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High speeds drive local stunt driver’s film business

Posted: April 30, 2014 2:25 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2014 2:25 p.m.

A black, outfitted camera car in the middle of the action films a motorcycle chase and crash from the movie the "Fast & Furious 6."

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What started as a one-car and camera operation in 1986 has grown into a full-fledged Santa Clarita business serving the film industry.

Stunt driver Allan Padelford, founder of Allan Padelford Camera Cars, has been chasing and filming car crashes and high-speed action in film and television since 1982. The trick, he said, is to get as close as possible to shooting the action and yet be positioned far away enough to be safe.

Needing more space to keep his growing collection of cars, equipment and cameras under cover and under one roof, Padelford recently leased nearly 11,000 square feet of space in the Rye Canyon Business Park in Valencia.

Born and raised on a ranch between Piru and Filmore, Padelford’s dad and uncle built specialized equipment for citrus farming so he began learning how to weld when he was only 7 years old. And he always had an interest in cars; captivated by the Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt,” memorable for its chase scenes through San Francisco with Steve McQueen at the wheel of a 1968 Ford Mustang GT.

By a twist of fate, Padelford was introduced to the film industry through a high school football coach. By 1989, he met film director Tony Scott and was signed on as a stunt driver for “Days of Thunder,” a movie about stock car racing.

Padelford has since remained involved with scores films – including the “Fast and Furious” franchise - designing and building special cars equipped with cameras capable of racing alongside the action to capture the action.

The vehicle he most often uses, a Cadillac Escalade, is especially equipped with a camera mounted on a crane capable of extending 26 feet. But, Padelford has also customized a Porsche Cayenne and a Ford Raptor. The SUVs has all been souped-up to keep up in car chase scenes and reinforced to be able to handle the punishment – even windshields have debris proof covers to protect the occupants inside shooting the film sequences.

Having worked with directors like Quentin Tarantino, and scores of name actors, Padelford keeps a small crew busy in his shop and a team of stunt drivers busy Allan Padelford Camera Cars takes on more and more work assignments.

“I’m booked 200 days a year,” Padelford said. “Most of the work is out of area – 99 percent of it is outside the immediate area.”

He just returned from Atlanta and even spent time in England, but he and his team also do a lot of work in New Mexico, Louisiana and Canada – testimony to ongoing flight of film production leaving California.

Feature filming has dropped 50% from its peak in 1996, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich in a statement. In 1997, every big-budget film but one was filmed at least partially in Los Angeles County -- in 2013, only two movies with production budgets higher than $100 million filmed here at one time.

In the last decade, Southern California has lost more than $3 billion in entertainment production wages and the employment rate in the entertainment industry has dropped from 152,525 to 136,380, he said.

While Padelford has shot scenes for small movies locally, most of the film work takes place outside of the state, he said. He cited work he recently did for “The Fast and the Furious” saying he spent 16 weeks on it and yet only week was filmed n Los Angeles. The crew will finish up work on the latest movie in the series in Vancouver, Canada.

“I wish we could do more here. A lot of people love shooting in California, and always have to battle the elements when we go elsewhere,” he said.

But Padelford’s company isn’t always working on movies that involve high-speed machines. One of his favorite movies to work on was "Seabiscuit," an undersized thoroughbred race horse.

Work on that movie became a real turning point forAllan Padelford Camera Cars, he said. The company developed some pieces of equipment and a special vehicle with a driving platform where jockeys would ride an animatronic horse for close-ups.

“Out of that design, we now use it for car scenes and call them ‘biscuit rigs,’” he said.

Whether its chasing cars or jockeys on horses, however, Padelford said his company always tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

“Sometimes the cars – catapulted off pipe ramps and canons using nitrogen pressure - flip over,” he said. “When that work starts our camera is literally and stunt drivers are literally feet from where the action is happening.”

All action shots have their moments where capturing the action is very intense for the four to five people inside one of Padelford’s cars, he said. One person is stunt driving, others are operating the booms and cameras while things are exploding and flying by the vehicle.

For the man who first became inspired by the movie “Bullitt” the opportunity to film chase scenes for the final episode of the TV show “Alcatraz” – using all the same locations as those that were shot in “Bullitt” was like icing on a cake.

“This business is about making a living at something you love doing,” Padelford said.

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