Tight turns, busy traffic, high speeds and unsuspecting victims are just a few trademark features in the best Hollywood movie car chases. And while many film enthusiasts credit Peter Yates’ 1968 Bullitt with the first real movie hot pursuit, there have been countless distinguished dashes that have hit the big screens—and our hearts—every year since then.
This week, our team of action movie aficionados have gone behind the scenes of the most famous high-speed hunts to uncover some of the industry’s best kept secrets. Filming a scene as wild as the opening six minutes of Baby Driver requires more than souped-up Subaru, and our Caliber Collision teammates have uncovered what all goes into creating one of these stomach-sinking scenes.
One of the first steps in filming any great chase scene is preparing the vehicle for impact and protecting the driver. In a typical pursuit production, car frames are reinforced with steel, roll cages are added, sliding rigs are attached to the wheels and top-driving rigs are constructed so the actor can focus on, well…acting. Top-driving rigs, or pod cars in some cases, enable the movie star to pretend to drive the car, while not actually retaining control over the vehicle’s speed and direction. In addition to the “Picture Car,” there are a variety of other important vehicles that work to tow, film and guide the star-car of the show. Regardless of how the directors choose to reinforce and stage the movie’s vehicles, it’s what is on the inside that really matters most to the audience and crew.
The Actors and Stuntmen
Once the vehicle is ready to drive, both the actor and the stunt double are prepped in different roles to make the scene as realistic as possible. While actors rarely drive the vehicle in a car chase, they have to understand all of the mechanisms of the vehicle to make the scene believable. From steering, shifting gears, bracing for impact, watching the road and everything in between, the person in the driver’s seat (though not in control) must understand the scene, and the car, inside and out.
On the flipside, the person actually in control of the car is solely responsible for the fast, furious and dangerous driving needed for the scene. A stunt driver is responsible for all of the split-second timing, vehicle control, physical demands and driving expertise. While some stunt drivers come from a racing background, others are trained specifically for the job through years of training and conditioning. Picking the right stunt double is critical in creating an authentic and adrenaline-pumping pursuit.
When filming a chase scene, the crew can’t just start driving at 100mph and running red lights, as they once did in The French Connection. Nowadays, permits must be acquired and regulations put into place in the surrounding city to prep them for the events to follow. In most instances, streets are closed off and other stunt drivers are used for the surrounding vehicles on the road. In other cases, streets are entirely closed off and traffic is added later in the editing process. Regardless of how the director chooses to bring the scene to life, they must also consider typical street traffic patterns, bystanders, time of day, historical landmarks and other important aspects of the storyline.
The Film Crew
Speaking of the director, he or she is also responsible to work with other film crew members to agree upon how to capture the scene. From the different angles, required shots and focal points, the goal is to capture the moment in as few takes as possible. This being said, it’s important that everyone is on the same page and prepared to play their part in the production of the pursuit.
Finally, when in doubt, edit it out. Capturing scenes like those in Mad Max, Fast Five, Jason Bourne and The Blues Brothers, tiptoe on the line of creativity and safety, but when the crew begins to compromise the latter, its best to deal with the issue in post-production. Between green screens, sound effects, CGI and today’s advances in virtual reality, the possibilities are endless for a thrilling race scene. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for example: CGI was used to enhance the already obtained footage with extra vehicles, depth of frame and added texture. The film boasts more than 2000 visual effect shots, plate manipulation, 2D compositing and even a CG prosthetic on one of the characters. With advancements being made every day in the world of post-production editing, producers are finding new and exciting ways to merge the thrill of real-life stunts with the possibilities of CGI, all working to create the heart-stopping scenes that audiences love to see.
From car chases to car crashes, hot pursuits to flame-filled explosions, Hollywood is known for its ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. And while we can all agree an on-screen collision can be exciting, if you find yourself in real-world trouble, remember your crew at Caliber Collision specializes in Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life.®