I finished reading Blood, Sweat, and Chrome by Kyle Buchanan last week, which documents the wild story of the roughly twenty-year journey it took to create the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, released in 2015.
It’s said that the film is one of the greatest action films ever and one of the best movies of the last decade. After re-watching the movie again post-book reading, I wouldn’t dispute that for a second. It’s so good. Still, I think I enjoyed the book just as much, if not more.
You could watch Fury Road without reading the book, which I’m pretty sure I did in 2015 when it was released (I can’t remember now as I had a one and half year old daughter at the time and my wife and I got married that year), but the context provided by the book adds so much to the experience. It reads almost like a script, the main text an ongoing stream of comments and responses to questions (i.e. dialogue) from hundreds of key players (actors, stuntmen, producers, etc) involved in the movie’s creation. This is in stark contrast to how the movie was made, with virtually no script and very little in the way of dialogue. Pure action.
“George Miller We plotted out the story but basically wrote the screenplay as one extended storyboard, thirtyfive hundred panels around a room.
Peter Pound I’ve tried to find any other feature films in the history of film that have been entirely storyboarded instead of a written script. Traditionally, it’s a typed or handwritten script, and we didn’t have that.
P.J. Voeten (producer, first assistant director) George is about the telling. He’s never been into the written word quite as much.
The crazy thing about the movie is that almost nothing is really explained at all. The world, the circumstances, the characters, and their relationship with one another are implied through the visuals and the action. The book explains how much work went into building the characters and vehicles, each with intricate backstories. Every detail meant something. They had backstories for why a certain charm was hanging from the rear bumper or where a skull came from that was welded to the grill.
The fact that it took nearly twenty years to make the movie and that most people agree had it come out any earlier than that it wouldn’t have been the classic it is, is shocking. The movie was canceled or put on hold too many times to count, and each time George Miller and his partners parked things in the garage (literally and figuratively) and took the time to fine-tune, tinker, and test every aspect of the film until it was finally time to go for real.
I can only imagine making a movie is like working for a company or being a soldier in a military campaign. It’s an absolute mammoth endeavor with constant human drama and dynamics causing chaos while everyone tries to hold it together.
“George Miller Look, the best analogy for making films is that it’s a military exercise. You’ve got to go in with the mentality that you don’t know where the land mines are, you don’t know where the snipers are, but you’ve got to execute it faithfully and you’ve got to bring it home as best you can.”
The book is inspiring as a document of grand world-building, great engineering, wild stunt work, relentless creativity, exemplary leadership, limitless perseverance, and human potential. It’s one of my (new) favorite accounts of real creative work and inspiring to no end, just like the film itself.