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Director F. Gary Gray on making things go boom

Director F. Gary Gray on making things go boom — The action auteur behind ”The Italian Job” and ”Law Abiding Citizen” on blowing up cars the right way

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In The Italian Job, veteran action director F. Gary Gray raced Mini Coopers through L.A. as if they were Maseratis. In The Negotiator, he had Samuel L. Jackson ignite a hostage crisis. And in this month’s Law Abiding Citizen, he turns Gerard Butler into the meanest vigilante since Charles Bronson. He gives advice on making mayhem on screen.

1. DO IT YOURSELF
To convince stars Jamie Foxx and Bruce McGill that it was safe to stand 30 feet away from several exploding cars, Gray and producer Lucas Foster stood in for the actors during a test explosion. ”I have to admit, you just never know what’s going to happen,” says Gray. ”But every single piece that could potentially hurt the actors was fastened, glued, or permanently attached to the car, or [rigged to] go in the opposite direction.”

2. MAKE IT LOOK AS REAL AS POSSIBLE
Those cars were scripted to detonate outside a prison, so for added verisimilitude, Gray decided to blow them up outside an actual functioning prison located near Philadelphia. ”We had to take all types of cautionary measures,” says the director, ”because prisoners can escape. So we put extra security there — we had to lock down their prison.”

3. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
For another scene in Law Abiding Citizen, Gray dreamed up a remote-controlled robot that could attack an SUV with machine-gun fire and a rocket-propelled grenade — but he got the idea just two weeks before the scene was due to shoot. Luckily, the production team found a mechanical wonder at the Philadelphia Police Department. It was built to defuse bombs, but Gray armed it to the hilt and made it a movie star.

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