March/April 2011

Creative Accounting

Hollywood Stunt: K-Rail Slide


Hollywood stunts are complicated, expensive procedures. Even the slightest mistake can cause a serious injury, so stunts require not risk-takers, as one might expect, but meticulous, detail-oriented athletes and technicians.

The following budget shows the cost of creating one stunt: a car crash in the 2007 film The Bourne Ultimatum. In this scene, an assassin, driving a Volkswagen Touareg 2, pursues Jason Bourne, who is driving a stolen police car. The assassin forces Bourne’s car onto the K-rail, the highway’s concrete center median. He pushes Bourne’s car along until it clips an oncoming panel truck and spins off the rail, crashing.

Setting up this stunt was labor intensive. First, the crew prepped the K-rail with a track for Bourne’s (empty) car to slide along. They prepared a massive ratchet—a stunt tool used to yank objects—to jerk the car down the track. They rebuilt the assassin’s car so that the driver could drive from the safety of the backseat. They then designed and built a trolley mount strong enough to hold Bourne’s car on the track as it accelerated from zero to fifty-five miles per hour in just eighty-five feet, exerting a massive g-load.

A normal film budget might disperse the components of stunts across the budget, but we asked for a breakdown. Some numbers, like the price of the cars, are necessarily approximate—the film used a lot of cars. To build and design aspects of the stunt took six men four weeks of work. (They had no reason to divide the exact number of hours worked per task, so those subtotals have been left blank.) Because this stunt did not impact structures, buildings, or bridges, it fell under the film’s umbrella insurance policy.

This is an installment of Creative Accounting, an ongoing series that explains where the money goes for projects in the major creative industries. Very soon the series will be collected into a single, indispensable volume, published by Believer Books.

—Christopher Benz

Christopher Benz lives and works in the Bay Area.

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