Dennis McCarthy has one of those professions that many would classify as a dream job. McCarthy is car coordinator for the "Fast & Furious" films. Basically, he's the guy who spends his days buying, modifying and testing the amazing pieces of machinery that are, in many ways, the real stars of the high-octane franchise.
This will be McCarthy's fourth film in the series, since signing on to wrangle cars for 2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift." That film required a spread of tasty imports, cars not available here in the US. His solution? Hop on a plane -- and bring the corporate card.
"The original intent was to film the movie 80 percent in Japan, 20 percent in LA. When we got to Japan we realized there were too many restrictions. So, a friend of mine and I went to Japan and went on a three-week shopping trip."
McCarthy and friend quickly assembled a comprehensive collection of the sorts of high-performance JDM machines that make import fans drool. They bought Nissan 350Zs, Skyline GT-Rs, Sylvias and anything else that caught their eye. All of it was shipped back to LA for filming.
For "Fast & Furious 7," McCarthy and team faced a different problem: timeline. "7 was the shortest build we've ever had. It was three months. We were literally sending cars to set with wet paint. It was that close." It took McCarthy and a team of roughly 70 to pull together all the cars they would need for the film.
How many cars? "I never have the exact answer, but it's roughly 300 or so. Maybe 350." And how many were destroyed through the course of filming? "Gosh, I'd have to say a couple hundred... We're hard on our cars."
That may seem like an excessive amount of sheet metal, but there is some logic to the madness. Part of the reason is multiple units: multiple scenes being shot at the same time at different sets, sometimes on different continents. Even for one shot at one location, multiples of a given car are needed just in case something breaks. "It all depends on the car and what's being asked of the car. For the part coming out of the plane, which leads to this snatch-and-grab sequence, we needed six Subaru WRXs, eight Dodge Chargers, eight Challengers, six Jeeps and six Camaros."
That's 34 cars for one shot. Admittedly it's a pretty spectacular shot, one that was actually performed largely without CG. Yes, there is some computer manipulation happening to tie it all together, but they actually dropped the cars out of planes -- again and again.
"That sequence was moved a few times. We just used full-blown stunt cars. They are fully operational vehicles. As long as the parachute operated correctly, we could drive them back to the trailer. I can't say that every single drop went perfect, but most of them did. We lost three or four cars."
While each car is very different on the outside, many of the classics are quite similar on the inside, running a custom drivetrain package built around small-block LS3 V8s, with custom brake setups provided by Brembo. For the newer cars, many of them are left more or less alone. "The Subaru STIs, they're brand-new. We don't have to do anything. There's really no tuning issues with those, or with the Nissan GT-Rs, or the brand-new Challengers, Chargers."
And finally, perhaps the most important question: how did he get this amazing job? "I had a custom car shop in Burbank. Since I was a kid pretty much all I've done was work on cars. I got some jobs working on commercials, then got referred to Jim Brubaker for a film called 'Dragonfly.' That led to 'Bruce Almighty' and a few other films, which got me to 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' That was the moment when I realized this was the job for me."
Kids, if you're reading this, now might be a good time to adjust your career trajectories accordingly.
"Fast & Furious 7" is out in US and UK cinemas April 3.