How They Pulled Off the Perfectly Timed Stunts in ‘Baby Driver’

From left, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Ansel Elgort (in car) and Jon Hamm after a heist in “Baby Driver.”CreditWilson Webb/TriStar Pictures

The opening beats of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion song “Bellbottoms” feel cinematic, like something that should be kicking off an action scene. That’s what the writer and director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “The World’s End”) thought upon first hearing that 1994 track. “When I listened to that song late at night in my flat, I would dream up this car chase and a visual of the sequence would come to me,” Mr. Wright said in a phone interview. “But this was before I knew what the story was and who the main character was.”

That story and character have since come into focus with Mr. Wright’s new film, “Baby Driver” (June 28), about a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who coordinates his escapes to the beat of the music on his iPod. The first heist begins with Baby playing “Bellbottoms.” What follows is a synchronized symphony of action, the characters’ movements (gum chewing, trunk-slamming), the editing and the stunts all timed to the rhythm of what’s playing in Baby’s headphones.

It’s one of many scenes constructed this way in “Baby Driver.” To get the timing precise for this action ballet, Mr. Wright brought on the choreographer Ryan Heffington, best known for his work on music videos like the one for Sia’s “Chandelier.” Here is a closer look at the heist sequence, with video and commentary from Mr. Wright and Mr. Heffington.

A split-screen clip from the opening sequence of "Baby Driver," showing the animatic on the left and the final scene on the right.CreditCreditTriStar Pictures

This scene stemmed from an idea that Mr. Wright first used in a 2003 music video for “Blue Song” by Mint Royale. In the video, a driver sits lip-syncing to a song in the car while his colleagues rob a bank. The big-screen version, shot on the streets of Atlanta, is much more elaborate but begins similarly. In his screenplay, Mr. Wright described the action for every moment of the song, which he said proved to be tricky. “Trying to explain on the page what’s going to be exciting on the screen is an odd skill,” he said. He worked with the animator Steve Markowski to create an animated storyboard, or animatic, of the scene. Above is a clip that shows the animatic next to the sequence featuring Jon Bernthal, Eiza González and Jon Hamm. Mr. Heffington used those blueprints to help choreograph the scene. “It was about timing,” he said, “making sure that the actors were in sync when they’re simply walking or when they’re closing the trunk.” Rehearsing his actors in a warehouse, he had them practice the timing of their movements.

In this segment, Baby tries to blend in with other red cars on the freeway.CreditCreditTriStar Pictures

The second part of the sequence leads into a car chase, with the police hot on the robbers’ trail and Baby executing daring maneuvers to evade them. One involves Baby pulling a 180-degree turn in an alley in one direction, then another 180 the other way. In reality, Jeremy Fry, a stunt driver on films like “John Wick” and “Jason Bourne,” was at the wheel.

But the film doesn’t use the kinds of souped-up muscle cars found in “The Fast and the Furious.” Mr. Wright explained, “Real bank robbers are using the most nondescript cars possible because they want to blend in and disappear.” He went online and found a list of the cars that are stolen most often and wrote some of them into his script. Because the car in this scene is a sedan, it blends in with the other sedans on the freeway, as in the moment above, when Baby tries to hide from a police helicopter by driving between two similar-looking vehicles. When they go under an overpass, he switches positions and the police wind up following the wrong car. The original script called for a Toyota Corolla, but it was changed to a Subaru WRX, which isn’t on the most stolen list, “because the studio asked me if the car could be a little sexier,” Mr. Wright said.

In the last segment from the opening scene, Baby and his partners ditch their getaway car and switch to a new one.CreditCreditTriStar Pictures

The scene ends with the crew pulling into a parking garage, all stepping out of the getaway car and into another one, which is driven off in rhythm to the song. “On the set while this is happening, you have Ryan shouting ‘5, 6, 7, 8!,’” Mr. Wright said. That’s because Mr. Heffington worked out the timing with his assistants and thoroughly practiced it with the actors.

“In rehearsals, we figured out who would be sitting where and how long it would take for each individual person to reach the other car and be able to slam the door on the specific count,” Mr. Heffington said. “The idea is that it doesn’t look choreographed, but it’s highly rehearsed. We took the time that we needed in order to make this happen, because it is about being perfect in these scenes.”

One trick to keeping the sequence timed to the song’s conclusion was to have the engine of the second car already running when Ms. González takes the driver’s seat. “There was no way in one shot that she can get in and turn the engine on in time,” Mr. Wright said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page AR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Hands on the Wheel, Songs in Its Heart. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe