Mad Max: Fury Road Action Unit Director/Stunt Coordinator Guy Norris.
Fury Road's action unit director and stunt coordinator Guy Norris is riding high.
His team, tallying over 150 performers, took out the SAG Stunt Awards in Los Angeles yesterday, a result which should have suprised precisely no-one.
Norris is currently in Wellington, prepping Paramount/Dreamworks' Ghost in the Shell, which begins filming in less than two weeks.
Norris was told of his win by his son, who saw it on social media. The award is a nice capper to a career that began with Mad Max 2 in 1981.
Norris was 21 at the time, and already a stunt veteran.
"I started doing stunt work in Evel Knievel-like live shows when I was 18", he said.
"I did that with an older stuntman called Frank Lennon. He was one of the last stuntmen going around doing thrill shows. You'd crash cars, you'd run around on fire, you'd jump motorcycles".
"Over the course of those shows I met Max Aspin, and he became the stunt coordinator for The Road Warrior. George Miller wanted to pick the stunt-team, and so a few of us went in and interviewed for the job with George. I had a bunch of press clippings of old thrill shows around the country. And that was the start of the relationship".
"I ended up doing Mel's driving and doubled Wez (Vernon Wells). It was a great start for me, and became a fantastic career, all because of that film. Then 33 years later, George and I were standing in the Namibian desert doing Fury Road. For him to get such accolades now is fantastic".
Norris describes the difference between those shoots as akin to that between an ant and an elephant.
"If you look at The Road Warrior now, the credits go for about fifteen seconds (laughs). These days it's just a completely different scale of filmmaking. Even though at the time Mad Max 2 was one of the biggest budgeted films in Australia. $4 million or something. But Fury Road had over 2,000 people working on it".
According to Norris, the nature of stuntwork has changed utterly as well.
"When we were doing The Road Warrior, we were just adapting things we'd done in live shows. It was all about what you were game enough to do and how that fit into the sequence you were doing. Over the course of thirty years it's become much more scientific and planned".
"It wasn't until Babe: Pig in the City with George that I was on a show from the very beginning to the very end as a stunt coordinator. Before that, you were just brought on and off. You'd do a stunt, then leave. Now you're one of the department heads".
The practical effects showcased in Fury Road have endeared it to critics, but Norris is quick to point out how much the advent of CGI has made his life easier.
"We did over 300 stunts on Fury Road. We still had to do them all physically, but the great thing about Andrew Jackson and his VFX team was that we didn't have to be as concerned about safety cables as we used to be. They could remove all of those for us, so we had so much more freedom running and leaping from vehicle to vehicle. Of course nobody wanted to fall, but if you overstepped you're on a safety line and you'd be pulled up before you hit the ground".
VFX maestro Jackson has since been recruited by Christopher Nolan for his upcoming WW2 epic Dunkirk.
"There are simple things, too", continues Norris. "You can remove all the rubber tracks on the tarmac from previous takes, which I always pick up in almost all films. Fury Road for me was so successful because it was a great combination of physical stuntwork, physical effects and visual effects. Everybody really hit it".
The stunt veteran is effusive in his praise for his director, and hopes to saddle up alongside him soon.
"George has honed his skills to a very high level. He's a much more rounded, polished filmmaker, and he's still got a couple of fantastic stories to tell in the Mad Max world. During the course of Fury Road he was writing backstories and he has written a terrific Furiosa origin story. It's a fantastic script that deserves to be made. I think everyone has their fingers crossed".
Norris will be attending the Oscars alongside his crewmates, and is gratified by the film's reception.
"The Road Warrior had an effect on everybody when it was released. I think Fury Road has had the same effect. I've had some very nice calls and emails from studio heads, but the most satisfying thing for me is when you walk onto a set and the grip or camera operator comes up and says: good work. Because they see everything".
"It's the comments from people who go out every single day making films. They know what it was like to be doing this in the desert for nine months. That makes me feel good".