Hot Wheels, Crazy Car Stunts in "Getaway"

Warner Bros.' new action-thriller “Getaway” – in which a former race car driver (Ethan Hawke) is pitted against the clock, desperately trying to save the life of his kidnapped wife – boasts of spectacular and death-defying car stunts conceptualized by stuntman and choreographer Charlie Picerni, Sr.

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A veteran of many action blockbusters, Picerni previously worked with producer Joel Silver on several films, including "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon." He recalls, "When I first read the script for `Getaway' it was loaded with action and I knew this would probably be the biggest movie in terms of car stunts I've done and I've done a lot of them. Every night there was a different car chase. Director Courtney Solomon had a mantra: This movie has to be fast driving and hard hitting!"

The stunts became a family affair with Picerni's sons: Steve, the stunt driver double for Brent; and Chuck, also a stunt driver.

Solomon conveys, "I had an amazing stunt crew. Anybody who gets in the car and says, 'Okay, I'm going to go 70 miles an hour, hit another car, flip up a ramp into the air, go 60 feet upside down and come crashing down on a real concrete highway,' and then walks out of the car more charged than they were when they started the whole thing has a certain mentality...and my utter respect."

The Mustang, or "hero car" as it was called, in which Ethan Hawke races through Sofia in Bulgaria is in almost every frame in the film. Steve Picerni drove the Shelby, going 70mph, with two police cars in pursuit and 25 stunt cars coming straight at him. The scene culminated with a "double cannon" -- both police cars crash and catapult over the Shelby.

Most of the chase and crash stunts were carried out with seven Mustangs that were outfitted with a Shelby shell. A perpetual flow of 130 vehicles, including police cars, pedestrian cars, motorcycles and large trucks had to always be in working condition with multiple duplicates on standby. Some nights every Mustang was under repair.

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By the end of the first month of filming, the production had already amassed its own junkyard.

Shooting the complicated car chases practically presented a significant challenge. Early on, the filmmakers decided that, instead of doing second unit work simultaneously, they would first shoot the second unit action sequences in Bulgaria.

In order to facilitate the action, large sections of the city needed to be closed to public access so Solomon could manipulate and manage the environment. Adding to that, the entire production shot nights.

The crew and stunt teams were there working months before the actors arrived. Hawke, who at the time was in New York doing a play, recalls, "Courtney would send me emails describing the stunt they had done the night before. I've never had that experience. It actually made it a lot easier because we could just match to what happened in the stunt rather than trying to make the stunt match to what we might have done. It just made so much sense."

In fact, 95 percent of everything in which the characters appear is actually the actors in a car, instead of on a stage with a green screen. A "mick rig" was designed, consisting of one of the Mustangs with a Shelby shell, attached to a small truck equipped with cameras in which Solomon and Picerni sat.

The "mick rig" enabled them to drive Selena Gomez and Hawke around the streets of Bulgaria at high speeds.

Solomon explains, "We actually put cop cars rushing up next to them. They were literally in the middle of the action, whipping lefts and rights and turns. When the car went around the corner at 60 the G-force was taking them that way. They felt the shaking and rattling. And that energy made a difference on screen."

Hawke had already spent some time preparing for his own stunts. Before arriving in Bulgaria, Hawke attended a racing school to learn how to properly maneuver like a professional.

Hawke says, "My brother turned me on to a school out in Ohio that teaches you how to do a 180 and drive 120 miles an hour and zip around without hurting yourself. I think it's the biggest rush I've felt since the first time I went on stage. I'd never experienced anything like it. I thought my head was going to come off."

He got to experience that exhilaration again for four days on location, doing his own driving for some intense stunts.

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Solomon says, "Ethan's a brave guy, he wanted to be behind the wheel for real. That's Ethan in the car, with two cars scraping against him. That's Ethan weaving in and out of the traffic and ramming another car up against the wall. That's Ethan going out of control in the intersection."

"We had the best stunt team I've ever been involved with," Hawke adds. "The Picernis were just pure testosterone."

Opening across the Philippines on Oct. 16, “Getaway” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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