Script Secrets: I’ve Seen That Before | Part II

Jul 23, 2015 | Writing

Yes, it’s a sequel.

After MAD MAX (1979) and ROAD WARRIOR (1981) and BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) we had to wait 30 years and a couple of BABE movies for 70 year old George Miller to give us the fourth film in the Mad Max series, FURY ROAD… which some claim is just one big car chase, but is actually a series of *very different* car chases. Last column we looked at the first two, which managed to be completely different than each other; and now we will look at the last 3 car chases which are also very different from one another. These three chases also tell the story and expose and explore character.

When last we left our grungy reluctant heroes, they were in a car chase through Tornado Alley, with badass driver Furiosa (Charlize Theron) piloting the War Wagon between tornadoes while many of the vehicles chasing her were not quite as skilled and were whisked into the heavens. “War Boy” Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and his “blood bag” Max (Tom Hardy) end up avoiding the tornados but crashing their car, which allows Max to attempt escape… except he’s chained and IVed to Nux… through a car door’s window. Though Max removes the IV, he can’t remove the unconscious Nux (nor the door) and carries him to the War Wagon, which is stopped up ahead.

Why is it stopped? Because in real life if you had driven through a sand storm like that your air filters would be clogged. Reality is the greatest plotting tool there is, because who can argue with it? Furiosa and Max reluctantly team up to take the Brides to the Green Place where she grew up… a paradise where food and flowers grow and the world is run by strong women. Furiosa was kidnapped from there as a child, like Debbie in THE SEARCHERS, and was looking for an good reason to double cross evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and go home. Nux stows away for the ride as we head towards the next car chase… because once those tornados have passed, Joe’s Army resumes the chase.


Furiosa drives the War Wagon to the mountains, where there is a narrow passageway. She has made a deal with Rock Riders who live in the mountains to blow up the mouth of the passageway behind the War Wagon in exchange for a small tanker of gasoline they’ve been towing. You’ve seen them blow up the pass in a million Westerns, including THE PROFESSIONALS (western genre), but this time there’s a hitch: The Rock Riders agreed to blow up the pass to stop a couple of pursuit vehicles… but Furiosa is now being chased by *three armies*. Immortan Joe, the Bullet Farmers, and the Gas Town. They no longer think that one small tanker of gasoline is enough payment… what’s in the two tanks in the War Wagon?

Which leads to our next chase in the narrow canyon with the Rock Riders chasing the War Wagon. Once again, vehicles reflect the tribe… the Rock Riders are on motocross bikes that seem to cling to the rocky terrain like mountain goats. Oh, and you know the explosives they’re going to use to blow up the pass? Explosives are their weapon of choice. They have little bombs they throw at vehicles as they jump over them doing amazing motocross stunts. I know it may seem like a cool idea to have motocross bikes chasing them through the mountain pass, but it also makes complete story sense and we learn about this tribe *during the chase*.  They *are* mountain goats!

Chases should always be story and character related, and work best when there is an emotional component. In “Secrets Of Action Screenwriting” I have an example of two friends being chased by a lion and one trips… do you slow down to help them or speed up? Either way creates an emotional situation. This particular chase has an element similar to that, where one of our important characters is thrown from the War Wagon and Furiosa must decide whether they should go back to rescue them or go on. Going back puts them all in danger… but can they just leave someone behind? This turns a car chase into a sticky emotional problem where there is no right answer and either way she decides will be filled with regret. A good car chase should be required by the story, explore character, and be emotional for both the characters and the audience.

After this chase we get a series of big emotional story scenes before the two final chases (which may seem to some like one long chase with an explosion in the middle).


Just as we looked at Immortan Joe’s army as being a period Revolutionary War army with a drum and fife corps, we’re going to “cast” this next chase scene as a pirate movie. When you think of a car chase as a car chase, you are limiting yourself. A car chase can be whatever you want it to be… it could be a rooftop foot chase with cars, like they did in BATMAN BEGINS, it could be cars and drivers parachuting behind enemy lines like in FURIOUS 7, it could be a car on two wheels going down a narrow alley almost sideways to evade the cars in a chase in the James Bond film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Our job is to give the audience the car chase they haven’t seen. The *scene* they haven’t seen. If you have seen this scene in a movie before, think of something else. What can we do that will be fresh and new to the audience? So let’s find a genre to cast this scene in…

Okay, we’ve all seen pirate movies where they board a ship using lines attached to the rigging, and swing into the enemy ship; how can we do that with cars? Have you seen those drinking bird desk toys that are almost balanced so that they dip down into the water and then move back upright? What if we put something like that on a moving vehicle, so that the pirates could dip down onto a moving car and attack? Then zip back up due to the counterweights?

Though the idea for the “Polecats” actually came from a Cirque Du Soleil Chinese Pole Acrobat performance, like most things the idea is a combination of many different small ideas which intersect. So this next car chase has these crazy pirates on poles that dip over the War Wagon for either a momentary attack or to land a pirate on the speeding vehicle. It’s an insane scene, like nothing we have ever seen before!

At one point a Polecat swings in and grabs Max, swinging back to the other side of the vehicle so that he can drag Max’s head against the ground at seventy miles per hour!


In the spirit of “casting” a scene in a different genre, the final piece of the chase is a romcom. Yes, a romantic comedy. In a romantic comedy, the story has the couple constantly being drawn together and then something pulls them apart. Okay, they do that with a car chase.

By this final chase, Max and Furiosa have gone from hating each other, to reluctantly working together, to becoming a team. Now we *want them to be together*, so that’s when they get pulled apart. Of course, they get pulled apart in the middle of a massive car chase by crashes and attacking vehicles. Max ends up off the War Wagon after being snatched by that polecat, and needs to get back because Furiosa has been injured and needs someone to help her drive the rig. Her injury is a ticking clock… the longer it takes Max to get back on the rig, the weaker she becomes and the more difficult it will be for her to do evasive driving… and they will be caught and the precious cargo taken by Immortan Joe.

Oh, and Max and Furiosa will be killed.

So there are real stakes involved in them reuniting.

But there are 75 vehicles attacking them, trying to keep them apart. Though this is not a high concept chase scene like the polecats or parachuting a car behind enemy lines (FURIOUS 7) it is a big action set piece filled with sub set pieces as the vehicles smash against them and crash, and features Max escaping the polecat only to be marooned on the drum truck. So that high concept drum truck features into the chase scene. Oh, and so does the guitar player on the front of the truck. So this big end chase does end up being different than anything we have seen before, and the “bringing them together only to pull them apart” romantic comedy element is what makes it exciting and involving. Every time we’re sure Max will get back on the War Wagon, something happens to yank him away.

Five car chase scenes in the same film and each of them is nothing we have ever seen before, something unique and exciting. This is why MAD MAX: FURY ROAD has made every critic’s mid year ten best list. Most of us will not be writing a screenplay with five of the exact same type of scenes, but we do need to make sure that each of our scenes is unique and hasn’t been used in some other film before. Casting your scene in a different genre is a great way to open your mind to other possibilities… what if that rom com scene where the male lead meets his one true love’s soon to be husband at the engagement dinner is “cast” as a western? An alien invasion movie? A disaster movie? A gangster film? An epic fantasy like LORD OF THE RINGS?  A war movie? One of those Dance Off movies? Think of different genres and you come up with different scenes. In the “Scenes Blue Book” I have a dozen ways to create new scenes, and unusual locations and casting in a different genre are two of them. You want to make sure that none of the scenes in your screenplay have already been used in some other movie. All original parts!

No scenes we’ve seen before.

Some of you may be wondering how a movie that is just one long chase scene ended up on all of those critic’s Best Films Of The First Half Of 201 lists… so let’s turn this into a trilogy like LORD OF THE RINGS or STAR WARS or those three MAD MAX movies with Mel Gibson and look at how Action Is Character in FURY ROAD in the next column.

William C. Martell


William C. Martell has written 19 films that were carelessly slapped onto celluloid: 3 for HBO, 2 for Showtime, 2 for USA Net, and a whole bunch of CineMax Originals (which is what happens when an HBO movie goes really, really wrong). He has been on some film festival juries, including Raindance in London (five times – serving with Mike Figgis, Saffron Burrows, Lennie James, Edgar Wright and in 2013 with Julian Assange). The late Roger Ebert discussed his work with Gene Siskel on his 1997 “If We Picked The Winners” Oscar show. He’s quoted a few times in Bordwell’s great book The Way Hollywood Tells It. His USA Net flick Hard Evidence was released on video the same day as the Julia Roberts’ film Something To Talk About and out-rented it in the USA. A few years back he had two films released on DVD on the same day and both made the top-10 rentals. Recently wrote the remake of a hit 1980s horror flick, and later this year should have both a family film shooting. He’s the author of Secrets of Action Screenwriting, Hitchcock: Experiments In Terror, and the Blue Book series.