A stunt driver explains how to do stunt driving
The Accountant and Need for Speed driver David Alessi shows you how it’s done
With over 22 credits to his name and movies such as Need for Speed, Ant-Man and Ben Affleck’s recent The Accountant under his belt, professional stunt driver David Alessi knows a thing or two about how to make a car dance on screen.
TopGear.com asked him for some advice on not only how to break into a very niche – and dangerous – business, but also for some specifics on car stunts. Y’know, for knowledge, not so we can cack-handedly attempt to recreate them on an empty field one night…
TopGear.com: stunt driving is a difficult business – how did you get into it?
David Alessi: I started out doing background or ND (nondescript) driving.
TG: Who taught you?
DA: I got most of my driving experience from being a police officer for over 20 years. I then became a police driving instructor, and taught new officers how to drive during pursuits, and handle their patrol cars during emergency driving.
TG: Let’s get down to it: how do you perform a J-turn for the screen?
DA: Start in reverse. Accelerate up to approximately 35mph or slower, depending on the area in which this will be performed (the slower you go, the more difficult). Then turn the steering wheel to the left and the front end will start to come around. Once you're facing the opposite direction, bump the shift lever into drive, and continue on. The best cars for this, are ones that have the shift lever on the steering column.
TG: And how about the ultimate 360-degree spin?
DA: A 360 spin isn't all that difficult. The easiest cars to do it in are those with a manual gearbox and a handbrake. The best way is to start at a standstill, then start driving in circles, making the circle smaller & smaller. Once the wheel is locked, increase your speed. You should be doing or attempt to be doing a ‘perfect’ circle. Don't allow the car to understeer. Step on the clutch and pull the handbrake. As soon as the rear end slides, release the handbrake.
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Just simply take your foot off the gas pedal when you want to exit the spin and release the clutch, then straighten out the wheel simultaneously.
TG: In your opinion, what are the best base cars to set up for stunt driving – rear wheel drive, front wheel drive or four, and why?
DA: In my opinion, the best cars are either the full size cars, like the Ford Crown Victoria or smaller sized cars, like Mini Coopers or the like. Rear wheel drive vehicles handle better spins and J-turns, while the smaller vehicles are best for drifting. Any vehicle can be used as a stunt vehicle to be honest, provided the driver has the training and talent.
TG: What’s the one piece of advice you can give to an aspiring stunt driver?
DA: My best piece of advice for those wanting to do stunts, is training. Seek out professional stunt folks, and start out by watching them perform their craft. Ask questions. Then find a stunt school to attend. Most people don't just ‘jump’ into performing stunts. It takes time, training, money, and practice.
One of the better schools here in the US is the Rick Seaman school. Always think safety first. Don't attempt to perform any stunt work, without professional training. Every stunt has its own particular level of danger. Even the smallest of stunts, can and do go wrong.
TG: Which actors have you worked with who are really handy behind the wheel, and why?
DA: I've worked on several different movies. Aaron Paul from Need for Speed was very hands on. As was Ben Affleck, on The Accountant. They took an interest in how the stunt was going to be performed, and watched.
TG: Which single film car stunt stands out for you as a personal favourite, and why?
DA: The best stunt I've watched being performed was a car jump on Need For Speed. They launched a car up onto a ramp, that was on a bridge. The car flew up into the air off the ramp and landed almost exactly where it was supposed to be. Being there in person was incredible.
Of course the car was destroyed, but it sure made for an awesome scene.
The Accountant is available on digital download and out on Blu-ray and DVD now