Ben Wheatley‘s Free Fire is pretty much a never-ending shoot out. The high-octane black comedy film was released in 2016 and starred Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and long-time Wheatley collaborator Michael Smiley, amongst several other notable stars.
The story of Free Fire largely revolved around the meeting of two gangs in an abandoned Boston warehouse in 1978. The two groups await the arrival of an intermediary so they can discuss terms of buying weapons from an arms dealer. However, tensions bubble over, and all hell breaks loose, resulting in a free fire on all parts.
Discussing the inspiration for the film, Wheatley said, “It started from reading an FBI transcript of a gun battle in Miami that happened in the 1980s. It was a kind of blow-by-blow forensic report. It really struck me how different that was from anything I’d seen in the cinema.”
However, the plot essentially plays second fiddle to the action, and, as such, it was imperative to the picture’s success to nail down the gun battle scenes. Wheatley, therefore, went to great lengths to ensure that each bullet fired was accounted for. He drew as many as 1,700 storyboards and, amazingly, even created the warehouse in the virtual building video game Minecraft.
Of using Minecraft to aid the film’s development, Wheatley said, “We could share that amongst all the people who were working on it, and all walk around inside it together. That was really useful.” The most significant benefit of using the game was to figure out precisely what kind of space was required to film in, not only in terms of floor space but also how big each character’s cover needed to be.
After all, Wheatley had wanted to make the film somewhat realistic if parts of it were going to be ridiculously over-the-top. It was vital for him to be able to figure out precisely what each individual character’s line of sight would be if they were placed in a specific location within the fictional warehouse.
After extensive plotting, Wheatley eventually found an old factory in Brighton to shoot in. A carefully constructed blueprint indicated exactly where each actor ought to be standing at any given time. As Wheatley explained, “Because it’s in real-time and one space, you can’t really cheat as much as you can on a normal film. With this one, if you suddenly jump about, your characters start teleporting around the room – and it breaks the whole thing.”