OLIN Gibson, production designer of the new homage to car-nage, Mad Max: Fury Road, had a great time not making George Miller’s new ‘armageddon-out-of-here’ movie, and kept it up for years.
This film, which finally opens this month, has been in production since 2003, so long that it lost Mel Gibson to madness along the way and had to replace him with the not much less bonkers Tom Hardy.
It was all our fault, of course, or our country’s, because nowhere looked shitty enough, not like Silverton in outback NSW did when the original was made, back in 1977 (at a budget of $400,000; estimates for the new one rise as high as $250 million).
“Yep, we had some problems in 2003, but on the plus side I got to spend ages driving around Australia in a four-wheel drive, trying to find somewhere desert-ey enough, with a pub close enough to make it bearable – it was great,” says Gibson (no relation to Mel).
“Silverton has a small section that works; it’s the nearest outback to the ‘inback’, and it’s got 127 pubs, so it’s perfect, except it pissed down with rain. You couldn’t swing a camera without seeing wildflowers and pelicans and camels fornicating. It was more Aussie Garden of Eden than The End of the World.”
Fortunately, Gibson had already scouted the ends of the World, “the places without postcards, where no one wants to go”, for fallback options.
“So when it all turned to flowers, we went to Namibia, which has five flavours of desert, right next to two seaside towns full of Nazis still hiding out from World War II. But hey, they did at least build a German brewery there, so we were okay.”
Relocating halfway around the world didn’t just break the ageing hearts of Mad Max purists and the
Silverton tourist board, it also caused big issues with the heavyweight stars of Fury Road – the cars. A huge number of huge vehicles had already been built specifically for Australian conditions, and were now transported to a world of vast sand dunes with much higher heat, and no water.
This showed up “a few design flaws”, like cars overheating and expiring, so they flew in an expert on the conditions, Australia’s desert-racing, Dakar-driving Bruce Garland, 56, who worked on strengthening the vehicles for a few weeks and then switched to stunt driving.
“When I first arrived, I was just stunned looking at these machines. Whoever designed those cars must have been in a parallel universe at the time, some of the ideas are just so unreal,” he laughs.
“And they really did some things you just won’t believe, people flying eight metres up on poles attached to these trucks you just look at and go, ‘Man, that’s insane’. And it’s got the biggest car chase of all time. I think The Blues Brothers had the record with 77 [crashed cars] and this has more than 100. You won’t believe how amazing this movie is.”
Garland sounds like a teenager who’s snuck onto the set of Star Wars, but he rates the Mad Max franchise right up there with other icons like Indiana Jones and Star Trek, and says it was an honour to be a part of it.
“They got some of the best stunt drivers in the world and the scenes were so big there’d be 120 of us working at once, and some of the stunts you just won’t believe,” he says. “They’d have a bloke jumping from one truck to another, both trucks moving and if he slips, he’s dead, simple as that. It was hard to watch.
“The blokes in the workshop ran a sweep on how many ‘stunties’ would get killed. I thought at least four or five. In the end they hurt a few, but none died.
“I had a few days that were pretty hairy in the dust, which the helicopters don’t help, because you can’t see a thing; you can’t see the other cars, so you go by sound, or by touch. I knew I hit one car that I couldn’t see and the driver only knew it was me because he could hear me laughing. He had these trampoline springs all over his car that were twanging after I belted him. It was hilarious.”
Garland says stunt driving can be hard work – the waiting is the worst, with director Miller sometimes taking a day and a half just to shoot a dozen frames – but it’s particularly hard for trained rally drivers.
“Usually when we feel the car going we try to catch it, to fix it, but you have to let that go, and learning to crash on purpose really requires a rewriting of your brain,” he chuckles.
Gibson is thrilled to hear that Garland was awed by his many wheeled monsters. His goal was to create not so much Mad Max-appropriate cars as actual characters in the film.
“The cars were lovable,” Gibson explains. “We had a whole lot of objects built from the ground up out of scrap, because the idea was to build them the way that these War Boys in the film would build them. So we got a bunch of rev-heads together, told them the story of what we wanted each character to be, who it had been built by and why, and then let them run wild.
“We had to make 150 vehicles – there were 88 separate characters, but we had doubles and triples – and some of them had to look perfect and some we just drove as fast as possible and let them burst into flames.
“It’s a lot of cars, but I always wanted to make sure we got all the iconic ones in there; I want to keep it real for the rev-heads. I think the only iconic vehicle I failed to get in was a P76, which is a shame.”
The star of the movie, clearly, is not Tom Hardy, nor attractive co-stars Charlize Theron and our own Megan Gale, but the Gigahorse.
This ‘lead villain’ is made of two 1959 Cadillacs mounted one on top of the other, bolted onto a handmade chassis and frame that runs two-metre-high tractor wheels, powered by two big-block V8s run through a handmade gearbox that could harmonise the two engines, or make one slave to the other.
“It makes quite bit of rpm, and a hell of a lot of noise. All the hero vehicles are, of course, real V8s that are either turbocharged or blown, and all are either Avgas or nitrous charged,” Gibson says.
IF YOU have enough great action, is a plot really necessary?
Colin Gibson admits that he and legendary director George Miller started with the big set-pieces first.
“We didn’t have a script at all for the first 10 years of the project,” Gibson explains. “George and a storyboard artist would just come up with these amazing sequences and it was all built up around that.
“In 2003, when we started, Mel (Gibson) was still playing Max, and that was my dream, to grab him and drag his Catholic arse backwards through the desert. We’ve spent three movies turning him into a hero and this was the one to turn him back into a man, and a legend.”
The new Max, played by Tom ‘No Australian Accent’ Hardy, is “not genetically connected, but mythologically connected” to the original Max Rockatansky.
The plot revolves around Max being swept up by a group fleeing across The Wasteland’ in “a War Rig driven by an elite Imperator, Furiosa”. Together they get caught up in a “high-octane Road War” against a Warlord.
So Mad Max 2, only bigger and, hopefully, even better.
And there is, of course, The Interceptor.
Unfortunately it gets trashed in the opening sequence, but Gibson – spoiler alert – lets slip that it returns later in the film, “jacked up on an SUV frame, with double blowers on the front and armed to the teeth with machineguns, and stuff”.
“Max has to take out his own car, and it comes back to get him,” Gibson explains. “It’s an anti-recycling message. Most of us gas guzzlers don’t believe in that enviro nonsense.”
Several XB Coupes were, sadly, hurt in the making of this motion picture; in fact, about half a dozen were destroyed entirely.
“It’s a whole new universe, this movie, and we needed something to pin it together, and that’s the Interceptor, but (XB Coupes) are getting thinner and thinner on the ground and I feel bad now when I have to cut one up, or let the stunt driver do eight somersaults in one, which we did.”
Of course, there are some members of the public who will come to this film for more than just the absurd cars smashing spectacularly into one another, but apparently there is a “small, romantic drama” going on about a man refinding himself. And a woman, or two, and some dust.
“It’s just that the romantic drama happens simultaneously with the most car mayhem we could create. We tried to do the most real live stunts with real live cars that we could do, to build a movie that battles physics. I have a real distaste for movies like Fast and the Furious, because none of the physics makes sense.
Cars can’t actually do those things.
“We’ve tried to make the last great action movie, with real action. All those guys bouncing around on 20-foot poles, driving flat-out across deserts, it’s all real.
And there are a couple of fantastic explosions that people won’t forget, too.”
Mad Mad: Fury Road in cinemas now.
ONLY one actor has returned from the original, now almost vintage Mad Max film, Hugh Keays-Byrne (above).
Now a strapping 67-year-old, Keays-Byrne was the bad guy, Toecutter, in the original and returns in Fury Road as the even badder guy called Immortan Joe. He certainly looks a lot scarier this time, wearing a mask with horse teeth on it and some Darth Vader-style vacuum pipes.
Aussie stunt guy Bruce Garland says Keays-Byrne was a hoot on set, constantly walking around freaking people out in full costume: “He’s a great bloke, Hugh, and hilarious, but it turns out there’s no money in being a bad guy. I asked him how much he made out of Mad Max and he told me it was $2000. Mel Gibson goes on to become a huge star and a hero, but poor Hugh is the bad guy. Never works out for them does, it? Look at Darth Vader.”