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Old February 5th, 2010, 06:56 AM   #16
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I'm not a member of this organization yet but if you get a hold of them, they crash cars all the time and you may be able to sweet talk them into letting you film it.

They aren't too far from where you live and they'll make sure everything is done safely.

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Old February 5th, 2010, 11:10 AM   #17
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Do not use a live, real driver! Even with your 5 point harness, you never considered that the steering column and engine could push through the firewall and crush his ribs. My suggestion would be to back up the car 30 feet from the tree, lock the steering wheel, then use some remote control to floor the accelerator. Have a dummy in the driver's seat.
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Old February 5th, 2010, 11:58 AM   #18
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I was involved in a shoot a number of years ago where they drove a car into a house. this was for a youth drunk driving video but different. the producer ( who also works for the local ambulance service) was able to coordinate the taping into a mock disaster training exercise for the local agencies.

The house was going to be torn down anyway by the owner so he allowed some early demo work.

We had State Highway, county sheriff, Emergency 911 center, local fire/rescue, life flight, tow all on hand and the filming was taped as a 'real time' event with staggered 'arrivals' to simulate actual response times.

We even had two Cleveland TV stations there to cover the event.

The funny thing is I was the 'master' camera and was feeding radio traffic into my camera and as we were seconds away from drive the car into the house, I started hearing call out tones in my ear and noticing the fire rescue guys looking at each other. a real two car head on with 7 injuries had just happen about 5 minutes from our location.

We lost fire/rescue and life flight ( they were the stand-by chopper but got pressed into service). we decided to run the car into the house and picked up the accident response a week later.

I don't remember all the details for the car setup, but from what I remember the driver was in a 5 point harness with helmet and lots and lots of padding/protection around the steering column. also the windshield had been removed and a ignition kill switch added.<edit> also a 'hit point' was created in the house to make the house break away a little easier but safely ( like avoiding anything load bearing)

from what you've posted, the fact you haven't spoken to police/fire/rescue before now is a big error. this isn't one of those 'ask forgiveness after' type of things, even on private property, if they didn't have knowledge about it prior I could see charges being files , especially is they were to get calls from passers by of a car into a tree.

I can tell you from the experience I had, if the producer was to try and pull that off without the cooperation of the different agencies involved, it would not have happened.
John Sirb
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Last edited by John Sirb; February 5th, 2010 at 12:00 PM. Reason: added extra info
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Old February 5th, 2010, 04:16 PM   #19
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this is why I posted the question in the first place. I don't know what I'm doing. I wouldn't be trying to research it if I wasn't concerned with my safety.

what if:
I practice stopping that particular car EXACTLY where I want it, consistently EVERY time. and I rig the car up for safety like previously mentioned. and stop the car JUST short of the tree. take the car back to the shop, remove the drivetrain/weaken and take it back up. then shove the car into the tree from a standstill using a tractor? it'll get the desired effect if we speed up in post. and if the cops are there to survey, and the medics prepared to check me over, could that be doable?
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Old February 5th, 2010, 04:32 PM   #20
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You need to learn how to use different camera angles and learn how to edit.
Shoot the car coming / cut to shot of tree / cut to drivers face / cut to airbag filling screen / cut to shot of car from behind against tree with smoke coming from under hood.
Of course these shots are just suggestions, but at any rate you don't really need to crash a car to pull this off if you know how to shoot and edit.

All the Best!
David W. Jones
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Old February 5th, 2010, 04:59 PM   #21
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Ok, after thinking this through, this is how you might be able to do it if you must crash a real car:
1. Position the car against the tree where you want it to hit.
2. Straighten the steering wheel, then bolt or lock the steering wheel so it can't move at all.
3. Reverse the car 50 feet.
4. Attach a 10lb barbell or weight on top of the gas pedal, then tie a rope connecting the gas pedal, looped through the steering wheel, then out the window so it's out of camera view. Hold onto the rope.
5. Put in your crash dummy.
6. Start the car, let go of the rope, which allows the gas pedal to go down and your car should crash on it's mark.
7. After the crash, replace the dummy with your talent and shoot the closeups.

For this shot you'll still need the fire department on hand. The car might catch fire upon impact, or you may start a wildfire. In the worse case situation, the car might just glance the tree, then you'll have a runaway car!

On second thought you'll be better off leaving this to the professionals.
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Old February 5th, 2010, 11:40 PM   #22
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Most likely outcome is that the car will hit the tree and it won't be anywhere near as dramatic as you think it will or something will go wrong with the camera and you'll miss it or ---

I would not assume you'll get it right the first time. I think the studios used to modify the cars so they had breakaway/ hinged panels that would run into the tree at low speed and crumple along the prepared "fault" lines, then the footage would be speeded up to make it look like a high speed crash. And the car could be put back in pre-crash condition and the shot could be done over and over until it looked right.

You might rummage through old issues of American CInematographer to see if you can find something on how the studios used to do this. I know they used models with hinged or breakaway parts for naval battle scenes

Safest way is a CGI car crash. 3D car models are available as are tree models.

Let's see - 3D car model approaches tree, then a huge ball of fire from the front of the car carefully obscures the fact that the car hasn't really hit the tree and crumpled, then a shot of the deformed model sitting wrapped around the tree.

If you use a real car - fake it as people have suggested with several shots so you don't actually see the crash.
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Old February 6th, 2010, 11:08 AM   #23
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Here's a thought:

Pull the car up to the tree slowly. Then, shoot the scene entirely in reverse. Essentially have the driver/actor re-enact being in a crashed/frightened position, put the car in reverse, then step on it, driving back onto the road and straightening out driving backwards 20 feet or so. (Hopefully this is a rarely travelled road you intend to shoot this on or you can have police close it down) Then, after a few takes of this, go home & damage the car, take fenders/bumpers off, sledgehammer the hood etc and pull it back up against the tree. Shoot a post crash scene to be edited together surveying & panning the crash.

Then in editing reverse the footage of the car driving in reverse thus making it appear to be going forwards. Just a thought, someone else might be able to say how it should come out. Or do a few test takes & reverse it in your editing software. See how it looks.

For what it's worth if the tree is on private property you can be sued for punitive damages. Basically just punishment for your thoughtlessness.
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Old February 6th, 2010, 11:25 AM   #24
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Look at the current OnStar commercial from Gm where a deer runs out in the road and the driver hits a tree...but you really don't see the driver hit the tree, you "fill in the blanks" between the swerve, a long shot of taillights and a tree, and a blurry inside shot of a broken windshield and some hands...effective and nobody gets hurt.... / Battle Vaughan
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Old February 6th, 2010, 11:37 AM   #25
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If you don't have $1,000, you can't afford the medics or cops. Doing either will alert everyone you're shooting something, so you'll probably need a shooting permit. As soon as you ask for professional help, you're on the radar and can get fined for not having a shooting permit. You probably won't get a permit if you're doing a stunt and don't have serious production liability insurance (the most expensive part of all!). If something actually goes wrong...dude, you're hosed.

I'd seriously recommend:
1. Finding an artistic, many-cut, even somewhat abstracted way to give the impression of a crash. Think filmic, storytelling wise, not stunt wise. The edits and cuts can be enhanced in post. Don't forget that a blast to a full white screen and great audio effects can be just as effective...then fade back from white or black, showing the wrecked car. Like Battle's post above, I've seen this done in countless commercials and TV shows and even features, and it plays just fine.
2. Damage the front of the car WHILE THE CAR IS STATIONARY, AND NO ONE IS INSIDE. This way you turn what might be a stunt into an art/production design issue instead, and can probably be accomplished at a junkyard with the help of a wrecking ball or crane (lift the car from its rear fender and drop it).
3. Transport the car to the location and have it set gently against what it theoretically hit. You can add smoke or steam in post, or do it practically with a fog machine under the hood.

This all seems sane and quite possibly the cheapest approach, which (if done tastefully) could translate well onscreen.
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Old February 6th, 2010, 11:41 AM   #26
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I'd just do as David Jones suggested. You can do a very convincing job without showing the impact.

Unless you have a major budget (which apparently you don't), you will end up either; disappointed (20 mph won't do to much damage to an '88 marquis (or whatever it is)), or someone will get injured or arrested (maybe both).

You may even pull off the hat-trick and be disappointed, injured, and arrested.
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Old February 6th, 2010, 02:27 PM   #27
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Yeah, you need someone on set with real, practical experience?

Wonder what Tiger Woods is doing these days?

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Old February 6th, 2010, 02:52 PM   #28
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I read through this wondering if anyone would suggest shooting it in reverse, I see that David Barnett added this thought this morning. It's a very effective choice, and if it seems "low rent", I will say that I've probably shot this approach on more studio features/TV shows than actual crashes.

The bottom line is that all of us as lifetime consumers of movies and TV have seen cars crash into trees, other cars, sides of buildings etc. often in an increasingly spectacular fashion thanks to CGI. As such, you have to be extra creative when planning a low-budget version of this to keep it from looking cheesy. To invest a lot of time, energy or money into this scenario on a low budget project, one should examine if those resources could do more good elsewhere than in that single 2 seconds of screen time.

What often happens with budding filmmakers is that they can get hung up on what seems like the exciting part of the process but lose sight of the big picture, which is what will the experience be for the viewer. No-one has yet asked Alec questions about the style of the film, what leads up to the crash, why the crash occurred, is this the pivotal moment of the film or just one in a series of events, etc. This scene could be shot any number of ways, but what fits the rhythm of the film best? If the sequence leading up to it is fast paced and fast cut, then a series of quick cuts to suggest the crash will work fine; but if the impact is a last minute surprise to the driver, or is to be comic in tone, there are other approaches that might be better (none of which necessarily have to involve actually hitting the tree with the car to simulate).

A few years ago I was asked to shoot a short film that ended up going to Sundance. It was a quirky black comedy in which halfway through the Rapture occurred (not a religious movie, mind you, quite the opposite) and in the midst of it, a detective walks down the street talking on his cel phone, oblivious to the chaos around him as people are being "taken up". As written, at the end of the shot he walks out and a car with no driver smashes into the side of a building behind him. During pre-production, the director and producer were talking about insurance, stunts, scheduling half a day to shoot the crash etc. I suggested that what might be more in keeping with the comedy would be an anti-climactic crash, i.e. the car simply bouncing up onto the curb and hitting a spindly little street sign that falls over with a tiny thud. Not only was this a much funnier button to the scene, it was much simpler to shoot, although it did still require a stunt driver and some hidden ramp behind the curb.

While that may not be specifically appropriate to this film, the point is that it's most useful to think about how a given sequence serves the rest of the film and then figure out how to shoot it, hopefully coming up with something both simple and effective--but first and foremost, SAFE.
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Old February 6th, 2010, 04:08 PM   #29
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smash up one side of a bit with a sledge hammer.
put the car up against the tree. put it in reverse. floor it.
reverse shot in editing.
get a big sound effect.
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Old February 8th, 2010, 03:32 PM   #30
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the official plan is thus:

shoot the car driving into the tree in reverse. I personally like this idea. It's way safer, and with a little bit of creative editing may actually look better than the actual thing in the normal direction. I'll have to do some practice shots with my handycam and see what works best.
after that shot is perfect, and we have the shots of the car driving around that we need, it'll be "crunch time".
I may have mentioned this part before, but I'm going to take out the engine/tranny, weaken the frontend considerably, and then push it into the tree with our tractor. if we shoot the car crunching and speed it up, that may make a convincing wreck. I may have to cut the front springs a bit to keep consistency with the drivetrain out. but overall, this may be the cheapest and effective solution. no one gets endangered, and we still get to wreck the real car.
we will be shooting with three Canon xh-a1 cameras, and I'll have my little handycam fastened securely to the passenger seat headrest. that one will be given some sort of effect or filter so that it purposely doesn't match the quality of the a1's.

I'd like to thank everyone for helping me think outside the "just crash it and film it" approach. It's all part of the learning process, but I'm glad I got advice before just trying it. I still need to get pics up of the Marquis. It's a neat old ride. too bad it's not worth saving.
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