Stunt Coordinator Glenn Suter Reflects On “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Glenn Suter’s stunt team worked for three months perfecting the pole cats in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. photo credit: Warner Bros.

By: Marjorie Galas

The biggest stunt performed for this summer’s box office smash “Mad Max: Fury Road” wasn’t caught on camera. Stunt coordinator Glenn Suter poured over the intricate story boards and worked out intense scene breakdowns until he had a strong action sequence rundown. Then, he developed a rough schedule.

“Each sequence required a specific skill set. We needed stunt performers who excelled at working with motorbikes, performing physical stunts, working with trucks, and so on,” said Suter. “I matched the stunts in the film and the people who fit the specific characters and parameters on a spreadsheet. There was a core group I had to keep running through the film. This basic scheduling took over a week and a half to do.”

Suter began his career as a stuntman, performing in movies including “The Thin Red Line” and “The Matrix.” As a stunt coordinator, his resume includes “Superman Returns” and “Pacific Rim.” Along his path he met fellow Australian and “Mad Max: Fury Road” action stunt director Guy Norris, who brought him onto the project. As excited to work under director George Miller as he was to tackle challenging stunt sequences, Suter eagerly jumped on board.

With a breakdown and rough schedule in place, building a core team of stunts people was the next challenge. Roughly 30-35 key stunt people were brought in from Australia. While they looked at local performers in the production’s African Namibian Desert location the intensity of stunts required high-end professionals with extensive experience. Auditions were held around the globe, recruiting professionals for the UK, Canada, America and many other countries.

With hundreds of individuals in place rehearsals began for each sequence. Suter oversaw the extensive training of all performers, ensuring they were physically capable of safely and accurately executing the stunts. Once conditioning was complete, the crew moved into duplicating the set-ups found in each scene. Some, such as the “pole cat” stunts, required a combination of department heads to work through the design; a facet incorporated into the stunt training sequence.

“The pole cats presented a new technique and  collaboration between special effects and the production designer. Prototypes were made, feedback was given then the devices were modified,” said Suter. “It was very much a process of trail and error.”

The pole cats incorporated two levels of development: the actual apparatus and the choreography on them. Suter employed a performer from the Las Vegas  Cirque du Soleil to select and train the performers involved in this stunt.

“That was the first step. Then they started training. They spent months developing core strength on the pole,” said Suter. “Once they mastered the movement, we married the sequence with real poles that were mounted on the floor that provided a swinging motion, similar to that in the actual vehicle.”

Equally important to the proper execution of the stunt was finding qualified drivers who could safely handle the vehicles while the stunt was being performed. The drivers are often the first person to take responsibility of the safety of the crew, environment and staff. With over seventy different types of vehicles involved in the shoot, Suter diligently worked with the drivers to ensure they were empowered and prepared to handle the responsibility of on-set safety. With the wide assortment of training and preparation for the pole cats, the complete team spent roughly three months perfecting this stunt before it was shot on set.

Suter also works closely with every department to aid cast and crew safety.  Alongside costume designers, he’ll find ways to hide safety pads and ensure actors have the best mobility possible. He’ll discuss adding cushions and soft surfaces to the inside of cars, rooms, and other interiors with the production designer and set decorator. He’ll also work closely with props, incorporating any soft material possible to avoid actor injury during a stunt.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” also required the leads to perform certain stunts.  Suter, always mindful of safety, closely observed the actors, found their strengths and nurtured their performances.

“Everyone has fear. Everyone has physical limitations. You work with them in the areas they do well, you spend time in training, you build them up to a level they feel comfortable in,” said Suter. “You watch for their capabilities, and stretch them beyond the limits they think that they can go.”

Up next, Suter has reteamed with Norris on director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” currently shooting in Canada.

“I’m a big comic book geek, so this is a thrill for me,” said Suter. “It’s exciting to be part of a project that has really built the story around the characters.”