Producer and race car driver Ali Afshar discusses his drag-racing drama Born 2 Race, due out on DVD February 28
There are all kinds of ways for one to break into the entertainment industry, and producer/actor/writer Ali Afshar took a rather interesting route. After breaking into the drag racing circuit as a teenager, Ali Afshar moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of acting, appearing on Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Power Rangers Turbo, and in films such as Godzilla, The Siege, and Three Kings. He also continued racing throughout the years, launching the company ESX Motorsports, and his new project Born 2 Race, is a perfect marriage of both racing and filmmaking.
Born 2 Race, which is currently available on VOD formats and arrives on DVD February 28, gives us a legitimate look at the drag racing world, and the super-charged Subaru imports that Ali Afshar himself used to race against big block muscle cars. I recently had the chance to speak with Ali Afshar over the phone about Born 2 Race, which he co-wrote, produced, and has a brief cameo role in, and here's what he had to say.
One of the things I was intrigued by, was at the end of the film, there is a lengthy list of sponsors, auto parts manufacturers and other car companies. My first thought was that this movie was built like a race team. Would that be accurate, or was that more of just a thank you to all these companies that helped out during the production?
Ali Afshar: That's specifically a thank you, but you hit the nail right on the head. It's very much like a race team. I took 15 years of my racing sponsorships and relationships, and when I came back to acting... I used to act full-time, then I went back to racing. I took about a six-to-eight year break to race for Subaru of America. The economy shifted, so I got back into the acting world, but this time, not only did I want to come back to acting, but I also wanted to do my own projects. This was the first one, and I called everyone, because I wanted to make a movie that was technically correct. We didn't want people to laugh at the technical car side of it, and it was a lot of fun. It's basically all my sponsors, and some new people, from my race team.
I read that the first version of the script was written back in 2002. Did the story that's on the screen now change much from that earlier draft?
Ali Afshar: Absolutely. It's night and day. A lot of the ideas are the same, but it changed a lot. There are probably about 10 different versions of that first script now. But yeah, the story originated way back when the director, Alex (Ranarivelo) and myself were shooting a short film around the corner from one of my shops in Southern California. We got to talking and we thought it would be a cool idea if this kid gets a sponsorship and he gets in trouble. It's actually what happened to me. I got in trouble when I was a kid. It definitely evolved a lot. We changed locations and it changed drastically. But like the NHRA High School Drags, I actually won that in Northern California when I was in high school, so that's coming from my past. The town of Bradford, we were originally going to make it Petaluma, where I grew up, small town America.
Was the place you grew up in that car crazy, with all these kids racing?
Ali Afshar: Absolutely, yeah. I think the whole movie has that mentality. That small town, Petaluma, had a street called Petaluma Boulevard, and if you've seen American Graffiti or Peggy Sue Got Married, all those movies were shot in Petaluma. That little stretch of Petaluma Boulevard, in the 80s, was a total cruising spot. People would come from hundreds of miles away, on Friday and Saturday nights, just to go cruise the boulevard, and it was huge, just like in American Graffiti. They would go cruise, pick up girls, party, have fun, race. That street is literally the street that Harrison Ford has that race, that street is literally in the town where I grew up, and was marked by the film crew. We would use those same marks, because they were pretty accurate for a quarter-mile. That was were I grew up, and then I moved to L.A. in the 90s. Now, mind you, when I grew up in the 80s, there really wasn't that import-domestic rivalry. It was more like a Chevy-Ford rivalry. Then in the 90s, I moved to L.A., and street racing went through the roof. The beginning of this movie is 100% real. I've been arrested five times for street racing. I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I've never had a DUI or anything like that, but I've had run-ins with the cops many times, before I turned pro. That section of it is real-life L.A./San Fernando roads. I could name you a bunch of the streets we used to go racing on in L.A.
What I liked about this movie is it's the muscle cars versus the "rice burners," the imports. Do you think it's more intriguing to set up races like this, instead of imports versus imports or muscle cars versus muscle cars? I thought it was cool to see this little engine that could go up against these big blocks.
Ali Afshar: Absolutely. That's what happened in real life, when my Subaru came out. Before I started racing for Subaru of America, we were running really quick numbers with a little four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Subaru. We were taking on big V8's in these sanctioned races, and that's kind of where it came from. We're going around the water box. We're not even burning out, because you can't burn out. You can't heat up all four tires. I think it was cool to see all those different horsepower cars. It's small engine versus big engine, and people like seeing underdogs. When you see a big block and then this goofy-looking car that you think is going to get killed, and the exact opposite happens, the car jumps out and runs an eight-second quarter mile, and the other guy is running 10.20, you're like, 'What the hell?' I think it is a little more interesting. Mind you, people in the know, know what little cars do these days. I'm sure you know, but still, you go to a majority of the big drag races, and there are a lot of people who still don't know, especially in the amateur races. We travel all around the U.S., and sometimes we'll just go to a Friday night race, just to play around. They have no idea we have a car that runs seven, or our street car that runs eight with a full interior. We sometimes piss people off. We'll set up and come up to the starting line, and usually it's against a big block nasty muscle car. I'll go around the water box and then we stop and three of the four doors open and the whole crew gets out. They close the doors and tell me to line up, just to jab them a little bit. It's fun. I think it's cool to pair these up.
This is your producing debut, and this is definitely within your wheelhouse, but as a producer, is it kind of a logistical nightmare to get all these cars together? You have literally hundreds and hundreds of cars racing against each other, so was that a problem for you at all, or was it just part of the process?
Ali Afshar: You know what, it really wasn't a problem, but it was definitely a challenge and a big task. Did it all work out great? Yes. We had a great relationship with the race track, racers, we did a lot of social media. We had a lot of our friends, family, and associates that we called in favors for. It was difficult because we didn't have multiples of a lot of cars. We just had multiples of a couple of lead cars, and we only had an 18-day shoot, which was a little bit tough. Coming from the racing world, it may be even more aggressive than the production world, because you just have to make things happen. It's just how it is. You may have to take a motor out in the middle of the night, because you're racing at 7 in the morning. My core guys are also the car wranglers of this movie. Was it a a day at Disneyland? No. It was tough, but it was doable. It's an independent movie, so we needed to do it this way. We don't have a Fast & Furious budget, but we tried to make it accurate and still exciting. I definitely had to call in all my favors and do everything I could with cars and sponsors. Like I said, a big part of it was making it legit. You don't hit nitrous 16 times and shift gears 12 times in a quarter-mile. It's a quarter-mile. You don't downshift in the sand at 40 miles per hour and do a wheelie and kill somebody. Even though that's fun and exciting, I thought we could get a niche market where car people will like it, and they will like it forever.
I also see that you're working on a sequel to Born 2 Race. Is there a script for that yet, or is there anything you can say about it?
Ali Afshar: There's definitely something in place. We're always developing it. There are a couple of automotive projects that I have going on, plus a couple that aren't automotive-related. I have three auto features, and two non-auto features going on, and we also have an auto-based reality show. There are a lot of things in the works, including Born 2 Race 2, which we'll hopefully get to later this year. We're trying to see how the movie does in North America, because it's one of the last areas of the world to show it. Most of the rest of the world has already released it, so that will dictate whether or not we'll get Born 2 Race 2, but we're definitely planning on doing it.
Are you shopping the reality show to networks right now?
Ali Afshar: Yeah, we're in negotiations with a couple of different networks right now, just trying to figure out where the right place is. The reality show is a car show with a lot of heart, and I'm just trying to find the right place for it. I'm not too trigger happy to go to the first place. We're in a couple of negotiations now to try and find the right place for it. It's a really fun thing that hasn't been done before. When it comes out, we can talk more about it.
Finally, what would you say that racing fans can expect from Born 2 Race that they haven't seen in a racing movie before?
Ali Afshar: What I want people to think of is that this movie, at it's core, is a father and son story. It's a PG-13 movie, it's not an R movie, and I want people to be able to enjoy it, particularly the car people, but I also made it in a way that mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmas can enjoy it to, because it's got a lot of heart to it. The cast did just a fantastic job, Joseph (Cross), Brando (Eaton), John (Pyper-Ferguson), Christina (Moore), everybody did such a great job. I think it's relateable to the whole family. I would like people to check it out and just enjoy it as a movie, and if you get into it, you'll get a heavy backdrop into these companies. As you know, I race for Subaru, so big thanks to Subaru and Pepboys and Injen, and all these companies who stepped up to help us. It's a legitimate movie that's fun and exciting, and it's 96 minutes well spent. Hopefully they'll go buy it and keep it on their shelves, and the next one, we're going to do it a little bit bigger. We're going to go for possibly a theatrical release, so I hope people like it.
Great. That's my time. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you, and I enjoyed the film.
Ali Afshar: Thank you. I'm really glad you liked it.