Hollywood's stunt drivers are always looking for more spectacular ways to smash metal, but there is a greater emphasis on safety than ever.
In your average Hollywood blockbuster action movie, the car chases and fiery stunts are bigger drawcards than the stars. But how do you keep raising the bar without anyone getting hurt?
As a veteran stunt performer, Darrin Prescott knows the answer to that question better than most
He has co-ordinated the action on some of the biggest movies in recent years - The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Faster and the granddaddy of car-stunt movies, The Dukes of Hazzard are all on his resume.
His latest work, Drive, stars Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver.
Prescott says that although it looks risky, the business of stunt driving is meticulous, with months of planning for each set-up. It needs to be as safe as possible but also straightforward for the director.
"Stunts these days - there's a real science to it," Prescott says. "We plan it out so much; we have so many precautions. We know we're going to crash. We know it's going to happen."
"We know roughly where it's going to happen. We have an ambulance there, paramedics. We build a roll cage specifically for the crash. The guys are bolted in with the same stuff NASCAR use."
One of Australia's leading stunt co-ordinators, Nash Edgerton, says planning and paperwork are pre-requisites for a spectacular effect.
Edgerton, whose credits include Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and The Matrix, says road closures, meetings with local councils, re-routing traffic and risk assessments are all needed before the wheels start turning.
"It's not like you can just turn up and do a car chase on a public road," Edgerton says. "Everything has to get approved first. You need to have an understanding of what the action is going to be … A lot of homework goes into it."
But once the hurdles are cleared, there's plenty of job satisfaction for the stunt team.
Both Prescott and Edgerton say they prefer to do the stunts for real instead of creating the effect using computer-generated images (CGI), even if that makes the job harder.
But continually coming up with never-before-seen stunts is a full-time job for Prescott.
"Each movie is different and, because they're always asking for new things, we're starting to explore different options," he says. "Things have gone beyond hitting an e-brake [handbrake] and sliding a car. Everybody has done that, everybody has seen that.
"Now it's all about interaction with cars, making cars wreck in ways you've never seen before. We're constantly trying to come up with new gear. I was talking to one of my guys today and we're going to create a new kind of ramp to develop a different kind of crash … nothing's really standard any more."
Basic tricks include a cannon that can shoot a piece of telephone pole out of the bottom of the car to start it flipping over and pneumatic jacks that can lift the car's back wheels off the ground to help it slide without losing speed.
Despite the planning and technology, ultimately a stuntman has to accept the risk.
So what makes a man or woman deliberately drive into a crash?
"When we go into something, you know [you're going to crash] and you know a month ahead of time; maybe even longer. So you've got a lot of time to think about it," Prescott says.
"It's just a stunt mindset. It's a quality that good stunt guys have: they can turn off their own self-preservation and just do what you've got to do. It's certainly a unique talent to know that you're going to get wrecked and still do what you have to do, leading up to it and through it."
Ben Collins, aka The ex-Stig, has also moved into stunt work alongside his racing career. He famously drove the Aston Martin in the latest James Bond flick Quantum of Solace, which opened with a chase through the Italian countryside.
It made headlines when two stuntmen were injured during filming. Collins admits that danger is just part of the job, either in racing or stunt work.
"There's always danger with both and we work just as hard to eliminate the risks in both the sport and the film business," Collins says. "When risks are overlooked or misunderstood, that's when it becomes dangerous because racing drivers and stunt guys are not completely in control of their circumstances; but we love what we do too much sometimes to say stop."
But what about the financial rewards? Surely they don't just do it for the thrill?
"I did it because it was fun, the money was secondary," says Rhys Millen, a Los Angeles-based Kiwi who started stunt work alongside his career as a rally driver.
"I think I earned $5000 the first year … Nowadays I don't want to quote what I make but it's very, very good money. Equal to your WRC [world rally championship] drivers for doing filming. For a few of us that have carved a niche, it's financially very beneficial."
Prescott says stunt drivers can, broadly speaking, be separated into two categories: stunt performers who can drive and race drivers who can do stunts.
Millen is one of the latter - he is primarily a professional racer and a champion in both rally and drift competition. However, he has continued stunt driving and has worked for some of the biggest productions, including The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the holy grail of stunt roles, lead stunt driver for the movie remake of The Dukes of Hazzard.
Although race drivers are good with the precise demands of directors, and the repetition required, Millen says racing skills don't necessarily translate into stunt driving. "To take a green race-car driver and take him into the film world doesn't work," Millen says.
"You have to have experience of both sides of the camera to really understand and help influence the shot. What the camera sees, what the director's looking for and what you're capable of in the vehicle.
"Sometimes being too perfect is not going to work."
"Sometimes you might need to be sloppy to make the shot work. Or exaggerate the movements of the vehicle to make the film rate they are filming at work."
"Sometimes the cameras are in slow motion or sped up. You need to understand, 'Are we filming 24 frames a second or are we filming 1000 frames per second?'"
Collins agrees that sometimes what is quick doesn’t look good on film, and that can be difficult for some racing drivers to understand.
"I learned early on the difference when I beat [racer-turned-presenter] Tiff Needell in a race around the Earls Court live action arena," he says. "Jeremy Clarkson was shouting about how boring I looked. My style was much faster but skidding sideways with the tyres smoking was what made the girls giggle."
"With film and TV you have to make the machinery dance a little to make it dramatic. One day with 3D though I'd really like to show the audience what it really feels like to go fast."
The centrepiece of Drive is a car chase on the outskirts of Los Angeles between Gosling's character, known only as Driver, in a Ford Mustang GT and unseen rivals in a Chrysler 300C.
It demonstrates the two extremes stunt co-ordinators can go to to make sure the car can perform the stunts they want.
According to Prescott, the Mustang didn't require much in the way of modifications, except switching off the stability control.
The Chrysler, on the other hand, had to be fitted with a roll cage, lifters and a cannon to make it perform the climactic crash. Plus the driver had to be strapped into a five-point harness and was protected by a racing-spec roll cage.
But Prescott says the only limit on what changes you make to the car are budget and imagination. Sometimes that means building unusual cars to suit a purpose.
"We can make it do whatever we want," he says. "I heard about a guy the other day who had a Prius he rebuilt so it was mid-engined and rear-wheel-drive so he could drift it. They needed it to drift in the movie so they built it that way."
It's all about suspending reality while never forgetting that reality occasionally bites back.
The Lucky Country
The Australian film industry has been responsible for some big-budget productions, including two Star Wars films and Superman Returns.
But there is still a place for good old-fashioned Aussie ingenuity. And Nash Edgerton's short film Lucky is a great example of that. The sequence calls for a Holden that appears to be driving itself on a deserted country road.
In order to drive the car safely, while Edgerton escapes from the boot and breaks into the car, some outside-the-box thinking was called for.
"Essentially Tony [Lynch] is in the car dressed as a car seat," Edgerton says. "So he's in every shot. But we took the driver's seat out and cut a piece of foam out the size of the seat, put a car-seat cover on him and he sits in the car straight up, like a car seat."
In contrast, Rhys Millen says he had 21 General Lees at his disposal for filming The Dukes of Hazzard but only used four.
Memorable car chases
Steve McQueen jumping his Mustang down the San Francisco streets? James Bond beating and banging his Aston Martin through a quarry? Robert De Niro manhandling a Peugeot through the French traffic?
Which is the greatest car chase in movie history?
There's no shortage of options and picking the best is as divisive as it is difficult.
But here are Drive Life's favourites.
Steve McQueen's police officer tracks two bad guys through the streets of San Francisco in what is widely considered the pinnacle of cinema chase sequences. It gets high marks for its simplicity with no special effects. McQueen's character drives a green Ford Mustang and the villains use a Dodge Charger.
Not one but two spectacular chase sequences. The first takes place in the French countryside and the second through the streets of Paris. The cars used include an Audi S8, Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, Peugeot 406 and BMW M5.
The French Connection
It's car versus train in this 1971 Gene Hackman police thriller. Hackman's character commandeers a car and chases a criminal riding the elevated train through Brooklyn. Much of the driving was done by Bill Hickman, the same stuntman who drove the Dodge in Bullitt.
Quantum of Solac
The most recent James Bond adventure begins with Bond's Aston Martin DBS (driven by former Stig Ben Collins) being pursued around Italy's Lake Garda and then into a quarry. Two stuntmen were seriously injured.
The Bourne Supremacy
A Russian Volga 3110 is an unlikely vehicle for a car chase but forgetful super-spy Jason Bourne uses it to good effect in Moscow as he tries to outrun the police and his nemesis, who has a Mercedes G-Wagen.