We sat down recently to talk with Paul W.S. Anderson about Death Race, his action-packed remake of Roger Corman's 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000.
Is it true you had real guns firing off the helicopters and tanks?
Anderson: Yeah, they were all functioning guns. They didn't have firing pins in them, but Charlie's Armory is close so we could have had them up and running, shooting things.
Wow, that is crazy; that's impressive. These are machines.
Anderson: These are 50-caliber Brownings, developed in the Second World War to knock Japanese kamikaze aircraft out of the air.
Anderson: So they have incredible stopping power. The ones on Tyrese's car, the Vulcan cannons, there's usually one of those on a Black Hawk helicopter gunship.
That's amazing, but I guess it makes sense. These cars are fighting machines, essentially, so to put them on there is very logical.
Anderson: I saw the movie as being a war movie as much as a comedy.
Yeah, a war movie set in a prison movie -- the dramatic possibilities seemed kind of endless to me. There is so much to do with the characters, who are very dark anyway and then you add in death.
Anderson: But that was the thrill, for me, of making the movie -- it's kind of three movies in one. I got to make my car movie, but I also got to make a prison movie. And I got to make a war movie. We looked at a lot of movies from the '70s and '80s, car movies to see how they were shot. That was really the last time people were doing everything practical. We also looked at a lot of war movies -- Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down -- because we wanted this to be an immersive kind of war experience.
It was very immersive. And, as you said, everything was practical, as are strangely so many movies right now. All the stunts, all the scenery. Everything's practical. Last year it kind felt quite the opposite with a lot of action movies and super hero movies.
Anderson: I think people are becoming a little tired. There's kind of an overdose of CGI. It's good for fantasy movies. But if you want a gritty reality, if you want peoples' hearts racing during the action scenes, the way to do it is with everything for real. So the people really feel immersed in the imagery, rather than thinking, "God that looks cool but I don't believe it for a second!"
And let me tell you, it's a much more complicated and difficult way to make movies. We were prepping this movie for a year before we shot a frame of film. My end was to put the most spectacular car stunts ever on film. Having seen every car chase movie made, I think from keystone cops onward, I really feel we succeeded in that.
Most movies are shot with one camera. How many did you have to use for these races?
Anderson: Some of the scenes we were shooting had 15 cameras -- for example, when the Dreadnought crashes, which is a 75-foot-long armor-plated truck with a tank torrent on it.
Anderson: Driving at 65, 70 miles per hour, dead stopping and crashing -- you don't want to do that many times. So we rigged that with about 15 cameras, all handheld, because the thing about doing it practically is you never quite know what is going to happen. Doing that again and again gives the movie this kind of war-reportage feel. Because everything is handheld, the camera men and women had to be really on their toes. They never quite knew when a bit of car was going to come flying towards them.
Jump out of the way! Well, it was really impressive and a lot of fun.