Behind the Scenes of Car Stunts – Part One.

Any stunt devised begins with an idea. If it’s stunt for a film it must work with the story so even if it is altered for safety reasons it must make sense for the character or situation. Of course the car doesn’t always fit the star, sometimes it’s about product placement but the intention is to get something that you might believe the character could conceivably drive.

An example of a stunt fitting the plot is the car roll in Casino Royale. A car must go out of control and roll a couple of times but also avoid the person tied up. We don’t blink at this when the action hero gets himself this type of situation—but this is M. Would our desk jockey drive fast enough to lose control? Sure, if the emotion is high anyone can drive unwisely, but would M own a car that is likely to do it? So, if the director wants the stunt, he/she must show why M is upset and why M grabs someone else’s car.

From the stunt coordinators standpoint. If M drives a large, luxury, or classic car (true to the character) there’s a better chance that an out of control car would roll. So if the movie goes that way challenges like slower acceleration and less than performance breaking require a few cheats. It may sound silly but movies sometimes pour a few thousand dollars into car so that it can be safely destroyed in a wreck.

Stunt People are Also Actors:

It needn’t necessarily be the action hero, it could be the getaway driver or a bumbling incompetent, but how the car moves should show that. This is where the next stage of the production comes in. The stunt driver must drive the car in the manor that fits the character and the scene.

From a technical standpoint, stunt coordinators sit into meetings with the screenplay writer earlier in the process than most people would guess. The stunt moves need to be planned with the storyboard artist. Although the storyboard artist tends to agree with what the screenplay writer says, they will be more likely to look int how the car, tank or whatever, moves in certain conditions. Some stunts must be conducted at separate locations so that weather and crowds are controlled. Research at this point can head off problems further along the line.

From scribbles they come up with something more coherent—a plan to prepare for each stunt to be filmed. It helps them to watch other films with stunts to see how they do it. It’s usual practice to have a library on how each vehicle reacts in certain circumstances. You may believe that one SUV works the same as another SUV but it doesn’t, some are easier to handle, some might work easier around chicanes. You can see through footage or though attempting it (with the correct level of safety applied, it should be added).

Movie Storyboards

It’s important to plan the stunts during the storyboard phase. In many ways it’s easier to show action on a storyboard rather than a script. The only missing elements are actually filming, adding the soundtrack and dialogue, which will be assigned later.

The storyboard artist different devises to clearly represent the action. Instead of using a HB pencil on these drawings they use a 3B which is softer. (Would a hard pencil be good for showing night time stunts? Like a 3H for instance? Possibly).

The Lawyers

You probably think you know what a car stunt is, but the actual definition is a car negotiating unfamiliar territory. Simply driving at high speed, driving slowly through a crowd, or parking in a tight space are considered stunt for the movie industry. It’s obvious when you really think about it. Lets not assume that an actor can parallel park shall we? Not when we can have a professional driver do it and then film the actor getting out of the car.

The harder the stunt the more precision is needed. There will be a number of reworkings of the stunt plan to go through before eventually talking to the lawyers. Many manufacturers don’t wish to show their product acting in a dubious way. It takes a huge amount of PR to bring a stunt to the screen. Do you want your sports car associated with mob hit men? It gets you attention the first time your luxury car gets rolled into a building, after the 3rd movie does it you could get a reputation.

Stay tuned for part two where we’ll go into detail into specific stunts and the best practices in order to bring the stunt to the screen. It takes a huge amount of effort to make the car the true hero of the silver screen.

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