Stunt Driver Picks Best Car Movies
Cinema Junkie / November 27, 2018
Stunt driver Steve Lepper picks his favorite car movies as well as the best car chases ever put on film.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema Junkie podcast Beth Accomando. Earlier this month I had the thrill of standing next to a piece of cinematic history when the San Diego Air and Space Museum displayed the Ford Mustang Steve McQueen drove 50 years ago and bullet and that inspired me to finally sit down with my friend.
Who happens to be a stunt driver to talk about car movies. But first here's a quick chat I had with Sean Kiernan the current owner of the bullet car.
I'm here at the speed exhibit and what better thing to have here than the fiftieth anniversary of bullet and to have the bullet car here in San Diego. I am here with the owner of that car Sean Kiernan. And. Sean. This car was considered like missing in action and last for a number of years but he was sitting in your family garage.
Yeah absolutely has been our family for forty four years and yeah my whole life I don't know my garage without it so having it here in its first museum it's kind of bittersweet. Amazing to have it here. This is obviously an amazing place to be especially with the ties with Ford and everything. So for me it's it kind of ties in with everything and just makes it that much easier.
Did your parents actually drove this car around.
Absolutely yes. This is their daily driver. This is our family car. There wasn't a like this and something else. So yeah this is my mom's daily driver through the week and my dad kind of did the non mom driving on the weekend. So he he kind of used it for what it was for on the weekend. And mom didn't do her daily driving to school. She's a she's retired now. She's a third grade schoolteacher.
So you didn't reveal to the rest of the world that this was the bullet car until earlier this year.
Yeah absolutely. No one knew people in my family and close relatives and that's it. And then two years ago being inspired through quite a few people that are close to me I built it. And we collectively kind of focused towards January 14th of this year which actually happened to be her. She was 50 years old in six days. So she was in San Jose January 8th 1968 and absolutely no one knew. And somehow we were able to keep it secret to the day.
I talked to you about the engine in this car so this is mostly the original engine still.
Yeah. So car from the back the only thing that is replaced because it had to be replaced and just for safety reasons so my goal and honestly as my father's goal to my goal when I started this whole thing was to make sure that she looks the same original didn't disrupt history. She would start stop not catch on fire. That was the focus of this and I tried to do that. You know. It just as far as I could because who am I to disrupt history. And yeah I just it's a timeline of my life and I never wanted to disrupt that.
I always wanted to make it look feel smell just like it was when I was a kid. And that's all I had. It just that that was my goal and I feel like I've done that and with everybody's perception of it and respect. I feel like they're extremely happy that I did that.
So just to finish up. Why do you think this car chase and bullet was so iconic and has stayed in people's memories so long.
Just like the car the car itself if you see it's one of a kind. And the chase was one of a kind and it's Rawle and it's real. And that's exactly what this car is all about and that's the way it will always be.
That was Sean Kiernan who grew up with the Ford Mustang from the 1968 film bullet sitting in the family garage. Now to talk to Steve Lepre who's been a professional test driver and stunt driver for 30 years. His first job in the industry was as a historian. He was the assistant research librarian at Rowden track magazine. So is his job to fact check every story that came his way. And that's when he started to find funny connections between history and movies and then stopped driving for today's podcast. We're going to talk about car movies.
And Steve wants to differentiate between films that are about cars or in which cars are almost like a character. And then the films which have great car chases. So since I had just seen the bullet car we started our discussion talking about the place that film holds in the history of car movies. When you talk to.
Pretty much any movie fan any car person it is the iconic car.
Everyone knows the Kylen green Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in the movie bullet green Mustang black charger. The whole thing. Everybody knows that there's people you can talk to who can tell you every street they went here than they went there they went there. It's I without a doubt it is still as much there's been some other amazing ones. It's still the iconic chase scene in all of Hollywood.
Now you are a stunt driver. What makes that scene still so memorable. We have had a lot of car chases since then. But for some reason that one still holds up and people still remember it so vividly.
It was really one of the first real groundbreaking realistic chases. There's so many films you saw in the 60s where things were sped up. You know they would they would film the chase at 20 miles an hour and then they'd double or triple the film speed to make the car look a lot faster. M. Bullet.
We were driving at genuinely high speeds. There's places where they're doing 70 80 miles an hour. On city streets. And as you see up and down the hills and all of this stuff and they are literally jumping the cars and doing all of these things for real.
And that was I think the thing for its day that was so shocking is so many other movies things were sped up things were faked. And this was the real deal and it was really kind of the first one that really.
Took that extra step of realism and to be real. I mean there's there were some other great ones before it. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World has some really fine really great stunts in it. But this one really the action in the this is to me really that one of the first really really choreographed chases start to finish where they really went out of their way to tell a story through the chase and the different things that happened.
Throughout it. And it really grabbed me. And I'm or I was a little kid when I first saw it and I was like.
You know I was like oh my God you know just watching this one was amazing.
And then for me probably around 1980 or so it happened to be I met Carrie Lofton who was as the stunt coordinator for the movie and total random situation I worked in a garage and I worked on his car he had a really hot rods I think 71 Mustang. And I remember not knowing who he was at the time. But then it's like oh I'm going to drive you home and then bring the car back. So he took me on a ride across Newport Beach in his Mustang which was as thrilling as you could imagine a stunt driver driving across town in his personal hot ride.
It was great fun and that kind of always stuck with me. That's how I wanted to get into this business to begin with. I've always been around cars and racing but riding in the car and getting to talk to him and then I kind of figured out who he was. So when when it came time to bring the car back I was full of questions asked out what about this what about that. What was this like what was that like. But you had to go back.
The movie is the movie's very much really really is iconic and it really grabbed people and that's to this day to this day it's still a standard that are a lot of people compared to and is part of what made it memorable to the fact that Steve McQueen himself loved to drive so you had some land an actor who was involved in this scene that was going to be also conscious of what it looked like and how it played.
Yes very much. Steve was very much a driver and a car and motorcycle enthusiast. You know he's a car guy as we call it. And so he wanted this to look the. So I really think that that's a big part of it. But everybody has to be on that page your director everybody your producers because you've got a big you got a budget can wrecks cars you've got to. So everybody's got to be on board to do it.
And so that that's that's a big deal.
So we're going to talk about the best car movies and the best car chases which are two slightly different things. But before we get to your list I just want to go back a little ways to the silent movies. I've just had a chance to see a couple of Buster Keaton films and I am so floored by his stunts. And there are car stunts in there and how are those stunts looked at and what kind of place do they have in history for stunt driving.
Buster Keaton is really that is Genesis for car stunts. And for a lot of the stunt world in general things he did. We use the term now organic to mean it's all natural stuff. There's no S.G. there's no anything like that of course in that time period. Everything they did was organic everything they did was oh we're just you know step out of this car and we're going to hit it with a train you know or stand here we're going to drop a building around those sorts of things. There was a lot of math and a lot of math and science and calculations I'm sure that went on.
You can't just walk up and oh we're going to hit this car with a train you know. So there's a lot of thought and planning that has to go into it. But still everything they did was 100 percent real you know whether it was. And that's the one I think. There's one more I think of where he he jumps between a car and a train. And some things like that where yes it could go horribly wrong you know and over the years a lot of people that got hurt did. But just the things like that that they did were were amazing and that's really where it started.
There's guys still today that you talked to in Hollywood that we'll talk about Buster Keaton and things that he did. So it's still that really is Genesis that's where it started.
All right so hopefully this will inspire some people to go back and watch them Buster Keaton films and learn some math. So we're going to talk about car movies separate from car chases like the bullet Chase. So what to you defines a car movie what does a film have to have to kind of meet your criteria of being a car movie.
Well you're right we do have car chases in movies. But to me a car movie is where the cars are the central character or a central character there a pivotal part of the movie that's if they didn't exist. You know there's some movies you could cut the car chase out and the movie would still hold up a true car movie The car is a central character or central player in the film. So that's kind of how I differentiate between the car chase and the car movie itself.
And so what do you have at the top of this car movie list.
OK I'm there's a few that may be a little controversial here. Still the very top the very top of my list is still grumbly. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer takes you to the glamour capitals of the world and sweeps you into a. Spectacle. With an all star international cast. James Garner.
That is still when you talk about a car film and its center it's race cars it's Formula 1 cent. You know it is a critical part of the film. But John Frankenheimer and the things they did in that movie imagine doing this today. You go to the Monaco Grand Prix and you say OK we're going to we're going to shut down during race weekend. We're going to take 30 minutes out and we're going to go do. We're going to go do some filming during the middle of the race weekend. The Formula One people today would just would just have a captain.
They just absolutely would not. There's no way that could happen. The cooperation that Frankenheimer had with with Ferrari and with some of the different racing teams with the organization the cooperation he had it would be nearly impossible to pull anything like that off today. So when you see the race cars on the Monaco Grand Prix circuit with the crowds in the background those are the actual crowds there on race day. So it's the actual they did a really good job of capturing the energy of race day. Also the photography this is another one of those things where the cinematography and the things they did were groundbreaking for for their day.
You see things with the cars they built you know camera cars and things like that. And there'd been camera cars built but these were actual cars that could drive at racing speed along with the race cars. There was they used a fork. They took a Ford G.T. 40 and took the body off and hung great big camera mounts. You know these are the old school these aren't little reds like we have today. These are great big Panavision you know huge cameras mounted on the front and back of the cars and they're running around at racing speeds on these race tracks just to see that imagery.
And again it's another movie I saw as a kid and was just blown away. It's like this. Absolutely. It's for the day. It was absolutely as real as you could get. We didn't have in the 60s when that came out we didn't have the onboard cameras like you have today if you watch a modern a modern racing event like Formula One as a good example since we're talking about grand prix cars. If you watch that there's cameras everywhere there's cameras over the drivers head on the front wing here they're everywhere and you get all these amazing shots while their camera cameras the size of you know a little lipstick tube.
They're really small. We didn't have that stuff back then. They were doing this with a great big heavy duty equipment.
What about the sound in these movies. This is one of the things the opening scene of Grand Prix.
Starts with the exhaust pipe of the car and the one the wheel with the one the four is as it expands. But the sound and the sound effects and the beginning of the movie is all.
That's what it is. It's the sounds and that drives you.
I'll bring another movie I'll bring up at the moment here is law.
You know it was Steve McQueen's production where you could close your eyes and you can just in your mind you can cargo's you hear the car you don't see it. The car goes by and that's a Ferrari and then the next car goes by. That's a Porsche. And you can hear the sounds and you can tell them apart in the realism is so is so good. You know nowadays we have so many places where the sounds are dubbed over and they're not right. The sound and going back to Grandpre because that's the sound the sound was was was a great part of it.
Ends in another it's another one thinks it pulls you in. The realism in the photography and in beat the action.
And the sound going with that that's another thing that just immerses you in the experience and makes it that much more real for you.
And this film was also done with splitscreen and so seeing it on a huge screen is really recommended for this particular fellow absolutely absolutely grumpy one that was the Academy Awards at one more all for technical merit.
So yeah definitely is very technically groundbreaking film.
What else besides grand Perry is on this list of best car movies.
Well we brought up lummox a little bit ago that is and that's one of those things you know when there isn't any dialogue for the first 15 minutes of the movie it's just car sounds and racing action. OK this is definitely a car. This is definitely a car movie. You know this is this is was probably not a good idea to bring a date to this movie. The rates. Would. Disappear. By 100 percent right.
Representing companies from all over the world right. I. Mean these reviews each guy on. With 24. Long presence of. No but the. Real.
And of course this brings up Steve McQueen again who got his cars.
Yes exactly. This was very much his baby. Lemont. 200 miles an hour.
Pressure of winning. Losing is tough enough. Explaining it to someone else makes it even tougher. This isn't just about. This is a professional bloodsport.
That it can happen to you. Yes. What is so important about.
Driving faster than anyone else. A lot of people go through life doing things badly.
Breaking is important. The man. The. Machine is.
The motion picture. Steve McQueen stars. No one else could.
An interesting side note he had actually started working on law or it had a different title back then he'd started working on his racing film around the same time that Grand Prix was being made and then through some delays also Steve was a bit of a perfectionist. I would say and so there's that to his. His program got drawn out much longer. And and I'm sure the other you know Bulut was filmed during that time in between. And all of that so things got drawn out Lamar didn't come out till 1971.
I believe it was. No not all car movies have to be serious. So you've got some on your list that are humorous films that also deal with cars.
Very true to at the very top of my list. The first one is the great race. Tony Curtis Jack Lemmon To me it's still I love that movie I can watch that. Every year it they lead to a merry chase. Bottomland. Under the sea and in the air. You'll never stop laughing once you've started the great race.
Of the TV stations. Nelly used to put that on every year. Was around the same time as the Indy 500. So like late around Memorial Day and would watch that every single year and I still every time I find it on I stop and watch it just. I love that movie. It's just it's fun it's lighthearted. It does have some great car stuff in it it's got some really fun things it's got some fun gags.
The phrase push the button Max is part of my sort of everyday and everyday culture has now been anything. Fresh.
Brains create genius genius for. From the Greatest automobiles in the world.
When it comes to the blizzards in the snowstorm we will continue on just as planned. First the Diamondbacks.
Race. We shall continue to push bikes.
On a trowel we will beat out and up Reygadas thieves cutthroats of all nations may. We are ready for them blasting the kingdom from Queen last we can rise above we are invincible. Take us down. You push the button Max.
So that's one.
Another one is the movie Cars. Now we're kind of opposite ends of the spectrum here and this is the Disney anime Disney animated film. Get.
Your radiators the cutest little tiny carburetors can buy some organic fuel to your car wash. Hippie. Look lady McQueen the famous rescored. Precision and speed and aerodynamics you heard here what. I know is time. Race cars.
I don't mean to be rude here. I go zero to 60 016 like what. Three point five years. Oh. Last time you cared about something except yourself right down to big city race cars. Just take a try.
It's a great story and you know it's a fine kids love it it's a fun story that way. But if you're a if you're a Karnet and you watch that film and you watch closely for details there's really a lot of amazingly neat little details in it that if you're a car person you watch and appreciate and see and you'll pick these things up. The average person would never notice.
So what kind of things can you give us. What do these little easter egg kind of thing.
There are so many little details. The cars themselves for one thing the cars themselves there's little details and it's like Doc Hudson you can tell he's a certain year car because of the trim on it and things like that and a lot of like with Doc Hudson there's a lot of vintage scenes there has seen in his garage and they show you know old like NASCAR memorabilia and things like that even as silly as it sounds the tread on the tires and different cars you know you can look at it you know this is this is one thing this is another.
The cars in some of them again sound effects things like that where they tie all this stuff together. It's just really kind of fun. It's very lighthearted but it's but it's just it's a fun thing it's another.
You know we sat down and I sat down with my son and that was we'd watch that constantly. And it's another one that kind of doesn't get old you can watch it over and over again.
And what do you think these details come from is it from the animators wanting to kind of add that nuance to it or from the director himself.
I really this this comes from from the director's comes from John Lasseter on down. I know they did work with a lot of auto industry people on that film if you look there's a in the credits there's a list of consultants and there's some there's race drivers and auto designers and lots of different people like that that had input into the movie and they really wanted it to. They wanted to bring a lot of these details and so yeah it's a very conscious decision.
So these are two kind of lighthearted films one category we haven't quite hit upon yet but I think this is on your list is kind of the B movie the genre and you've got one of these. Gone in 60 seconds. Not the recent one but the old one from the 1970s and this is kind of your classic B movie example.
Very much. Very much so the original Toby Galecki version from 1974.
This is Mondrian page number one cause he said America will steal anything anytime as long as it's insured.
It's from insurance investigation business stealing cars and now but the thing is that deliver over 40 cars docks by Saturday.
That's the sad story.
Last year you can lock your car.
But if he wants it it's gone in 60 seconds.
That would cost Kraft Mac has caused the most hair raising chase scene ever. Hollywood Reporter says it's a thriller you go into your car to see a gun in 60 seconds.
It's grand theft entertainment. Gone in 60 seconds rated P.G..
It is a miracle that that car survived the things that they did. They essentially did that whole that whole chase scene with one car and there's places where there's a place where he wipes out a light pole and literally looks like he has split the current off. And so I'm sure they had to bolt some things back together afterwards. But you know it comes out and it's still raw and that car had been around it made the you know the car show circuit and things like that is who's promoting the movie that cars are probably still around somewhere.
But yeah that is just basic. If you just want to watch basically a movie long car chase that's pretty much what that's what that one is. You know. There's there's others like Smokey and the Bandit. Another one like that. That's basically you're just watching a big long car chase smoking the. It's a lot more sort of again sort of lighthearted. I mean the. Gone in 60 seconds was you know here's a guy who's legitimately trying to get away. But yes they sensationalize all the stunts and things like that.
Also if you're an L.A. local it was filmed all around the South Bay and if you're from the Torrance Gardena Redondo Beach area if you lived around there any time you'll recognize a lot of the background from the 70s. Fact one of the scenes where they're running off road and chasing around what used to be an old dump is now the Porcher experience center it was a golf course and it's now there. The Porsche test track at her on the west coast but a section of the movie was filmed there in you know in the 70s when they first film.
And you mentioned Smokey and the Bandit and Burt Reynolds also made Hooper which kind of glorified the stunt drive by the stunt man. Absolutely.
Burt Reynolds is Hooper. Hooper is a real hero.
He can take more questions more fire. Good luck or you can take more fun than anyone can imagine. This is Hoover the story of the greatest stuntman Anna Hooper is in a dangerous business but his reward is that he lives to collect Burt Reynolds as the greatest stunt man alive.
The newest movie promoting the use Smokey and The Bandit.
They have a lot more stunts in it than just car stuff.
Yes that had a lot more in it. But yes all of the very much the devil may care kind of you know wild Vesa the wild west kind of stunt man which you know the whole driving backwards and throwing each other's beers you know from one car to another is frowned upon in modern society. You don't get to do those sorts of things so yeah it's for its day and it played up on a lot of old stories from the 70s. And you know there's a lot of guys in fact a couple of the guys that are in that movie and that are involved with that I know through through my stunt work and it's really fun to talk about some of these stories because it's all loosely based on truths and things that of course get embellished over the years and the stories get bigger and crazier.
And all of that but that's kind of where it all starts. Yes.
And how Needham was a stunt man before he turned to directing.
Yeah absolutely. And that's where Hooper Smokey and The Bandit films Hal Needham really was a stunt man first and that was his thing he wanted. His movies were all big action. That's what it's about because that's a lot of you know people want to the people want to go see that stuff. They want to go see cars fly through the air and crash and slide around in and you know guys jump off buildings and all these all these crazy stunts. It's escapism. You know the average person it's like this.
This is a two hour escape from reality weed. Believe me we all all of us in L.A. would like to. We'd like to be able to drive like that across four or five sometimes. So it is it's great. It's a great escape and they were all they had some serious moments. But all of them were very light hearted fun movies.
And we talked a little bit about Steve McQueen and being an actor who love driving himself. Paul Newman is another actor he was one of the voices in cars but he also made a kind of passion project for him that was about racing which was winning.
Paul Newman was actually an amazingly talented driver. Had he not been such a talented successful actor and he also started kind of late in life as a racer had he concentrated on being a racer. He would have been quite successful. He's very serious about about driving and took it very seriously and worked worked very hard at it. It was interesting. I'd gotten to meet him at the racetrack a number of times over the over the years and he's a very different person there. It's while he's not Hollywood he's not an actor he's a racer and he takes that very seriously.
In fact of his race cars when he was driving his race cars didn't have did not say Paul Newman on them anywhere they just had people in his initials. He is very much trying to separate the two characters. The racer and the actor Paul Newman Joanne Woodward.
They know what it's all about. They live what it's all about. They make pictures like the. And this kind of game where everything. Big 500 in Indianapolis you can buy any second.
Tiger time from the vibrations everybody. The film winning was. Conan's.
Real first exposure into racing. I think he he's been a fan but he hadn't really done a lot of training and driving until that movie happened and he trained specifically for that movie and that's kind of where he got the bug from then on. He did take it very seriously. I mean he's won he's won a lot of races. He's he's won championships he's had in addition and in later life he was a successful car owner once he gave up driving but he was he was winning races. I want to say he was close.
I'd have to check the fact on this one. I want to say he is close to 80 when he won when he won his final race. The EU is quite a quite a quite a talented driver.
One film that we discussed before the the podcast where you talked about a car being a real character in the film and this was the Blues Brothers were they had a chase there was a road movie they destroyed. I don't know how many like 124 cars or something but that Blues movie.
The Blues mobile becomes becomes a character in the movie. It is. You know there's music there.
There's a lot more story to the movie but the Blues will be old becomes becomes a character he's part of the part of the team it's really three of them it's Jake and Elwood in the car. But this. One. Stupid. Wears a Cadillac. Candy. Where's the. The one.
We used to have the blues. Rubio. It traded at. The Bluesville Bofill for this no. Mike. On. A microphone. That. What the hell is this. It's. A bargain. I picked it up at the Mount Prospect city police auction last spring. It's an old no prospect police car. They were practically given the boy. They. Get out of prison. My own brother picks me up. In a. Police car. Blasting their way through Chicago in the car becomes a pivotal.
You know. Coconspirator.
As part of that.
You know it starts out you know they're sitting by the side of the road and it's our Lady of acceleration Don't Fail Me Now and boom it's on. And for the next you know for the next hour they were getting chased off and on throughout the movie you know it's not the movies not one big car chase. There's lots of car chases in it. But yes in then the car gets there and gets to the end in the car just expires and gives up. You know it's like oh I made it.
You know and a more evil kind of car persona would be found in John Carpenter's Christine which is this is a car possessed repossessed perhaps. Yes.
Yes. We never I don't think we'd ever get the exact story of how it happens. Just that from the very day the car is being built on the assembly line to kill somebody and just and just continues.
And I've in my I've worked on some cars like that that I consider possessed.
Were they just they do things that just shouldn't be able to happen. And yet Christine is is very much very much. Again it's a personality. You know it's it is a character she is a character in the in the movie.
You know it just happens to have four wheels as opposed to you know two legs but in a jealous character. Yeah very much so. Very much so. If your radio starts playing by itself and bad to the bone get out of the car. Sunny.
Do you ever owned a car before. No. When you. Got. Started. The. Turning. To Christine.
That film goes a little bit towards this relationship of like teenage boys in their cars as well. And that plays off of that.
Yes very much so. It's it's sort of the it's the dark version of that where a movie like American Graffiti is kind of the light version of that you know. And again a boy in his car and all of that that was in there several different stories in that one but that's a good example. The John Miller and the yellow and the yellow Ford that's his kind of the anti-hero hero of the film.
So what we're talking about evil cars. Let's talk about Steven Spielberg's DUEL. Yes. This is a film where if you want to talk about a car that kind of becomes a character we never actually see the driver in this car this big truck that is terrorizing Dennis Weaver on the road. And this is definitely a car that is a character.
Yes. The the unknown truck driver is the truck is the creature in this case. And the truck is the truck is evil.
And actually if you bring if we tie that back again we were talking about bullet things I had Corey Lofton was was also part of was also part of duel going back for a moment tying duel back to bullets.
Kerry Loftin was the truck driver the faceless truck driver. Again it's in the truck obviously has no speaking roles or anything like that but it has a personality you can see when it's angry when it's quiet and sneaking up when it's all of these sorts of things. You know Dennis Weaver is the he's the driver you see on the freeway every day who cut somebody off unknowingly and has no idea that he just did something and you know in the road rage starts and in this case it just gets a little carried away.
What's your name David Mann. Yes that's true.
I'd like to report that drunken another group of films that you like in these Carm movie category.
And this is a group of films that I really love who are the Mad Max films which have gone over a number of decades through a number of different incarnations. But George Miller directed these and I don't know what it is about him but he always seems to know where to put the camera to make it feel the most intense when you're having these cars racing around.
Absolutely absolutely. And you see from the original from the original Mad Max I kind of the original Mad Max Fury Road kind of look at the two the two bookends here in this case you know there's there's very dark elements in the films as well. But a lot of it is just it's action that pulls you in and Fury Road in particular has got very very intense action scenes where you like is this guy gonna make it. You know we're in some of the stunts and again that's another movie where a lot of the stunts are very real there's not a lot of CGI and things like that going on.
They're very organic very real stunts and to know that and watch what some of these guys were doing you know just that was one of those movies that I literally was just it was a wild ride. You know I'm sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time just because it's so intense. And that's and that is one of the things I was really good at. Even back in the original Mad Max grabbing you and pulling you in. And it's the the action the intensity the action is what does that.
And he just like I said he just seems to know where to be when these cars are either crashing or racing. It always feels to have like more velocity to the shot or or something but you know I've seen I see a lot of movies and I see films where you know the car chases are well done but I don't feel nearly the intensity of emotion or the kind of the speed of the cars that I do in these Mad Max films and I don't know what it is about how he shoots but it's the best there is.
There is one thing in a lot of the Mad Max films that's I think pretty consistent is that they are genuinely going at higher speeds when they do these things. There are certain times that. And again we talked about this earlier about speeding up film and some of those things to really honestly show speed. It's really hard to fake it. And so if they're genuinely driving fast the dynamics of the car are different. All of that. And you can see that in it's not this fake sped up film you know like we were talking about with some of the older movies they're really going by the camera at 80 90 miles an hour and the speed and the shockwave when the car goes by and the dust and everything else you can you sense you see that you see that.
And they were really going fast in some of the situations where they some of the crashes and things that happened they're moving at a pretty good clip when they wreck the cars. And that's there's so much more energy in that. That's what that's what you see.
I guess it helps being out in the Australian outback where you have a lot of open space maybe it's handy to be in the middle of nowhere. Yes.
Are there any other car movies that you want to make sure we mention before we move on to car chases.
There's a couple others that loved the original Love Bug was another one that's a great car film The car is a character. You know the car is is the pivotal character in the movie but it's another one it's gray. It's much more fun and lighthearted and things like that.
But there's actually some really fun racing scenes and some fun history and things like that if you see the cars in the background and things that are going on around it is fun to go back and watch it now I watch when I was a little kid to go back and watch it now and look at some of the history that's going on in that movie now things that we took for granted back then because oh well you know they're racing at Riverside Raceway. That was there then. It's been gone 20 some years now Vanishing Point was another Tabata a car movie where the car becomes a bit of an extension of the personality of Name.
Occupation driver. Transporting a supercharge Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. Former. Stock and bike racer. Cop.
Dishonorably discharged. Now he uses speed to get himself up. To get himself. It's a maximum trip.
At maximum speed.
Basically it's a movie it's a movie long marches you know doesn't necessarily end well.
But you know it was always a little upset about that. But you know he should've found a way around him or something. There's another funny little and other fun little bit of trivia all thrown in there between American Graffiti and two lane blacktop. Bob Felfe is current American Graffiti the black 55 Chevy is the same car and two lane blacktop is really reused it between the two movies as a stunt driver what kind of stunt work is really the most difficult to do.
I mean what as a viewer what we tend to get dazzled by is cars flying through the air a big crash or something but first on driver what actually is kind of the tough thing to do the difficult task.
You know there's a lot of yes the sensational stuff is like for example the fast and furious movies throwing cars out of airplanes and things like that and it's great it's great escapist fine. It absolutely is it's great fun. It's not real. You have to set reality outside the door and physics and physics when you walk into those things but they are they are great fun. Yeah the the the the one the one movie where the runway is about 23 miles long you know and they're constantly you know they're chasing that plane for 15 minutes.
Yeah ok you got to suspend reality a little bit but they are fine and there some great stuff to me personally the the challenge and what I really like to see is a really well done complete 100 percent organic start. There's no S.G. there's no there's no Canon's flip on a car there's none of that stuff and really well done driving skills. That to me that's that's the challenge. I like to do things and I'm not a big you know fly car through the air set them on fire Piper ramp them over that's not that's not my thing.
And I'm I'm old and fragile so I really don't like to do those things nowadays I'm much more about the threading the needle shot the really precise.
You know we're going to we're going to spin her car and I'm going to spin a car between these two other cars and we're going to land it on that Mark within an inch. That to me that's what I enjoy. And speaking of things like some of the scenes baby driver had some great stuff in there there was a really fun one where he spins the car in the opening sequence I believe was very spins the car down the alleyway or stuff on both sides and get spin in one way and the other and he's 360 this land back around itself.
And that was great. I'm like that was so cool. Why. Because I know how hard that is to do and how to get that done and do that. And so yeah those sorts I love. That's the kind of stuff I love. See I love to see. Really. Well done. High speed precise and completely organic. There's no there's no C.G. we're not going to fix this in post you do it once and you do it.
You do it spot on. Well I guess maybe driver might be a good segue to go from the car movie to the car chase film because this is a recent film Edgar Wright directed it and it is really all about kind of this young kids connection with cars and with speed. And he ends up being a driver for some rather unscrupulous people. But he's a nice kid anyway. So you mentioned some of that precision driving that baby driver does seem to be very much a film all about the car and about speed it was it was really it was a fun ride.
It really was as Guy enjoyed it was fun to watch I came away from that and it was like.
It. It's one of those. For me it's I can. Do that. And that's how I'm kind of when I walk out it's like that was really cool.
Thank you very much. This gentleman right now. Tell you about. Ottos. One of the really neat things about that movie that I really thought was was fun that. Isn't really done very often was that this timing of the stunts to the music was really really was neat and it really gave the movie a rhythm. You know because it just there was a lot of.
Time mediocre coordination of the beats of the music and the beats in the action and where they would actually have to time the action a lot of times you do a stunt and it's like go here been here than here than here. And. He wouldn't have to think about. He did. The musical timing of hitting those marks on a certain. Band. So it was really it was really neat to watch. And I know it took a lot of heart to make that happen. They had to be aware of the music when they're doing the Star as well.
Because the timing then all has to match up.
Yeah I was lucky enough to talk to one of the editors that worked on that film and he said he he was literally omma said with kind of a portable editing rate. And he would be editing stuff on the fly so that they could make sure that those stunts and those car chases and everything mapped out the music the way they wanted it to.
Absolutely. I'm sure that he had to because it's white. It was quite a feat to put that together.
So we already have talked about bullet as one of the pivotal car chase movies what else is a memorable car chase for you.
Well there's a couple others we can since we bring up bullet and one of my all time favorite stunt guys baddies is Bill Hickman and we'll tie him into. He was also one of the bad guys in the seven ups with Roy Scheider and Rove. He drove the big blue Pontiac sedan or Roy Scheider chasing him all chasing him all across New York. Another place that Bill Hickman comes up is the French Kinar.
We have now the really interesting thing about that which we could never do today because we are way too many lawyers. Is that chase scene under that where he's chasing the train. And that is Bill Hickman driving the car. So that's where he ties in. That chase under the train was done in live traffic. They didn't stop traffic. They didn't have really any police or anything like that. They just put a camera cameraman director in the car and said Go for it. And they ran through city traffic.
And there's just no way in the world you can do that today there's so many so many things could have gone wrong in that case. And there's so many safety issues and things that would come up today that. That just will never happen again.
And there was more than one stunt driver at work during the course of that chase.
Yes there are some scenes the baby carriage getting pushed out was a staged scene. There's a couple of near misses with cars that were stuntmen who those weren't actual just citizens driving through traffic. Some more but some of the really close calls were worse stunt men who were staged in traffic who would pull out and drive through. And there was one case where he where he crashes into one of the cars it's a stunt man that that I think got maybe a little stalled and was a little late on his mark and so he got hit.
And they kept it in the movie.
They kept it in. And that scene again is one that gets for me a car chase just seeing two cars chasing each other quickly doesn't do much. But there's they build in this motion to the car chase because you've got a cop driving. Chasing a criminal. The cop doesn't want to hurt anyone so there's things at stake while he's driving that make it that build that kind of emotional ties you have in kind of the intensity of what's going on because you know he wants to catch this guy more than anything but he's now willing to kill someone to defend innocent bystander.
Right you certainly in those situations you don't want you don't want to hurt somebody you don't want to. You don't want to have an accident. You don't want to injure anybody. But first and foremost in his first his driving his his driving him a motion right there is I've got to catch this guy. So that's what he's totally focused on and really is kind of tunnel visioning right on that. And so that's why they're just ripping through.
Ripping through traffic. Your actual live traffic when they do it.
They're just ripping through traffic because he's got to catch that.
He's got a catheter train you can't let that guy get away because it's a chase scene like that catches you up in a very different way than something like To Live and Die in L.A. where you've got two people chasing each other which is intense. But the fact that neither one of them cares about.
Anybody else besides themselves involves you in a very different way because you know that they're just going to plow through everything you know regardless to Live and Die in L.A. is a good one to bring up there's an interesting point that a lot of people won't catch until maybe now that you hear it and you watch the movie. They drive on the wrong side of the road during that chase where they're flying down the freeway. If you look in it's extra disorienting they have reversed traffic and traffic is on the opposite side of the road.
And so it adds an extra element of disorientation when you're watching it because it just doesn't look right. Interesting and another film that has a lot of car chases going on and it is Ronin.
In Ronan is again we're going to go back to John Frankenheimer. And another interesting bit of trivia if you watch the credits.
For Ronan you will see that his stunt drivers in that film are a bunch of old retired Formula 1 and racing drivers. And so when you watch the credits to be in you'll see you'll see these greats. You know Formula 1 drivers who were who were listed understands. And he was able to call in some of his old friend connections I guess she would say at that point. It is great driving in and good it's another. Very realistic and very realistic chase. They are genuinely driving those cars hard driving those cars fast.
Now granted you do have the cannon shot where they blow the car up and flip it over and you know so there's a little bit there's a little bit of over-the-top Hollywood in that. But the scenes where. The scenes where they're there the big the big Audi and the big six point nine Mercedes are blasting down the mountain and they're chasing they're chasing the guys. That's all. That's all very. It's all really tense in there. I see they're genuinely going fast and that's a.
You can't fake speed. So seeing them and seeing them do that and there's there's a scene where. There's a scene where the Audi comes flying through and I forget exactly where it is.
Where the Audi comes flying through and this beautiful just all four wheel spinning just drifting kind of through an intersection. Earlier on in the movie and just flying through and it's like it's just beautiful you know and it's fun to watch that. You know a car being a car being driven well is a great thing to watch.
And if I remember right there were some chases that take place in Europe on these very small streets and so in addition to just speed you also have these conditions where it's kind of like Hong Kong movies where they would have fights in tiny rooms.
It's like you have to do a stunt in this confined space that makes it even more difficult to pull off. And I just seem to remember there were a few of these scenes on these tiny streets and you're just like your tension about whether enough they're going to make it through it's amped up what it needs.
And they're driving a couple of really big cars driving the big the biggest Audi sedan that they made and a great big Mercedes sedan. And yes they're squeezing them down these little tiny you know little tiny passageways that were probably built in the 15 hundreds. You know I don't know exactly but you know we're built for little wagons and wagons and essentially little cobblestone paths and gather fly in these cars through places that were never intended to have big cars like that and actually related to that. This is our list by the way but related to that armoire throw in another one called Rendezvous which was a short it's about oh 12 14 minute film club lulu.
And it's racing across Paris. The set is he gets in the car early in the morning it's a camera low on the front of a car and he races across parents ostensibly to meet his his rendezvous with his girlfriend. But it's wee hours of the morning and it's supposed to be I believe 275 Ferrari is the sound effect they use of him blasting across Paris and running red lights and turning corners and nearly wiping out a pedestrian. And all of this and it's great if you just want to watch a car chase scene.
But it's similar you talk about big cars and little spaces. It was Don it was another giant Mercedes sedan with a camera mounted on the front and then they dubbed the Ferrari sound effects over it.
Well they also talking about cars. I mean like car manufacturers that kind of want to showcase their cars. Clive Owen did that series of films for what I think was called higher. Yes the BMW film series Yeah. So where he got to do these kind of play this character that is always driving these cars and yes and dangerous situations.
I still and the guy Ritchie film with Madonna Star is one of my all time favorites. That is just such silly fun in anybody who's in that era of BMW M5 has to be one of my favorite cars. I can't tell you how difficult it is to. I've had opportunities to drive those several times and were testing cars and doing things like that. When that movie came out. There's times I would sit in a car and think of those scenes and it's really hard to resist just wanting to do that.
Well and this particular one it's a obnoxious diva esque yes celebrity getting in the car that he has to drive. Who is treating him like crap. And he takes a little revenge by taking those turns out to touch harder than maybe he needs to.
Yes it is. It is the. And again just the brilliance of the music and the setting and then they came up with some neat camera angles and that was kind of.
There were a couple of new things that they did with the kind of early some of the CGI stuff where the camera was on a remote pole and then they'd S.G. the the pole out. But that's how you get that great tracking shot of essentially hovering up over the side of the car as it goes flying around the corner. And I've always I've always really liked Clive Owen as an actor and I just that he was the perfect person to play especially that character because he got to lead a little bit of his comedic side out.
In playing that you know the other films in the BMW Films series were a little kind of a little more serious. But that one was just that was just a great fun ride. That's another one that I'll sit and it'll come up somewhere and or all run across it on the internet. I will always stop and watch that and I'm entertained every time.
And those were a really fun series. They they hired totally legit directors to make these short films to promote their car.
Absolutely. I would love to see more of that happen. I thought that was a great thing. It was great promotion. Speaking in car industry person I'm not sure that BMW. I think they really got it back then. Nowadays they're more of a active lifestyle brand. I just don't know. They maybe have lost their way a little bit but that was just at that point in time. I would love to see another manufacturer come up with something like that and do something like that. It was a great series.
Now a franchise that you wanted to highlight that does car chase as well is the Bourne films.
Yes. Those are always great. And again it's another one of those cases where this keeps coming up. You really can't fake speed. I mean they do some of the some of the crash or some of the hits.
I think of the scene with the police cars through New York. You know there are some genuinely hard hits and they're moving really fast and you just you can't fake that stuff. And a lot of the scenes and how they're shot I think of one of the earlier film where they're flying across you know across town in the Mini Cooper. And again just there's so much action things happening and it's such a rapid fire pace. But it's also the way it shot in addition to the stunts and the way it's driven in the way and the way that they do the action it's all of those things together.
Well I've really enjoyed talking to you about car films that I want to go out and watch some of these films again. But you do work as a stunt driver I just want to talk a little bit about that in the sense again. We talked about how stunt drivers. We recognize what they do when we see a car chase or when we see cars flipping but kind of day to day work you have to do. I mean you're also involved in things where it might just be having to stop in front of an actor who's crossing a street or something where it's not the flashy effects yet done.
There's lots of stunt driving is not always glamorous. A lot of times and a lot of what you see on TV commercial and things like that. One of the one of the fun little rule rules.
The Screen Actors Guild has is actors cannot drive if you are acting you cannot drive. And so there's times you'll see an actor in a car and it's just going down the street and it looks like he's driving and there's a stunt man on the roof with a remote with a remote seat and pedals and steering wheel and everything on the roof of the car driving so that they can shoot the car. The interior shot of the car going down the road. And he may be just driving totally normally but the actor is Screen Actors Guild rules actor is not allowed to drive and act at the same time.
So you'd have a stunt man on the roof with his remote setup driving the car. There are some other. Any time a car is a stunt driver is required anytime a car is going to break traction at all.
So if it's going to even just skid into a parking space a little bit even just slide a little bit or do any any kind of there's a number of rules like that where it's any kind of extreme thing but it might be very very simple when you come in a boom you go A to B and and that's it. I had one where literally it was I my entire stunt must come down a street turn and pull up. Pull a parking brake in a car and turn it 90 degrees and stop it and stop it on a mark and the ACT the because it was sliding the car even though it was only five feet a stunt man is required.
And so sometimes it's a lot of the days are very simple. It's again it's not all you know jumping guards out of airplanes and setting things on fire. A lot of our stuff is just very a day here a day here.
And can you talk at all about what your most recent or current project.
Not a whole lot but I'm hoping that next year we can add the new James mangled film to maybe the list of car films. You know there's a Ford versus Ferrari film that's coming out. I've had a little bit of involvement with that in a lot of my friends are working on it. So we know things that were of course not allowed to talk about but it's really pretty neat. And at that much I can't say it's really neat. All of us are big car fans and that's why we wanted to be involved with this picture and it's great fun.
We have really high hopes for it. There's a lot there again with a lot of James Mongoloids films. Realism is very important and I think so I think people are going to be really happy with that.
All right well I want to thank you very much for talking about cars and car chases.
Awesome it's been great to be here. Thank you.
That was stunt driver Steve Lepre talking about his favorite car movies cinema Junkie will be taking a few weeks off for the holidays. And in the interim we'll be reposting the most popular podcast from the archives but I'll be back with all new episodes in late January including a look back on the best films of 2018. If you've enjoyed this episode or any of the episodes you've heard please tell a friend or leave us a review on iTunes till our next film fix on Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place