ESPN Network: | | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY

Head-spinning experience

Special to Page 2

How do you shoot the fastest car chase scene ever filmed? Start by heading to Toronto, shutting down the biggest streets in the city for nine nights, and lighting up more than two miles of those streets. Hire some stunt drivers to simulate real traffic. Build a race car designed for film making, outfit it with a stash of cameras, throw in a director and camera operator, and make sure it can reach 150 mph. Finally, put Sylvester Stallone and Kip Pardue in prototype race cars, and start the engines.

Renny Harlin, Sylvester Stallone
Director Renny Harlin, second from right, discusses a scene with Sylvester Stallone during the filming of "Driven."
That's what I did to film a key chase sequence in "Driven," the new racing movie I directed. The shoot was a carefully orchestrated ballet of cars. The prototypes, which traveled at speeds up to 180 mph on the streets, at times rocketed through the stunt-driver traffic coming at them. Everyone had to know exactly where to go to avoid disaster.

Knowing exactly where to go seemed to be the motto for this movie. "Driven" is set in the world of CART racing, and we worked closely with the real CART community to get extraordinary access and footage on the 2000 circuit. We were outsiders in their world, and we needed to learn their rules and where we could safely shoot.

Filming at the nine races in 2000 meant adhering to a minute-by-minute schedule. A race is a giant event with billions of dollars of equipment, and we were in the middle of it doing our scenes. We had to be thoroughly rehearsed, organized and ready when our windows of opportunity opened. After all, when the race starts, it starts -- and you gotta get out of the way.

What I filmed at these races doesn't necessarily match the action we have scripted, but that's OK because I was able to combine the footage of 100,000 to 200,000 people in the stands with staged action that we shot later.

While the enthusiasm of these hordes of fans was wonderful, sometimes their disbelief at seeing Sylvester Stallone created audio that we didn't want. Too many comments like "Rocky!" or "Yo, Adrian!" forced us to re-record sound later. It definitely wasn't an easy way to make a movie.

Renny Harlin
Harlin says he wanted to put movie viewers into the driver's seat.
I was also a little stressed because "Driven" had its own pit area at the end of pit road, which looked identical to the real pits. I was afraid a real driver would pull in there during a race, and with only actors and extras changing your tires, there's no guarantee that they'll stay on!

The similarity of our pit and the real ones was key -- it was very important to me that this film be as realistic as possible. I have a lot of friends who are drivers, so I have an obligation to be true to life. We used the bodies of real cars to build 20 movie cars, which differ only in the engines. Race cars have 900 horsepower engines, but we used a 600 horsepower V8. The actors just turned the key and the car worked.

Another important aspect of making it realistic was giving the audience the best point of view. I wanted them to know what it's like to be a participant, not an observer. I wanted to take the audience places they've never been -- inside the engine, inside the driver's head, all the way into the wall during a crash and 360 degrees as the car spins around. I wanted to give the audience a head-spinning experience.

Technology for this type of action movie is moving forward so fast that you have to really stay on your toes, and I used a variety of camera lenses and computer techniques in "Driven." One of the special cameras, which resembled a periscope, was mounted behind the driver. It took a couple of turns, however, and came out in front of the driver's eyes. The audience then got the exact point of view of the driver all the way down to the track.

  I was also a little stressed because "Driven" had its own pit area at the end of pit road, which looked identical to the real pits. I was afraid a real driver would pull in there during a race, and with only actors and extras changing your tires, there's no guarantee that they'll stay on!  

This film could be done with practically no visual effects, but our ability to digitally modify the action and cars enhanced the live racing footage, allowing us to move the camera seamlessly and show the audience things in new ways. For example, you will see a crash happen in extreme slow motion, and as we move your point of view through the scene, you'll see the actors crash and then the debris break off. We can augment the real car stuff with the very dangerous stuff -- flying through a crash and through debris -- on the computer.

We did crash about 15 cars during filming, using a lot of different techniques. The safest involved rigging some cars with complicated pulleys, and having these vehicles pull other cars at speeds of more than 100 mph. The towed cars crashed into each other, and we just hoped the cameras were in the right place. This allowed me to create racing and crash sequences that people have never seen because they simply could not be done safely.

But I'm trying to convey that racing is not just being brave and driving fast. These people are athletes with incredible physical training and concentration, somewhat like mountain climbers or parachute jumpers. When people are that close to the edge, they feel more alive than ever.

But don't take my word for it. In the theater, when you're in the driver's seat, you'll see what I mean.

Renny Harlin (real name Lauri Renny Harjola), who has directed such films as "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger," also produced "Driven."

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

driven director 

Stallone: What drove me to 'Driven'

Pick the best celebrity driver

ESPN The Magazine: Stuart Scott's
Bump 'N Run, with Sylvester Stallone

 Sylvester Stallone and Renny Harlin discuss their love for the project.
avi: 4481 k
RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN
Cable Modem

 "Driven" clip: Whatever it takes to win.
avi: 5031 k
RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN
Cable Modem

 Check out the trailer for "Driven."
avi: 9639 k
RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN
Cable Modem

Copyright ©2001 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. Employment opportunities at