Black and White

This is a big, explosive, colorful, loud movie. Indeed, there was a very definite plan behind making this film as colorful as possible:

We spent a lot of time in DI (digital intermediate), and we had a very fine colorist, Eric Whipp. One thing I’ve noticed is that the default position for everyone is to de-saturate post-apocalyptic movies. There’s only two ways to go, make them black and white — the best version of this movie is black and white, but people reserve that for art movies now. The other version is to really go all-out on the color. The usual teal and orange thing? That’s all the colors we had to work with. The desert’s orange and the sky is teal, and we either could de-saturate it, or crank it up, to differentiate the movie. Plus, it can get really tiring watching this dull, de-saturated color, unless you go all the way out and make it black and white.

Note that comment in the middle, about the best version being black and white. There’s a precedent for black and white in this series, but it’s one only George Miller, Brian May, and a few other people would know.

The best version of Road Warrior was… they used to do a “slash dupe” in music. To make a really cheap print, they’d make a black and white version for the composer. They used to put lines [across it], if you see old documentary footage of composers in the past, you’d see them looking at the screen and conducting, that was a slash dupe, and it was black and white. And you’d mix the sound that way [too]. And every time I saw the black and white I thought “oh, my god!” It just reduces it to this really gutsy high-con black and white, very, very powerful.

George Miller’s own film education comes back to the earliest language of black and white, and silent films. He explained,

I used to live near a drive-in that was on top of a hill. Often going home I wouldn’t drive in, I’d park outside and watch the movies silent. And then I became obsessed with silent movies and realized that the basic syntax of film… Kevin Brownlow basically said that all film language is defined by the silent movies.

And, in fact, the old silent movie techniques lead to action filmmaking now, and an action film like Fury Road is the sort of thing that can only be a movie.

You’re not slumming in action. You’re trying to use a language that cannot exist in any other medium. You cannot do it in the theatre, you can’t do it live.

Miller’s editing techniques also call back to silent filmmaking. His preferred editing system includes working silently, to make sure that everything plays on a purely visual level. Miller told Margaret Sixel, who primarily cuts documentaries and had never cut an action movie, to rely on her doc instincts:

If you cut it like those [other modern] action movies where everything’s really really fast and it’s an excuse for not respecting space or geography, it’s a kind of visual noise. You want the notes to be clear.

A while after this talk, during a post-film reception, I spoke with Miller about his affinity for that black and white version of Fury Road. He said that he has demanded a black and white version of Fury Road for the blu-ray, and that version of the film will feature an option to hear just the isolated score as the only soundtrack — the purest and most stripped-down version of Fury Road you can imagine.

Want to see how that version could look? My friend Renn Brown mocked up a quick black and white version of the trailer after reading this piece. Check it out:

Video Bonuses

Here’s nearly 20 minutes of footage that shows Miller’s favorite tool, the edge arm, a rig which allows the camera to be mounted way out away from the body of a vehicle, and manipulated via remote. (He says “it’s like being in the middle of a video game.”) That and many of the other tools of production used for the film are seen here:

And for when you have a lot of time, the video that follows is nearly two hours of conversation with Fury Road’s cinematographer John Seale, who was coaxed out of retirement by George Miller to shoot this film when The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome cinematographer Dean Semler had to drop out. Seale was 70 at the time, by the way, and Miller turned 70 just before this film’s release. So think about that while you enjoy the fruit of their labors.

At the Q&A I attended, Miller said of Seale,

We had a really good camera crew, led by Johnny Seale. He’s not intimidated by having multiple cameras, and so we had a really clear pattern. And he operates. He turned 70 on the movie, and he was on top of the war rig doing that stuff, he’s a very fit sailor.

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