MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the fourth instalment of director George Miller's franchise, set in a violent, dystopian and vehicle-centric desert world. For reasons of ruggedness and reliability, cinematographer John Seale ACS, ASC chose to work with ARRI ALEXA
cameras for the punishing shoot in Namibia, sourcing them from Panavision and combining them with Primo lenses.
The latest-generation ALEXA XT models with in-camera ARRIRAW recording were not available at the time of production, so the six ALEXA Pluses and four ALEXA Ms were all paired with Codex Onboard CDX 3010 recorders. Second unit cinematographer David Burr ACS and coordinating camera assistant Michelle Pizanis speak here about the challenges they faced, and how their fleet of 10 ALEXAs coped with the intense desert conditions.
How many ALEXAs were in use on a typical day's filming?
Michelle Pizanis: We had an ALEXA Plus dedicated to each of the two Steadicam rigs that worked simultaneously, and to each of the two Edge vehicles, which floated between main and action unit. The other two Plus cameras were either in studio mode with zoom lenses in main and/or action unit, or used on truggie vehicles. All four ALEXA Ms were in a handheld configuration, three of them dedicated to main unit and used mostly on the War Rig [a vast battle truck on which much of the action unfolds] with wide-angle lenses, and the other with action unit. Most days we would have between three and five cameras shooting each setup.
What kinds of different rigs were the cameras used in?
David Burr: We had quite a few rigs, ranging from simple tripod and Steadicam to bungee rigs of all sizes and cameras mounted to Flight Heads on Edge arms. There were two purpose-built dune buggies to which we'd mount suspension arms and Libra heads. We also rigged the ALEXAs to many of our picture vehicles and one rig in particular enabled us to track underneath the War Rig on a rail attached to the chassis as the truck travelled across the desert, all operated remotely. There was a rig we called 'The Ledge', for high-angle tracking shots, and another that involved dropping a GF-6 crane into a hole dug in the desert, so we could start with a high angle as the armada raced towards the camera and then at the last second the crane and ALEXA were lowered into the hole an inch below the surface, looking up at the lead vehicles as they drove overhead -- a very exciting shot.
Can you describe the conditions you faced in the desert and what difficulties this presented for the camera kits?
DB: Shooting in the Namib Desert presented us with some challenges, mainly with respect to the wind and sand we had to deal with on a daily basis. We protected our cameras as best we could but, as anyone who has shot in deserts will be aware, fine dust and sand will find its way into the best protected equipment. Admittedly we had a wonderful camera technician, Neville Reid, on hand to maintain our gear, but even so we thought that the constant wind and sand exposure would cause us problems -- this was not the case. Except for one instance when one of our ALEXA Ms required a new circuit board, our fleet of 10 ALEXAs performed flawlessly for five months -- a great tribute to the design team at ARRI.
MP: Instead of camera carts each camera had a 4WD support vehicle containing a full complement of cameras, lenses, filters, accessories and grip gear, so wherever we were each team had everything they needed without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. This would be considered a luxury on most films but on this one it was a requirement for us to all work efficiently and fast. Sometimes the line of support vehicles was as long as the armada of picture vehicles we were photographing, but it meant that the next team in the shooting order was always rigged and ready before they were needed.
What processes were put in place to keep the cameras clean?
DB: Basically, except for general daily maintenance carried out by our camera assistants, Neville Reid would arrive on set late in the afternoon and work well into the night. His tasks would include dealing with any specific issues discovered during the day's shooting, as well as general cleaning and preventative maintenance of all camera department equipment. Neville worked in a well fitted-out truck dedicated to his work -- it was a mobile version of any rental house maintenance area.
MP: Most cameras were protected in plastic covers that were purpose-made before we left Sydney by a company called Bigfoot. They had zips to access usable ports and were made to fit each ALEXA, with numerous lens size options. We also had a type of air knife system on each unit, whether it was a nitrogen tank, leaf blower system on the truggie, or the rotating glass rain deflector for the Steadicam to protect the lenses.
We mainly shot during daylight hours and also shot day for night, and on wrap whilst we headed home a cleaning crew came in and cleaned the gear and trucks, though each AC was responsible for their package. We'd make sure that Neville checked and cleaned each camera and we'd assess any damage at the end of each day; there were some nights when people were lining up outside Neville's truck with repairs for him, so he'd be on set hours after we wrapped, battling to keep everything maintained overnight.
When the sandstorms hit most of the crew would run for cover, but the working crew were shooting through it all; at times we would wonder why, as we were taking a beating, but now having seen that footage in the film it makes it all worthwhile.