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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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