As of press time, the "Fast and Furious" series has grossed almost $2.4 billion at the box office since the first installment debuted in 2001, making it one of the most valuable franchises in film today. So it was a bit of a surprise when James Wan was tapped to direct "Furious 7," the last film of the series.
Prior to "Furious 7," Wan had never directed anything close to a big-budget action flick. His experience lies in low-budget horror films, though he's no stranger to success — he directed "Saw" and "The Conjuring."
When Wan stopped by The Frame recently, we talked about shooting action for the first time, developing a recognizable style and finishing the movie to honor Paul Walker.
How did your experience shooting low-budget horror films prepare you for a big-budget action movie?
The best thing about low-budget filmmaking, whether it's a low-budget thriller or a low-budget drama, is it forces you to be creative. When you're forced to make a movie with very limited resources, that kind of problem solving really helps you in the long run with with future films that may cost a lot of money to make.
I think Sam Raimi said that he was most creative when he had next-to-no money to work with to make his movies. The moment he had money, though, anything he asked for, they would make it happen. It's creative in that respect, but at the same time it also meant that whatever you can think of, people can make it work for you.
Because you have to be so creative, you develop a signature, something unique to the way you direct. Did your style find its way into this movie as well?
I think aesthetically my style is something that I've developed over the course of the six, seven movies I've directed now, and while the movies are pretty much shaped by the budget and resources I've had early on, in a lot of weird ways I see a lot of similar approaches that I did in my very first movie, "Saw," that I had to apply to "Furious 7."
In "Saw" I had such little money and so little time to shoot that film -- I think I shot 'Saw' in 18 days. I realized I had to really dig deep into my back of cinematic tricks to make the movie not look too cheap, shot on time, and on-budget. I had to cut around a lot of issues and I never thought I would have to do that again, but I found myself doing that in a huge way on "Furious 7," having to cut around a very big problem in this film. And that is, of course, no longer having Paul Walker around.
Paul Walker died pretty much halfway through filming. Is that about right?
That is about right.
Obviously there is a huge psychological, personal, and emotional shock to that. Once that's passed, you're talking using the skills you've developed as a low-budget filmmaker to craft a performance where you no longer have your lead actor.
I think the hardest part was just getting around the initial heartache. It took us a while to come to terms with the fact that Paul had passed on. After that, the reality of trying to finish this movie sank in, but it was very clear to all of us from early on that we had to finish this film for Paul to honor his legacy and his memories.
Without giving anything away, the ending of the film is, for an action movie, oddly emotional and somewhat out of character for this kind of film. How do you weigh and balance action and emotion?
The emotional part of it comes in waves. I joke and I say that I have a big bag of cinematic tricks, but in this movie I've literally exhausted every single one of them to make this work. Finishing this with visual effects to complete Paul was not something that we had factored in.
You have to bare in mind that the movie had a certain schedule, and to now have to include such a huge monumental undertaking was so big for all of us. We had very little sleep getting this movie finished.
It was a challenge of trying to find ways to rewrite the script, going back to the drawing boards, and asking, "What do we have from previous 'Fast' movies that we could potentially salvage?" We also had to figure out what had not been used on previous films, and maybe the movies might be other ones from outside the "Fast and Furious" world that we could use to help us out.
I want to say that there have been a lot of producers out there that have worked with Paul that, without even thinking twice about it, said that they would let us use their films.
You actually ended up using dialogue from other films?
We ended up not using dialogue from any other movie, but having said that, having some of what Paul might have done in other films to put into the rough cut meant gave us a direction to move into. We knew what we could do moving ahead.
Even though they might not actually be in the final movie, it was very helpful. Obviously, using doubles for visuals and having the visual effects team was helpful as well.
Do you actually know anything about cars? Do you know the difference between a carburetor, and fuel injection?
I just know the basics. [laughs]
What? That the gas pedal makes it go, and the break makes it stop? [laughs]
Yeah, exactly. I know that if you push this, it goes faster, and if you push on those it stops the car. People ask me what kind of car I drive, and I am very proud to say I drive an electric car.