The first thing BASE-jumper and wingsuit pilot Jeb Corliss wants you to know about the new Point Break remake is that the mind-blowing wingsuit scene is real. "People aren't going to believe this flight," he says. "It looks like it was shot on a green screen, because it's so perfect." As one of the most technically difficult and complicated wingsuit flights ever captured, it had to be. "The danger is off the chart, like, just impossible to even comprehend," says Corliss. "It's probably the most dangerous stunt that has ever been filmed."
And that was exactly the point of the new Point Break remake, with Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramírez playing Bodhi and Aussie Luke Bracey taking on the role of Utah. The original 1991 film, starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, focuses on a crew of surfers robbing banks to pay for their endless summer. The new one follows much of the same setup, except Utah, instead of an ex-football player, is now a former extreme motocross star; Bodhi, rather than a surfer, is now a blanket "extreme athlete" and eco-warrior who plays a sort of Robin Hood role. If the plot sounds a little thin, it is. And the character development is almost non-existent. But none of that matters, really, because the film's primary purpose is to serve as a vehicle for a series of mind-blowing stunts — and that it does.
But the standout scene — worthy of the record books and the price of admission — is the wingsuit jump. "I've been watching movies my whole life and my best friends in the world are stunt guys, and after seeing the film's footage, they were just like, 'Woaaaah! Woaaah!' " says Corliss, who served as the wingsuit technical advisor for flight sequence. "The amount of risk that they took on this is just unparalleled."
Getting Off the Ground
A script for the remake had been floating around for years, but it wasn't until Ericson Core, the director of photography behind the first Fast and Furious film and director of Invincible, pitched his idea to the studio that the movie actually got off the ground. "My ideas for the film were significantly different than what was on paper," Core says. "It was originally much more of a big tent-pole movie, and certainly broke the laws of physics, as many films do these days."
Core aimed to gather a group of the best snowboarders, climbers, surfers, and wingsuit pilots on planet and film them, essentially, as actors. The team would use full storyboards to fit the action into a plotline, but the movie would film the same stunts that are popular on YouTube — only taken up a notch and filmed with cinema-quality cameras. He also wanted to include a host of new sports, many of which weren't even around when the first Point Break was made: tow-in surfing, extreme motocross, big-mountain snowboarding, and, of course, wingsuit proximity flying.
"After looking at so many YouTube videos and understanding something of these sports," says Core, "I felt that in order to honor them we had to experience them for real — the movie needed to have real peril to it."
That meant snowboarding in the backcountry of Austria with Xavier De Le Rue. Free-climbing Angel Falls in Venezuela with Chris Sharma. Big-wave surfing in Tahiti with Laird Hamilton. But nowhere is that peril as apparent as in the wingsuit sequence, in which four wingsuit pilots (and a cameraman) fly through the mountains in Switzerland wingtip to wingtip, only inches apart. The sequence happens relatively early in the film, shortly after Utah and Bodhi meet up for the first time — essentially Utah's first test of loyalty while trying to infiltrate Bodhi's crew, if you're paying attention to the plot. What you can't miss is the difficulty of the stunt.
"Most of the time you see really intense proximity flying, where people are close to a cliff or mountain, it's one person flying that close, with maybe one camera guy following," says Corliss. "But as far as tight, Blue Angels–style flight with a wingsuit, that has just never been done."
There's also only a few people in the world capable of flying that precisely and repeatedly without cratering into the mountain. As the wingsuit advisor, Corliss helped hand-select the team (Corliss himself wasn't able to jump because he was recovering from knee surgery), which included two-time World Wingsuit League champion Jhonathan Florez and Red Bull Air Force manager Jon DeVore, who's racked up nearly 20,000 parachute jumps over his career. DeVore, who previously worked on the wingsuit sequence for Transformers: Dark Of the Moon, served as the aerial coordinator.
"There's a lot of really talented wingsuit fliers out there in the world, but most of them fly really rad, really exciting solo proximity lines," says DeVore. "Very few people have much practice doing it in groups, especially in supertight, choreographed formations. We knew going in that this was going to be the toughest thing any of us had ever done."
Grinding the Crack, with Five People at Once
The location of the flight sequence was one intimately familiar to Corliss: Walenstadt, Switzerland. In 2011, Corliss jumped from a peak just outside of the Swiss town and flew through a ridiculously tight opening, swooping below the crowns of trees at over 120 mph, and into a near-vertical canyon. Video from the jump, called "Grinding the Crack," has racked up 30 million views on YouTube.
"This location, for one, is visually stunning," says Corliss. "It's big and epic, which meant it was great on camera. But that steepness allows the wingsuit pilot a margin for error: If something does go wrong, they can get away from the terrain and pull out into open air."
But the Point Break sequence demanded five people to fly through the crack, so even with a safety margin, they would have to be perfect. That meant the five-person team would need to do hundreds of jumps in preparation. "The summer before, everybody started going out to the exact location and to locations that were very similar," says DeVore. "We needed to start training on more than just solo lines."
"It was very mathematical, very surgical. Jon or Ericson would be like, 'Hey I need it ten feet lower on the next one,' and then they were ten feet lower on the next one. I mean every time he said, 'I need you to do this,' they nailed it, first jump — they were that trained and that prepared." —Jeb Corliss, stunt coordinator for the film
Flying in a tight formation, where everyone has to be in sync, is an entirely different beast. If one person crashes in that situation, they all could perish. "One thing that people need to understand is that when a wingsuit pilot flies through the air, they are basically ripping that air apart and creating something called a wake vortex that comes off the wingsuit," says Corliss.
"We're moving through the sky at 100-plus miles per hour forward," explains DeVore. "And just like a jet, there's a very turbulent wake of air behind every single pilot. And you don't see it, but if you're flying behind it, you feel it. You feel it so much that it can steal all your air and collapse your wingsuit. You can easily have a fatal accident if you fly through somebody's airstream, because sometimes when you're five, ten feet off the ground, and collapsing a wingsuit — even for a fraction of a second — means you drop 20, 30, 50 feet."
To become comfortable with the wingtip-to-wingtip flights necessary to pull the scene off, the wingsuiters initially jumped from planes, racking up more than 500 jumps over the course of the year leading up to filming. They would fly in tight formations over and over again, simply as a way of getting accustomed to the idea of having someone nearby at all times.
Unlike a GoPro flight, where all the action is captured in one flight — even if from multiple camera angles — Core needed a series of shots to create the sequence, everything from point-of-view shots to profile shots of the wingsuiters cruising past the mountain to close-ups. That meant that one of the wingsuiters would need to wear a cinema-quality camera on his head, rather than a GoPro, and that task fell to Florez, who had never done camera work before. The Red camera used in the flights weighed an astounding 15 pounds, enough to significantly alter the way Florez normally flew.
"We had ground-based cameras with long lenses, and we had a helicopter with a gyro-stabilized camera as well," says Core. "But the majority of the camera work was done by [Florez]." Tragically, in July — after filming wrapped for Point Break — Florez died in a BASE-jumping accident while training for another World Wingsuit League.
"He just did extraordinary, extraordinary camera work," says Core. "We even added in a little camera shake afterwards to make a shot worse, to give it more of that sense of turbulence. Otherwise it just looked too beautiful and calm."
In a pursuit as dangerous as wingsuiting, there are bound to be injuries — even deaths. On average, more than 20 wingsuit pilots die each year, and because of that, it's often considered the deadliest sport on the planet. So for Core, safety was critical.
"The pressure was on us to tell a story, but not on the wingsuit pilots to jump, ever," says Core. "We took the time to do it right and tried to give ourselves as much time as possible. But we definitely held our breathes every time they jumped because, frankly, what those guys do is incredibly dangerous."
"The second we showed up, the first thing Core said was, 'We are out of our element, we're 100-percent deferring to you guys on what's safe and what's not,' " says DeVore. "And they gave us all the time we wanted — to experience 30 minutes of wind cycles, and everything from the moisture in the air down to the strength of the wind and everything in the middle. It takes a little bit to get into that Zen state, when you feel like you're one with your terrain and you don't want to have a rushed feeling when it's time to jump."
This lack of pressure is particularly notable because every second they wait, the budget is exploding — helicopters burning fuel, two-dozen crew members who need to get paid and fed, and weather windows that could close and cost them an entire day or more. But Core wanted to make sure the team had everything they wanted.
"They let us go out to Switzerland almost two weeks early, with all the gear and cameras, and let us go on our own without any pressure from production-type people looking at us," says DeVore. "By the time we went to day one with the cameras rolling, it felt like day 12 because we were already there doing it."
The Final Shot
The team made more than 60 jumps each over the course of the two-week film shoot in Switzerland. To make sure the team knew exactly what they would encounter once they leapt from the summit, crew members were placed at various points along the route to monitor wind speed. The pilots became so dialed in that they were able to change their elevations by a few feet along the route, to correspond with demands from the filming crew.
"It was very mathematical, very surgical," says Corliss. "Jon or Ericson would be like, 'Hey I need it ten feet lower on the next one,' and then they were ten feet lower on the next one. I mean every time he said, 'I need you to do this,' they nailed it, first jump — they were that trained and that prepared."
"There were times when it wasn't at all dangerous, when we had a cushion," says DeVore. "But there were other times where you knew you had to stick It. There was no other solution."
One of those times is perhaps the most intense frame in the entire movie. As the team of wingsuiters swoop into the canyon, DeVore is low enough that his wake vortex turbulence causes the grass beneath him to spread like he's running his hand though it — this with three other wingsuiters only inches from him.
"We were shooting with the Phantom camera, which shoots about a thousand frames per second," says Core, "and he flew low enough — and he is an extraordinary wingsuit pilot, so he understands very well what he's doing — but he got down so low that his foot was dragging through the grass at 140 miles per hour. So any variation at all, and he would have hit his knee or foot on the ground and tumbled into a ball of nothing. So that was very scary, and that was the closest anyone ever came to death on this film."
"I knew it was going to be very, very close," says DeVore. "But it wasn't until the blades of grass started hitting me in my cheek that I realized how low I really was."
The jump, teased in the movie trailer at 2:00.
"It's probably the single gnarliest frame of footage ever shot. Ever. Period," says Corliss. "His foot is literally inches, not feet, from the ground, and you get this kind of visceral sensation from seeing it, because you just know — even if you don't know anything about wingsuits — you just know he's fucking close."
There are certainly more intense wingsuit lines that have been filmed, and they're all over YouTube. But in terms of precision, it's hard to explain just how skilled, and close to the ground, this particular flight was.
"It wasn't until we were in the production truck at the bottom watching the footage that I realized that I was dragging that low in the grass," says DeVore. "To be honest, after all of these jumps and years in the sport, it was one of the biggest learning experiences I've had in a long time, where my mind was telling me I was three feet off the deck when I was actually a foot and a half off the deck."
And so what was he thinking when he saw the footage?
"I was like, 'Oh, man, are you guys sure you want to put that in the movie? My wife is going to kill me!' " he says. "I don't need to tell her that happened, if you don't. Of course, I knew the second I did it makes the film."
"Let's put it this way: He got closer than he should have. We're all like, 'Dude, come on, you don't need to be that close,' " he says. "But we instantly knew it would make the film. And that sequence, the entire thing put together… I don't think anything like it will ever be filmed again. I don't think anything like it can be filmed again — it's that special."