“It’s important for a character to have the right car, it’s like their clothes, it helps define who they are,” explains Gurinder Chadha, director of films including Keira Knightley’s first hit, Bend it Like Beckham.
She’s sitting in a brand new Ford Focus on the set of It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, the new film she’s shooting in London.
“Cars are a great place for rows as nobody can leave, or you can ‘stop the car’, creating drama, with somebody walking off and the car driving away,” says Chadha.
“It’s about the dialogue and the context, who they are and why they’re in the car.”
Nobody drove in the scene she’s just wrapped, but it features five cars, including an SUV, an ambulance, a police car, each carefully chosen for their character by Chadha and her art department.
“You might not notice them, but because they belong to the character they should be there. You need to employ a special action vehicle person whose job it is to just move the cars around.”
Shooting a car is complex. For a start, space is restricted. Originally actors used to sit in a car in a studio and project a moving road behind. Then directors put cars on low loaders, a large, low trailer that could hold the car and the cameras around it.
Nowadays it’s more common to use CGI, shooting car scenes with a green screen in a studio, and fusing interior shots with background in post-production.
Meanwhile, actors have to be insured on their characters’ cars — and drive them. Yesterday one of Chadha’s actors ploughed into a fence, and some can’t even drive at all.
“In those situations you just turn the engine on and just cut there, turn the engine off, and then someone pushes it from the back so it looks as if they’re starting to pull off.”