The big secret behind the making of the wild car chase through the streets of New York City in the movie “Date Night” is that many people wouldn’t guess where it was actually filmed. It was filmed mostly on Broadway – in downtown Los Angeles.
“We couldn’t film it in New York,” said the film’s transportation coordinator, John Orlebeck, in a telephone interview from his L.A. area office. “It was right after there had been a couple of accidents during filming of car chases sequences for other movies in New York that Mayor Bloomberg clamped down on us. They put in a bunch of new rules limiting car chase filming; we couldn’t exceed the posted speed limit, or something like that. So we did in it L.A., where they are much more film-friendly.”
In fact, much of the movie, about a boring married couple who have a wild night of misadventures in Manhattan, was filmed in Los Angeles. “We filmed in L.A. for about 11 weeks, all told,” Mr. Orlebeck said. “All during last April and May.”
Specifically for the car chase, the filmmakers got permission to close down a much-used section of Broadway between Sixth and Seventh streets in L.A.’s Jewelry District. “They let us close down the street at about 10:30 each evening, and we filmed until dawn each night,” Mr. Orlebeck said. “We did that every night for about a week.” (Movie buffs and tourists who might be interested in watching filming which happens almost daily – and nightly – somewhere in downtown Los Angeles can consult the weekly “Company Town” listing of “On Location” shooting permits issued, in the Los Angeles Times.)
The basic concept of the chase involved Mr. Carell, then Ms. Fey, driving a borrowed/stolen Audi R8, that each, in turn, has a hard time controlling, as they try to escape from evildoer pursuers.
The silver R8 becomes enmeshed, nose to nose, with a yellow Ford Crown Victoria taxi – and the two can’t get un-stuck. Hilarity ensues, as the R8 tries to push the Crown Vic backwards through the streets of “New York” (L.A.). Two cars locked together that can’t get unstuck was reportedly inspired by a real-life accident that director Shawn Levy had the day after he got his driver’s license at age 16. Mr. Levy says the chase scene cost many millions of dollars, thousands of man-hours to research, develop, and construct what was needed to film it.
“It was an expensive sequence to film,” said Mr. Orlebeck. “We wrecked a lot of cars – taxi cabs, police cars, and two of the R8s.”
The first unit crew had at their disposal (pun intended!) four of the $125,000 R8s – of which two got wrecked in the filming. On purpose? “Yeah,” Mr. Orlebeck said, laughing, “On purpose. It was in the script. We also had four R8 models that we made out of Styrofoam that we used in simulated wrecks.”
One of the Styrofoam R8 models was broken up into four pieces, at one point, for the most destructive scenes. A construction company also concocted a Crown Vic/R8 “hybrid”. “We built one big long chassis, with a Crown Vic and an R8 bolted together, and used that in some of the scenes,” Mr. Orlebeck said.
After the key high-speed and high-impact sequences were in the can, it was time to finish off the chase in New York.
“When we were done with most of the action sequences,” Mr. Orlebeck said, “We loaded up all the cars, including the ones we wrecked, onto car carriers and drove them across country, all the way back to New York, and finished the filming that we were allowed to do there. We took six car carriers full of cars back to New York.”
The crew needed some shots, especially when the cars came to rest and audience members could get their bearings, which were unmistakably New York.
Intercut in the edit room with quick shots done in Los Angeles, the audience was none the wiser.
(In my next Date Night column, check out my exclusive interview with award-winning stunt coordinator Jack Gill – you may remember him from the original “Dukes of Hazzard” – about how specific crashes were staged, which stuntmen – or whether it was Mr. Carell or Ms. Fey – were at the wheel for the wildest action, and how the crazy concept of two cars hooked together like a pro wrestling cage match to the death was turned into one of the best movie car chase scenes in recent memory. I also get the word from Executive Producer Joe Caracciolo Jr. how much this mayhem all cost!)
April 24, 2010