller to return to the ‘Fury Road’ project. But what had changed by then was the public perception of Mel Gibson, after a considerable number of scandals and ill-fated statements. It was time to find another Max.
Finding Hardy wasn’t too difficult. According to Miller, as soon as he received it for a casting (after the death of Heath Ledger, another possible candidate, in 2008), he knew that he was his Rockatansky, since he possessed something that he defined as “the charisma of animals”. Production began shortly after in Australia, in an abandoned mining town where Miller had shot many of the previous installments.
But of course, the weather was not going to give them a break, and two weeks before they started shooting they faced what was defined as torrential rains that only occur once a century, and the desert was transformed into a beautiful orchard , but very little Madmaxian. Production, already underway in 2010, was paralyzed for a year because Miller preferred to wait for the storm to end before moving production.
But finally, and due to the war in Iraq, which threatened to delay filming again for financial reasons, relented and moved the shoot to Namibia, where they had to start pre-production from scratch. There, a very tough shoot was carried out for all those involved, especially for the team of specialists and drivers, but also for actors, cameras, lighting technicians and all kinds of technicians. You just have to watch the movie to imagine what that was like.
But to this was added that the climate of Namibia was not a walk in the field either: for nine months they suffered sandstorms and extreme temperatures that led several people from the crew to suffer hypothermia on night shoots. All this affected the mood of the team, and also the actors: the tensions that arose between Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy due to different approaches to the construction of their characters, one more visceral and another more cerebral, are well known.
The conflict reached a certain boiling point when Hardy showed up, on one occasion, three hours late on set, when Theron had been all that time in makeup and prepared to act. She snapped, demanded that Hardy be fined, and his response was so aggressive that Theron demanded to finish the filming with a producer accompanying her continuously everywhere. Over time, both have recognized the mistakes they both made and acknowledge the exceptional work of their teammates.
The filming of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ was hellish, as director Steve Soderbergh was able to see in statements to The Hollywood Reporter: “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting, and I don’t understand how they don’t already have hundreds of dead.” But there was still one villain to beat for George Miller, the most colossal of them all: the executives of Warner Bros.
At Warner they were concerned about the news of a conflictive shoot with 600 people involved, and that the budget of more than 150 million dollars could skyrocket. The very president of Warner, Jeff Robinov, traveled to Namibia to supervise the filming and give Miller an ultimatum.: I had until December 8 to finish, and I would have to close the shoot with whatever I had. At that time, the scenes in the citadel where the film opens and closes had not yet been shot, so the situation was serious.
So serious that when it was confirmed that they did not arrive on time, the team had to devise alternatives to that missing material. The editor Margaret Sixel, winner of the Oscar for her montage of the film (and deserved: she put order in 480 hours of footage), raised the possibility that a voiceover would sound during the first chase, putting the viewer in a situation and without needing to show Max’s escape from the citadel. Fortunately, Robinov was fired from his position and his replacement, Kevin Tsujihara, understood that this start and conclusion was necessary, and the entire team returned to Namibia.
But the problems would continue long after: specifically, three years after the premiere in 2015. Although the box office did not perform as well as it would have been desirable (it grossed 375 million dollars, but only exceeded expenses by a very narrow margin), the film acquired almost instantly a cult status. She won six technical Oscars out of the ten she was nominated for. (among them, Best Film and Best Director).
In 2018, the production company that has been responsible for putting up practically all of Miller’s films, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, sued Warner. The company was refusing to pay the director a $7 million bonus that he claimed had been promised for delivering the film under budget. This led to a couple of possible sequels that were already written being delayed indefinitely to begin with.
The core of the dispute was that Miller was required to make a PG-13 film by contract. Still, Warner decided to test a more violent cut by Miller and a lighter cut by Warner, and test audiences preferred Miller’s. This forced the approval of 31 million dollars to reshootswhich were added to the 154.6 million budgeted. Whether legally those 31 million were an excess over the budget or is considered to be part of what was budgeted is what the court would discern.
At the end of 2019, the process seemed to have ended or, at least, begun to settle to the satisfaction of both parties, because the door to ‘Furiosa’ was open. Currently in the process of filming, the prequel not only features Anya Taylor-Joy in the role popularized by Charlize Theron, but also a large part of the technical team that shaped ‘Fury Road’. It only remains to hope that the process is not so rough.
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‘Mad Max: Fury Road’: how George Miller’s masterpiece suffered years of trauma and conflict until it reached the cinema