Stunt driver and viral YouTube sensation Ken Block has taken his "Gymkhana" online short series of action videos to Paris, San Francisco and the backlot of a movie studio.
Now, for "Gymkhana 7," he's destroying the streets of Los Angeles.
Block, the lifestyle apparel wunderkind, was born in Long Beach, and raised in San Diego. He made a fortune with the DC shoes franchise before turning his attention to rally-cross racing and the drifting-style school of driving known as "gymkhana."
He and his Gymkhana crew, which included director Ben Conrad, of Logan, and longtime associate Brian Scotto, had for years been trying to find a creative way to shoot one of their signature shorts in Los Angeles.
But the kinds of stunts typically included in the team's 10- to 12-minute videos would have required more cooperation from law enforcement and film permit offices than they thought they were likely to get.
But when they got the permits they needed for San Francisco, which included the opportunity to film on the Bay Bridge, on Nob Hill and on a barge floating in the San Francisco Bay, they decided they might as well try.
The result is a red-lined adrenaline rush through downtown LA, into the pedestrian-only section of Chinatown, across the iconic Sixth Street bridge, through a concrete section of the LA River, and across and under the overpass connecting the 105 and 110 freeways.
And, this being LA, and Block being a drifter, he does donuts around iconic Randy's Donuts in Inglewood. There's even a scene in which Block drifts his car, in a tight circle, under the chassis of a low-rider that's bouncing up and down on its pneumatic shocks.
Block, who in this installment replaces his customary souped-up 2-liter Ford Fiesta with a custom-made,one-of-a-kind, 845HP, all-wheel-drive 1965 V-8 Ford Mustang, said, "Because I'm from Southern California, and I love LA, I had certain ideas about shooting in certain areas. It turns out, if you work with the permitting people, and the police, you can get major things done."
Block's highly-choreographed, don't-try-this-at-home tour of Los Angeles required almost a year of planning, and many months of securing permission to film. Shooting the shot took five full days, and a crew of 80, at times using eight movie cameras, a helicopter, and up to 50 GoPro miniature cameras. The budget for the video, which was shared by partners Ford, the video game franchise Need For Speed, and Block's own apparel line Hoonigan, was something over $1 million.
That's peanuts for this kind of filmmaking. "Gymkhana 7" director Ben Conrad, who also directed episodes four, five and six, says the high production value, for low production dollar, is the result of careful preparation and seasoned team accustomed to getting the shot.
"I always tell people, 'We do it for a lot less than you think,'" said Brian Scotto, brand manager for Hoonigan and creative director for the film series. "We cram a lot into our days."
They get a lot of attention, too. The San Francisco video, known as "Gymkhana 5," has to date been seen on YouTube 68.5 million times.
Most of the public street and freeway shooting was done early on weekend mornings, the filmmakers said. The hardest shot to get, by far, they agreed, was the film's final sequence, which includes a series of aerial shots of Block's car screaming to the small plot of land above the Hollywood sign.
The filmmakers were told by their location scouts that permission to shoot at that location was never given, and that no one had ever shot a movie sequence there.
They scrapped the idea until, on their second day of filming, they heard that permission had been granted.
And as for the gasp-inducing scene by the LA River, when the speeding Mustang twirls balletically and then actually drops a wheel into the water?
"We wanted to make it look a little risky, and dip a wheel in," Block said. "I went in a little farther than I intended."