Tomorrow the world will bear witness to Gymkhana Nine, Ken Block’s latest video extravaganza of tire smoke and high-speed hatchback tomfoolery, much of it set against the lush and exotic backdrop of Buffalo, New York. But there was a location even more picturesque than Buffalo in mind originally, if you can believe it: Sydney, Australia. That didn’t happen, and here’s why.
A decision not to grant Block’s production company the necessary shooting permits led Australia to be scuttled, even though the Hoonigan crew offered to make, for free, a PSA after the video ran about the dangers of hooning.
Both Hoonigan Racing and officials with Australia’s New South Wales Police confirmed to Jalopnik that the production crew originally wanted to film the new video in Australia, specifically in Sydney’s Central Business District and on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. (Update: the folks from Hoonigan asked me to add that they’re partnered with Forza Horizon 3 and the game is set in Australia, so that’s why they wanted to go down there.)
Production would have required shutting down those areas so that Block could conduct his acts of vehicular insanity, just like in Dubai in Gymkhana Eight and Los Angeles in 2014's Gymkhana Seven.
That was not to be, Hoonigan’s Matt Tuccillo told us.
“The police down there started to make things difficult with the permitting process for the locations we were trying to secure, both public and private,” he said. “Apparently we were going to be ‘bad’ for Australia and as we got closer and closer to filming we started to lose more and more locations that we had secured, ultimately forcing us to abandon the concept.”
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Tuccillo said the original concept for the video was to shoot in a mix of industrial and raw spaces, full of “locations that were iconic and instantly recognizable as Australia” like the Sydney Opera House.
That was not to be. A police spokesperson said that this request was deemed “not possible,” though they did not elaborate. Police said it was suggested the crew shoot on nearby Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor instead, but those permit applications were never submitted.
The reason for that, Tuccillo said, is that Cockatoo Island would have been a supremely slow and boring place to shoot the video.
“The main problem was that even with a place like Cockatoo, it didn’t give us enough for a whole video, especially with the backdrop being ‘Australia,’” Tuccillo said. “Any public roads we had wanted access to (and none were major arteries or intersections, most were small roads near the waterfront with little traffic to be diverted) would have mandated us driving in a straight and orderly manner, maximum speed being whatever the speed limit was on that road.”
Tuccillo said they were mindful of Australia’s laws and culture through the process, but clearly, speed limits are not conducive to the kind of driving Block’s videos are famous for. He added:
“The private property location that we lost was apparently a mix of both private and state property and we wouldn’t have been granted the permissions for it due to the state involvement,” he said. “For us it was the last straw since it was the last location we were able to come up with where KB could drive in his normal style and we could still have the ‘Australia’ storyline visually.”
On one hand, it makes sense for police to find the filming of Gymkhana Nine in a busy city center to be problematic. When Gymkhana Seven was shot in LA, it was a massive, expensive, multi-day affair that required days of shooting as police blocked off public streets to make it happen. Via The Los Angeles Times:
Block’s highly-choreographed, don’t-try-this-at-home tour of Los Angeles required almost a year of planning, and many months of securing permission to film. Shooting the shot took five full days, and a crew of 80, at times using eight movie cameras, a helicopter, and up to 50 GoPro miniature cameras.
[...] Most of the public street and freeway shooting was done early on weekend mornings, the filmmakers said. The hardest shot to get, by far, they agreed, was the film’s final sequence, which includes a series of aerial shots of Block’s car screaming to the small plot of land above the Hollywood sign.
The filmmakers were told by their location scouts that permission to shoot at that location was never given, and that no one had ever shot a movie sequence there. They scrapped the idea until, on their second day of filming, they heard that permission had been granted.
But there seems to be another factor at work here. Despite decades of producing some of the nastiest, most badass, rear-wheel drive V8 powered-machines the world has ever seen, Australia has incredibly strict laws against what is legally defined as hooning—speeding, street racing, burnouts or any other dumb and potentially dangerous thing you can do on a bike or in a car. It’s a fun slang term among gearheads in America, but it’s against the law and considered a public nuisance in Australia.
It’s also the exact shit Block would be doing in his video. It’s in the name of his outfit and everything.
In a country where police and lawmakers regularly conduct anti-hooning campaigns and enact ever-tougher laws, it’s not difficult to see why authorities wouldn’t want anything to do with Gymkhana Nine. Even if Block offered to do a PSA speaking out against hooning, it would have been the ultimate “do as I say and not as I do” move.
So beautiful Australia won’t play host to whatever Block and his people have cooked up for the latest viral video. But Tuccillo swears it’s going to be great anyway, and perhaps the most “raw,” driving-centered Gymkhana video we’ve seen in a long time.
“In the end it’s worked out for the best, we’ve got an awesome video in Gymkhana 9 that’s allowed us to really focus on just raw driving action that we think the fans are going to enjoy a lot,” Tuccillo said.