Director Justin Lin On-Set Interview FAST & FURIOUS

     February 11, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

The thing I love about doing on set interviews is the person you’re talking to always has a lot of interesting things to say. That’s because they’re in the middle of shooting and some of the things you talk about might have just happened only hours ago. Also, since everything is moving so fast, the person you’re interviewing isn’t thinking “Maybe I shouldn’t tell a certain story…,” so if you ask the right questions, you can get some great answers.

That’s what happened when a small group of us went to the set of “Fast & Furious” last April. While some set visits can have 15 people walking around, Universal only had six of us that night, so it was extremely intimate and it made for some great interviews.

As most of you know, Universal is releasing a new “Fast & Furious” movie on April 3rd and it has all of the stars from the first film returning to the popular franchise: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster are all back together and racing again.

While a lot of the plot is under wraps, what you need to know is that something happened to Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and he’s forced to once again team up with agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) to make things right. Obviously, you’re going to see a lot of car chases, action, and insane stunts. If you’re a car enthusiast or just a fan of the franchise, you’re going to have a lot of fun watching the film.

Anyway, let’s get to the reason you’re here: my on-set interview with director Justin Lin.

As you may already know, Justin is the only director to make two “Fast and Furious” movies as he previously directed “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”. With the experience of making the last film in the very successful franchise, Justin came across as someone ready to helm this installment.

During our interview, Justin talks about choosing the cars that were used, working with the returning cast, what surprise cameos might be in the movie, what it’s like to helm a big summer movie, and a lot more. If you’re interested in this franchise, you’ll really like this interview. As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.

Finally, for those that haven’t yet seen the trailer for “Fast & Furious”, it’s before the interview. And if you missed all the new images I just posted and my set report, click here. Look for more on-set interviews next week.

Question: You’re the only director who did two ‘Fast & Furious’ on the franchise. How did that work for you?

Justin Lin: It’s good. Obviously, they were doing the third one and it was great because it was such a departure from the first two. The only link aside from Vin [Diesel] in the last scene was kind of just exploring similar themes. So it was exciting to get that call, for Vin and Paul [Walker] and everybody to say, ‘Okay, lets go do something.’ What’s exciting about this one is, or well, the third one I actually got the call and the exercise was almost like, ‘Here’s the script. Do you want to do this?’ I remember not wanting to do it at first, but it was kind of taking what was there and putting a new point of view on it.

Why didn’t you want to do it at first?

Justin Lin: Personally, I found it a little offensive. Just little things, for me personally and maybe not offensive to most people, but the car was drifting around Buddha statues and Geisha’s and you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ I think it was a tonal thing. I think that once the studio got it I had a great time. The great thing about this one was that I was able to kind of come in from the ground up and try to build it with everyone and so it was a whole different kind of experience and journey. That was the reason.

So Vin was the driving force behind it?

Justin Lin: Vin was definitely part of the force. I think that it was very organic in a way. I had finished the last one and I thought I was just going to go and do a no-budget movie and kind of try something different. To then get that call and hear, ‘Okay, lets all try to do it –’ and then really talk about why instead of just having this ticking time clock, that was worth it, especially in doing a studio film and being able to get in there and talk things through; why we want to do it and why everyone is coming back. For me it was interesting. I remember I was in film school and I went to the AMC Santa Monica to see the first ‘Fast & Furious’ and now to be getting into a room and really talk about the point of making a fourth one, that was a nice place to be.

What did you guys come to then in terms of the film?

Justin Lin: Well, for me as a film viewer I actually like sequels and kind of big popcorn movies. But I don’t like the sequels that just take what’s successful from the first one and go, ‘Oh, lets just do the same thing over and over.’ I think that was the thing—that no one wanted to do that. I think that’s what was exciting about this, taking a theme which I think somehow this franchise has done in terms of what family means in a non-traditional sense. It’s trying to take that theme and taking it further. We actually meet up with these characters and acknowledge the time that has passed and where they are now. Taking that whole theme of family for me is exciting, taking it to the next level which is exploring the ideas and meaning of what sacrifice is. That was exciting to me.

How different can you make the action sequences involving the cars from the first three?

Justin Lin: Well, it’s funny

Are they going to be drifting all over the place with these muscle cars?

Justin Lin: It’s always been an interesting franchise. Stylistically it’s gone all over the place. It’s very post-modern in its own way. For me, it was really important, everything from the choice of cars and the colors and the design is to really support the character on this one. I was talking to Paul who’s a big car guy and picking the classic Skyline, those things were very important. We’ve had hours and hours and hours of conversations on why, why, why. For me I think what’s exciting about this one is that in a way it’s a chance to go old school. I think, again, we’re here to support the characters and the theme. So it’s not about showing off and having cameras go somewhere that you know isn’t realistically possible. I had fun doing the last one and one of the rules was to make sure that all the cars could do all the gags that we wanted and it’s great to apply that, but at the same time, at the end of the day it’s really about serving the character and it’s dramatic beats.

Vin has a producer credit on this one and he’s now got experience as a director. What’s that relationship with him been like on this?

Justin Lin: It’s a fine line. It’s a very delicate relationship. I think the fact he’s done it all, he’s an actor, director and producer now, I enjoy the process. I think part of being a good producer is that when you hire someone you better agree on the point of view of the movie is and then you have to trust that person. I always welcome Paul or anyone who has ideas, but I’m the person that they hired to really steer. When I talk about sacrifice in the theme, that’s what I’m bringing to it and how I’m going to design the film. So that’s going to be the essence of all the conversation. Even when we disagree, a good producer has to fight a good fight, but at then end of the day you have to go with the director I feel.

Were you in agreement that Tyrese should be brought back?

Justin Lin: I love Tyrese. I think if it’s appropriate and we’re always working on different things and I don’t want my personal judgment to get in the way. I really have fun when he’s around, but I don’t want that to be the reason that we bring him back.

These films are known as car movies. Do you have a lot of people wanting to get their cars into the movie?

Justin Lin: Yes.

How do you decide what’s going to be involved?

Justin Lin: It’s pretty simple. It’s basically whatever I want. I know that sounds kind of…but I’m not a car guy at all. Honestly, they’ll have these show-and-tells and they’ll be hundreds of cars in the parking lots and I’ll walk there and I know how passionate the people there are. I try to at least respect that. But I don’t want to be swayed just because someone is friends with someone. I want to respect the people who love the cars and so I also listen to Paul who loves cars. I use the example that, personally, I’m a huge basketball fan and I just don’t like watching films about basketball where you can tell they have no regard for people who love basketball. I try to at least be conscious of that. The example, whether it’s this one or even the last film, where there was all these flashy cars, these beautiful and classic muscle cars, the imports and I remember walking around the corner and there was this sad, little, beat up Monte Carlo sitting there. I was like, ‘That has to be the car.’ That ends up being the car in the first race in ‘Tokyo Drift’. It does come from character. I don’t want to beat it to death, but as we develop it I try to see why a character would drive a certain car and then we go from there.

What about manufacturers of cars like Nissan pitching you their cars?

Justin Lin: Yep, all the time. When it’s appropriate, that’s the deal. We’re here to serve the story and I know it’s a multi-billion dollar business, but at the same time it’s my job to try to maintain it and fight the fight. It’s the weirdest thing. I think that in indie films you’re just trying to make the best film you can and on a studio film they hire you to fight to make the best film. Sometimes they’re coming to you with good proposals, but bad ideas. I feel like that’s kind of like been my job, everyone’s job, taking a step back and trying to serve the film.

Are there cars in this movie that won’t be released in North America or haven’t been yet?

Justin Lin: Well, I think the Skyline, it’s a right hand drive. There are certain cars that are probably a lot more rare. I think the new Skyline that’s in the film will probably be out by the time the film comes out. Subaru has a new one that’s coming out, but again there were a lot of other cars that were new and people were pushing that just didn’t feel right. Everybody wants Vin to be in their car and he’s in cars that you can’t really promote. They’re classic American cars.

Paul said that you guys got a lot of European cars this time?

Justin Lin: We tried to incorporate organically. I think that with this film we had the opportunity to do that at least.

How difficult are the stunt sequences in this film? Is there a lot of storyboarding involved in this?

Justin Lin: Yeah, volumes and volumes.

Do you do pre-vis for all the stunt sequences?

LIN: Yes. I think that’s part of my indie background a little. I think that communication is so important. You can always cover things and try to find it in the editing room which is part of the process, but what’s the point? You should try to have something and try to execute it. The best way to do that is to use the tools available to you.

Are you using the same drivers that you had in the third film?

LIN: We have some, yeah. Terry [Leonard] is back as well as some of the same drivers.

You’re starting a four night sequence tonight. How much of it are you going to get done tonight?

Justin Lin: Nights suck because you only have so many hours and it takes a lot longer to light. It just moves slower, but we have a big explosion sequence coming up. We won’t get to that tonight for sure.

Do you feel additional pressure when the studio says they’re going to release the film in June with June and July being big ticket months?

Justin Lin: That’s part of the game. You do the indie movies for a reason and you’re lucky to get into Sundance or whatever festival and this is a whole other journey. You sign up for these things and you’re talking about meetings with marketing departments and stuff like that. You have to respect the huge investments. You try to keep focused on the craft. Tent poles don’t come out every month at the same time. So knowing that we’re one of two or three or whatever they have planned for the summer, that’s just part of the game.

This and the indie world are so different.

Justin Lin: Very, very different.

How do you adjust from the indie world to this world?

Justin Lin: Pressure, pressure. When I did my credit card movie, being in debt over a $100k, that’s more pressure to me than this. This I get to crash eight cars a day or whatever I want so it’s a different type of pressure. At the end of the day it’s still the same. It’s very different in approach and journey and I wouldn’t take one of my passion projects and try to make it here and I wouldn’t make a movie like this in the indie world. I think there are certain places for certain things and it’s just part of my personal journey.

Which is more fulfilling?

Justin Lin: Well, obviously, the indie projects you’re doing for reason and it’s probably not marketable. That’s why no one wants to make them. That’s why you take out your credit cards. So that’s rewarding in that sense. Doing something even if no one believes in it and somehow getting people motivated to go and do something together, that’s always rewarding. When you’re in Park City with the crew and the cast it’s very much that sense. But here, I would never take anything away from this. This in its own right is a huge accomplishment. Just logistically the stakes on the business side, that’s a huge thing. At the same time you hope that people in the summertime go in that dark room and enjoy their popcorn. I grew up in Orange County in the ’80’s and so I didn’t get to see any indie movies until I went to college. So this is a big part of my movie experience personally and I would never take that lightly. So, to answer, I think they’re very different, but just as fulfilling but made in very different ways.

What camera are you using? Is it digital?

Justin Lin: Super 35, yeah.

Are you interested in using digital cameras and 3D filmmaking?

Justin Lin: Yeah. We looked at all those things too. I feel like it’s whatever is there to serve the idea. I love digital. It has its own aesthetic. I’m never one to go, ‘Lets shoot digital to look like film.’ I think that’s kind of pointless especially at this level, but when appropriate I think it’s good. I’d love to do an indie movie and shoot digital, but I think that this film is definitely Super 35.

Paul said you did a lot of rewriting as you move along. What’s that process like?

Justin Lin: For me the car chases mean nothing unless you’re invested in the characters. Part of this thing is that you’re sprinting a marathon. That’s how I feel when I do studio films. Once that machine gets going you wake up from your nap everyday and you’re just trying to make it the best film that you can. That’s what I try to do everyday. The rewriting, that’s part of the process. I think you do that with indie’s anyway, but here it’s crazy because you never feel like you have as much prep as you need. With an indie project you have to get it to a point where you’re going out to try and raise the money. Here you have so many things going on, but you’re still rewriting it and trying to make everything better. There will be things that you find when you’re shooting which is great and just like indie films, too. You’ll be like, ‘Wow. That’s magic. Let’s try to make this better.’ That’s normal.

Do you find that friends and family want to visit you on the studio projects more so than on the indies?

Justin Lin: You get free food. Yeah. You get to meet Paul and Vin and stuff.

What’s it like directing Vin and Paul, being someone who watched this film in college originally, and what’s the dynamic like between the three of you?

Justin Lin: I really enjoy it. Vin and Paul are very different, but I think that they respect the process. The thing that I was worried the most about and was assured very early on about was that I don’t want to be a part of something where people are just showing up and kind of walking through it. At the end of the day it’s going to be year, a year and a half of my life and for whatever it’s worth I feel like we should just go all out. Whatever the end product is I think that while we’re on this we should go and try our best. That worry was eased long ago.

As a filmmaker is it frustrating for you when websites leak pictures and other info about the film? Do you try to keep things a secret?

Justin Lin: Again, I think it’s just the way that we’re evolving as a society. I remember ‘Terminator 2’ was such a big deal. Me and my friends waited in line for like a whole day at the Cinerama Dome in Anaheim. We went in with beach balls beforehand. I remember that. There’s a mystique to it. Now I can go on any Friday to a big movie and I’ll be able to get in to see it because it’s on like seven thousand screens or something. I don’t want to sound like an old fart, but I like the mystique of going to see a movie and not knowing what it’s going to be. Sometimes things leak out and people are making judgment on it before it comes out, but it’s part of how we’re evolving. We can all choose to read that or not read it. I have no control over it, but I personally choose to just show up and be surprised. I mean, I’m not going to take any precautions. I have enough to do and we’re just trying to make the best film we can.

Is ‘Fast & Furious’ just the working title? What’s the title going to be?

Justin Lin: It’s our title right now.

We’ve been talking about getting ‘revenge’ into the title since the film is about getting back.

Justin Lin: I think that’s part of the film. I think thematically that’s not my point. I think plot-wise is part of the motivations.

Wasn’t it the cameo at the end of the last one that got the whole ball rolling with Vin or was that separate?

Justin Lin: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him yourself. I had a great time when we did that and it was great because I remember when we were doing it, I said, ‘We have to do this. We have to do this.’ Everyone was like, ‘There’s no way, no way.’ Vin isn’t a person that does things unless you can win him over and all I did was go to his house, I remember, and showed him the footage and he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I think for me at that point I felt like, ‘Wow, we earned it.’ Since then we’ve had a great time and it’s been great to develop a relationship further. This is a franchise. It’s weird because I remember doing this little short that they were showing in Barcelona and I went to the Picasso Museum and I was looking at the exhibit and they had this field trip, this Spanish class and this kid came up to me and he said, ‘”Fast & Furious”‘. He was a Spanish kid who didn’t even speak English. I was like, ‘How the fuck do you know that? I’m not even in the movie.’ So then you realize the reach of these films. That’s why I think there’s a part four and that’s why there’s a franchise. The people that love it really love it across the board. Sean [Boswell] goes to Thailand and gets mobbed. It’s stuff like that.

Paul mentioned that Vin was talking about a fifth one, trying to drop things here and there in this film that could pay off in the next one. Is that possible?

Justin Lin: It’s possible, yeah. It’s always part of the character. I think it’s always good to talk about where they came from and where they’re going to go. So it’s always a part of the conversation and that’s fun. That’s always the fun part of the dialogue.

Move it out of the states, take it to Europe maybe?

Justin Lin: Antarctica. I don’t know.

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