Scott Waugh Need for Speed

Love it or hate it, for Need for Speed, director Scott Waugh had a vision. This is a video game adaptation, yes, but Waugh wanted to ground it in as much reality as possible. Everything had to be real. Every race, every stunt, every jump, every crash. It’s all practical. Then again, he was also beholden to the title “Need for Speed” and the film fulfills the name’s implied promise, giving audiences two hours of almost non-stop car craziness.

We spoke with Waugh, along with stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert, about balancing those expectations, the difficulties of filming, conceiving the racing sequences, casting Aaron Paul, working with super cars, the potential for sequels and more. Below, read our interview and then see Need for Speed which opens March 14.

/Film: The movie is really grounded and “real,” but you’re also adapting a video game, where everything is completely unreal. What is the approach to keep the realism, but also retain some video game aesthetic?

Scott Waugh: I think, for us, we really wanted to bring that realism to it, and the aesthetic that we wanted to bring from the video games is the fun. For us the interesting component on this movie was how do we make a movie that makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you on the edge of your seat, and also have a great love story in it?  We wanted to make a fun, well-balanced movie and make something unexpected. Make something that, like you said, it’s a video game movie and you’re gonna go in and go, “This is not what I expected.” But it still fulfills the video game fans, and it broadens out to more people that just like to watch movies.

Did you work with [game publisher] Electronic Arts at any stage? If so, what was that relationship like?

EA was great. They’re a great brand and they developed the screenplay from the beginning. And then DreamWorks bought it. And then DreamWorks hired me. We got involved with DreamWorks and really collaborated on the screenplay and advanced it even farther. And so EA has been a partner from day one.

I feel like the races are the main character of this movie. What I loved about it was there’s just enough story and character to make a race go to a race go to a race. But there is a danger there — how much do you have to get away from racing? When developing the screenplay, how did that sort of work out?

It was really interesting. That was one of the things when I jumped in on as a director, I said, “The movie’s called Need For Speed. Which means we have that need. Which means we have to keep going. Otherwise it’s not gonna fulfill our audience’s expectations.” So it was definitely that, but it’s also you can’t beat the same drum forever or you and your audience get fatigued and it gets kind of monotonous. So it was a delicate balancing act of figuring out how much racing will keep it going, and then pulling back a little bit so we can catch up storywise and let the audiences relax for a second before we throw you back in the fire again. And it really is that.

This movie must exist in part because of the success of the Fast and the Furious movies. They use a lot of CG and you guys don’t have any of that. But when you’re making this movie, is that franchise a shadow over the movie?

I look at the greatest car movies of all time, which are from the ’60s and the ’70s. So I’m fixated on Bullitt and I’m fixated on Vanishing Point and Smokey and the Bandit. I’m looking at those movies and still trying to figure out why audiences quote those movies as the best car movies of all time. So I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out why we don’t say the greatest car movie of all time is Fast and Furious, we say the greatest car movie of all time is Bullitt. We still do. It’s 50 years ago! And I’m trying to figure out why. And I think there’s one common denominator. All those movies are real and all the stunts are real. The actors are doing most of their driving. And there’s not, and it’s the music is only there in emotional spots, not to help drive the action. You hear the motors and you hear the driving. It’s primal. And that’s what we really, that’s what I wanted to focus on.

The difference being in Smokey and the Bandit and Bullitt, they’re not racing million dollar cars. 

Cannonball Run they were.

Yeah. But in this movie, you have a race of like eight cars and are all worth that much money. How do you work with those kind of cars, because you’re not crashing a bunch of Lamborghinis, you know what I mean? How is it to do stunts when you have these cars that are worth so much money?

No, the reality is when you’re dealing with the super cars, first of all, super cars are art pieces. We can’t ever not look at that. They’re two and a half million dollars, sometimes there’s only one of three in the world, right? So you’re not gonna wreck that, that’s disrespectful. And second, they’re not built, like you said, they’re not built to wreck. They’re not build for a stuntman to get in there and roll it, nor can we put the devices needed to help flip a car in those kinds of cars. They’re not built that way. So Lance would have to build these race cars that we would fabricate bodies to look exactly like the real cars, but were built with real roll cages that are designed and he would put the flipping apparatus, which is either a cannon or a flipper on there to get our cars to do these and that were safe for the stuntman. So those are really, by the way, those are also really expensive just so you know.

Yeah.

It wasn’t like we built a five thousand primer kit car. They’re also extremely expensive. And we only built one of them because they’re so expensive. Each car had one.

So did you actually have the actual cars on set at one point though?

Yeah. Yeah, it was great.

Can you take me through, let’s say, the Agera race from the beginning of the film? Take me through from the earliest thing through how you shoot.

Well Lance and I in the beginning, you know, we knew what how it ultimately needed to end, right? So for us, it was that we wanted to reverse engineer it together. We would travel to Georgia, and we wanted to find roads that would be really interesting and would look like upstate New York first of all. Secondly, [those  roads] would lead to Lance coming up with ways to make it interesting, knowing the speeds that we needed to travel and roads that would allow us to go that fast. ‘Cause if it was super turny, we could only get to 80 or 90 miles per hour. But it had to have enough straightness to it that we could really hook, you know. And then designing the cars.

Sure.

One of the things we talked about was in the beginning to make it interesting. We looking at a movie called Ronin, and what we loved about Ronin was when that character has to fight oncoming traffic at speeds and how visceral that was. And instead of these roads being empty, we were like “No, let’s put some pedestrians in there” and force our character to have to go against the odds not only to race faster than the bad guy, but have to do it on worse grounds, which is on opposing traffic. And so Lance really choreographed this grid pattern that Tobey [Aaron Paul] would have to weave in and out of, get back onto oncoming traffic and still beat Dino [Dominic Cooper]. And then we wanted it to be a very dramatic ending. And I looked at some F1 footage. And I was feeling if you’re traveling 200, 230 miles an hour, what better place to find the best wrecks that’s ever happened than F1? Super cars replicate the aerodynamics of an F1 car. So to see what happens when you wreck at those speeds and, you really see they turn into an aerofoil and they lift off and they fly through the air in a very slow motion way, cause they all just oscillate. And then once they hit, then it turns into grenade unfortunately and that was some of the things that I would show Lance. I’d show a couple F1 wrecks that we use as examples. And I would say, hey can you replicate this, you know? Those were my marching orders to him.

Lance Gilbert: Yeah, so we’d go out to the testing fields. We just came up with some great ideas, because Scott showed me what it was and I’m like thinking ‘God, how do we do that? How do we get a vehicle up in the air like that and really make it travel a long distance, too?’ Like they do, I mean, speeds I don’t even know how far those cars probably go at, you know? So we would just keep going to the testing grounds and just keep playing and playing and playing and playing. And ultimately we designed and got something that we would show Scott and he was like ‘You’re close, you’re getting close. And then we kept playing and–

Waugh: I was like really, really specific in how I wanted the car to fly. So it was accurate. Because of the way those cars are built with rear engines and the way they would oscillate to the car and, unfortunately it made it even more challenging for him.

Gilbert: Yeah, which we love, you know, everybody loves a challenge. And so ultimately we got there in our final testing days because we were slowly starting to run out of time to really get it to that special place he was looking for. And one of our last two windows of opportunity where we got to go out and play and test, we got to really pull off a couple attempts at it and make some minor tweaks with some weights and things and stuff. And then showed it to him and he was just like that’s it. Yes, sir.

So did you shoot that crash once or a couple times with a bunch of cameras?

Waugh: No, well, I mean, when you do the things that we do on the film, we only do things once. I’ve got cameras everywhere. Those cars are too expensive to try and do it again.

Was there anything that [Scott] conceptualized that [Lance] couldn’t do?

Waugh: No, it was the opposite. We conceptualized it, then we did it. Yeah, we threw everything out in the script that’s action oriented, then we start over and ’cause we wanna design the action set pieces for the locations. So we find the locations first, way early on, then we conceive, we come up with stuff that we can do in these crazy areas and come up with these crazy stunts that [Lance] thinks are, you know, that we can do and then we bring it back to the writer and say “Okay, this is what we’re gonna do.” And then they write that in.

Coming off Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul was very popular. What did you have to do to convince him to say “Hey, you’re gonna make this video game movie?”

Waugh: Yeah. I didn’t. I really didn’t. The thing that was interesting was his name came up to play the bad guy. And when I saw the tape on him, I was really blown away at how much this guy was like a young Steve McQueen and I thought he’d be great as the lead. And then when I talked to him for the first time, he was very humble and was very excited that I offered him the part. Because he normally doesn’t get offered these kinds of parts. And he said when he read the script, he saw the page Need For Speed and he was like “Oh I know what this is gonna be.” But then as he started reading it, he started to realize it’s not what he expected.

He got engrossed into the character and was like “this is actually a great story.” And I love that. I think the movie speaks for itself and people might perceive it as one thing, but when you see it, it’s another. And that was why he did the movie.

I remember playing Need for Speed for PlayStation 1. It’s been around forever. There’s been a million different releases.

Waugh: Since the ’90s.

Different spinoffs, different sequels. If this movie’s a hit, did you guys at any point discuss how to continue Tobey’s story or maybe to do a new story with a whole different type of racing? Was there any discussion of where the franchise might go?

No, not really. I think we have the band. The band can do anything. The Marshall Motors Band we called them, the group of guys [in the movie]. And the great part was, you know, we wanted Tobey out of jail at the end of the movie. So if the audiences want more, we’ll make more.

Need for Speed opens March 14. Read our review here.

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