If you can’t get enough of CBS’ brand new pilot, Limitless, then we’ve got you covered! The series’ pilot certainly wasn’t lacking in heart-racing moments, and if you’re curious as to how show runners pulled off that insane opening sequence, then you’ll definitely want to read on!
Based on the hit 2011 film starring Bradley Cooper (Joy), Limitless follows the story of Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), who, like Cooper’s film character, Eddie Mora, is washed up and down on his luck. Brian’s musical career seems to have hit a rut and things seem to be going from bad to worse, until one day, a friend of his introduces him to a drug called NZT, which allows the user to access 100 percent of their brain’s capacity. But regardless of its miraculous properties, NZT doesn’t come without a price and soon, Brian finds himself being chased down by the FBI as a suspected murderer.
The show opens on Brian’s high-speed foot chase as he attempts to outrun the feds, dodging traffic, and subway trains in his attempt to flee.
When we caught up with show runner Craig Sweeny (Elementary) during a visit to the Limitless edit bay, the executive producer said that everything about that opening sequence, which then repeats toward the end of the pilot in more detail, was carefully plotted out.
“When I thought about what I wanted this pilot to be like, I knew I wanted to show the same action set piece,” explained Sweeny. “The audience has no knowledge of what happened to Brian or what NZT is [in the beginning], so we’re still using very naturalistic techniques. Much more visceral, endurance-type shots, so that then [at the end], as you go back in time to the events at the beginning of the show, now you know what’s going on— you know that Brian is on NZT.”
So how did they pull it off? According to Sweeny, the seven-second scene involving Brian running through oncoming traffic took about a half a day of filming to shoot. Additionally, the sequence, which was shot on location, involved shutting down a portion of New York City’s Union Square on Broadway between 14th and 17th Street.
As Sweeny puts it, the entire scene “looks like chaos” with all the cars and trucks in motion, but in reality, the way to get this particular shot was to have all the cars moving at the exact same speed.
“What you do is you run the cars, time it, then you run a stunt performer through, and then Jake, who plays Brian Finch, runs through beside the stunt double three or four times to get used to the stunt guy’s time, and finally, we ran it through with just Jake which is the take you see in the pilot,” explained Sweeny.
The second nail-biting stunt involves Brian taking a gamble and jumping in the way of an oncoming subway train at Union Square station in order to get away from FBI agent, Rebecca (Jennifer Carpenter).
Sweeny, who said the stunts in the Limitless pilot were some of the biggest he’d ever worked on, confessed that he didn’t think about the logistics of filming this particular scene when he wrote it in the screenplay. Specifically, Sweeny said he assumed getting the shot involved a lot of smoke and mirrors or special effects. Turns out, that wasn’t exactly the case.
“When I wrote that scene, I had no idea how you actually achieved it— I just wrote it. I assumed there was some form of trickery involved,” revealed the showrunner. “Turns out, you actually stop a subway car right in front of a person!”
“It’s really scary!” added Sweeny. While running through oncoming traffic involved timing moving vehicles, getting the subway train to stop where it should was a bit of a different endeavor. According to the show runner, the scene was shot on a soundstage involved a pick-up truck dressed as a subway cart, and a set of heavy duty chains tasked with halting the truck dead in its tracks.
“Theoretically, you can’t ever go past a certain point but it’s terrifying— the rig that looked like a subway train fell apart a couple of times— it was very difficult to get that shot,” explained Sweeny.
Though shooting such an action-packed show comes with its own set of challenges, Sweeny said that that’s part of the reason he was attracted to Limitless in the first place.
Sweeny’s past two television endeavors include the NBC crime thriller, Medium and CBS’ modern take on Sherlock Holmes, Elementary. According to the producer, working on Limitless is kind of like working on a “cool hybrid” of both of his past shows.
“I got to use a lot of stuff I loved about both of those projects,” said Sweeny. “Using NZT to bring extravagant cinema style visuals to TV was basically the whole reason I wanted to do the show.”
Given the quality of the first episode, Sweeny certainly does just that on Limitless. We’re sure we’re not the only ones who are interested to see how this new show progresses as the season goes on!
Limitless airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.
Will you be tuning in to Limitless every week? Let us know in the comments below!