When rerecording mixer Chris Jenkins got a call from music composer Tom Holkenborg about working on Mad Max: Fury Road, saying yes, was the easy part. But what took place over the following months was a collaboration the mixer won’t soon forget. “When Tom asked me if I was interested in being part of the project, he had been already working with George Miller on music themes for over a year,” said Jenkins. “George’s first Mad Max film was mind-blowing. Everyone loved it, so when Tom reached out, I knew this was going to be a once in lifetime opportunity.” Jenkins ended up flying to Sydney where he met up with Holkenborg, picture editor Margaret Sixel, and the rest of the team. Along with rerecording mixer Gregg Rudolf, they spent nearly 10 weeks at Deluxe in Lane Cove before returning to Warner Bros. to finalize the film.
In talking with the mixer what’s intriguing about Mad Max: Fury Road is the sonic transformation it went through before reaching its delivery for theaters. “Originally, George’s vision for the film was to not have any dialogue at all and only music. Then he created a version with own language and didn’t want to have any music. He then rethought the film and landed on what you see – music with dialogue and FX.
While production did have sound recordist Ben Osmo in the field recording dialogue, the final mix ended up being about 95% looped. “When I got to Sydney, there was hardly any dialogue. It was something we were figuring out as we went along. We treated Mad Max almost like an animated film which has its advantages and disadvantages,” Jenkins said. “We would have these long discussions about if we wanted to approach the dialogue this way. It’s difficult because when you have an all ADR soundtrack, they’re just these floating heads. The actor’s performance is not grounded into the environment they’re in.” It wasn’t until they were able to add in all the right backgrounds effects and sound layers that connected the dots. “One of our supervising dialogue editors, Kira Roessler, was really great with the performances – working with Charlize [Theron] just to get her breathing down. Having the fabric of each character allowed us to mix in those subtleties you normally get in a production track.”
Post also mirrored the dialogue with the film’s visuals. “Because of John Seale’s cinematography, we were able to pan the dialogue. We kept Furiosa’s [Theron] and Max’s [Tom Hardy] center speaker, but all the secondary characters we panned slightly to where they were sitting. The framing from John was so brilliant and perfect we had no constraints. So if one of the girls was sitting to Max’s left, we would pan the dialogue that way. I think it really helped paint the fabric of the sound track,” Jenkins added.
Music was an intricate piece to the sonic puzzle for the post sound team. “Tom wrote music for the entire movie. While we were working on the mix, he would be in the next room rewriting or getting us new stems to work with. He’s a truly an accomplished musician that can play everything and he’s a brilliant engineer. A lot of people don’t know this but he writes, composes and mixes all his music,” said Jenkins. “What was so great working with Tom were the open conversations we were having when the music needed to be changed some sort of way. It’s super lucky place to be in. There were no egos at all.”
Besides music and dialogue, Jenkins worked with Rudloff on the sound effects. “What was unique about the visuals is how they played with sound. It was really an artist’s perspective – does one use a fine brush to paint or a roller for a larger spray. Everything in the track was designed to complement the story,” Jenkins explained. “When you look inside the War Rig, every square inch is covered with rust and weathered down so it looks like it has been out there for 30 years. Because you see that, you can get away with things sonically in a minimalist way. So for the War Rig, you actually don’t hear the engine at all sometimes. Other times, you want to be rich with the sound so you introduce more elements into the track to dramatic effect.”
Helping to shape the film’s sound progression were extensive spotting sessions. “George is this incredibly detailed director. We would have these four- or five-hour spotting session on a section of a film and get these really detailed notes. Things like why the Citadel looks the way it does, why the chains were built to lift the trucks up, why the vehicles look a certain way. By telling us these things about each character and the back story, we were able to get wrapped up in developing sounds for them,” explained Jenkins.
When it came to the final mix in Sydney the team wasn’t completely finished. “It’s kind of like building a house. We had big pile of all these great pieces, but we kept on going back and getting more beautiful pieces,” Jenkins said. What ended up happening was they moved post to Warner Bros. in Los Angeles where sound supervisors Scott Hecker and Mark Mangini were tapped to reorganize the efforts. “We got the movie to about 70% finished in Sydney and we told George we felt like we needed two more months in L.A. to really push as far as it could go.” What Hecker and his team worked on was the vehicle and action sounds. “The sound design for the trucks didn’t happen until late in the game and Hecker and his team were able to work magic on them – a big part of what was missing,” said Jenkins.
The last few months of mixing proved their importance. “We wanted this to be a really great experience for George. He said he wanted to be the conductor not the fingers of the violinist, so we kept him away from the mix for a while and got all the suites of sounds to play well together,” Jenkins explained. “Once George is in the room, you get him for 12 hours at a time. He’s laser focused discussing thousands of ideas that are so well connected.” By sticking to Miller’s vision, even when the studio thought it was too weird at times, audience testing proved “the weird” was a good thing. “Once it was seen and that first trailer came out, they really got behind it. This movie from day one was George, Doug Mitchell [producer], Matt Town [postproduction supervisor], and Margaret. No one came to us and said we need to stop now – amazing credit to Village Roadshow, Warner Bros., and Kennedy Mitchel – it was about working with George and his vision. The guy is the real deal and a real important landmark in movie making. It was like getting to work with Mozart.”