Off-Roading Goes to the Movies Part 2April 1st, 2016 by David Beran
Last week in Part 1, we covered the connections between off-road desert racing and big and small screen vehicles and stunt work. Dennis McCarthy, who built the Batmobile for the Warner Bros./DC Comics smash hit “Batman v Superman,” shared insights about working on movies and commercials.
Now, we’ll hear from Billy Hammon who built the life-sized Hot Wheels car for “Batman v Superman” and how his off-road roots inform all of his vehicle builds and stunts he coordinates for Hollywood.
Billy Hammon grew up in Dana Point, California with legendary off-road racer Robby Gordon. “Off-road racing is where it all started and being able to ride a motorcycle changed my life,” he says. After racing motorcycles and off-roading himself, he found his way into the movies as a stunt driver and vehicle builder. Hammon graduated to coordinating stunts for commercials including the BMW M1 helipad ad. Currently, he’s working with Disney, Mattel and Six Flags and built the Hot Wheels full-size “Batman vs. Superman” Twin Mill car along with the Batmobile for the Six Flags ride in Texas.
Billy is an effusive off-road enthusiast who was eager to show me the vehicles in his Chatsworth, California shop Action Vehicle Engineering including and the Evel Spirit replica of Evel Knievel’s Skycyle X-2 that Eddie Braun plans on piloting in a re-creation of Knievel’s failed Snake River jump.
Hot Wheels for Real
When they wanted to launch Hot Wheels for Real, manufacturer Mattel called Hammon and the Bandito Brothers in to meet with them. As any kid will tell you, Hot Wheels means healthy doses of tracks, curves and loops. Hammon wasn’t sure if Mattel would greenlight their team to coordinate and stage the elaborate stunts they had planned to showcase the abilities of the life-sized vehicles. Heather Miller of Mattel was the one who told them “I’ve seen “Dust to Glory” and you’ve lived the life – we’re going with you.”
His tone becomes reverent when he shows me a picture of teenaged Mario Andretti with his brother Aldo and future engine builder Larry Slutter. “Slutter brought the Cosworth car to the United States,” Hammon beams in awe. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the Cosworth DFX achieved legendary status in motorsports, winning ten straight Indy 500s. “When Mario Andretti was hesitant about getting onboard with the Hot Wheels for Real concept all it took was me telling him that Larry Slutter was involved and he was in.”
Mattel reimagined the history of Hot Wheels by manufacturing the legend that the small Hot Wheels cars for kids were first tested as life-sized Hot Wheels at secret facilities. Andretti told his children that when he was gone for stretches of time he was actually test driving at a top-secret Hot Wheels facility, perpetuating the myth.
On the Stunt Battlefront
The stunts Hammon coordinates for movies and television never stray too far from his off-road roots. “Everything I do is off-road,” he says. “The way I set Hot Wheels jumps up is all from my off-road experience. If you understand dirt, it translates to stunts.” Because he’s often putting his friends into cars to perform stunts, Hammon stresses safety. He double bars the cine rod hoop for safety and even though people say that the cage doesn’t have to be that strong, he builds it strong because he knows stunts can go big. Hammon describes himself as a nervous wreck before stunts happen. “The hardest thing about off-road is something is always going to happen and it’s the same with stunts,” he says.
The film industry has its fair share of stunts gone wrong, but Hammon’s overriding push for safety has paid off. No accidents have happened on his watch and he’s in demand, especially in the commercial world. Hammon has done all of the stunts for Bridgestone/Firestone commercials for years and Action Vehicle Engineering provides picture and prop vehicles. Stunt coordinators are known as the talent that’s never seen and that’s fine by Billy. Let people marvel at his creations like the Skycyle X-2 and the full-size “Batman vs. Superman” Twin Mill.
About the Author: David Beran
As a professional inkspiller living in Los Angeles, I’ve written in industries ranging from entertainment to employment to automotive. Terrain I cover includes off-road events and races, budget builds, custom mods, EVs and the latest innovations in aftermarket 4x4 parts. I’m always eager to learn about new trends in 4x4s and my motto is “go off-road or go home.” Google+ is the destination for my dispatches: https://plus.google.com/+DavidBeran/posts.