Editor Margaret Sixel Reveals How Every Shot Earned its Place in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

By in The A-List, Video Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth installment in Director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic franchise that started way back in 1979. Thirty years after the last Mad Max movie hit theatres in 1985, Miller returns to the director’s chair to tell the story of Max Rockatansky, a loner and former captive, and the warrior Imperator Furiosa.

Editor Margaret Sixel was given the task to create this high-octane blockbuster movie out of 470 hours of footage. Born in South Africa, Margaret studied film editing at the Australian Film School. Previously she has worked with director —and husband—George Miller on Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and Happy Feet (2006).

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure “Mad Max: Fury Road”, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Jasin Boland

“As a young girl I always imagined myself becoming a writer. I spent my youth buried in books. I grew up in South Africa where there was no television until 1975 and minimal film culture, so the most exciting thing to do was visit the library and discover something new to read. In my early twenties I worked as an English teacher and photojournalist. All these interests and skills led to the edit room, where the mix of technology, art and storytelling was irresistible. I worked for about 10 years as an assistant picture and sound editor learning from other editors and directors before I had my first break cutting documentaries.”

(L-R) Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile, Riley Keough as Capable, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and Abbey Lee as The Dag in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure “Mad Max: Fury Road”, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Jasin Boland

“Film is a mosaic art.  A lot like music. It’s astonishing how even a subtle rearrangement can have a potent effect.”

—Margaret Sixel

Margaret explains how she knows George Miller’s way of working extremely well, having worked with him for many years. “I know what he expects. He is astonishingly thorough and exhaustive. I try to be as prepared as possible before he steps into the room. Giving George options is a mantra of the edit room. I do multiple versions of scenes, ordering them in terms of my favorites.”

(L-R) Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure “Mad Max: Fury Road”, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Jasin Boland

For the most part Mad Max: Fury Road was shot chronologically. This turned out to be very useful for Margaret: “Throughout the long 8-month shoot in Southern Africa, I was in Australia building the cut. I had decent cuts of the film early, so I was able to give George feedback and discuss pickups. The green screen setups dotted throughout the film were completed at the end of the shoot in a Cape Town studio. The big opening and closing Citadel scenes were missing for a long time. We used crude previz and animatics as placeholders while waiting for the studio go-ahead for the additional 3-week shoot in Australia.”

“Editing the road battle scenes was an endless experimentation. Every sequence had an enormous number of hours put into it. We did work the material to death.”

“In Mad Max: Fury Road we experimented with speed ramps, a technique George had used on the earlier Mad Max films. Now with Avid Media Composer it is far more sophisticated as there is greater control. We used heaps of key frames to refine the ‘time warps ’. We also re-racked, enlarged and repositioned shots for eye scan. George has always manipulated his material like this, but before digital editing the labs had to do it all optically. Nowadays the Avid makes it so easy. The picture-in-picture tool certainly had a workout on this movie.”

Margaret and her editorial team did an enormous number of compositing while editing the film. There were often up to 8 layers that had to be combined. “For example we added missing vehicles, flames, muzzle flashes, extra war boys on the War Rig and different backgrounds. Sometimes with a two-shot I split the screen and used one performance from Furiosa and another from Max. And with all these comps we again created numerous alternatives. The differences were often minimal, like varying the timing of elements, alternative backgrounds or altering speed ramps. Film nowadays allows for an unprecedented plasticity within a shot.”

“In my 30 years in the film industry I have edited on an Acmade Picsynch, a Kem, a Steenbeck, analogue videotape editing systems, and Avid Media Composer. I have had to stay flexible and embrace change.”

According to Margaret, the overall orchestration of the edit was more challenging than any particular scene. “This was not an easy film to cut. Some of it now looks deceptively simple but believe me, the variables were enormous. Finding the broader contours and rhythms took a lot of thought. We were also obsessed with the causal relationship between shots. Every shot had to earn its place. No fat. No repetition.

From indie films to the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, top editors, filmmakers, and creative pros use Avid to create the world’s most engaging stories. Read their stories on The A-List.

Find out more how Margaret Sixel and her editorial team relied on the cutting-edge creative tools using the Avid MediaCentral Platform in the ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Customer Story.

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