This Local Stunt Driver Supplies Cars to Major TV and Movie Productions Filming in Alberta

New movie The Order features starring performances by Jude Law and Nicholas Hoult, as well as supporting roles by a fleet of ’80s-era police cars from Grady Galvin, a local stunt driver and picture car supplier.

Photo by Jared Sych.

Grady Galvin’s resumé brings to mind the characters in the action movies he works on. He can race motorcycles and luxury cars. He’s a certified yacht-master, “wreck and rescue” Scuba diver and downhill ski instructor. Galvin can shoot a combat shotgun, ride a horse and survive in the wilderness. He can ice climb, rock climb and navigate a canoe through whitewater. The guy is a tuxedo and an English accent away from being James Bond.

Galvin had always wanted an adventurous life. Born and raised in Calgary, he attended Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, then enrolled in a marine biology program at the University of British Columbia. “I very quickly discovered that being a marine biologist did not make you Jacques Cousteau,” Galvin said. “You weren’t going to be spending your time diving off exploration vessels on the Great Barrier Reef.” So, he swapped out marine biology for archaeology. “I decided I wanted to be Indiana Jones,” he said. But, when it was clear an archeology degree wasn’t going to lead him to booby-trapped caves and rolling boulders, he switched majors again to veterinary medicine with the intention of becoming a vet specializing in large animals.

In the summer of 1991, while home between his first and second years at UBC, Galvin met John Scott, his aunt’s then-boyfriend. Scott ran a ranch near Longview where he served the film industry as a stunt co-ordinator and performer, animal wrangler, location scout, and transportation co-ordinator. Scott would eventually earn the colloquial title of Alberta’s “Godfather of film” with a vast resume of film credits, including The Revenant and Legends of the Fall.

During a family dinner, Galvin told Scott he needed a summer job and asked if he had any work on his ranch. Scott asked him if he wanted to work in the movies. Galvin didn’t; he hoped to work with the animals. Regardless, he started the following Monday, “and, literally, on Tuesday, I was working on a movie,” he said. His first job was unloading Clint Eastwood’s pig pen: that summer, Eastwood was directing and starring in Unforgiven, most of which was filmed in the Foothills south of Calgary. Galvin drove a five-ton truck full of wooden panels to the set where the Unforgiven crew assembled the pen, the same pen in which Eastwood’s character first appears on screen, chasing a feverish hog.

Galvin returned to Scott’s ranch to work every summer during his time at UBC. He added a wildlife ecology minor to his agriculture major in the hopes of becoming a wildlife veterinarian. Soon, though, the film business started to edge into Galvin’s life plans. As a way to merge his university education with growing affection for making movies, Galvin considered acquiring wildlife that he could lease out to films. He imagined operating a ranch populated by bears, cougars and ravens he could wrangle for productions.

He also toyed with the idea of stunt work. Scott’s place was, as Galvin put it, “crawling with stunt people,” and he greatly admired their work. But breaking into stunt work wasn’t easy. Southern Alberta’s stunt industry was built on horseback, and the majority of the stunt performers have always been rodeo cowboys who have been working in the movie business for decades. Galvin mostly found work outside the industry, returning to set whenever the opportunity arose as a “special skills extra” to ride a horse in the background. Then Galvin met and married Sally Bishop, an ambitious young stunt performer that he met at the Calgary Stampede, where she was working as a trick rider. Bishop came from movies: her father worked as a head wrangler and stunt performer in Ontario’s Niagara region. “I grew up helping him on set on shows like Road to Avonlea and Murdoch Mysteries,” Bishop said.

Their marriage drew Galvin back into the film industry. While other husbands and wives sign up for date-night cooking classes, Galvin and Bishop took stunt-driving courses in Los Angeles and Toronto and went to motorcycle racing school in Vancouver. The ongoing process of adding skills to one’s stunt toolbox “is a fun part of the job,” Bishop said, but all stunt performers have their specialties. Galvin “loved cars and anything to do with driving,” Bishop said. “He worked on that quite a bit. And I definitely remember him watching Top Gear all the time.”

The two may have shared a passion for stunt work, but Bishop was the busier performer. (The couple split in 2011, but remain on good terms.) Galvin didn’t get many stunt jobs, but ended up scoring the three film credits required for his ACTRA membership. (“I fell off a horse, and galloped a horse through a forest, and I did something on skis,” he said.) When he returned to the business, he was mostly driving trucks on movie sets as part of the transport crews — an echo of that first job delivering Eastwood’s pig pen.

Galvin in a Rumrunner car used in the filming of upcoming movie The Order. Photo by Jared Sych.

So, Galvin decided to go into the picture vehicle business. Film and TV productions have picture-car co-ordinators to source and acquire whatever vehicles are needed to appear on screen. Productions often require specific cars to match the story’s time period. Picture-car suppliers are independent businesses that have the cars the co-ordinators need.

In 2019, Galvin founded his supplier business, Rumrunner Picture Cars. He started with the three cop cars he’d purchased from the production of El Chicano two years earlier. Then, Galvin bought the entire lot of early 2010s-era cars from Fargo’s third season.

Now, Rumrunner boasts an inventory of more than 100 vehicles. They fill a warehouse in the city’s southeast that once housed Calgary’s fleet of garbage trucks. Nearly all of Rumrunner’s stock is law-enforcement and emergency vehicles. Galvin has several models of Crown Victorias (“the quintessential cop car,” he said), along with seven Ford Taurus Interceptor sedans. He has a pair of 1968 Galaxies — nicknamed Han Solo and Lando Calrissian — and two identical Dodge Chargers rigged with a stunt brake system that can be switched on and off to allow actors to safely drive the car normally, and stunt drivers to lock up the rear brakes and slide the car around corners.

Galvin procures matching pairs of many vehicles. That way, actors can film their scenes in and around one car, while a second unit simultaneously films car-chase sequences with the twin.

In addition to the police cars, Galvin has a city bus, a faux-wood-panelled Jeep Wagoneer, and a U.S. Postal Service Mail jeep from 1973. He also maintains a selection of poorly running “beaters” suitable to be lit on fire or blown up. Two Porsches, a 2007 Cayman S and a 1977 924 — which Galvin calls his “put-a-smile-on-my-face car” — are Rumrunner’s only sports cars. Contrary to what you might think, film sets rarely need such sexy vehicles.

“If you think about your average evening watching television, how many McLarens and Lamborghinis do you actually see?” Galvin said. On the other hand, nearly every movie and television show has a police car.

Galvin only knows of one other picture-vehicle supplier in Southern Alberta and around five individuals working as picture-vehicle co-ordinators in this region. He does not consider them his rivals: each outfit knows the vehicles the other has in its inventory and will reach out for whatever might be needed.

They also help each other source vehicles and other gear for upcoming shoots. Galvin considers this congeniality an Albertan trait. “I don’t know whether it’s the ruggedness and hardship of our world we live in, just that it’s a different place,” he said. “People here have different attitudes. They’re more independent. They’re more pragmatic. And I think that is part of the collaborative side of the industry.”

A bullet-riddled car door from Fargo Season 5, used for a scene where the character Ole Munch blasts a state Trooper car with an M16 rifle. Photo by Jared Sych.

And the industry keeps evolving. Calgary and its environs have long been a boutique shop for shooting westerns — cowboys on horseback look majestic framed against sweeping prairie vistas and the rising Rockies, after all. Lately, though, Calgary has grown into an important shooting location for films that don’t necessarily require saddles and Stetsons. The greatest example of Calgary’s emergence as a film-production hub was HBO’s decision to shoot The Last of Us Season 1 here. The miniseries ranks as one of the most expensive television series ever produced and contributed $182 million to Alberta’s GDP.

The film industry had just started to recover from lean pandemic years when the screen writers’ and actors’ strikes shut down productions again. But, even without such wholesale disasters, the business remains difficult to predict. “We’ll get a couple booming years, and then we’ll get a dry spell,” Galvin said. “And so, people have been really reluctant to invest for fear of those dry spells.” But he also sees the industry here growing more stable. “Alberta’s becoming more of a home for film.”

Fortunately, the City has not been reluctant to invest. In the wake of The Last of Us, Calgary’s municipal government amplified its efforts to support the local film industry and reduce red tape for film crews. Millions of square feet of studio space have been built in the last few years, and companies like Galvin’s have invested in infrastructure to serve those visiting productions. “The City as an entity has really recognized the value that film brings to the community, both economically and socially,” Galvin said. Now that westerns are once again having a moment (thanks to the Yellowstone effect), the immediate future for the local industry looks promising.

Occasionally, stunt co-ordinators will hire Galvin to do some stunt driving on set. He isn’t called upon to flip cars or jump buses over freeway gaps, but he’s more than capable of ripping a police car down the street and sliding out 90 degrees in front of a crime scene, or screeching a car to a stop inches from a grandma pushing her shopping cart into the street. “It’s a dream come true,” Galvin said. “As a kid watching The Dukes of Hazzard, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Stunt driving has changed considerably since the Duke boys last leapt through the open windows of the General Lee. Traditionally, film productions might tow a picture car behind a process trailer that films the actors in the front seat. Galvin can also drive a picture car from a control pod mounted on its roof, allowing the actors inside to safely converse, or fight, while appearing to drive a moving car.

The technology now exists for a camera department to drive a vehicle with an array of attached cameras along a specified route, collect all the visual data, then project the moving image on LED screens behind the picture car parked in a studio. The car never has to move at all, and the average movie viewer won’t notice the difference.

But Galvin isn’t an average viewer. He can tell what’s real and what’s Hollywood magic. “It’s a rare movie that can put me into a state of suspended disbelief,” Galvin said. Top Gun: Maverick was one of these rare exceptions.

Most of the time, though, Galvin will get distracted by the high-tech short cuts and little errors he spots, especially in car-heavy films. For example, when the action in a film switches between different cities, Galvin will sometimes notice the same cars driving in the background. “I’ll be sitting there and think, ‘Ugh. That’s the third time I’ve seen that same Volkswagen Beetle,’” he said.

Galvin holds a certain occupational affection for those old VWs. “There is an unspoken picture-car co-ordinator rule that there has to be a Volkswagen Beetle in every movie,” Galvin said. He is only half-joking. The Beetle was such a popular model for so many years, there was a long stretch of movie history when they appeared in nearly every film. “I’d like to keep that going,” Galvin said. He has one Beetle in his inventory, a baby-blue beauty that belongs to his girlfriend.

Photo by Jared Sych.

In 2023, Galvin worked on the set of The Order, a car chase-heavy film releasing this year starring Jude Law and Nicholas Hoult — and, as it turns out, Sally Bishop as a Brinks security guard. The production wanted to see Law doing his own driving in the film and the British actor trained with Galvin for a couple of days in Rumrunner’s parking lot.

“It wasn’t anything really dramatic,” Galvin said of the manoeuvres he taught Law. Just some hard stops and tire-squealing starts so Law could run out of a building, jump in his car and peel away without the director having to break continuity. Galvin was behind the wheel for the more dangerous car chases, sporting a mustache and shaved widow’s peak to match Law’s.

Galvin can’t wait for moviegoers to see The Order. “Everything was real. Everything. I don’t think there was a single green screen used in the whole show. Every car, every piece of car action, every piece of firearm work, is all raw and real.” And, for Galvin, there is a kind of splendour in this authenticity. “I think it is going to be the most beautiful film we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

 

Do You Recognize These Cars?

Series: Fargo Season 5

Photo Copyright 2023, FX Networks, All Rights Reserved.

Car: 2016 Ford Taurus Interceptor, a.k.a. “Witt” (after Witt Farr, the character played by Lamorne Morris, pictured)

GG: “This an ex-Calgary Police Services car. It was sold at auction and then I bought it on behalf of Fargo from a local dealer. We re-upfitted it with lights, console, computer and pushbar. I purchased the entire Fargo cop car inventory from the production at the close of filming.”

Film: The Order

Photo by Shelley Arnusch.

Car: 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, a.k.a. “Clarice”

GG: “One of my favourites. She’s actually a 1990, but for The Order, which was set in 1984, we changed the headlights and grille so she looked age appropriate. Clarice was originally a black-and-white police car for the town of Lacombe. After retirement, she sat in a barn until I traded a partially smashed Hummer H2 for her. I’ve since added a stunt brake, and upgraded to a 12 bolt ‘Lincoln locked’ rear differential so she can slide around corners. The ’76 Delta 88 in the background, nicknamed ‘Blurple,’ is also mine.”

Series: Under the Banner of Heaven

Photo by Michelle Faye/FX.

Car: 1980 Chrysler Newport

GG: “This car is not mine; I rented it from a local collector. At the end of production, the police equipment was removed, and the car returned. I couldn’t do the job without the great relationships I have with local car owners. I really value the trust they put in me to return their car in as good or better condition than we got it. I like that it can be financially beneficial to them and, by extension, to the local economy.” –as told to Shelley Arnusch.

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This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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