Going Pedal To The Metal With “F9” Stunt Coordinator Andy Gill
Any mention of the words “fast” and “furious” immediately brings to mind one of film’s most successful franchises. But for stunt coordinator Andy Gill, it’s another word beginning with “f” that makes these movies so special.
“Truthfully, it’s the family feeling,” says Gill during a recent Zoom interview. “Fast has become like a big family. I’ve been working with Spiro (Razatos), the second unit director, for 36 years. The people around us… probably 15 years. So everybody knows everybody’s kids. Everybody knows everybody’s wives. We all get along. There are no egos. Everybody’s there to make the best movie we can.”
This is Gill’s fourth Fast & Furious ride as the second unit stunt coordinator. And as part of the team that brings the motorized action to life, he assures that fans won’t be disappointed.
“I could go on forever about all the stuff we did and the cars we jumped,” continues Gill. “There’s a little bit of carnage—edge of your seat—going on. They don’t call it Fast & Furious for nothing.”
Gill credits director Justin Lin, working from a script co-written with Daniel Casey, for pushing the action envelope. “He doesn’t want to see the same thing. So you’ve got to take the gags you’ve done and twist them up a little bit,” explains Gill. “‘I know we can crash this car. But how can we make it look different?”
F9’s storyline finds Dominic (Vin Diesel) facing off against his brother Jakob (John Cena), a deadly assassin who has joined forces with longtime nemesis Cipher (Charlize Theron). There’s so much driving action this time around, duties were split. While the first unit shot chase scenes in London, Razatos, Gill and a stunt team of approximately a dozen traveled between Thailand and Tbilisi, Georgia.
In Thailand, a harrowing chase through the jungle features four lead vehicles, a motorcycle and seven military G-Wagons. It was quickly evident that most of the terrain was so thick with growth, driving through it would be impossible. The search led to an abandoned palm oil plantation. Though overgrown, it could be modified to create F9’s jungle chases.
But the locale wasn’t without hurdles. An early test run revealed the path was slippery, but workable. Then it started to rain. The storm lasted only a few minutes. But it was enough to cause concern.
“All that oil from the nuts had been saturating that ground for eons,” continues Gill. “I think Hank Kingi was in a G-Wagon and I told him to feel it out before it dries up. He was on flat land and couldn’t move. It was like ice. All four wheels were spinning and he wasn’t going anywhere. Oh boy, this is not going to be fun.”
Fixing the problem entailed mapping out a path, digging it up, and repacking it with an oil-free substance. “I was designing roads through trees, roads across big hillsides and everything else,” adds Gill. “Once we designed it, Greens would grass it in and let it grow so it looked pristine. Then we’d go in and tear it up with cars.”
The extra construction came in handy for another reason. In true Fast & Furious form, the chase leads to a field of land mines. Every time a vehicle drove over one — BOOM. Gill was concerned that the key vehicles, particularly the motorcycle ridden by Letty, Michelle Rodriguez’s character, would have trouble navigating the large holes where the incendiary devices were planted.
“We came up with a system to put grates across the holes,” says Gill. “And then effects put pretty big explosions underground so that they came up as we were getting to them or driving over them. We’re not driving beside them. The motorcycle could ride over the grate without any worry about hitting a hole.”
The scenes in Tbilisi proved just as challenging. One showstopper finds the Fast & Furious vehicles rigged with superpowered magnets that can draw and repel metal at the flick of a switch.
“Oh, the magnets… that’s a really cool sequence,” says Gill when asked about it. ”When Spiro and I read it, the same question came up, ‘So how strong are these magnets?’”
As this is Fast & Furious, there’s enough force to send enemy vehicles sailing in every direction. Tapping the inner child within them, the second unit team broke out a set of toy cars to brainstorm ideas with Lin.
“Maybe one’s going to come out of your side and try to T-bone Dom. And he repels it and it goes up and over and never hits him or goes back the other way,” explains Gill. “A lot of ideas were thrown out until we ended up with the ones that stayed in the movie. It’s really cool stuff. I mean, double sidewinders — when he sucks two SUVs to him and negatively charges them away. Spiro shot that really well.”
Gill is particularly fond of a gag that has Letty towing around a SUV. Initially, it was supposed to be repelled via magnet. But Gill wanted to up the ante. “I said, ‘What if she doesn’t see him in time? And what if he crawls up on top of her and now he’s got a wheel in her trunk?’”
Lin loved the idea and production set the wheels in motion. Letty’s trunk was fitted with a steel plate to support the SUV. A hidden ramp helped the SUV drive into the trunk.
After it is lodged in place, Letty drags it for several blocks trying to shake it loose. The effects team prepared a rig to hold it in place, but the limitations of the location prohibited the use of such an extensive apparatus.
Gill had a solve. He and Razatos had done a similar stunt years before. “You can put the car on the back of Letty’s Nova, just like it’s supposed to — nobody in it — put a cable with a hook on it that’s not closed so that cable will come off. Then run it around the front and up to a high pitch point,” he told the effects team. “At some point, the car’s going to drive out. The cable’s going to start lifting that front. The SUV has to go in the air and turn over.”
The effects team was skeptical. Gill told them to test it. “They came back about two, three days later and they were like kids on Christmas,” he remembers. “‘You’ve got to see this! It hits right where you wanted to hit.’ It’s something that Spiro and I learned 30 years ago because we didn’t have the money and effects to build these big rigs.”
Originally scheduled to hit U.S. theaters in May 2020, the pandemic delayed F9’s release to June 25. Gill believes it’s the perfect movie to lure fans back to the big screen.
“Fast & Furious are feel-good films,” says Gill. “You go, you watch some great action, you watch the back and forth, you laugh a little, you have your heartstrings pulled a little and you go home happy. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Featured image: Han’s Toyota Supra (left) and Dom’s Dodge Charger (right) attempt to stop the monstrous three-section armored vehicle dubbed the Armadillo in F9, co-written and directed by Justin Lin. Courtesy Universal Pictures.