If an action movie has a generous shooting schedule, the second-unit/stunt team is allotted 35 days; 50 days is a big deal. Universal’s “Furious 7,” directed by James Wan, had a whopping 80 days of second-unit shooting — roughly the same number as first-unit filming.
The movie, which bows wide on April 3, includes a 22-minute action sequence that starts with cars dropping by parachute out of a plane, landing on the ground and then immediately setting off on a Pike’s Peak car chase. The heart-pounding scene culminates with Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker’s character) atop the roof of a bus that’s teetering on a cliff. And it was all done “real” — i.e., it wasn’t CGI.
The scene: Ten cars parachute out of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane: Two Chargers, two Subarus, two Challengers, two Jeeps and two Camaros. All had parachutes attached; the second-unit group experimented by dropping car shells (without the engine and transmission), but found that complete cars drop better.
Capturing the action: Three skydivers with cameras; three cameras inside the aircraft; two or three Go-Pros on each car; a helicopter; one ground camera.
Altitude shifts: The cars needed to “jump” from the plane at two different altitudes. First, they had to drop at 12,000 feet so the skydivers’ cameras could stay with the freefall. They had to drop again at 8,000 feet so the chopper could get closer shots. But the lower altitude provided a shorter window, since the parachutes opened at 5,000 feet. Second-unit stunt coordinator Andy Gill says they were able to do two complete car drops in one day.
The setting: The parachute sequence was shot near Mesa, Ariz. Colorado’s Pike’s Peak and Monarch Mountain were used for the chase scene. And the bus started going off the edge of a cliff in Colorado, but slid into a quarry near Atlanta.
The challenges: Too numerous to mention. Aside from the obvious considerations, there were unexpected factors, like the wind catching a parachute and dragging a car from its landing site. Second-unit director-stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos says, “Everything had to be so planned out; there couldn’t be last-minute adjustments. The most important thing, of course, was to do it all safely.”
The schedule: The scene was scheduled for three days, but the team was able to wrap it after 2½, despite the challenges.
Why “real” vs. CGI? As Razatos told Variety, “Some filmmakers think the audience wants things manipulated — with a lot of fake stuff in your face. And it’s easy for filmmakers to say, ‘We’ll fix it later.’ But ‘later’ is fake. That isn’t what the audience wants. We said, ‘Let’s do it real; that’s the only way it will feel right.’ The producers and Universal were great; they trusted us. It’s high-end action, but it’s real. Even the bus going off a cliff, with a guy running on it — that was done real. He had to time his running and he had one shot to do it right. But it turned out great.”