Best of 2011 (Behind the Scenes): Stunt Coordinator Jack Gill explains the 'Fast Five' bank vault finale

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Most of the ones where you see the total decimation of cars and palm trees, that’s the real vault. The Peterbilt tractor vault was for the really big huge crashes where I had people on the sidewalk, in really delicate areas that I couldn’t afford to have a vault out of control.

One of the things that happened with the vault that was drivable was that it was a coffin. Once you were in it, you couldn’t get out of it. It got hot really fast, because of the engine heat. The driver was suffocating in it. There was no place for the air to go. Even though we vented the exhaust out the back, you still had all that engine compression and engine heat. We put a meat thermometer in there, and it was running like 185.

Henry Kingi was the stunt guy that I stuck in there. I put him in a cool suit, which is a vest that has lines built into it — you can pump in cold water that circulates through the vest and keeps your body cooler. He couldn’t breathe, so I got a helmet built that completely encapsulated his whole head and pumped air from the outside. Then we figured out it was still way too hot for him. So I put in 50 dry ice bags all around the engine. If you know anything about dry ice, it sucks all the oxygen out of whatever it surrounds. There was no oxygen in that vault at all. If you take your helmet off, you’re gonna die.

One of the first things we shot, and first thing the studio was gonna see, was when they first stole the vault. They came out of the bank building, and the Chargers went sideways, and we had to swing the vault out for the first time.  I created a curb that the vault would hit, and I created all these cement balusters that it could hit. I said, “I don’t know that it will, but I’m gonna try and create a way that it will stumble.”

After I said that, everybody started to say, “That’ll be great! If this thing will tumble, it’ll be fantastic!” I thought, “Oh, my god, if this thing doesn’t tumble, I’m in the doghouse.” Luckily, that very first shot we did – what you see in the movie — It came flying out, pitched it, caught an edge, and tumbled right in front of the camera.

I think the audience member, if they can see that it’s digital, it takes them out of the moment. If you think it’s all real, you think these guys could die at any minute. The minute you know it’s all digital, you’re just not as involved. That’s one of the things Justin Lin kept hammering into us. That’s not to say there’s not digital effects in it. Because we were in Puerto Rico, they put in the favelas behind the cars as background, they put in the dust effects coming off the bottom, they did a fantastic job of making it look like Rio. But as far as the action goes, it’s probably 95 percent real.

I was really proud of what we ended up with, and the fact that nobody got hurt. With something as radical as this, all it takes is one missed cue and somebody gets killed. It’s tough for a show like this. You’re always hoping that everything goes right. You try and do the right thing, and have enough safety meetings, and know where your outs are.

I’ve been doing this 33 years, and I’ve never been as proud of a sequence. I think that’s the best thing I’ve probably ever done in my career. I may not ever top it.

For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.

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