‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Director George Miller on Keeping His Crew Safe on an Intense Set

George Miller Variety Credit Dan Doperalski
Dan Doperalski for Variety

The artisans on “Mad Max: Fury Road” earned a whopping six Oscars, the most of any film at the 2016 ceremony. Director George Miller spoke with Variety about maximizing the creativity of his team.

How do you create the right mood in filmmaking?

It usually starts with the camera crew and the director’s unit — I call it the “circle of grace.” They need to have a calm discipline around the camera so people can perform optimally. I can never understand how people can do their best work under extreme tension.

The “Fury Road” production was intense.

Sometimes the pressure is extreme, and it’s soon evident who can work optimally under pressure. People who start in the industry learn quickly that they need to be focused and calm under pressure. They’re like extreme sportsmen; one mistake can be disastrous. Everyone wants to do a good job, but some people tend to panic if they feel things are getting out of control. They need to stay very intently focused. I think it’s something intrinsic, and often determines if a person has a long career.

Safety must have been a major concern.

Safety was critical. We had a big, tall, New Zealand safety supervisor named Sean Rigby. When you look at him, he seems intimidating, but he was kind and alert. He was never dictatorial and never shouted, but everyone was conditioned to do exactly what he said. They knew he was there to keep them safe. His manner filtered through assistant directors, the stunt crew, everyone.

Is that something you look for when hiring?

It’s like putting a sporting team together. It’s not just gathering a group of champions, but people working as a team. You’re looking for people who are filmmakers — who see the whole of the film, and not just their specific job. It’s a way of saying, “We’re all here together.”

What’s an example of that kind of teamwork?

Makeup is critical to actors’ performances. The makeup artists have to understand what kind of scene is being played that day; they’re part of preparation for
the actor.

Is the payoff in efficiency or creativity?

Both. A director in many ways is like a football coach. Part of a director’s job is to create strong strategies. If you do that well, everybody is free to express themselves in a great, creative way. That’s one of the most important things in the “circle” preparation stage. That same principle works with design, camera, sound, music; if you get really good people, there’s a tremendous creative energy that’s harnessed. If they’re good, they’ll give a special quality to the film. … When you get a team like that, you’re in good hands.