Back in November, we showed you the first part of our Need for Speed edit bay visit, where we chatted with star Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), producer Mark Sourian (Delivery Man) and screenwriter John Gatins (Real Steel). That portion of our visit to the Bandito Brothers facility focused strictly on the practical stunts that will be on display when this video game adaptation hits theaters March 14 (CLICK HERE to check out our first edit bay visit piece).
While the practical stunt work will be a big selling point of this high-octane thrill ride, we also talked about many more aspects of Need for Speed with the star and the filmmakers who brought this long-running video game franchise to life. The story centers on Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a talented mechanic and racer who is tasked with building a car for former NASCAR driver Dino (Dominic Cooper). Just before the deal for this car goes through with a major broker (Imogen Poots), Dino frames Tobey for a horrific crash that kills his friend, thus sending him to jail for two years. Upon his release, Tobey swears to get his revenge by beating Dino in a high-stakes, cross-country race.
The first question that comes to mind, since there is no narrative attached to the video game, is, what story can be told from a video game without characters? Screenwriter John Gatins spoke about how freeing it was to come up with a fresh plot based on a popular franchise.
"It was great because Electronic Arts was an awesome partner. They knew they had a title that people loved, and a game that people loved. They had been making it for 17 years. They approached me and said, because the game has no narrative, 'Could you come up with an idea?' I called my brother (co-writer George Gatins) and I said, 'What do you think?' He called me the next morning with a really cool, inspired idea about revenge and a group of guys, and a blue-collar hero and, ultimately, a warriors kind of chase. There were a lot of elements that were really good, so we cracked the story and partnered with Electronic Arts and they loved the idea. Mark and I had known each other for a long time and we had worked with each other a little bit. He knew that I had partnered with EA on it, and he said come here, we'll help you. He was kind of the entree to Steven (Spielberg) and Stacey (Snider) at DreamWorks. We came in there, they loved it, and they helped bring Scott (Waugh) on, and I think everyone was always on the same page, as far as this blue-collar hero, righting a wrong kind of story."
After spending five years living with his Jesse Pinkman character from Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul spoke about transitioning to a movie like this, where he had considerably less time to get a handle on who Tobey Marshall really is, although he was given more than enough information to build the character.
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"You're telling a story in an hour and a half, two hours. With Breaking Bad, when we started filming the show, I don't think any of us knew who Jesse (Pinkman) was. We knew that he was sort of a druggie burnout, who wasn't even supposed to survive after the first season, but as the seasons went on, that's when the layers were revealed. With this film, with this script, it's very character-driven, and I was so surprised and so excited about that. I had a sense of who this guy was, because they had to tell a story in such a short period of time. I got enough of the information. Scott and I talked about what happened before this story started, a little bit of back story, and where they were heading."
Aside from the exotic super cars and powerful muscle cars that are featured in the video game series, producer Mark Sourian added that the idea was to capture the first-person essence of the game for this adaptation.
"For all of us, it was about capturing that feeling of the game, that first-person sensibility. What Scott did so well, because of his experience, not only as a filmmaker, but as a documentarian and as a stunt man, was to really give you that sense of what it's like behind the wheel, just in terms of the angles he picked, the choreography, it all being real stunts as opposed to CGI, all that contributed to giving you that feeling of, 'I'm in the race. I'm driving that car.'"
We mentioned in the first piece that director Scott Waugh is the son of legendary stunt man Fred M. Waugh. The director shared a rather insightful story about how his father developed the first helmet-cam in the 1980s, a technology he couldn't quite grasp until he got further along in his own career, and how the first-person perspective in this movie helps bring the viewer into the story.
"My father, in the 80s, developed the first helmet-cam. Remember, this was film, so trying to put 30 pounds on someone's head was a problem. I was in my teens, and I started working with my dad in the camera shop, which is where I think I became fixated with cameras. I asked my Dad, at the time, and I always remember this, 'Why do you want this perspective?' There weren't really video games yet. We didn't have video games in the early 80s, and if we did it was that football thing that went across the three sticks. My dad was his stunt man his whole life, and he said he just wanted the audience to feel what it's like to be a part of the action. To be honest with you, I kind of understood it, but I wasn't old enough yet. When I got farther along in my own career, and people would ask me, 'Hey, what's it like to be on fire and jump from a building?' I don't know how to describe it. You just kind of have to do it to understand it. When I did that film Step Into Liquid, and I asked the surfers, 'How would you describe big-wave surfing?' The most profound response from all of them, always was, 'You would have to do it to understand it.' I believe that, and first-person really puts you into the movie, rather than you sitting back and watching the movie. In our film, you become Tobey. It's the only time in the movie you enter first-person, not from any other character, only that point-of-view. We become Tobey, we feel what he feels, and I think it adds to the visceral component, and you feel the revenge that he feels, and you're driving the way he drives. And, subconsciously, it's a throwback to the game. To me, it's more of a story choice, rather than trying to be first-person driving because that's how the video game was."
Part of the footage we saw features Kid Cudi's character as Tobey's "eye in the sky," a helicopter pilot who follows the entire race, and even gives Tobey a "lift," so to speak, during one scene. As fans of the game may well know, players can toggle between different viewing modes while driving, one of which is a helicopter perspective. While this isn't a blatant callback to the game, John Gatins explained that this character was born out of research on actual street racers who use helicopter pilots to scout their races, with Kid Cudi's character being tweaked to fit their story.
"My brother did a lot of research on these guys, and you can go on YouTube and see these guys who say they're going to drive 240 miles per hour in the middle of the desert at 4 in the morning. They have guys who go out and scout for them, so that's where my brother got the initial idea. But these kids don't have any money, so it's like, what if he continues to steal these things along the way? It created this great character that Kid Cudi plays."
In today's cinematic landscape of escalating budgets and cutting costs wherever possible, it's rather surprising to learn that DreamWorks actually supported the production shooting all over the country, according to Mark Sourian.
"Scott insisted, and, to be fair, the studio actually supported shooting all across America. Typically, what happens is, pick a rebate state, and make it look different enough with some CGI, and it will all work. We shot all over the place. We shot in Mendocino, San Francisco, Moab, Utah, all around Georgia, New York, New Orleans, the Bonneville Salt Flats."
Aside from his acting skills, Aaron Paul has become highly respected for his down-to-Earth nature, especially in his interactions with fans. When asked about his approach to immersing with his immense fan base, the actor revealed that he was initially disappointed with several actors he looked up to, when he first moved to Los Angeles.
"I moved out to Los Angeles, a fan of many people, and I remember meeting people who I put on a pedestal, and they just disappointed me. For me, without fans, this business would not exist, so I try to stay on... we're all on the same level. In London, a year and a half ago, I was shooting a movie and I said, 'Hey I'm going to see this movie. Come join me.' And people showed up and we watched the movie together. Why not? It's fun, and people like it. People who I'm a huge fan of, I think it'd be so great if they acted like that. Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don't. With Breaking Bad, it was such a phenomenon, so I try to give back as often as I can, and I have a blast doing it."
"I definitely signed on for a possible franchise, which would be so great, because we all had such a blast with this one. It was all on the page. The writers did a great job. It's a great, intense story, and it's very character-driven. I think it's going to surprise a lot of people. I'd love to do more, if they'll have me. With this film, Need for Speed, turning a video game into a film, a lot of people are like, 'Ah, I don't know.' With this, we had a blank canvas to work with, because there is no narrative in the video game. All we had to do was have fast cars, exotic cars, that's it. They put a great sory behind it, and Scott had a very distinct vision. He said he wanted to do a throwback to the 60s, 70s car culture movies. He said, 'I want you to watch every Steve McQueen film out there.' Absolutely, let's do it. He wanted to make sure that, when people were watching this film, that they weren't being fooled. He wanted to make sure that people watching the film would go, 'Oh my God, that shit is actually happening.' They did it. Everything was practical. And, he wanted the audience to feel like they're in the car, driving along with them. That's what it feels like when you're playing the video game, so he wanted to bring that element from the game into the film."
That wraps it up for my coverage from the Need for Speed edit bay visit. Say what you will about video game adaptations, but from everything I've seen so far, with real, practical stunts, a fantastic cast and dynamic direction, this could be the one that transcends the box office bombs and failures of the past.