BEHIND THE SCENES
At the end of the movie CRANK, (watch "Crank" trailer), hitman Chev Chelios plummets from a helicopter, high above downtown Los Angeles, seemingly to his death. But when the film’s use of hugely innovative visual techniques and non-stop action turned it into a theatrical success and DVD smash, creators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor became interested in the prospect of Chev Chelios living to see another day.
Taylor admits that at first he and Neveldine never expected to be so intimately involved with the sequel. "Originally we were just going to write CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE for someone else to direct," Taylor says. "We were going to write it, produce it and move on to something else. But by the time the script was finished, we had fallen in love with it and we were not going to let anyone else touch it. We came back to Lakeshore and said, ‘We want to do it, we need to do it and nobody else can do it.’ So that’s how it happened. The script took on a life of its own."
"With the first CRANK, Mark and Brian just wanted it to be one of those films where the hero dies in the end and people can’t believe it," notes producer Skip Williamson, who originally championed Neveldine and Taylor and brought them to Lakeshore. "They’re great writers so it was easy for them to come up with another idea for the second film. And with the sequel they just took it to the nth degree."
"We didn’t want to cop out and have it be a flashback or have Chev’s falling out of the helicopter be a dream or a prequel," Neveldine points out. "We wanted CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE to be a true sequel in that it starts where the last film left off. So literally the first shot in this film is the last shot in CRANK, and we just keep going."
As such, CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE begins with Chev hitting the asphalt of a busy downtown LA intersection, only to be kidnapped by a mysterious group of Asian gangsters. Three months later, Chev wakes up on an operating table, where a team of Chinese doctors have surgically removed his heart and replaced it with a battery-powered artificial device that needs to be charged regularly in order to keep him alive.
Producer David Rubin explains, "Once you buy into the notion that the hero may have lived, it opens up endless possibilities. Mark and Brian have a crazy sensibility and they bring to their work that insanity, and the script is evocative of that. Really, in terms of CRANK, death is only a state of mind. As soon as someone says you can’t do something to Neveldine and Taylor, it’s immediately a dare to try and figure out how to do it. And not only how to do it, but to do it well."
For Neveldine and Taylor the writing process proved to be much easier for CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE primarily because the characters and the world they inhabit had already been established.
According to Taylor, "When we wrote the original, we didn’t know that Jason Statham would be the guy, or that Amy Smart would be the girl, or about Efren or the other actors, so we were writing characters in the dark. Statham’s character in the first movie was an LA guy; we didn’t know he was going to be a Brit, but we couldn’t find the tough American badass we were looking for so we had to go across the pond. It was pretty cool in the second movie to be able to write dialogue specifically for Jason, stuff that we knew Jason could just kill. Same with all the other characters too.’
"It was like riding a bike downhill," continues Taylor. "Everything was so easy because you knew exactly who you were dealing with. The actors knew the characters. We knew the characters. And we’re using lots of little colloquialisms and stuff Jason says just from knowing him as a guy -- things we couldn’t have written in the first script."
Neveldine says that despite the comedy, action and sex, all of which have been amped up in this new installment, the screenplay for the sequel rose from a relatively simple idea. "At its core," Neveldine explains, "CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE is a story about a guy trying to find his heart. Isn’t everybody looking for their heart?"
In terms of making a sequel to CRANK, the studio and filmmakers knew that in order for it to work, there was no doubt that they needed the charm and menace that Jason Statham expertly brought to Chev Chelios in the first installment.
Statham, fresh off a busy trio of films – The Bank Job, Death Race and Transporter 3 – was thrilled to return to the physically demanding role of Chev Chelios. "I was in right from the suggestion of doing a part two," Statham recalls. "There was an open-ended closure to the first film. If you look closely, you’ll see that there was a heartbeat and the blink of an eye. So it was really about whether Mark and Brian had the inspiration to go and make another one. It was always left open in their eyes."
"We felt confident that if we were going to direct the movie, Jason would also want to do it," Neveldine remembers. "When you’re writing a movie for a specific cast, you really hope that you can get the cast that you want, and when you’re writing a sequel, you need the original cast or most people probably won’t care."
Taylor adds, "Obviously you write the best movie that you can and hope that if you love it then everyone else will love it, and that was the case here. From the moment Jason got the script, he was texting us eighty times-a-day quoting lines. He was going off the deep end! From Jason’s point of view, CRANK was one of the most fun things he’d ever done. We knew that having the two of us and Jason onboard, it would be impossible to have a higher level of commitment and enthusiasm."
The feeling was mutual. Statham notes that the trust and refreshing environment that the co-directors create during filming was a key in his involvement in the sequel. "It’s a complete and utter trust. I had implicit faith in these two, knowing they’re going to do something cool with things that can be quite ridiculous. I think you must have a real rock-solid trust with the director asking you to do these things, and with Mark and Brian it’s as solid as it gets. It took only one or two days of working with them on the first film, and then I was in."
Statham knows that when reading a script by Mark and Brian the rule is anything goes. "There’s an initial shock value of oh, this is never going to stay in the film – which is how I responded to the first one," he says. But Statham understood quickly that, indeed, the sky’s the limit. "This film is going to be ever more ramped up, ever more offensive, with more action, more ridiculousness, more everything. I was completely excited by how ludicrous and outrageous they made part two. This one takes it to the next level."
Rubin recalls, "The first day of filming was amazing because as soon as Jason stepped in front of the camera, he was back. He was Chev. It was like we had just finished shooting the first film yesterday."
"It was really just about putting on the old jeans and sneakers and away you go," smiles Statham.
Another key ingredient to the first film’s success was the comic performance of Amy Smart as Chev’s girlfriend Eve Lydon, who initially had no idea that she was dating a hitman but soon found herself surprisingly turned on by the idea. At the beginning of CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE, however, it’s apparent that the three months she has spent without Chev have not been kind to Eve. Upon returning, our hero finds her working as a dancer at a seedy strip club and dating a creep named Randy (Corey Haim).
Neveldine believes that "Eve is an evolution from the first movie. Oblivious no more, she realized that she was dating this tough dude and actually took on some of those traits. After she thought he was dead, she decided to get a little more edgy with her life. She got involved with a strip club so she could make two-grand a night, and after watching her boyfriend kick some ass, she took on some of those skills and put them to work."
"My character definitely evolved," says Smart. "She was far more in her shell in the first film, and in this one she’s blossoming and becoming more assertive, trying out the qualities she likes in Chev. She’s sort of turning into this badass and having fun with it."
Williamson believes that sense of fun is definitely up on the screen. "Amy loves working with Jason. They have such great chemistry," says the producer. "The second he was going to do it, she had to be in it. We couldn’t have made it without her. To have a different girlfriend would have been crazy. She and Jason just committed one hundred percent."
Smart agrees: "I went into this film sort of in the same way I went into the first one. It’s outrageous and fun and over-the-top—you can’t really be in the gray area. You have to be all or nothing. I had to throw myself into it. I ended up doing a lot of the stunts myself, partly because I thought it looked really fun."
"Amy brings this angelic beauty in and amongst all this carnage I’m causing," notes Jason Statham. "The loves story that occurs between Eve and Chev gives it that nice balance rather than him just running around firing into all these thugs the way he does."
Also returning to the cast is country music legend and actor Dwight Yoakam, who once again comes up with ways for Chev to survive his internal condition as the unconventional medical practitioner Doc Miles.
Yoakam believes that his character was a relatively good doctor at one point in his life, "but due to any number of odd events that have occurred, he decided to drop out and become a little more underground. At one time he took what he’s doing really seriously, but it slipped through his fingers, and now he drinks a little too much. I’ve played him like he’s a very capable guy who quit trying a long time ago and is now looking for a reason to care." And Chev’s insane predicaments give Doc that reason.
"Doc Miles is one of the craziest, funniest things I’ve seen put on film," laughs Jason Statham. "Chev uses Doc Miles to figure out how to stay alive. So without him he’d be screwed!"
Efren Ramirez, who played Chev’s crossing-dressing friend Kaylo in CRANK, returns to play Kaylo’s twin brother, Venus, who seeks vengeance against the men that killed his brother. In real life, Ramirez actually has an identical twin brother, so he found it doubly appealing to play a twin in the film.
Ramirez explains, "When I was approached for the sequel, Mark and Brian said it would be more intense. We decided to create a twin. We knew what Kaylo was like. He was much more of a civilian. Venus is more of a soldier. He understands the art of war. When I received the script there was so much happening. Venus is so intense—he’s so full of rage, he wants revenge. I felt at home with it."
To play this new character, Ramirez jumped into the physical side of filming in a more extreme way than he had in the first film. "They gave me three months to prep. I started taking kung fu and learning weaponry," he recalls. "I had a trainer, a nutritionist. The gym became my home for five hours a day."
Adding to the highly-charged world of CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE is new cast member Bai Ling, who plays Ria, a scantily-clad, fast-talking Asian call girl who obsessively latches onto Chev after he rescues her from a gang of Chinese thugs.
Ling says that her character provided her with one of her best moviemaking experiences. "It’s easily the most fun I’ve ever had making a film," she enthuses. "It’s almost like my dream role in a way because I usually play very serious roles or very sensual, sexual roles. This one allowed me to show more of my own spirit. Ria is just wacky, crazy, and the role allowed me to be extremely funny."
CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE hasn’t just increased the action, sex and comedy for the sequel; according to Taylor, "We had about eight villains in CRANK and we have about twelve villains in CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE. But the absolute top of the villain chain is El Huron, which means ‘The Ferret’ in Spanish."
Critically-acclaimed character actor Clifton Collins Jr. plays El Huron, a mustachioed Mexican mob boss whose hideout is a decadent, gaudy estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The filmmakers recall that after watching Collins’ performance in the 2001 film TIGERLAND, they had decided they had to work with him.
It turns out Collins had been a fan of the first CRANK and was relishing a chance to play one of the men who put Chev through the ringer. "El Huron is an old-school character," says the actor. "I wanted to make him special and create a character we’d all remember, that we could all laugh at and laugh with and love to hate."
Williamson confesses that it was a dream to work with Collins. "He was our number one choice," he states. "We never thought he would do it. But once he read the script and met the guys and figured out what we were all about, he was in a hundred percent and brought something so special to the character that none of us ever envisioned. Really, it’s HIS character. Clifton created that character on every level. He put so much thought into it."
"I was very happy to have the privilege of working with Clifton Collins," notes Jason Statham. "He is an amazing, talented actor, and brings some credibility to some of the nonsense that we create, which gives it that extra weight. You need that in this kind of film. And he just blew us away with his performance."
Another actor who Neveldine and Taylor had been dying to work with was Corey Haim, a teen icon of the 1980s, best known as half of "The Two Coreys" (along with Corey Feldman). "Brian Taylor has been infatuated with Corey Haim his whole life," says Williamson. "So when we found out that Corey was available for acting work, it was perfect timing."
Haim was cast as Randy, Eve’s sleazy new mullet-haired boyfriend. Taylor notes that there was an ordinate amount of time spent constructing the character’s mullet. "It’s basically a cross between the two-tone Andre Agassi mullet, the Billy Ray Cyrus, and the Kiefer Sutherland ‘Lost Boys’ mullet," he jokes. "It’s all of those rolled into one. It’s spectacular. It’s one of the greatest mullets ever committed to screen!"
David Carradine is another veteran actor cast in the pivotal role of Poon Dong, the mythical hundred-year-old patriarch of the Chinese Triads.
"I think the directors originally had the idea of hiring a Chinese guy, but they decided it would be funnier if they used me," Carradine chuckles. "Hopefully they’ll be right." Carradine acknowledges that most audiences will definitely get the inside joke of the connection between Poon Dong and Carradine’s starring role as the serene Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine, in the popular 1970s television series "Kung Fu."
In their films, Neveldine and Taylor have a history of featuring actors from their other projects, friends and celebrities from other fields of entertainment to make cameo appearances. CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE features a bevy of familiar names, such as Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, Tool’s Maynard, and UFC/mixed martial arts fighter Keith Jardine. Actor Keone Young also reprises his role from the first film as Don Kim, the head of the Chinese Triads who saved Chev’s life in the first installment.
Other actors making cameo appearances include Lauren Holly as a psychiatrist; John De Lancie as a news anchorman; British pop singer and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who plays young Chev’s mother, Karen Chelios, circa 1988; and cult movie legend Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Studios, who plays a maintenance worker at a power station.
The filmmakers even enlisted a "who’s who" of current and legendary adult movie stars for a hilarious scene where Chev finds himself pinned between traffic and a porn actors’ strike line. Some of the adult movie celebrities who took part include Ron Jeremy, Ed Powers, Lexington Steele, Nick Manning and Jenna Haze.
"Originally the porn strike scene was a train scene, but we couldn’t afford a train stopping in front of Chev’s car to keep him from crossing over the train tracks," recalls Neveldine. "The writers’ strike was going on at the time, so we thought, ‘Why not have porn actors on strike?’ Those are some of the hardest working people in the country and aren’t being paid enough either," jokes the filmmaker.
Like its predecessor, CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE makes use of many of the seedier, unexplored locales of Los Angeles as a backdrop for Chev’s frantic adventures. "When we were location scouting with Neveldine and Taylor, it was just a matter of what were the funkiest, most interesting, evocative parts of Los Angeles," recalls Rubin. "I think that was sort of the challenge, to go and open up a side of LA that most people don’t see."
With principal photography stretching from April 28 through June 9, 2008, the film was shot entirely in Los Angeles, where it utilized the grittier aspects of the districts in the Port of Los Angeles, including industrial areas of Wilmington, San Pedro and Long Beach. Other areas for filming included Inglewood, East Los Angeles and downtown Los Angeles, as well as a private hilltop estate in Malibu. Los Alamitos Race Course was used as the site for a sex scene between Chev and Eve which the filmmakers have made exciting enough to top their memorable Chinatown tryst from the first film.
Taylor explains, "You’ve seen sex scenes in movies before. You’ve seen action scenes in movies before. But for us the sex scenes with Jason and Amy were better suited to shoot as action scenes."
And like the biggest action sequences in CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE, these scenes utilized the filmmakers’ groundbreaking visual style. One of the most notable aspects of CRANK was Neveldine and Taylor’s combination of hyper-kinetic visuals and over-the-top action sequences. The first film was shot utilizing Sony 950 video cameras, relatively common tools for film production. To achieve what Neveldine and Taylor had in mind for their sequel—to raise the bar higher visually—would require even lighter and more mobile cameras. The filmmakers opted for an array of consumer-grade and pro-consumer high-definition video cameras.
Three camera operators—Neveldine, Taylor and director of photography Brandon Trost—used high-definition camcorders to capture the film’s hyper-kinetic visuals. Over twenty separate HD video cameras were used, primarily five Canon XH-A1 Professional HDV Camcorders, which were utilized as the filmmakers’ main "A," "B" and "C" cameras. Approximately fifteen consumer-grade Canon VIXIA HF10 High Definition camcorders were also employed for rapid action, stunt scenes (crash cameras) and as the cameras mounted on a custom-designed semicircular piece of speed rail to create MATRIX-esque "bullet time" effect.
"We shot this movie in a very unusual way," says Taylor. "We basically shot it with cameras you could buy at Best Buy, so-called prosumer rigs."
"We decided to really upgrade and use something much smaller, much more consumer friendly; these tiny little handheld cameras," adds Neveldine. "We have a look that we use with these cameras. We’re not just trying to make it look like a home video. That’s not what we set out to do. Brian and I, over the last five or six years, have developed a really cool method to shoot digital that gives it a filmic look, but it’s obviously different than a movie on YouTube."
Neveldine, an accomplished Rollerblader, would often strap on his blades to shoot many of the intense, fast-moving action scenes, furiously dodging moving vehicles and sometimes grabbing hold of them too.
Such techniques often made shooting with standard cameras difficult on the first film. According to Taylor, "The cameras on the first movie were expensive, and it put a bit of a chilling factor on our style of shooting because we break them. On this movie all of our cameras were dirt cheap. If we broke one, we could just go down to Best Buy and buy another one. So we ended up using around thirty cameras. The whole process of making the movie was just putting the cameras in as much physical peril as possible…with us holding them."
Neveldine and Taylor utilized the little Canon VIXIA HF-10 prosumer cameras in a variety of camera rigs, some of which they designed specifically for the film. "One is basically just a camera hanging off of a speed rail," explains Neveldine. "It’s something that we could just get into weird little places. Another was an arc that we attached eight of the little Canon cameras onto, this 180 degree piece of speed rail, and what we were attempting to do was sort of give the MATRIX look an upgrade. We were able to capture this ‘bullet time’ look in CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE that keeps the action moving and freezes it at the same time."
Jason Statham observes that working with the small video cameras was a very unique experience. "They were able to put cameras between your legs, on poles – there’s not a place that these cameras can’t go. And the quality of these high definition cameras is excellent."
Another camera system used extensively was the Manfrotto FigRig, a steering-wheel-shaped handheld camera stabilization unit that provided the camera operators with smooth movement capabilities with their HD cams.
With no video assist system to monitor playback during or after the takes, the filmmakers would just plug their cameras directly into a monitor after each scene to review what was shot.
"Using the small prosumer cameras allowed us to shoot very fast," Taylor boasts. "In 31 days of filming on CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE, we shot more footage than James Cameron shot on TITANIC."
The producers note that, considering the budget and the modest shooting schedule, the film could never have been shot on film. "The thing about traditional movie technology is that the most you would shoot on film in a day would be about two hours -- that would be a lot," explains Rubin. "With this film we had on average about five or six hours of footage a day. That means on a typical eleven-hour day the cameras are rolling half the time. That’s pretty astonishing for a Hollywood movie production."
Statham believes that Neveldine and Taylor are pioneers of a new way of shooting a film. "They’re providing inspiration for young filmmakers, in that they can try different techniques, and utilize new ideas. But their artistry lies in knowing where and how to use these things and still have a frame of mind of what will look good. And with that they’re a pair of fucking geniuses! (laughs)."
Rubin agrees. "Neveldine and Taylor are so ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and really translating technology into motion picture production. It’s about how to execute these really edgy ideas," says the producer. "That’s the pleasure for us. How do we pull off that edginess and bring it into the mainstream?"
But doing things unlike most other movies is the way it seems to work with the CRANK series. The filmmakers are assuring that Chev Chelios might be having another bad day, but audiences are sure to have a louder, bigger, faster and funnier time watching him.
"Fans of the first CRANK are going to be so happy about this movie because everything they loved about the first movie we’ve taken to an absurd degree," says Taylor. "We take things way past what we did on the first movie. When you go into CRANK HIGH VOLTAGE, you can expect to be rocked hard, maybe harder than you’ve ever been rocked before. I promise it’s a movie that you’ve never seen before."
"This is not a film to be analyzed and stripped apart," observes Jason Statham. "This is a hardcore action movie that’s made to entertain. As Americans would say, it’s a fucking kick-ass action movie that just doesn’t stop, from start to finish. It’s everything that people want to see. If you like action, comedy, snappy dialogue and interesting, fucked-up characters, then just strap yourself in and get ready for the ride."