The "Fast and Furious" franchise has evolved from films featuring hot cars and hot babes to having some of the most heart-stopping stunts you'll find at theaters.
One of the men responsible for making those scenes look as realistic as possible is 30-year stunt veteran Spiro Razatos.
"For the fourth film ("Fast & Furious") they kind of relied too much on CGI," Razatos told Business Insider. "So they realized they wanted to do less. That's what I do."
Razatos is responsible for some of the most jaw-dropping sequences from the franchise including when Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and the rest of the crew dragged a giant bank vault through the busy streets of Rio de Janeiro in "Fast Five."
He also worked on the duel with a tank in "Fast and Furious 6."
In both sequences, very little CGI was included, using real vaults and tanks to pull it off.
With fans starving for more, "Furious 7" director James Wan and the producers once again came to Razatos to take on the franchise's most insane sequence yet.
They called it the "air drop."
The idea was to have a sequence in the film in which Dom and company in their souped-up cars drop from a plane high above Colorado and parachute into the mountains below.
"When I first read [the script] it was, 'cars drop and they kidnap this girl and they get away on the road,' that was it," Razatos recalls.
The producers assumed the sequence would have to rely heavily on special effects, but Razatos had other plans.
"I said let's really go for it and make the effort because I want this whole sequence to feel real, that's what the audience expects," he said.
The stunt took months of prep time to solve problems. Cameras needed to be mounted onto cars in a way that they wouldn't be destroyed when the cars landed, and the crew needed a safe way to get the cars out of the plane.
"What if one of them gets stuck coming out of the plane?" said Razatos. "How is the plane going to land when you have a car dangling outside of it?"
They finally were able to do a "dry run," with a single car falling out of a plane. But some on the film weren't impressed by the raw footage.
"It was 20 minutes and the cameras weren't placed where they should be," Razatos recalls. "I remember telling the guys, 'ignore this, this is just a test.'"
With a green light, shooting took place in Colorado with two airplane runs, flying at 12,000 feet, that would drop two cars apiece.
Over 10 cameras were used for the sequence. In addition to cameras on the ground, there were cameras remotely operated inside the plane and another three mounted outside each car. Additional cameras were on a helicopter where Razatos was stationed watching monitors and listening to the radio chatter. Three skydivers used in the shoot wore helmet cams.
Skydivers would either jump out before cars or after them.
"I didn't realize how intense it would be," Razatos admits now.
"Sometimes a piece of debris would come off the car, so skydivers had to watch out for that," he added. "I'm in a helicopter and I want to get in close for the shots but you have to watch out because of the helicopter blades."
There were also spotters keeping an eye on how close the cars were getting to the skydivers. "On the radio you'd hear people say, 'Skydiver, 200 feet you have a car gaining on your two o'clock,'" Razatos said.
Regardless of all the safety precautions, accidents can happen. Razatos says in one of the runs a skydiver lost his footing getting out of the plane and bounced off the rear exit hatch on his way out of the plane. Not the most graceful of jumps, but Razatos said he was fine.
When one car landed, its parachute caught an air pocket and was carrying the car to the freeway. "I'm hearing on the radio the car is being dragged and it can't stop," said Razatos. "People were on motorcycles to get to the car; jumping on the car with knives to cut the parachute."
And then there's the one car of the four that didn't make it because its parachute didn't deploy. "That car got demolished," said Razatos. "You got to see what would happen if a car really dropped from that height."
Much of what Razatos and his 2nd unit team did on the day made it into the final cut of the movie. Some of it was enhanced to increase the look of the speed at which cars were diving. Shots of the actors in the cars were put in later. But, for the most part, Razatos' mission to do the scene as realistically as possible was a success.
"I started doing stunts when I was 10 years old making Super 8 movies. This feels like I'm back in those days," Razatos said about working on the "Fast and Furious" films.
Thinking back on the "air drop" sequence he admits, "That's going to be hard to top."
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how the sequence was done:
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