Tom Cruise does a lot of amazing stunts in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” but the one that took the most work to pull off was the HALO jump over Paris at the beginning of the movie.
To get into Paris undetected, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and CIA tagalong August Walker (Henry Cavill) decide to do a HALO jump – a high-altitude, low-open skydive, in which you open your parachute at a low altitude after free-falling for a period of time – at dusk out of a giant C-17 plane.
But things get dangerous when Walker insists on jumping out of the plane even though there’s a lightning storm brewing below them. Walker is so determined to do so that he disconnects Hunt’s oxygen line to his mask and jumps. Hunt scrambles to reattach his line and jumps after Walker.
Before the audience knows it, they’re free-falling with Hunt. The camera follows as Hunt catches up to Walker just before lightning strikes them both.
If you have seen any movie in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, this next fact won’t surprise you: Cruise did the entire HALO sequence without a stuntman. But pulling off the sequence – which included 106 total jumps to get three scenes and was all done after Cruise broke his ankle earlier in production – was as epic as what is on the screen.
Business Insider spoke to the key members of the HALO-jump sequence, including the director Christopher McQuarrie, to break down its yearlong planning and execution.
Finding a unique way to get into Paris
- Chiabella James/Paramount
Generally, a movie is born from a screenwriter’s pen, but it turns out the recent “Mission: Impossible” movies are done a little differently.
McQuarrie said the script is actually the last thing to be developed in the making of the movies. The movie is first fueled by the stunts that Cruise, McQuarrie, and others close to the franchise come up with.
“The script is more or less the instruction manual for this thing we all discussed at length,” McQuarrie said.
In the case of the HALO jump, they had developed a lot of action to take place in Paris, but the question remained: How does Hunt get to the City of Lights?
“A HALO jump came up, and we started talking about what that would take – this many jumps, learning this and that,” said Wade Eastwood, the “Fallout” stunt coordinator. “Everyone thought that kind of time didn’t fit in the film schedule, but we made it fit, even though on paper it didn’t.”
With the stunt decided, the hard part started: how to fit Cruise’s HALO training in a schedule already filled with training for driving motorcycles, fighting, and flying helicopters. (Yes, he flew that helicopter himself in the movie.)
More on that later.
Creating a helmet so we could see Cruise’s face
If you were to do a HALO jump in real life, you wouldn’t need a clear helmet showing your whole face. But this is Tom Cruise we’re talking about.
When Cruise and the “Fallout” team learned that the proper gear for a HALO jump is an oxygen mask covering most of the face and a helmet leaving just the eyes to be seen, there was a rush to come up with something better for Cruise to wear.
“We created a helmet that had a good look and the oxygen sustained,” Eastwood said.
But the mask also had to have lights in it so that we, the audience, could see that it is in fact Cruise doing the jump. That brought another set of concerns.
“It took extensive pressure testing and altitude testing to get the lighting system consistently safe,” Eastwood said. “We didn’t want them to explode. A fiery Tom Cruise head, that’s very bad.”
Building the largest wind tunnel in the world
- Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures
Before getting in a plane and jumping enough times to get a certified skydiver license, Cruise started his HALO training in a wind tunnel at Leavesden Studios in the UK. And as you can probably guess, a normal wind tunnel just wouldn’t do.
“I suggested we get a vertical wind tunnel; they said that was a good idea,” said Neil Corbould, the “Fallout” special-effects supervisor. “We found a portable wind tunnel and brought it to England but found out very quickly that it was too small.”
The wind tunnel would be used to learn the choreography for the HALO-jump sequence devised by Eastwood, but to train properly there would need to be six people in the wind tunnel at the same time (including actors, stunt specialists, and camera operators). The wind tunnel Corbould provided could have only two people in it.
“Tom said, ‘Can we make a bigger one?’ and I asked, ‘How big?’ And he said, ‘As big as you can make it,'” Corbould said.
So Corbould found a company to build in 12 weeks what would turn out to be one of the biggest wind tunnels ever created.
Housed in an empty exterior water tank at Leavesden, the wind tunnel was 20 feet wide by 10 feet high. Powered by four 1-megawatt generators – enough to power a small town, Corbould noted – it would have blades that could spin at 150 mph and raise the people in the tunnel 7 feet.
The size of the wind tunnel also helped Cruise, who wanted to keep from bumping into the sides, as he was still trying to heal his broken ankle while training.
“He had to be rolled into the wind tunnel and then would lay there flat until the power went on, and then he would take off,” said Allan Hewitt, the “Fallout” skydiving coordinator. “We put some orange tape around his foot so we knew which was the bad foot. We didn’t want to touch the wrong one.”
Flying a helicopter to Cruise’s skydiving training
With only so many hours in the day, Cruise had to often do multiple stunt trainings on the same day in the months leading up to filming the movie.
Cruise needed experience flying a helicopter for the movie’s concluding action sequence, which involves a helicopter chase – one in which he flies himself. So he would often pilot a helicopter to the drop zone where he would do his HALO jumps.
Sometimes he would even skydive into his HALO training.
“He would take off from a local airfield next to the studio, and the airplane would take him to the drop zone, and he would jump out, so that’s one jump done,” Eastwood said. “He’d land, get another parachute on, get in the plane waiting, and go do his jumps for the HALO.”
Why Cruise’s broken ankle was a good thing
- David James/Paramount
You could only imagine how the Paramount executives took the news that Cruise broke his ankle while rooftop-jumping for an action sequence for “Fallout.” But it actually forced the movie to do the HALO jump as it was planned.
According to Hewitt, before Cruise’s injury, the HALO jump was not going to be a true 25,000-foot jump. Because the production was working with the UK’s Royal Air Force, it was agreed that the movie would use the RAF plane to do the stunt. But the RAF would fly them to only 12,000 feet.
“Tom didn’t want to fake it – he wanted to do it for real at 25,000 feet,” Hewitt said. “But the producers said they weren’t going to another country. It really looked like we were going to fake it with the RAF.”
But because of Cruise’s injury, the movie missed its scheduled jump with the RAF. That opened the door for the production to end in Abu Dhabi shooting the HALO scene at 25,000 feet.
“If Tom didn’t break his ankle, we would have ended up faking it, which nobody wanted,” Hewitt said.
The quick decision that saved the HALO sequence
In March, “Fallout” production wrapped up in Abu Dhabi with the HALO sequence. The months of training and creation of prototype equipment for Cruise to wear on the jump finally came together on film.
And luckily, the team had finally found a skydiver who would strap the 20-pound camera rig on his head to film Cruise’s jump: Craig O’Brien.
“There was a lot of reluctance,” McQuarrie said of trying to find someone who would film the HALO sequence. “The first two cameramen, they gave us a lot of rules and telling us what was and wasn’t possible, and we’re not into that at all. We’re not reckless, but what we want to hear are solutions, not restrictions.”
Enter O’Brien, who had experience as a skydiving camera operator, though he had to learn a more cinematic way of shooting.
“Narrative storytelling is a very different style of framing. You’re not just capturing an event – you’re directing the eye,” McQuarrie said. “I’m making you look where I want you to look. He had to learn how to do that.”
— Christopher McQuarrie (@chrismcquarrie) July 25, 2018
And O’Brien wasn’t looking through a camera lens – the camera was strapped to the top of his head – so he had to do all of that while, as McQuarrie put it, “shooting a scene through a periscope, and you’re not looking through the periscope.”
Not only did O’Brien pull it off amazingly, but he also solved one of the biggest problems that had befuddled everyone for the first seven jumps: out-of-focus footage.
Because the scene starts inside the C-17 plane, a focus puller was in there, responsible for that part of the sequence. For Cruise’s jump (Cavill, playing Walker, never did the jump, as a stuntman went in his place), O’Brien jumped out first and had to slow himself down as Cruise sped up to him. When Cruise got 3 feet from O’Brien’s helmet camera, O’Brien would then have to become the focus puller and put the dial in his hand to its closest focus.
But when they would land and look at the footage, Cruise would be out of focus.
“Tom said, ‘I was there,’ and Craig said, ‘I had the dial buried,'” McQuarrie said. “Someone was f—ing up, and we couldn’t figure out who.”
The next day, O’Brien told the focus puller on the plane to shut off his remote once Cruise jumped out of the plane. To everyone’s surprise, that was the problem – the equipment inside the plane was fighting with O’Brien’s camera.
Two weeks and 106 jumps later – many done at “magic hour,” at dusk, when they had only three minutes of perfect light to shoot – the three parts of the HALO sequence were in the can.
In postproduction, the Abu Dhabi ground was replaced with Paris lights, and a CGI lightning storm was added. But other than that, it was all Cruise, diving and twisting 25,000 feet above the ground (with O’Brien following him the whole way).
Now all that’s left is: Can “Mission: Impossible” top this stunt?
“I know there’s something out there. We just don’t know what it is yet,” McQuarrie said. “Whether it’s me or someone else, as long as Tom is willing to do it, you can think up crazy s—.”