22 May 2024

How a town of fewer than 3000 people got to host 2024's biggest blockbuster

| Jarryd Rowley
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The newest film in the Mad Max franchise hits cinemas this week and much of the 2024 blockbuster was filmed in the small Riverina town of Hay.

The newest film in the Mad Max franchise hits cinemas this week and much of the 2024 blockbuster was filmed in the small Riverina town of Hay. Photo: Warner Bros.

As an Australian, you may have heard of a little movie series called Mad Max.

It’s just one of the most influential Aussie film series in history and has drawn more than $500 million at the international box office – no big deal.

What you may not know is that for the first time in nearly a decade, a new movie in the Mad Max saga, titled Furiosa, is set to hit the big screen and it was filmed in the Riverina’s backyard.

A prequel to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was partially filmed in the small regional town of Hay and has put the small town of 2800 people on the world stage.

Fans of the series would know that Mad Max has plenty of post-apocalyptic landscapes filled with put-together vehicles and dusty locales. So when Furiosa was announced, it needed to be captured in a place like Hay and director George Miller agreed.

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“The film is unmistakably set in the centre of Australia,” Dr Miller said in an interview with the ABC.

“It would have felt odd to have shot it anywhere else. It’s so iconically Australian. To be able to come back home and collaborate is a dream come true.”

Hay was one of three towns in Australia used during the principal photography in 2022. Between April and June of that year, hundreds of the film’s cast and crew, including some of the best stunt men and women in the world, called Hay home.

The region’s barren, open landscape served the film series’ aesthetic perfectly and with roads stretching hundreds of kilometres outside of the town, it meant stunt crews and cinematographers had a large amount of room to move.

But how did the movie’s filming land in Hay? Well, that’s a good question.

Unlike the first three original Mad Max movies, which were filmed outside of Melbourne and in Broken Hill, Fury Road was produced in Namibia.

In 2012, the original plan was to return to Broken Hill to recapture the sandy aesthetic used for Mad Max 2. Unfortunately for the Far West NSW town, there was too much plant growth and in order to keep the desert appearance running, a change had to be made.

The only location where Mr Miller could get permits to film and still have it released by its 2015 deadline was Namibia. Fast forward nine years to 2022 and George Miller wanted to move back to the country that made the original movies so famous.

Unlike in 1979 for Mad Max, there was no chance Furiosa was going to be filmed in Melbourne. Not only had the city grown too large for the fleet of cars that Furiosa demanded, but the costs for permits and closing streets were too great.

Furiosa needed an overgrown desert setting, but Broken Hill, which has also grown in size, didn’t quite meet all the demands.

Seeing an opportunity to seize the filming of the famous blockbuster, the former Berejiklian government offered part of its $175 million Made in NSW fund to secure the chance to keep the movie in NSW.

Mr Miller eventually turned to the heads of Screen NSW to discuss appropriate places to film grand stunts safely within the setting needed and ultimately Hay was chosen.

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“We are entirely grateful to the Berejiklian government for the advice and help extended to us by Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia and Grainne Brunsdon, Head of Screen NSW. The support of the Federal and New South Wales governments was pivotal,” Dr Miller said.

“They made it possible for the film to be greenlit, shot in Australia and for the production to be based in our home state.”

It was a win-win for Hay and the NSW government, especially following the financial hardships of the COVID-19 era. During the 2022 filming period, more than $350 million was injected into the NSW economy and nearly 1000 local and regional jobs were offered.

Now, with less than a week left until Furiosa hits the big screen, it is expected to make $50 million USD in its first week in cinemas alone, with many outlets expecting the film to be the biggest in the series, with a projected draw of more than $500 million at the worldwide box office.

This will push the iconic Australian series to more than $1 billion in total, making it the most successful Australian film series ever – passing Crocodile Dundee – and the small town of Hay will have played a large part.

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