Crash Cam: Filmmaking Inside The Box

Let’s look at how the crash cam world has changed because of the Canon 5D. It has replaced the eyemo that used to be a clapper of a 35 or 16mm with bad lenses. It could be blown up, bashed into, driven over, or you could even have a car land right on it. I used them on Terminator: Salvation, the Arri III Crash tube that Michael Bay perfected for Bad Boys back in the day. It is an Arri III with very expensive Panavision, Cooke or Arri glass in an aluminum tube that can take some serious abuse. This was my go to Crash Tube for all the bashing in the Moto Terminator chase, as well as in Act of Valor when we shot a missile at the truck and blew it up. That car slid right into that baby. Obviously the Arri III is essential for high speed work. It will go to 120fps, which was employed on both films. But what about 24fps crash cams? We used up to 6 at a time on AOV, whether we were aiming mini guns, 50 cal or just plain driving the camera over it. We put the Canon 5D in a Pelican case and then shot it or blasted it. Canon or Zeiss ZE glass was sacrificed for the art form of camera placement.

Crash cam

Front of the crash cam housing rigged to an RC bus

We cut out an 80mm hole for the still lens, and then a small portion of the back was etched out so that you could view your shot, press record and run like crazy. This became an intricate part of making Deadfall in Montreal last year. Our stunt was a Town Car losing control after hitting a deer at dawn. The camera slides, spins a 360 and then hits a bank. The car spirals though the air and lands, killing the driver, but Olivia Wilde and Eric Bana seem ok. I used 8 Canon 5Ds to pull off this crash, and I have to say it is a crash sequence that you have never experienced before. It’s intimacy with the Canon cameras once again that allowed for immersive coverage, so you feel like you are in the car.

Crash cam

Back of the crash cam housing rigged for a shot where the bus flies off of a ramp

To break this down, we had several different shooting environments. Inside the car after it hit the deer was practical on location. We used a 5D with a Panavision 35mm rigged in between the front seats. On the road where the car spins out of control, we used 35mm cameras in fields to show the wide spectacle of it all, along with rig shots to the front and rear tires to show the brakes locking up and the front wheel turning.  My favorite camera was the one that we placed on the road naked, no crash housing, just a 5D with a Zeiss ZE 21mm.  We placed a water bottle on the road, and the stuntman slid right over the top of it, which was the shot. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky said, “Action!” and the car slid and headed right for the camera. BAM! The 5D was blasted about 50 yards down the snow covered road into a snow bank while still recording. YEAH BABY!!! Take two didn’t go any better, but the camera survived it. Unfortunately, all of its brains were scrambled, and it lost all of our saved settings. After take 3, the camera did not come back.

Crash Cam

Crash cam housing rigged to a bus for Trane AC commercial

The next location was inside the car, back on stage with a rig that we called the BBQ spit rig. Imagine a car put on a rotisserie rig that spins the actors upside down in the car as it flies through the air. We employed 3 Canon 5Ds in low angles embedded in the car to take in the experience of flipping upside down. The one in the back seat showed Olivia Wilde getting tossed all over, her hair flying, her beautiful body being slammed up against the door and glass shards flying through the air. It was spectacular.

Crash Cam on Act of Valor

Zeiss glass being used in a crash housing on “Act of Valor”

The last location was back at the practical location at the base of the bank where they originally flipped over. This is where the Pelican case gave us the ability to put the camera in many places.  The stunt and special EFX’s team had a good idea where the car would land, but we only had one shot. So I placed 6 cameras in Pelican cases with all 24mm L series glass in an array where they estimated the car would land. I put some of them a little short so the car would roll right over them, and three others right where they said the impact would be. We didn’t miss it. We had coverage on a crash that was unique. Up to this point in time, we would never be able to afford doing this on a small budget psychological thriller. Mike Svitak and I had a blast covering this crash. On a side note regarding lighting, we had a 20 minute window of light to shoot this whole sequence. What challenges have you had when shooting action sequences?

Act of Valor Crash Cam


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