Electronic Arts has sold more than 140 million copies of Need for Speed video games over the past 20 years. They have generated billions of dollars in retail sales, but EA never had as good a commercial for the racing series as the new Need for Speed movie that’s about to debut nationwide on March 14.
The film stars Aaron Paul, the Emmy-winning actor from the Breaking Bad television show. The director is Scott Waugh, the son of a Hollywood stuntman. Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a would-be racing star who has had lousy luck. He agrees to rebuild a dream car, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, for the bad guy snob, Dino Brewster. Their egos clash, they race for the car, and a friend is killed in a fiery accident. That sets in motion a double-cross and then a cross-country trek for revenge and redemption. Unlike other films where the story is just an excuse for a car chase, this one has a finely tuned script.
I enjoyed the film a lot and won’t argue with critics who say it will be the next Fast & Furious, another franchise that focuses on fancy sports cars and racing. The movie is a perfect example of transmedia, or entertainment that expresses itself in different media like video games or film. In this case, Need for Speed has a built-in audience among gamers, and it will appeal to car aficionados who enjoy classic car chase films. It also has a hot actor in Paul, whose popularity is at an all-time high thanks his performance as the Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad.
The movie is filled with homages to the car culture films of the 1960s and ’70s, such as Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. It has a scene in Moab, Utah, that was filmed on the same cliff as the ending of Thelma and Louise.
DreamWorks Studios and EA coproduced the movie, with EA executives getting credits on the film.
After the screening, Lars Ulrich, the drummer for the heavy metal band Metallica, interviewed both Waugh and Paul in a screening in San Francisco. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation. (A word of warning: Lots of profanity will follow).
Lars Ulrich: This obviously has its origin in a video game. How does the video game, that’s so superpopular, this EA video game, give us a quick story about how it goes from the video game to the big screen?
Scott Waugh: I did a film before this called Act of Valor. It was a Navy SEAL movie. I was so lucky. I met with Steven Spielberg, who for some crazy reason liked Act of Valor. He wanted to do a movie with me, and then he bought the rights from EA and developed the movie, Need for Speed. He called me and said, “Do you want to direct Need for Speed?” I was like, “Who is this? I’ve never heard this voice before.”
It was great, though. Need for Speed the video game was just such a great game. I was so thrilled that they wanted to make a movie about it. It was a great car racing game, but it wasn’t tied to a storyline that was built for a game, which is sometimes a problem. If you think of a great cinematic story that follows a character like Aaron Paul’s and thrust it into a video game kind of genre—I just thought it would be a lot of fun.
Ulrich: When it landed in your lap, was there already a screenplay, or was it just an idea?
Waugh: There was already an initial screenplay before I got involved, and then I had a lot of ideas. I wanted to do a throwback. I drove as a stuntman. I started doing stunts when I was 12. My father was a stuntman. I watched him work on, to me, some of the greatest car movies ever. I grew up being on the set of Smokey and the Bandit and Vanishing Point and Bullitt, which was filmed out here. I wanted to do a throwback to the movies that started that genre.
Ulrich: Obviously, there are some references.
Waugh: There’s a lot! Did anybody spot any of the nods to great car chase movies in there? The Thelma and Louise bit. They used that exact same drop-off. There was a reference to American Graffiti, with the cop car getting his axle ripped out.
Ulrich: Were all of those references already in the screenplay?
Waugh: No, no. Those were things I put in, because I grew up with those fun movies. I wanted, for car connoisseur people—it’s a movie you have to watch a couple of times, because there’s a shitload all through the movie. I promise you, you didn’t get all of them. There’s Car Wash references in there. Vanishing Point.
Ulrich: We were talking earlier about how there’s an authenticity to this movie that you don’t see in the genre very much. All of the cars that you guys are using in the movie, are they off the dealership? Are they modified? Were they specially built?
Waugh: Do you guys appreciate that there was finally a movie with no fucking (computer-generated imagery) CGI in it? I mean, that’s something that I try to—it’s my signature. I’m all about no CG. Let’s just do shit for real again. That meant using real cars. The supercars, I mean, fuck, what are you going to do with them? Two and a half million dollars, I mean, they’re great.
The Gran Torino that Aaron drove was a full-on race car underneath the hood. It’s the car that he and I still fight over.
Aaron Paul: Yeah, we do still fight for it.
Ulrich: Who won?
Waugh: Neither of us have won that battle. But yeah, the supercars, we’re not going to wreck a $2.5 million Koenigsegg.
Ulrich: Not even on somebody else’s dime?