To start creating buzz for the upcoming DreamWorks action flick Need for Speed, opening in theaters on March 14, 2014, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other online outlets, out to the Bandito Brothers headquarters to check out about 20 minutes of the film and then chat with actor Aaron Paul, director Scott Waugh, producer/writer John Gatins and producer Mark Sourian. Based on the video game series, the story chronicles a near-impossible cross-country journey that begins as a mission for revenge, but ultimately proves to be one of redemption.
The thing that instantly became clear from the footage we saw was that not only are the stunts incredibly mind-blowing and awesome – with car races, car flips, cars crashing and bursting into flames, and even a car driving off a cliff and being pulled away by a helicopter – but they were also all practically done, in camera and for real. During the interviews, Paul, Waugh, Gatins and Sourian talked about how they pulled off such awe-inspiring work. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
SCOTT WAUGH: In the middle of Act of Valor, I already had my eyes set on a car movie. I wanted to do a car movie. I’ve always really loved the genre. I think it’s one of the coolest genres, back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, with Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, The French Connection, Grand Prix and Vanishing Point. There were all these great movies that were so much fun, but they disappeared, and I really wanted to do a throwback to that world. You’ve gotta be careful what you wish for because Need for Speed just came out of nowhere. When you work with Navy SEALs, in the platforms that we did, with that scope of movie, and then taking it to an even bigger level with the speeds that we worked with on Need for Speed, and we traveled across the country, that kind of mobility was something I learned a lot from on Act of Valor. We traveled the globe on Act of Valor, so I wasn’t afraid of going to all the locations and doing it all practically. One of the Bandito Brothers’ skill sets is doing it all practically in the location that we say we’re in. At the beginning, the studio was a little bit like, “I think we should shoot all of this in Georgia,” but I was like, “You can cheat the United States in Georgia. It’s all green.” Then, they started really wrapping their heads around my approach and they went for it, and I was really stoked that they did.
What was it like to actually shoot inside of the cars?
WAUGH: I grew up with action my whole life. It’s something that is fun for me, but it doesn’t stimulate me anymore. I’ve been doing it for too long. It’s more the story and the characters that stimulate me, and I was really captivated, on this movie, with all of the character’s arcs and how private it is, in this big, crazy world. Tobey (Aaron Paul) and Julia’s (Imogen Poots) arc through the movie is so much fun, and I really wanted it to be intimate. Cars, in general, are loud, and I didn’t want it to be a loud movie. There are so many private, intimate moments. I wanted to make a movie for all four quadrants. I didn’t want it to be just for men. Women really love heroes. And the love story in this movie is really captivating and really romantic and really unexpected. That’s what I loved about the material, when I read it. It’s not what you expect, and it’s something I really wanted to dive into. When you watch the movie in its continuity, you will see that you become Tobey. The only time you go into first person is with his character. So, we do become him and we feel what it’s like to be him and be in this unfortunate circumstance that he’s put in. That’s why I chose the first person for this movie, on that perspective. I wanted you to feel what it’s like to drive that fast ‘cause that’s always a thrill that most people don’t get, and I really wanted you to root for Tobey.
AARON PAUL: When we first were talking, Scott said, “I just wanna let you know, I wanna shoot this movie where the actors are actually driving. It’s all gonna be practical. It’s not gonna be done after we’re done shooting. It’s not gonna be done behind a computer. I want you to do this.” I was like, “All right.” So, the first order of business was to go through a crash course and learn how to really drive. By the end of the first day, I was flying down a ramp, and then doing a 360 on a skid pad. It was a blast! Anyone who can do it, go to Willow Springs where you can pay for this course. They teach you how to get out of problematic situations, and it was a blast.
Were there any stunts that you were particularly nervous about?
PAUL: Most of it, yeah. I was terrified by most of it. No, I’m joking. There’s some stuff that I obviously didn’t do. I actually asked if I could do it, but they were like, “You’re out of your mind!” There’s a scene where a car drives off a cliff and a helicopter carries it, and they didn’t let me do that, for obvious reasons. But, there are a lot of scenes that I did do. We locked down an entire freeway and I’m flying, chasing out of the picture car. I had to stay this far away from the camera that was on a long arm. I looked down at the speedometer and I was driving 120 and 140 mph, trying not to laugh because it was so much fun. It was great. We just tried to push the envelope as much as possible, really.
Did you get to do the grasshopper stunt yourself?
PAUL: No, thank god! I did not want to do the grasshopper. Before the grasshopper jump, everyone was walking around hugging each other, trying to comfort the stuntman who was doing the stunt. They kept saying, “I’ll see you on the other side.” They’re just such a big family. It’s scary because everything is practical. Nowadays, a lot of the time, they just do it in post, but Scott was very persistent. But, that was not even a question. Obviously, they weren’t going to be like, “So, what we want you to do is drive about 100 mph down the freeway, go up the ramp, and then fly over cars of traffic.” They didn’t want me to do that.
Was it comforting to have Scott Waugh as a director, knowing he comes from a stunt background?
PAUL: Absolutely! It was such a perfect match, but it was also a little terrifying. With Scott being a stuntman and his father being a bad-ass stuntman, I think he automatically thought I’m a stuntman, which I’m not. Steven [Spielberg] said to me, “Now listen, Scott is probably going to try to get you to do as much of this stuff as possible. If you do not feel comfortable with it, you have to say no. That’s why there’s a stuntman.” And Scott did try to get me to do as much as he possibly could. I’ve gotta give some credit to Tanner Foust, who is one of the greatest stunt drivers out there. For some of the scenes that I was not in, he definitely made me look like I was absolutely in control of this crazy car. It was so much fun!
PAUL: Yeah, there was one time in Moab, Utah where we were shooting in this canyon where there’s no railing. There’s a cliff that the cars were flying around. Scott wanted me to be driving really fast and going around these corners, and it’s loose dirt. I was driving around that area and the car doesn’t really have much traction there. He was like, “Do you wanna do this scene? You’ve gotta fly down this road, and then take a curve and make a fishtail around.” I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do that. If I fishtail around just a little too much, I’m gonna die. I’m gonna spin out of control, and then fall 500 feet.” So, I said no. But, he asked me if I wanted to do it ‘cause he wanted to get that shot. I said, “No, the stunt driver can do that.”
Do you feel the weight of being an action hero now?
PAUL: I never really thought of myself being an action hero or a leading man, or any of that. I’m a character actor. This was such a surprise, when DreamWorks came to me and said, “Would you like to do this?” But, it was fun. I never thought of myself as being an action hero, but it was a blast. I’ll continue to do this, for sure. In between these films, if we do more, I’ll definitely try to stick to character-driven stuff. This is definitely character-driven. If there’s action, great. If not, that’s fine.
John and Mark, as producers, how much of a difference does it make that all of these car stunts were done practically?
JOHN GATINS: It’s a crazy movie! When you make a movie with real car events like this, it’s not like most movies you see now. The few audiences that have seen it are blown away by the fact that they can tell that this is real. They’ve watched so many movies with events that aren’t, and there’s so much computer generation stuff, which is also amazing and I’ve worked on those movies too, but it’s very cool to make a movie that’s very classic and very ‘70s in its car authenticity.
MARK SOURIAN: That came out of Scott’s experience as a stuntman and as somebody who had done documentaries. If you’ve seen Act of Valor and the work he did on that, you know it had that same kind of verisimilitude.
GATINS: Authenticity was such a big word for Scott. Everything ended to be real, and you had to actually do it. He obviously has relationships and respect in the world of precision drivers and stunt drivers.
SOURIAN: That was a huge asset.
GATINS: Their performances are all on the screen. They’re the people you wouldn’t know by name, necessarily, but I witnessed them do things that are incredibly scary and ultimately exhilarating.
SOURIAN: The logistics were challenging. The locations were awesome, and Scott was determined to get that sense of scale to the movie, but the logistics and the scheduling was a very elaborate part of the process. If you’re doing something in CG, you go to a warehouse or you put it wherever, and you have a green screen behind it. You can do that wherever you want and you’re really controlling it in a way that you’re not able to do when you actually have real cars crashing into each other and helicopters overhead.
GATINS: There was also the danger involved in doing the events themselves. We’d watch these stunt performers rehearse slowly, and then a little bit more quickly and more quickly. As they were getting up to speed and about to actually do the event, it would get more quiet and more serious, until every one of the crew was just quiet and watching them do what they do. And then, right before they were about to do something where they smash everything together, they’d all get out of their cars and they’d come together in the middle and hug each other and be like, “All right, man, I’ll see you on the other side.” It was like a military type of operation. I have incredible respect for them. I’d never really seen that before.
Once you knew Scott Waugh would be directing this and that the stunts would be done practically, did you have to make any changes to the script to adapt to that?
GATINS: What was great about Scott is his experience as a guy who grew up as a stunt kid and a motorcycle racer. He was able to look at the script and say, “Oh, this is great! This is how we can do this.” Scott was very hands on when I came with the script, saying, “I have another idea for a way we can pull off something amazing,” because of his experience of having done it. It was very helpful. I give Scott so much credit in being able to do that.
SOURIAN: I don’t think the story changed much because of his presence. Getting from A to B to C to D was always pretty much intact.
GATINS: The story architecture is the way it was, but the events themselves took on lives of their own.
SOURIAN: It certainly provided opportunities ‘cause he was thinking a couple steps ahead. It provided opportunities for characters to bring their own voice into a scene that would otherwise have just been some big action scene without some character in it. A lot of times, you’ll have an action sequence, but you don’t really feel the character in it. There’s mayhem, and then you get out of mayhem, and then there’s more mayhem, and then you get out of mayhem. His breadth of knowledge allowed there to be room to create opportunities for these characters to be who they were, within these elaborate set pieces.
Need for Speed is opening in theaters on March 14, 2014. Click here to watch the trailer.