Interview with Anthony McNeil (Picture Vehicle Coordinator, Australia) from The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

By Paul Martin March 8th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded

Archival interview with Anthony McNeil from the official Matrix website.

MATRIX: What is a picture vehicle?

ANTHONY: A picture vehicle is any vehicle seen on screen. Within the production itself there are other vehicles that we use, but I just have to make sure any vehicle that goes on screen is there, that it’s going, and that anything that needs to be done to it is done beforehand.

MATRIX: How did you get into this line of work?

ANTHONY: Sort of by accident, it’s one of those things where when you’re in the Art Department you turn your hand to various things and I’ve tried most things within the Art Department, including Set Dressing and a bit of Art Directing. I’ve been in the film industry probably six years now, and I’ve done Vehicle Coordinating before but not on such a big film, seeing as this is the biggest film around at the moment – I’ve done a lot of television and a few smaller films.

MATRIX: Did you work on the original film?

ANTHONY: Not really, I did some days on the first film here and there helping out the then Vehicle Coordinator, John Allan, who is now the Property Master on MATRIX 2 & 3. That’s partly how I got this job – I’ve worked with him quite a bit, so we work well together.

MATRIX: How long have you been on the production so far?

ANTHONY: I started at the end of July 2001 and we are supposed to finish at the end of May 2002, so it’s a long production.

MATRIX: When you read the script, how do you break it down and decide which cars are needed and when?

ANTHONY: A lot of it was shot in America and a lot of the vehicle scenes were shot there – particularly the Freeway Chase – so basically it was a lot of fitting in with what the Americans had done. Also Owen [Paterson], the Production Designer, has his own ideas and Hugh [Bateup] the Supervising Art Director have their own ideas about what they want in certain scenes, so it’s really a matter of coming up with what they see as the overall idea for the film, and trying to match something to that.

MATRIX: Were any of the cars from the Freeway Chase shipped back to Australia?

ANTHONY: Yes. The main car set in America was the Freeway where they had a huge chase, which was what they shot first, then we actually shot the start of the car chase in the Merovingian’s Chateau Underground Garage. They sent us out a couple of cars – brand new Cadillac CTSs – and basically we had to match what they had done in America. That Cadillac is the new Sedan that is being released at the same time as the movie. The other hero car was the Twins’ vehicle, an SUV (which stands for Sports Utility Vehicle) that is a large 4WD-type Cadillac. There were none of those in Australia, so they were sent out for us. We matched and dressed the rest of the set with Cadillacs, using mainly the Cadillac Club of New South Wales, who were very helpful.

MATRIX: What period were the other Cadillacs from?

ANTHONY: They’re mainly from the fifties – which is very popular here in Australia – through to the late seventies; it’s actually quite hard to find them from the eighties. There are a lot of Cadillacs from before that around, but they’re not so identifiable as Cadillacs, whereas the ones from the fifties everyone knows and loves those cars, so they’re very recognizable. For the look we were after we didn’t want any white cars in the garage, and we didn’t want any brightly colored cars. We wanted silver, black, and gold colors, or a bronze color to go with the look of the film.

We also put some Australian cars in the garage – two Australian cars which were made in the nineties, which were made by General Motors, the same company that builds Cadillacs and Holdens. We wanted to get something modern in there as well, so people might be able to see them. Finding modern Cadillacs is quite hard in this country; you really have to ship them in. The majority of the cars in the garage are actually owned by people here in Australia

MATRIX: Did you contact each of those people individually?

ANTHONY: Yes, and most people were pretty happy to do it. They’d seen the first MATRIX being such a huge movie, and people want to be involved. They’re all Cadillac enthusiasts as well, so they’ll be watching the movie. They probably won’t care what happens to Neo or Trinity; they’ll be buying the video and rewinding it searching for their car on screen. The idea of having their car on screen all around the world is a bit of a buzz, I guess, as it would for be for most people.

MATRIX: Most of those cars are only driven in club events; how did you transport them to the location?

ANTHONY: The privately owned cars were registered to be driven on the road; so they were allowed to do that. The cars that we brought in from the States aren’t allowed to be driven on the road because they are left-hand drives and don’t comply with Australian laws, so we have transported them everywhere by road transport. They are only allowed on streets if the street is locked off. We have done some driving scenes around Sydney mainly in the Lincoln and some of our Police cars, and to do that we get a special permit, and have a road lockdown so that the general public can’t be there.

MATRIX: The special Cadillacs would have been worth a lot in sentimental value as well as dollar value; how did you ensure they were not damaged?

ANTHONY: I stood around a lot on the days we were filming there, keeping an eye on things, and the crew were incredibly good. The crew didn’t lean on the cars or do anything like that because most of them are working and were quite busy while they were on set. There were a couple of visitors who came to set to watch the filming, and they’d tend to lean against a car. Basically I’d ask them not to do that, and they’d get off them; people just get lazy. It was definitely not so much a monetary thing, it was more a sentimental thing – the people who own those cars are very attached to them, so we didn’t want to upset them. And there was security there twenty-four hours a day; we didn’t want people looking in to see what was going on either.

MATRIX: What was your favorite vehicle?

ANTHONY: My favorite Cadillac is not actually in the Merovingian Garage, it’s was in the other garage scenario – the Hel Night Club Garage. I don’t know exactly what year it is now, but it’s about a 1960 DeVille I think. It has two doors and is quite beautiful – it’s all totally original and is left-hand drive. It’s very, very original.

MATRIX: How many cars have you had to find so far?

ANTHONY: Not a great deal. There were eighteen in the Merovingian Garage and there are eighteen in the Hel Night Club Garage, and then we had driving days in the city which had about thirty cars there, and then there were half a dozen trucks and a bus. It doesn’t sound like a great deal of cars and trucks, but it’s a matter of getting trucks that look like they could be American. A Kenworth is easy to find, but getting the right color, making them look interesting, making them look American, and making them fit in with the movie is the hardest bit.

MATRIX: What are your tricks of the trade; how do you make them look American, and how do you change the color of a truck if it’s not the color you want?

ANTHONY: You just keep driving around until you find what you want. If you go out on the freeway you see hundreds and hundreds of trucks, and usually they’ve got a company name on the side, so you just ring them up. People are very obliging – most companies want to help. That’s the easiest way to do it. You can sit here and look through the phonebook or look on the Web and you find some things, but if you’re after a truck the easiest way is to go out and drive around. Trucks are on the road, that’s what they do, so you just go out and find the one you want.

MATRIX: You’ve found the right color and shape, but the truck has ‘Merv’s Vehicle Corporation’ written down the side of it – what do you do?

ANTHONY: You find out if Merv’s Vehicle Corporation or whatever it is on the side is okay to use by Warner Bros. doing a check on the name, and if it’s okay by them you can use that company name in the film. If it’s not, you take measurements of the signage and get a sign made up that fits over the top of it and stick it on. On the day you stick it on and then at the end of the day you just peel it off. Or you can just cover it – depending on how large the sign is – you can cover it with black or any color you need. The more obvious it is, the better it is almost, people are less likely to notice it. If it’s a white truck and you try and hide a blue sign with white – you’ll never do it, so you just cover it with black and it looks like a big stripe down the side. You make it obvious and people don’t notice it.

MATRIX: Did the thirty cars in the general street shot come from the general public?

ANTHONY: Yes, and they drive them on the day. We found some left-hand drives around as well. Basically I drive around putting my card under people’s windscreen wipers, and just about everyone called me back, then you get them to come along on the day and drive their car. We ask them to have a passenger in there so we can make it a left-hand drive car, because if you’ve got two people in the car it looks left-hand drive. Color-wise we have to be pretty selective in the vehicles we use. We do have some of the vehicles they sent out from the States, which have been painted to the correct colors, and they’re left-hand drives, and when I was looking around for people’s cars here I went with the color range I knew would be fine.

Our hero cars were driven by professional drivers or the actors themselves, but the background vehicles were generally driven by the owners. It’s better for us, it’s better for insurance; it’s better for everyone really.

MATRIX: Where do you get the color direction from for the vehicles?

ANTHONY: I knew there was to be no blue color. When you’re told there are colors you can’t have, it’s amazing how many times that’s all you find. Basically, the direction was the more monochrome the better, so I was looking for darker, subtle colors. Especially if a car is a background car, you don’t want it to be standing out in a bright color anyway, it’s the hero car that you want to be the obvious one.

MATRIX: One of the Cadillacs had to be damaged; did you participate in the finding of that vehicle?

ANTHONY: John Allan had found that vehicle before I started because he started a few months prior to me. It was in Canberra, which is three hundred kilometers [186 miles] from Sydney, so I went down and look at it. It was a pretty rough-looking car, but it was a left-hand drive and it was a 1972 Cadillac El Dorado Convertible, which was good because it was convertible. That meant you could take the top down and see the windscreen blow out quite easily, so visually it was much better. We purchased that and the person we purchased it from said they’d paint it for us the color we wanted, so Owen picked a color. A few weeks later it was sent up to Sydney where Special Effects rigged it to have the window blown out.

MATRIX: Why was the decision made to purchase that vehicle and none of the others?

ANTHONY: Because there was quite a bit of rigging involved with doing something like that. The backseat had to come out, and we had to build a rig in the car that blew the windows out, so the chances of damaging the car were too great. The Cadillac Club of New South Wales were particularly good to us, and if we had hired a vehicle from them to do that, there was too great a risk of breaking something and we didn’t want to damage their cars at all; their cars are showpieces. But we could do whatever we wanted to the car we purchased. In the end we blew a headrest apart as well as the windscreen, although it may have been that they wanted to do more damage than that. If we start doing structural damage to anything we need to own it.

MATRIX: Has there been any motorcycle work done in Australia?

ANTHONY: Yes, we’ve got a couple of motorbike scenarios. We’ve got the one where Trinity jumps the bike into the Rerouting Facility that we’re filming in the next couple of days, and then we’ve got some filming for the game that involves motorcycles as well.

MATRIX: What kind of motorcycle will Trinity be riding for that?

ANTHONY: In America she was on a Ducati for the Freeway Chase, here she’s on an MV Augusta, which is an Italian bike that has been specially painted for us in a black gloss. They normally come in matte black, but we’ve got it black gloss, so it looks pretty sharp. The stunt person riding there will be Bernadette Van Gyen.

MATRIX: How are they using the motorcycles in the game?

ANTHONY: They’re not going to be doing very much with the motorbikes in the game, they’re primarily just parked. We’ll be using the Ducatis, the MV Augustas and a few other motorcycles. I think they’re scanning them; they have a huge scanning machine set up there.

MATRIX: What challenges do you have coming up?

ANTHONY: We’ve shot exteriors of, I think, Morpheus, Trinity and Neo driving around the city in the Lincoln – we’ve done night shoots and day shoots of that – and now we have to do the interiors, which will be done in the studio. We have to rig the Lincoln for that so that’ll be a lot of work, and it will be quite difficult as well because we’ve only got one car. When they did the vehicle chase on the Freeway in the States they had fourteen cars for the one shot, so they could pull it apart in any way shape or form, and put a camera wherever they wanted. Unfortunately we’ve only got one car that has to do all the exteriors and interiors, so we’ll make it so the doors come off easily, the boot [trunk] comes off, the back and front window just pop out, and the seats come out easily, because on the day you don’t have a lot of time to remove these things. When you’ve got a whole crew wanting to get in there – Directors, DOP, Grips, Electrics – and the car is only so big, it can be a bit of a nightmare.

MATRIX: Are you on set at all times when the vehicles are on set?

ANTHONY: I try to be. When we were in the Merovingian Garage and the Hel Garage I was there because they weren’t our cars; they were other people’s cars and I wanted to protect them. Sometimes there’s no need for me to be on set, but if there’s a big day then I’ll be there.

MATRIX: How helpful are the storyboards to you?

ANTHONY: They’re great. Sometimes you realize you’re just not going to see certain things, so it gives you much more freedom to use different cars, or you don’t have to be quite so particular about a detail. If it’s a close-up of a car and we’re going to see the whole thing, then we have to use a specific car, there’s no getting around it. But if the storyboard shows it’s a long way off in the background, it gives you much more freedom; you just basically need to get the color right. I look at the storyboards all the time.

MATRIX: Thank you very much Anthony.

Interview by REDPILL

February 2002

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