18 MPH / Location, Location, Location

Production Sets Up Shop with Los Angeles as a Backlot

As Speed gears up for production across Los Angeles, it seems only fitting that we take a dive into the film’s various locations. From downtown to Venice, Long Beach to LAX and so many points in between, Speed will showcase a “new” Los Angeles in bold and unusual ways.

“The beauty of Speed is that it takes place in LA, where everybody knows, at some point or another, your vehicle will stop,” filmmaker (and Speed fan) Guillermo del Toro says. “If it was another city, it wouldn’t work. Not the same way. The best possible action movies have a really good sense of time and place. If you think about The Rock, obviously rooted in Alcatraz. And you think about Ronin, Frankenheimer, set in France. They dictate the idiosyncrasies of the action, and the idiosyncrasies of Speed is it’s going to take place in the city of gridlock, in the city of freeways that move really slow, and that alone makes it absolutely delectable.”

Behind the scenes of Speed's big finale on Hollywood Blvd.
Behind the scenes of Speed‘s big finale on Hollywood Blvd.

This would all be part of the plan as director Jan de Bont saw it. After all, he had an eye in the casting process toward showcasing the city’s diversity, making it feel as real as possible. That would stretch to how he moved through the various locations as well.

“This movie is a little bit like a city opera,” de Bont says. “Some cities, wherever you go, they’re all the same. And if you go through LA, every area is different and every area has a different tempo or a different excitement or is slightly dangerous or slightly funny or is entertainment. It’s a little bit like the music, for that matter, in the title credits, where you have this kind of intro of a city opera. Speed the opera. To me, it’s like a mishmash of different cultures that you see in this particular city, and you don’t see that many times in other cities.”

With all of that in mind, it’s time we started meeting some of the team behind the camera, such as unit production manager Ian Bryce. Bryce, who would go on to be an Oscar-nominated producer in his own right, would be tasked with much of the nuts-and-bolts practicality of pulling Speed together, from forging a crew with the expertise to execute the production to wrangling a wide array of locations for the shoot.

Carmen Williams, Jan de Bont and Ian Bryce on the set of SPEED
Unit Production Manager Ian Bryce (right) with Jan de Bont (middle) and actress Carmen Williams (left) on the set of Speed

“What you normally start with, with the location team and the production design team, and Jan and me, particularly, is, ‘OK, well, what’s available,'” Bryce says. “You start there and go, ‘OK, we need X amount of physical geography. Like, X number of miles.’ Because a chunk of the movie is on that freeway or in the surrounding area and the streets leading to and coming off the freeway and all of that. That’s a big jigsaw puzzle.”

While the location managers for the film are no longer with us, 50 MPH was able to track down someone who was there 30 years ago buttoning up all of the permits. Today, Donna Washington is FilmLA’s vice president of operations, helping to shepherd the many location shoots happening across Los Angeles County. But in 1993, she was part of the city’s film commission and a vital partner for Speed‘s production team. She looks back now at some of the things they were able to accomplish with a hint of awe.

“In certain scenes, you’ll see two and three helicopters. They had a lot of ships in the air,” Washington says. “It takes a lot to get that coordinated and they did that with ease. I don’t know if they could pull that off now. Everything is done by drones and obviously it’s safer and cheaper and all the other stuff, but that helicopter activity, that would be really a big feat to pull off now,”

All of that and more in this week’s episode of 50 MPH!


(Photos courtesy of Sonia Jackson)

Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, The New York Times, Empire and Vanity Fair. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.