Brendan McCarthy discusses how he landed the gig of scripting explosive action film Mad Max: Fury Road with director George Miller. He also describes his time on the set in Africa’s Namibia desert, a suitably sun-scorched stand-in for the post-apocalyptic Australian outback.
You co-wrote the screenplay for Mad Max: Fury Road. How did that come about?
I used to write and sent my art to George Miller at his studio in Sydney in my younger days. One day, I got a call from Doug Mitchell, his producing partner, inviting me to Hollywood for a meeting about a possible live action Mad Max TV series they were thinking of doing. This was in 1997, around the time of the Xena and Hercules TV series that were very popular. Sort of pre-Netflix shows that had developed a strong, cult following.
Well, our conversation at that meeting veered all over the place and the three Max movies were discussed and debated in great detail and with much honesty… All I really wanted to know was — any chance of a new Mad Max film? I pitched George and Doug some ideas and left them with some drawings, and after snaffling one last Lobster and peanut butter sandwich, I headed back to Vancouver where I was living and working at the time, designing the computer-animated TV show ReBoot.
A few months later, I got another call from Doug, saying that George had some interesting thoughts about a new Mad Max movie and that they’d like to me to come to Sydney and knock about some story ideas. Those early months of brainstorming sessions and madcap scribbles of weird vehicles and tribes in Sydney, started to produce some exciting concepts that were adding to George’s storyline about a Warlord and some girls on the run.
It was wonderful to watch a new Mad Max movie taking shape in front of my eyes. I used to run to work every day. I had to find out what was going to happen next in the story, what madness we’d come up with today. We were like two combatants locked in the Thunderdome. Thankfully two men were allowed to leave!
Given the film is primarily action driven, and given your background in visual storytelling, is it right to assume that the screenplay resembled more a story-board that a straightforward script?
Actually, most of the first year was spent filling up about 100 blank sheets of paper with the essential story and dialogue, with drawings for new characters and cars placed amongst it all. It was a cross between a manifesto, a script and a comic book. After the story went through some very big changes — especially around the ending — we (George and I, and artists Peter Pound and Mark Sexton) set about the gargantuan task of storyboarding the epic, and where the precise direction on the action sequences was accomplished by George. It’s an amazing document — a surreal fusion of graphic novel and Hollywood screenplay.
The film was famously moved from Australia to Namibia in Africa. Did you get to visit the set?
Yes, I visited the set in the Namibian desert for a short while a few years ago, just to have a look at what was going on, and how the reality compared with the original vision we had set out a decade before… I’m sure you’re aware of how much trouble it took to get this film up and running!
It’s a testament to the sheer tenacity of George and Doug that they kept the Fury Road movie alive all this time and finally got it made. It really was a thrill to see vehicles that had been thought up — sometimes in a few minutes — that had made it through almost exactly as they had been conceived. Also, there were lots of brand new ideas in the mix too. Everything seemed to come together in a spectacular way, to make Fury Road a new and different addition to the Mad Max canon.
What are you working on these days?
DC Comics announced some Mad Max comics, but my own artistic commitments mean I can’t get involved for the time being as I’m involved in writing and drawing my own graphic novel, Dream Gang. It’s a kind of ‘X-Men in dreams’ story, where psychics project themselves into dream worlds at night, only to uncover a dark conspiracy to enslave humanity while it sleeps. Dark Horse Comics, who produce Hellboy, are serialising it and it will be collected some-time later in the year as a trade paperback. One to watch out for.
We’ll finally get to see Brendan’s vision take shape when Mad Max: Fury Road roars onto Cineworld screens on 15th May.