Oscars: Best Picture Contenders on Staging Car Chases and How to Pivot When Plans Go Awry

6:30 AM 11/10/2017

by Rebecca Ford

Pros behind 16 of this year's best picture contenders — from 'Baby Driver' to 'Shape of Water' — share their biggest surprises and how they handled curveballs on set.

This year's best picture contenders- Baby Driver and Shape of Water -Publicity-H 2017
Columbia Pictures; Fox Searchlight Pictures

As told to Aaron Couch, Rebecca Ford, Mia Galuppo, Ashley Lee, Hilary Lewis and Patrick Shanley

This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Baby Driver

    Shooting car action in camera is massively hard in a city where you need to shut down a major arterial freeway for a limited period. Most of the time is spent resetting for a take that may only last for 60 seconds. The piecemeal process of shooting in the real world can seem daunting, but the end result has a visceral energy that CGI cannot quite match. We shot the final set piece of the movie at night in a parking lot at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. I remember one night in the final week of shooting there — 4 a.m., freezing cold, the sound of cars screeching reverberating off the walls. Fumes. I kept looking over at where all the storyboard frames were pinned up, wondering if we would ever get out of there. 

  • Battle of the Sexes

    We looked exhaustively at footage from the match [between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs] from ABC and video from 60 Minutes. All of that research helped us in terms of what the court looked like, what the seats looked like, but it also helped us understand the spirit of the event. We weren't able to shoot in the real Astrodome, so we had to figure out how to re-create it, combining elements of an arena in Los Angeles along with some visual effects. Sometimes you have a theory about how things are going to work, but you don't really know until you get there. It was gratifying to see the plan that we had put in place was actually coming to fruition. 

  • Call Me by Your Name

    Andre Aciman, the book's author, came to visit the shoot and happened to be there on the day in the town square where Elio [Timothee Chalamet] tells Oliver [Armie Hammer] how he feels — for him, it had been the hardest scene to write in the book. The next day, we asked him to be in the movie. He plays a guy in the other gay couple. It was a last-minute decision because the other people ended up not being available when the schedule changed. We hoped he would say yes. [Director] Luca [Guadagnino] said, "Just ad-lib." Andre turns out to be a phenomenal actor! So comfortable, not nervous at all. His wife was sitting there and said, "I had no idea!" He had been so hands off with the movie, but we wanted him to be a part of it. He rose to the occasion, and it was pretty great.

  • Crown Heights

    I expected it to be a challenge, but I didn't realize that shooting in a New York City prison would end up being as challenging as it was. It's crazy, because you're walking into a prison, and you see all the cameras, and you think everything is fine. But then they tell you, "You can't go to the fourth floor because you can't be around those inmates." It was a maze of trying to figure out what was accepted and what wasn't in those prisons. There were times when we had the day set to shoot in a certain prison, and then two days before, they had to shut down the film crew. It wasn't like shooting in a park that would always be open. 

  • Detroit

    The initial plan was to film in Detroit, and then it turned out we had to move the production to Boston due to the tax-credit situation. All of the tax credits in Michigan had been sucked up just prior to us getting there by Transformers, whatever it was — Transformers 10 or whatever the most recent one was. So that was really disappointing, because I thought that maybe the state of Michigan would want to support a movie that was directly about the history of the city more than one about alien robots. But I was wrong. I was surprised to learn how few people in Detroit knew this story. It was among an older generation that the incident at the Algiers Hotel was well known and remembered. But people in their 20s and 30s hadn't been taught about the incident in school. 

  • Downsizing

    I'd never worked with [director] Alexander [Payne] before so it was hard for me to get a handle on how to produce for him. He's very sure about what he wants. We'd have 100 extras in a scene, and he'd be moving extras back and forth and getting the guy with the yellow shirt in the back. With Christoph [Waltz], Payne had a very specific character in mind and it was based off someone, but Christoph wanted to invent his own character. At first it was a real clash of disciplines, but, of course, they arrived at something that I think was better than either of them had in mind. I told Payne when we were done, "Now I'm ready to produce an Alexander Payne movie."

  • Dunkirk

    We shot on the beach on the 76th anniversary of the evacuation. It is really a singular place. The events of 1940 are very present there. When the tide is low enough, there's still a shipwreck of a craft from 1940 you can see that's right next to the mole [or pier]. We had really dreadful weather on a lot of days, and we'd find that various bits of the set had been blown away or washed away by the waves. The genius of our crew is they evaluated what we had, figured out what we could shoot, while the art department was fixing the set. Obviously there's no comparison with what the civilians and soldiers went through in 1940, but it was a reminder that anything is possible when people put their mind to it. 

  • I, Tonya

    All the producers saw the movie the same way going into it. We did 256 scenes in 31 days. That's the way [director] Craig [Gillespie] wanted to shoot and the spirit of the movie. If we'd had a lot of money, it would have been easier, but it wouldn't have had that scrappy feel that helps our movie. There were scenes I loved, but some had to be cut. We had a lawyer go through it because it's a true story. There were scenes we filmed based on things that Tonya [Harding] had said that got cut. At one point she said to me, "I can't prove this, but I heard from a very good source that Nancy [Kerrigan] and Jeff [Gillooly] were in on it together to take me down." I loved that. But we couldn't use it. There was a lot of crazy, but it had to be cut. 

  • Lady Bird

    We were all theater people. Timothee Chalamet was in the John Patrick Shanley play we were producing, The Prodigal Son. We had worked with Lucas Hedges and we have known him since he was 12. Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are also people we work with in New York theater. Everyone on the set grew up adoring Sondheim. So when we're shooting the film's high school production of Merrily We Roll Along, we were all just like, "We cannot screw this up." It was one thing we really spent a lot of time on, getting the look and the scale right. And all of the Sondheim people were great about it. It turned out to actually be fun because we had [writer-director] Greta's [Gerwig] best friends from high school, who had been involved in the same theater program, help us put on the show. The whole movie had that vibe of, "Let's put on a show!" 

  • Stronger

    We were continually surprised by the level of enthusiasm and passion people had for the story. When we were shooting the hockey scene where they go to the Bruins game, we were up against the Bruins' schedule because it was the end of the season. We really had one game to accomplish the scene. We told everyone in the arena that we were going to be filming something for Jeff Bauman and to stay behind for a crowd scene. The Bruins lost, so our assumption was, "Everyone's going to go home." But a giant majority stayed behind simply to cheer for Jeff, and when we rolled Jake [Gyllenhaal] out onto the ice, the entire stadium was cheering. We were all in tears.

  • The Florida Project

    Sean [Baker] is someone who's not only a writer-director but also an editor, so the story is constantly forming in his mind. One thing that's interesting is the story point that related to the mom Halley's [Bria Vinaite] storyline and the consequences of what happened at the end of the film. Originally, it was going to be based upon problems with substance abuse, and Sean realized halfway through the film as we were working that it'd be much more powerful to change the story. He spent a weekend rewriting the script. It was a challenge from a production standpoint but absolutely the right choice from a filmmaking perspective. 

  • Mudbound

    I don't think we completely anticipated how the weather [in Louisiana] could impact our production, even though we knew the flood and the plantation location was going to be another character in the film. We lost two days from tornado warnings and rainstorms. We were able to still stay on schedule, which is a testament to [director] Dee Rees and how decisive she is. We moved around in real time, and there were scenes that didn't call for rain but had to have it. Those scenes with Ronsel [Jason Mitchell] and Jamie [Garrett Hedlund] inside of that truck when it was raining brought them physically close together while they were discussing things and bonding, and they weren't originally supposed to be in there.

  • The Post

    It was amazing to watch Meryl [Streep] and Tom [Hanks] come together for the first time, and it felt like you were watching [Katharine] Hepburn and [Spencer] Tracy. You felt like you were watching people that had worked together time and time again, yet they had never worked together. They shot this amazing breakfast scene, and it was like watching a ballet. It was magic in the room because you just got to sit and listen to Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep playing Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham for three minutes straight, over and over again, and see their characters come to life. It was spectacular. 

  • The Shape of Water

    There was something surprising or challenging every day [shooting in Toronto]: unexpected storms or lightning or other issues with the elements, and then there was the issue with the car. I remember Michael Shannon was shooting a scene where his character drives up to a movie theater. He does the first take and it's great. On the second take, Michael gets out of the car and realizes he hasn't quite gotten the car into park and the car is moving, but in slow motion. Michael tries to dive back into the car to stop it, but it hits a big pole. Guillermo asks how long it'll take to fix the car but I told him, "Let's take a look at take one because I'm pretty sure that's what we're putting in the movie." And that's what we did.

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    We are meant to be in Missouri, but we landed on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. In the film, we have three billboards in a valley and somehow, with all the mountains around, it means they can't forecast weather very accurately. There was a point at which the weather looked like it might change and the line producer and I are looking at each other like, "Do we break?" These are the days that cost a couple of hundred thousand a day. It was going to throw everything to pieces if we couldn't shoot. I was praying to the universe, the gods, whatever, going, "Please. Please on this film, this one time, we have to have this work." We got the shot.