Inevitably, eagle-eyed viewers will find the seams in the most eye-popping sequence of Sam Hargrave’s feature directorial debut, “Extraction”: a long-form “one-shot” that clocks in at over 12 minutes, long enough to include a car chase, a foot chase, another car chase, gun battles, knife battles, hand-to-hand combat, and plenty of explosions. And that’s just fine by the Marvel stunt coordinator turned director, because knowing how it all came together doesn’t diminish its power.
The film is filled with the kind of physical feats worthy of one of the industry’s most well-known stuntmen and coordinators, but nothing is as impressive as the “single take” that arrives at the tail end of the action outing’s first act. The film follows fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe alum Chris Hemsworth as black market mercenary Tyler Rake, tapped with “extracting” the kidnapped teen son of a high-powered drug lord (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) from another high-powered drug lord.
When the pair are discovered by one of Ovi’s (Jaiswal) father’s seeming friends and their extraction is thrown into a tailspin, they set out on a heart-pounding sprint around the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh that never lets up, even as obstacle after obstacle (read: cars, people, weapons, explosives) is thrown in their way.
Hargrave himself was strapped to the front of a “camera car” for much of the shooting, as one particularly nutty Netflix featurette has delighted in showing off. Given his background as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stuntmen and Marvel’s go-to stunt coordinator, that he’d pursue such on-camera thrills isn’t shocking. Neither is the craftsmanship and planning required of such a demanding sequence, and Hargrave talked IndieWire through the process in detail.
Cooking Up the Big Idea
“The action scene on the page was exciting and amazing, but budgetarily and time-wise, it was one of the things I didn’t know if we had the time to execute it as big as it was on the page,” he said of the script, written by fellow MCU alum Joe Russo. “How do I keep this in our world? How do I make it my own, so it’s not just another version of a car chase in [a Jason] Bourne [movie] or [a James] Bond [movie]? On our time and our budget, we weren’t going to out-Bourne Bourne. So how do we do that?”
An idea: build on the inherent promise of the film’s title, which carries with it a sense of immediacy and action.
“So I looked at and thought, well, it would be fun to keep this thing close, keep it with meaning, and keep the actors involved by doing this kind of extended take,” Hargrave said. “What you’re promising with the title of an extraction is, let’s have the audience experience this with the characters in real time so that you’re facing the challenges they face as they do. You’re reacting to what they react to … which is why I chose to do it handheld and kind of almost documentary-style to where you’re right there, experiencing this scene in real time.“
Planning a Very “Big Undertaking”
Easier said than done. “That’s a big undertaking!” Hargrave said with a laugh. “It’s great to talk about it and say, ‘Hey, how about we do this long take where we do a car case and a foot chase and jump off buildings and fall off the buildings and get back in a car?’ And everyone looks at you, wide-eyed and mouth agape, going ‘uh, what?‘”
The only way to mitigate such fears and make a wild endeavor like this one possible: months and months of planning.
“It took us from conception to execution, probably four or five months,” he said. “I had to write the scene to flow the right the way and to let people know that it was one continuous take and where it went from here to there, because there were story points you had along the way. It can’t just be an action scene for the sake of action, it has to hit the key story points and reveal things about character and show the development of the relationship between Tyler and Ovi. There are so many things in there that you have to tell.“
Location Scouting in India
Meticulous planning can only go so far without real locations to build it all around, a key element to making the sequence feel very real, even if the demands it put on the team was high. Everything was shot on location, though a variety of real spaces made up the shoot.
“I started just thinking of gags and things that I wanted to see,” he said. “I talked to the locations department and production designer and said, ‘Hey, I want to find this kind of building with this kind of access, because I want to do this stunt, or I want narrow streets so that we feel claustrophobic and all the things that I want to see.’ When they found a bunch of options, I’d go with them and we’d choose the best space.”
Often, the “best space” altered what was on the page. “The action and stories started to change with the environment and these amazing places they found in Ahmedabad, India, which is where we shot this sequence for all 10 days,” Hargrave said. “When you find all these amazing things, your mind wanders even further. You go, oh, that’s great. Now, what if we did this here? That’s even better than what I thought we could they could do this on a staircase instead of on flat ground.”
Rehearsal, Rehearsal, Rehearsal
Armed with a plan and real spaces to film it in, Hargrave dispatched his stunt team to move from rehearsal space out into the “real world” of their chosen locations. Still more changes took shape as Hargrave and company married their planned ideas with the locations that suited them.
“The next step was getting the stunt team out there with me, and all the action that they had been rehearsing in the hotel and the stunt gym became applicable in the real space,” Hargrave said. “Now something that looked cool in a big, wide open flat room, now you have to change that, because you’re on a balcony or you’re now a staircase or inside of a car, whatever that might be.”
Rehearsal soon required rough shooting, to make sure what looked possible on the page and in the spaces actually made sense onscreen. Also key: making sure the moments of “blending” — all those “stitches” between individual scenes — worked, too.
“We actually shot the sequence before we shot the sequence,” he said. “I took a video camera and the stunt team, and we went out there and shot it all and kind of cut it together to make sure that these moments of blending worked. Logistically, we couldn’t do it all twelve minutes at once, because one location was on this side of town and the other locations were on that side of town.”
Shooting in Pieces
With 10 days to nail the sequence, Hargrave and his team were able to shoot many scenes over and over again, an exhausting process necessary to make sure each portion of the sequence was perfect.
“In a day, it would be between three and six different long sequences, and they could be anywhere from four to five minutes that we need, 30 seconds, or whatever those pieces are that fit together,” he said. “You’d have to do it until you got it right. You could do the whole thing, and you get three minutes and 59 seconds in, but if you know you’ve got a trip and stumble or one of the background looks at the camera, you’ve got to go do all of it over again, because there’s no safety net.“
One other plus to such action-heavy repetition: onscreen veracity that’s hard for even the most talented actors to fake.
“I think that our top was 21 times, twenty-two times,” Hargrave said when asked how many times they’d shoot each scene. “Because we’re not cutting to a bunch of different angles, you couldn’t just be like, ‘Take a rest, Chris, we’re gonna do an over-the-shoulder shot. No, Chris, you’re in it.’ It would have to be the actors doing the whole thing.’ They’ve been going most of the day, and those looks of exhaustion and the deep breaths, those are real, it’s hard to fake that stuff. They’re all great actors, but there’s a certain quality, a certain visceral, tangible feeling to the performance that you can only get by being in the real space and pushing actors as hard as we did.”
So, How Many Cuts Are There?
While Hargrave declined to share the exact number of cuts that make up the 12-minute sequence, he’s got no problem with audience members trying to count them along the way. “There are many!” he said. “There are many and mostly built around the necessity of either safety or a technical or logistical issue that we had to solve by stitching stuff together.”
“Extraction” is now streaming on Netflix.