A movie action resource for filmmakers.
Today’s post will be about a low budget car chase I directed from my short film “Welcome to Sundown” (starting at 06:34). The story surrounding the chase is the demon Lord Tsuric chasing our protagonists, Chris and Gracie Farmer, down a dirt road until an energy beam turns over their vehicle.
Quality Disclaimer: My apologies for the lame image quality and incomplete VFX. The movie was shot day-for-night back in the era of SD Mini-DV, which was decent, but the risky camera shots were shot using a broken cheap camcorder outputting to a protected deck, hence the crazy diamond-shaped water droplet lens flares. Color correction between the two grades of camera was not ideal and became muddy. Oh well, good enough for a teaching moment.
First shot of Tsuric getting run over by the car was accomplished by the actor jumping flat onto his back on a porta-pit on the ground against a green screen. The actor Deron McBee had a bad knee, but he was able to jump onto a pad. This “impact” was composited over plate footage of the car coming to a fast stop.
Tsuric turning into a spirit and flying off was accomplished by locked off camera and the actor making a jumping action, then walking off camera to get a clean plate shot. VFX cut him out and animated him skyward. We should have shot this against green screen but if I remember we did not plan for a green screen until reshoots.
The chase down the street is basic panning of drive-byes and a POV shot by mounting the camera on the hood of a car and driving the route a few times. I believe I safety rigged myself to the front of the car but, had I a packing blanket and piece of 1″x6″ plank, I could have easily mounted a tripod head to the wood and ratchet strapped the camera mount to the hood. The POV shots looking back are just the POV shots looking forward playing in reverse.
I wanted a camera to fly around the outside of the to imply the demon Tsuric or his hench-demons flying after the car, so I taped my crash camcorder to a board and swung the camera around the outside of the car as the actors were driving. Roughly as follows: I bolted a 4’x4′ sheet of plywood to the roof of our $200 car that actually drove (can’t find those so easily now after Cash for Clunkers took many ‘gems’ off the road). Then I mounted an 8′ 2″x4″ to the roof, pivoting on bolt that threaded into the cab (and was just a little too short and our actors had to use a wrench to tighten the nut periodically as they drove). Then, one of the stunt crew put on a harness and was safely rigged on top of the car where he could manipulate the 2″x4″. The camera was angled down in such a way as it framed the car below the board and captured the two occupants in a perfect two-shot from any angle. You can see the 2″x4″ in the reflection of the windshield if you look, but there’s so much going on that’s it’s not a big deal.
A happy accident occurred when the driver forgot about the camera and drove through a gate, knocking the camera against a pole. His reaction to hurting the camera, so he thought, was that he gave me a reaction shot to the demon energy beam right before it flips the car.
The car was turned over by placing a railroad tie in an icy bank of snow. I believe the car went up the ramp and landed on all fours a couple time, even blowing two tires, before we screwed an apple box to the end of the railroad tie as a kicker. By now the car was slow moving on two rims in the mud, but our stunt driver was able to drive up the ramp with enough speed and it turned over. The camera in the road that takes the most risks is the unmanned crash camcorder tethered to a recording deck.
To make the turnover edit more interesting, I recorded some whip pans and whip twists with a camera and I cropped in on my car POV shot and rotated it in time with the rotation of the car. Lots of speed-ramping and frame-dropping were explored to add or match energy to shots in editing. If you didn’t already know, shots looking forward or back look slow and shots looking 90 degrees to the side look twice as fast because of foreground objects whipping past, and shots at angles in between have an apparent motion somewhere between looking forward/back and looking sideways. Most car chases are shot at 20-30 miles per hour and the excitement of the scene is created through editing and music as well as stunt driving and camera angles.
I was worried that the car might roll all the way over, so the aftermath shots of Chris and Gracie climbing out of the wrecked car were accomplished safely by securing the teetering car to a large tree. Always have an experienced rigger to keep your cast and crew safe even if the stunt seems to be over.
One last insight; the shot at 0:43 when the car overheats was accomplished by running a fire extinguisher hose from the passenger seat out the window and under the hood. I was the camera operator and as I panned from the driver to the hood, I blasted the fire extinguisher with my free hand. Took a few takes.
Post your questions and comments below.
Part 2 next week will explain some tricks from the car chase in “Run Cholo Run” (starting at 04:00).