”FF8 is really about the after effects of a profound moment that threatens to shatter everything you believe in. What happens when the central figure of your family, the one who preached the lesson of never turning your back on each other, breaks those rules? What happens if he goes dark and his family has to take him on and stand against him? It’s unique and, at times, a little scary. It’s great drama for the franchise, and it gave us a reason to move forward in a compelling way..”
On the heels of 2015’s Furious 7, one of the fastest movies to reach $1 billion worldwide and the sixth-biggest global title in box-office history, comes the newest chapter in one of the most popular and enduring motion-picture serials of all time: Fast and Furious 8, which had a record-breaking 3-day opening in South Africa at R17 777 495 – when including previews FF8 delivered the second highest opening weekend at R20 135 115, just falling short of FF7, which delivered R20 971 652 in 2015.
As evidenced by the December 2016 trailer debut of the film—which currently ranks as the biggest ever, with more than 139 million views in the 24 hours after its unveiling in Times Square—audiences’ appetite for tales from the Fast & Furious saga has never been bigger, and the franchise has never been more popular or more global. Although this group has experienced much on the road that has brought them here—as they shot cars out of planes, through skyscrapers and down mountains—the core idea that drives them has never wavered: family.
FF8 is directed by F. Gary Gray, the filmmaker behind such blockbusters as Straight Outta Compton—the No. 1 musical biopic in the history of cinema—The Italian Job, Be Cool and Friday, from a screenplay by series architect and fellow producer Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious series, Wanted), based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious).
Furious 7 proved to be an emotionally charged culmination of the beloved franchise built on speed. Not only were the filmmakers and cast looking to pay homage to the legacy of Paul Walker, who was inarguably the heart of the films, but also to the very best of what The Fast and the Furious sparked in film audiences more than 15 years ago…and continues to do with another generation of fans.
Completing production of the film and then promoting it worldwide was both an exhausting and energizing labor of love for all involved. But with the end of an era came the inevitable questions of whether this was truly the finale of the beloved franchise.
Faced with the decision of whether to continue the saga, producers Neal H. Moritz and Vin Diesel, screenwriter Chris Morgan, Universal Pictures executives and the rest of the cast had to think long and hard about their next step together.
The Fast family was in mourning, and, at the time, few could come up with a worthwhile reason to pick up the pieces and resume the collective saga.
The outlaws of East Los Angeles’ street racing underground had risen to infamy on the international stage pulling off daring high-stakes heists. While they had lost friends and gained enemies along the way…any new tale would ensure they would remain true to their roots.
Whatever happened, the filmmakers felt they would need to do something completely different if the series were to continue.
When it was decided that the franchise still had more riveting stories to share, they opted to throw a curveball into the mix. The new direction would be an explosive turn of events destined to rock the dedicated fan base to its NOS-loving core. Since the beginning, the series’ deep-seated theme of family has been entrenched in every film, and that fundamental tenet would be put to the test.
“I only wanted to continue the saga if we were going to collectively make the best final trilogy for ourselves, for the legacy of our brother Paul, and for Universal, who’s been so supportive over the years,” says Diesel, who has served as a producer on the series since Fast & Furious. “With Furious 7, our focus was to not only make the best film in the saga but to honor what it has represented for almost two decades. The key to this next chapter is to challenge those core themes that have endured, and to do it in a way that is compelling but still entertaining.”
Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who returns for his sixth tour of duty with the franchise, this time joins Moritz, Diesel and Fottrell as producer. For the series architect who charts and crafts the interwoven multi-film story points, this arc would pose his biggest challenge; once Morgan delineated the team’s ideas for the final trilogy, it would be a mind-blowing achievement.
“Recalls Morgan of the tipping point: “FF8 is really about the after effects of a profound moment that threatens to shatter everything you believe in. What happens when the central figure of your family, the one who preached the lesson of never turning your back on each other, breaks those rules? What happens if he goes dark and his family has to take him on and stand against him? It’s unique and, at times, a little scary. It’s great drama for the franchise, and it gave us a reason to move forward in a compelling way.”
It was an audacious premise and once Morgan, Moritz and Diesel blocked out the story points, they knew they could blaze down a new road with an original, high-octane tale while still maintaining the outlaw spirit that fans gravitate to time after time.
Remarks longtime franchise producer Moritz: “What always amazes me is how we’re able to develop and maintain that blurred line between good guy and bad guy over the course of this series. We’ve allowed each of our characters, new and old alike, to grow in different directions. We never go into a new chapter with any preconceived notions of what they should do, and let each movie organically grow each of these characters. It has been satisfying to see how many different arenas we can enter and ways we can go with them. That’s part of the fun for the audience: they love this cast of characters but are never sure exactly what’s going to happen with them.”
With each new installment in the series, Moritz and Diesel always want to keep fans on their toes and to allow them to be entertained by the unexpected.
Finding a director with the ability to deliver on every level, while retaining the series’ singular voice, has always been a prerequisite. Justin Lin set the groundwork for a memorable four-film run when he reinvigorated the franchise with Tokyo Drift, and James Wan did it with the record setting worldwide box-office juggernaut of Furious 7.
Enter F. Gary Gray, whose versatile filmography includes the critically acclaimed biopic Straight Outta Compton, the thriller The Negotiator, actioner The Italian Job and cult comedy classic Friday, among many others. One will see little similarities among these projects, and that’s the way Gray likes it.
The director admits that he has long gravitated toward material that challenges him. When faced with the tempting offer of taking on one of Universal’s biggest franchises, Gray was intrigued. Still, he dug a little deeper looking for that one thing, that hook, to inspire and push his limits. “Artists dig in more when they feel challenged, and this was a major challenge for me,” he reflects. “I wanted to bring something different to the franchise, and it all starts with the story. This is completely different; it’s nothing we’ve ever experienced in the Fast franchise.”
FF8 would allow Gray the opportunity to take a massive tent pole film and bring his singular approach to storytelling, eliciting performances and crafting narrative to deliver an unexpected experience on every level.
He was primed to take the series in a fascinating new direction. Not only did Gray come to the table with innovative ideas to ground the series, he also arrived on set sharing longstanding relationships with many of the Fast cast. The filmmaker had directed Diesel in A Man Apart, Statham and Theron in The Italian Job, and Johnson in Be Cool. Additionally, he knows Gibson and Bridges socially from entertainment industry functions, as well as his early days in the industry, when he directed music videos and TV commercials.
Diesel was very pleased to see the talented filmmaker join the Fast & Furious family. “I knew from A Man Apart what Gary could pull out in terms of a darker character. I knew he would be perfect,” he commends. “Gary is a director who, first and foremost, focuses with exactitude on performance; that’s why we have Oscar®-winning actors in this film. We knew he was going to pay that much-needed attention to the nuances of performance that this chapter would call for.”
Gray knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish when he first met with the producers to discuss FF8’ signature tone and direction.
“Dom Toretto is always about family, and with this storyline it’s the absolute opposite of what you expect. I wanted to be a part of delivering not only this different story, but delivering a performance that you’ve never seen from the entire cast.”
When all was said and done, family remains the cornerstone for the Fast family, both in front of the camera and behind. The last 15 years has left an indelible impression, and the hope is that the film’s fierce fans feel it renewed. Concludes Gray: “FF8 definitely represents a new beginning. This is a new chapter in the Fast saga, and we set it off, for sure.”