Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 4, 2010

“Date Night” Car Chase: Technical Nightmare

How'd they do that?

How much did they spend on shooting the car chase scene in the movie, “Date Night”?

Would you believe $60 million?

Nah, that was the budget for the entire film – wasn’t it? Wasn’t it!?!

Actually, stunt coordinator Jack Gill’s wild and crazy-expensive chase scene probably cost somewhere between $1 million and $2 million, but not even he is sure what the final tab was.

“I just ask them for whatever money it takes, and they send it to me,” he says with a laugh.

The 3 1/2-minute scene has received strong reviews from critics and moviegoers alike, for its originality, humor and sheer outrageousness: a $125,000 Audi R8 sports car and a Ford Crown Victoria taxi locked in a duel to the death in the streets of New York City (in a previous column I revealed the “big secret” about the car chase: that it was filmed on Broadway, but not New York City’s Broadway.)

“It used to be a nine-minute chase scene, then it got edited down to six, then four, and finally three and a half,” Mr. Gill explained. “In a comedy, you try to keep the total running time to 90 minutes, so the chase had to move quicker.”

The long version of the chase included a lot more action, more spins, more crashes and more twists and turns (literally). I suggested that might be a good “extra” to include on the upcoming “Date Night” DVD.

“I agree,” Mr. Gill said. “That was discussed when we decided to cut down its total length. There’s too much good stuff in there” to let it remain on the cutting room floor.

Jack Gill

Mr. Gill, whose film resume includes the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show, “Talladega Nights”, “Wild Hogs”, “Bad Boys II” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember”, calls the “Date Night” sequence the most technically difficult he’s ever filmed.

The idea came from a real-life car crash that director Shawn Levy had the day after he got his license at 16. He backed into another car, he explains, leaving a parking space at a public library. The bumpers slid one over the over, and he couldn’t get the two cars unstuck. In the process, he recalls, he caused an ever-increasing amount of damage.

Mr. Gill, 55, spent five months creating, testing, scripting and filming the car chase sequence that evolved from Mr. Levy’s post-driver’s ed nightmare.

In the Pantheon of movie car chases (of which Mr. Gill rates “Bullitt” highest), where does the “Date Night” sequence rank? “From a degree-of-difficulty standpoint, I think it ranks right up there at the top,” Mr. Gill noted. “Lots of cars have been driven backwards down the street in chase scenes. But two cars locked together, going backwards and forwards? Nobody’s ever done this before.”

The sequence starts when an Audi R8, driven by Steve Carell, with Tina Fey as passenger, rounds a corner and rams head-on into New York City taxi driven by J.B. Smoove.

Steve Carell & J.B. Smoove

The two vehicles become inextricably locked together, and they take turns trying futilely to pull free of each other – until the bad guys arrive, and the two cars smashed together work as one to outrun their pursuers.

“I hid a driver in the trunk of each of the lead vehicles,” Mr. Gill said, “and they could steer from there, because there was no way the people in the drivers’ seats could see what was happening behind or around either vehicle.”

Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey were actually in the cars for much of the filming, and improvised quite a bit of the funny dialog that occurs. “In the close-ups, that was all Steve and Tina,” Mr. Gill said. “In the wide shots, when the cars were going their fastest, we had to use stunt drivers.”

TRIVIA: Chase scene music provided by the Teddybears "Cobrastyle"

One of the six-figure R8 supercars was actually cut into four interlocking pieces that could be snapped apart for “green screen” cutaways.

“We ruined five of the R8s in the filming, and I hated that because they were beautiful cars,” Mr. Gill said. “But they have these aluminum bodies that every time you crash them, you write ‘em off.”

He addressed that problem somewhat by making polystyrene replica R8s – and crashing those instead. “Until we came up with that solution,” he said, “everything you broke, it was just broke.” The scene’s budget, already escalating rapidly because a New York City crackdown on high-speed filming forced relocation to Los Angeles, needed reining in.

For the midpoint of the filming, Mr. Gill constructed a 40-foot chassis, upon which he affixed a Crown Vic and an R8. This eight-wheeled “hybrid” monster also was outfitted with four-wheel steering, so that it was more maneuverable.

This reminded me, I told Mr. Gill, of the three-car chain races at Irwindale Speedway, which have a driver at each end.

“Yeah, the drivers at each end were able to get them to turn corners in a kind of crab crawl,” he said. “You can’t see that all four wheels are steering, from the way it was edited. But that’s how we got the thing to turn.” He also put casters under some of the vehicles, so they would careen around more easily when crashed.

Pre-production simulations

The fifth and final R8 sacrificed met the most agonizing end – in the penultimate shot when a Chevy Suburban t-bones the locked cars; all three cars were obliterated. “That impact just ripped them to pieces,” he said. (A sixth R8 survived unscathed.)

The closest anyone came to being injured in any of the filming was when the airbags went off inside two of the vehicles, and pounded their drivers pretty harshly.

In all, uncounted dozens of cars were totaled; these included five Audi R8s, six Crown Vic NYC taxis, four 40-foot Audi/CrownVic hybrids that were welded together, and a “whole bunch of cop cars.”

Some filming done in the Bowery & areas "off-shore".

Though most of the car chase was filmed on Broadway – in Los Angeles, not New York – a few shots were done near the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, under FDR Drive. “That’s where,” he said, “at the end of the scene, I jumped the cab into the East River.”

To view a behind-the-scenes slide show of the making of the chase scene, with a dozen photos from Jack Gill, explore my site further to find the feature I assembled, or just click here.

Jerry Garrett

May 4, 2010

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Responses

  1. […] did) click on “View All Images.” For the full story, read my earlier interviews with Jack Gill and John […]

  2. […] filmed principally on September 20, 2009 – a Sunday – on Spring Street in downtown L.A. The “Date Night” movie car chase, also supposed to be in NYC, was also staged near here a few months earlier. […]

  3. […] principally on September 20, 2009 – a sunny Sunday – on Spring Street in downtown L.A. The “Date Night” movie car chase, also supposed to be in NYC, was also staged near here a few months earlier. […]

  4. […] of Hazzard” TV show, and most recently on the movie “Date Night”. Check out one of my past columns for more on his career. But Fast Five sets some of a new standard for stunt work with vehicles. […]

  5. […] the TV show, and most of all the recent movie “Date Night”, you can see one of his past columns for more on his own life career. Though for Fast Five, some sets really set new standards for stunt […]

  6. […] the TV show, and most of all the recent movie “Date Night”, you can see one of his past columns for more on his own life career. Though for Fast Five, some sets really set new standards for stunt […]

  7. […] of Hazzard” TV show, and most recently on the movie “Date Night”. Check out one of my past columns for more on his career. But Fast Five sets some of a new standard for stunt work with vehicles. […]


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