24 MPH / I Hate the Airport

The Bus: Part 2

Production on the bus portion of Speed has entered the final lap, so to speak. Following harrowing sequences on freeways and city streets, not to mention a jaw-dropping leap of faith for Bus 2525, Jack Traven and company head out to Los Angeles International Airport to do a series of laps as they try to figure out what to do about that darn bomb!

Shooting at LAX in this capacity today seems almost unheard of, but in 1993, the production would be given a pretty solid piece of real estate at the airport. It wasn’t without its headaches, however.

Stunt man Brian Smrz makes his way under Bus 2525
Stunt man Brian Smrz makes his way under Bus 2525

“The security guy came out and said, ‘You guys are going to be shooting in the bravo tango area,'” set decorator K.C. Fox recalls. “‘That means that if we get a bomb threat, you have to vacate the area in, like, less than 10 minutes with all your stuff.’ He said, ‘Tomorrow, we’re going to have a test, and if you pass, you can keep all those lights and flags and all that stuff.’ And, of course, it was very important to Jan de Bont and to Jack De Govia to have that as dressing out there. So, we did it and we passed the test. It took two trucks going in opposite directions and we made it in under 10 minutes, but of course, all the light bulbs broke.”

We’re moving toward the third act of the film, so, naturally, the stunts have to get more hair-raising. One of the big ones in this portion is a moment when Jack hops onto a small dolly and slides out underneath the bus in an attempt to defuse the bomb himself. Actor Keanu Reeves did portions of the stunt himself for certain shots, but there were two men who were actually filmed moving under the bus. One was stunt man Brian Smrz.

“I can’t tell you how big a bus looks when you’re laying on your back and it’s coming at you,” Smrz says. “The thing is, a bus really isn’t tall enough to go under. You can get under it, but eventually, pretty quickly, you hit stuff. So, we had a piece of Plexiglass that was, say, eight feet under, so I could just barely get under and then I’m going to be hitting the Plexiglass. But that’s not a good thing, either. It’s better than getting hooked up, but still, if the bus is going faster than you and my feet hit the Plexiglass, it’s going to turn me sideways, and, you know, then I’m all sideways underneath the bus. So, it was a tricky situation.”

The other person in one of those shots? You’ll have to listen to find out. It’s a fun story.

Another big stunt component here would be the passenger transfer from the bus to the larger people mover vehicle. It’s a stunt that each of the actors on the bus actually performed, which was hard for some to stomach. Still, the cast fought for what they were owed in the end: a bump in pay for doing something so dangerous!

The actors on the bus performed the transfer stunt themselves. (Notice the crew reflected in the door window. Oops!)
The actors on the bus performed the transfer stunt themselves. (Notice the crew reflected in the door window. Oops!)

“The whole thing kind of evolved. It was not something that was precisely planned,” first assistant director David Sardi recalls. “We sort of, like, got everybody out and we had the notion of what it was going to be, but it was clear that when we were doing it, that the request that came from them, like, ‘We need a bump.'”

And then, of course, there is the grandest of finales for the bus as, with the passengers and, eventually, Jack and Annie safely out of harm’s way, it plows into a massive airplane and goes out in a blaze of glory. This would be filmed out at Mojave airport. You’ll hear all about the effort to secure that plane, rig it to blow and send Bus 2525 out in style, not to mention some tips of the hat to a broader Die Hard cinematic universe and even a fun cameo from the film’s unit production manager Ian Bryce as an unsuspecting man towing the plane who flees the inferno in a hurry.

“Jan said, ‘Ian, why don’t you go be in a tow tug?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, alright,'” Bryce recalls. “And we had already done the explosion, right? So, this was, like, an overlap piece where they just set some pretty big fire bars and they reset the fire on the airplane for a second, and I’m sitting in there waiting for Jan, and I’ve got the radio ready for somebody to say ‘action.’ And I remember, the fire came on, and I felt it inside that tow tug. And I just had a pair of overalls on. I didn’t have Nomex or any of that business on. I was, like, ‘Say action. Say it now.’ It was hot in there. I’ve said to several people, ‘Yeah, if I looked kind of scared when I got out and ran away, that was real.'”

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

Bus go boom.
Bus go boom.

A NOTE FROM THE HOST: The opening six minutes of this week’s episode serve as a tribute to my mother, Jean Tapley, who passed away on November 13, 2023, after an extended illness. Please bear with me as I try to honor her impact on my life as a movie lover, and stick around to meet her briefly yourself.

-Kris Tapley

Episode 24 Transcript

Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. 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.