An uproarious Q&A with director Scott Waugh and ‘Breaking Bad’ alum Aaron Paul of the ‘Need for Speed’ movie

Need for Speed cast, led by Aaron Paul

Above: Need for Speed cast, led by Aaron Paul

Image Credit: DreamWorks

Waugh: We didn’t really have the budget for that. But we did build, for the crash sequences, kit cars for that. Just for safety reasons, for the stuntmen in those cars—those cars aren’t meant to be flipped multiple times. We had to build these kit cars, build roll cages for them, just for safety reasons.

Ulrich: The shot where the car goes airborne, and then it flies right into the camera—you don’t see the impact with the camera, but just tell me. Ten seconds after you cut there, did the car really go into the camera? Is there no CGI, nothing involved in that whatsoever?

Waugh: The funny part was—no, there’s definitely no CGI. The fucking stunt guy undershot the jump, though, by like three feet. We set up these cameras, and I’m like—I’m going to put really expensive cameras right here. Promise me you’re not going to hit it! He’s promising me, up and down, there’s no way. He fucking wiped out three of them! I used every single frame that I had before the camera grenaded.

A special Ford Mustang is the hero car of Need for Speed

Above: A special Ford Mustang is the hero car of Need for Speed.

Image Credit: DreamWorks

Ulrich: The other shot that blew my mind was at the front, that shot where he’s spinning right up and does a couple of spins and ends up right by the window and you’re sitting there. How many takes are we looking at for that? How does that end up so perfect?

Paul: That was on the third take. That was one of the shots that he wanted to get way before we started shooting. He said, “I’m going to need you to drive the Koenigsegg directly toward the camera, put it into a spin, and then stop within inches of the camera lens.” OK? I was a little terrified, because someone is holding the camera, and I don’t want to kill that person.

The first take, I’m flying about 60, maybe? I ended about 10 or 15 feet short. He comes up to me and says, “Listen, I need you to hit your mark. If you hit me …” – because he was holding the camera at this point, since none of the cameramen wanted to be in his position, because they were too terrified of my driving — “I just need you to hit your mark. I need the audience to know that you’re the one driving. I can’t even see you in the car if you’re that far away. If you hit me, don’t worry about it. I’ll just roll over the car.”

I thought to myself, “All right. That doesn’t make me feel better at all.” But he’s a second-generation stuntman. He was born into the business. He’s like, “I’ve been hit by cars before. Don’t worry about it.”

Ulrich: That’s comforting.

Paul: By the third take I finally did it.

Waugh: It’s actually a funny story. What I did, I came up to him after the second take, where he stopped like 10 feet from me again. I said, “Hey, man. Don’t worry about hitting me. I’ll get out of the way or whatever. Just focus on your mark.” So he comes in. He’s driving at me. I can tell he’s shifted into the fucking higher gear. I’m going, “Oh, no. He’s coming in deep.”

I’m like, “I’m gonna stay in there.” He hits the brakes, and he’s sliding toward me, and I’m thinking I’m gonna get hit. I’m still gonna get the shot. So I closed my eyes and just waited for him to smoke me. The tires stopped screeching, and there was that pause — oh, it’s over? I opened my eyes, and he’s two inches from me. I was like, “Oh, shit!” He got out and I didn’t even know I’d gotten the shot, which is the funny part. He goes, “THAT WAS GREAT!” and I’m like, “I didn’t see a damn thing.”

Ulrich: The other sequence that totally blew my mind was the Thelma and Louise, when they were driving on the ledge and you had those helicopter shots of them barreling along that ledge.

Waugh: What’s funny, when we went to do the helicopter saving the Mustang, the studio were freaked out that I wanted to do it for real. They were like, “We should think about doing this in CG.” And I was like, “No, man.” On everything to date — this was at the end of the filming process — we’d gotten everything practical, for real. I refused to do it in CG. So I said, “Let me prove to you that we can do this. I’ll do multiple tests to prove that we do it.”

This had never been done before. There were a lot of things that went into it. I was so proud. It’s rewarding when you watch that movie and realize that it’s not CG, when you see the dust rip off the car. And you only do shit once when you do stuff like that.

Ulrich: Speaking of authenticity, everyone here in San Francisco can attest to all of the sequences in San Francisco. They were real. The famous Tonga Room, right there on California, places like that. Were you guys there for a week, doing nights and things like that?

Filming of Need for Speed

Above: Filming of Need for Speed.

Image Credit: DreamWorks

Waugh: Yeah, we were here for a week. I mean, fuck, man, the best car movie of all time was Bullitt, and that was here. We’re not going to fake it. We’re coming here. The Mark Hopkins, which was the Intercontinental back in the day. That was the hotel Steve McQueen went into.

Paul: That was kind of an homage.

Imogen Poots is the co-star, playing Julia

Above: Imogen Poots costars as Julia

Image Credit: DreamWorks

Waugh: Yeah, that was a total homage to Steve. And then the 1968 Mustang. God, I still am nostalgic about that movie. It was so fucking awesome, right? It was cool, because Steve drove his own shit. That was what I told Aaron. “If we’re doing this car movie, you have to do your own driving. I’m not gonna hire a stuntman and do a bunch of CG replacement.”

Paul: He was like, “Do you have a license?” I did! Imogen Poots, who plays Julia — she was fantastic — to this day does not have her driver’s license. And so when we were doing that Moab shot, where the car is about to drive off the cliff, I was so terrified. And not simply because she was driving. There were cliffs on each side. It’s like, “Oh my God, she might kill me right now.” But it was great. She was great.

Ulrich: You guys invaded the small, innocent, idyllic town of Mendocino at the end. That must have just blown everyone’s minds up there. The pot growers up there, it’s a whole different kind of lifestyle. It’s the quintessential laid-back Northern California coastal community.

Waugh: They were really nervous about all the helicopters flying around. But no, it was great. It was incredible.

Ulrich: We were talking about that famous bridge there, and the redwoods, coming up to Mendocino. Did you shut that whole area down for a couple of weeks? How did that work?

Waugh: The funny thing is, that was the first thing we shot in the movie, the De Leon race. It was because Mendocino wouldn’t let us shoot except in the beginning of April, because that’s when the high season starts. We weren’t allowed to shoot past April 15.

Ulrich: High season?

Waugh: Yeah, yeah. Literally, when the plants would bloom, you can’t film there. So the first day, we were going to shoot in the redwoods. We were at base camp. We were leaving base camp, and this is true. First day, I had 13 supercars, 12 cop cars, three high-speed insert cars, and two fucking helicopters. We’re all leaving base camp, like this armada, and we’re going to take down Mendocino. I sat there and thought to myself, “What did we do? This is not going to end well. This is too much mechanical engineering going on.”

It was great, though. Mendocino was awesome. The locals were really gracious. I was really happy.

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