Scott Waugh Talks Directing “Need For Speed,” Visulizing Stunts, Car Crashes, Bets With Aaron Paul, And More

Need For Speed director Scotty Waugh

Born into the stunt and action movie business, you can say that big movie stunts runs in Need For Speed director Scott Waugh‘s veins. His experience working with his father was at the golden age of stunts, where no CGI or green screen was necessary. Now Scott wants to bring that all back with Need For Speed, a love letter of sorts to films like Bullet, Smokey and the Bandit, and the French Connection. We were able to sit down with a few journalists to talk to Scott about what it was like to collaborate with long time friend and stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert, which cars they pushed to the limit, which cars they babied, translating what was on script to the big screen, and how he and Aaron Paul ended up fighting over a Gran Torino. Hit the jump to read the full interview.

How did you collaborate with Lance Gilbert? What exactly was discussed?

Scott Waugh: Lance has known me my whole life. He’s slightly older. But our fathers were best friends growing up as stuntmen, so we’ve been on movie sets, we’ve been doing stunts ourselves our whole lives, so we watching/being a part of with our fathers some of the greatest car movies that started the genre which was Bullet, Vanishing Point, Smokey and the Bandit, French Connection, these are like the movies my father and his father, who worked on Blues Brothers. We really wanted to do an homage/throwback to those great car movies which was all real stunts, no CG, let me say again: zero CG, everything practical, for real, actors doing their own driving, things that Steve McQueen did, Gene Hackman did, this is what I feel has become a lost art form in cinema. We are now relying on computer generated effects to do things that I don’t even understand why we are doing it anymore. It’s like we could still do that still. So we really wanted to find stuff and do things in the movie all practical, and that was our agenda the whole movie.

Most video game franchise adaptations have overarching narratives, but with Need For Speed, there really isn’t any. So what did you take from the game?

The greatest part about turning that game into a film is there wasn’t a narrative to it, because sometimes narratives for games work fantastic for the game but not for the movie. So we were very free about that, but they had a fantastic format, which is you don’t race on tracks, you race on roads, you work your way up through cars, and some of the game – when it first started, you raced against the cops, they brought that up again with (Need For Speed) Rivals, now you can race against the cops again, but also race as the cop. So it was fun, those kinds of things we knew about, and truthfully follows the format. You started to race classic, then move on to modern cars, graduate from the modern cars to the super cars. That kind is how racing naturally is anyways, you don’t suddenly jump into an F1 car and sudden become a racer, you work your way up through cars and get your wins. The movie works through that format and camera choice and angles we chose we wanted to pay respect to the game, why we chose the first person driving, because you do that in the game and it’s fun. But for me my father and his father developed the first helmet camera, this was in the late 70s when you would strap about 25 – 30 pounds on your head, which was kind of ridiculous in a lot of ways, like putting a dumbell from the gym on top of your head. But with today’s technology we started pushing the envelope on Act of Valor, where I could now put four pounds on somebody’s head and we can do a lot more. So I find that angle, that first person angle becoming my signature because it’s really immersive, the audience doesn’t sit back in the fourth wall and watch, they now participate in the movie, and what we did with this film is we wanted the audience to feel like Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). So it is the only time in the movie that you were ever in that first person position, we don’t do it from any other character’s perspective ever, it’s always Tobey Marshall, so that you get to feel like what it is to be him.

In a movie where there is easily millions of dollars worth of cars, was there any hesitation to use the unmodified cars for the big shots or did you let the stunt cars take all the abuse?

When it came to wrecking the cars on the super car side, but the other cars, the classic they did all their own stuff, they were built for racing. The mustangs, we built eight of them, they were designed for the movie as well. The super cars, when it came to wrecking them, they were like art pieces to me, like the Elemento, there’s only three of them in the world, so why would you wreck one for the movie and leave two left. And they are not built for that as well, so when we are going to put a stuntman to do a big cannon roll, we would never do that in any normal car, we would need to redesign to put a proper rollcage in there, and have a cannon or flipping device to make it flip, those cars aren’t made for that, so we definitely made these high-end kit cars that looked exactly like them, but were built to do what you are talking about. So all the super car wrecks were built with high-end kit cars, but are still very expensive as well, but they were safer.

So when working on a movie like this, how do you translate what’s on the script to what is seen in the movie?

What’s great about working with Lance is we collaborate really early on in the script. I don’t really like to – I like to reverse engineer set pieces and story boards. By going to locations that are really cool. You know what the storyline is suppose to happen: he’s suppose to start in last and end up in first, how he gets there let us come up with it. Sometimes when you get confined by a script, where he goes in an elevator, and then it launches him out. Now you are trying to find this building where you can do it, rather than letting the location drive the story. So we would go early on with the racing side of the movie, and then we would find the locations that would also ask us: what we could do here? I think it is a better way to work, because it frees you. You get to these locations, and you just stand there and dream, sit there and dream up stuff.

Need For Speed Director Scott Waugh

Each location is different for each racing style?

Like any movie, if the action stays the same it can get monotonous and boring. So each race and each set piece whether it was the hot fuel, the Detroit chase, the Moab scene, we film them in different ways to try to keep them unique to what was the story point around that. So we really paid attention to that, coming up with the stunts. We wanted to find moments that were in a little more of the Hollywood side, it’s just that fun set piece; we did that with flipping the Hummer, and obviously the catch with the helicopter.

Can you tell us more about shooting in Detroit?  The Grasshopper scene?  And how accepting the city was for you to shoot Need For Speed?

First of all we really wanted to go through Detriot because it’s the car capitol of the planet because we really thought it be appropriate to hook right off the highway to pick up Finn (Rami Malek) instead of go through Chicago.   Detroit was great.  It’s a city that is so photogenic.  Their architecture is so amazing for a camera.  Downtown is not that populated, so for us to do what wanted to do wasn’t complicated, because downtown isn’t a populated city right now. So the city was really great.  The police department was fantastic. We we’re very courteous to the locals, you know.  We wouldn’t just lock off the whole city.  We would do it in sections each day, we were being respectful to the community, and not just shut down their freeway.  The city was great, I was really happy we went there, it really is another throwback moment in the movie to some spots that hopefully people will remember.

How do you work in comedy in an action film like Need for Speed?

It’s really important for me, because action for me growing up my whole life is – for me is boring.  I’m 43, I’ve been around doing action for 43 years.  I can do it, and I can shoot it really well, but it doesn’t excite me.  What excites me is story, characters, character arcs, and finding those balance moments of levity. Because I don’t believe you can beat the same drum for two hours, you got to mix it up and let the audience have some moments of entertainment and laughter and then get back into it. because we really did worked those in subtly.  It’s hard because in a movie like this you don’t want to have over-the-top comedic bits, it’s got to fit in our movie, and Scott Mescudi – Kid Cudi – was so wonderful because he was never known to be that funny. But in life when I met him, he’s really a funny guy.  But with his music, he is really a deep spiritual dark guy, but in life he’s really a funny guy.  So I would encourage him to ad lib a lot, you know what we need to say, you how the guys are going to react, but let’s just go ahead and go off script with it, being that he is a rap artist, he is great with using words, so it was fun, he was really funny, he’s really a wonderful guy to work with.

What was your favorite car to work with or push to the limit?

When we built the classic cars, we ground restorated them from the ground up, brand new LS3 motors, beautiful cars we knew we were going to race them really hard, and old cars built to race like that we would have blown through suspension, everything the first day. So the Gran Torino was the car I just loved, and something that hadn’t been in movies that much, and we built two of them. Lance’s brother (doubling as Aaron’s character) wrecked one of them. We were hoping at the end of the movie, Aaron and I, he was going to get one and I was going to get one, and now that one is wrecked, and now that one is left, and Aaron and I have been fighting for the one last Gran Torino. So we’ve been saying Troy Gilbert’s name a lot, who wrecked the one car that we love the most.

Need For Speed stars Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Dominic Cooper, Rami Malek, Michael Keaton, Ramon Rodirguez, and more. It opens March 14.

Need For Speed movie poster

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