In 2001, when BMW released 'The Hire,' a series of eight short films starring Clive Owen and shot by a number of iconic directors, the manufacturer was floored by the successful results. After being viewed more than 11 million times in four short months, BMW sales spiked by 12 percent. Unsurprisingly, BMW is reprising the concept this fall with a new, 11-minute film, 'The Escape,' that sees Owen back behind the wheel as The Driver and renowned director Neill Blomkamp behind the lens.
The trailer, released this weekend, gives us a tiny taste of the hard-charging action. We wanted more. So we hooked up with Matt Mullins, chief driving instructor for BMW’s Performance Driving School and Owen’s stunt driver, to talk about challenging film sequences, how ‘The Hire’ affected his current garage, and why the camera crew was worried about the BMW hero car.
The Drive: When you got the call for this project, what went through your mind?
Matt Mullins: It was a huge honor. This film series was really big. I remember the watching the first shorts in 2001, when the E39 M5 was the baddest sedan on the planet. I must’ve watched ‘Star,’ with Madonna, shot by Guy Ritchie, about 300 times, just to see that M5 sliding around. I always thought those films were so cool. Now, my daily driver is an E39 M5. [Laughs]
We’re not allowed to talk about the new hero car, because that information hasn’t been released, but what can you reveal about the film?
We shot for ten days in Toronto. It was a full production, with closed streets, camera chase vehicles and helicopters. Some of the sequences required full attention, because you don’t know how things will go. There’s one scene where some other cars have to smash through a barricade, and I’m in the middle. There is very real car-to-car contact, and you can’t be positive everything will go according to plan. It’s a motorcade scene, and the first vehicle is to smash through the barrier, and I’m next. When the first car barrels through, you can try to predict where it will spin and end up, but you never know. I’m coming through at speed and hoping the road isn’t blocked.
Your stunt coordinator was Guy Norris. He’s responsible for the stunts in Mad Max: Fury Road, Lord of the Rings, and Suicide Squad. What did he bring to the production?
Guy is fantastic. A true pro. He likes the action big and fast, and he got all of us pushing. There are four main stunt drivers, though in the bigger sequences, there are another 15 or 20. He organized all the ideas into manageable bites and made sure everyone was hitting their mark.
How many hero cars were there?
Four. It was the same car, but you’d use each for different close-ups, interiors or exteriors. We had to take care of them, because it’s not like we had the ability to use up a ton of cars. You don’t want to tear those up by accident—though some are banged around on purpose. We used another three dozen cars in the rest of the filming. There are sequences where the hero car is moving through freeway traffic and you’re slicing in and out of other cars, so we had to plan for each of those background vehicles.
Any tough sequences stand out?
Anything involving a skid or a slide with close proximity to other cars or the camera car is always tricky. You have to end in an exact spot and sometimes you’ve got a stunt person hanging off the front of your car. In one shot, the stuntman on my hood wasn’t secured; he was just grabbing on by hand, and I’m doing 30 mph and swerving around and trusting it’ll all go as planned, and this guy won’t fly off. It’s also tough when you’ve got Dakota Fanning in the back seat and you’re sliding the car around a corner at 60 miles an hour. You’re worried about making it look good, but you also have to take care of the talent. Add in an explosion or two, and it’s exciting but demanding.
What did Dakota say after that take?
“That was awesome.” [Laughs] We did that scene in one take, and had to move on, but she seemed into it. Clive was also really switched on. He’s a charming fellow, who’s definitely a car enthusiast. He bought a bunch of BMWs even before he did the first series of films. We’d show him basic things in the cars, because he has to do some driving where it’s important to see his face.
Was he doing full maneuvers?
If we’re doing a J-turn or a power slide, Clive doesn’t do the whole move. We need the car in motion, while he’s starting an aggressive action, but then we can cut away and it’ll be me doing the rest. That said, he does a lot of driving. [Laughs] He loved the car so much, he tried to take it home after the shoot.
What would surprise people most about the car?
That it is 100 percent stock. With BMWs, you have the ability to turn the traction and stability control completely off, which blew the minds of the some of the producers. The cars we used had no modifications, beyond a rally brake designed to lock up the rear tires for a skid. Even with camera riggings and all the additional filming equipment added, the car still handled perfectly. It was nearly too much for the camera cars.
What do you mean?
We used super high-performance camera cars that would follow and shoot the hero cars. At one point, they said we had to take a little off because I was flying and they were having trouble keeping up.
How does your day job at the BMW Performance Driving School compare to stunt driving in a film?
There’s a lot of overlap. We’re doing a lot of the same things, just on a smaller scale at the academy. We teach moves, for fun or for safety, that are designed to work on a car driving at its limit and beyond. That’s one of the aims of the school. If you ever think driving looks cool in the movies and want to do it for real, don’t do it on a public road. You don’t want to end up on YouTube when it goes wrong. Come see us. We’ll teach you the skills and show you how to execute everything safely.
Watch the debut of ‘The Escape’ on October 23 at 6 p.m. EST at BMWFilms.com.