'Bad Boys For Life' Directors Bilall Fallah And Adil El Arbi On Reigniting The Franchise [Interview]

After 17 years of waiting, we finally got to see the bad boys of Miami grow up with Bad Boys For Life. And it was worth the wait. Without Michael Bay at the helm, the Miami cops actually got to grow a little, have some real heart-to-heart moments, and do and say things we just don't see in Bay's movies. Co-directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi managed to recharge the franchise and make a sequel both modern and nostalgic.

After the success of Bad Boys for Life, another sequel is already in the works. If all goes according to plan, expect Fallah and El Arbi back to direct. While speaking with the Belgium filmmaking duo behind Black, which is what caught Will Smith and Jerry Bruckheimer's attention, they told us about their plan to direct one more sequel. They also told us about making the movie's massive motorcycle chase scene, paying homage to Bay and the '90s, and more.

This interview contains spoilers for Bad Boys For Life.

After 17 years of waiting for a sequel, obviously, you have to deal with a lot of expectations. What did you want to do that was both new and familiar for fans of the franchise? Adil: Well, the movie is like an homage to Bad Boys, the action movies from the '90s, Tony Scott and Michael Bay movies, Jerry Bruckheimer movies, Lethal Weapon, all these cop movies of the '90s and the end of the '80s. We wanted to have that nostalgia feel in the movie and at the same time, we wanted to put more emotion in those characters. They're now older and there's more conflict between them, with the fact that they are on different paths. Just going deeper; that is the thing that we added new to it. Jerry always said it is all about the characters. "You can be explosive, but at the end of the day, you need to care for the characters." So, it was really great to have Jerry, the producers, and also the studio and the marketing, they all got it.You pay homage to the signature Michael Bay shot of the low-angle camera revolving around characters at a time of crisis. Did you know immediately the right moment for that shot? Any debate? Bilal: With our cinematographer, we analyzed a lot of Michael Bay movies and that shot is just a trademark of his. There weren't a lot of places where we could do that. The scene reminded us of the fight in the first movie in Miami, and that is why we did it then. At the same time, we're having exactly the same score in that particular shot from the first movie. So, if you analyze that, the score is even similar.Since you analyzed Michael Bay movies with your cinematographer, what stood out to you about him as a filmmaker?Adil: He moves the camera a lot.[Laughs] Yes.Adil: And there is a lot going on and there are always people in the background and in the foreground, so his shots are really very, very rich. That low-angle sidetracking, slow motion shot, that is really only something that he does. Also, the 360-shots where the actor also moves counter-clockwise, we did that with Michael Bay himself and his little cameo. That is a Michael Bay shot with Michael Bay. So, these kind of things are what we tried to do. We tried to do some Bay here and there, but also have our style, so you have like a hybrid version of what we are doing and what he is doing. But there is a difference in style between the Bad Boys I and Bad Boys II, actually. They are very different and we wanted to do something that is right in the middle. It was a bit of a challenge because when we read the script to the movie, okay, what do we follow? Do we follow the first one or do we follow the second one?Bilal: They are so different from one another, so we really have to do a melding of both.The one scene that is a little more Bad Boys II is that motorcycle chase, leading to a standoff with a helicopter. It's great. Can you walk me through shooting that scene?Adil: Well, a lot of sleepless nights because we don't have experience in making such a big action sequence and we also wanted to avoid the green screen. If you look at the '90s action movies, it is all practical stunts, so that is something we really wanted, and it was a high priority for us.Bilal: I suppose here and there we have to use them because we couldn't do everything practical, but we tried to keep it to a strict minimum and feel the danger. We didn't have the budget of a Marvel movie, so we had to be very creative also with the resources we had. And you want the fans of the Michael Bay movies, like of the crazy chase scene in Bad Boys II, we want to satisfy them. So, we did a lot of planning. We had a great crew that had done big action movies, so we were surrounded with the best of the best. We had a super team. They were so experienced because they had worked on Marvel movies and Fast and Furious movies, so we could ask them, "Can we pull that off?" Or, "How can we do these shots and all of that?" So they were a great support. And everything was storyboarded. Every shot was a discussion. We shot in the winter, which was really difficult because we have to make it look like Miami in the summer, and putting the actors outside in the scene in the middle of the night...Adil: And then when we were editing, there was so much footage and the first version of it was endless. Everybody was saying tone it down [Laughs]. And Jerry was also telling us, "Focus on the characters, the action has got to start from there." So, basically, that is the balance that we did. It was the most difficult piece. We had sleepless nights, but I think it turned out pretty okay [Laughs].bad boys for life trailerAs you said, you don't have Marvel money, so how did you want to achieve more scope than what you had? Like, the color purple for instance in the warehouse shootout, does a touch like that just make a movie feel bigger to you guys?Bilall: Yes, we love color. We learned in Belgium how to make our movies bigger than they are. We had like 1.2 million or 3 million, but you want to make it look as epic as possible and international as possible and the use of color really helps so much.Adil: Then our cinematographer, he is a genius in light, and he just enhanced the whole time, and specifically that action sequence where you have the smoke, well, we didn't have money to do that. It was not planned that it was that elaborate of an action sequence. That is one where we really had to be creative.You said the motorcycle chase was much longer. How much longer was it? Adil: I don't remember but it was 12 minutes, maybe. I think the first cut of the movie was like 2 hours and 26 minutes. So, I think that action sequence went on for 12 minutes and it was boring as hell [Laughs].Bilall: Working with the producers and the studio and also Will, they were like, you gotta have some balance, guys. We were afraid it wouldn't be epic enough. We'd hear, "Guys, we think you can do it shorter." No, no, no, there's not going to be action anymore [Laughs].[Laughs] What challenges were involved in the final action scene in Mexico?Adil: That was difficult because it was so many shots, characters, moving parts, and CG. A part of the set was CGI. It was the biggest part of the movie and we didn't have much experience with CGI, so it was sometimes difficult to imagine how it would all end it up. It is the climax of the movie, so you want to make it exciting but also not just going through it and have too many people. So, that version also was like 20 minutes, and you have 50 people getting killed and we have to tone it down [Laughs].How important was it for you guys to make this no more than two hours? Bilall: Yes, that has always been super important because we felt like we don't want to overstay its welcome, it needs to be like a fun ride. You take your popcorn and just go. You have to really have a good reason to go over two hours. A lot of those movies are over two hours, they haven't been all that, and sometimes I feel they could have been shorter.Since Martin Lawrence and Will Smith know these characters so well now, what was most important for them?Bilall: Well, it was really important to tell that story the concept of friendship, like we ride together, die together. The fact that one is changing and the other one wants to be a bad boy forever, that conflict has to be throughout the whole movie and we have to preserve because that is the heart of the movie. We have the same thing, and that was the thing that really attracted us. So, we wanted to explore in all manners, always.How is Michael Bay as an actor? Adil: Well, actually he was very nervous because he was learning his lines and he didn't want to mess up. He's a perfectionist. He was really going all the way. When we had to direct the shot, we didn't have to direct him. He knew exactly how to move himself and from the first take, it was perfect. I think it was perfect on the second take, too. When I directed his shot, he was on point.At the end of the movie, it looks like Bad Boys could become Will Smith's Mission: Impossible or Fast franchise. Was that idea ever considered?Bilall: Actually, we were not sure if it was going to be more open-ended, suggesting there might be another movie and we went back and forth about it. It has been in and out the whole time. It wasn't decided until the last second. For us, if this was the last movie in the series, we're happy everybody is happy with it.Adil: If the audience wants to see more, and if there is a good story, that is also a possibility. But we are not planning on doing like ten of those movies [Laughs]. There will be only one more story for us and that's it.


Bad Boys for Life is now in theaters.