Opening in theaters this weekend is Courtney Solomon’s Getaway, a non-stop thrillride starring Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez and the Ford Mustang Shelby Super Snake. Hawke stars as former racer Brent Magna who is forced to wreak havoc across the streets of Bulgaria by a faceless villain who has kidnapped Magna’s wife. Gomez is along for the ride as “The Kid” and attempts to help Magna survive this deadly race against the clock.
During a recent press day, Solomon sat down to talk with us about his latest film, speaking extensively about the practical stunt work involved in Getaway, why those stunts are more visceral than CG creations, and the bravado and worth ethic of the Bulgarian stunt team. He also commented on punching up stunt sequences that were too bland on paper and came alive while on location, including the film’s climactic final run (and a somewhat illegal jaunt down Bulgarian streets). Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will also be interested to see where progress is at on the new film, of which Solomon is a producer. Hit the jump for the interview.
Courtney Solomon: It’s just a fun movie, I mean, you hit it right on the head. So I’m certainly happy you said that.
I wanted to talk a bit about the practical stunt work. Digital effects are at an all-time high with what they’re able to do, but as realistic as they are, it’s not as visceral as practical stunt work. Can you talk about the planning and conceptualization of the stunts?
Solomon: Sure. The interesting thing is that we actually did every stunt in the movie as practical. There’s not one CG stunt; there’s only one CG shot which is the tower falling down at the end of the train. The rest of it’s practical – the explosions behind it – but we obviously weren’t allowed to do that. Everything else they let us do in Bulgaria and destroy the city, but that, they drew the line and said, “You can’t actually bust up the train yard and knock down towers,” or I would have.
Solomon: Yeah, exactly! That was the fun of the movie and that was the intention. The original The Fast and the Furious , they pretty much did 95% [practical], from what I understand, and I actually asked a while ago, Rob Cohen, about it. And we basically did all of the movie practically. And then you fast forward to where we are today and most of the movies … you know, Fast Six, most of it is CG at this point. They’re at a great level, but I just wanted to go back to the classic car movies. Also, we didn’t have the type of budget where we could have done that CG even remotely decently, to be honest. It was just more real to do it like this.
It wasn’t just the stunt work. We actually shot Ethan and Selena without green screen for 95% of it. So we created – and this is to your stunt question – a special stunt rig, created by this guy, and we called it a “mick rig”, and Mick is an ex-stunt man. Basically, the car is flat on the ground and they were in it, we have a camera crew right above them with all the cameras on them and they’re all attached together. Usually with a process trailer, they’re not actually on the ground; usually with a process trailer, you’re driving about 20mph. This thing was constructed to take corners at 60, and Mick the ex-stunt man drives it and I sit beside Mick with an open place looking at Ethan and Selena in the car with my monitors and I’m directing them that way on the fly. They’re doing their scenes literally the method version of how you would do a car chase and they’re literally being taken around these corners, which makes it easier for Ethan to actually feign driving, and Selena, she’s going back and forth and doing these things. You see it in the movie, it’s really happening, and that’s why you’re seeing that; she’s not having to help herself do any of that kind of stuff. They’re feeling every bump in the road, every pothole.
Now on the stunts themselves, basically we had three guys from the U.S.: Charlie Picerni and his two sons (Chuck Jr. and Steve). One of the most famous stunt men in the U.S.; he’s done every car movie, all the Die Hard series, the Lethal Weapon series, just knows everything about cars. And then we had this amazing Bulgarian stunt team. It was funny because there was this sort of … the stunt men have this big bravado, what I would call chutzpah, that’s just how these guys are, they live for the thrill and they want to do the best that they can. Charlie would always say to me, and he’d done a lot of movies with Joel Silver, “You’re crazier than Joel ever was.” I guess, in light of the comment, it was a compliment, insomuch as Joel would always push the envelope in his movies to get the biggest explosions and the biggest stunts that he could. I would always be saying, “Go further,” and these guys wanted to satisfy me.
Everything takes meticulous planning and nothing works out the way it’s supposed to, so we ended up with about 58 actual crashes in the movie. My whole thing was that I wanted them to be real. There are a couple of shots that feel stunty with motorcycles or whatever, but the rest are just supposed to be wrecks. In other words, as he’s going through the city, if this was realistically happening, this stuff would just be flying and wrecking all over the place and that’s not pretty. It’s hard and it’s scary. That’s what I was saying, we kept calling them “wrecks” by the end of the thing; in fact, we had a junkyard by the end of the movie. We killed 130 cars in the making of it, actual real cars. The reason was it doesn’t always go right, obviously. The biggest thing was that you’re always holding your breath because I’m pushing them to get the limit, right? And at the same time I know that there’s a chance … as good as these guys are, somebody could make a mistake and somebody could get really injured or even die. Some of those stunts are really dangerous. When you see that car flipping into the other cars … these guys are 25 feet in the air, they’ve gone off a pipe ramp – that’s how they take off of those things. There are various ways to do it and now I know every single one of them, so if everything else doesn’t work out, I could stunt choreograph a movie.
It’s a good back-up plan.
Solomon: There you go, it’s a back-up plan now, because now I definitely know how to do that. They actually tried to get me to go into the car. They were like, “You’ll see how easy it is. You get into a roll cage and it’s no problem.” I was like, “No, no, no, no. You guys do the roll cage thing and I’ll stay behind and roll cameras and we’ll choreograph it.” Basically, they were in danger all the time and it’s a little scary when you’re watching, because you’re really holding your breath to make sure everything goes okay, and then when it does, everybody claps on the set, they get out, they hug each other, they bang chests. It’s cool. We did 75 days of that stunt work to make this movie happen. I think the biggest thing with the audience is that they appreciate that it’s actually real, you can see it on the screen, but also that there were stakes in making the movie. As much as it’s fiction, actually, people were really in danger doing this stuff. Even Ethan drove three stunt days himself. So, that sequence you see at the end with the two BMWs, 50% of that sequence is Ethan actually driving it himself. If you actually froze it, you would say, “Oh my God, it really is Ethan Hawke!” I mean, he’s zooming around cars, he was going 50mph and these guys are banging against him in the car and he’s really neck and neck with them going back and forth at 50. Anything can go wrong, a tire can blow, but he was great.
That’s real method.
Solomon: Yeah, that was a different thing, sort of an authenticity, like we need these shots to connect the big stunts together and we could do it like this, but everybody’s going to know you’re not in the car. Even if people don’t see you because we can’t get that close to you, even though we have cameras right in there with him, some of those you might think it’s a green screen and, “Oh these guys can’t really be right there.” Actually, even with where effects are today digitally, you could never pull that off, that kind of subtlety … when you see the greenscreen shots in some of the big, big movies, you know they’re fake. That you’d never be able to pull off. You’d never be able to track that or it would take an eternity to do it.
One of the coolest things about this was that it seemed like the town in Bulgaria was just a big sandbox for you to play in. How much of that was on the page before and how much had to be punched up as you went?
Solomon: Everything was punched up and improvised, honestly. That’s because, there’s an idea and a concept on the page, then you get out there with the stunt coordinators and the location scouting, you see the practicality of the locations because you’re actually having to drive through this real environment – we’re not building a set for it. I’ll give you a prime example you can refer to: the train sequence. In the script, it was the motorcycle goes into the train yard, they shoot at each other a bit, it’s chasing the Shelby, the Shelby goes over the train tracks and as the motorcycle gets to the train tracks there’s a train coming, it hits the motorcycle and the motorcycle blows up on the train. I was like, “Okay, I’ve seen that 100 times before.” That’s been in a lot of movies.
They’re all looking at it – they’d pre-scouted it because they got there like two weeks before me and had their whole plans; I was bored listening to it. And if I was bored here, the audience is going to be bored when they’re watching the movie. So I saw these trains parked way off in the distance, meandered down there myself and eventually they all followed me. I was like, “Charlie, could we get the car up on this freight train and then the motorcycle up on this platform and then they have like a gun fight between the platform and freight train, and he’s driving on the train and he’s driving through whatever cargo’s on this train: boxes, barrels, whatever we put on there, he’s driving through it as this guy’s shooting at him. And then, further up on the train to the right, there’s a bunch of propane cars,” I said. Ethan gets a shot off at this guy, because it wasn’t appropriate for him to have a gun fight because he’s not a killer, he’s a driver. So, I said, “He gets off one good shot, hits this guy, the guy loses control and goes into one of the freight cars, now they start exploding, he’s got to outrun the exploding cars and then fly off the train.” And they’re all looking at me like, “Wait, it was just supposed to be this one motorcycle…” So that’s an example of the adjustment and that’s the sequence that ended up being done in the movie. Literally, the amount of time we had allotted to do that first thing, I did that sequence in the same amount of time. So that whole sequence you see on the train is all practical and it was done in two days of shooting.
Except for the tower at the end, like you said?
Solomon: That’s the only thing. I saw the towers there and I was trying to see if we could knock one down and they said, “No.” So I said, “Fine, can we at least blow stuff up in front of it and then CG knock it down?” So we brought an effects crew out and we did one plate for that that was shot. Everything else was practical. I just thought it was a good finish to that whole train to have the tower come down, and what we did with it sound-wise. That’s one of the moments in the movie where we then go to black and the sound just rocks the whole theater. We had a great time even in the post process doing that; sound-mixers were just … we had two Oscar-winning mixers on the movie.
The sound job on this movie was crazy because you’re always in the car. There’s always something. You need different sounds for the sirens, different revs for the engine, different screeches for the wheel. It’s all subtleties that you don’t necessarily appreciate while you’re watching the movie because they just blend and make the experience. Over 3,500 sound effects created for the movie.
Solomon: Almost 6,000.
We also talked about Blu-ray extras and special features. Where are you in that process?
Solomon: I’m nowhere yet because they’ll start that right after the movie’s out, but I’ve already picked some things out. A lot of people doing press have said to me, “I love the shot at the end that’s just the single POV shot for like a minute and a half with Ethan breathing and you’re just in it with him.” That was a crazy shot we did actually, sort of illegally, because you can’t close off a street for 15 miles and drive at 90mph through traffic.
I was wondering how you did that.
Solomon: It’s just … in any city, even in Bulgaria, it’s not possible. So I said to the stunt guys, “Look, at dawn, we’re going to mount our RED to the front of the Shelby and I just want you guys to drive. I want you to go as crazy as you can and chase the SUV and try to get as close to as many cars as you can without killing yourself or anybody else. I mean we did some kind of crazy things on this movie. That shot is actually almost eight minutes, but we didn’t make it eight minutes in the movie. So, one of the extras we’ll put on the DVD is the completion of that shot so that everybody can actually see the insanity of these guys going through that one shot, because it’s actually four times as long as in the movie.
That’s crazy. Even that shot stood apart from the rest of the movie in intensity.
Solomon: Oh yeah, just a totally different and contrasting intensity. Actually, I love that point of view and I wanted to use it more in the movie but then I thought to myself, I really want to save it for the end of the movie because it’ll lose its luster if I use it too early. So I thought, “We’ll stick with what we did and we’ll use it at the end as sort of the last thing right before the climactic finish.” You take a breath watching it, but you’re still on the edge of your seat.
But these guys were great. It was a lot of fun to do this movie. Where do you get a chance to … when we’re kids we wreck cars and military toys and soldiers and stuff, but you never get a chance to wreck real ones when you go to work. It was pretty fun but it was intense.
It paid off.
Solomon: Well, I hope so! I want people to enjoy that. You hit it on the head from the beginning: it’s fun. It’s not rocket science, it’s fun.
Solomon: Well, as far as that’s concerned, it’s obviously intended to be what I wanted the first movie to be almost 20 years ago. That’s certainly my vision when I was really young and starting out; it didn’t turn out that way but we still got the first one made. Now, Warners has come forward with a deal so we’re putting it together and the goal would be to go forward with it next year. We’ve got this other thing that we’ve got to deal with that I can’t really talk about, which I’m sure you understand, but we’re sure that that’s all going to get resolved one way or another, and then go forward and hopefully have the real version of Dungeons & Dragons, which I guess, if they make it next year, would make theaters around 2015, because it’s going to take a while to make that movie.
But they’ve been out to some really good directors, there’s a lot of interest. Obviously it’s the next big fantasy franchise. I think it’d be very cool, they have a very cool script for it. That’s the movie I wanted to see made for the property in the first place and then I’m sure that, hopefully, I’ll be forgiven by most of the D&Drs [laughs] and that they’ll get the movie that they always wanted to have in the first place. In this particular instance, that kind of movie requires a lot of money and Warner Bros., frankly, is the best studio. They’ve got the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies. I can’t think of another studio that does fantasy movies better than they’ve done or likes them as much as they do. I think it’s the right place.
What else is coming up for After Dark films?
Solomon: We’re upping the quality so that we can get to Getaway quality and above, and do less movies. I’d like to direct one every 18 months and produce two, that’s my goal. Right now when I finish this, I’ll take 30 days off because I haven’t had a lot of time off. Then I will go and finish one that we’ve been working on for a while, which is Re-Kill. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s a zombie movie with a very cool concept to it. We actually shot it two years ago and I helped the director direct it because we changed directors early on in the movie and then we used this really talented Bulgarian guy and I worked with him, the U.S. and U.K. cast. It’s a very cool high-concept movie that you haven’t really seen in sort of the higher end of the After Dark movies. We’re going to finish that over the next couple of months and see where that one goes obviously, but it’s promising and there’s a lot of prospect for it and it’s a fun movie. We shot off 30,000 rounds live making that movie, so it’s just full zombie carnage all the way through.
You sound like a real numbers guy.
Solomon: I’m a numbers guy because I’m a producer as well. I see it in the budget because they actually charge you buy shot.
I’m sure they do!
Solomon: And they charge you by stunt and they charge you by car! So, in doing this, I did my stat check and that’s just one of them.