I was tired of doing the studio writing assignments and looking to get behind the camera again. So I started looking for a low- budget story that I could shoot in simple locations while taking advantage of the new, cheap technologies that had recently hit the cine market. Specifically Canon’s 5D and 7D which could deliver a cinematic-feel and look to the big screen for a fraction of the cost. The story of COLLUSION fit the bill. It was born from a friend’s simple idea about a freak accident that occurs in the middle of the desert and how the lives of the survivors — desperados all with secrets of their own who are all on the run — intersect by chance.
I then fused it with people I knew and things I'd personally experienced. As a writer you do that. It help create the reality of motivation and helps to get to know the characters. I then combined them all in a kind of mad stew and set it in the cauldron of the desert where the incessant heat would bring things to a rapid boil.
Visually, I wanted to make it exotic, at least for the American audiences. Stylistically, I was thinking in terms of A Sheltering Sky and Babbel. A color-palate of browns and whites that enveloped the privileged Americans who were fish-out-of-water so to speak. Or Strangers-in-a-Strange-land. So I went to Morocco, to an area I knew little about, and stayed in little Kasbahs in middle of the sand dunes to research the story. I was challenged daily by my circumstances. As a writer, when you spend time in the places you write about, you absorb the culture, environment, the customs of the locals. You experience the unpredictable and unexpected, things you normally wouldn't invent just by sitting at your desk in Los Angeles.
I feel that to truly own the material visually and emotionally, you have to live as much of it as humanly possible. You need to find a way to “own it,” to tie into the reality of the characters and events, while it, the story, takes you by the hand and leads you down its unknown path.
The most challenging scene in the film to shoot was the car-crash that brings the six characters together and forever links their destinies. It had to be horrific. I watch all the actual ones I could see on YouTube and film, and asked myself, how can I make it look real and shocking for the budget I had?
I teamed up with a storyboard artist named Mark Pacella. He’s very gifted and I pushed him hard to come up with things that were in some way fresh. If such a thing exists. When I felt I had the scene the way I wanted, I approached my stunt coordinator, Dominique Fouassier, to discuss the conception and eventual realization of the stunt. The stunt was to be completely live-action. The storyboards played a key role in that they provided points of reference at which to discuss what needed to be done.
Fouassier and his crew prepped in Paris a total of 6 4x4s for the stunt, (4 for Travis’s 4x4 and 2 for Scott’s) fitting the interior of the vehicles with steel roll-cages to protect the stuntmen. They also replaced the gas tanks with smaller ones to avoid fires and explosions, changed the brakes and put in heavy-duty shock absorbers for the jump. As far as the van that was hit in the opening, they removed the engine and anything else structural that could pose a possible danger when it was impacted at high speed.
Regarding the crash itself, if it had been a studio film, we would have rehearsed the flip/crash multiple times. But we didn't have those resources in the budget. We just had these fearless stunt guys who said; “If we can't do some test runs, we'll just have to make do and be extra careful when we actually do it.” Needless to day, I was deeply concerned for their safety. But they assured me it was all doable.
Then they built a series of carefully mapped out launch-ramps that would propel the vehicles even further then the lip of the road provided. Dominique, stunt-doubling for Scott’s character, drove the first 4x4 at 50 miles an hour, straight into the van. I said prior; “You're not going to brake? To which he replied; No, in fact, just before I hit the van, I accelerate. Because if you brake before you hit something, the nose drops and the entire vehicle you hit comes right through the windshield and into your gut. But if you accelerate just before impact, the vehicle’s nose rises and you protect yourself." This Dominique truly had balls of steel.
We ended up using the Arri Alexa as our main cameras. We also had plenty of small digital cameras, HD Go-Pro's and Canon 5 and 7D's in crash boxes. We could put them petty much wherever we wanted, including the exact spot where the 4x4 was going to land. The first 4x4 took a 50-foot leap and landed right on top of one. We were worried about the camera but the crash box took the shock entirely and the camera was still rolling. So we got some pretty interesting footage.” Another GoPro, right in the grill of the impact 4x4 wasn’t so lucky and exploded on impact. But that’s the chance you take. If you can get 2-5 seconds worth of spectacular material for a relatively cheap camera like that, then it is worth the price - and sacrifice.”
Then stunt-double Yann Tremblay, doubling for Travis’s character, did the rollover stunt in the second 4x4. It was even more difficult than the initial crash. In the first crash, we had Dominique flying over a ramp, going airborne, driving straight into man, then the stalled van. In the second crash, Yann hit the ramp, which started the vehicle rolling. The idea was that it was going to roll over the Renault and wind up upside-down just beyond it. But it hit the Renault first, then flipped into the air, coming down directly on the Toyota with Scott and Taylor (Frank Grillo and Jaimie Alexander) and then rolled over to a smouldering rest. I'm watching this horror show going, “Oh, my God! It looks terrific but I think you just killed my two main characters!'
Fortunately they weren't actually in the vehicle. Furthermore, the roof to Scott’s 4x4 was caved in just enough that they could have survived. It was that additional hit to Scott's and Taylor's car that made the accident even more intense. We could also CGI the actors in post reacting to what just happened to them. Also, to reshoot the stunt, with new vehicles and prep would take another 1/2 day, which I could afford. So I said; let’s embrace this. It works. Let’s just bash the actors up more to reflect what just happened. Put more blood on her and dislocate his shoulder.
As a writer-director, you rework those things right on the spot. You sit down and figure out how it works story-wise and how you can take advantage of the magical “accidents” that sometimes occur.