A Careful Setting
As the story takes a turn and Baby is forced to confront his situation and relationship with the heist ringleader (played by Kevin Spacey), the glamour of Wright’s high-speed chases starts to fade. Pointing to the strategic use of Los Angeles in what Wright calls the “Holy Trinity” of ’90s heist films – Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break,” and Michael Mann’s “Heat” – Wright studied the city’s history of high speed chases. He wanted to unearth the key to successful getaways and where others went wrong, even going so far as to talk to ex-cons and FBI agents. When the film was switched to Atlanta, where Georgia offers a 30% tax incentive, Wright re-did the research and rewrote the film to become location specific once again.
“I tried to keep it in the realms of reality, in terms of things you could actually do with cars and guns and not go too crazy,” said Wright. “The action is all stuff that could actually happen. I really wanted people to get the feeling of what it would be like to be a getaway driver in the middle of pursuit with the police because one of the things is [not] everybody fantasizes about robbing a bank, but I think most people have that fantasy of being in a high speed chase and [the] thing the movie is about is you see the dream that quickly becomes a nightmare.”
Don’t Cut Around the Good Stuff
The most important element involved Wright’s approach was the decision to shoot the action scenes practically (no visual effects), a task made more difficult by Wright’s refusal to “hose down” a scene by running multiple cameras from various angles and then building the scenes in post. That’s a safety blanket approach Prescott said he has to fight against on most studio films.
“If the action is good, there’s no reason to cut around it,” said Prescott. “Audience likes to see what the car is doing and the geography and what is going on.”
Rather than creating the action in the editing room, Wright followed the model of early Jackie Chan films and Hill’s “The Driver,” by designing specific shots for each action beat, which would also need to be timed and choreographed to each beat of the song. On a budget a fraction the size of a Hollywood blockbuster, which allowed for only 57 days of shooting – Wright kicked part of his directing fee back into the production to keep the third act foot chase – with only three weeks of second unit, “Baby Driver” had to be meticulously planned.
Prescott admitted that he didn’t know how they’d pull it off when Wright first pitched him the concept, but once he saw Wright’s animatic storyboards with the music laid in, he started to get excited. Prescott would visit the real location to measure out the distance, then take stunt driver Jeremy Fry (“John Wick,” “Jason Bourne”) to the Atlanta speedway to test it out. Hanging out the window of his rental car, he would film Fry replicating the stunt with his cheap video camera. He and Wright would then load the footage into the animatic to test the timing.
“So we’d now know if that action gag takes 12 seconds on the speedway, it’s going to be approximately the same at the real location,” said Prescott. “We could test out the timing – if it missed the beat, we talked about altering the stunt or maybe Edgar might decide he wants to cut away to a shot of Ansel.”
On the next page: How the action team’s collaboration came together on set.