From the Set: Need for Speed’s Stuntwork Keeps It Real

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Earlier this year, ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to visit both the Detroit, Michigan set and, a few months later, the Los Angeles, California edit bay of director Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed, the upcoming adaptation of the hugely popular EA video game franchise. Although we have to keep much of what we saw secret for the time being, DreamWorks Pictures has given us the green light to report on one of the film’s unique elements that is very prevalent in the just-released trailer (watch it here): the film’s practical stunts.

“When it was placed in my lap, I instantly thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be another ‘Fast & Furious’ film,” says star Aaron Paul. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those films are super-entertaining. That’s why they’re so highly successful. But I read the script and I went, ‘Oh, wow. This is really interesting.’ Then I heard the pitch from Scott Waugh and heard that he wanted to do a full throwback to the ’60s and ’70s classic car-culture films. Stuff like ‘Bullit.’ I thought that was very interesting.”

“For me growing up in the ’70s,” says Waugh, “I was so amazed at the car movies… ‘The French Connection,’ ‘Grand Prix,’ ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ You keep going down the list of all of these fun movies and I feel like we don’t do that anymore. It all became a big CG ride and I pride myself on trying to do everything in camera.”

In the case of Need for Speed, that meant some very highly-trained professionals doing some very precise work. Among the scenes showcased in the edit bay was the film’s “grasshopper” stunt in which Paul’s Tobey Marshall escapes his pursuers by driving straight up an inclined highway median, shooting over several lanes of traffic and landing on the other side.

“That was speeding down the freeway at god knows what speed,” says Paul, “going up this ramp and flying over three or four lanes of traffic. That’s all practical. They actually did it. It wasn’t CG. They did it. I was just like, ‘Oh my god. Please be okay.’ Seeing that happen, I was like, ‘Thank god that isn’t me.’”

In many cases, however, it was Paul behind the wheel. Waugh, a second-generation stuntman himself, insisted that his actors actually be behind the wheel whenever possible.

“I was talking to Steven [Spielberg template='galleryview']–> about the actors needing to drive,” says Waugh, “and that’s what was so cool about Steve McQueen. Steve McQueen did all of his stunts. I said, ‘Whoever we get, we’ve got to train so they can do all of their driving!’”

“He wanted all the action sequences to be practical,” Paul says. “He didn’t want all of this to be done behind a computer after we shot it all. He said, ‘You’re going to have to be behind the wheel and doing all these crazy races.’ I was like, ‘That’s fantastic! Let me do that!’”

At a stunt-course in Los Angeles, Paul learned the ins and outs of car stonework, including driving, reverse 180s and 360s. Mostly, however, the course concentrated on what to do if that worst-case scenario were to turn up.

“Once you understand the mechanics of the car in that sort of way,” Paul continues, “it’s amazing the kind of things you can do. It’s so much easier than you would think. Just flying towards a mark and slamming on the e-brake. Just drifting, sliding around. You can do 360s or reverse 180s. It’s actually a lot easier than you would think. I recommend anytime you can get into a rental car, use that emergency brake. It’s a blast. It’s incredible.”

Cars weren’t the only vehicles used for stonework in the film, either. Kid Cudi’s character, Benny, is a pilot and flies a number of different kinds of aircraft throughout the story.

“It’s a big running joke in the movie,” says Waugh, “but he ends up stealing a news helicopter and he’s chasing them through the city. We were able to fly the helicopter through the city at street level and it was kind of one of those things where you sit back and you’re like, ‘Dude, that’s real!’ Because you’re so used to seeing how most of these helicopter movies are always fake now. But then you see it real: A helicopter flying through the streets and a Mustang is chasing it!”

Because he’s got first-hand experience being behind the wheel of some very dangerous stunts, Waugh is extra determined to impress audiences and has established a rule at his company, Bandito Brothers, that no stunt may defy the laws of physics.

“If you break physics,” he says, “it hurts the story because then the characters don’t apply to the physics either. So, if a car can jump off a bridge 100 feet up and land on the ground and keep going, then my characters can get shot and their head blown off and they can keep going too, because it just doesn’t apply. I wanted to make sure that everything in this movie is authentic and real, so we put the cars through things that it would survive so that the characters’ stakes are real. So you really feel for the revenge story and you really believe in it, because it feels real and it’s not a fantastical world. It’s a very practical world.”

While Paul hopes that Need for Speed is the first of many leading roles on the big screen, he’s also delighted to have a new talent to fall back on.

“Scotty Waugh, our fearless leader, said, ‘If this acting thing doesn’t work out, you can come join the stunt team,’” he laughs. “Absolutely. I was actually questioning my career, thinking, ‘Actually, this is a lot more fun than acting! … Everyone, the stuntmen and women, are such a family. Scott’s a second-generation stuntman. [Lance template='galleryview']–> Gilbert is our third-generation stuntman, the stunt coordinator. Anytime before a massive stunt they would gather around and hug each other. They wouldn’t necessarily say goodbye, but they would say, ‘See you on the other side.’ Because they’re about to do something crazy.”

Also starring Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Michael Keaton and Dakota Johnson, Need for Speed hits theaters March 14, 2014. Check back for more interviews with the cast and crew between now and then!

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