Tales from the Jump
As we approach the midway point of 50 MPH, so, too, does Speed. The crew has been hard at working bringing Bus 2525’s many action-packed moments to life on freeways and city streets, but now comes the signature sequence of the entire film: The Jump. In what will be one of the last large-scale practical stunts of its kind, the Speed team comes up with a way to launch a city bus dozens of feet through the air. It would not only be a breathtaking visual but also serve a key function in the story as well.
“I think someone was talking about that they were going to cut the jump, and [Jan de Bont’s] argument for the jump was, this makes them a family,” says screenwriter Joss Whedon. “This is the moment when they’re all going to die together, and they don’t, and the dynamic on the bus is completely different after that.”
Just about everyone involved with the production finds a way to be on set that day to observe the spectacle, including the film’s EPK team, tasked with documenting the behind-the-scenes effort for publicity purposes.
“It was like an army that was out there that day, of camera people,” recalls unit publicist Bob Hoffman. “Anybody who was, like, a second camera assistant, who wasn’t needed there immediately, he had a Nikon. I mean, you never saw coverage like this. So, we found spots that were really good for still coverage, and then about an hour before we were going to shoot, I look around and I think to myself, ‘Wait a minute. What happens if this stunt goes awry? Like, a fucking bus is going to be going 60 miles an hour and it’s going to land, and what happens if the driver doesn’t have control of the bus anymore?’ I look back at that and I thought Richard and I were fucking crazy.”
Hoffman is talking about the film’s still photographer, Richard Foreman, who harnessed as much on-set manpower as possible to help immortalize the moment.
“I was further down the way where no one wanted me to be, kind of in harm’s way, as they say,” Foreman says. “I got the elevated shot of the bus kind of diagonally, which is what you see [on the poster]. My philosophy about what I do is to capture the iconic images that are put forth, and you never know when you’re going to – well, sometimes you do. You know when it’s going to come and you’re going, ‘This is going to be a great shot.’ Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.”
However, it would be a stressful day far beyond the intense planning involved. Chaos in the moments leading up to the stunt meant things wouldn’t quite go as planned on the only opportunity the production (officially) had to pull this thing off.
“Jan wasn’t happy with the light because by the time we got ready to shoot it, the light was flat and there were shadows on the freeway,” producer Mark Gordon recalls. “I said, ‘Well, if you don’t shoot it today, you may not ever fucking shoot it. We’re shooting it, Jan, so fucking get going.’ So, he was really pissed off.”
Adds stunt coordinator Gary Hymes: “Jan is setting cameras, and as a second unit director and having shot my fair amount of action, I’m going, ‘Jan, I’m not so sure. Some of the camera positions, I don’t think it’s ideally suited to where I anticipate the bus to land.’ And he’s, like, ‘Don’t you talk to me about camera positions! Why aren’t we ready?’ He just goes off on me big time, right? So, I just turned to him, I said, ‘Just say action, we’re ready,’ and I walked away.”
That would set things on an unfortunate course as the resulting footage was not quite what de Bont wanted, even if it was spectacular for unexpected reasons. Nevertheless, the director insists he shot the entire sequence a second time, off-schedule, unbeknownst to the studio and numerous personnel who would surely know. And indeed, no one recalls this phantom mulligan.
“I remember it as a day of yesterday,” de Bont says. “I can’t believe no one remembers!”
Additionally, we finally find the space to celebrate stunt performer Jophery Brown, who would drive the bus for the sequence and ultimately leave a legendary mark in his field after a long and distinguished career. Brown passed away in 2010, but his sentiments from the day were captured by Hoffman’s team.
“It’s a high you can’t explain,” Brown recalls in behind-the-scenes footage from the day. “It’s just a natural feeling that everything goes completely silent when you’re in the air. All you hear is like a, ‘Wooooooossshhhh.’ You know? And it’s kind of really weird. Everything goes into slow motion, almost.”
All of that and more in this week’s episode of 50 MPH!
(Bus photo courtesy of K.C. Fox)