Original Film head honcho Neal H. Moritz has produced every film in the Fast & Furious franchise, guiding it from a small street racer movie to a global phenomenon. He just produced the eighth film in the series, The Fate of the Furious, and after this weekend’s record-breaking worldwide haul of $532 million dollars it seemed like a good time for ComingSoon.net to have an exclusive 1-on-1 with Furious producer Moritz about making the hit film, the Jason Statham controversy, the future of the franchise and a little bit about Shane Black’s Doc Savage movie starring Dwayne Johnson.
ComingSoon.net: As a producer, it’s your job to scout material that has serious potential. When you optioned the original article that the first movie was based on, did you ever dream that you would get eight movies deep into this?
Neal Moritz: No, absolutely no way. Anybody who would tell you any different is a liar. No. Honestly, I thought we were making a really cool kind of B-movie. And when I say B, I don’t use that as a negative way, but a really cool genre movie that was going to break the mold a little bit. The first time we screened the movie I walked out of the theater and walked into the parking lot and saw kids going crazy in their cars, I was like, “Wow. I think we have something special there.”
CS: It’s always had that kind of B-movie energy. It’s named after a Roger Corman movie.
Moritz: Yeah, and you know how we got the Roger title, right?
CS: No, how’d you get it?
Moritz: Okay. In fact, what’s funny is, my house is in LA. I can see Roger’s office 100 yards up the street from me, but I’m from a show biz family and was always going to movie theaters. My family was involved in the American Internationals Pictures, which made the Roger Corman movies, and I was always a huge fan of Roger Corman. I loved the movies he made and how he marketed the movies and so on. I went to go see a documentary with my father on AIP and Roger Corman. We were making “Fast and the Furious” at the time we had gone back and forth between a number of titles: “Race Wars,” “Red Line.” I can’t remember what the titles were, but they were all kind of, “Street Wars,” they were all bad titles. We were looking for a title, and I was sitting there watching a documentary, and I went, “I need to come up with a title like Roger Corman would.” I’m watching the documentary, and there was a movie called “Fast and Furious” that he had made, and I was like, “That is a f*cking great title.” I called Universal and I said, “I got the title” and I said, “The Fast and the Furious.” There’s just silence on that end. I go, “Ugh, maybe that’s a terrible title,” and he goes, “Well, let me think about that,” the marketing guy. The next morning, he called me and he goes, “You know what? I’ve been thinking about that title all night and that’s a great title.” So then we went to Roger Corman, and we tried to get the title and the deal that we made is, we gave him stock footage. Universal gives stock to a bunch of movies they’ve done, and in return, he gave us the title. He gave us the title.
CS: And then he used that stock on his movies?
Moritz: It’s fitting, very fitting.
CS: Now that you’re eight movies in, the actors themselves must feel some sense of ownership over these characters. How do you cater to their creative impulses while making sure the audience and the fans also get what they want?
Moritz: Well, look, I think that they know their characters as well as anybody. Obviously, we would be idiots to not take all that into account, and we work closely, developing these characters and the storylines that encompass them. It’s not like we’re off working and then we just hand them things and say, “Here it is.” We work closely along the way. And as somebody says, “My character wouldn’t do that,” we think long and hard and probably end up changing it because they know it as well or better than we do. So it’s a very collaborative process, and they feel an incredible amount of ownership on each of their characters and obviously, we respect that.
CS: Logistically, what do you think was the most difficult set piece to mount from your end?
Moritz: Cuba. Cuba, just because no studio had shot a movie there in 50 years or whatever it was, and we were going into—we had to deal with the US government, the Cuban government, and then all the practicalities of trying to make a movie where there were very few hotel rooms for an entire crew. We had to bring in everything from the toilet paper to the camera to shoot the movie there. I think that it was the most difficult, but it was definitely worth every ounce of difficult. To me it’s the soul of the movie, Cuba. The car culture there, the lifestyle there, the people there, the ingenuity of the people there, just to me, completely embody what “Fast and Furious” is.
CS: It’s a fantastic sequence, very well directed. I joked with Gary that it seemed like it was fate for him to direct this movie, since he’d worked with four of the actors before, and he’d done another car chase movie. Besides that surface career stuff, what do you think Gary really brought to the series?
Moritz: I think what he talked about the whole time was that he wanted to get the best performances out of each of these characters that we’ve ever had in “Fast,” and I think that he spent a lot of time and effort to make that happen. I think that that’s what makes the film different. There’s an incredible amount of heart, humor, empathy, drama, you know what’s going on. Being able to mix the qualities of all those different things is really a hard thing to do, and I think that he was able to do. Even though the scenes are very different tone-wise, he was able to keep a consistent tone through the movie, and there was just enough on each character. I think he wanted the drama, but when the drama got too much, they wanted comedy and action, and we were able to mix some stuff, and it just really helped.
CS: The tone of the movie was pretty perfect throughout, but something I talked to Gary and Chris about was a little twinge of unease after seeing the movie about Statham’s character being welcomed within the group after he just killed Han one movie ago. In the reviews since that has become a target of criticism. Was that something you and Chris and Gary anticipated?
Moritz: Well, we definitely talked about it. Our feeling is that if that is the case I understand why there’s a criticism. But what I really believe is whether you’re Vin, whether you’re Statham, whether you’re The Rock, any of these characters, you could have a code. Okay? And the one thing that they all have in common is, is “family first.” The reason Statham did all this was to protect his family, and I think that that was the reason that there’s an understanding. It’s something that I think in future films we will probably talk a lot about it. We have some surprises up our sleeve, I think.
CS: It didn’t bother me personally as much as it did other people, because I sort of see these movies as big budget soap operas. It is amazing how attached people get to these characters. How do you and Chris, as the caretakers of this series, sort of thread the line between self aware and tongue in cheek? Like, what’s the line you don’t cross to avoid going into camp?
Moritz: I mean, we don’t want to jump the shark and we don’t want to do something that is not organic to who each of the characters are, and that’s really the guiding principle. They get tired of me saying it in a lot of meetings: I’ll be sitting in and something will come up and I’m like, “That’s not ‘Fast and Furious.’ That’s not a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie.” Everybody gets tired of it and they mock me and ignore it. But I really am serious about that.
CS: Yeah, well that is your job. You’re there for quality control and you’re there to keep it consistent and make sure it doesn’t jump the shark.
Moritz: Yeah, we try! We’re trying to grow and stay the same at the same time, because we want for people to get what they expect out of a “Fast and Furious” film, but surprise them at the same time.
CS: Vin has called these last three movies a concluding trilogy. What is it that makes them specifically a trilogy and not just another series of sequels, 8, 9, 10?
Moritz: I think it’s because of the way we’re going to end the whole thing. I think it’s all leading up to something that will be really, really interesting and cool and emotional.
CS: Are there treatments or full drafts of the next two?
Moritz: No, nope. We have a lot of ideas, but to be honest, I kind of am the one constantly saying to people, “One great movie at a time. Let’s make it great and then work on 9.” Other people want to think farther ahead. I really want to just concentrate on them one at a time. I don’t even believe there’s a nine until eight comes out, or there’ll be 10 until nine comes out. That is not the mindset. I believe that we’ve got to prove to the audience each time that there’s a reason for them to come back for the next one.
CS: Absolutely. And I also wanted to let you know, I’m a huge Shane Black fan. Since it was announced, I’ve been very jazzed about him doing “Doc Savage.”
Moritz: Yeah, we love him. We’re just waiting on the draft.
CS: It seems like a perfect fit for his sensibilities.
Moritz: It’ll be amazing. Amazing.
CS: And I know you guys are sort of waiting on Dwayne, but what kind of spin would you expect Shane to put on that character?
Moritz: Well, I just think Shane does everything with attitude, you know? He just has an ear for the best dialogue, idiosyncratic, interesting, funny, dark. He’s just a unique talent. I don’t think there’s any other writer who can write dialogue like he can.
CS: Yeah, no, absolutely. But it’s interesting because Doc Savage was in a lot of ways kind of a superhero prototype, back in the day.
Moritz: I mean, we look at him that he’s the first superhero.
CS: Absolutely. I mean, as we’ve seen in the past, with things like, for example, like “John Carter,” obviously existed before “Star Wars.” But by the time it came out, people were like, “Oh, this is too much like ‘Star Wars.’” How do you sort of avoid that pitfall of having a property where a lot of these things sprang from, but sort of make it more contemporary and avoid those comparisons?
Moritz: I just think that that’s what Shane knows how to do. He just knows how to do that. We’ve entrusted it with him. I’m a huge believer in him, and I think he’s going to make an amazing film. I think he’s going to make a film that’s going to be unlike any other superhero film.