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Creating The Fights
While exploding cars were left to the stuntmen, actors did a good amount of their own driving and fighting. The fight scenes needed to be as violent and real as car scenes, and Anderson called for a level of subtlety and basic physicality from the actors. "I'm used to doing very stylistic fight scenes,” explains Statham. "I didn't think that was suitable for the Jensen Ames character. He's a race driver, not a martial-arts expert, and he's not someone with Special Forces tactical training.”

Though the actors' environment was broken-down, the roles in Death Race required them to bulk up to portray the hardened men of Terminal Island. To physically realize the character of Jensen Ames, Statham trained for months with LOGAN HOOD, an ex-Navy SEAL. Hood, one of the key trainers on 300, knew a thing or two about getting men into fighting condition.

The first time we see the level of Ames' skills (and the months of Statham's training) is in the penitentiary's mess hall. To inform his role, Statham visited Corcoran State Prison in California—the current residence of Charles Manson—during preproduction. As Statham discovered during his trip: "You walk into the mess hall and see this sign: ‘No Warning Shots.' There are guards with guns walking around. If any skullduggery takes place, they are the first people to quell that kind of nonsense.”

Fight coordinator PHIL CULOTTA, Statham's stunt double on Transporter 2, filled in the moves to create that explosive fight—a process that took about two weeks before the final version of the scene was locked. Culotta says that he relied on the basics to make it look like a dogfight. "To keep it down and dirty, we tried to make each hit be a ‘done hit.' You get hit in the face at full steam by Jason Statham—just a gigantic rip— then, you're done. We end up trying to grab everything, including the kitchen sink, and just hit people.”

The fight in the auto shop—where Ames is jumped by the neo-Nazis, slammed in the head with a pipe and choked with a chain—also required that Culotta choreograph substance and raw style. "For the prison auto-shop fight scene, we wanted to make it realistic and incorporate some of the things that you would use in the auto shops,” Statham explains. "Some props we got our fingers on were great: fire extinguishers, big pipe wrenches…there's even chains you were getting choked with.”

Filming wrapped, a weary Death Race cast and crew reflect on their experiences and hopes for the action-thriller. "It's a very adult form of entertainment and certainly plugs itself into what my taste is all about,” Statham says. "You got hot chicks, boys being boys; what more do you need?”

We conclude our notes with a parting comment from the filmmaker, who was so inspired by the cult film as a boy. Anderson sums: "In Death Race, I want to stay true to the slightly irreverent tone of Death Race 2000 without becoming intentionally campy. I want to tell a more serious story and have it be a darker movie, still with comedy in it. I made a very different film but one that still has a little social commentary in it. Just like the original Death Race did.”

Universal Pictures Presents, In Association With Relativity Media—An Impact Pictures-C/W Production—In Association With Roger Corman, A Paul W.S. Anderson Film: Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson in Death Race, starring Ian McShane and Joan Allen. The music is by Paul Haslinger; the editor is Niven Howie. The film's production designer is Paul Denham Austerberry; the director of photography is Scott Kevan. Death Race is based on the screenplay by Robert Thom and Charles Griffith, from a story by Ib Melchior. The action-thriller's executive producers are Roger Corman, Dennis E. Jones, Don Granger and Ryan Kavanaugh. The film is produced by Paula Wagner, Jeremy Bolt and Paul W.S. Anderson. Death Race


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