James Wan must be a machine, because he’s had three movies released in the last two years. Furious 7 was originally scheduled for last summer, so he was close to having three films released in the span of one year. That has to be some sort of record, right? Speaking with the filmmaker behind The Conjuring and Insidious over the phone, he claims he’s exhausted, but his enthusiasm says otherwise.
This a new phase of Wan’s career, so he’s understandably excited. The director, known for his horror films, takes his first crack at the world of blockbuster filmmaking. As if directing a big studio movie wasn’t difficult enough, Wan and all involved faced a terrible tragedy with the passing of Paul Walker. Having to rework the movie could have led to a disaster, but the reviews indicate a tough production didn’t hinder the film.
This sequel is the biggest and craziest entry in the series yet, which is saying a lot. Wan couldn’t exactly reinvent the wheel ‐ and why fix what’s not broken? ‐ but he sees an advantage in joining a franchise this late in the game. “I have to be mindful of what had come before this one, what worked, and what people expected,” he tells us. “I was very respectful of all that, but at the same time, in an odd way, it was liberating. The series had been growing in the last few films, getting so big and outrageous. With this one, I was free, in a lot of ways, to design the most insane set pieces I can think of.”
Wan has been dying to make an action movie since his directorial debut, Saw, and he describes Furious 7 as his opportunity to throw everything he’s got into the kitchen sink. And he does, in a big way. How huge is this sequel? Well, Wan refers to the film’s team as “blue-collar superheroes,” so that tells you something.
There’s a few major moments in the film we wanted to ask Wan about, and he was kind enough to breakdown the conception of some of those scenes:
Here’s what he had to say:
Cars Really Can Fly
The trailers and TV spots have been leaning heavily on the image of Toretto (Vin Diesel) and O’Conner (Paul Walker) jumping from building to building in a rare Lykan HyperSport, and for good reason. Whose wonderful idea was it to push this set piece as far as it goes? “It was a collective thing,” Wan responds, unable to contain his laughter. “I remember talking to [screenwriter] Chris Morgan about this, batting ideas back-and-forth. We realized jumping one car from one building to another building is something another action movie would do, but a Fast & Furious movie would go an extra building. The extra level of insanity is exactly what we went for.”
Is this a jump the shark moment for the franchise? Is it even possible for this franchise to jump the shark? “If the characters grounded, the cars don’t have to be,” Wan believes, wholeheartedly.
Even More Flying (Practical) Cars
A part of the Fast & Furious’ charm is the reliance on practical effects. There’s some noticeable CG in Furious 7, which Wan admits, but the filmmaker points out this sequel still wears its heart on its sleeve for practical effects. “We do try and do as much as the stunts in-camera as we can,” he explains. “There’s a lot of stuff we do in-camera. However, I also want to give amazing props to my visual-effects team, for creating some of the most seamless special-effects, because some people don’t even know when the car is a visual-effect. There’s some that pop out more than others, which are the ones people harp on, but there’s so many others that just slip by. You need CG to help blend moments together, because there’s just some things you can’t do in the real world because a) physics, b) they’re too dangerous, and c) safety is the most important thing on a film set.”
For some ridiculous reason, Wan wasn’t able to actually film cars skydiving, but that didn’t mean he was going to have this major set piece look like a cartoon. “We would actually shoot practical cars flying through the air,” the director says. “We catapulted those cars through the air, and then we’d cut the car out and put it in the environment. Even though it has visual-effects to help make it work, the actual stunt is still practical.”
A Sweaty Rock Takes On An Englishman
Fast and Furious 6 made a promise with the appearance of Jason Statham. There’d be outrage and, most likely, riots in the street, if Statham and Dwayne Johnson didn’t duke it out. Wan wanted to come out swinging with this face-off. “People are coming to this movie who want to see the fight between Statham and Vin and Statham and Dwayne,” he says. “The Dwayne fight is the very first one up, and that was really important ‐ that the first big set piece we had needed to standout. We had to have the fight be dangerous enough, where Hobbs could be hospitalized by it. The amazing thing working with Jason and Dwayne is they’re such physical actors. It was such a joy to film them and watch them move. Most of the fight was done without stunt-doubles.”
There’s Plenty of More Fistfights Where That Came From
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s violent tickling match isn’t the only piece of physical combat in Furious 7. The cast also includes Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey, and those two definitely have their own distinct fight scenes. “I’m a big fan of fights in films,” Wan states. “I’m a big martial arts fan. I wanted to give each of the fights their own signature look: the fight with Dwayne and Statham is more of a wrestling slug match; the fight between Paul and Tony Jaa has a more refined martial arts quality to it; the Dom and Statham fight is more of a classic street fight with brute force; the fight between Michelle [Rodriguez] and Ronda Rousey is down and dirty, but I wanted to put them in the most elegant gowns with the most expensive backdrop. I wanted each fight scene to have its own flavor.”
Working With An American Hero
“How was it working with so-and-so?” is somewhat of a banal question, but when that so-and-so is freaking Kurt Russell, a God amongst men, you kinda got ask about the experience of directing the guy who played Snake Plissken, R.J. MacReady, Stuntman Mike, and Wyatt Earp. Russell’s scenes are pretty exposition-heavy, but he makes all of that information go down like butter. Next time, hopefully, his mysterious government agent, Mr. Nobody, actually gets behind the wheel of a car. “Kurt Russell is a hero of mine, a living legend,” says Wan. “I grew up with all of his movies, especially his Carpenter films. I was so relieved when I met him and got to work with him, because of how incredible he was ‐ professional, easy to work with. This guy has made so many movies, so there’s nothing new you can show him. I’ve said this before, but people usually tell us not to meet our heroes because we might be disappointed, but this isn’t the case with Kurt Russell. He was everything I hoped for, and way more. There were many times on set, in between set-ups, where I would just geek out with Kurt. We would talk about his days making Big Trouble in Little China, and I love his Big Trouble in Little China stories. We talked about The Thing and Escape from New York, too. I just love the guy. So yeah, that was one of the big highlights for me making this movie.”
Furious 7 is now in theaters.