Giving ‘Furious’ franchise its due
Director James Wan reflects on the special challenges of working on “Furious 7.”
The high-revving “Fast & Furious” franchise has made more than $2 billion worldwide since the first film launched in 2001. “Furious 7,” the latest installment, took in $143.6-million in its domestic debut over the weekend, delivering the biggest opening for the series. Director James Wan took over the reins from Justin Lin, who directed the last three films in the Universal Pictures franchise. Wan comes from the world of low-budget horror flicks. His 2004 directorial debut, “Saw,” which cost just $1.2 million to make, took in $56 million in the U.S. and Canada. His next box-office hit, “Insidious,” was shot for just $980,000 but grossed $97 million worldwide. Donna Langley, Universal Pictures’ chairman, said Wan “brought a little different sauce to the menu.” In a recent interview, Wan spoke about the franchise’s diversity, coping with the death of Paul Walker and finally finishing the film.
You have a background in low-budget horror movies — how did that help your vision for this film? What were some of the challenges of taking on big-budget action?
I think [my background] has helped with problem solving. At the end of the day ... it doesn’t matter whether the film is big or small, there are always issues you have to deal with. It just so happens that on a bigger film, you’re dealing with bigger problems.
My low-budget training has forced me to be creative in terms of finding solutions to deal with issues. I tried to apply that mentality to this film. The crowd for the “Furious 7” debut at the South By Southwest Festival was mostly non-festival-goers who were just super fans of the franchise. Why has it resonated with fans for so many years?
I think people really like the characters and the actors playing the characters. The reason that the action can be so larger than life is because the human characters are grounded in who they are.
Having such a diverse cast and crew is what makes the “Fast & Furious” films so unique to all the other studio tentpole films that just have a very singular look to them.
I think people really acknowledge that and appreciate that. Our culture today that we live in is getting so diverse, yet in Hollywood there’s not a lot of diversity.
It’s not just one element that makes a movie or series of movies so beloved. I don’t think action alone is enough to sustain a film franchise. There are tons of action movies out there that come and go and people don’t care about.
So many elements make up why people love this series of films. Obviously after Paul Walker’s death, everyone was emotional. As a director, how did you handle that on set while also managing the cast and crew?
It was very tough for all of us to begin with. We were all heartbroken by what happened.
The concept for me as a director was to pick up the pieces — wake up and get back on set and try to rally the troops to try and finish the movie.
It was a very daunting concept ... but it was one that we realized we had to do. We had to finish this movie. We wanted to finish this movie for Paul, we wanted to finish a movie that he is proud of that would honor his legacy and memories. What was it like working with Walker’s brothers, Cody and Caleb, on set?
The incredible thing about having the family with us to finish the rest of the movie was that it felt like there was closure for the actors. Paul’s brothers have mannerisms like Paul — they moved like Paul, talked like Paul — in a lot of ways it gave the actors closure. I know it also gave the family closure as well. It allowed Cody and Caleb to do one last thing for their brother. … It was important for them as well. I think at the end of the day that it was the right thing to do for all of us. How did you feel now that it’s done?
I feel bittersweet. It has been the most difficult journey of my career; it’s the hardest movie I’ve ever had to make. It was such a challenging movie before Paul’s passing to begin with and it just got more difficult after.
Now, to see people reacting to it and loving it and enjoying it — it’s a big relief for me.
I started out as wanting to make this the most fun movie I could. My goal became making a movie that Paul would be proud of.
“PEOPLE REALLY like the characters and the actors playing the characters,” director James Wan says.
THE CAST and crew had to “pick up the pieces” to finish “Furious 7” after the death of Paul Walker, second from right, according to Wan.