It goes without saying, but shooting on location in Sweden for “Gymkhana TEN”, was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Only minds like Ken Block and Brian Scotto would come up with the crazy idea of filming Gymkhana in a place where temperatures average 30 degrees BELOW freezing. As my nose hairs froze the moment I stepped out of the heat-blasted hotel, you’d probably think I didn’t enjoy my time there. It’s odd, but with the negative temps and less than ideal shooting conditions, I found myself enjoying the shoot more than I could have imagined. The whole challenge of it really got my heart racing.
Now with the semi-cringy intro out of the way, let’s move onto the shoot itself. The crew and I landed in Lulea, Sweden back in February. The following 5 days would be brutally cold.
All I knew was that some guy named Ken would be driving something cool. That’s all anyone was told about Sweden leading up to our arrival.
We spent the majority of the first day scouting the locations for the next four days of shooting.
That afternoon, Ken was set to test the rear tethered 360 sequence that later became the first clip of the Sweden location. The logistics behind it were relatively difficult, the crew had set up explosives to release a rope holding Ken’s car in place. The tires needed to have just the right amount of traction to pull him into a 360, yet keep him from getting stuck on the ice. Let’s just say that it took a few tries and lots of maths.
Ken had the opportunity to test both of the Fords that would be used during the shoot. The Fiesta came straight from the WRC (World Rally Championship) round in Sweden. Sebastien Ogier’s tech sticker was still on the car.
Petter Solberg’s son Oliver would be piloting one of Ken Block’s Ford Focus RSRX during the shoot. Since this was not a sanctioned WRX (World RX) race, the restrictors were taken out of the car, allowing it to make a comfortable 750 hp, instead of its limited 600-ish during race weekends.
Ken wasn't the only one testing out equipment, it was also a chance for the film crew to come to grips with the challenges of shooting in this climate. There we discovered:
1. It’s really fuc*ing cold.
2. It’s really fuc*ing cold.
3. The ice is really fuc*ing slippery.
It was so cold that my Canon 1Dx batteries froze after just 4 shots in-camera, and the lubricant on my circular polarizer filter also froze, rendering them useless. Aside from that, all good.
With the test out of the way, it was back to the hotel to prepare for the first full day of shooting.
I started the second morning grabbing as many hand warmers I could to stuff into my pockets. By wrapping them around my camera batteries, I should be able to keep them from freezing this time out. The production team was also kind enough to pick up studded wool boots for the crew to keep us on our feet, instead of slipping everywhere.
Our first location had us at the tether spot, this time for the real deal. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. It was fully overcast, making the shot look extremely dull. We waited a few hours to see if it would pass, but it didn’t look like the clouds were going to budge. Brian and the producers had to make the tough call and cancel the shoot for rest of the day.
Lucky for us, the production team scheduled an extra day of shooting for this exact situation, so we weren’t screwed just yet.
Day three brought us into the city center.
Ken blasted through the port from the frozen Lule River (northern tip of the Baltic Sea), then into the port area before heading onto the Lulea city streets where he would transition into the next car.
We then headed back to the river after lunch in town.
This was my favorite sequence of the shoot. The shot itself was actually quite simple as it only required Ken to hop over a few jumps set up in an S-formation.
What made it amazing, in true rally fashion, he flew over them sideways causing the snow banks to explode when he tapped them.
I was screaming internally with excitement, as I’m sure a few of the others were as well.
With the day coming close to an end, we wrapped up this shot to give the tether shot one more go.
Lucky for us, the sun was out and in our favor. With less than 10 minutes before sunset, everyone brought their A-game and we nailed the shot.
After a few transition shots, we called it a day as the temps were now dropping severely fast.
The next day, we headed to the most unique location I’ve ever been to.
The team managed to create somewhat of a spinning ice carousel for Ken to do 360’s, directly on the river.
The carousel couldn’t stop spinning, or else it would freeze over in less than a minute.
While the trick itself wasn’t necessarily the most exciting to watch, knowing that Ken was doing this on a 5000lb+ slab of ice above a frozen river left us all on edge. If the ice cracked, he would immediately fall into the rushing waters of the frozen river, and they were deep waters at that.
The production team had a safety diver ready to grab Ken in case the worst were to happen. While the carousel did sway up and down quite a bit, it worked out just fine.
I had to include this photo of Matt and Ron. No real reason. It’s just cool.
Oh and Justin Shreeve too.
Oliver Solberg was on set with the Focus RSRX.
I really do like the plain livery applied to the car. It’s not often we see these racecars with a livery this simple.
Walking around set, Oliver looked a bit nervous. But as soon as he was behind the wheel, I honestly couldn't tell if it was him or Ken driving. He looked that good driving the Focus. I get why people are calling him a future champion.
Ken and Oliver would be laying down a few donuts around an improv pool area, and some unlucky soul was going to jump in.
To top it off, Oliver took the outside line allowing Ken to pass on the inside, while still drifting. Because, yes.
After everyone filled their stomachs with reindeer meat stew (11/10 would recommend btw), we were on to the next location.
Yep, jump/drift, with both cars.
With just a hair of light left, we rushed through the scene and attempted to nail it.
The goal was to have Ken jump drift with Oliver drifting under him. If everything worked out perfectly, the angle of both cars would have aligned right at the apex of the jump.
Unfortunately, it didn’t and everyone agreed the check out the jump again the next day.
The final day of shooting was quite stressful as everyone had to be on point. With a few shots left, everyone knew it wasn’t a day for mistakes.
We started back on the frozen Lule River to finish up what Ken was doing there two days prior.
Again, internal screams of excitement.
Random thought, but I feel like with Ken’s resting face, he’d be a great poker player…
Once we finished at the river, we headed back to attempt the drift/jump sequence with Oliver as the final shot of the day.
We had a few moments to ourselves before the shoot, so Will Roegge and the rest of the camera operators decided it would be best to build an igloo for Bryan Moore. The Las Vegas native really enjoyed the effort we put in, even though it was less than subpar at BEST. The roof may or may not have caved in almost immediately.
The sunset light from the afternoon prior was amazing, but the action sequence this time around was more fluid, with both drivers coming out satisfied with their efforts.
By now, everyone was ready to head back to the hotel and look over footage (and photos!).
As we were about to leave, the production team told us that the Swedish Air Force got word of “Gymkhana TEN” being filmed in town and asked us if we wanted them to do some flybys with Ken.
Without thinking, everyone said yes and went straight for it. It’s not everyday the Air Force asks if you want to film their multi-million dollar fighter jets for hooning reasons.
That’s how you wrap up a Gymkhana in Lulea, Sweden: Swedish Air Force fighter jet flybys and donuts on the frozen Baltic Sea.