Shortly before The Fate of the Furious smashed box office records around the world, I landed an exclusive interview with screenwriter Chris Morgan. If you’re not aware, Morgan has written all the Fast and Furious movies since Tokyo Drift and has been a key component of the films and someone that’s helped shepherd a small movie about people stealing cars to one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood.
During our interview, Morgan talked about how he first got involved in the franchise, what it was like making Fast Five, the original ending of Furious 7, if a future sequel could go to outer space, how quickly they start making the next film after finishing the previous one, if they’ve started prepping Fast 9 and 10, Jason Statham’s awesome third act action scene (and how it was originally written), and a lot more. In addition, with Morgan involved in other projects like the Universal monster movies, we talked about The Mummy, and how they’re hard at work on Bride of Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfman, Invisible Man, and so much more. Check out what he had to say below.
CHRIS MORGAN: That’s right.
How did you originally pitch the movie at the time, and did you have any idea of where this franchise was gonna go?
MORGAN: Well, entering the second half first, no. But it was always kind of built into the DNA of it. If you don’t mind sticking with this for a moment, I’ll give you the shortest version of the Tokyo Drift story, which was I became aware of Tokyo Drift because there was a Fast and Furious sequel open writing assignment, so I kind of put together a take and I came in and I met with Universal Studios and Jeff Kirschenbaum, the executive there at the time. And I pitched a version of the movie, I brought in a laptop and I brought some videos and I said, “Hey, they’re doing this thing in Japan called drifting and it’s really cool. My idea for a story is Dominic Toretto learned that someone he cares about has been killed in Japan and he has to go there, and in order to solve the crime he has to get in there with these drifters and learn a new style of racing and this whole thing.”
So I pitched a big complicated thing like that, and they said, ‘Yeah, the drifting is cool but I don’t think we’re gonna get Vin [Diesel] back on this, this is smaller.’ The budget was so low, so low, and it was potentially a straight-to-DVD movie. So they were like, ‘Listen, I don’t think this is gonna work out, but thanks anyway.’ So I left, didn’t get the job, and like a week-and-a-half later I get a phone call from Kirschenbaum and he’s like, ‘Hey, man, what was that thing called drifting again? What was that? Would you come in and talk to me about that again?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ So I came back in and I re-pitched it and he said, ‘Well, really what we’d like to do is set it in high-school’ and I was like, ‘You know what? God bless you, I was terrible in high-school, I don’t think I can write high-school. Go ahead and have the idea, you can just take it and we’ll work on something else together down the road.’ I was just trying to kind of foster good will. And he was like, ‘No, no, no. You know what? You’re totally right you should do the Dominic Toretto version’ and I’m like, ‘Really? That’s awesome!’ So they hired me to write it, and back then you would do two steps. So I got my first step, which was my draft that I did, they read it and I got one note back from them –they would give you their notes and then you do a re-write- and it was, ‘Great! Now set it in high-school.’ That’s where Tokyo Drift became what it was.
When I originally came on to the franchise, I always kind of saw global, the crew, so it’s not as surprising. One of the things I love about the franchise as well is that these guys don’t have superpowers but they know everything about cars and they use their cars in very lateral-thinking sorts of ways, they solve any problems with their vehicles. So naturally when we shifted on Fast Five, we kind of had a little more like a heist idea, of course they would use cars to solve that. And then the last couple of movies have been more global, international stakes, of course they’re gonna jump out of airplanes and cars to solve the problem. It was always kind of in there, it’s just getting increasingly so, that’s all.
I figure the Fast and Furious franchise has literally done everything and gone everywhere, right?
MORGAN: Hardly, there’s always more to do.
Exactly, like go to outer space. So my question for you is: Do you have any plans in 9 or 10 to go to outer space? Because I figure that’s the final frontier.
MORGAN: Did they already leak the moon racing sequence to you? [laughs] No. You know, it’s funny, a lot of the fans will always comment and say there’s three things you can’t do in this franchise: You cannot go to space, you cannot do time travel, and you cannot have dinosaurs [laughs]. But I gotta tell you, part of my brain just wants to find that perfect story that incorporated some element of that which was so undeniable it was like, “No, no, it’s cool. You had to do it.” We’ll probably never … never say never, but it is highly unlikely we’ll do those three things.
Listen, all you need to do is have an Easter egg in movie 9…like a news report in the background showing, “Dinosaurs on the loose in Isla Nublar” and all of a sudden, Fast and Furious and Jurassic World, same universe.
MORGAN: Look, we already have Han’s last name in the franchise, it’s Seoul-Oh, so Han Solo, there you go.
I think fans would lose their minds. While Fast and Furious was fun, I feel like the franchise took a huge step forward with Fast Five, I love that movie. Do you remember where the idea came from, and also when you’re writing a script for something like that are you writing “massive car chase ensues” or are you being very descriptive with the action?
MORGAN: Definitely very descriptive. I kind of think in big set pieces, that’s just my default. I’m an adventure and action movie junkie, and that’s kind of the stuff that comes to me the easiest. So I love it, I love writing it, I love writing it out, it’s just kind of the exciting part of the job for me. I’m sorry, what was the first part of the question?
Do you remember where the idea for Fast Five came from?
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It all kind of starts with character stuff, so the idea was at the end of the first movie –which I was a big fan of– you got Brian kind of giving his keys up to Dom to let him get away at the end of the movie. So this cop kind of has an outlaw heart, and in the fourth movie the way we ended that was we kind of let Brian make that choice of you know what? He is an outlaw, so let’s not do this pretend cop thing anymore, you are an outlaw. So then when we picked up at Fast Five the original conceit was a little bit of Burch and Sundance, they’re on the run, cops are closing in, the pressure is mounting, we learn that Mia is pregnant and they can’t keep running anymore, so what do you do? You’re gonna have to get out once and for all. How do you do it? You’re gonna pull off a big job. Who are you gonna pull it off on again? The big bad guy in this town who is doing all this bad sort of stuff. So it kind of just naturally became a heist story out of necessity for those guys and what they were going through. And then a bit more fun way for our dudes to pull off a heist and use their cars to drag the bank vault down through the city.
I think Fast Five is just so much fun.
MORGAN: Thanks, man. By the way, that was one of the most fun sequences to be on set for. Watching them actually drag a vault and actually smash it into things, that was awesome.
Talk a little bit about collaborating with the different directors on the franchise. How are they the same and how are they different?
MORGAN: It’s been a great experience. Every one of the directors has a different kind of perspective and a different thing they tend to focus on, things that are important to them. We’ve been really lucky to be able to work with Justin [Lin] –me in particular–, James [Wan], and [F.] Gary [Gray]. I would say for Justin, the thing that he would always really want to hit that was very, very important for him was theme, how do you distill the story of this movie down to one word? What is it about, specifically? And then every scene needs to inform that. He was very, very focused and very good about that. Then James was really into upping style, the choreography of the action, and that was one of his real, real strong suits, kind of just the tone and the atmosphere. And with Gary the thing that is by far the most important to him is performance, really trying to get a performance out of the actors that you haven’t seen before, and in every scene, that’s his thing. To me it’s been kind of a pleasure to be able to work alongside these guys and have the conversations and just see how they do their filmmaking though their particular point of view.
With Furious 7, you guys did the impossible, you made a great movie that also honored Paul Walker. I know the original ending was going to open the world of Fast and the Furious a bit more, can you talk a little bit about what you had originally written and perhaps how that ending factored into The Fate of the Furious’ ending?
MORGAN: Well, the original ending, if I remember correctly, was our guys end up solving the problem and then kind of becoming—again, going more outlaw, it was sort of a happier ending that kind of ends with the insinuation that they were gonna go off onto this heist or this job. But the core issue for Brian, Paul’s character, was this kind of ‘Who am I?’ sort of question. He’s a guy who used to be a cop and in the thick of the action and a racer, and all this stuff, and now he has an amazing wife, a kid and another one on the way. Then he starts to look at his life and it’s not a midlife crisis but to say—we said it in the movie, ‘I miss the bullets, I miss the action’ and the point of the adventure was to show by the end of it that the thing that’s truly important to him is his family and being there. It wouldn’t mean that he has to stop those adventures or those things, but the context is just a little bit different, he has a different understanding of who he is at his core and what’s most important in life.