Steven Spielberg is having fun.
On the dystopian set of Ready Player One the filmmaker has an unlit cigar in his mouth and a spark in his eye.
"You" here for the stunt day! "he calls to me as his crew gathers around him and prepares a bit of carnage for the final act of the movie (which is new in the cinemas this weekend).
Above the filmmaker sits the impoverished skyscraper of The Stacks, At one end of the gravel road, a IOI Corporation's futuristic black SUV sits with the buzz of fuel, like a predator trying to overthrow.
Perched perpendicular to it, about a football field away, rolls in The rusty vehicle is "old" in 2045 when the film was shot, but today it would be state-of-the-art, with a metallic iris on one side that can be opened releasing a drone that delivers the mail.
Inside the movie, the cargo of this mailer is a group of children in virtual reality suits who dangle their butts in the buttocks as they enter the digital world of OASIS.
This is the grand finale, and the good ones are so close … close to solving the mystery at the heart of science-fiction adventure, and
Tye Sheridan's Wade Watts and his "High Five" group of friends are about to solve the last puzzle that will determine the possession of this otherworldly playground, and they have to stay mobile because they personally by IOIs reckless boss Nolan Sorrento ( Rogue One Ben Mendelsohn), who has raced towards them on a hunt through the streets. They think that they have lost him and escaped. But they are wrong.
Sorrento is said to be in the black SUV, and Lena Waite's character Aech is sitting behind the wheel of the mail car, but for the purpose of this stunt, both are elsewhere – and are surely killing time in their trailer waiting for the later close-ups.
The cars are empty, controlled from a distance, for reasons that are obvious. This is not something that you want to impose on a real human body.
Spielberg believes that the crew has prepared the collision and is like a big kid who wants to crash his toy cars. But also science and strategy are in the works
The SUV has to hit the mail van exactly in the right place. And there's a dump truck full of gravel, a crane unwinding a metal cable, and a few other tricks that the camera will never see, but they'll help ensure the wreck lands right in Spielberg's lens.
Make these lenses, plural. Spielberg plans to capture multiple camera setups along with several quad-rotor drones armed with cameras and hovering over the action like giant wasps.
When his longtime cameraman Janusz Kaminski comes to him to discuss the positioning, Spielberg recites the sequence of recordings he wants to use. He has already edited this sequence in his head.
That's what the crane, the cable and the dump truck are all about. When the SUV strikes, the cable attached to the frame of the mailer will pivot the vehicle about 180 degrees.
But the mail van is so heavy that the crane itself would fly through the air. Newton's third law of motion has a costarring role: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
So the dump truck is connected to the crane and its pulleys as ballast, which stabilizes the unit so that it stays in place while turning. Destroyed trucks
"The whole reason I need is because I put the scene in This direction can not shoot, "explains Spielberg and hacks his hand in the air away from the plot. "I just do not have the set, you know, I'm just on one-story stacks over here."
On the other hand, production designer Adam Stockhausen has built a towering city block of stacks and stores that rise five to six stories high Visited by spectators full of witnesses the crash. After that, these people flood the street and play a crucial role in what happens next.
"In this way [the cable] I get the van around so I can shoot in the direction with the stacks in the background," says Spielberg. It is practical, just as it is artistic. "It allows me to shoot the set, it's that simple."
Spielberg needs the camera to see it all, and since The Stacks are one-way, he needs the windshield of the mail to get around for later, when Waithe comes, turn away from them to the driver's seat. This guarantees that all shots will fit, from the stunt to the close-ups.
One thing is certain: you can not count on the collision to turn the truck so far. One would have to hit it with such force that both the SUV and the truck would tear apart.
Spielberg has used this technique several times in the past, he says, but every collision is different. Are you shooting on a street? On dirt? The environment changes everything. In this case, they are at Leavesden Studios outside of London (best known as the site where Harry Potter films were filmed).
This gives them much more latitude, full control of everything. Even the ground under her feet.
"We had to build a completely new floor," says Spielberg. "This is a smooth service, all this false earth is on a big slide, you can feel it when you go on it."
The crew smoothed the pavement to polish it, and then spread little black and brown ones Rubber parts over it. It looks like dirt and asphalt but the debris looks like ball bearings, making the mail van a little easier to turn.
"We tested that and it's the only way to make it far," says Spielberg. "That was something we had to tackle."
Spielberg has spent much of his time in recent years working on historical dramas ( Lincoln Bridge of Spies The Post ) with a detour into the warmhearted fantasy of The BFG . He likes to skip his anarchic side (even if, yes, it's all tightly controlled chaos).
While the crew completes the recording, Spielberg sits back in his director's chair and watches over the simple satisfaction of smashing things. "A really good device for blowing cars up in the air is when they shoot a piece of pile out of the bottom of the car," he says. "It falls to the ground and throws the car in the air."
His hands fly into the air as he smiles. "But you have to take the engine out, you just need a shell to make it look really good, it's a whole different kind of science, rig-and-wrap-science."
This refers to the uniqueness of such devices. "You rig it, you use it, then do not use it again," he says.
The reason is almost self-evident. The vehicle and the rig are usually gnarled and twisted to the end.
While he has every digital effects tool at his fingertips, there is something about practical stunts that are just … an explosion. When Spielberg was still a kid and turned the World War II amateur film Escape to Nowhere he and his friends developed a similarly innovative way to create explosions that were safe but still looked cool.
She would pry a small board against a small rock, then bury it in dirt and sand. If a child ran to the raised end of the stairs, the improvised device would shoot a cloud of dust into the air. The "actor" would then fall to the ground as if hit by a mortar.
That made filmmaking fun, even in those early days, and this Ready Player One stunt is simply a big-budget variation. Now it is time.
The camera drones buzz while floating in place. The cameramen climb into position. The sentence is deleted. The truck and SUV engines are rumbling, ready to start on their collision course.
Calls from "Rolling … ROLLING!" Sound from the crew. Spielberg sits behind his video monitors, his eyes shooting back and forth between the screens.
" Action, " he says softly.