How ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Director Tim Miller Created Its ‘Massive’ Action Scenes

Terminator: Dark Fate / Paramount Pictures
Terminator: Dark Fate / Paramount Pictures

With some of the recent films in the Terminator franchise producing mixed results for fans, the stakes were high to make the new film a smashing success. That’s why James Cameron and Paramount turned to director Tim Miller—the man behind Deadpool. As a fan of the Terminator franchise himself, Miller knew what he was stepping into when he took on Terminator: Dark Fate, and he was more than ready for it

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“I think there’s something wrong with me in that I don’t feel pressure,” Miller tells Men’s Journal. “I see it as an opportunity. It’s a huge responsibility, but when I take something on, I feel it’ll turn out okay because I want it to. Maybe at the age of 50, now I feel comfortable in an environment where I can work with people who are really talented and really help me when I make mistakes.”

The new Terminator movie is made as a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, taking place two decades after the film (and subsequently ignoring the three flicks that came before it). Linda Hamilton returns as the iconic Sarah Connor, who teams up with a human-hybrid named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to protect a young girl (Natalia Reyes) from being hunted down by an advanced Terminator Rev-9 model played by Gabriel Luna. Eventually, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is brought back into the fold as well.

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Terminator: Dark Fate / Paramount Pictures
Terminator: Dark Fate / Paramount Pictures

Like every Terminator film, Dark Fate has some large-scale action sequences, including a bridge fight early in the film and an aerial plane battle toward the climax. Miller’s experience on the set of Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds served him well in creating those scenes, as did his years of working on major blockbuster productions at Blur Studio, his own visual effects company.

“My secret to creating great action sequences? Hire very talented stunt coordinators,” Miller says with a laugh. “That’s absolutely key. We had my stunt coordinator from Deadpool, and he was fantastic. To create the action for this film, first, we decided on what these set pieces would be early on: the bridge fight, the big plane crash, and the fight in the turbine hall. The script was being written the same time we were planning these massive action sequences.”

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Miller’s process incorporates a lot of pre-visual conception, where he extensively plans out what he’ll do using motion capture and computer-generated graphics.

“I went through and wrote out all the action scenes in detail in a bullet-point format,” Miller says. “I write where it all happens and try to visualize it in my mind. Then I’ll give that to the writers for character beats and the stunt guys so they can figure out how we’re going to do it—whether it’ll be computer graphics or practical effects. Then we move into extensive pre-visualization—putting the stunt guys in motion capture to plot it all out. We did six weeks of that for all the action scenes, then moved on to actually shooting them. We loved how they came out and everyone worked their assess off.”

Part of the fun for Miller was getting to work with legends like Schwarzenegger and Hamilton.

“It was terrific,” Miller says. “I couldn’t have been luckier. These actors know their characters so well. I never once got the impression that Arnold or Linda were difficult to work with. It was a very familial feel between the cast and everyone on the set. I’m so beholden to having a good atmosphere, with no tension or strife, and this cast was perfect for that.”

Adding to the overall comfort was the fact that Cameron—the creator of the franchise and director of Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day—came back in the fold for Dark Fate as a producer after sitting out the previous installments. On top of that, franchise icon Linda Hamilton agreed to return to her classic role of Sarah Connor for the first time since T2.

“There’s a certain comfort level knowing you’re going into it with the man who invented the franchise and has been thinking about it for two decades,” Miller said. “I previously worked with Jim before with Blur Studio, so we knew each other already. He’s terrifying—but not to me. Then, when Linda agreed to return, it kind of pulled it all together. If Linda didn’t come back, who knows what would have happened.”

Terminator: Dark Fate hits theaters on November 1.

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