Interview: Need for Speed Director Scott Waugh & Stunt Coordinator Lance Gilbert


This Friday, DreamWorks’ street-racing movie Need for Speed, based on the popular EA video game, hits theaters, starring Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper and Michael Keaton. As one might assume from the trailers and commercials, one of the movie’s big takeways (and really the reason to see it) is for the absolutely insane practical stunt driving that makes for some of the most jaw-dropping street-racing scenes.

Following his successful run as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a street racer thrown into jail after street racing accident that wasn’t his fault. Once he gets out, he’s determined to take on the man responsible for his imprisonment, Cooper’s Dino Brewster, in the prestigious De Leone race in California. Helping him is a mysterious backer known as Julia (Poots) and his crew of engineers as Tobey and Julia drive across country to make it in time for the race. got on the phone with director “Scotty” Waugh to talk about making the movie and since there’s so many stunts involved, he was joined by stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert, the two of them who just happened to work together on Torque, a movie this writer remembers well, being his first major junket. I just realized while doing research that you were the stunt coordinator on “Torque,” which was literally my first movie junket ten years ago, so I guess we’ve both come a long way since then.
Scott Waugh:
Wow. The irony of that conversation is that Lance and I worked together on that movie – he was the stunt coordinator and I was his assistant. It was a lot of fun though, because we had a really great time on that movie as stuntmen. I don’t know how the movie turned out, but we really had a really great time trying to push the envelope with the motorcycles and cars and trying to do stuff practically as well.

CS: “Need for Speed” was a lot of fun and it was quite different from your previous movie “Act of Valor,” so what made you want to do a movie with a studio based on a licensed property with a bigger budget?
You know, I’ve been involved in action my whole life and “Act of Valor” was a very specific movie that I wanted to make for the military communities, and action movies, but I wanted to do something completely different on the next movie. As you know, Hollywood will pigeonhole you extremely quick and I didn’t want to be a military action director only.

CS: That makes sense. Was EA Games very involved in developing the movie to make sure it kept aspects of the game or was it just a matter of having cool souped-up cars racing enough for it to connect?
It was a collaboration. They started and developed the screenplay and once DreamWorks bought it and I got involved, it really became a much deeper collaboration with Steven and Stacey Snider and everyone at DreamWorks and myself and EA would just bounce in to make sure we stayed true to the game.

CS: Obviously, you both have a stunt background and have done a lot of amazing things in your previous movies, but I saw a lot of things in “Need for Speed” that I’ve never seen before? and I see a lot of movies so I’m not that easily impressed. There are the big set pieces but there was one scene where Tobey’s car spun around over 360 degrees and then kept driving, so were you preparing a lot of things like that from the get-go when you first got the script?
What Lance and I do in our scripts, when I look at scripts and I read the action, almost all of the time, I just throw it all out. I know how the sequences and what the characters are supposed to do from page to page, but in terms of how they’re going to do it, I like to reverse-engineer it. Lance and I will go to a location and find locations that are very interesting and lend to possible ideas and then him and I will just sit there and dream up crazy stunts and things that we can do within those locations and that would give us those character plotpoints within it. Then we bring it back and have George and John Gatins write them in. It’s always trying to find something that’s different, that hasn’t been seen before and hopefully it’s possible. That’s the other thing. When we dream up the stunts, we know that we’re dreaming up stuff that we know we can do.

CS: Lance, you’re involved very early on, so when you’re coming up with stuff you know that is possible, do you also try to throw in some things that might be more of a challenge?
Lance Gilbert:
As we’re talking about the action pieces that we’re wanting to do, I know that they’re possible. It’s just a matter of figuring out the best technique and system to make it happen. Scott’s real good with buying into? if I tell him that we might have to do it like this as opposed to like that, he’s very open to hearing that, because he wants to know what truly is possible so that he can then get together with Shane, our DP, and work all the angles out to shoot it photographically and stylize it.

CS: Doing street-racing on empty streets is impressive, but when you have the race between Tobey and Dominic Cooper’s Dino Brewster on a busy highway against traffic with a lot of other cars involved. Are those streets shut down with a stunt driver in every vehicle?
Yeah, we would find highways that we could us that were like four or five miles long probably, so that we could shoot everything at speed, and then we just had a lot of support to have the place locked up and basically have a sterile environment to work in so that we knew every single person, the roads, the stunt players, they all knew the grid patterns that we drive and a lot of rehearsal and planning goes into every sequence, like the one that you’re talking about of checker boards and how to make sure everyone’s safe. It’s a long tedious process, but it’s the only way to do it.

CS: The cars play a huge part in this movie, obviously, so I assume these are all real cars that exist that have been customized and are out there. How do you go about dealing with these expensive cars? Do you create fake ones that you can wreck easily?
The ones that are really expensive we really take care of and ones we’re going to wreck, we like to design those cars to make sure they’re incredibly safe for the stunt guys with roll cages and they have the ability to do what we need to do. We don’t look at it from a budgetary standpoint. We look at it from the practical standpoint and what’s the best type of vehicle for that particular stunt.

CS: Did you shoot a scene of the guy who bought the Mustang for $2.7 million when he got the car back?
No, we never did. (laughs) But that would have been great, right?

CS: I was watching that whole sequence and thinking, “Boy, that poor guy has no idea what is happening to that car he just shelled out millions for?”
(laughs) I know! Maybe that’s the way we do a sequel, it would be great to see that.

CS: The casting for this movie is kind of unconventional, because I wouldn’t imagine either Aaron Paul or Imogen Poots in a movie like this and they’re really great together. Once they start hitting the road, the movie really picked up and I enjoyed that. What was the casting process like finding them?
I really wanted to find the next young Steve McQueen, somebody that was edgy, that was charismatic but was also really likable and I felt that when I saw Aaron Paul, he was considered for the bad guy and when I saw Aaron, I thought this kid is amazing and he’s really interesting and a better choice would be the lead, to find the kind of movie we’re making and I was really thrilled that he wanted to do it. Imogen Poots, she embodies unique and I love that about her. I think she’s a really strong woman. She brings such a strength and vulnerability that fares well in those leading siren roles and I loved that about her.

CS: I’m not sure how many insurance companies would allow a director behind the wheel, but were either of you behind the wheel behind any of the stunts you were particular proud of?
I retired from stunts in 2005, so I just don’t do them anymore. I’m directing and I wouldn’t even remotely have the time, but I always try to instigate my buddy Lance here to do them, but unfortunately, he’s in the same position. He doesn’t get the time to go play, because he has to focus on keeping everything organized and safe.

CS: Well, you guys have a great stunt team and I hope we’ll get to know more of them on the DVD or something.

CS: I always liked how you were always very supportive of the stunt community in the industry, because people tend to forget who is actually pulling off these amazing stunts in the action movies they love.
I just love movies without CG and I think it’s a lost artform in today’s filmmaking world and I’m trying to bring it back.

CS: How are things going with “Mouse” and the Bandito Brothers? Last time we spoke was for “Act of Valor,” which did better than you expected, so are you working on a sequel or a television show or both?
As of right now, there’s a possibility of an “Act of Valor 2” for a film but we will not be directing that, we will only be producing that if it goes.

CS: I hear “Mouse” (McCoy, Waugh’s Bandito Brothers producing partner) is directing his own movie as well or developing that?
Yeah, he’s working on his own film that he’s in development on.

CS: I remember “Act of Valor” was done very independently so are you looking to direct more studio movies? What’s your next step?
I had such a great time working at DreamWorks and I’m getting ready to do another one for Steven again at DreamWorks – it’s a heist movie we start shooting in June. It’s a heist movie, so it’s completely character driven, different style of movie yet I’ll be bringing my buddy Lance with me but that one’s not really all about the stunts, it’s really about the cleverness.

CS: Lance, do you have anything else lined up before then?
No, actually.
Waugh: He leaves with me in two days.

CS: Well good luck with those movies, guys. This one ended up being very different than what I expected which was something more like “The Fast and the Furious,” but the stunts really blew me away and I’d rewatch the movie just to see them again… Even though I don’t drive.
(laughs) That’s awesome! Well thanks a lot for the compliments, we really appreciate that.

Need for Speed opens nationwide on Friday, March 14.

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