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NEED FOR SPEED

Two Legacies of Stunt Work
Beyond the desire to tell a character-driven story steeped in car culture was Waugh's mandate that all car stunts be practically executed. Most films in the past did car stunts practically but today the majority are done via green screen with talent in cars on a soundstage. But not on this film. As in "Act of Valor" where Waugh used actual Navy SEALs as opposed to casting actors to play them, he wanted "Need for Speed" to be as convincing as possible.

"We went back out on the road, travelling at high speeds and hanging out the side of the car to film this," explains Waugh. "I wanted the audiences to really feel what it's like to drive 230 miles per hour."

The result is a unique perspective not often seen in cinema, with the audience actually becoming Tobey (a throwback to the game as well), which meant the cars were put through practical stunts in order to make the stakes for the characters more believable. According to Waugh, "My philosophy has always been that you can't break physics because if you do it hurts the story because then the characters don't apply to physics either."

Sourian adds, "Most directors don't have the skill or expertise to show actors driving fast unless it's on a soundstage with a green screen background. Scott, however, has been able to get as close to the real thing as possible using stuntmen in the cars and, in a smart and safe way, the actors in these cars as well, which translates to a high-octane rush on screen."

Fortunately for the production, Waugh is a veteran stuntman with credits on over 150 films in various capacities and comes from a family of stunt performers. His father, Fred Waugh, was a renowned stuntman and one of the first to advocate putting the audience in the boots of those doing the stunts. He also invented the 35mm helmet camera and an innovative hand-held camera called the Pogo Cam. Scott grew up spending time around celebrated stuntmen like Hal Needham ("Smokey and the Bandit"), a two-time Oscar winner known as the king of stunts in Hollywood's modern era and his father's best friend. Fred Waugh passed away earlier this year and Scott has dedicated the film in his memory.

"Need for Speed" attracted some of the greatest precision drivers and best stunt performers in the business, including Stunt Coordinator Lance Gilbert ("Titanic") who hails from another of the country's premier stunt dynasties. Lance is a thirdgeneration stuntman going back to his grandfather Joe Yrigoyen ("Ben Hur") and continuing with his father Mickey Gilbert ("The Fall Guy") followed by himself and brother Troy Gilbert ("The Lone Ranger"). The community of stunt performers is tight-knit so the Waugh and Gilbert families have known each other for years. Fred and Mickey were best friends, as are Scott and Lance, which made the set feel like a family reunion at times. In addition to Lance, Mickey and Troy also worked on the film as stunt coordinators.

According to Waugh, "We are truly like brothers. We fight, bicker, hug each other and love each other. We speak the same language and spend a lot of time asking the question, 'What if?' which always leads down some interesting paths."

Lance Gilbert adds, "My dad was from the cowboy side of things and Scott's from the circus side and they exchanged knowledge with each other and all of us. As we got older we started challenging ourselves to push more and more boundaries, which I believe led us to this movie."

Regardless of what was asked of them, the cast was willing to give almost anything a try. Paul explains, "Once I met Lance and learned that he was a third-generation stuntman and our stunt coordinator on the film, I knew we were in great hands. It's not just a job to these guys ... it's a journey that they're all on together and I trust all of them."

Prep time on the production was one of the most challenging aspects, as filmmakers needed to test and finetune all cars, stunts and stunt drivers and train the cast who would be driving. Obviously stunt work is incredibly dangerous when not executed properly, but strict rules were followed throughout principal photography so every stunt was carried out with the utmost safety and precaution.

Lance Gilbert continues, "The movie is all about high-speed driving, so we put all our efforts into prepping the vehicles in the beginning to make sure they were ready for the professional drivers, as these guys are the top dogs in their field."

Poots had never driven a car prior to filming, and before she or any other actor stepped foot on set, all were given lessons in the basics of stunt driving. At Willow Springs Race Track in California's high desert they learned the intricacies of racing cars including how to slide and drift around corners, do a reverse 180 and have the ability to hit precise marks (so as to not hit a camera while shooting), and a highly difficult rear wheel lock-up, among other things.

Paul explains, "Scott wanted us to learn the practicality of the maneuvers but also how to look cool when doing it." Ultimately it paid off. At one point during production the script calls for Paul to barrel towards a camera in a Koenigsegg, slam on the emergency brake, do a full 180-degree slide, and come to a stop just inches from the camera. "I did it," says Paul, "and I felt what it was like to be Lance Gilbert or Scott Waugh. I felt like I was part of that family."

Adds Lance Gilbert, "It's really about your personal feel with the car and just letting the car do the work while realizing you're just the guy making it do what it needs to do. And Aaron definitely feels it, knows it and understands it."

For one stunt during The De Leon, a super car, the Saleen S7, hits the back of an SUV police vehicle, flipping it over. The effect was created by installing a switch on the undercarriage of the SUV which, when triggered, fired a canon which propelled the flip. Another scene called for the Mustang to jump over a large span in downtown Detroit.

Waugh continues, "I didn't want to launch the car 80 feet in the air and have it travel the length of a football field because it just wasn't plausible. In reality the car would be damaged and unable to land and drive away, as called for in the script."

The stunt, known as the "Grasshopper," was executed in Detroit by building a ramp on one side of a heavily trafficked three-lane street with the landing zone in a small park on the other side. As the stunt needed to be done practically this required a stunt driver, Troy Gilbert, to actually make the leap. Troy's jump was a tribute in a way to a similar stunt Mickey Gilbert and Fred Waugh performed 35 years earlier in the film "Our Winning Season" (1978). In that film the duo jumped a car through a drive-in movie screen, and on "Need for Speed" Troy actually bested the jump by flying 160 feet through the air and landing safely.

Training the actors to drive The Beast, which Joe Peck and Finn drive on the cross-country trek to The De Leon, also presented a challenge. The Beast is a truck that is higher, wider and longer than most, so the two actors spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel getting used to the feel. At one point Finn had to climb out the window of the Beast at 65 miles per hour, but was safely harnessed the entire time.

The biggest chase scene in the film is The De Leon ending at Lighthouse Road in Mendocino, California, for which logistics were anything but simple. Road permits, uneven and unpaved roads, seals on the beach, and migrating birds were just a few of the obstacles production faced. The driving was done by Foust doubling for Paul in a Koenigsegg equipped with a pod and Millen doubling for Cooper in a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento with Rutherford, Brakohiapa, Fletcher and Dallenbach manning the other vehicles.

"As a stunt driver there's no better way to work than doing it for real," says Foust, "because when you finally see it on screen you're really proud of it."

In addition to the enormous amount of stunt work required on the ground there were also a great deal in the air. Benny flies a number of different aircraft throughout the film, including a two-seater Cessna and Apache and Sikorsky helicopters. Aerial Coordinator Craig Hosking ("Noah") served as Benny's stunt pilot, but Mescudi trained and eventually flew by himself at several points.

While the idea alone would frighten most people, Mescudi saw it as a challenge and wanted to make it look as real as possible. Hosking piloted the actual take-offs and landings, but the shots in the air of Benny steering and doing all the maneuvers are all Mescudi.

"When I first found out I had to fly a Cessna I was scared out of my mind," Mescudi says, "But I trust Scott and he made me feel really comfortable. I had never been in a helicopter before and while it did take some getting used to, it was really a lot of fun."

In one scene Benny steals a news helicopter, flying it at street level throughout downtown Detroit with Tobey and Julia in the Mustang behind him. To make sure the audience knew that Benny was really in the helicopter, Waugh strapped a camera to himself and flew standing on the skids of the helicopter to get the viewpoint from the windshield.

Waugh laughs, "I like to challenge myself to make sure everything is done practically because I think audiences will know if it's not."

Mescudi continues, "It was intense, but it actually did enhance my performance."

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