(Bloomberg) -- The latest installment in the $4 billion Fast and the Furious franchise drops this weekend in theaters nationwide.
It’s called The Fate of the Furious, and it is the exploding cherry that completes the series’ testosterone sundae. By the time you get to the car chase scene in the streets of New York, which involves a giant wrecking ball (and an automaker’s greatest nightmare when it comes to autonomous driving), you will think it seems totally normal. A chase across an ice field to outrace a nuclear submarine? Just another great Tuesday.
It’s also funny. A scene with a baby on a plane will forever win British bad boy Jason Statham a spot in your heart.
The cars steal the show, though—as always. Even as the amount of car racing drops with each new film, the caliber of the whips—and the extreme stunts engaged in them—increase exponentially.
People have a fascination with speed, director F. Gary Gray told Bloomberg during a phone interview.
“We have a fascination with traveling,” he said. “If you’re on the ground, you kind of want to go beyond your tennis shoes. That’s part of the fascination with cars—and why the movies are so compelling.”
The director said his own first car was a “low-end” Ford Granada rusted so badly you could see the road through the floor of the car. But he dreamed about GTOs, GTX’s, Mustangs, and Corvettes: “You idolized anyone who had the time and the resources to rebuild and restore them.”
That’s why, he said, the 1966 red Corvette Stingray was one of his favorite cars in the film. Well, that and the “ice charger.”
“It’s a bullet-proof vintage charger that can go 200 miles per hour on ice,” Gray said. (He also happens to own a USSV Rhino truck like the one Kristofer Hivju drives as the villain in the film, but that’s another story.) “The ice charger is great for pure entertainment. This is something that if you’re young and into cars, you want that as a toy. And I’m a big fan of cars that could be Hot Wheels.”
Credit Dennis McCarthy for the cars' sheer beauty and surprise in each film. He’s the grand wizard who led the team that conceived, purchased, built, and/or modified every car in the movie, from Vin Diesel’s mint-condition Impala to Michelle Rodriguez’s cherry-red Stingray Corvette. Not to mention the screaming orange Lamborghini Murcielago that somehow survived a high-speed chase on a Russian ice field.
“I would dream about these crazy things, and [McCarthy] would just deliver them with a smile,” Gray said. He means that McCarthy would make the proper purchases and modifications for each car he wanted. “I’m sure I took a few years off his life, just in terms of stress.”
I spoke with McCarthy by phone on Thursday. He had a lot to say. Here are the juiciest tidbits I learned about how he made what will be the most epic car movie of the year—maybe ever.
The Corvette driving on two wheels was a last minute idea.
But it took a whole day to get the shot.
“It happened in the park in New York: We thought we should have Letty get up on two wheels, which made me cringe because I know it’s not going to be great for that car,” McCarthy said. Sixties-era muscle cars aren’t exactly made to withstand forward motion on two wheels. (Luckily, the team had made several replicas of the original car, and they were up to the task. Three main models were used in the shooting.)
“It was a huge challenge; it was very tough on equipment,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we went out and did it.”
Tyrese Gibson’s Lamborghini really did make it out on the ice.
But it took three versions of the car to do so. And only two of them survived.
There was nothing computer-generated with the Lamborghini: It was real driving. It was a real six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive Lamborghini Murcielago. Grey had requested a car for Gibson that was absolutely the wrong car for the environment, and he got exactly that.
“I felt so bad for that car,” McCarthy said. “It just went through abuse after abuse. It went through a snow bank. We shot out the tank. It went through two or three clutches, and it performed like a champ.
“The fact that we came back from Iceland with two running Lamborghinis is really a credit to the vehicle. We put it through hell and back.”
Everything came together in a mere three months.
“We don’t have a lot of time when we do these films,” McCarthy said. “It‘s a full-throttle battle to finish the cars in time for shooting.”
McCarthy starts his work for each film meeting with the writer, Chris Morgan, and the segment's director to start developing ideas. He begins sourcing cars from auctions and wrecking lots, then starts modifying them. Ideas are in a perpetual state of flux.
“The script is always evolving and changing,” he said. “We did know the ice and the submarine that stayed consistent from the initial concept. That was a big help, knowing we would have that location, that sequence on ice. But everything else was pretty much up in the air.”
Michelle Rodriguez almost didn’t get her 1966 Stingray Corvette.
“Michelle loved that Corvette—it fit her perfectly,” McCarthy said. “When the photo went around of the one I wanted to use, people thought it was great. But it’s such an expensive car to start with, I knew it would really blow through the budget.”
Rough Corvettes from that era start in the low $30,000 range, and a nice one can go for $50,000. But once McCarthy and his team found the base models they wanted to use for the shots, he knew they had a winner. (He declined to say just how much money he spent on buying them.)
“You have to pick and choose how you spend money with these big-budget films, but this was totally worth it,” he said. “The car looked amazing on screen.”
Jason Statham demanded a stick shift.
McCarthy initially visualized Statham’s character, Shaw, as a connoisseur of fine, classic European vehicles. But the film budget didn’t allow for such a massive expense. So he chose to put Shaw in a Jaguar F-Type.
“Statham was very adamant that he would not drive a Jag that was an automatic,” McCarthy said. “It was actually less power than the automatic car, but it turned out great—we basically just disabled all the safety features that the car comes with, and that made it basically stunt-ready. It was good to go!”
“Russia” was actually Iceland.
Film planners had initially planned to use Alaska for filming the snow scenes, but that fell through. And, well, things are, you know, tense with the Russians at the moment.
“It was unfortunate for me that the location required a five-week transport time, which cut into my build time,” McCarthy said. Parts were scarce, to say the least. “We don’t have the facility or the resources in Iceland to build the cars like we wanted. And to show up and find what you need on-site was a risk we weren’t willing to take. So we had to fly over five or six cars.”
The stunts are real—really.
Okay, some CGI is used in the Fast and Furious films. Obviously. But nearly everything on screen involves real cars with real drivers (not the actors) and no computer graphics.
For instance, in Cuba, everything looks and feels authentic because it is; it just wouldn’t be right any other way. Even the part when Diesel’s car flies off the side of the road into the water is real.
“Did we really do it? Of course! It’s a Fast and Furious movie,” McCarthy said. “Ninety-eight or 99 percent of the time, there is a guy behind the wheel. The fact that we do these things behind the wheel is very important. We are actually really doing stunts. We are really putting guys in cars. We are really flipping cars in cannons. I never heard the stunt crew say, ‘We can’t do that.’”
Rodriguez loves motorcycles. Really.
“Michele was very very involved with what she rode and drove in the film,” McCarthy said. “She had a lot to do with the actual look of that bike. And it’s just a cool bike, perfect for Cuba: It’s ready for dirt, it’s ready for pavement, it’s ready for anything. She was riding it all around set completely, with zero hesitation.”
No one really knows how many cars were involved in the film shoot. But it was a lot.
To wit: It took 11 copies of the car Dom raced in the opening scene in Cuba to complete the sequence. It took seven replicas of the car he raced against. They weren’t all destroyed, but they didn’t all endure, either.
Producers and directors need that many cars because they don’t shoot the movie sequentially. Sometimes they shoot a scene from the middle or the end and go back to work later on the opening sequence. They always need a supply of fresh, clean cars to use at any given time.
“I never really know the exact answer to how many cars we use in each film,” McCarthy said. “It’s hard to keep track. There were 300 to 400 cars that were purchased or built, vehicles that we had. Then in Cleveland we had zombie cars—cars we would rent and wreck and return them. We’d go through 60 to 70 of those a day.”
That said, here’s a list of the primary cars the main characters used—all heavily modified, of course.
Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto)1950 Chevy1961 Impala (“A very cool car—one of my favorites,” McCarthy said.)2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon Dodge Plymouth GTX1968 Dodge Ice Charger (nine were used in the film)
Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz)Harley-Davidson motorcycleDodge Challenger SRT Demon1966 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2008 Local Motors Rally Fighter
Ludacris (Tej Parker)Modern Mercedes AMG GTRipsaw Tank
Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce)Dodge Challenger SRT Demon2008 Bentley Continental GTLamborghini Murcielago
Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw)Modern Jaguar F-Type
Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs)1995 Land Rover 110International MXTModern Dodge Ram 3500 (five were used)
Scott Eastwood (Little Mr. Nobody)Subaru BRZSubaru WRX
Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes)USSV Rhino XT (Director Gray owns one)
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