/Film Interview: ‘Fast and Furious 6′ Director Justin Lin on Linking Stories and Designing Ever-Larger Spectacle
Posted on Friday, May 24th, 2013 by Germain Lussier
Though the second Fast and Furious movie was a hit, it left fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Star Vin Diesel didn’t return, the chemistry was slightly off and the action didn’t live up to the first film. Enter Justin Lin. With the third film, he didn’t exactly win (most) fans back, but he brought Diesel back and began a mythological arc that culminates this weekend in Fast and Furious 6. Over the course of four films, Lin has turned the franchise into a legitimate, studio saving blockbuster while simultaneously elevating the spectacle to totally different levels.
With Fast and Furious 6, Lin does that again but now he’s leaving the franchise behind him. However he leaves behind a newly rejuvenated fan base, a laundry list of beloved characters and a complete story with room to expand.
We spoke to Lin on the eve of Fast and Furious 6 and discussed those things as well as the wacky timeline, building a mythology, filming the street race scenes, trailers spoiling the action, shooting 6 and 7 back to back and and the all-important Corona budget.
/Film: Hey Justin, congratulations on the movie. I’m a huge fan of the franchise and I thought this was insanely great. I really enjoyed it.
Justin Lin: Thanks man, thank you.
Fast Five was such a massive movie. Did you and [screenwriter] Chris Morgan think you’d be able to top yourselves in terms of scope?
(Laughs) Well it’s funny, because back in 2005 when I signed up to do the franchise, I was kind of pitching this idea of evolving it and trying to build a mythology and if people embraced it to keep going and at one point culminate. So it’s funny now talking to you eight years later, a lot of what you see in Fast Six actually was already talked about back in 2005. So that’s something that, for me personally, I take a lot of joy and pride in. The tank sequence for example, I started designing that in 2009 not knowing if people were going to embrace Fast Five or not or if we were going to have a chance. But it’s one of those things where you set out to do it and the fact that we got to do it is a dream come true.
Obviously the centerpiece of these movies are action set pieces. Here we have the tank, the flip car, we have the plane. Do those get conceived before there’s a script and then backwards engineered? How does that work?
It kind of has two folds. I have a little vault of crazy ideas and those are just for my own enjoyment and then I develop the scripts. A lot of times, the example on this one is the tank, almost didn’t make it into the movie. I remember after Fast Five we were talking about the vault and we were kind of joking around about how “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could actually drive the vault and the vault could shoot?” Somebody was like “Wait, that’s a tank…” But it was just a fun idea. At that point it didn’t belong in the movie, so it wasn’t until development that I’m able to put in these sequences.
I think the special circumstance was the plane. I knew the plane was going to be the culmination of this chapter of Fast and Furious, so that’s why that got going. When you look at these films, outside of action, there’s not a lot of real estate for characters, so unless I know where we are going and what the character arcs are, I can’t design the action.
Is there anything that you or Chris Morgan have talked about that is just too big, too expensive to do?
No. I mean I think for me the plane was the big idea. I was going to tie up a lot of loose ends with some characters and I knew we had seven characters on one side and of course you’ve got the other side. So I knew even four years ago where I was going. The technology at that point, I was looking at it and luckily it has been four years. By the time we really started putting this film together it just slipped right in perfectly. So I think if I would have started working on that plane sequence after Fast Five, it probably wouldn’t have been ready.
One of my favorite parts of this film, and you touched on it a little bit before, was how you really go back and use the previous five movies as a skeleton for your story. Why did you decide to do that now in six as opposed to five or maybe leaving it open for seven?
That’s the idea of mythology. I felt like when I came on the franchise it was successful, but it kind of lacked exploration into these relationships. I think some of these characters are kind of loosely connected, especially for me. The female characters have so much potential and I never really saw that. I remember talking to the studio and saying “If we have the opportunity to build, that’s the direction we should go.” In fact, one of the turning points was talking to Vin about coming back. I know how close he was with Dom Toretto and I heard rumors from people of “There’s no way he would do it.” I heard all of these things, but I felt it was important, because he’s the patriarch of this franchise and if I could get him to come back and do it, they’d know we were going in the right direction.
When he signed on, I was like “Okay, great” and then we were able to earn another. I think with these sequels, they’re not just a given. These people earn another chance to do something and the fact that we were able to build this whole mythology and really acknowledge the growth of characters, it naturally evolved into other genres. If you watch the film, it doesn’t say “Fast And Furious Six,” it was always designed to be Fast Five and Furious Six as kind of the “A and B,” so Six was always designed to be the one that ties all up all of the questions that fans have.
Tokyo Drift is my favorite of the six, just because it’s so much more about the cars and it’s so much fun. But watching Fast and Furious, I thought “Wait, this is not in the right order…” How did you manage bringing Han back for the fourth?
To me there are two pivotal moments to the franchise and one was having Han come back. I went to the studio and said, “I want to bring Han back.” Everyone was like “You can not do that.” I was like “Why not? I feel like as long as it’s a good movie, then it can exist anywhere on that timeline” And that’s part of the mythology building. So the fact that I was able to talk to the studio and everybody and say “He has to be back, it’s important for us. I spent hours and hours talking to Vin about Dom’s relationship with Han and now I want to explore it.”
To the studio’s credit, they’ve been my partner on this whole journey. Instead of being very conservative and saying “Well just do what works and do the same thing over again” they were very genuine with “You want to push the genre? Well, let’s do it. Let’s try it.” That really helped. Another pivotal moment was getting Han into Four. That, to me was a big, big moment and honestly had they said “No” I would have stopped. That was imperative to tell the audience we do care about all of the characters, there is a relationship, and there is something we are building.
Was it hard to exhibit patience in linking them? Was it hard to say “Let’s hold back and build those relationships before we get to Tokyo?”
(Laughs) You know, I think it’s always a crap shoot, but you’ve got to stick with the plan. That’s why I think it’s more fulfilling to be able to sit here and watch the film now, because there were many points were everybody was like “Well, let’s just not keep mentioning it.” I think part of what I love about the films from my childhood is the fact that those filmmakers cared about the relationships, about why these characters exist. I think that’s what I felt was lacking in the franchise and those are mostly, like when I look back, those were the battles. They were worthy and I’m glad that we had those discourses and that’s why I think we are here today.
During this film, I smiled the biggest when we get to the inevitable street race scene, with the cars and the music and the girls. Are those scenes as fun to shoot as they are to watch or can they be kind of a pain?
No, it’s brutal.
Brutal. It’s my most hated scenes to shoot, because you’re on set with like two hundred models, it’s probably like zero degrees and they have barely any clothes on and you’re trying to coordinate it all. It’s crazy. There are all of these tiny shots and everybody has to hit their timing correctly so, to be honest with you, that’s probably the one thing out of everything that I will not miss while walking away. (Laughs)
There are a lot of expensive, classic cars in this film and obviously you didn’t buy them or you would have spent two hundred million dollars on cars. How much of the budget, percentage wise, do you think goes, not only to the expensive cars, but wrecking inexpensive cars?
I mean whether it’s expensive or inexpensive, it is a huge chunk of the budget. That’s to the mandate that I demand every crazy idea I come up with has to be done practically. So sometimes with whatever hero car that we have, a lot of them have to be built for specific moves. On any given day when you’re on set, there’s probably seven other cars waiting in the wings in case something happens, but also for specific moves. I think if you talk to any director it is important to make sure that these cars are an extension of our character and how they articulate helps tell a story. So I’m a stickler for that and that comes with a big price.
It’s funny, I saw the movie last week and it was the same day you guys released your final trailer. I was very surprised that the trailer gives away a lot of the major action pieces, but none of the big twists in the plot? How did you feel about that trailer?
Well there’s two different philosophies. I’m always more into saying “Hey, I think we’ve given enough. People will come and they will be surprised.” Then there’s and I think Neal [Moritz], the producer. His thing is “Let’s share everything and people will come because of that.” I don’t know which one is right or wrong. I still would rather side with surprising people but, to be totally fair, I do think that even if you’ve seen all of the trailers you’re not quite sure how everything fits in. I think when you watch the film, even though you might see certain things that you’ve seen before, I think how they come about is still surprising. Believe me, I’ve had many conversations and I’ve come to peace with it, because I do think that you will still enjoy yourself when you come to see the film even if you’ve seen every frame of trailer and online whatever they put out there.
You mentioned you’re leaving the franchise in good hands, but it feels like watching this movie you were sort of planning to come back. It sets up a seventh film so well. My question is, was that your plan at some point? Also, how much of what’s going to happen in the seventh film did you have a hand in?
No, I think everything that I planned on doing for my chapters ended at six. At one point, obviously you’ve seen the film, it’s so big that at one point there was talk and it leaked out a little bit about how six and seven were going to shoot back to back and that’s because six was so big, I was thinking of shooting it as two movies. At the end of the day I just felt like it was stronger as one individual film and, for me, I take the franchise to heart. I love the fact that it’s been good to me, my career, and I’ve grown a lot. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and I just felt like it was time to go. It’s very rare to have an option to leave while it’s still thriving and hot. I personally wanted to come up with something to hand off to the next filmmaker and that’s what the tag is. If you watch it, it really does tie everything up for me, but at the same time I love this franchise and I want to see it thrive and that’s my gesture to give it to the next filmmaker, to see what he’s going to do with it.
Fast and Furious 6 is now open. Click here to read our review.