To say that Need For Speed has a lot of car chases and stunts would be to understate things ever so slightly. In fact, it’s actually far more rare to find a moment of the movie that isn’t full of revving, skidding, swerving, exploding, insanely expensive super cars. What makes this film stand out from the likes of the Fast & Furious franchise, though, is its refusal to use CGI, instead relying on good, old-fashioned (crazy) stunt driving. One part halfway through the movie will make you question the veracity of that claim, as a souped-up Mustang soars right over the roofs of a traffic-filled freeway and drives away unharmed. For the doubters, the movie’s stunt coordinator, Lance Gilbert, is here not just to assure you that the stunt took place, but to tell you how it was done.
STEP 1: Choose Your Location
“The location that we found was very critical because we came from a freeway on-ramp, then jumped over four lanes of traffic, across the sidewalk area, and into this small park system that was littered with trees everywhere. I started really looking at this spot and saw that there is a clean line where we hit it at this angle, and it’s totally doable.”
STEP 2: Measure The Distance
“I got out a tape measure and we measured it off. From takeoff to landing was about 170 feet and I said, ‘OK, yeah, we could do that.’ There was enough of an approach to get up to the appropriate speed to make it all happen.”
STEP 3: Prepare the Ground
“We had to modify the landing zone of the park because it was uneven - we smoothed it out to create a better transition for the car to land on. We had to put up some protective concrete barriers along some of the tree lines, so that if the car did get off course or have a problem, it wouldn’t stop into a tree like a telephone pole - it would glance and miss the trees. Our landing zone was only 18 feet wide.”
STEP 4: Reinforce The Hell Out Of The Car (Then Repeatedly Trash It)
“We went to a facility and set up a lifelike environment so we could take our car and make modifications to the suspension and the motor, reinforce the frame and all that kind of stuff, to withstand that type of hit. We really modified the internal framework to be able to withstand that kind of an impact and put a bunch of added suspension on the vehicle to help with the landing. Then we would do our test so that we knew specifically how fast we ultimately had to go off the exit of the ramp - we learned that we had to go 73 mph exactly, and that would put us out there, 170 feet, to our bull’s-eye target area.”
Go For It
“A month later, we went to Detroit and set up our standard 20-camera package, then we called "action" and my brother, Tory Gilbert, jumped the car. He came down at 73 mph, set it out there, landed it, drove away from it and pulled around the corner. Everybody gave him high-fives and then we moved on, because we had the rest of the day to continue to shoot!”
We also spoke to Lance about the training of the actors behind the wheel, and specifically, the shooting of the movie’s opening scene - a dramatic, high-speed chase through narrow streets and back alleys in the middle of the night.
It must have been tricky to coordinate three cars going at those speeds in such a tight space. How did you make it happen?
First of all, we had the best race drivers, drifting champions, out there to help us. Then you had our cars, which were basically built from the ground up in terms of motors and suspension and everything else that went along with making a car perform well. We picked locations that we could have total control of, just for overall safety, then we set up a track. Some parts of the track in that particular sequence would be, say, a mile and a half long, while others would be three quarters of a mile long, depending on what the sequence was that we were filming. We would let our drivers go through it to understand where the bumps were - they really pushed the envelope and made these cars go as fast as they possibly could within that particular environment.
How many separate tracks made up that one scene?
This isn’t exact, but that sequence probably had a good 18 to 25 different tracks.
How fast were they driving in the final take?
That all depends. If you’re in the tight, tiny little areas, we’re probably going from 45 to 70. Then when we were in the open stretches, we were going 90 to 140 at certain spots.
Are any of the actors actually driving the cars in that scene?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Each and every one of them drove in all those sequences. All that footage that you saw of them driving, was [really] them driving. It’s important to have them drive - you can just see and feel the way the car’s handled that it’s 100% real. We put them all through driving school and taught them car control and how to drift a car, how to slide a car up to a mark, all that different car control stuff so that when we got out into the real world and there were cameramen and other stunt drivers around them and things like that, they were completely familiarized with it.
It definitely paid off – did you see Aaron Paul on Top Gear? He got the all-time lap record!
I wouldn’t doubt it! Aaron was definitely a natural when it came to driving and car control. When we brought him out to the school and set up things for him to do, it was just super easy for him. Scotty Waugh, our director, asked me, “How’s he doing out there?” I said, “You know, if you find that he can’t act, we can definitely hire him as a stunt driver, because he has all the levels to do that.”