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The upcoming crime comedy Tower Heist, about a group of unfortunate staff workers who plot payback against a Wall Street businessman who stole their pensions, is director Brett Ratner’s take on the gap between the common man and the filthy rich.
To accentuate the difference in lifestyle, screenwriter Jeff Nathanson researched into the trappings of the wealthy and famous — only to elicit tales of the lengths to which people would go to display their emblems of wealth; be they prized art, rare collectibles, luxury cars or other expensive toys housed in personal galleries.
“We studied some of the richest apartments in the world, and we actually found photographs of people who keep insane things inside their apartments,” recalls the writer. “There is a gentleman in London who actually had a car parked in his apartment, so that’s where I think Ted got the idea for Shaw [the Wall Street businessman played by Alan Alda.]”
Before Producer Brian Grazer and Ratner made the final decision of which car to use for filming, there were extensive conversations about finding the right luxury vehicle to serve as the linchpin of the plot. An automobile with an exalted lineage, coupled with power and beauty, was needed to satisfy Ratner and Kristi Zea, the production designer’s desire to complement the awe-inspiring artwork in Shaw’s home.
Both Ratner and longtime cinematographer Dante Spinotti — with whom the director collaborated on X-Men: The Last Stand, After the Sunset, Red Dragon and The Family Man — are big Ferrari fans, so they naturally had several favorites before production began.
The pièce de résistance of Arthur Shaw’s multimillion-dollar penthouse equaled a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso that was once owned by Steve McQueen. It provides the billionaire with lofty bragging rights. This highly coveted and priceless collectible is the crown jewel of Shaw’s home.
To showcase it among his other treasures, Shaw had the car cautiously disassembled after its purchase and then reassembled in his penthouse apartment. When it came to this aspect of the story line, the filmmakers became quite inventive. McQueen actually did own a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, which venerable auction house Christie’s auctioned off in 2007 for $2.3 million.
Several years later, that wise owner sold the car for a staggering $10 million The rare sports car (only 350 of the models were ever manufactured) easily sells for close to $1 million, so the practicality of buying one for the production was not an option. The next best plan was to reproduce it, so the production commissioned two replicas, both of which had different uses for filming.
Once the decision was made, a little creative license was taken with the final color of the vehicle. The McQueen original was custom painted a muted “marrone metallizzato,” or metallic brown. “The King of Cool” chose the color to elude law enforcement when zooming up the Pacific Coast Highway.
However, the filmmakers wanted a vibrant, eye-popping color that would leave an impression. After performing camera tests on three versions of authentic vintage Ferrari colors, the filmmakers decided on “amaranto,” a brilliant red. For Ferrari-aficionado Ratner, the luxury car in Tower Heist is as much a critical part of this story as the Porsche 928 is integral to the plot of Risky Business.
He explains how it weaves into the plot: “At the end of the scene in which Josh takes a golf club to the Ferrari, you feel for Shaw and think maybe Josh [Ben Stiller’s character] is overreacting to Shaw’s losing Lester’s retirement money. You wonder if maybe Shaw is innocent after all.
“But that’s the big twist,” Ratner adds. “When the crew breaks into the apartment to steal the money they think is hidden, you know that they’re not professional thieves—they’re the antithesis of the Ocean’s Eleven crew—but they do know their way around the building. They know when people come and go, they know every door and every lock, every back way and every window.
They understand the inner workings of this building. Of course, they could pull off a robbery…and the Ferrari is a big part of that.” The beauty of the race car, which seamlessly fit the film’s old-school tone, impressed cast and crew alike. Says Tea Leoni, an admitted car enthusiast, “The car has an old-heist feel to it.
It was cool seeing Steve McQueen’s Ferrari parked in a living room, and it was such a detailed replica of that car. I’m a little bit of a motorhead, and I would have liked to have taken it for a spin right out the window.” The filmmakers looked to Tower Heist prop master Peter Gelfman to oversee the three-month reproduction process of the Ferraris.
It was a short window to turn it around, but the pair of beauties made it to New York in time for some added reinforcement by Steve Kirshoff and his special effects team. Now, it was off to the first day of filming on sound stages in Brooklyn. The special effects department jumped right in and began the modifications on each of the cars.
For the first portion of filming, one vehicle was utilized strictly for eye-candy shots. But it soon joined its twin for more action-oriented scenes.
For the film’s elaborately choreographed heist sequence, Kirshoff rigged each car for very specific tasks. Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick joined in on the action, spending several days harnessed for stunt wirework for the eye-popping sequence in the film’s third act.
Stiller, who had done some similar stunt work in the Night at the Museum films, was more at ease with the demands of an action-oriented film. Others, like Gabourey Sidibe who plays Odessa, however, needed some coaxing to perform their own stunt work. “I hate doing stunts,” she admits. “I’m always afraid I’m going to hurt myself or someone else.”
But when she had to take out an FBI agent, she had an unexpected surprise. “I was supposed to charge at the stunt guy with my maid’s cart and mow him down. My first couple of attempts weren’t hard enough because I was afraid for this guy. So, the last time I went super hard and something cracked, and he was lying on the ground and not moving.
Everyone has me convinced that he’s hurt until he pops up with a smile. Stunt guys like that rush…no matter what the stunt is. It’s crazy.”
Image Courtesy of http://www.conceptcarz.com