Posted on Friday, September 11th, 2015 by Blake Harris
Fast Cars + Furious Stunts = How Did This Get Made?!?!
This is that story behind the stunts of the 5th highest grossing movie of all time: FURIOUS 7.
Given the box-office success of Fast & Furious 6 ($788 million worldwide), it’s not too difficult to figure out how Furious 7 got made. But there is, however, one thing that does immediately jump out about the making of this film: the staggering number of stunt performers—over 150 in total—that it required to complete this movie.
This is a story about two of those stunt performers—who just so happen to be married to each other—about the film’s two stunt coordinators—who also happen to be brothers—and about the brilliant mad scientist at the center of it all…
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies so bad they are amazing. This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Furious 7 edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
Synopsis: Ian Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew for the death of his brother.
Tagline: Vengeance Hits Home
- Heather Arthur Stunt Performer
- Jonathan Arthur Stunt Performer
- Andy Gill Stunt Coordinator
- Jack Gill Stunt Coordinator
- Spiro Razatos Second Unit Director
In February 2013, legendary stunt man Mike Vendrell passed away. Although Vendrell did not actually appear in Furious 7, he had a definite influence on the film. Some of that comes through his daughter (who followed in his footsteps and worked on the movie); some of it comes from mentoring others (like the man who helped reboot and revive the franchise); and a large part of his influence—the most unquantifiable of all—comes from stories like the following and what they represent to those in the stunt industry:
Heather: The very first movie I ever did was Transformers, which was directed, as you probably know, by Michael Bay. And so I’m there—on my first day, on my first movie—and there were like 40-50 other stunt performers working on set. And between takes, these guys like to sit around telling stories. Remember the time…did you hear about…etc, etc. I love all that stuff. So I’m smiling along until one of the guys goes, “Did I ever tell you about the time I was working for Michael Bay on The Rock? Yeah, I was there when Mike Vendrell put Michael Bay in a chokehold and threatened to kill him.” I mean, I knew the story—Michael Bay had yelled at my dad after doing a very hard stunt, so he put him a chokehold and threatened to kill him—he’d told me the story before, but it was funny to hear other people talk about my dad, you know?
CUT TO: Three Years Earlier…
Part 1: How to Become a Stunt Man (and Wife)
In August 2005, Heather Arthur was not happy. And neither was her husband Jonathan.
Heather: We had both graduated from business school in Colorado and were living in Seattle at the time. I was selling blogs for law firms and Jon was selling property for Walmart. Super exciting!
Jonathan: It was a great job, don’t get me wrong, but the problem was that it was just an office job. For better or for worse. And the monotony of doing the same thing over and over; it kind of drove my wife and I nuts.
Heather: Both of us were hating our jobs…
Jonathan: I commuted 72 miles to work each day. Each way.
Heather: …hating our jobs and asking ourselves: is this going to be the next 30 years of our life? Is this what we worked so hard for? To work 70 hours a week and never see our spouse? I just felt like I was staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
Jonathan: So I’m on the phone with my father-in-law [Mike Vendrell] and he says, “You know what? Move to Hawaii.” I’m like: what are you talking about?
Heather: Jon had also recently read this article about professional stunt drivers and saw that some of them were making six figures. And when he mentioned it to my dad, my dad said, “Oh yeah, those are friends of mine.” Come out to Hawaii and I’ll put you on this show I’m coordinating.
Jonathan: He was starting on this show called Lost and he said, “I think that you and Heather would be perfect for stunts. I’ll train you both to be stuntmen, and with your business background I think you’d excel as a producer and coordinator in this industry.”
Heather: I think that both of us were young and dumb enough to just go: yeah, we can do that. And we had each other; we had a support in both of us. Looking back, it was very naïve. I look at other second-generation stunt performers and there are a lot of them that aren’t working. We were probably a little more confident than we should have been.
Jonathan: And he continues, “But I need you here in four days if you’re gonna do it. Because that’s when the season starts, and I’ve got to have my doubles lined up.”
Heather: So we both basically quit our jobs and put all our stuff in storage.
Jonathan: Four days later, we had the whole place packed up and we were on a plane to Hawaii.
Heather: I gave our cat to my Mom and then and prayed that we’d be able to make a decent enough living to pay off student loans and whatnot. But that’s why I love my husband so much; there’s not to many people who would agree to quit their jobs with you and then move in with your dad in Hawaii. Oh yeah, I should have also mentioned that we were going to be living with my dad.
The Arthurs made it to Hawaii just in time and were able to begin their new career on Season 2 of Lost.
Jonathan: It was all on-the-job training. We worked on some fight stuff and things that every stunt man should know, but as far as rolling down the side of a mountain or jumping out of a helicopter… you just have to go for it. You need to have the willingness to just say: I’m going to do this and then let your natural instinct take over (if you have that natural instinct within you).
Heather: My dad was kind of preparing us for life in this business. Not just the physicality of what it takes to be a stunt person, but the ins and outs of the politics. And his philosophy was basically: be humble, do a good job, and the second you think you’re awesome someone’s gonna tell you that you’re not and you’ll be humbled real fast. Always remember this: being a stuntman, you’re only as good as your last job.
Jonathan: So it was a great transition. We had a lot of fun learning the ropes and we started right up with martial arts classes. Heather’s father was a Sifu Master and had a Kung Fu studio on the big island. So we were living on the big island, staying with him and taking these classes, and then flying over to Oahu for all our shoot days.
Heather: It’s funny—given my later involvement with the Fast and the Furious—but my very first stunt was doubling for Michelle Rodriguez. They needed me to fall down into a 12-foot hole. And before the scene, my dad gathered up all the cast and crew on set and said, “Okay everybody, this is my daughter’s first stunt!” Thanks, Dad; like that didn’t make me more nervous! But as soon as the camera rolled I was hit with this adrenaline rush and after that first stunt, let me tell you, I was hooked. I wanted more. I wanted to do this more and more and more. And Michelle was so wonderful. She gave me a big hug afterwards and she was super kind to me. She’s always been wonderful to the stunt community. And so I doubled her for the rest of that season of Lost.
Jonathan: We definitely looked at this career transition as a permanent thing. And because Heather had grown up around the business, we understood what it meant to be a career stunt person. And that meant there are no guarantees. There’s absolutely no stability. And you have to anticipate not working for 6 months at a time, because you just don’t know when that next job is not going to come through. Or if you’re going to get hurt (and need to rehab something for a few month). So, with that said, we knew what we were getting into. It wasn’t going to be easy. But you know what? We were happy. We were really happy.
Heather: About three weeks after that first stunt came my most memorable stunt. The one I’ll always remember for the rest of my life. And it was a tricky one. I had to fall down a cliff and tumble to the bottom with another guy. Through thorn bushes and everything, with no sleeves on or anything. And I remember, before doing it, that the Executive Producer went over to my dad and said, “Are you nervous, Mike? This is your daughter. Your baby girl!” And my dad just replied, “Nope. Not Nervous at all. This is what she was born to do.” So anyway I do the stunt and it goes really well. But, like my dad had taught me, even if you do a hard stunt, when you finish you just keep your head down and be humble about it. So at the end, I just lay there on the ground. But then, after a second, I kind of peeked my eyes open and saw my dad looking at me. His eyes were full of tears and he was crying. So I got up and went over to him and said, “Dad, what’s wrong? I’m okay! Look, I’m all good!” And he shook his head and said, “No, no, it’s not that. I’m just so proud of you. This is what you were born to do and to see you do it, I’m just so proud of you.” It was just a really important moment that I’ll never forget; like my dad kind of passed the torch on to me that day. Okay: now you’re a stunt girl.
Together, the married stunt duo finished out the season on Lost. In addition to doubling for Michelle Rodriguez, Heather also became the double for Evangeline Lilly as well. Jonathan filled in for a variety of cast members and also became the assistant coordinator for his father-in-law. After completing the season, the couple decided—with advice from their mentor—that they should use this experience (and the credentials it afforded them) to look for work on other projects outside of their father/father-in-law. So they moved to California to try and make that happen.
Jonathan: We moved to LA with a small handful of contacts, and Heather hit the ground absolutely running. We were in California for only one week before she started getting phone calls for work. A young, talented, pretty blonde girl? She could pretty much double any star actress out there. So she was busy right off the bat.
Heather: I was still doubling Evangeline on Lost, flying back to Hawaii whenever they needed me, and then I was also doubling Jennifer Love Hewitt on Ghost Whisperer and Ali Larter on Heroes. All at the same time. So I was super busy with TV.
Jonathan: Breaking into the business, I had a tougher time at first. Because there are more of “me” in Hollywood. So I really had to fight for every job. One thing, at first, that I thought might help me out was driving. I grew up racing cars in the amateur ranks, so I thought that might give me a leg up. But as it turns out with stunt driving—or any specialty, really—coordinators aren’t necessarily looking to take a chance on the new guy. Because as talented as you may be, there’s a laundry list of guys ahead of you who are just as talented (probably even more talented) and they’ve already done it before. And the other thing with driving, that maybe you don’t think about it at first, is that it’s one of those things that you can generally do into your 60s. So the guys that I’m “competing” against—and who I’d later end up working with on the Fast movies—are literally the same guys who were driving Kit on Knight Rider and the General Lee on Dukes of Hazard. Guys, you know, like Jack and Andy Gill.