While most movies don’t cause the viewer to think about camera angles, lighting or color tone, there are some (Star Trek, Eagle Eye, Fast & Furious) with sequences and scenes that leave you wondering, “How the hell did they shoot that?” This is how the hell: Chase Car Inc.
Originally, the camera car world was full of big trucks with camera and operator platforms bolted onto their fronts, giving the whole rig a massive underbite look. As top-mounted jibs and gyros became popular — due to their lightness, central balance and ability to shoot 360 degrees — most in the industry moved to a roof-mounted servo crane, often strapped onto a Mercedes-Benz ML55.
After years of experience in fabrication and building camera cars for other people, Jon and Marshall Chabot started Chase Car Inc. Like most of the industry, they too had the ML55, but the car had some issues: the shocks wore out quickly, and they needed more horsepower. After some searching, they found the auto-leveling air suspension, wide stance and massive engine of the Porsche Cayenne ideal for mounting their 800-lb jib. They weren’t alone, either. In fact, the Cayenne became the go-to car for high speed chase sequences, winding road car commercials and anything in between.
As demand increased for this production “tool”, the market began filling with souped-up SUVs and gyroed camera mechanisms. Marshall and Jon were just another girl at the dance; they needed a new competitive advantage. When Jon spotted the Panamera Turbo, he instantly knew it would be their next car. Though Porsche purists cried “blasphemy” at the new model, Jon saw the advantages of 2+2 seating, four doors, a 500 horsepower 4.8-liter twin turbo and AWD. Plus, the very thing auto journalists chided the Panamera for, its bulbous roofline, was the ideal set up for having two adults in the back seat (necessary for shooting); the hatchback would give the crane operator — after some WWII-style gunner-inspired fabrication work — a place to sit and clearly view his crane.
Jon was right. Amazingly, the Panamera is an out of the box, ready to go, plug-and-play camera car. Sure, Chase Car Inc. added a black matte wrap, black-out covers for the lights and did their own wiring and installation of the five HD monitors on the inside, the aforementioned operator canopy, and some headsets so the driver, director, assistant camera (AC), director of photography (DP) and crane operator can all make the magic happen. But that’s all. No messing with the suspension, gearbox, engine, frame, or anything else.
The team of five, plus the car, the equipment, a camera and of course the 850-pound Scorpio crane with its internal gyro and three camera gyros bring the weight to about 3 tons and the value to about a million bucks — which is exactly what actors look like when these guys’ wheels and cameras start rolling.