Director Justin Lin Hits the Redline with Fast & Furious

The director of this new installment talks about the new DVD, working with the original cast and a possible fifth film

Justin Lin is a director who has proven he can succeed both in and out of the studio system. His breakthrough film, Better Luck Tomorrow, lead to such studio films as Annapolis and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but the director also found time between those projects to make the indie sensation Finishing the Game. The director is back with the franchise that brings all the hot cars and hot women to the silver screen, with the new film Fast & Furious, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on July 28. I had the chance to speak with Lin today over the phone, and here's what he had to say.

I really enjoyed Tokyo Drift and the writer on that, Chris Morgan, had written this film as well, so I was wondering when you both were discussing this idea? Was it during Tokyo Drift or at what point was this an option?

Justin Lin: It was kind of towards the end. I remember we were sitting in the theater and when Vin Diesel made the cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift, at that point, I think not only Chris and I, but the studio, everybody kind of looked at each other and thought, 'Wow.' It really did feel like people missed Dom and they wanted to see what's up with Dom. So, when I got the call to see if I wanted to do part four, it became very clear that if we were going to attempt a part four, we'd have to do something to convince the whole cast to come back. So it was really then.

So there wasn't a script written at that point? It just kind of dawned on everyone?

Justin Lin: Yeah, there was no script at that point, because we were just finishing up part three and, honestly, if you would've asked me, I didn't know there was going to be a part four and I didn't know I was going to be a part of it. I felt like it became a worthy exercise because sometimes when you do the big-budget films, you don't know why people are doing it. Maybe they're just doing it for the paycheck or whatever, but at least with part four, I knew that Dom and Brian, Mia and Letty, these are characters that are very precious to Vin, Paul, Jordana and Michelle. For us to convince them to come back, it was a worthy exercise, I thought.

So when you did get them all back, did they all just fall back into these roles right away, and how did you enjoy working with everyone?

Justin Lin: I loved it. They're just all so different, all four people are just so completely different people. I liked the discussions and I came into this franchise later, so for them to be able to share insights on their character, I always enjoy that as a director.

I read that you really weren't much of a car guy before taking on Tokyo Drift, so what kinds of things did you learn on that film that you maybe applied to Fast & Furious, as far as all the cars in the movie?

Justin Lin: The thing that I love about this franchise, is that if you look at all four films, they're all very different, stylistically. I know that, at least part four, it's been about eight years since the first picture and because we were writing and designing the shots for the look of the movie, I was hoping to kind of make it feel a little bit more mature, because the characters have grown quite a bit and I hopefully wanted to have a film that had a more mature feel. That came with how we were going to present the cars. I think in the first film, it was this introduction to this street scene and you have stickers and all these things showcasing it but I felt that, this time in part four, the cars, we should appreciate the design of it, the more subtle elements of the performance of the cars. That was something that we were definitely very conscious of going in.

The film really exploded when it hit theaters. I believe it was $70 million on opening weekend and broke a lot of April box office records, so what does that kind of tell you about the power of this franchise and these four characters, and what it means to have them all working together?

Justin Lin: Well, I think there's obviously a lot of other car movies and stuff like that, but I think what people really still have a love or an attachment for is the theme of this franchise and the characters of this franchise. With all the machismo and the hot chicks and the cars, at the end of the day, this really is a franchise that is kind of exploring this alternative or untraditional meaning of family. I've been to many screenings and it's definitely been very rewarding to see the audience react in such a great way with the characters as they go on their life journey's.

These new DVD's that are coming out are certainly jam-packed with extras, so I was curious how you were involved in that process or if you have a favorite special feature on these discs?

Justin Lin: You know, I love Universal because, when I go and buy DVD's, I don't know why, but some of the films, they don't have a lot of extras. Usually when I watch a film and I have a good time, naturally, I just want to start seeing all the backstories and other things. When I got to Universal, before we even made the movie, I would have a meeting with the home video department. We'd come up with ideas of what people might like and I'm very open because I feel like, this franchise, people want to see the characters and the stunts. So usually we'd have two or three camera crews with us at all times, capturing everything. You're talking about thousands and thousands of hours of footage shot and they definitely don't shortchange the viewers.

When this hit the theaters, this was also the first film to be shown in the D-Box theater seats, so I was curious if you had a chance to experience that technology at all?

Justin Lin: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. D-Box, I don't even know if they existed when we were writing and stuff, but it was a lot of fun to explore it. It's definitely something that I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy. I know there's not that many theaters and at first I thought, 'Oh, how is this going to work?,' but it does add more fun to it. I think these films, after we shoot for just a regular theatrical presentation, I think D-Box is a good support viewing environment. If anybody wants to feel it, they definitely did a great job with it.

Yeah, and these days they are always trying to get people in theaters instead of just waiting for DVD, so this is definitely one of those technologies.

Justin Lin: Until they come out with the D-Box home video version (Laughs).

I read that Tyrese Gibson was really excited when he saw the film and he would like to be in a fifth installment, so has there been an offer out to you for a fifth film or is there any talk about that so far?

Justin Lin: You know, I think whenever a film is perceived a way this film was, there's always talk. I know Tyrese and I've worked with Tyrese and I think my job and our job with Paul and Vin and everybody is to make sure that, I think there still is a venture to be had, but hopefully we can be the gatekeepers and make sure that if there's going to be another, one, we're doing it for the right reasons. A lot of times, with these big budget films, there are a lot of different agenda's floating around and at least, if we're going to do this, it's going to take at least a year or a year and a half of our lives and it's going to take thousands of manpower hours. I do feel like if we're going to do another one, and definitely there's been conversations, but I feel like, right now, I haven't heard anything. I'm trying to see if it's worth another adventure, and I haven't heard anything that's worth it yet. That's definitely something that's floating around.

Do you know if Chris (Morgan) is actually working on a story for that at all?

Justin Lin: We're talking, you know. We're talking and Vin and Paul, we're just talking. It's kind of a great place right now. Everybody is in a good spot, I think the characters are in a good place, so we'll do another chapter, if it's worthy.

So is there anything else that you're looking to develop right now?

Justin Lin: Yeah, I've been fortunate. I've been able to switch from low-budget indie to the studios, so it feels pretty balanced and I'm growing as a filmmaker. Fast & Furious has opened up many opportunities for me but, at the same time, I still want to develop small little passion projects. I think next year is going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to probably be doing a small indie and then probably jump to another studio film, so I'm excited for what's to come. I feel that, as a filmmaker, I'm finally at a point where I have amazing choices. Everything that I've learned, now I can start applying to my projects.

Is that kind of part of the fun for you? It seems like every other movie of yours is between a studio film and a low-budget film, so is that a lot of fun just going from opposite ends of the spectrum on each film?

Justin Lin: Yeah. Well, I mean it's not totally by design, but I've got tot tell you, you don't do independent movies because you want to, you do independent movies because you have to. It's usually an idea that's not broad enough and usually everyone's telling you that you can't do it. It's amazing to be able to keep perseverance and to keep moving forward and to have it to a point where people come on - everyone from the actor to the PA - for the right reasons. It's not for pay, it's because they believe in the project. I love that. The last one I did, we shot it in 19 days, but I tell you, everybody that was on set, really believed in the script. That's a unique experience and I know that I don't want that part of my life to leave me. During the big budget films you can blow up cars and throw cars off cliffs and stuff like that (Laughs), but, at the same time, it's still a viewer giving us two hours of their lives, and you've got to respect that. For me, to be able to jump back and forth, it definitely is something that I hope to keep doing as I grow as a filmmaker.

So, finally, what would you like to say to those who might not have caught the film in theaters, about why they should pick up this new jam-packed DVD and Blu-ray today?

Justin Lin: Well, this franchise has been a lot about fun and about layers. If you just want to enjoy it and go get popcorn, it seems like people are enjoying it on that level. I think there are a lot of other car movies out there and I think the people really love this franchise because of the characters, the themes and if you want to dig deeper, it's always there. Especially with the supplemental elements to the Blu-ray and DVD, you can really keep digging (Laughs). After you've seen the film, there's everything in there and it's something that we really enjoyed producing because, a lot of times, doing the big budget films, there's nothing better than sitting back and seeing people in the audience really be connecting with it and now to give back and have some behind-the-scenes, so anything you want to see, is pretty much there.

Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Justin. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your new films.

Justin Lin: OK. Thank you very much.

Fast & Furious revs up to the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on July 28.