Making of the fast and the famous

You’d be brave, or mad, to try and remake a movie great like The Great Escape. Likewise, trying to remake the most cultish of cult car movies, Rendezvous, made nearly 25 years ago when Claude Lelouche shot a high speed dash across Paris at dawn, would be petrolhead and cinematic suicide. ‘The Run’, shot by a Hollywood film crew and stunt drivers, using Nissan 350Z’s on closed Prague roads, showed how big bucks do not create a better sequel.

Never mid the fact that Lelouche overdubbed the sound of his Ferrari to make the real car (his family Mercedes 6.9) seem sexier and never mind that there are places where the speed of oncoming cars and fleeing pigeons seem unfathomably and unnaturally fast. Rendezvous is a classic. A one-off. And best left alone.

But one tip of the hat I thought Rendezvous could withstand is the fact it makes all of us question; does our town, our city have its own natural track, route, rally stage - a place where, for an hour or two at dawn on a Sunday, the city streets become a street circuit.

I started at the top. For ten years I have worked with Jay Leno, the world’s ultimate petrolhead. I asked him if his home town, Los Angeles, had such a track. “Not one but lots,” he declared, rattling off three or four potential circuits of America’s second largest city - including one mammoth 50 mile stage across the Malibu Hills.

But the one he, we, settled on was one right past his house. Starting in Beverly Hills, it launches up and over the Hollywood Hills on Coldwater Canyon, hard right through a hairpin at the junction with Mulholland Drive, along a knife-edge ridge separating LA and Burbank. The third arm of the circuit is a hard, twisty, bumpy and unforgiving chute of a road down Laurel Canyon. Finally, the home stretch charges down the most famous road in Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, back to Beverly Hills.

“Thirteen miles, with climbs and falls, world-famous city streets and world-class mountain roads. All right near my house,” he brags. “But the best thing? Not only is it about as long and as fluctuating as the Nurburgring, the outline of the course looks like it too!”

Leno was up for the film. So too was Mercedes, who agreed to support with the hottest supercar of the year, the SLS AMG – which was conveniently launched in northern California. An easy run down to LA-LA Land.

Rendezvous was made on open city streets. And so too would be our film. In fact no limitations were imposed at all. Jay was told he could drive as fast as he felt able, but by having his face on the film, the safety net of anonymity would be lost. Anyone can risk driving at 150 mph through an empty city if the streets are closed or there is no incriminating film to place them behind the wheel. Just to protect our driver, you will notice no speedometer’s were ever shot in the making of our movie. Not that the speed limit was broken, ever, of course.

This film about taking one of the most staggering supercars, putting it in the hands of a man who knows everything about cars and about Los Angeles and letting him give the world’s the ultimate driving guide to LA’s hidden race track, as fast as he dares. And if petrolheads and cinema buffs like the result, there are half a dozen other stars I know are keen to do exactly the same in their home town.

Three dawns it took to shoot The Fast and Famous. Three because of the time it took to get the diversity of shots needed for the final edit. But the hot lap that makes up the main part of the finished film was a one hit wonder. A clear run, on Sunday morning, with no more than ten or so other cars anywhere on the 12 mile circuit.

At any one time we had just 3 cameras rolling on the SLS - two state of the art full HD Iconix mini cameras used by Hollywood for 3D and other special effects and one full HD Sony camera. There was no space for any more. The mini cameras are tiny but they record into units the size of your home DVD player.

We decided not to shoot any externals, partly in homage to Rendezvous, but also because this is not a car advert. This film is about Leno, the route and the city. Seen from the car.

One camera, mounted on an overhead gantry, gives a bird’s eye (well a bird strapped to the roof) view and another mounted on the nose gives a brief look back up the bonnet to the cockpit. The shot I like best is the one from the camera mounted a gnat’s leg-length from the road on the nose spoiler. It was so close to the road that a Coke can lying in on Sunset Boulevard would have looked like an iceberg about to be hit by the Titanic.

Sound is everything to this film. The SLS’s rasp is Hollywood sex siren mixed with car chase. Doctoring it or enhancing it would be sacrilegious. And Leno’s words are the signposts on this circuit. The combination, I hope, is auditory auto heaven – married to some stunning images. And an inspiration for the you to search out your city’s natural circuit.

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