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About The Action Unit & Stunts
Vic Armstrong, an Academy Award® winner, veteran stuntman, and the film's second unit director/stunt coordinator, says that developing an action sequence takes time – as if he is a conductor of a choir, combining many different voices into a harmonious whole. "The first thing is you talk to the production, the producers, the director. And you decide what type of car chase it's going be, how long you want it to be, how violent you want it to be, how original it's going be – everybody wants original stuff – and what points we want to emphasize in it. And the emphasis in this movie was to show all the gags that the Black Beauty can achieve.”

But the filmmakers also intended the action sequences to move the character arcs forward. "We had to show that Kato is really an excellent driver and technician,” Armstrong says. "Then you have Britt, who's not Mr. Magoo, but little things backfire on him. Things go wrong when he handles them, more often than not. We had to take all of that into account.”

Armstrong's final challenge was to keep the tone of the other sequences in mind. While the action sequences couldn't be played for laughs, neither could they be so serious as to seem like they belong in a different kind of film. "I find having the comedy aspect was a great relief and offered great freedom for me. It opened up what I could do,” he says. "You can get away with more, pictorially, and push the envelope.”

Working with a visual artist like Gondry was an unusual experience. "Some of his ideas are off the wall,” says Armstrong. "He'd give me a rough sketch of how he saw a sequence in his mind, and I'd interpret that into what we could accomplish in real life.”

The action centerpiece of the film's climax is a chase scene down an LA freeway, with about 10 cars filled with bad guys chasing down the Black Beauty. Each of those cars would have to be disposed of in a different way. Armstrong says that he let the location determine the structure of the chase. "Rather than dreaming up some fantastical chase and then searching Los Angeles to find locations that suit it, I like to look at locations, let the location speak to me and give me some idea of what can happen there. So we searched all around LA until I came across this mall down in Hawthorne, which for me had a lot of plusses.”

Since the mall was not in operation, the action unit could have complete control of the location. The roof was about quarter mile long, and was a parking structure,” says Armstrong. "I turned that into a freeway by putting down K-rail.” Often times when using a real freeway as a location, productions are only offered about quarter of a mile, the same the parking structure would provide. But by creating a freeway at the mall, production could avoid other issues such as limited time for load-in and shooting as well as traffic control. Additionally, the action unit was able to utilize the inside of the parking lot, the adjacent rows outside, and circular ramps.

With Vic's brother, Andy Armstrong, acting as stunt coordinator on the first unit, and Vic's son, Scott, as second unit stunt coordinator and a stunt player on both units, the marriage of first and second units became seamless. "We discussed all the different types of explosions and crashes we could do with the cars,” says Vic Armstrong. For instance, "My brother, Andy, did the first cannon, which is an explosive device under a car, which flips it.”

Between the two units, they also covered a pipe ramp where Scott Armstrong drove head-on into a bus, going through and out the other side, and an end over cannon where James Armstrong (nephew to Vic) gets shot in the rear end and flips end over end.

"We had some stunning drivers,” Vic Armstrong enthuses. One of the best of all, he says, was "a nice big jump with Chudnofsky's vehicle – we blew two tires and still kept it straight and drove out of the shot. It was just stunning.”

"The third act of this picture is just absolutely nonstop action,” Vic Armstrong concludes, "and I think we rose to the challenge. We've done stuff that's often more spectacular than he at first expected.”

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