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Encore: 'Mad Max' Editor On How Editing Shapes A Film


This past weekend at the MTV Movie Awards, Charlize Theron won best female performance as the renegade Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road." In her acceptance speech, she dedicated the award to those she called the true warriors.


CHARLIZE THERON: The story of "Fury Road" is, in part, a story of the power of women and...


THERON: ...And the power to create our own destinies. So tonight, I accept this award on behalf of my own little Furiosa, my daughter, August Simone, and on behalf of all of the Furiosas out there. You are the true warriors. Thank you so much.


SIEGEL: "Mad Max: Fury Road" is set in the future in a hellish desert landscape that's ruled by a twisted dictator. Furiosa is searching for the safe haven she once knew. She calls it the Green Place.


THERON: (As Furiosa) I was born there.

TOM HARDY: (As Max) So why'd you leave?

THERON: (As Furiosa) I didn't. I was taken as a child - stolen.

HARDY: (As Max) You done this before?

THERON: (As Furiosa) Many times. Now that I drive a war rig, this is the best shot I'll ever have.


Charlize Theron's MTV award for this role is just the latest in a string of awards for "Mad Max." And it reminded us of a conversation I had earlier this year. It was with the woman who went on to win an Oscar for her work on the movie, film editor Margaret Sixel. She helped make sense of hundreds of hours of footage.


MARGARET SIXEL: We figured that it would take three months just to watch the footage before you could actually do any work. So it was a huge task and, I have to confess, some days overwhelming. But basically, how do you shape such a film? You know, you go in every day. You just bite off a little bit. You cut it to the best it can possibly be, and you start building up your cut that way.

SHAPIRO: This was Sixel's first action film. Before this, she had editted movies like "Babe: Pig In The City" and the animated penguin film "Happy Feet." For "Mad Max: Fury Road," Sixel started with this sequence - a brutal and wordless fight between Furiosa and Mad Max played by Tom Hardy.


SHAPIRO: Most movies have dialogue or other clues to help drive the story, but "Mad Max" is a film of few words, so Sixel's editing was even more crucial.


SIXEL: I mean, they call editing the last rewrite, so, you know, we don't really just cut shots together. We are part of the storytelling process. And this film - I wouldn't say it was made in the cutting room, but it certainly did depend hugely on the cutting to succeed. I mean, if it hadn't been correctly cut, I think it could have been a dismal failure, really.

SHAPIRO: Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is you didn't actually have a script for this movie (laughter).

SIXEL: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You just had storyboards almost like a comic book or a graphic novel.

SIXEL: Well, there was actually a script of some form, but it was actually really difficult to read. And the storyboards - occasionally I'd have the storyboards there and think, you know, well, how does that fit there, and how does that fit there? But ultimately, it wasn't that helpful.

And so I just basically looked at the material that I had in front of me and made sense of that. And that's so you have no preconceived idea of what a scene should be. It's basically this is what the director shot. He might've intended something else, but this is what I feel about this footage. So you stay more objective.

SHAPIRO: A lot of people have talked about how unusual it is for a woman to be the editor of a big blockbuster action film. Do you think that a woman brings something different to the editing room, that there is somehow a female vision that this movie turned out differently than it would've if a man had been in the role?

SIXEL: You know, I feel that there must be something to it. You know, I had a lot of terrific guys in the cutting room. And a few of them would say, Maggie, it's great that you're doing it because, you know, we would've stopped ages ago even with the explosions, and that would've been cool, and we would've been happy.


SIXEL: But you know, it wasn't enough for me. I really had to feel that there was an emotional content to a lot of the stunts and try and keep the characters in there. And so you know, maybe I did bring that quality to the film.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us an example of one of those scenes - how you kept the emotional content and the characters in there instead of just going for the big detonation?

SIXEL: You know, I'd often think, OK, I'm going to look at the film and only look at the Furiosa character.

SHAPIRO: This is Charlize Theron's character.

SIXEL: Yeah - and see where she's missing, where do I think she should be, what is she feeling at this particular point?


THERON: (As Furiosa) I'm going to need you to drive.

SIXEL: Because you know, when you got a whole lot of stunts, you can just get caught up in the action of that stunt and forget about where all your main characters are. So I would deliberately go through the film and try and keep them alive.

SHAPIRO: Alive, not meaning free from harm...

SIXEL: (Laughter) Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...But alive meaning incorporated into the scene.

SIXEL: But you know, then I'd find a shot of the Vuvalini, who the older women - when one of the women died in the end chase, they would make this particular sign.

SHAPIRO: A hand gesture.

SIXEL: It was very beautiful, and in the midst of all the chaos, there was just this moment where they respected the dead Vuvalini. And it was those moments that actually brought you back to the human story. And we just paused the action there.


SIXEL: We just let that moment hang there, which was kind of an unusual thing to do with a big action sequence. So all those moments added up and I think gave the film an extra quality.

SHAPIRO: It seems remarkable for a movie like "Mad Max" to have as many Oscar nominations as the film does, which isn't to say the film isn't deserving of them. But a two-hour car chase - as I said, it's not typical Oscar bait. Were you expecting this kind of recognition? What was your reaction?

SIXEL: I have to be honest. We were never expecting it while we were cutting it because it being an action film. But everybody took this film so seriously - the production designer, the visual effects people, the sound people, music. You know, it was art for a lot of people.

So in hindsight, no, I think that must be evident when people watch the film. Everyone tried to push the envelope a little, so when I look back now I think, yeah, you know, we did all try to make something unique and different, and we didn't copy anybody.


SHAPIRO: Margaret Sixel is the editor of "Mad Max: Fury Road." Thanks for joining us.

SIXEL: Thanks so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.