Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis). Directed by Nick Hamm, “Driven” was in its first days of principal photography in Puerto Rico in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria was bearing down on the island.
Line producer René Besson grew up in South Florida and has survived a few hurricanes in his day, even getting the Jason Statham action vehicle “Homefront” through 2012’s Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana. Familiar with the trajectories of weather patterns, he was closely watching Maria’s progress the night before landfall on the Caribbean isle.
“There was no question that this was going to hit,” he says. “I had to evacuate everyone on production except for locals. But in order [for the production] to bounce back, I knew that I needed to stay.”
Hurricane Maria tore through the island, destroying houses, buildings and cars and killing thousands of people. It was a horrific situation, and one that required difficult decisions, but Besson says he felt a moral duty to find a way to keep the production going once the storm had passed. “If it was at all possible to overcome what had happened, for the people working on the movie to have a reason and a way to rebound and to get money in the pockets to rebuild their lives,” he says, that’s what he felt he needed to do.
Immediately after the weather cleared, Besson had the local crew begin rescheduling — finding new locations or rebuilding sets and restoring foliage that had been ripped away.
All the actors, including Judy Greer, were on board to return and brought with them supplies and a renewed sense of purpose. They took to social media to help fans understand that Puerto Rico needed everyone’s help. They shot strategically and cycled actors in and out of a few hotel rooms, making other rooms available to crew members and their families whose homes had no running water or power.
Running water, gas and electricity were scarce, and the producers lobbied the Puerto Rican government for gas passes providing access to limited quantities of fuel. It certainly caused friction with locals who did not understand why a film production would get supplies when they couldn’t, but Besson and Hamm were convinced they were doing it for the greater good. “It was an act of loyalty going back,” says Hamm. “Sometimes Hollywood doesn’t do good things, and
sometimes it inadvertently does. This is an example of giving back in a proper way.”
Many industries shut down in the destructive aftermath of Maria, but film and TV production continued. Due in theaters Aug. 18, “Driven” employed more than 200 locals, rebuilt 10 homes of crew members and helped raise better than $330,000 for relief efforts. The day after the film resumed production, Sony Crackle also continued shooting “The Oath”; the crew on the Nicolas Cage thriller “Primal” began its prep a week later.
“I wake up every day happy and encouraged by the fact that I have the opportunity to work,” says Gigi Frangul, a makeup artist whose home was destroyed and rebuilt by the “Driven” crew. Adds grip Oggie Rivera: “We are among the few that are working in Puerto Rico. It’s a blessing.”