In movies and TV shows, cars are important props. They make period films feel like they are set in the past. They help give characters an identity. They add action and speed to chase scenes. We visited one place that supplies cars to film shoots— the Auto Film Club in Staten Island, New York. Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: In movies, cars get blown up and flipped. They define characters or they’re characters themselves. Sometimes they’re the center of the shot and other times they’re in the background just helping to set the scene. But where do these cars come from? Some of them come from the Auto Film Club in Staten Island, New York.
Max Lucci: We rent vehicles, we modify vehicles, we acquire vehicles.
Narrator: The Lucci family has been in the car rental business for 43 years. Max’s father Ralph had an auto body shop with his brother in Brooklyn and they got to know people with old cars.
Lucci: They started getting calls from different prop masters and people in the film industry saying, “Oh, you guys have a body shop where you have all these older cars. I need cars for a period piece.”
Narrator: After awhile, they were acting as liaisons between film crews and car owners. Eventually, they started buying cars to keep in their own inventory as well. Now, they’ve got about 190 vehicles available on their lots and a database full of car owners willing to rent. The cars they have range from flashy, polished collectibles to beat-up junkers.
Lucci: Whether it’s your pristine garage queen from the ’60s or ’70s or your jalopy, you know, your Subaru Outback, whatever it may be there’s always a character who needs a specific type of car.
Narrator: The way it usually works is a production company calls with a request for a particular type of car. If the Auto Film Club doesn’t have the car, they’ll act as the agent for someone who does or try to find one to buy. If they do have the car, they’ll bring it into the garage and make sure it’s running well before it has to be on set.
Lucci: If there needs to be a shot where a car is having a hard brake and it stops right in front of the principal actor or actress, then we’ll inspect the vehicle, check out the brakes.
Narrator: This is all part of getting the car stunt ready. They might also prepare a car to burn rubber, be smashed, or get flipped. For the movie “This Is Where I Leave You”, the Auto Film Club had to find an old Jaguar and then gut it.
Lucci: We removed the motor and the transmission from it, made it hollow, and then we had some people from special effects come in and fabricate a fake-looking motor that we put into the vehicle and then we had to weld a pipe so that the actors who were flipping over this real car could use it to gain leverage and actually flip over this old Jaguar.
Narrator: You might not know it, but you’ve probably seen some of Auto Film Club’s cars. They supplied about 14 cabs for this scene from the 2002 Spider-Man movie. The rest you see were added digitally in post-production. They supplied the cars for “Men in Black,” including the Zap-Em van and the car that Will Smith smashes through when he shoots the cricket gun. That one was the Lucci family’s car when Max was growing up.
Lucci: It used to get driven to school, kindergarten, every single day, we called it Old Betsy.
Narrator: Auto Film Club has supplied cars for “Gotham,” “The Americans,” “Jessica Jones,” and the list goes on. –
Lucci: You can never say no to a potential client because you never know when they’re gonna call you back. He told me to call this person who told me to call that guy, who knows a guy in Wyoming. I finally called someone and I said, “Do you have a 1993 to ’97 Prevost bus hatch?” And he said, “Yeah, I got one right in my yard.”