'Getaway' Director Courtney Solomon on the Challenges of a Car-Chase Thriller

Although Courtney Solomon has spent the past several years as a producer of the successful After Dark Action series, he began his Hollywood career as the director of Dungeons and Dragons. After shepherding a spate of genre projects into theaters and on to home video, he’s making his return to the director’s chair with Getaway, a car-chase thriller that’s not to be confused with Sam Peckinpah’s film of the same name (nor the Jim Thompson novel that inspired it). Starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, the film follows a retired race-car driver who finds himself stuck inside a car with a scrappy computer hacker as they’re sent on a wild chase around an Eastern European city.

Spinoff Online caught up with Solomon last week for a quick discussion about Getaway. In addition to discussing the specter of Peckinpah’s film, the director revealed his early inspirations for tackling the project, and explored the challenge of assembling a breakneck thriller from what he calls an “orgy” of footage, culled from dozens of cameras.

Spinoff Online: You were very forthcoming during development about this not being a remake of the Sam Peckinpah movie or another adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel. But what prompted you to name the film Getaway, given the inevitability of comparisons people might draw?

Courtney Solomon: Gee, I didn’t even know there was another Getaway. Just kidding (laughs). That’s a simple answer; it would make me look like an idiot, but it’s a great answer. But actually the script came in and it was already named Getaway. And we had the conversation early on and everybody sort of said, no, we don’t have any problem calling it Getaway – it goes with what the movie is. So that’s what everybody decided and I went with the prevailing wisdom of the powers that be, if you will; I was just interested in making the movie, and Getaway was a great title for it. It could have been called something else, too, like Really Fast Car – no, but I’m just saying they could have come up with a title. They’re good at that.

What in particular did you connect with in the script that prompted you to take it on?

Well, I connected with a few things. I’d been producing for a few years because I had a contract to produce, and I wasn’t allowed to direct – and I didn’t have time, really. But the script came in and we were looking at it, and I thought, this is really simple, but I kind of want to see it because it’s interesting to me that this guy walks into his house, sees it in shambles, and suddenly gets a phone call and is thrown onto this roller coaster – and he really has no choice but to be on it, because he wants to save his loved one. It’s just so simple; people may claim there’s no plot to the movie, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, well, what if this sort of thing happened – because it does happen. They’re like, unless you write, X, Y and Z, we’re going to kill your loved one, or whatever somebody’s job is. So that started to compel me – how far somebody would go, and at what point would they actually try to turn the tables on [the kidnapper]. It wasn’t the conventional badass, I’m the hero and I’m going to come and get you type of thing, because he’s dealing with the stakes of losing his loved one, and that’s how the script played. And then somehow he gets thrown together in this car with someone from a completely different walk of life; you’ve got these two people that should never be anywhere together, much less in a car for a whole movie. And they have no choice but try to find a way through this thing together.

The other thing I thought was compelling was we don’t have the usual set-up of 20 minutes of the obligatory, oh, there’s Selena with her friends and polishing her car and working on a computer so we know everything she does. And then the wife’s shopping and Ethan’s at work, and then they’re stealing the car, and now the movie can start. The movie didn’t present itself that way. It presented itself like, you walk in, you’re told only what you need to know about these characters as they go through this night, which I thought was interesting because it’s a bit more realistic; it’s not so staged. And then you have this third character and fourth character – the third is the car itself, and the fourth is this voice who basically you don’t see for the whole movie and yet is the person holding the puppet strings. There was a Jigsaw aspect of that in my mind, using a modern reference that we can all sort of relate to, because he’s essentially telling them, “Do this.” You’re not really seeing him, you’re getting little representational shots of him. And then there was what I’ll call the geek side of me, which I don’t mean in any bad way because I mean it in the most complimentary way to myself, saying that I could shoot this in a really cool way – and if I could do all of this practically, I could present the real action they did in movies like The Getaway and Bullitt for modern audiences and in the context of this structure. And I’ve got a make-up here that allows to have cameras on the inside and the outside of the car for a story reason, and suddenly that makes this really cool. So I’m going to try to shoot all of these things practically so people really think that they’re in this thing, because it’s a different thing if you shoot it CG.

In terms of the geography of this city, how tough is it to create something very modern that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, and at the same time they understand where he’s going so there are stakes to the stunts instead of them just being set pieces?

I guess I didn’t see the geography as that important because half the people watching this movie, or more, don’t even know where Sophia, Bulgaria, is. And in the script it was just “an Eastern European city,” and we named the city we shot in because they really let us get away with a lot there. But it wasn’t to me about where they were going because that’s not the most important thing; it’s about the insanity that goes around it when somebody’s making you do these things on a dime. If somebody said to you, “OK, go down Wilshire, and now turn left on Santa Monica. Go down the one-way street into Beverly Hills down Bedford. Go down Bedford and get back on Wilshire.” Does anybody care what street you’re on and the context of them, or what’s going to happen as you’re going down in traffic the wrong way, and you have to do this stuff on a dime because somebody says it. What’s the effect when these people in these other cars and these pedestrians don’t know that you’re about to do that, and have to adjust literally in a second or get killed or hurt. It was more about the chaos and confusion that ensues as opposed to where it ensues.

Because you had so much footage, what was your priority – enhancing what you call that chaos? Or what was the process of streamlining all of the material from all of those angles into something digestible by the audience?

That’s an interesting question. First of all there was what we call an orgy of footage (laughs), and that’s putting it lightly. But the process there was telling the danger of whatever the specific thing was as clearly as we could, but at the same time dealing with the frenetic energy of all of these cameras, and watching it in different ways to sort of keep the energy up and make it sort of a crazy experience. Once you get past the things about the movie that brought me into it, then it became about very much once they’re on this journey, it’s like getting on a roller coaster and going through the roller coaster and getting off the roller coaster. And so all of these different things are your different loop-de-loops and everything else on the roller coaster. So you have lulls, you have going up the hill, you have the two loop-de-loops where you’re gaining speed and then shooting back down to the next part of the roller coaster. So that’s sort of how we dictated what we were doing, when we would cut back to their reactions in the car, as opposed to what was happening in the streets. But you go by it so quickly, it’s all overwhelming, but when you add the sound it’s all overwhelming. And again, you want the audience to digest as much of it as they can feeling like they’re really in it. And that was the biggest goal – I wanted everybody to feel like they were in this.

Getaway opens today nationwide.

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