Sean P. Means: A Mustang in Moab: Creating 'Need For Speed's' chase scenes

Published March 13, 2014 4:20 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What's it take to get a souped-up Ford Mustang to outrun big trucks on the winding roads around Moab?

According to Lance Gilbert, it takes months to scout locations and plan camera moves, five days of filming, an appreciation of grand scenery and a good sense of movie history.

The result is one of the exciting chase sequences in "Need for Speed," a car-centric action thriller based on the popular racing video game that opens Friday.

The sequence has two of the film's heroes — race driver Tobey Marshall (played by "Breaking Bad's" Aaron Paul) and his impromptu sidekick, Julia Haddon (Imogen Poots) — zipping to California to take part in a high-stakes street race. Unfortunately for them, someone has offered a bounty to keep Tobey away from the race, which is where the big trucks come in.

Gilbert, the film's stunt coordinator and a stunt veteran of more than 100 movies, said planning for the sequence began months before shooting.

"We searched high and low, every inch of that place, to find the places that are visually enticing, that look magnificent and beautiful," Gilbert said in a phone interview from his California home this week.

Cliffs were a premium, both for the inherent danger — they don't call 'em "cliffhangers' for nothing — but also to allow different angles both for tracking shots and helicopter aerial photography, Gilbert said.

The crew also had to find roads that were smooth. "We couldn't have roads that were rutted out with potholes," Gilbert said. A too-bumpy road is unsafe for stunt drivers, but also makes for a shot so shaky it could give the audience fits of nausea.

Ultimately, Gilbert said, the crew picked six or seven shooting locations near Moab and shot over five days.

When they shot the scene's climax shot, atop Dead Horse Point, Gilbert said he and director Scott Waugh were talking about iconic movie car scenes. Immediately, a classic moment filmed at Dead Horse Point came to mind.

(SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen "Thelma & Louise," please skip the next paragraph. Keep in mind, though, that the movie came out in 1991, and you should really get with the program.)

"We thought, what's better than being where 'Thelma & Louise' drove their car over the cliff?" Gilbert said. The finishing shot pays homage to that scene, but with a wacky twist.

Another Utah location where "Need for Speed" pays its respects to American car culture is the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats.

Gilbert said, "It was another one of those places where we thought, Where else could we come [in Utah]? And be out here, where the history of automobiles and going fast was being done?"

The movie didn't race any cars at Bonneville — a conspiracy of a tight budget and tighter shooting schedule — but there is a key shot of that Mustang on the salt flats.

When the location scouts first saw Bonneville, Gilbert said, they were struck by "the vastness of the white salt around us." They decided it would be a perfect location.

On the day of the shoot, though, it had recently rained — and a sheet of water covered much of the salty expanse. That turned out to be even better, and they placed the Mustang on a road spit just above water level.

"The mirror image of the car coming in" was spectacular, Gilbert said. "Being able to see that gave it a whole other beautiful component."

Waugh was a stuntman and stunt coordinator before making his feature directing debut in "Act of Valor" (2012), and his father was a veteran stuntman. Gilbert boasts that he's a third-generation stunt guy. "His dad and my dad worked together," Gilbert said.

And they agree, Gilbert said, that real stuntwork looks better in a movie than a computer-generated copy.

"Our whole goal is to do everything for real, to do everything live," Gilbert said. "It's hard to animate and draw physics."

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.



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