Fast and Furious 7: secrets of the stunts
How many cars did they use? How did they finish without Paul Walker? All the answers, here
Laugh all you want about the Fast and Furious franchise, but you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of a film that happily throws fully-built, customised cars out of a goddamn cargo plane for a few minutes worth of footage. Real cars, with zero CGI.
Fast and Furious 7's car co-ordinator Dennis McCarthy explains. "Everyone was shocked when they found out we threw real cars out of the plane," he says. McCarthy has been working on the franchise since the third instalment, and realises that even by F&F's stunt-tastic standards, this was a big one.
Step forward the cars: Dom's 1968 Dodge Charger, Letty's 2015 Challenger SRT, Roman's 1968 Chevy Camaro Z/28, Brian's Subaru WRX STI, and Tej's Jeep Rubicon.
It's just one bombastic scene in a film filled to the brim with bombast. And fire. And explosions. And a $3.4 million limited edition supercar FLYING THROUGH BUILDINGS.
TG.com sat down with Dennis as he explained the builds for the seventh instalment of the FF franchise. Are you ready to shift through an inexplicable number of gears? Here's our F&F7 crib sheet...Advertisement - Page continues below
All cars use either a new Dodge V8, or a Chevy V8 engine with manual gearbox
As in Fast and Furious 6, Dennis realised that all the ‘hero' cars needed the same powertrains to make work easier for the stunt team, and of course, eliminate any unnecessary downtime that could have hurt the filming schedule.
So each car was stripped of its original engine and drivetrain package - "we don't have that luxury of waiting for the car's original drivetrain to perish and then fit new ones" - and prepped with new internals.
"Dodge developed an engine package for us based on the SRT8 motor," he says, "with a standalone wiring harness, so for this film we used some of those engines, and a Chevy V8 like before. This time they're pushing out around 530bhp."
Dennis knocks on wood. "We're successful in that we've never held up the schedule because of a broken vehicle," he says.
Of all the cars, only the 'Fast Attack' and the off-road Charger used the same chassis
"That would be my dream scenario," says Dennis, "if I had a set chassis for every car, but it's just not practical. We don't have the time to do it."
So, the only common base was the one that served both the vehicle Jason Statham's character drives, and main man Vin Diesel's car; a tubular steel frame, purpose built Thing that could attack literally any terrain you threw at it. Useful, considering there's one scene in which the cars literally drive off a cliff.
"The off-road Charger [pictured] was the most labour intensive car to build," explains Dennis. "The chassis was done pretty quick, it was basically a CAD-designed chassis, all the parts were water-jet-cut, but the bodywork was massively labour intensive." We're talking weeks of prep.
"Little things like bezels, the die parts behind the fenders [bumpers]... it takes forever," says Dennis.
For the cars that used their own chassis, however, each was heavily reinforced with as many interchangeable parts as possible. "I tried to get the axle links the same, they all have the same third member [no sniggering at the back], the same diff, the same gear ratio and locker, the same size ignition core, the same size radiator... anything I can do to standardise as many builds as possible is a huge help to us," Dennis explains.Advertisement - Page continues below
W Motors built Lykan Hypersport replicas using Porsche Boxster engines
A Lykan Hypersport is a $3.4 million, one-of-six limited edition supercar; the first supercar built in the Middle East. It's a car, says Dennis, perfect for the Abu Dhabi section of the film, where one is seen locked inside a vault and admired as a work of art, rather than used as a car.
"I spoke to Ralph Debbas [CEO of W Motors, who build the Lykan], and we had a great conversation because the car fit really perfectly. In the movie, the owner is the type of guy who'd drive his Bugatti to Starbucks, but leave this in the vault."
However, perfect though it might be for a static shot, the Lykan isn't really built for jumping through windows, what with it being quite precious and all. No, for the car that ends up drifting around a marble floor and through the windows, replicas were needed. "W Motors built us six replicas in their factory, using fibreglass instead of carbon fibre," Dennis says.
They used a 300bhp Porsche Boxster powertrain - a considerable jump down from the production car's 750bhp - though "even that was too much to use on a marble floor", Dennis says. Still, it was enough to launch the repLykans through real, actual windows.
"We really did jump them," Dennis confirms. "That's why we needed six. Typically what you see on screen is mostly what's actually happening."
Except of course, the bit where it flies between buildings. Yeah, that's not what's actually happening.
But before the Lykan Hypersport, Dennis actually wanted to use LaFerrari
He smiles at this one. "I thought that would be a really cool car, a really hard car to get, because it's a car that - like the Lykan - isn't about the money, but about the cachet of owning such a vehicle," he says.
"You have to have owned a number of Ferraris before, and get approved by Ferrari to buy one... it's not the kind of car you can just walk in and write a cheque for," he laughs, a little ruefully perhaps.
It appears not even Universal Studios and its enormous budget could ‘just walk into Ferrari and write a cheque'. "Believe me," Dennis says with enthusiasm, "they tried. But Ferrari were like, ‘No thanks, we don't need the press, our cars sell themselves'."
No need to remind us, Dennis.
The cars driving through the sand in Abu Dhabi were owner cars
Just before the Lykan Hypersport effects its Superman routine, the stars cruise through the Middle East in a quintet of muscle: there's a McLaren 12C for Walker, a Ferrari 458 for Ludacris, Bugatti Veyron for Tyrese, a new Dodge Charger for Vin, and a black Viper for Rodriguez.
All of these - except the Charger - were all privately owned. "Obviously," says Dennis, "anytime you do anything like this you don't want just one of each, you need at least two. So we had two Bugattis, two Ferraris, two P1s, etc. All owner-sourced. It's not like you can paint them new either, so luckily Abu Dhabi and Dubai are a great resource for these things."
The Charger however, was one of only a handful of prototype Dodge Chargers available at the time. "Those had to come from Atlanta to Abu Dhabi," says Dennis.
The Aston Martin DB9 has an ultra-rare manual gearbox
"Yeah, we faked the Aston," Dennis laughs, "but the styling and shape of the car has stayed the same so most people wouldn't know it's not a 2014 model."
Why fake? In the movie, Jason Statham's character is seen driving the Aston with a manual gearbox, which of course, was so painfully rare on the DB9 that to all intents and purposes, it never existed. "A manual transmission to me is just cooler, so we had our own shifter for that," says Dennis.Advertisement - Page continues below
They took two months to drop real cars out of that goddamn plane
This particular sequence began filming in autumn 2013, across Pikes Peak in Colorado (yep, that Pikes Peak), and Arizona. The C-130 cargo plane would fly up, the cars would be dropped ‘military style', and skydiving cameramen would freefall alongside them. Throw in camera-mounted helicopters, and altitudes of between 10,000 to 12,000ft, and that's a lot of flesh and metal hurtling through the sky.
Oh, and the cars were real. You knew that, right? "They weren't shells. They were complete, 100 per cent cars. I wish they were shells," Dennis laughs. Why take such a risk? As ever, scheduling. "There was another sequence in the film that changed, and so we had no time to build shells to drop out of the cargo plane."
Most survived - Dennis won't say which ones didn't - but each car was dropped two to three times for the shots. "We lost some cars, but considering all factors we got pretty lucky," he adds.
One thing TG still can't explain, however, is why most of the actors feel the need to grip the steering wheel mid-air. YOU CAN'T OVERSTEER IN THE SKY, TORETTO.
They used upwards of 340 cars during the entire shoot
"Most of these cars don't survive, unfortunately," Dennis admits. "A lot of the cars in that count are things like a 1996 Dodge Avenger. We buy a lot of what I call ‘crash cars'; cars lying on the street, purchased only to be destroyed."
So, typically you'll watch a ten-second clip where three cars get hit, right? "If you see that then fifteen cars were really destroyed, and it was just cut down for the best three shots. A lot of destruction."
Thankfully, California's Sun Valley is packed to the, um, valleys with these types of cars. "Most of them are sourced from there," says Dennis. "Occasionally I might go to Arizona or Texas for a muscle car, but I think the west side of the US gives us everything we need."
"You know, I'm the king of buying salvage cars, flood victim cars, crash cars..."Advertisement - Page continues below
The 1968 Chevy Camaro Z/28 driven by Tyrese was the lairiest car in the film
Not only was it the lairiest, Tyrese didn't even like it. "He just wanted something flashier," Dennis laughs. There were also plans to make this Camaro a wide-body version - and plans to give Tyrese a 1967 Mustang instead, but of course, it all comes down to timing.
Still, that Camaro was a hairy bugger. "We did a lot of testing with that car," says Dennis, "and unfortunately it didn't get the attention and love that we thought it would."
"But it was still a leaf-sprung car at the back. We had some good king bypass shocks on it, but it had a lot of kick. If you hit something hard the back would buck. We maxed it out as much as we could."
They employed professional racers alongside the regular stunt drivers
Mike Ryan and Rhys Millen - both legends of Pikes Peak - joined the FF7 stunt team, which also included Jack Gill, and Steve Kelso, who had the pleasure of driving Dom's Charger.
"The challenge for me," explains Dennis, "is that you can have the best stunt drivers in the world, but they have very high demands too. The cars have to be up to their level."
A lot of the feedback from the stunt drivers concerned the brake bias. "Different drivers have different brake bias, so we had an adjustable valve in the cars, along with slide brakes. In fact, slide brakes are critical. In the movie business, you always want to have more oversteer because it looks more exciting, so I always fit a huge rear sway bar in these cars just to make a 30mph turn look like a 60mph turn," he says.
So essentially, they built drift cars for the street scenes? "Yeah, I suppose we did. A lot of the times we try and convert the 4WD cars - the Subaru or a Nissan GT-R - to rear-wheel-drive, but not for this film. Rhys drove the Subaru for example, and didn't have any problem sliding it." If you've ever seen Millen tackling Pikes Peak, this may not surprise you.
One of the biggest jobs on set and most crucial... were the seats
"Each driver likes it a different way," Dennis laughs. "It's not like a brand new BMW where everything is electric. We have to get all the tools out and welder and do it from scratch. It's not a five-minute deal."
The white Supra Paul Walker drives at the end was actually his own car
"The orange Supra from the first film is still alive, I tried to bring that car back a few times but the part didn't play out quite as big," Dennis says, "but the white Supra in this movie, that's one of Paul's own. It's parked right next to my shop."
Walker, as you know, was hugely enamoured with both the GT-R and Mk IV Supra. It was up to Dennis to send his character off with a personal touch. "I though Paul's car should really have some meaning. My first thought was that he should have a white GT-R, but the right-hand-drive didn't work. The Supra was another favourite, so we cleared it with the family and used his own car."
They used over 1,000 tyres and tested at Willow Springs, and Nissan and Toyota's proving grounds
One of Dennis' mechanics, Brad, was responsible for the wheels and tyres - going through the script, seeing what each scene needed to achieve, and selecting the right tyre to be destroyed.
"We work closely with Continental and General, they helped cover all the vehicles we needed," Dennis tells TG. "We took a lot of the stuff out to Nissan and Toyota's proving ground, or we rented Willow Springs and just tested everything that everybody built - not just wheels and tyres,"
"We went close to 1,000 tyres, and had a 48-foot trailer full of just spare tyres and wheels".
Jason Statham drives the coolest cars in the film. End of.
Mr Statham appears in this movie, and gets to drive a roster of British and Italian excellence. He pilots a 2014 Jaguar F-Type R, a 2008 Aston Martin DB9, a 2010 Lamborghini Aventador, and a 2014 Maserati Ghibli.
Oh, he also drives the ballistic ‘fast attack' monster, which isn't really a car, so much as a wrecking ball.
Dennis still wants to get a Hennessey if Fast and Furious 8 pans out
McCarthy wanted to get a Venom for Fast and Furious 6, but couldn't. Same for 7. "The timings never worked out, but I'd still love to get Hennessey's cars in the movie.
"I'll definitely give him a call if Fast 8 works out..."
Fast and Furious 7 very nearly didn't happen
In November 2013, news of franchise star Paul Walker's death put everything into perspective. Making movies suddenly didn't matter anymore, because here was a real man, with a real family, who had passed in all-too-real tragic circumstances.
Series producer Neal H Moritz was there for the start of Walker's film career - right from the very first The Fast and the Furious - and recounts how at the time, "there was a lot of talk among us that we were going to stop and not finish this movie."
Series stalwart Vin Diesel, though, was adamant they had to finish it, for Paul. "Paul was a brother to me," he says, "and our characters would do anything for each other."
And so they finished the movie "not in spite of what happened, but because of it," according to Moritz.
The majority of Walker's scenes were already finished, but to fill in the gaps, the producers sourced unused footage from previous Fast and Furious films, CGI technology and help from Paul's brothers Caleb and Cody, who stood in for some of the final scenes in the film.
"With this film, the whole world gets to feel a part of our family," says Diesel.
Pictured: car co-ordinator Dennis McCarthy