Anne Hilborn

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Mad Max: Field Assistant

June 21 2015


I went to see the new Mad Max movie and was impressed for the usual reasons- eye popping visuals, multiple female characters being badass, the amount of character development that happens with minimal dialog, the refusal to have a romantic subplot etc…  Tom Hardy plays Mad Max as a rather different type of action hero than you usually see in Hollywood blockbusters, and it occurred to me that he had many of the qualities of a fine field assistant.  Believe me, the usual Hollywood action hero would make an utterly awful field assistant, but Mad Max…Different story.  I complied my personal list of qualities that would make me likely to hire him.  Bear in mind this list is heavily influenced by the type of fieldwork I have done in both Serengeti and Alaska which involves long periods of time spent in isolation with a small group of people where pretty much everything depends on having working vehicles or boats.


Thanks to feministmadmax.tumblr for some of the images.



Why Tom Hardy’s Mad Max has the many qualities of a good field assistant.



1.  Thinks independently and presents his ideas but takes direction well.- want someone smart who thinks for themselves but will do what you say.  


2.  Understands who is boss.  Don’t want someone talking over you or changing protocol on your project.  You also don’t want a guy who resents having a woman as a boss.  I haven’t seen this happen many times, but when it does it is a complete mess.




3. Isn’t grabby.   Max doesn’t touch any of the female characters unless it is in the act of fighting, driving the rig, or administering first aid.  This is very rare in male cinematic  ‘heroes’.  Usually they regard the woman/women they ‘save’ as owing them something, be it attention, some sort of domestic labor, or sexual activity.  Or they just cop a feel if possible.  Even my faves such as Sean Bean as Sharpe do this.

Sharpe after trying to seduce Theresa when she really wasn't into it

Max does not, even when crammed in the belly of the war rig with several half naked young women, he takes absolutely no interest in them.  For me very few things make a work dynamic go uncomfortable and edgy as someone touching me without my consent.  Being in a car for 12 hours with someone who tries to tuck your hair behind your ear or in a field camp with someone who touches your stomach as you pass—nope.  Not good.  Thankfully is hasn’t happened very often to me (but sexual harassment and assault in field camps is common-see Kate Clancy’s research on this issue)  but it is such a relief to have someone working with or for you where you know it won’t be an issue.



4.   Knows when to let the best person for a job take over- Yes, I am talking about the rifle scene.  

Field jobs are a great place to learn new skills, but when the chips are down and resources/time/tempers are short, the most qualified person should do the job.  This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.  When I was younger I felt I had A LOT to prove about how tough and skilled I was and would often try to do things beyond my abilities.  In 2002 I was a bird skinning trip to Siberia and to get to a study site we needed to row across a sizeable river.  For the first few days I sat in the boat and one of the guys on the team rowed everyone across. But after a while I felt like I shouldn’t be just sitting there like useless cargo so I offered to row.  Now I once rowed a boat when I was 10 and that made me think it was fairly straightforward.










                                          How I'd thought I'd look rowing a boat. Not very accurate


Let me assure you it is not.  At all.  Even now after a fair amount of practice I cannot row a boat in a straight line, but back then I made a complete hash of it.  I am eternally grateful and astonished that one my passenger sat mute and silent as I completely soaked him as I flailed with the oars.  Eventually with much bruised pride, I admitted defeat and let the guys take over the rowing.  In that situation I was not the right person for the job and as I have matured I’ve realized that letting someone who is more competent than myself do the job doesn’t somehow diminish my value.   This realization was helped along by becoming more competent myself and being in situations where someone else less skilled wanted to take over.  Most of the time I’ll let him or her go ahead, but if time is tight, or the result is important then, no.  I’ll pull rank and do it myself, and it helps to have someone who doesn't get upset by that.


5.  Can work effectively independently and as part of a team- Want someone who you can trust to do good work on their own but who can also work effectively with other people.  


6.  Has mechanical skills and can fix stuff-  I’ve been stuck too many times with a broken fan belt, over heated radiator, broken door etc..  Mechanics are hard to find in the middle of nowhere and having someone on your team who can do even basic car repairs is immensely valuable.



7.   Knows how to dig a car out of the mud.  This is KEY!!  The scene where the war rig is stuck in the mud is one of my favorites because it reminds me off the many many times I’ve been stuck in the mud, alone and with others, jacking, digging, throwing boards, sand ladders, spare tires... anything we had under the wheels, grinding in low range, desperately swearing and hoping that this time the car will move.


That time I got my parents stuck in a marsh in Serengeti. Pics by Ulrike Hilborn

Utter jubilation at getting the car unstuck

Despite our success, my dad doesn't seem very pleased about the whole situation

Bogged down with Laura Simpson in 2009

Jack and dig

1 hour in.  Just before I lost my sense of humor about the situation

Eventually we had to call for help from Ndutu Safari Lodge.  They came with extra boards, jacks, muscle, and sandladders

I approve of Mad Max’s digging out technique and his hustle in doing it.  Because while there may not be blood thirsty war boys after us, we have cheetahs to find, and we don’t want to waste the day stuck in the mud.



8.  Thoughtful.  Now this isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of an action hero but it is exemplified by the boot.  Max lost a boot to a warboy when he was still a blood bag, when he had Nux under his power he took a boot back leaving Nux with only one.  In the scorching desert when you spend most of your time fighting or crawling around a very very hot vehicle, missing a boot is a problem.  When Max returns from sorting out some of their pursuers, he carries back much needed weapons and ammunition, and a boot which he gives to Nux.  Now he didn’t have to, he could have spared himself the trouble of carrying it all that way, but in doing so he signaled to Nux that he accepted him as part of the team and his safety and comfort were important.  Thoughtful things like that between members of a field crew really help make what can be a boring repetitive job and a cramped living situation much easier to bear.  Someone who does the dishes without asking, or remembers to pack your favorite snack for lunch.  Or knows that you hate driving a boat in windy situations so does it instead.  Or can see when you are stressed and about to break and makes you dinner or does a job or chore so you don’t have to.  These things can be immensely important.



9.  Has some first aid skills- you know, can sort out a collapsed lung.



10.  Doesn’t mind staying filthy for periods of time.  Mad Max obviously hadn’t changed clothes in years and the logical part of my mind knows that makes sharing a car or tent a challenge.  In less extreme circumstances however, it helps to have someone who doesn’t mind getting filthy.  Cutting ear bones out of rotting salmon, digging cars out of the mud or just camping for days in the dust are dirty jobs and you want someone who won’t use up precious water in non-essential washing.



11.  Doesn’t say much- If I am in a car with someone for days at a time, I don’t want them to be talking all the time.  One of the reasons I am good at being a cheetah researcher is because I can spend 5 days alone following cheetahs.  So when I am sharing the car, I am not big on a lot of chit- chat, especially not in the morning.  When I was training Laura to replace me on Cheetah Project, one of the reasons we got on so well was because there would be almost no talking in the car until the mid-morning tea break.


While this list is pretty impressive, I am realistic and know there are some reasons that would also make him a challenging field assistant.




1.  Not great communicator.  Max as an agreeably silent car companion is great.  Max as a field assistant who doesn’t let you know where he is going or if the car needs repairs or if he is having problems with data collection, or permitting issues  etc.. is less than ideal.  Max giving a research presentation to stakeholders might be a stretch. Having good communication skills in science is necessary and you want someone in the field who can effectively communicate both with you and other people.


2.  Has rolled a car and might be considered a reckless driver.  



Admittedly there are extreme extenuating circumstances.  However, it will probably take a fair amount of time and training for Max to stop driving as if he was running for his life and more in the slow granny style we aim for.  Landrovers in Serengeti and boats in Alaska are expensive to buy and maintain.  Driving off road is tough on cars anyway, but this is exacerbated by fast or careless driving, and on Cheetah Project safe and careful driving is very important.  Wrecking a car is one of the fastest ways to get fired.



4.  He's hot.  Now this is a whole can of worms that I am not going to fully get into.  I’ll just say that I would find it really awkward to be attracted to someone who worked for me, especially if we spent a lot of time together such as in a car or research camp.  

Thus endeth my purely personal list why I just might hire Mad Max to be my field assistant.

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