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Hot Wheels
Principal photography took place on location in the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria, beginning in winter.

The Mustang, or "hero car" as it was called, in which Brent races through the city is in almost every frame.

The real Super Snake was driven in a pivotal chase sequence which took two nights to film. Steve Picerni drove the Shelby, going 70mph, with two police cars in pursuit and 25 stunt cars coming straight at him. The scene culminated with a "double cannon" -- both police cars crash and catapult over the Shelby.

Charlie Picerni, Sr. collaborated closely with Special FX supervisor/coordinator Svetozar Karatanchev-Zarko on many of the explosive stunts.

Most of the chase and crash stunts were carried out with seven Mustangs that were outfitted with a Shelby shell. A perpetual flow of 130 vehicles, including police cars, pedestrian cars, motorcycles and large trucks had to always be in working condition with multiple duplicates on standby. Some nights every Mustang was under repair.

By the end of the first month of filming, the production had already amassed its own junkyard.

Shooting the complicated car chases practically presented a significant challenge. Early on, the filmmakers decided that, instead of doing second unit work simultaneously, they would first shoot the second unit action sequences in Bulgaria.

In order to facilitate the action, large sections of the city needed to be closed to public access so Solomon could manipulate and manage the environment. Adding to that, the entire production shot nights.

Director of photography Yaron Levy says, "It took intensive coordinating because we had basically six hours from 'Let's get going,' to bring up the lights and actually shoot."

The crew and stunt teams were there working months before the actors arrived. Hawke, who at the time was in New York doing a play, recalls, "Courtney would send me emails describing the stunt they had done the night before. I've never had that experience. It actually made it a lot easier because we could just match to what happened in the stunt rather than trying to make the stunt match to what we might have done. It just made so much sense."

In fact, 95 percent of everything in which the characters appear is actually the actors in a car, instead of on a stage with a green screen. A "mick rig" was designed, consisting of one of the Mustangs with a Shelby shell, attached to a small truck equipped with cameras in which Solomon and Picerni sat.

The "mick rig" enabled them to drive Gomez and Hawke around the streets of Bulgaria at high speeds.

Solomon explains, "We actually put cop cars rushing up next to them. They were literally in the middle of the action, whipping lefts and rights and turns. When the car went around the corner at 60 the G-force was taking them that way. They felt the shaking and rattling. And that energy made a difference on screen."

Hawke and Gomez had already spent some time preparing for their own stunts. Gomez recalls, "I went in a car with a stunt driver and got a feel for what it was like, and I was terrified -- but not as terrified as I was when Ethan was driving. He gets in the car, we buckle up and he starts doing these donuts. I asked him, 'Have you ever done this before?' and he answers, 'Nope.' I said, 'Great, this is totally how I'm going to die,'" she laughs. "But he's actually a great driver, so between him and Courtney I was in good hands."

Before arriving in Bulgaria, Hawke attended a racing school to learn how to properly maneuver like a professional.

Hawke says, "My brother turned me on to a school out in Ohio that teaches you how to do a 180 and drive 120 miles an hour and zip around without hurting yourself. I think it's the biggest rush I've felt since the first time I went on stage. I'd never experienced anything like it. I thought my head was going to come off."

He got to experience that exhilaration again for four days on location, doing his own driving for some intense stunts.

Solomon says, "Ethan's a brave guy, he wanted to be behind the wheel for real. That's Ethan in the car, with two cars scraping against him. That's Ethan weaving in and out of the traffic and ramming another car up against the wall. That's Ethan going out of control in the intersection."

"We had the best stunt team I've ever been involved with," Hawke adds. "The Picernis were just pure testosterone."

Picerni and his sons, and a team of 22 Bulgarians, sometimes all in the same scene, carried out the complicated chase sequences, working closely with Solomon and Levy.

Solomon details, "You want to get the best, most exciting stunt that you possibly can for the audience. And Charlie Picerni is the best. He had the most energy on set. He'd come out pumped up, banging his chest every day and raring to go."

Levy recalls, "Working with the Picernis was a blast. You've got these three tough New York Italian guys working on the set, just butting heads. It was hilarious, like watching 'The Sopranos' meets 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey.' The best thing about this movie is that it's a hardcore car movie and they did amazing things with all the vehicles."

Picerni's team carried out over 20 air cannon launches. They also executed 25 pipe ramps, which involves running the car up a pipe and turning it over.

He explains, "We did 40 turnovers, which is a huge amount for one film. Every time we did something, Courtney wanted to do something more. So besides the jumps and crashing into and through things, there was quite a bit to accommodate."

Solomon says, "Charlie would say, 'You're pushing me to the limits. You're pushing me further than anybody's ever pushed me before.' I'd say, 'We have to, Charlie. We have to go and hit the next level, and the next evolution and the next, so there can be a progression.'"

Each individual stunt required major preparation and rehearsal as well as preparing each vehicle according to the demands of the particular stunt. The design was meticulous. Solomon outlined his intent for a scene and Picerni would begin with toy cars, moving them around on the ground. Then the director and cinematographer would storyboard it. Once they found the locations, the ideas were fine-tuned and often amped up.

One difficult scene involved a huge 4 way-intersection crash with multiple moving vehicles. Before reaching the intersection, the Mustang slams into the back of a water truck, which causes the bottles to explode, the force pushing the Mustang into a T-intersection, before careening into a 4 way-intersection. The Mustang barely misses the many moving cars coming from all directions, including an ambulance that turned over via a cannon.

Picerni recalls, "All these cars are coming from everywhere and the Mustang does a 180, and between it all, Courtney keeps saying, 'Don't touch the Mustang.' I said, 'Courtney, how can I not touch the Mustang?'"

Miraculously, they didn't. But it was close.

A significantly larger set piece that required highly skilled stunt driving was an abandoned warehouse and gutted train yard. The sequence took three nights to shoot. Picerni's repeated words to his crew -- "If you scare me, I'll know it's right" -- came back to haunt him. Picerni recalls, "In all my years, those were probably some of the scariest nights I've ever experienced witnessing a stunt filmed. I actually held my breath."

The trains were covered in a sheet of black ice and putting salt down was no guarantee. There were only six inches on each side to spare. It was minus eight degrees Celsius and snowing.

The stunt driver drove a Mustang, fitted with a cage, up a 23-foot ramp, at 45 mph, as motorcycles chased it on the top of a set of trains all parked next to each other. Karatanchev- Zarko and his team rigged practical explosions that were blasting all around them. Solomon details, "The car literally launched through the air like a bullet, into a solid, rusted iron train car, smashing down into it. Our driver was going off a 15-foot high freight car into another train and couldn't even see what was in front of him because the flames were going right past the windshield. When he walked out everyone cheered."

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