The title of the new DreamWorks Pictures movie Need for Speed says it all—fast cars, fast women and plenty of action and burning rubber along the way. Based on the hugely successful racing video game franchise created by Electronic Arts, with over 140 million copies sold so far, Need for Speed taps into what makes the American myth of the open road so appealing and tells the story of a near-impossible cross-country journey that begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption. The film features a strong ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson, Dominic Cooper and Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, a blue-collar mechanic who races muscle cars on the side in an unsanctioned street-racing circuit.
The film was directed by Scott Waugh, the former stunt man who directed the well-received Act of Valor, and shot by DP Shane Hurlbut, ASC, whose credits include Act of Valor, Deadfall, Terminator Salvation and Into the Blue. For both men, the first challenge was choosing the right camera for the project, and to this end, the DP did extensive (and costly) camera tests with nine different formats.
"Scotty wanted to make sure everyone involved, including the studio, all agreed on the look for the movie, so we tested 35mm, RED EPIC, ARRI ALEXA, Canon C500, Canon 1D C, Blackmagic, GoPro HERO3, Sony F65 and F55," reports Hurlbut. "And we all agreed on the Canon C500 as our A-camera, mainly because Scotty wanted the film to be very real. There’s no CGI cars or helicopters at all, and all the stunts are practical. The actors are actually driving the cars, and it’s all about the realism. Scotty had seen so many movies where the actors are put in a greenscreen environment and then fake the driving, and he didn’t want that. He wanted them to be out in the open and in the elements, and if it was cloudy, we had clouds, and if it was sunny, the sun would ricochet off the car interiors. And he felt the C500 would deliver all that realism."
Both also felt that the new C500 outperformed all the other cameras for night shooting, of which there would be plenty. "I like to take any camera and use it to its best abilities," adds Hurlbut, "and the C500 was pretty untested at this point. There was no system wrapped around it. Scotty and I both love ‘trailblazing,’ and it’s what we were born to do—go against the norm by creatively taking an untested camera system and bringing it to a point where camera assistants can operate with it, where it holds up to the daily wear and tear and bashing it gets on the road. Everyone told us that you couldn’t shoot a major motion picture on a still camera, but we did, on Act of Valor, because it was right for the story."
By contrast, the ALEXA, the team’s B-camera, is a proven system. "ARRI wraps it with a complete support and power system because they’ve been making movies for decades," notes the DP. "But Canon is new to the motion-capture business. They have turned to third-party vendors to come up with remote on and off, how to power the C500 other than by an internal battery and so on."
The camera crew, led by 1st A.C. Darin Necessary, and the rental house Revolution Cinema Rentals, along with Element Technica, had to innovate and engineer an entire rigging and power system around the C500. "Once we decided to go with the Canon platform, we were manufacturing pieces and parts, power bases and cages—all in just a month—so they were ready to go on day one of the shoot," recalls Hurlbut.