Vaughn Gittin Jr has certainly done it this time. He has unleashed the pyromaniac in all of us by making one of the coolest drift videos ever. I feel like this has been a dream of mine for a while now, but it has never come to fruition until now. It takes months of planning and great execution to pull something like this off and I was giddy as a school girl when I was told I could tag along for the shoot. It gave me the opportunity to show you Speedhunters out there a bit of the behind the scenes action, shot-by-shot.
If Vaughn were shooting a full length moving about drifting back to the future, then I’m guessing this would be the poster. Mustangs were never meant to fly, but there is something so right about that big American muscle car flying through fire.
I can only imagine how the meeting went when Vaughn approached his sponsors with the idea. “So I drift around fire clipping points and then eventually jump over more fire…” Err…
This photo was taken pre-singed eyebrows. After driving all day while filming Octane Academy what better way to spend the night than to drive some more?
The director was non-other than my close friend and director Andy Laputka. I met him over eight years ago in Beijing for the very first drift event in China. We both have come a long way in our respective careers since then.
These were not the average pyrotechnics that one would smuggle across from Mexico, these were real Hollywood special effects!
Which meant there were real firemen and real paramedics standing by in case anyone actually got burned.
Shooting would commence as soon as it got dark which was around 9pm.
The location was located just 100 miles outside of Los Angeles at Willow Springs International Raceway.
It cost more than $1000 per hour to rent all of the equipment needed to shoot this film.
Vaughn’s car was getting the new and improved updated livery applied, so while everyone was waiting for the star of the show they used Vaughn’s street car as a stand-in.
As soon as it got dark it was time to shoot the opening sequence. These type of shots have to be done in one take as there was only a set amount of fireworks and gas bombs.
Andy and the rest of the crew drilled it into Vaughn to not flinch when the explosions went off. And you know what? He didn’t even batter an eyelid.
This was how they kept that tire on fire. They attached some kind of cloth to the outside and soaked it with lighter fluid.
When it was time they lit it on fire and someone pushed it on the directors mark. Off you go little one! They grow up so fast!
After the tire passed Vaughn there was a guy there to stop it to make sure it didn’t roll off into a pile of explosives. The flaming tire was then promptly extinguished.
This stuff is called ‘burn butter’ and once it’s lit it stays on fire for quite a while. The main ingredient is crushed chemical fire logs.
One down and five to go. The shots that involved single-use explosives were definitely more stressful as you only get one take. You just hope everything goes well, and luckily this time it did.
Next up was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Vaughn was going to drift through a wall of fire.
They used these machines that would shoot out massive amounts of propane at very high pressure.
The good thing about using these special effect props was that you could recharge them and fire them at whatever duration was needed.
These particular flame throwers have been on tour with musical performers like Jay-Z. Before every shot they would test fire them for the camera operators to set their exposures.
Vaughn personally measured out the space in between the flaming barrels where he would be drifting through.
However the crew had another agenda for the flaming hobo barrels.
The Monster drifter was ready, after all, he was wearing a fire suit.
The first shot was more a practice than anything else, but they rolled on it anyways.
The flame was not shooting far enough though, and on top of that the crew was battling the wind as it picked up and blew the flame off course.
“MOAR FIRE”, Vaughn yelled. They turned it up to eleven and blasted away.
This time it seemed to have worked quite well.
The top half of the car was completely engulfed in flames.
I thought it was so cool that the flames would chase the car as Vaughn drifted away from it.
It was 11pm and time for a much needed lunch break. Most of the crew had been shooting since 8am that morning. There was a long night ahead for everyone.
This next shot was a lot trickier to shoot as there would only be one take. This was the big one. The one that was going to wake the neighbors for sure.
There was a dedicated trailer away from everything else that was for mixing explosives.
It was a two-part shot – part one involved the fire bombs, and they only had enough for one shot. Part two was drifting around a huge fireball as a clipping point. The latter could be done over and over, but it was important to shoot it in one fluid shot.
After Mr. Fire Fingers did a fatty burnout to warm up the tires, he was off.
Chaos ensued. Bombs went off, and couple of loud thuds rumbled the California desert. I felt the bass of the explosions in my stomach and the heat on my face. At this point I knew this was really something special.
I mounted a camera inside of Vaughn’s cockpit to see what it was like in there. It really must have been a sight to see with all those explosions going off, but when I asked him what he saw. He said he didn’t see anything because he was concentrating so hard on not spinning out and hitting his clipping points.
To top it all off, the cameras continued rolling and the flame thrower blasted a wave of fire out towards the drifter as he rounded the corner.
He had done it in one take, but just to be sure the team shot a few more angles of the flaming clipping point.
The next shot was a bit easier, and it had an extra touch of Hollywood magic.
This sequence was relatively simple, but it was broken up into a few different shots. This was when Vaughn drops a flare into the Monster barrel.
This shot was for the detail of the flare. Noticed the cool alien head shadow that Vaughn’s helmet casted into the smoke.
Then it was a matter of knocking the flaming barrel over. Easy enough right?
Well surprisingly the barrel is quite heavy and for it to really fly it would have to be hit pretty hard.
So to help it along the special effects guru’s attached the barrel to a pulley system. When the timing was right the barrel would take flight.
Much of that fire was just burn butter that had been smeared onto the concrete k-rail.
After each shot the crew packed up and moved on to another location. Then the area was thoroughly soaked in water just to make sure there was nothing still smoldering.
For this next sequence the boys were in an unknown realm. They didn’t really know how well a Mustang could jump, so they built a heavy duty ramp. They surrounded it with chemical logs and burn butter…
… then they lit it on fire. Vaughn knew exactly what he had got himself into, but he did not know how fast he needed to go to make that Mustang fly, and he was also not sure exactly where to initiate his drift.
He got behind the wheel and did a super smokey burnout and pitched that sucker sideways. He went for it.
I could see his headlights beaming through the thick black smoke that was filling the night sky. I had a feeling this was going to be a good one.
I just did not realize how much air that thing could catch, and on top of that I didn’t think it could survive multiple jumps.
After reviewing the initial footage it was decided that Vaughn needed to enter the ramp in drift at a bigger angle.
Vaughn took three tries and this was the last try, because he went really fast…
…and when the Mustang landed, it bounced! It bounced very hard and Vaughn’s spine took a good beating.
The Mustang was a bit bruised and battered, but it still could move around under it’s own power.
Everyone was so happy, and Andy thought it was a good idea to recreate the jump himself.
It was almost 3am in the morning and it was time to break everything down. The ramp was disassembled immediately.
The crew was very satisfied with the results. I’ve been to enough large productions to know that things don’t always work out the way they’re planned, but this ran so smoothly.
With dedication and a little bit of luck things worked out and Vaughn made drifting history. I was very glad to be a part of it and I’m really looking forward to seeing what those crazy drifters come up with next.
Be sure to check out the completed Fire Drift video right here.
Photos by Larry Chen