by Bo Durban - September 17, 2023
On September 17, 1976, during day 16 of the Filming Schedule, the production crew shifted their operations to Lithonia, GA. On this particular day, the Second Unit was tasked with capturing the leap onto the Football Field at Redan Park, while the First Unit was stationed 8/10ths of a mile to the north, diligently recording the Funeral Procession scenes.
Redan Park's field was designed to be a versatile space, serving both as a football and baseball field for youth sports. For the purpose of filming, the field was set up for football as the end goal posts were installed in the middle of the baseball diamond.
The atmosphere at Redan Park was was brimming with enthusiastic spectators eager to witness the filming of Burt Reynolds' latest cinematic endeavor. Regrettably for the fans, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were not present on the set that day 1, while Jackie Gleason was occupied on a separate set, filming the Funeral Procession scenes.
On September 17, 1976, the plan was to film scenes 176 to 178, which includes a jump onto the Redan Park Football Field. However, due to unexpected challenges during the jump, filming was cut short. The production team decided to use the footage they had and improvise the exit from the dugout at a later date.
Here is an excerpt from the original screenplay:
On the set, preparations for the daring stunt were under the guidance of Second Unit Director Alan Gibbs, accompanied by his wife, Janet Brady2. They were joined by other skilled professionals from Stunts Unlimited, including stuntmen Bobby Bass and Tommy Huff.
To ensure the stunt's success, a custom ramp was meticulously constructed in the outfield, positioned near the 272-foot marker. This location served as a reference point for estimating the distance the car traveled after the leap.
Here are some interesting pictures taken before the jump. It includes Janet Brady posing with fans on the field as well as Alan Gibbs and Janet Brady preparing for the jump. These behind the scenes pictures provide some interesting details regarding the modifications made to Trans Am #4.
The jump did not go exactly as planned. The car was supposed to land and immediately turn left into the open field. Wet grass was blamed for the loss of control and the limited ability to bring the car to a stop. You can see in the movie that Alan Gibbs reaches over to grab the steering wheel to try to guide the car away from the kids.
Trans Am #4 eventually comes to a stop when it crashes into the dugout. In the movie it appears that the car crashes through the dugout, but the dugout exit scene was filmed later in the schedule. Some viewers may note that the dugout was constructed of concrete blocks but when the car exists in the movie the Trans Am is busting through a wooden fence.
I calculated the speed of the Trans Am at 30 MPH when it left the ramp. It was going approx 12-14 MPH when it hit the dugout.
4 kids ended up going to the hospital with relatively minor injuries per newspaper reports.
Local Channel 2 news came to Redan park and interviewed Hal Needham after the accident. Here is an excerpt from that interview: YouTube - Hal Needham interview with channel 2 news
After filming, Burt Reynolds donated nearly $100,000 to Redan Park that was used to make several major updates to this community park.
The jump was filmed at Redan park in Litonia, GA. Here is an aerial view of the park from 1974. It show the location of the ramp and the approx path of the car after the jump.
Google Maps - Redan Park - Litonia, GA
Special thanks to the following people who assisted with research related to this article:
- Tyler Hambrick
- Barry Trivette
- Nikolas Worden
- David Eichelbaum
- Steven Rosenow