The best movie car-chase is in French Connection.
You have to watch it several times to appreciate it.
The first time it’s just too gripping.
But eventually you begin to appreciate the craft that went into it.
What makes it truly different to any other car chase is it’s shot in a crowded Brooklyn street at mid-day.
Most car chases are shot in controlled environments like freeways or tunnels.
The director, William Friedkin, was talking about it to a group of film students.
He said the most difficult part was getting permission.
They had everything planned, every shot worked out, and they asked the head of the Transit Authority for permission to use a train.
He said no.
He said they were crazy, he said no way, he said he’d get fired.
They argued but he insisted, he’d be fired if he gave them permission.
So they got up to leave.
Then he said “Wait a minute, there may be one way I could give you permission”.
They asked what it was.
He said “Forty thousand dollars and a one-way ticket to Jamaica”.
In 1970 that was a lot of money.
But then they thought, the budget is $1.5 million and the film is nothing without that scene, we have to have it.
So they said “Okay, but why a one-way ticket?”
And he said “Because I really am going to get fired. I’m not coming back”.
And he was right.
They got permission, he got $40K, and he was fired.
But it meant they could shoot the film in a real Brooklyn street, using a real train.
And it took five weeks to shoot the whole chase.
At the end of that time Friedkin looked at the rough edit of the chase.
It was good.
And that was the problem. It was good.
It wasn’t unbe-fucking-lievably great.
Friedkin went over to the stunt driver, Bill Hickman, an older guy.
He was drinking Jack Daniels.
Friedkin said “Bill, I could have got another driver to do that.
But I thought you were the best, and maybe you were once, but maybe you lost it. Maybe you’re past it.”
And Hickman finished his drink and said “Kid, you want to bring your camera in the car and I’ll show you if I’m past it”.
And Friedkin did.
Friedkin said “I operated the camera myself because I was young and single but the cameramen both had families.
I knew what was coming”.
Friedkin had got Bill Hickman angry, that had been the point.
Hickman was gonna shut this kid up.
And, in a 30mph zone, he drove at speeds of 90mph, slamming into fences, slamming into other cars and trucks, as Friedkin clung on and filmed it all.
And he finally got a real car chase.
The cars and cameras and crew cleared the area as fast as possible, before the cops arrived.
So there would be no one around to arrest.
And Friedkin cut that footage into the previous five weeks’ edit, and had the best car chase ever put on film.
Like Friedkin says, he did it because he was young and crazy.
When you get older you’re too sensible to do things like that.
It isn’t that young people have better ideas, they don’t.
But they are less worried, more irresponsible.
And that can be a strength.
As George Lois said “The stuff that gets you fired when you’re young is what gets you into the Hall of Fame when you’re old”.