Director Scott Waugh took some time out recently to talk to us about his latest film, Need for Speed…
It’s a little known fact, but Need for Speed’s director, Scott Waugh, is the son of the original Spiderman, Fred Waugh. Having been involved in filmmaking at an early age, Waugh became a stuntman in 1982 before retiring in 2005. He has been involved in more than 150 film and television productions in various capacities and gained his first-hand filmmaking knowledge from directors Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone while on their sets. He has since gone on to directed 2012’s Act of Valor.
We spoke to him about his most recent project, Need for Speed, and how his background as a stuntman helped create one of this year’s most action-packed movies…
What is the movie Need for Speed all about? The film is really about a team of guys at Marshall Motors. They have to revenge the things that were done wrong to them. They have to drive from New York to San Francisco in 48 hours. And through that course of action, all the characters test themselves and how far they will push themselves and their moral integrity. To me, that’s the great human component of the movie. I feel that the film has a tremendous amount of heart. Each character really opens up. The film is a metaphor for the racing culture, and the things that we do to seek that thrill.
How would you describe the spirit of your movie? I think the spirit of this movie really lends itself to one line from the film: “You always go back. You never leave a man behind.” It applies in warfare, it applies in life, and it really applies in car racing, especially in places where you’re out remotely. You always go back if somebody’s down. It’s a morality and integrity thing that’s involved in our culture that is applicable to every aspect of life. And when you’ve grown up in the racing culture, and I grew up in the motocross world, a lot of times you’re riding in environments where you’re far from populations, and if you crash, you’re only relying on the people around you to come help you. It’s really just one of those things in the racing culture that’s inbred in you.
What attracted you to this project? After directing Act of Valor, having been a stuntman I wanted to do a car movie. I just felt like the time’s right. I personally wanted to lend my expertise from all the car commercials that I’ve done into a movie, and the stars all aligned. And then I got a call from DreamWorks asking if I wanted to direct Need for Speed. When DreamWorks approached me about making the film I read the screenplay and just said to them, ‘If you’re interested in making a real authentic car movie like Bullitt or those old school, in-camera films, with great characters, then I’m hopefully your guy.’
Why do you think racing movies are so exciting to audiences? I think because actually racing a car today is complicated for most people. It wasn’t as complicated from the ’70s and before, because the roads were vast, the populations weren’t as dense, you could go to places pretty easily outside of the city limits and go race your car. But now that the population is so massive, you’ve got to go far to try and race a car. And tracks have closed, or the tracks are really far, and it’s just hard. They don’t really have that many point-to-point races like the Cannonball Run anymore. They still have the Cannonball going, but it’s super private. They still have the quarter-mile tracks, but personally, that doesn’t fascinate me. I’m more of a point-to-point course kinda guy. And this movie allows us to go there. What we really strived for in the film was the chance for you to actually sit in the seat and open it up. Not to be a spectator and watch but to participate in the film and drive. Which is what’s great about the video game. You get to drive the cars.
How did you chose the specific cars in the film? We chose the Mustang because we knew that the 50th anniversary was coming up. And it is a car that really represents American culture and its alliance with its designer, Carroll Shelby. It just represents modern muscle. It’s always been a fast car. It’s one of the few American cars that still travels at high speeds. And then also because some of the greatest cars come from Europe, and they’re the fastest, one of the things that’s fun about this movie is in the end, you really get to watch the supercars race, which is the McLaren F1, the Bugatti Veyron, the Koenigsegg Agera R, the GTA Spano, the Saleen S7 and the Lamborghini Elemento. All of them are multimillion-dollar cars.
How did you decide which American muscle cars to use? For some reason we still always gravitate toward the muscle cars, we still gravitate toward the 1965 to 1972 cars, whether it’s the Camaro, the Mustang and the GTO. And when we came to picking the cars that were going to race, I really wanted to find cars that hadn’t been seen in a while that make us go, “Oh, yeah. Man, my friend had one of those in high school. Those are so cool.” And you couldn’t avoid certain cars like the Camaro; it’s such a classic you’ve got to have it. And the Pontiac GTO. These are cars that you just have to have. They’re so cool. The one car that we really spent time on trying to find that would really represent Tobey Marshall was the Grand Torino. It was a ’68 Grand Torino. We went through and we looked at all the body styles and I just felt like we really haven’t seen that car that much and it’s so classic and it’s so cool and it really kind of defines that Tobey Marshall is different. He’s just a different guy and this car is different and it’s really wonderful. I wanted to also bring back some foreign cars that we hadn’t seen. We wanted to keep it in that demographic of 1965 to ’72 to 1980.
It is important to you that the action is real, the stunts are practical and not CG. How did you accomplish that? We had this situation where Benny flies the helicopter over the streets of Detroit. I didn’t have the time to try and rig something for like six hours to get a camera out there. I just said, ‘Hey, let me put a harness on, I’ll stand out there and film it myself.’ We got the shot in 20 minutes. I was able to get the camera into positions that most people can’t. I just am lucky enough to have had so much experience growing up with my father and being able to hang off the skids of a helicopter to get shots. I just want to put the camera in unique places so people can see it differently. It’s really important to me. Some would argue that I could do that in CG, but I have a problem with that. There’s this subconscious thing in humans, I think, that you know what’s not real. I think when you’re trying to do something for real, if you ingest a little bit of green screen, it’s a big red herring. You can see it because everything else in the movie’s real, so you all of a sudden know that it looks different. One thing that we really wanted to do, and we spent an exorbitant amount of time on, was jumping the Mustang in Detroit. We wanted to do the biggest jump possible, but practically. And we had to land it and drive away. It was really important, and we spent so much time trying to find a spot in Detroit. And we found it and it jumped 194 feet and it went over three lanes of traffic. I think it’s fantastic in the movie. It’s definitely real.
I understand that in Need for Speed you offer subtle tributes to other famous car-racing movies. Could you give an example? For me, growing up with Smokey and the Bandit and those kinds of movies, they were influences in my filmmaking career. I wanted to do subtle throwbacks to my favorite car movies. It might be just camera angles that I chose to use or certain cars or certain things to wreck. I think if you watch the movie and you’ve watched all these previous films, you’re going to catch them. They’re fun. They’re good throwbacks to that era and they happen quick. I don’t belabor those moments. You really have to pay attention because they can go by in about two seconds. But I think they’re really fun.
Some of the great racing movies have shot in San Francisco. Is that why you selected this location? It’s kind of a funny thing about San Francisco — all the greatest car movies have shot there. I was really adamant about going there, because I just felt like this is a great way to pay our respects. And, as I said, it’s one of those subtleties you’ll see in our movie that’s a wonderful throwback to the greatest car movies of all time.
What do you hope audiences will get out of this film? I hope audiences get out of this movie what they don’t expect. I think that’s a wonderful thing that can happen in a theater, where you go to see a movie expecting one thing and it completely throws you another way, in a really good way. And you leave satisfied, because it wasn’t what you were expecting. And I hope that Need for Speed does that because we really tried extremely hard to make something different, that wasn’t expected. One of my mottos in preproduction was, ‘Don’t replicate. Reinvent. Make it the same but different, so it’s new and it feels fresh.’ And that was hard, but I think when you see the cameras and the way we move it and the way the characters’ arcs are, it’s definitely a reinvented car culture film.