Interview: GETAWAY Director Courtney Solomon
by Kyle Anderson on August 30, 2013
In Getaway, Ethan Hawke plays a former race car driver named Brent Magna living in Bulgaria who is forced to drive a tricked-out Mustang Shelby for a mysterious man who has kidnapped his wife. The car is fitted with cameras so “The Voice” can see whatever is going on. It’s a race against the clock, made complicated when the car’s actual owner, Selena Gomez, tries to get back what’s hers. Getaway is a non-stop car chase film that presented its director, Courtney Solomon, with a lot of technical complications. He told us about how the film’s script informed the filmmaking, how he came to direct the movie after an 8-year directing hiatus, and how the film’s setting of Sofia, Bulgaria led to some political encounters.
NERDIST: You’ve produced quite a few movies, but you haven’t directed since 2005’s An American Haunting; what made Getaway the project that got you back in the director’s chair?
COURTNEY SOLOMON: Well, I liked the technical challenge of the movie. I really loved this idea of creating this roller coaster ride, which is essentially a big, long car chase. I love the technical side of filmmaking, and when I read it, with all the cameras mounted on the car, I just thought we could shoot chases that nobody’s ever seen and really make it intense. So, I really liked that, and I liked the simplicity of the whole thing. You get thrown into the movie right away. There’s not a lot of character backstory as you usually get in a movie; you just sort of get thrown in to Ethan’s character’s plight, and thrown onto the roller coaster, and taken on this journey, and then, suddenly, the journey’s over, and I just thought it was an interesting way of approaching storytelling. The reason I hadn’t directed between American Haunting and this is because I actually had a contract to produce for a number of years and I wasn’t allowed to direct because it would have taken too much time away from my producing “duties.” In quotations. So, basically I wasn’t allowed to, so it all sort of happened around the same time that I was finally allowed to direct again.
N: So, the cameras being mounted on the car was in the initial script you read? Because it’s an ingenious idea.
CS: It’s always been part of the story and always a part of the script because the voice is always watching them. He’s got cameras on the inside and the outside of the car.
N: Right, which is fantastic, that it’s able to be part of both the storyline and the filmmaking process. What kind of challenges and advantages did this give you in shooting all the many car chases? I’d assume the editing side of things would be the more difficult part.
CS: Oh, the editing… Me and my editor became like prison buddies. We were just locked in that room for so long it felt like a cell. [laughs] Literally, there was 630 hours of source footage for this movie and a normal movie is something like 20-25 hours of source footage. So it was something like 20 movies’ worth. Once they itemized all this stuff, it would take 2-3 days to actually just look at the footage from any given scene before we even start to cut a frame. We shot most of the stuff with 27-42 cameras rolling at the same time, seven different formats on the cameras. It was funny, because I was looking at some of the new trailer comments and someone said it looked like found-footage, and essentially it is. It’s not found-footage, but a lot of the footage was shot that way with the ones on the car and some of the ones on the street, because there were seven formats. People will understand the context, I hope, when they see the movie.
But, it was really beneficial in getting some of the most dynamic car chase angles you’d ever expect to have because of where we placed the cameras and having so many on the one side, and on the other side it was an unmitigated nightmare trying to hide one camera from another, because we were basically shooting 360 degrees.
N: [in legitimate shock] Wow…
CS: Yeah. It was technically mindboggling. And, actually, when we got beyond the editing into the mixing stage of the movie and the sound design, there was so much sound that had to be designed for the movie, because the car’s constantly moving through all these environments and there are very few moments where we’re not designing all of the sound. We designed something like 3,500 new sound effects for the movie. It was just a monster shoot, and considering what I thought in the first place was going to be a small movie, like a contained movie to some extent, it turned, in post-production, into a beast.
N: There’s a great deal of car-crashing and smashing into things in this movie as well, and the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria, are not particularly wide, so what kind of challenges did that add to the already-gargantuan struggles?
CS: It did make challenges, because we’d have stuff in the script and then we’d scout locations and figure out how to rejigger the stuff to work practically within the context of the location, as you always do, but in this particular case, I’d want to enhance something once I got out there and I kept trying to vary it up when we called for wrecks. Every single accident you see in the movie is real. There’s no CG car wreck in this movie; there’s none. Not even one. So, it was logistically very, very difficult to shoot in Sofia, but on the other side, Sofia was a saving grace. We would never have been able to do this stuff in America. I mean, I’d be in jail. We do a scene in the movie where two cop cars go down some stairs. We did that stunt and suddenly a guy comes down with two security guys, and we were shooting in the Parliament area of Sofia, and those stairs were right under the office of the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. He didn’t even know we were shooting! Suddenly, we wreck these two cars which make an unholy racket going down those stairs, I gotta tell you. So, he came out and got the idea we were shooting a movie, and we shook his hand and took a picture with him and he said “good luck” and walked away. Imagine if we did that at the White House or Capitol Hill.
N: You’d have been sniped before they even came out to talk to you.
CS: Exactly. So, in that way, Bulgaria was the saving grace because we were actually able to do this stuff, because I really wanted to do it practically, and when we were shooting Ethan and Selena, we created a special rig so 95% of their scenes are shot on the fly at 50 miles per hour.
N: So, they’re actually in the car, going that fast, doing their scenes?
CS: Correct. Ethan actually did three days of the stunt scenes himself, too, so he actually did some really dangerous stuff, and thankfully nothing bad happened. But, he was a trooper.
N: I’m sure he did, but did he have to go through a special driving school to be able to drive like Brent Magna?
CS: He went for three days to hang out with NASCAR drivers and drive around tracks in preparation, and also just to be in the car to understand how those guys who actually are NASCAR drivers really drive and control the gear shifts and the wheels and everything else, because it’s not how you might envision. So, he did have some training, but, frankly, he is admittedly not a guy who drives a lot because he lives in New York City, and he still did it. He had two stunt guys across from him in this one sequence, you know, sandwiching him in his car and the cars are connecting. Literally bumping back and forth at 50 miles per hour. Anything can go wrong in those circumstances. Because we did so many of these stunts, things always went wrong.
N: How many cars, about, did you go through?
CS: I know exactly how many because I knew I’d get asked the question. It’s 130. About 60 are actually in the movie and the rest are takes that didn’t make it. You know, because every time you do a take with that stuff, you have to take the cars away and bring in new cars.
N: Since most of the cars are cop cars, I’d imagine you just have a bunch of replicas lying around.
CS: Yeah, we have ones we outfitted that we bought, but then there were unmarked cop cars. You’d be surprised. That’s what I kept thinking, but there were unmarked cop cars, BMW cop cars, there’s Opels, there’s motorcycles, there’s black BMWs; a wide array of cars, and it always turns out that the one you want to have three of, you only have one or two of, and in some cases only one because we were in Bulgaria.
N: How many of the Mustangs were there?
CS: There were 11 Mustangs. We trashed basically eight of them, and one real Shelby got wrecked by mistake in a scene that wasn’t supposed to be doing any serious action. It was a “pretty” scene that turned ugly. You know, I’m a producer as well, so that kind of stuff’s depressing. [laughs]
You can catch all the high-speed carnage in Getaway, in theaters right this second.