Fast Five: Shooting in Rio, the Caribbean and the U.S.

The action crime drama Fast Five, directed by Justin Lin, starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, will be released by Universal Pictures on April 29.

“Rio is good this time of year” is a line of dialogue from Fast & Furious that speaks volumes. Recalls Diesel: “Letty is the one that brings up Rio in Fast & Furious; it sounds like a nondescript, throwaway line but it’s very telling.”

Fans only had to wait less than a year for an exhaustive cast of their Fast favorites and crew to regroup and begin filming the next chapter. Los Angeles, Miami, Tokyo, the Dominican Republic and Mexico have served as backdrops for previous chapters. In Fast Five, Dom, Brian and Mia make their way further south to Brazil, hiding out in the notorious favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

They now face their greatest challenges yet in a city where the rules have changed. Latin culture has been a mainstay of several chapters in the series and continues as the action plays out from the pristine white-sand beaches of Copacabana to the gritty, narrow streets of Rio. Principal photography on Fast Five began in early summer 2010, with three film units shooting simultaneously.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The entire returning cast—Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderón and Don Omar—trekked to Rio to ensure that their characters were well integrated with the landmarks and personality of this one-of-a-kind city.

Explains director Lin: “I felt like it was important to go to Rio and shoot some critical scenes because the texture, the way that it looks—even the way that the sun interacts with the buildings—are things that you have to have. Ultimately, it’s also about respect. If you’re going to have a film take place somewhere, you have to get down there to be able to understand and interact with the community and with the culture. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t feel right.”

The filmmakers strategically utilized Rio’s film unit to capture aerial shots and on-location images of some of the city’s more iconic locales. These included such Rio favorites as Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Fort, Ipanema Beach, the Dona Marta lookout point and Christ the Redeemer statue. As well, establishing shots of each of the assembling team members were taken as they individually arrived in Rio to join together for the heist. Gibson as Roman was filmed arriving at Galeão International Airport to be reunited with his old friend Brian.

When word spread that the actor was shooting a scene at the airport, the cast and crew quickly became mobbed. Similarly, Bridges drew much attention as he shot a scene in which Tej buys a car to drive around the South American city. The final scene at Copacabana Fort found all of our returning favorites walking down the beach together.

Diesel agrees that the sense of place absolutely had to be established by physically shooting key scenes in Brazil. He comments: “We were able to – 24 – Dom and Hobbs face off. shoot where other productions might not be able to shoot because our franchise has such good street cred. Fans are going to have a lot of fun traveling to Rio with us. Rio is an amazing place, and the fact that we can take the audience there, they’re going to get a lot of enjoyment out of that.” For producer Moritz, it was fortunate that Lin’s crews were able to capture as much footage as they did.

He shares: “Luckily, we actually ended up shooting a bunch more in Rio than we thought we initially would. For example, we went to Rio and shot in the real favelas. To do some of the big, high rooftop chases through the favelas, we decided to head to Puerto Rico where we could have more control. Rio was a really exciting place to be, and its texture added much to the rawness of this movie.”

Puerto Rico and California The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was perfect for navigating the requirements of many of the film’s huge set pieces. Too, the team could re-create the narrow thoroughfares and favelas of the densely populated Rio here. The main and second units began filming on location in and around the capital of San Juan. The island’s lush tropical greenery and wide city streets provided the production with a versatility that allowed for the majority of the film’s bigger stunt sequences and exterior scenes to be pulled off without a hitch.

Says producer Fottrell about the locations chosen: “For a characterdriven movie, shooting in Rio is great. But for a big action sequence with a second unit as big as ours, the technical aspect, the equipment— everything involved to pull these movies off—it was too ambitious to do in Rio. Puerto Rico has great architectural bones and similar aspects to Rio, and we figured with proper visual effects and set extensions, we could definitely pull it off and make the audience feel as if they’re in Rio for the entire movie.”

Meanwhile, 4,000 miles away in the searing-hot desert town of Rice, California, a third action unit known simply as the “train unit” was midway through its three-week schedule, filming the eye-popping train-robbery sequence that opens the film and sets the frenetic pace for the rest of the story. The game remains the same but the stakes are raised as Dom, Brian and Mia join Vince for a seemingly easy job. Their mission: to hijack priceless luxury cars off of a train. Hearkening to the team’s proven skill set of boosting cars from moving targets, Morgan amped up the juice on a sequence that blows the previous one off the rails.

“We one-up the classic stagecoach or train robbery,” Diesel laughs. “Our version is done without horses but with a whole lot of horsepower.” It is a job that spirals out of control fast and seals the fate of the trio and their old friend Vince. It was up to accomplished production designer Peter Wenham, who previously worked on the favela-centric The Bourne Ultimatum and Moritz’s Battle: Los Angeles, to transform both Puerto Rico and Atlanta into Brian and Dom accept a challenge from Diogo (LUIS DA SILVA). – 25 – the Brazilian locales that he and the filmmakers had scouted during the early weeks of preproduction.

Wenham would continue his own technical scouts in and around Brazil to further perfect his design plan for the action-thriller. Moritz praises Wenham’s skill at creating a seamless landscape that married the three filming locations.

“Peter was able to take Atlanta, Puerto Rico and Rio and combine them all so it felt like we shot the whole movie in Rio. He did a fantastic job of it all. He is a genius who knew exactly how to piece this puzzle together.”

The action of Fast Five is not limited to fast cars driving at breakneck speeds. It includes bone-shattering fight sequences, a nail-biting train heist and a foot-chase sequence that proved to be one of the bigger logistical challenges for Lin’s production team, particularly for cinematographer Stephen Windon, who previously collaborated with the director on Tokyo Drift and garnered an Emmy nomination for his work on the epic HBO miniseries The Pacific.

The foot-chase sequence in which Dom, Brian and Mia are relentlessly pursued by Hobbs and Reyes’ henchman throughout the steep hillside favelas offered a grueling week for the production. The scene required the trio’s fast-paced exploits to be shot amidst rain, stifling heat and humidity. The small hillside town of Naranjito, located in the moun tainous central region of the island 60 miles outside of San Juan, provided the ideal visual backdrop to replicate the topography of Rio. It also allowed the production team the ability to choreograph and execute an intricate scene in which both actors and the stunt doubles sprint across narrow walkways.

Not only were their pathways slick from the damp tropical heat, the performers also had to jump on and through ramshackle rooftops while dodging the wayward dogs, chickens and assorted stray animals that inhabit the areas. To capture the action, Windon used a cable camera system that allowed for a fast-moving, bird’seye view of intimate exchanges and broad panoramas alike.

“It was a very difficult location to access with camera equipment,” admits Windon, “so we scaled back some of the equipment that could be brought in, and set up cranes that could be situated on rooftops and in alleyways. I also wanted to do some aerial photography without flying a helicopter in, so we brought in a 420-foot cable-cam rig, which we built very close to the favelas.

This way, we could do sweeping shots across the rooftops for sequence.” As usual, Walker, an admitted speed and adventure junkie, was more than happy to do his own stunt work, or as much as the filmmakers (and insurance companies) would allow him, Brewster, Diesel, Johnson and the other cast members to accomplish. A fan of the YouTube–fueled spectacle of parkour (free running through any environment while adapting your movements as you gain momentum), Walker tapped into that discipline for filming the sequence.

He trained with parkour pro PAUL DARNELL and quickly took to hopping over walls – 26 – Brian, Roman, Santos, Han, Tej, Mia, Gisele and Dom plan the job. and engaging in dive rolls. He brought Brewster along for the ride, and together they filmed multiple takes, jumping close to 30 feet off of a building onto a safety mat that was, thankfully, waiting below.

“I love that stuff,” admits Walker with a broad smile, “but at first, Jordana was a bit timid. Then she saw that it looked like fun. She was game for just about anything and tried it. The next thing you know, she hopped off the roofs and cleared gaps. I was proud of her.” Brewster, admittedly, is the lone voice of caution when it comes to driving fast cars (she did not learn to drive until she was cast in The Fast and the Furious), but all it took was one heart-pounding jump off a rooftop with Walker for her to understand the true rush that propelled her co-star’s hobbies. Recounts the actress: “Paul’s such a pro at this, and he’s done it so many times that it helped me. We did the jump once, and instantly I wanted to do it again. We ended up doing the jump about five times, and then we did a jump between buildings. It was such a fantastic day.”

Darnell, along with stuntwoman SHAUNA DUGGINS, fleshed out the remaining stunt work for Walker and Brewster in the scene. Additionally, Robinson and Reed handled part of the intricate choreography for Diesel and Johnson’s separate thread of a chase sequence through the favela. Production design for the favela location had Wenham tackling the dual tasks of fortifying unstable structures to withstand heavy camera equipment for the filmed action and introducing a new color palette to more then 30 buildings in the town. His crew was charged with cladding windows, strewing debris and making the neighborhood look a little worse for wear, as it depicted the shantytowns of Rio. Wenham even designed an entry sign evocative of those in the notorious Dona Marta and Santa Maria projects of Rio.

Due to time constraints with the town, both the art and construction departments had just four weeks to prepare the sprawling neighborhood for two weeks of filming. “It was an extremely hard location to work at,” remarks Wenham. “The temperature and humidity were quite incredible, and the logistics of filming with the steep landscape were difficult enough. But I can assure you that compared with the favelas in Rio, it was a walk in the park.” Overall, Wenham kept the film’s color palette often monochromatic with muted blacks and grays. His big opportunity to run with a multitude of color was on the favela set.

Even when it came to the cars, Wenham made sure that every vehicle complemented his color palette with an exacting precision. “Choosing the colors of the cars is extremely important to me,” he says. “The one thing that I wanted to accomplish on Fast Five was to keep a monochromatic look to all the cars.” Atlanta, Georgia After weeks of filming in the sun and heat of Puerto Rico, the production moved back stateside to film the bulk of its stage work and several exterior scenes in Atlanta, Georgia. Cast and crew shot some Hobbs and Rio cop Elena (ELSA PATAKY) consider their targets. – 27 – exterior scenes, but the bulk of their time and energy was spent in the shell of a long-defunct train yard.

Wenham and his art department transformed this massive set piece into an abandoned auto plant where Dom, Brian and Mia could find a safe haven from Reyes and Hobbs. The former Pullman train yard’s sturdy, but rusted-out bones proved to be Wenham’s most ambitious set. The main requirement was to allow enough space for stunt drivers OAKLEY LEHMAN and RICH RUTHERFORD to drive in the building. It took months to redesign and overhaul the once thriving, decades-old yard into a working movie set with an integrated lighting system, courtesy of DP Windon and his rigging grip and lighting departments. Wenham removed walls, opened up the space and even hauled out an old railway car.

It was a colossal undertaking, and that was just the gutting of the space. His crew went on to suspend auto-plant car rails around the interior perimeter and to attach remnants of old, rusted VW Bugs to the rails. Raised platforms, suspended lights and fans, and buildings built within the building all transformed the site. Windon, upon scouting the location during preproduction, knew he needed to craft a camera system that could provide wide aerial views of the action that was always moving at a good clip in any given direction. For the Australian cinematographer, capturing the action on film was a combination of innovative thinking and tried-and-true basics.

“We had 25 pages of the script that take place in the auto plant, and a short window of time to shoot it,” the DP recalls. “DAN CORNWALL, my gaffer, came up with a cool concept of using LRX remote-control lighting. We had huge 24-kilowatt dino lights up in the rafters that were all motorized and ran through the dimmer system. We did very minimal lighting off the floor, and we still lit the huge expanse of the set.”

It took three weeks to set up and a massive number of cable and generators, but the ingenious setup was worth it and allowed Lin and the actors to focus on the scenes at hand. Steps away from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the crew spent several chilly nights filming the “Tuner Baile” (Brazilian slang for underground parties) scenes. Naturally, there were loud, thumping Brazilian pop music playing well into the night and scantily clad beauties grinding to the beats as Dom and Brian show up to win some pink slips.

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