Fast cars and big explosions. These are the things that the movies are made for. Ever since Steve McQueen tore around San Francisco in Bullitt, filmmakers have desperately tried to one-up each other on screen with vehicular mayhem. In the 70s, it was all about gleefully dangerous street chases like The French Connection or Freebie And The Bean. In the 80s car chases turned into slapstick after The Blues Brothers. In the 90s, every movie created by Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, or both featured the most expensive cars around doing the most stupidly dangerous stunts possible (Bad Boys, The Rock, etc). The 2000s, well they’ve been run by the increasingly insane Hot Wheels shenanigans of the Fast & Furious series. Enter Scott Waugh. The lifelong stunt man learned the trade from his father (who had him doing dangerous work on film from his teens) and has been involved in everything from Last Action Hero and Waterworld to Spider-man and Bad Boys II. Following the military action flick Act Of Valor, Waugh became a director and his next goal was to use his stunt expertise to helm a wild n’ hairy car chase picture.
Scott Waugh eventually ended up in charge of the Need For Speed movie. Given that the videogame series was free of plot and characters to allow for more hotrod races and chases, it was the perfect cinematic vehicle to race and blow up… er… vehicles. Waugh went out of his way to ditch any and all CGI enhancements to ensure all of his gearhead fantasies were real. Then to carry the movie he went to the man they call Jesse, bitch. That’s right, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul stepped into his first starring role in a film to drive fast and blow up stuff real good for Scott Waugh. CGM recently got a chance to speak with the playfully chatty Scott Waugh and Aaron Paul about their experience making the Need For Speed movie. We touched on everything from their indifference to the videogame and insistence on death-defying practical stunts to the day that Aaron Paul almost hit his director with a car. Read on for all the gasoline-drenched details.
Comics Gaming Magazine: For some reason it seems like American muscle cars seem to be the go-to vehicle for car chase flicks like this. What do you guys thinks draws filmmakers and audiences into that world so often?
Scott Waugh: In the movie, when we did the scene at the drive-in theatre at the beginning where it’s kind of like a “car hop,” we reached out to all the local car clubs and said “Hey, come out and bring whatever cars you want.” We wanted it to be like this real traditional kind of drive-in vibe that we all grew up with. Almost 99% of the cars that showed up were old American classics.
I just find that in the world demographic, not just in the United States, we still thrive on those cars. I think that’s because they have become the definition of “classics.” They don’t build them anymore and we get to modify them and trick them out. A lot of people take a lot of care and effort to restore them to their original specs and a lot of people like to have a lot of fun with them. I feel like they’re just cars that people like to tinker with. They just are! I don’t really know how to define it. We just like classics.
Aaron Paul: I’m taking home that Gran Torino. We have been fighting over that thing since that Gran Torino was built.
SW: (Laughs) That was the only car in the film that we specifically sought after because the ’68 Torino was a great car that hasn’t been in too many moves. We really like things like the Camaro and the Charger, but those have been used for these kinds of things in millions of movies. The Gran Torino is a car that has been memorable, but only in a few movies. Clint used it in his movie, but that was a ’71, and that had a totally different body style.
AP: We really wanted to find Toby’s car that could be an extension of ourselves. So technically, since it was Toby Marshal’s car and I PLAY Toby...
SW: But I designed it...
AP: You didn’t design it... (Laughs)
SW: Wait! No!
AP: I think that should go into the actor’s garage. The actor who played the character.
SW: You can take the one that was totaled!
AP: That doesn’t make ANY sense.
CGM: What was the most difficult stunt to pull off in the movie, both for Scott as a director and Aaron as an actor?
AP: I knew how to drive before this film. I had my license and everything! But I definitely did not know how to drive like this. I guess the first thing for me was to get thrown into one of these cars on a race track and just really teach me how to mainly get out of problematic situations to start and just learn how to drive at very high speeds in a very controlled manner.
I did a lot of the driving, but in terms of fancy stunt work, a lot of that was Tanner Foust. Those cars at the end were definitely not me. But I remember [Scott] coming up to me and saying “We gotta get that pick up shot of the jump. Maybe you can do it. Maybe. But you’re going to have to stick around all day.” I ended up not doing that.
But one thing that I had to do that I was really nervous about was that thing where I kind of had to slide up to you and stop just short of the camera on that bridge. I had to drive at the camera at a little bit more than 70 miles an hour because I needed just enough speed. There’s this scene in the film that kind of gets the whole movie going where my friend Petey crashes and flies over a bridge. Tobey flips the car around and he’s driving straight at the camera and he flings open the door and runs out. I had to get the car literally inches away from where the camera was, and there’s a human being attached to that camera.
SW: It was me. I was expendable.
AP: He’s just the director! Everything’s fine now. (Laughs) The reason why he did it was because I don’t think any of the camera operators wanted to be handling the camera during that shot. I mean, you knew I could drive, but you still could have died. (Laughs)
Scott was just, like, “Don’t worry about it. Just come at me.” Because the first time we tried it, I was really short, and he just said “Listen. Come at me. It’s fine. You’ve been behind the wheel for a long time now. It’s alright. If you go past your mark a little bit, I’ll just roll over the hood of the car.” Well, that didn’t make me feel any better about the situation. (Laughs) So I go and do it again, and I was closer, but I was still a little short still.
SW: I just said, “Come in, hit your mark, don’t worry about it.”
AP: You told me to come in hot.
SW: “Don’t worry about me. This isn’t the first car hit I’ve done. Just come in.” So he came in and he’s coming and I am looking through the lens and I can just hear the throttle and I just kind of thought “Uh oh. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” (Laughs) So he comes drifting in towards me and I just clenched up and I just said, “I’m not moving.” I literally just like a little girl just closed my eyes and screamed “AAAAHHHH.” And then I heard the brakes screeching and it stops and I open my eyes and there he is literally two inches from the matte lens and I just went “Oh my god. Did I get it?”
AP: But what was the hardest one for you to set up?
SW: For me it had to be “the grasshopper.” The scene where the car goes up an incline on a patch of grass between a highway and an off-ramp. We had to do this practical jump for real, and have it done in a way that was believable. Everything in the movie was done practically, so obviously it had to be believable or we wouldn’t use it. The car also needed to sustain no damage and to then drive away. Logistically, I knew that we could do it, but we had to find that location. That took us months to find just the right incline where the car could travel far but not super high. If you go too high, you’re going to smoke the transmission and destroy your axels. We had to find a natural downside ramp that the car could land on and soften the blow. That area that you see in the movie is 175 feet long, but it’s really only about 15 or 16 feet up. It was kind of one of those really cool kind of practical optical illusions.
AP: How many cameras did you have rolling on that particular one?
SW: We had every camera out that we had at our disposal, which was 27, I think.
AP: Yeah, that was something looking around and seeing 27 cameras.
SW: It was definitely a “one-taker.” We weren’t trying that one again.
CGM: I was impressed by all the cameras you had mounted to cars as they were crashing in the film, which was a pretty great effect. Did you just assume those cameras were just going to get destroyed?
SW: We learned that GoPros are essentially indestructible. (Laughs) It was unbelievable. We smashed them. We set them on fire. We did everything. Sometimes even if they melted or somehow got smashed up, the card inside them was still good. We got so much stuff that way.
AP: The scene where Toby is flying down during the Mount Kisco race where he hits a shopping cart, that shopping cart had four GoPros on it. Did one of them get lost? I think there was one where it took us all a really long time to find it. That’s how hard they can get hit and survive.
CGM: Was it distracting at all to be acting with that many cameras on you?
AP: Well, most of the time I’m really just driving the car when there are that many cameras on me at once. You just get lost in driving the car. Even on Breaking Bad we did, um, “driving.” Nothing like this! There was some driving that we would do on a sound stage where it would be this poor man’s process where people would be outside and just shake the car a little bit to look like we were driving.
SW: That kind of stuff drives me absolutely bonkers! (Laughs) But you bring up a great point because it’s not all about being a stunt man and hitting your marks. Toby is in a very emotional place.
AP: Yeah. I know you aren’t going to hear it in the film, but I’m sure you heard it in the mic when I was pulling up in that scene we just talked about because there’s no camera in the car. Just the one that I am flying towards. I’m on the other side of the bridge in the car and I am just getting into it. I’m screaming from the core, just emotionally getting into that place for that scene. So as I’m driving, I’m literally screaming. I don’t know if you heard that while you were filming because maybe you could only hear the motor of the car over it, but I was screaming and just trying to get to a place. Sometimes you just give in and you just forget. My process is to just force myself to believe that these situations are actually happening to me as the character. I really and truly don’t see the cameras. Except for that one you were holding. I made sure to see that camera. (Laughs) I didn’t want to hit you. But you just get lost in it.
CGM: The movie has a nice old school racing flick vibe to it. There are a lot of references to old school car flicks throughout the movie like Bullitt and Vanishing Point. But, more importantly it was nice to see a focus on actual stunts and car chases rather than a CGI festival. Was it difficult to convince a Hollywood studio to make this the old fashioned way?
SW: You’ve got to go out and do it for real. I mean, that’s really the only answer. We don’t do that nowadays. The reason why I’m probably allowed to do is because of my background and my track record. I take safety into massive consideration. I don’t take it lightly at all. I might be on the other side of the camera now, but it’s still my friends on the other side, and I don’t want to hurt any of my friends. They’re my brothers. We go the distance to let everyone know that we are going to be going over all of these scenes for each and every contingency plan.
AP: The planning to every single shot in this film is really grueling if you ever look at it. It’s never a matter of “Oh, you’re a stuntman, you’ve done this before, just get in the car and do this.” It’s never like that. Safety is obviously everybody’s main priority.
SW: And it’s also a lost art form. I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to follow in my dad’s footsteps. He was really one of the pioneers in that world of being a real action director, and I feel so lucky that I can still do that. I don’t know why we have just gotten so lazy. We think CGI is just a cure all for everything. If you can’t do it for real, maybe sometimes it just isn’t worth doing.
CGM: Was it hard to create the environment to get the set to a place where you could be comfortable having someone like Aaron, who didn’t know before, come in and do a stunt like the one we were talking about and say “If you hit me, that’s okay.”?
SW: Yeah, but that’s exactly what you need to create. That’s what the stunt community has, trust. The set needed to have that. I needed to have that fun where boys can be boys and everyone just messes with each other, but because we love and trust each other, I wanted Aaron to see exactly the world that I grew up in so he could learn and see what that’s like so he would understand. And Aaron, and Dominic Cooper who did a lot of driving as well, both of them saw what went into what we do so they would never take it lightly. When he got behind the wheel, he would know that we might be joking throughout the day, but when I said action there was no more bullshit and everyone is on their A-game. And Aaron was so great with that. Everyone on the set turns the switch on when it’s time to go, but when it’s time to turn it off, it’s fun.
AP: And you even said when I was stopping short for that particular shot and you said it was okay to hit him with the car, that’s him saying “I trust you.” So once he said that it was towards the end of the shoot and I had been driving for months and doing a lot of crazy stuff, but this was the first thing I did where someone else could have been in a dangerous spot.
SW: I never would have put myself in that position if I didn’t have that trust in someone. I’m not stupid. I think the thing that defines stuntmen is different from what people think it is. People think we’re daredevils. We’re not. None of us are Evel Knievel. In this job, we do the Evel Knievel jump every day 365 days. He did it once a year so he can go to the hospital, heal himself up, then come back again. We are the exact opposite. We make sure that we don’t get hurt. With that you develop that trust. Aaron and I had that trust. I knew he wouldn’t hit me. I knew he wouldn’t. But if I pushed him a little bit he would feel comfortable enough for him to get that close to me. Plus I had safety men standing behind me just in case. (Laughs) I can say this now, but I did say to them “If it looks like he’s going to hit me, pull me.”
CGM: And did you two spend much time with the Need For Speed game in preparation?
SW: Not really. (Laughs)
AP: I’d played some of them and they’re a lot of fun, but you know, this was a pretty different beast. There was enough to worry about.