Fast & Furious 6’s Chris Morgan on Big Cast and Even Bigger Action
For Hollywood studios, Memorial Day weekend has become the official kick-off to the summer movie season, signaled by the release of high-octane blockbusters. This year, Universal Pictures charges out of the gate with Fast & Furious 6, opening Friday nationwide – and if early U.K. screenings are any indication, the studio is already off to a good start.
The action franchise debuted in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, starring Vin Diesel as an ex-con street racer and Paul Walker as an undercover cop. Its $207 million worldwide haul led to the 2003 sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, which featured a different filmmaking team and no Vin Diesel. The follow-up was widely panned, but it performed solidly at the box office, demonstrating there was plenty of gas left in the series.
For the third installment, another set of filmmakers was brought in for a new take and a different cast. The result was 2006’s Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, which didn’t perform as well as the first two films, but the producers saw the potential of the creative team – specifically, director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan. They reassembled the original cast for the fourth film, found a way to expand the scope of the story, and gave the franchise a new life and its best box office. The producers wisely kept them together for the fifth chapter (and added actor Dwayne Johnson), and then proceeded to blow away the box-office record set by 2009’s Fast & Furious.
Now, with the looming release of Fast & Furious 6, Lin and Morgan are sitting on top of an action empire – one that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. Universal has already announced plans for a seventh film, and while Lin is moving on to other projects, Morgan is already busy dreaming up crazy car crashes and quiet character moments. Fortunately, Spinoff Online was able to pull the screenwriter away from his keyboard to speak with us his about his Fast experiences, what to expect from the latest installment, and to tease what may be coming down the road.
Spinoff Online: Chris, you were brought into the Fast and the Furious franchise with the third movie (Tokyo Drift), wrote every installment since, and you’re going to be an executive producer on the seventh film. After all you’ve done, I think it’s fair to say you’re now part of the franchise’s genetic makeup. When did you begin to feel comfortable with the notion that you were one of the minds steering the Fast and the Furious behemoth, and what has the experience been like?
Chris Morgan: There are two moments when it really sunk in for me, and both were on Fast Five. The first was when I saw Dennis McCarthy and his automotive team prepping all these vehicles for the third-act vault heist that, only a few months before, was just a wild idea in my head. The second was when I got a phone call at 1:30 in the morning from Tyrese and Ludacris, laughing, and wanting to bounce a run of comedic lines past me. As I listened and laughed, I remember thinking “Wow, these guys are performing this awesome, impromptu bit of acting live just to see what I think. I guess I really am part of the Fast family now.”
Fast has been an amazing experience for me, personally and professionally. Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer started something incredibly special with the first film back in 2001, and I just feel lucky to be able to play in the amazing sandbox they built.
When I saw the end of the fifth movie, where the existence of Letty is revealed, my first thought — which many other fans had as well — was that she couldn’t return because we had seen her die. I quickly reviewed F&F4 once more and realized her death was actually never shown on screen; all the audience sees is how Dom pictured it. Therefore, I have to ask: When you wrote the death of Letty, did you intentionally leave a backdoor so her character could return? And if so, was this your idea or did it come “from above?”
It definitely was part of the plan, which is why we never showed Letty’s body back in Fast & Furious. In fact, my earliest conversations with Vin were all about this epic romance between Dom and Letty, and how exactly we were going to bring her back. No, bringing Letty back wasn’t a mandate from above — it was a unanimous premise that we all began with.
From the trailer for this film, we know that the Fast and the Furious crew is needed by the U.S. government to stop some dangerous “bad guys.” In exchange, they want pardons for their crimes. Can you tell us more about the intent of the villain(s)? Are they operating on a national or global scale?
Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew of mercenaries are heisting components for a device that could very well put the security of the free world at risk. From that perspective, they are operating on a global scale. Now, the answer to the question of whether they are intending to use the device or sell it to the highest bidder might just be giving some plot points away …
What makes the F&F crew ideal for capturing these bad guys? What do they offer Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) that he can’t get elsewhere?
We’ll come to understand that Hobbs has tried to catch Shaw’s team before and met with failure, and the reason why is that Shaw’s crew really are a shadowy reflection of Dom’s team. They are precision drivers, trained to the military’s highest level of vehicular warfare. They slip every trap and leave cops, Feds, soldiers — everyone — in the dust. What Hobbs needs are drivers of equal skill that can not only match Shaw’s crew, but run them to ground and bring them down. As Hobbs says, “To catch wolves, you need wolves.” And the biggest, baddest wolves in the world are Dom and Brian’s crew.
Over the past five films, the cast has grown quite large. How do you manage all these characters in your head? And what is the secret to giving each the right amount of screen time in a 120-page script?
We do have a pretty big team. It’s always something I worry about when I’m breaking story, but as I actually start writing, the characters naturally find their rhythm. The great thing is that our crew has a bunch of very distinct personalities, and their voices tend to jump up at the right moments. And that’s the key. It’s never about clocking screen time – that’s a road to insanity. It’s all about moments. One memorable character moment can leave a far greater impact than even an infinite amount of time on screen. They don’t have to be long, but if each character has a few meaningful thematic and action beats, then they feel fully-realized and represented in the story.
The Fast and the Furious crew has previously mentioned their desire to retire and live the quiet life. They have a chance at this if, as the trailer suggests, they get a pardon for their crimes. Do you think retirement is a real possibility for any of them? Or are they just adrenaline junkies, pure and simple?
I think they think a quiet life is a possibility for them. I think Dom, Brian and Mia want that with all their heart, which is why they do what they do in Fast 6. They’re committed 100 percent, so they definitely believe it. But that’s the thing about life: The grass is always greener … and things change.
Do you find it difficult coming up with ideas for “crazy, action set pieces?” Have you ever had an idea so wild that you were told it couldn’t be done?
Knock on wood, but I’ve never really had a hard time with action. It’s something that I feel in my bones, and I can tell when I start to get excited about an idea or a sequence that we’re onto something cool or special. And I’ve had plenty of ideas that I’ve been told we can’t do … but it’s almost exclusively for budget reasons. The guys who work with are such pros, they could literally find a way to shoot any sequence we dream up. It’s just a matter of if we can afford it.
Also, I tend to quietly kill the set pieces that I come up with that are too different in tone without needing anyone to say “no.” Some stunt sequences, as amazing as they are, are better fits for other movies. Ours have to really fit our bad-ass, blue-collar, grease-under-their-fingernails crew. If a sequence gets too polished and flashy, then it isn’t our world.
As a screenwriter, I’m sure it’s gratifying to see the story you’ve created on the big screen. That said, was there any part of this film that surprised you upon viewing the completed product?
Believe it or not, there’s a race in London between Dom and Letty that I find incredibly emotional. I know that sounds strange, but when you see it you’ll know what I mean. Vin and Michelle just killed it.
Looking at what’s been accomplished, there appears to be a rather large master plan for the Fast and the Furious universe. With film number seven coming next summer, how far out have you planned? And is there a finish line in mind for the franchise? Not that fans necessarily want it to end …
There’s a plan. And a story map. But it’s not my place to give anything away just yet. Just know that a.) it’s worthy, and b.) there are some things coming down the road that you’ll never expect.
And speaking of Fast & Furious 7: I know it’s still early in the process, but can you tell us anything about what we can expect to see in the next installment? Maybe even a little tease, please?
Oh, man, have we got a villain for you …