The Youtube video of the bright red Polaris RZR tearing through a forest in something like an off-road version of Ken Block’s Gymkhana has been cleverly edited to look like it was all driven in one take… but as you probably already know, the truth is a long way from that. I was lucky enough to be invited to Washington state, 20 km south of the Canadian border to take a look behind the scenes and saw first hand a feat of organising on an epic scale. Those five minutes took a 50 man crew a month to set up and shoot!
The XP1K2 project began over a year before shooting with logging tracks in the 600 acre private woodland scouted for places to make the stunts, the jumps… and insane things like the Wall of Death, which is a terrifying looking circle of planks around a hole on the side of a steep hill, and then an insanely detailed script of what to film, when and how was drafted. Oh, and add a world record jump in there somewhere too. After eleven months of meticulous planning only then did the excavating team arrive, followed a couple of weeks later by the film and camera crews to brave the elements.
The guys behind it all are the Martelli brothers, Josh and Matt of Mad Media and if the Polaris film looks a little reminiscent of Ken Block’s that’s probably because some twenty years ago Matt basically invented the wide angle, slow-mo shot that made Ken famous. But why deep in the forest? “Polaris are going to be putting more emphasis on the trail riding segment of the market so for the second film we wanted a more natural setting than the quarry in the original.” The mist-covered mountains of northern Washington don’t get any more natural than this!
Day 1 of the two week shoot began with a 6am shuffle out of the hotel and in the dark of pre-dawn we headed out of Bellingham deep into the back country to set up base camp. I made myself useful by volunteering for coffee brewing duties as the low, weak sun tried to burn away the morning fog. The first scene was young stunt driver RJ Anderson taking a tiny little jump which in the full video is a little filler moment between the bigger ones. Referred to in official literature as ‘The Talent’ RJ might only be 20 years old but his skill behind the wheel belies his tender years as the two national championships under his belt attest. Stunt driving might not exactly be his forte but car control definitely is.
The little jump at 2:39 gave the team an opportunity to get up to speed and working together with a no-pressure shot… Still, arranging the camera people and their assistants, soundman and photographers wasn’t easy. Milan’s battery died, Ernesto was standing in shot, Vince wanted to stand somewhere else, Eddie wanted to shoot at a different frame rate than Josh had asked for, the chocks on the sliding camera were wobbly and I needed more coffee. “Like herding cats,” Matt smiled as director Lonnie Peralta checked that everyone was ready. After a couple of takes the stress level was increased by putting a camera right in the track for the Polaris to jump over, known as the crush shot. But this is not a Go Pro stuck in a protective case, if something goes wrong it’s an $80,000 camera that gets squashed. Surprisingly though, there is an insurance that will cover a stunt-driven ATV landing on it… but fortunately RJ knows exactly what he’s doing and can repeat the jump over and over again with exactly the same outcome. That was the cheap camera too. The red Dragon 5-step ones are worth upwards of $300,000! And the crew have two of them.
Filler shots bagged, the big scene for the day was a valley with a steep dirt ramp built straight up the side of a very big hill. “This is where we’ll drop the car in from the helicopter for the opening scene and over there is where we’ll do the world record jump.” Matt says.
“How can you look at the landscape can just imagine all of this?” I asked.
“From years of skateboarding,” was the simple reply. “You look at an obstacle and think about how to go over it and make a stunt out of it. This is pretty much exactly the same thing, just on a bigger scale. But we did spend quite a lot of time walking around just looking at the land and what it was offering us.”
The single earth ramp had two jumps in it, RJ had two practice runs to get the speed right to make sure he would land in the right place and then the diggers were sent back in to take out the middle parts. When they’d finished it had a jump at the bottom over a very large gap, then about half way up had about 10 metres for RJ to land and set the RZR up for the next jump which was to land on top of a giant square rock. The sun came out again to bathe the autumn russets in a soft evening light which gave a stunning background to the little Polaris as it hit the first ramp. It flew up much higher than the background line of trees, literally sky high and looked like a combination of the Dukes of Hazzard and the scene from ET when Elliott flies his bike in front of the moon. I messed up all of the photos because I was staring up in shocked awe. Fortunately for all the cameras to get their full compliment of angles RJ took a total of seven runs.
Five guys look after the zip line camera. A 150m cable spans the whole length of the jump suspended between two portable gantries with a camera on a platform that is pulled by a very fast, very smooth winch. Getting the timing right took a couple of goes but as you can see from the video, they got it right!
With the setting of the sun it was a wrap and on the way back to the hotel I asked RJ if anything made him nervous. “Erm… Well it’s best not to think too much about it…” he shrugged.
“What about the Wall of Death?”
“Don’t call it that!” he said. “Call it the Wooden Wheel or something!”
I don’t think you’ve seen a RZR in a Wall of Death before and the simple reason for that is that’s it’s never been done before. RJ was nervous and no one knew how damn loose the structure was and the few of us who didn’t have faces buried in a camera view finder looked on in shock at how much it was wobbling. This is how good a driver RJ is though. He kept the power on and went around and around until Matt was shouting in the radio, “Enough. RJ, enough!” But seriously, don’t try this at home!
Not all days were so successful though. Further into the first week a little section up a big, moss-covered rock and down a plank wall was bit slippier than RJ thought, the front wheels didn’t catch and he slipped off the edge. Bent steering and stunt driving are mutually exclusive issues so it was back to lunch with about three seconds of useable footage taken all morning. But time is not wasted here. “The forest is closed,” said Matt. “So it’s your turn to drive.”
The last car I drove in anger was the Korres P4 in Greece, before that the Spec class buggy in the King of the Hammers … and there was a bit of both in it, a mini ULTRA4 racer that handles like a rally car. There are no gears so all you need to do is put your foot down… and with such easy handling putting your foot down is all you want to do. The top speed is 70mph which on the rough forest tracks is more than enough. As the most powerful UTV ever on the market it is no utility vehicle for farmers to bimble around fields rounding up sheep, it was conceived and designed for nothing else than pure off-road hedonism. And damn it was fun. Much better than powersliding the Escalade back up the same track later.
“The value for fun ratio for a Polaris RZR is amazing,” Matt adds when, left side covered in mud, I came back to camp with a big smile. “Out of the showroom it’s $20,000, add a couple of thousand for safety equipment and it’s ready to race. And race seriously! There’s nothing else in terms of price and performance that comes even close. In a couple of years ATV racing is going to be very big.”
And if they hit the 4 million views they are hoping to, so will this film.
The XP1K2 RZR isn’t much like one you’ll get from the dealer though.
This one is custom-built Holz Racing XP1K2 SxS, with a ProStar®1000 engine modified by Muzzys Performance. To cope with the aftermath airborne antics the landings are taken care of by newly-designed Holz Racing suspension, and custom Walker Evans racing shocks. As is blatantly obvious the RZR took some very hard hits, especially on that huge jump but absolutely nothing got broken. A steering arm was bent but that ws it. The second vehicle was left untouched!
So this is what it takes to make the video but what about the cost? Here are some numbers.
$½ million budget.
2x $80,000 worth of RZRs. One is kept as a spare.
$35,000 on hotels.
$8000 on hire cars. (Crew shuttles were Cadillac Escalades.)
$12,000 on food, but that was well worth it as the lunches were amazing.
And the link to the video... www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxTvMaJBT3c