Star Aaron Paul, director Scott Waugh and more, take us through the stunt work in Need for Speed
When the Breaking Bad series finale aired back in September, Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman was seeing driving off into the sunset, escaping the madness to start a new life. Those final scenes turn out to be a perfect segue into the actor's upcoming film Need for Speed, DreamWorks' adaptation of the popular Electronic Arts video game franchise, which hits theaters on March 14, 2014.
Last month, I was invited down to the Bandito Brothers facility in Los Angeles for an edit bay visit, where we saw brand new footage from this upcoming action-thriller, and had the chance to speak with Aaron Paul, director Scott Waugh, screenwriter John Gatins and producer Mark Sourian. Before we got to chat with the actor and these filmmakers, we were treated to roughly a half hour of new footage, which highlight some of the amazing, practical stunts they pulled off. You can see some of those stunts in the newest trailer, which was released this morning, along with new photos.
The footage opens with a racing sequence, a Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) climbs behind the wheel of a classic Gran Torino, and he and four other drivers tear through the city in a very slick action sequence. Afterwards, the drivers watch footage from the race that was shot from a helicopter by Kid Cudi's character, when Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives in a gullwing Mercedes-Benz with a proposition that Tobey just can't pass up: To finish the car that automotive legend Carroll Shelby was building with Ford when he died.
We then saw two more scenes where Tobey and Dino are racing on the freeway when Dino takes out Tobey's friend Pete, who goes careening over a bridge in quite a spectacular fashion. The best part of the footage we saw showcased a move called "the grasshopper," where Tobey drives up the side of an off-ramp and flies over three lanes of traffic, a spectacular moment that may well be worth the price of admission alone when this action-thriller hits theaters.
The cherry on top of these high-octane scenes is that they were all practical, something which Scott Waugh mentioned right away when pitching the project to Aaron Paul. The actor describes his driving training to us.
"That was one of the things, when they approached me with this. He said, 'I'm going to do this film a little differently than a lot of other films that are out right now. Everything is going to be practical, or a majority of everything is going to be practical, so I want you to be driving in the majority of all these scenes.' I said, 'Absolutely.' I went through a whole crash course of stunt driving, and it was a blast. By the end of the first day, I was flying down this ramp and doing a full 360 on a skid pad. Then, the next few days was doing reverse 180s, or driving in reverse through an entire winding track. It's something that all of us want to do, and you can. You can go out to Willow Springs and pay for this course, and I recommend it for everybody, because it teaches you how to get out of problematic situations."
"When I was asked to do Need for Speed, I come from my viewpoint when I thought car movies were amazing, in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, when you had Bullitt, The French Connection, Grand Prix, Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper. It was great because it was all real, it was all in camera. When we did the big car jump in Smokey, that was real. I remember the two dudes who jumped that bridge. I really want to bring that back to cinema. I feel like we've gotten away from it, and I'm all about practicality, because I personally believe that, as an audience member, if you break the rules of physics in stunt work or on Earth, you break the rules of character jeopardy. If a car can jump off a moving train that's 40 feet high, then land and keep going, then a person can take a bullet and keep going, because you're breaking the rules of physics. We really adhere to all the physical rules in this movie. If a car crashes, it isn't going anywhere."
"We really spent a lot of time trying to find that bridge. On paper, it wasn't supposed to be a bridge, it was just supposed to be on the road, but I said I think he has to tumble through the air and down a bridge and off the bridge, and land in the water. We can do this practically. Lance Gilbert and I really racked our heads for awhile, about how to do this practically, because the studio was a little nervous. They said, 'We should just do this in CG.' I said, 'No, man, I'm not breaking my rules. If we can't do it practically, we're going to change the stunt.' We tested for months, during pre-production and even during production, of how to get that car to lift off and fly the way it did. It was a physics conquest. I was laughing. It was like I was back in college. You had to go between 80 and 110, and we chose it was around 94, because we would run out of bridge. Every 10 miles an hour increases the rate of distance exponentially."
The filmmaker also talked about how certain car scenes do not look authentic, because of how the actors are seen "steering" their fake cars.
"I know when an actor is driving a car or not. You can just tell by the wheel finesse. If they start doing this (mimmicks wide steering turns), what kind of car are you in? What kind car drives like that? You literally put the tires on the ground, and they have to steer it, it changes everything."
Scott added that the production team spent a lot of time on matching up the right cars to each characters, and how each character evolves, moving up to better cars as the story progresses.
"We really spent a lot of time on every single car, even if it's a background car. It's a car movie. There are a lot of cars that I grew up around, cars you haven't seen in awhile, that were cool back in the day, like the 944 Porsche. That was cool back in the 80s! It might not be cool now, but back in the 80s, that was a cool car. It was like, 'What are a lot of cars we used to love that aren't seen in film?' For myself, I really thought a lot about the classic cars race. We see a lot of GTO's, but the '68 Gran Torino is just something we haven't seen that often. It's such a cool car and, for me, it really defined Tobey, because he's such a unique guy. He wouldn't drive just the standard '67 Camaro. Each car, we really went through and spent time on. I'm 43, so in the 80s, the only thing you had to identify yourself with as a 16-year-old was the vehicle you drove. You didn't have cell phones, gadgets, all that stuff. All you had was a car, so you tried to trick out, spraypaint the wheels, whatever, so people go, 'Hey, here comes Scott in his Honda Civic. Right on!' We were so identified by our cars. My dad was an exception. He just thought cars got you from A to B. I think it still is a part of our culture. Men just love cars. It's something that's still important to us. The game has its own inherent story line, by the way we play it. You start racing smaller cars and classics and you slowly work your way up to super cars. It's a natural progression of racing in general. You don't just jump into an Indy car. You work your way through carts and all that stuff, and this movie follows that progression. It's kind of a subconscious throwback to people who played the game, how the cars evolve and how the characters evolve."
"Oh yeah, absolutely the Gran Torino. I wanted to take that car home so bad, but everyone else did. I know Scotty wanted the car, but I don't think they gave it to him. I think all of us had our eyes on certain cars. We just drove around the country in the most ridiculous cars possible, and they let me drive them. And then we just destroyed them, but it was a blast."
While Aaron was behind the wheel for a majority of his stunts, he did not perform the amazing "grasshopper" stunt, which was just fine by him.
"Thank God, no. That was terrifying. That was really scary. I was there, I went to set to watch that. Troy Gilbert did that stunt, and there was this calm, very quiet silence that went across the entire set, just ramping up to that moment, because you know what's going to happen, because he actually did it. Flying down a freeway, going up this ramp, and flying over three or four lanes of traffic. Everyone is in those cars as well, and landing. Everyone was huddling around Troy, saying 'I'll see you on the other side.' His brother is there, his dad is there. He's a third-generation stuntman, so I'm like, 'Holy shit, something serious could go down right now.' He is so high off the ground, but it was all good."
The actor also spoke about the "pod cars" that they used for some stunts.
"I was always behind the wheel. The majority of the time, I was there. There are these cars that we called pod cars, that I've never seen before. Tanner Faust, my stuntman, who is absolutely crazy, but I really trust my life in his hands. Any YouTube video you watch, he does these Hot Wheels videos, where he goes through a loop and flies. But, he would be on top of the car in the back, actually controlling the car. So I'm in the car, but the wheel does not work, the gas does not work, and the brake pedal does not work. There were many times where I'm like, 'Shit! You're way too close.' I'm flying between these cars, going very, very fast, but he's controlling everything. It was like a very realistic video game, the most realistic video game possible, but I was there."
Producer Mark Sourian revealed that he and the other producers were always on board with Scott's practical approach to the movie.
"It was never a fight for us as producers, because from our standpoint, it made us all lean in. OK, that's cool. How do we make this movie special? How do we make this movie distinctive? The thing that Scott always talked about were the great movies, some of which I think his father worked on, movies we were raised on like Bullitt, American Graffiti. For us, it was part of the reason to hire him. When you look at Act of Valor, it had that same feel. I'm there with these Navy SEAL guys. I've seen plenty of movies where there's a submarine. I've seen plenty of Bruckheimer movies where they've done this, that or the other, but I haven't seen it shot like this. I haven't felt like this, in this kind of movie before. He was bringing all that and he had credibility with us, to do the very same thing in this movie. It was 100% an asset. It was a logistical challenge. You're not doing CGI, you're not in some warehouse, so there were logistical challenges to it, and we had to be very mindful of the fact we had stunt people doing very elaborate stunts, but it was never a creative issue that we weren't 100% supportive of."John Gatins revealed that watching this stunt work was like watching a lost art form being revitalized.
"I'm 45, and I've been in the movie business for 23 years. Yeah, I've seen stunts on movies that I've worked on, but not like this. This really feels like a movie that was before my era. We've only shown it to one large audience, and we had younger folks in there, late teenagers and early 20s. They were like, 'Oh my God,' like they hadn't seen a movie like this before."
Stay tuned for more coverage from our Need for Speed edit bay visit next month. You can also check out our new photo gallery from this action-packed thriller below.