As a preview for the upcoming DreamWorks action flick Need for Speed, opening in theaters on March 14th, 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 some of the folks involved. 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. From director Scott Waugh, the film stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Dakota Johnson and Michael Keaton.
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 this interview, producer/writer John Gatins and producer Mark Sourian talked about finding a storyline that made sense for a narrative movie, collaborating with the video game company Electronic Arts, the aspects of the game they wanted to cover over to the film, doing all of the car stunts practically, the car movies that influenced them, what made Aaron Paul the right actor to center the film around, and that there are idea for a trilogy. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
JOHN GATINS: The great thing is that Electronic Arts was an awesome partner, in that they have amazing relationships with these car companies and have had them for 17 years. They put out a new version of this game, every year. So, that gave us the opportunity to have access to these amazing cars that have never been stars of movies before. And what was also great was that my brother, George, and I were able to come up with a world, a story and characters ‘cause there’s no narrative in the game. Electronic Arts was really great in partnering with us and saying, “We’ll go with you on this journey.” Mark entered the equation because he helped get us to DreamWorks, which is the greatest filmmaking-friendly studio, since it’s run by a filmmaker, ultimately. They spotted Scott [Waugh] for us, too, and the momentum continued to build. It was a great experience.
What led you to this specific story?
GATINS: I give my brother a lot of credit for saying to me, very early on, “I think it’s about a guy who’s wronged.” He talked about a lot of movies and he referenced The Warriors, where it was a gang of guys who get wrongly fingered for doing something they didn’t do, and then getting chased. That was the initial inception. We grew up as total car crazies, my brother and I, building junky cars and trying to make them fast. I think that a lot of people identify with that experience. A lot of American boys grow up wanting cars they can’t have. There’s an aspirational aspect to it, which is also a video game things. The reason people play Need for Speed is because they can drive a $2 million car that they’ve never seen exist. That’s an amazing thing. So, I give my brother a lot of credit for wanting it to be this blue collar hero of a kid, and setting it with him and his crew of guys, who are mechanics that do local racing, and then get an opportunity to race in this race they would never get a chance at, and with cars they would never have an opportunity to get inside of.
Were there any aspects of the video game that you could carry over to the film?
GATINS: The landscapes are the biggest thing. The game is basically a simulator, to put it bluntly. You get to drive cars, and you try to have them react in the game, as they would in life. I’ve played a fair amount of the game, and there are these mountain terrains and coastal highways, and it’s nighttime and daytime with different elements.
MARK SOURIAN: Also, there’s that feeling, which is much more of a directorial thing, of being behind the wheel and really feeling like you’re in the car when the car crashes or when the car flies up in the air.
How much of a difference does it make that all of these car stunts were done practically?
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.
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 needed 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.
GATINS: Obviously, we wink to Bullitt. We showcase it a tiny bit in the film. There is a moment in the movie where we show a little bit of Bullitt.
SOURIAN: There’s also a little bit of American Graffiti in it. There’s a culture of cars, and a culture that revolves around cars, and you get that sense in the beginning of the movie.
GATINS: It was an attempt to try to reach car culture enthusiasts, as well as people who are specifically in love with super cars, which become our feature cars. Ford was another great partner, for the Mustang that we got to modify. There’s a nice surprise at the end of the movie that Ford helped provide us, by way of a car. So, we were influenced by American Graffiti and Vanishing Point, and even Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run. Our movie has a bit of that, too, because it becomes this quest and a chase with revenge, and we span lots of landscapes. We tried to incorporate what the video game does so well, by changing landscapes and having urban settings and mountain settings.
Was there a lot of extra planning, extra money and extra danger involved in doing all of these stunts practically?
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.
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.
Did the car companies have any input into how you could use the cars?
GATINS: They all said, “Oh, my car would never lose to that car,” but they all signed up. They read the script, and we wanted input form them. We wanted them as partners, as well. It’s helpful for them because their cars are in the game, so they wanted them in the movie. Whenever you portray people that are real, you hear, “That’s not really me,” but it kind of is.
SOURIAN: He won the Emmy, and Steven Spielberg had seen him win the Emmy and said, “That’s your guy.” He saw him give his speech and said, “That’s the guy.” We had begun talking about him. You couldn’t talk about these kinds of movies without talking about Aaron. He had just emerged in a way where you knew who he was, from that show. And there’s not a lot of guys in that age range in Hollywood where you could feel confident about putting a big movie on their shoulders. So, when Hollywood finds a guy that they think can do it, that’s gold. They don’t grow on trees.
GATINS: We were excited because Aaron even said, “I can’t imagine I was the first person everyone thought of. The fact that you guys want to give me this opportunity is amazing.” He’s a very humble guy, and he was really thrilled and enthralled. The truth is that you’ll see, when you see the movie, that he does some amazing driving in the movie. He went to school with our precision drivers and he busted his ass. And he’s a car guy, legitimately, which helps. It was a great thing.
What are we going to see from him, in the movie, that we didn’t see from him on Breaking Bad?
GATINS: Vince [Gilligan] did such a great thing, in making Jesse Pinkman not what you would expect from a speed-dealing ne’er-do-well. He was this really empathic, emotional, internal guy. In our movie, he’s a bad-ass. He’s a guy who has a very firm moral compass. He’s a good guy. He’s incredibly loyal to his friends, and he’s ready to die to right a wrong.
SOURIAN: And you feel like he’s leading this group. He’s in charge. He’s very much the general.
What can you say about the female characters and how they fit into things?
GATINS: Imogen [Poots] was a really incredibly inspired choice that I give Scott all the credit for. We all know that she’s an incredibly talented actress, but to have her in this movie, it was a great off-set for the other characters. Her character is so from a different part of the world than Aaron’s, so it was a great mix. Plus, they knew each other. They had done a movie before, so their chemistry was outstanding.
SOURIAN: There’s also a sense with Imogen that she’s a little bit quirky in a way that helps ground the movie. There’s a certain kind of actress that we could have hired, or that Scott could have advocated for, who would have been a bombshell, of a kind of look that you’ve seen in a lot of slick Hollywood movies. Scott made a real choice, not that she’s not beautiful. She’s very attractive, but she’s got a quality that’s much more quirky and interesting and character-driven. It helps ground the whole movie. As much as the action is real, the acting feels real. You feel like you’re dealing with real characters.
GATINS: And Dakota Johnson is the star of 50 Shades of Grey, so need we say more about that?
What does Michael Keaton do in the movie?
GATINS: He’s amazing! He’s the Wolfman Jack of our world.
SOURIAN: He’s the guide.
GATINS: He sets them up and they have to follow his orders, to a certain extent. He’s just so great.
SOURIAN: He’s so good in it. And you really feel his presence throughout the movie.
SOURIAN: He didn’t really want to play a villain, which is why he’s a great villain. He didn’t play it quite so arch. He brought an emotionality and a dimension to it, and we certainly felt that way, once we saw the movie.
Did he get to do any driving?
SOURIAN: Not in this one. In the sequel.
Do you already have ideas for a sequel?
GATINS: We do.
Is there a plan for a trilogy?
GATINS: Actually, yes!
What are your dream locations?
GATINS: Well, we’d love to race cars through Manhattan and Dubai. We keep saying that we’d like to go international. The game itself is very much rooted in North America. We’ve even said to EA, “How do you guys feel about potentially taking a story that involves Need for Speed overseas?,” and they were like, “Great!” We might then be able to inspire the game to make some of those choices, which would be cool.
Need for Speed opens in theaters on March 14th. For more on the film: