Some very real high-octane car chases have helped steer Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, which opens today, to enthusiastic reviews (98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). "We tried to do everything in camera; 99 percent was practical," confirmed Darrin Prescott, the film's stunt coordinator and second-unit director.
Baby Driver follows Ansel Elgort as getaway driver Baby, who drives to his own soundtrack — an idea that instantly clicked for Prescott. "When Edgar first told me about this project, I wished I had come up with it," he said. "The idea of choreographing car chases to music sounded perfect to me. And then I started thinking about how to do it. They are big moving objects. If you choreograph a fight or dance, it's contained. Cars are big and expensive and they slide."
Prescott has coordinated stunts for films from The Bourne Ultimatum to John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 (for which he also served as second-unit director.) His action work as second-unit director has included Captain America: Civil War as well as the upcoming Deadpool 2 and Black Panther. He's even been a stunt double for Arnold Schwarzenegger (Batman & Robin) and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.)
Baby Driver, which was filmed on location in and around Atlanta, was lensed by director of photography Bill Pope (The Jungle Book, The Matrix), and Duane Manwiller was second-unit DP. Veteran stunt driver Jeremy Fry did most of the steering, and he also gave Elgort some training for some of the less hazardous time behind the wheel. "Ansel did some of the driving. He did great. I think he really enjoyed it," Prescott recalled.
One of the most difficult stunts in the film was what Prescott refers to as the "180 in and 180 out" — a sequence that takes place in an alley during which Fry in the red Subaru getaway car turns forward and backward in a narrow alley and between several vehicles in its path (it's in the trailer). "He was coming at 70 miles per hour. The buildings were there, the truck was there, it was all practical," Prescott said. "I had never seen anyone do that stunt before. It was big — and on this movie, we have at least five other major gags."
"It was tough to film," he continued. "I pitched the idea to Edgar, and we rehearsed in a parking lot and measured the location. We did maybe five or six takes. There's a lot going through your head. You don't want Jeremy to get hurt. Also, there's a lot of money being spent to get this on camera. The cameras needed to be out of the way so nobody would get hurt. You see it from a drone shot in the film."
In another shot from the trailer, Baby takes the wheel after a bank robbery with what Prescott calls a reverse 270 drift. "We picked a location that was conducive to the shot," he related. "We were driving forward in the camera car with the camera on an Ultimatte Arm, and Jeremy was driving in reverse. He came about six inches from the camera car. I was in the car and I thought he was going to creme us. We were sitting there waiting for the impact. We did it maybe four or five times. Jeremy is the best there is."
And then there was the challenge of setting this to music. "You are a slave to the songs," Prescott explained. "When I came on board, Edgar had done animatics (a sort of moving storyboard) for the whole car chase, set to the music. But if a move takes six seconds in the animatic, then we might go out and realize it takes 12 seconds. You have to find out where to cut the shots. That was a big challenge. We measured the location. I'd shoot a test on video, and we made a visual storyboard." He worked on this with editor Paul Machliss, who was on set. (Machliss edited the film along with Jonathan Amos.)
Saying it was a great collaboration, Prescott summed it up: "This was probably the hardest film I've done, but I'm very proud of it, and it was a pleasure to be involved in. Edgar's a genius."