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How ‘Fast X’ Made Dom Drive Down a Damn Dam

The makers of ‘Fast X’ explain the latest stunning stunt in the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise’s ongoing quest to top its own extreme set pieces

Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration

When he was 8 years old, Louis Leterrier began designing his own car crashes. Growing up in Paris in the early 1980s, he often made short films with his Super 8 camera, turning the slope of his parents’ driveway into a highway for his toy cars. In the midst of building ramps and conceiving miniature set pieces, he wondered: “What if I drew up a car escaping down a dam with a jump?” The idea sat with him for 40 years. Then he got a call last spring from Universal executives, who asked him to take over directorial duties from Justin Lin and lead Fast X. Suddenly, fulfilling a boyhood goal—while paying tribute to a franchise he adored—seemed possible.

“I was like, “OK, well now I get to do it,’” Leterrier says.

Within a matter of days, Leterrier had looked over the script and rewritten the ending, slotting in the dam jump as the movie’s cliffhanger finale and the kicker to an extensive third-act chase sequence. Committing it to film, however, would be slightly more challenging than making his homemade movies. After securing the Aldeadávila Dam, situated on the border of Portugal and Spain, the stunt team huddled to determine narrative logistics: How would Dom Toretto fly his Dodge Charger over the dam’s concrete barrier and avoid the impending collision of two semi-trucks attempting to sandwich him? Originally, Leterrier thought about building a ramp for his hero to use, but stunt coordinator Jack Gill was skeptical. “Isn’t it convenient that in the middle of a dam there just happens to be a ramp?’” Gill asked him.

A veteran of the Fast and Furious franchise since the fifth installment, Gill produced a more plausible solution (at least by the internal logic of this two-decade saga) by leaning into the past. Instead of using a ramp, Dom should pop a wheelie, his signature move, to get the car vertical, then vault the railing and go speeding down the sloped wall as a fireball erupts behind him. “We do wheelies in almost every [movie.] And we didn’t have one in this,” Gill says. “It was the perfect spot to stick it in.” Leterrier agreed, trusting that his action spectacle would only be enhanced by staying true to his character’s history and ingenuity. “We’ve seen quarter-mile runs done many ways with the NOS, but we’ve never seen it done like this,” Leterrier says. “It’s homage, but at the same time, it’s an evolution.”

That balance is evident throughout Fast X’s concluding sequence, which incorporates a variety of vehicles and stunts that call back to—and expand upon—earlier installments. The plot gymnastics are a bit tricky: After he was presumed dead in Fast Five, the retconned Dante (Jason Momoa) reemerges with an army to avenge his dead father by going after Dom (Vin Diesel) and his extended family. Eventually, their escalations culminate in a chase on an elevated Portuguese highway, where Dante kidnaps Dom’s son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). To retrieve his son, Dom swoops onto the highway, outmaneuvers two helicopters, crashes them together by jumping off an elevated highway, and catches up to Dante’s car so Brian can jump inside. Not to be outdone, Dante then traps the Torettos on a one-way road above the dam, hoping to crush them with two merging trucks. But Dom pulls off a final magic act, jumping the barrier with his Charger, gassing it hundreds of feet down, and flying into the river below, where he and Brian swim to shore.

As much as this franchise likes to one-up itself with each movie (see: F9 going to space), Leterrier felt compelled to return this 10th chapter—the first installment of a reported two-part finale—closer to its roots, grounding the ending with a nostalgic compilation of Fast’s greatest hits: plane drops, helicopter chases, harpoon strikes, leaps of faith, and, yes, wheelies. The result is another operatic third act that still manages to burn rubber in new places. (After all, “nobody had driven down a dam in any of the movies,” Leterrier says.) To account for his late addition and last-minute location changes, Leterrier leaned on a second-unit stunt crew—which had worked together on the last five movies—to conceive, design, and take his boyhood dream “up to a Biblical level.” Pulling off all the practical elements of this epic chase in Portugal required two months of immense trust, open collaboration, and lots of experimentation. “It’s so involved and so dangerous,” Gill says of his work. “And it’s always different.”

Leterrier began building the third act on a plane trip to London. Not long after Universal president Peter Cramer called him to join the Fast universe and meet in person, he’d been told that production had lost its Montenegro location for the ending. Before landing at Heathrow, Leterrier put a scouting team together and began amending the movie’s final set piece, which Lin had already written before bowing out over creative differences. “What Justin had previously was about 60 percent there, and then Louis came in and fine-tuned,” says stunt coordinator Andy Gill, Jack’s brother and collaborator. “We changed up some of the gags just to suit the locations.”

The consistent throughline between both versions was a chase sequence requiring two levels of a raised highway. About three weeks before shooting needed to start, location managers found an ideal five-mile stretch outside Lisbon that they could shut down for eight weeks. Once it was secured, Jack Gill and second-unit director Alexander Witt scoped out the 300-foot elevated highway, where a storyboard artist took notes as the pair puzzled out the sequence together. The artist “could then go back to his hotel room at night, do a rough drawing of what he thought, and then we’d all look at it,” Jack says. Though he didn’t have time to fly to Portugal, Leterrier says he “was on Apple maps, zooming in and doing 3D views, basically building this paint-by-numbers giant set piece [remotely].”

As the action begins, a bomber plane drops Dom onto the highway so he can pursue Dante. The maneuver meant plopping Dom on top of two bad guys, causing them to crash and catch fire and allowing Dom a relatively smooth getaway. Despite pulling off a similar stunt with an actual plane in Fast 7, producers didn’t want to procure an entire aircraft to carry one car, so the Gill brothers constructed a practical shot that Witt could use by hanging (and eventually dropping) the Charger from a crane attached to the flatbed of a semi-truck. To align the crash, the crew put in pressure plates on the pursuing vehicles, which set off automatic cannons once the Charger collided with them. “We found out that it was going to be difficult to have the cars in the exact right position if you’re driving them, and Louis wanted them locked in,” Andy says. “So we ended up putting a cable on the nose of the cars and just towed it with a truck.”

Leterrier’s biggest decision about the chase was whether to kill off a family member and insert some real consequences. Ultimately, after Dante snatches Brian from his uncle Jakob’s (John Cena) cannon car, Jakob makes a last-ditch effort to fend off Dante’s goons, jumping over the guard rails and taking out a four-car fleet approaching from the opposite direction in a sacrificial fiery explosion. Jack recalls launching five different test cars over the highway’s gap using an air-propelled cannon to get Jakob’s mid-air spiral just right. Then he attached more pressurized cannons to his landing targets, setting off explosives when they smashed together. “We wanted everything perfect so it landed in the right spot,” Jack says. “Then Dom has to make his way through from the opposite side and pass all of the burning pileup.”

The pyrotechnics prefaced Dom’s hardest escape in the movie: fending off two helicopters that harpoon his Charger. “When we saw that [in the script], we all kind of laughed,” Jack says. After Dom avoided helicopter trouble in Fast 7 and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) reined in a chopper from the back of a peterbilt in Hobbs & Shaw, Leterrier liked the idea of revisiting a similar aerial assault—only “now we’re going to pick up the car with two harpoons,” Jack says. Once the pilots latched onto Dom, the stunt team attached the Charger to another flatbed crane moving at about 40 miles per hour that could puppet the up-and-down struggle. Then the team swapped in the helicopters to get live-action shots that would later be composited into the same sequence. “They were as low as they could get to be in the shot safely,” Andy says. “They’d be moving in and out like they were towing him.”

Jack adds, “We had to measure rotor blades and say, ‘This is as close as you can get side-to-side because we only have about five feet of distance between blades. Once we simulated the harpoons slamming into the car, they have to start fighting it, and I’ve got to know that they’ve got enough blade clearance that their rotors aren’t going to hit.’”

After an engine-revving struggle, Dom eventually hits the NOS to get his tires on solid ground and shoots over the barrier to land on a lower-elevated highway, crashing the helicopters together in his wake. While a VFX team handled those fiery elements, Jack and Andy set up another air-propelled cannon to shoot a driverless Charger down two stories. It took about 10 rehearsals of the angled launch to determine the drop radius that the drivers below would steer around. During some dry runs, Jack gave his crew a three-second count ahead of the car dropping, and then clarified to them: “If anybody is anywhere close to that big red cone out there, you’re going to die.” Without an engine inside the replica Charger, the wheels fell off on contact, but the team built a miniature ramp in the same location to create a cleaner version of the car’s landing. “A lot of that is just knowing where the camera’s going to be and what you can do,” Andy says. “You’re working every day trying to figure out the best way to get stuff that we can’t do in a real-time way.”

To make these various segments smooth and efficient, Witt and his second-unit team sat down with Leterrier before shooting and watched a rough pre-viz animation to delineate which cuts would be shot in Portugal or back in London on a soundstage. “It helped him to see the pictures and gave him a good idea of what we were doing,” Witt says. After running through each beat, Witt then shot live-action plates of the stunts to be used as backgrounds for the cast’s green-screen work, which helped the actors react appropriately. That paid off in the final leg of the highway chase, when Brian leaps out of Dante’s car and into Dom’s arms as both cars spin in sync. Jack remembers spending a week of rehearsal at Warner Brothers Leavesden Studios, where the effects team built a rotating spindle rig and welded two cars together at the right distance before wiring up a young stunt performer to leap between them. “That’s the great part of doing Fast and Furious,” Jack says. “They want to get the shots as real as possible, so we dedicate our time to making it work.”

When production moved to shoot the dam scene, Jack initially thought big. After all, the Aldeadávila Dam stands 460 feet tall, and after about two weeks, Leterrier’s long-held aspiration of shooting a scene like this had spread to the crew. “We wanted to make it as big and extravagant as we could,” Jack says. As with their previous stunts using an air cannon, everyone began discussing the potential of shooting a car off the top of the dam and capturing its epic descent with a wide lens. But soon, Jack realized he had to pivot. “We were looking over the side going, ‘Well, I can see it dropping, but it’s probably going to do damage to the wall of their real dam,’” he says. “I don’t think they want that.”

Eventually, he compromised. Since the group had scouted 50 dams before deciding on the Aldeadávila for its one-lane roads, Witt used roughly eight cameras to shoot a speeding semi-truck from different angles, and then later composited from both sides of the dam to look like the truck was converging on Dom. Then a stunt driver operating a special wheelie car spun up some smoke and skidded a few yards up to the barrier. After remote production concluded, Jack brought his crew to Leavesden, where a design team had replicated the entire top of the dam for the wheelie car to vault over the wall. “I dug a 40-foot hole in the ground so it could crash through the barrier and drop out of the shot,” Jack says.

To capture Leterrier’s “vertical quarter-mile run,” Jack built another mini-ramp landing to simulate the car’s bounce off the dam’s wall. “We were all afraid that if we tried to do that as a CGI landing, the suspension might not work as well as we’d like,” he says. With Diesel inside the car on an elevated gimbal, Leterrier shot him on an incline to capture the appropriate angle of the car swerving to escape the “giant fire monster with tiger paws trying to reach the car,” Leterrier says. The attention to detail extended to the car’s jump into water, which required 14 test launches to see how different smoke and explosions would look for Dom’s aquatic landing. Once the cameras rolled, Jack had two chances to fire the car into a large tank, ending the movie with a splash. “I go for peaks of action,” Leterrier says. “What you want to do is go up and up and up.”

After two months of shooting in Portugal, the entire second-unit team had gone through the wringer, handling and orchestrating 35 different vehicles with minimal emergency exits and little room to park mechanics and safety equipment. And because of the blazing sun, stunt drivers battled heat exhaustion inside cars without air-conditioning systems, which the crew had removed for better vehicular performance. “We had assistants that would run out there and change the ice and water in their coolers between shots so they didn’t pass out,” Jack says. “There’s a lot of stress that comes with this, but the fact that we had our tight-knit family is comforting. You don’t have to second-guess anybody.”

During the climactic sequence of The Fate of the Furious, Dom’s crew races across a frozen lake trying to avoid a heat-seeking missile. When Andy Gill read through the script the first time, most of the action beats made sense to him—until he got to a passage in which Hobbs picks up a stationary torpedo and throws it like a javelin. “As soon as I read that I went, ‘No, I’m not doing that. No way,’” he says. Shortly after, he met with director F. Gary Gray, explaining that even a musclebound Dwayne Johnson couldn’t conceivably lift a 22-foot, 2,500-pound torpedo, let alone toss it over a plate of ice. “He goes, ‘Well, come up with something better.’” Eventually, Gill rewrote the scene so that Hobbs would lean down out of a moving vehicle and redirect a sliding torpedo over the ice instead, a still-ludicrous but much more plausible solution.

“It’s always a give and take,” he says. “I can’t even imagine what the audience would have said.”

Over the last several movies in this franchise, the stunt team has been the last line of defense in preserving a semblance of reality and (mostly) maintaining the laws of physics. But even Gill admits that this installment under Leterrier—with its high-flying car jumps and helicopter dragging—“was way more grounded.” That was Leterrier’s goal from the beginning. Although Dom is practically indestructible at this point, Leterrier felt the Fast and Furious movies should return to their original tricks and roadside daredevil antics, producing excitement out of self-referential material that would fold in its expansive mythos. “Every set piece needs to have characters deeply seeded in it, propelling the story and guiding the story,” he says.

According to Leterrier, because Dom has pulled off just about every major heist and rescue inside his Charger, it made sense that he would lean on his own history to help himself out of another jam. “He has to think back about what happened, and how do I get out of this, and it makes him more human,” Jack Gill says. That’s evident in Fast X’s third act, as he drives out the back of a plane, drags wreckage from his trunk, pops wheelies, and then tells his son to spring into his arms, a direct tribute to Dom catching Letty in Fast & Furious and then again in Fast & Furious 6. “There’s so much you can do with a car,” Leterrier says. “But Dom would not tell his son to jump out of a moving vehicle if he hadn’t done it before—if he hadn’t already taken that leap of faith.”

It’s a whimsical but consistent logic, most of which wouldn’t be possible without a stunt team that’s devoted to shooting practically and a director who’s deeply familiar with his characters’ life stories. In many ways, it’s what makes even the most fantastical ideas—including an eight-year-old’s dream of turning a giant dam into a ramp—feel like they have just a bit more gravitas to them. “We’re keeping it as real as possible,” Jack says. “That’s what keeps everyone coming back movie after movie.”

Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has also appeared in,, and The New York Times.

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