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Increasing Velocity
The first day of principal photography of XXX took place at a bucolic, leafy green country club in the Los Angeles suburb of Westlake. It all started fairly quietly--and quickly went zero to sixty as Vin Diesel's Xander Cage, posing as a parking valet, "borrows" a reactionary state senator's Corvette for some fairly serious road testing.

Two days later, the company descended on a secluded location north of L.A., where Cohen and production designer Gavin Bocquet had discovered a perfect location to double for rural Colombia. All they needed were thousands of imitation coca plants and several four-dimensional wooden structures as a perfect replication of a drug farm. "We knew that we couldn't actually go to Colombia and film this sequence," says Bocquet, "but about an hour and ten minutes north of Los Angeles, we found a really interesting green valley which had a river running through it, and we were excited because it had a look remarkably like South America. It was a big area to cover with the sets, not only with full-sized buildings but also with imitation coca plants."

This was only the first of many environments created by Bocquet and his talented art departments in three countries on two continents, and the amazingly realistic five-acre coca farm was destined for an appropriate conclusion: to be utterly destroyed in a conflagration of explosions and machine gun fire from five "Fuerza Aerea Colombiana" helicopters zooming overhead. Aerial coordinator Cliff Fleming, who had just worked with executive producer Arne L. Schmidt and director of photography Dean Semler, AM, ACS, ASC on the Vietnam War epic We Were Soldiers, closely collaborated with Rob Cohen and stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert to create just one of the never-before-seen-or-attempted action sequences in XXX: a cat-and-mouse chase between a 250cc motorcycle and a Huey helicopter, replete with high jumps and "tabletops."

The sequence really tested Vin Diesel's mettle, as he roared down a dirt road on the cycle with explosive squibs from the Huey's guns going off in every direction. Notes Cohen of the sequence, "Our cinematographer, Dean Semler, is a fantastic man and a brilliant cinematographer. To light that huge amount of acreage at night and give it so much color and fire was just amazing." Even the Oscar-winnning Semler, who has photographed big-scale action sequences for films like The Road Warrior, Dances With Wolves and Waterworld, was somewhat intimidated by the coca farm location. "I hadn't done anything like that before. It was hugely challenging. We came in from every angle at once, with a maximum of 13 cameras at one point."

Heaping thrill upon thrill, Cohen and company, joining forces with the second unit under Alexander Witt (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), then alighted northward to shoot the incredible sequence in which Xander drives a Corvette convertible off of the Foresthill Bridge in Auburn, California (near Sacramento)--which rises 728 feet above the North Fork of the American River--and "surfs" the car down before deploying a parachute that allows him to land safely. No wires. No nets. Twenty cameras captured this incredible stunt, including 11 35mm, two 16mm and three mini DV video cameras on the ground; one aerial in a helicopter; and three specially-designed systems from Ed Gutentag's Crashcam Industries plummeting to its final resting place inside the Corvette.

"I worked with Rich Wilkes to front load the first act with a lot of action," says Rob Cohen. "I like to uncork something really big very soon, like the highway truckjacking in The Fast and the Furious. This way, the audience feels like they're getting their money's worth, and can sit back and reall

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