HOLLYWOOD — Justin Lin has been driving the Fast & Furious mega-franchise since 2006’s Tokyo Drift, and has become the go-to car-chase and car-stunt filmmaker of his generation. Now he’s back for the fourth time with the latest blockbuster episode of the long-running action franchise, Fast & Furious 6, which reunites stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson for another testosterone-fueled adventure.
The set up? Since Dom (Diesel) and Brian’s (Walker) Rio heist toppled a kingpin’s empire and left their crew with $100 million, our heroes have scattered across the globe. But their inability to return home and living forever on the lam have left their lives incomplete.
Meanwhile, Hobbs (Johnson) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across 12 countries, whose mastermind is aided by a ruthless second-in-command. The only way to stop the criminal outfit is to outmatch them at street level, so Hobbs asks Dom to assemble his elite team in London. Payment? Full pardons for all of them so they can return home and make their families whole again. Gentlemen — start your engines.
Also coming back to the franchise is an accomplished, behind-the-scenes team, including cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (Fast Five, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) and editors Christian Wagner (Fast Five, Fast & Furious, Mission: Impossible II) and Kelly Matsumoto (Fast Five, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift).
Here, in an exclusive interview, the director talks about making the film, dealing with all the effects, and his love of post.
POST: How do you top the last film?
JUSTIN LIN: “The pressure of that is what I enjoy the most about the challenge. When I started on the franchise, my pitch was about embracing the characters and evolving them and the genre, and I feel we really have done that.”
POST: What sort of film did you set out to make this time?
LIN: “My goal was always to mix it up. They’ve all been very different tonally and stylistically, and that was very conscious effort. Plus, I have a great partner with Universal. Often, when you have a very successful franchise, people tend to get very conservative and want to just repeat the same thing. But the studio’s been very open to me trying new things all the time, and for a filmmaker that’s a great place to be.”
POST: What were the main technical challenges of pulling all this together?
LIN: “There were so many, and it’s funny to say this with the big budget I had, but I still didn’t have enough. I had to pull a lot of indie tricks out of the hat that I used on my first film, Better Luck Tomorrow, which I financed with credit cards. For instance, we’d have fight scenes scheduled for three to five days, and then have to do it in one. So it was hard for everyone, but it also set a good tone for us. I began in indies, and even with these huge films, I want to treat ‘em like they’re indie movies. Forget the huge budget and paydays — it’s still down to all showing up on the day and trying to create something that’s never been done before.”
POST: How tough was the shoot?
LIN: “It was grueling. We shot all over the place — England, Scotland, the Canary Islands, Spain — and the cohesion of the film depends on me being involved in every detail. So even though we had a big 2nd unit led by Spiro Razatos, it’s designed for months ahead, so whatever lens he’s using is all pre-designed, and if there’s the slightest change I’m on the phone with him.
“So I’d often be shooting in the day and talking with Spiro at night or in the cutting room discussing whether he should use a 16mm or a 14mm lens. All that had to be pinned down every day, since you can’t go back and re-shoot this stuff. So I really relied on Spiro and we worked very closely on all the stunts and action scenes, since every one of those is also designed as a character beat. Often I’d shoot all day on 1st unit, drive over to the 2nd unit and shoot with Dwayne all night, and then head back to 1st unit again.”
POST: How far did you have to integrate post into the shoot to make this happen?
LIN: “The post aspect was crucial and we integrated that very early on. Right after storyboard I went to previs, so I immediately got the editors to start cutting it because I needed everyone to be on the same page. So often it’s discussing each beat, so everyone knows exactly what we’re trying to do. Doing one of these films is very different from doing a superhero movie.
“A lot of times with those films you have a guy flying, and you design it and shoot it exactly that way, because he’s not really flying. But for these films, you can design cars and a head-on collision, but it never ends up exactly the way you plan it. So you’ve gotta have Plan B, C, D and E all in place.
“For instance, we have this huge plane stunt sequence, and it worked, but not the way we wanted. The car didn’t get smashed the way it was designed to. So on the day, Spiro calls me, I run into the cutting room, and we had to redesign it on the fly so that 12 hours later they could start shooting other shots. We had the editors on early on, so that when they’re cutting previs and Spiro arrives with the footage, we can integrate all that. The schedule was insane for such a big action movie. We only wrapped in December, and had to finish all the VFX and post a few months later. That’s a huge challenge.”
POST: Do you like the post process?
LIN: “I love it. And I love editing, which is the final rewrite. If you can share your point-of-view effectively with your cast and crew on the shoot, then it all comes to life in post.”
POST: Where did you do the post?
LIN: “During the shoot I have a crew in LA and one in London, and once we wrapped it was all on the Universal lot. We took over a whole building. First floor was all editing, the second floor was all VFX, and then all the sound and music was done on the lot too.”
POST: The film was edited by Christian Wagner and Kelly Matsumoto. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked. Were they on-set?
LIN: “Chris basically supervised, although he joined later, but no one cut each other’s sequences. The way we work is that everyone has to be on the same point, and they have to understand why it’s shot that way. For instance, Kelly cut the big ‘Antonov’ plane crash previs and tank previs stuff, and then it got handed off later.”
POST: Is it true you had five editors cutting at one point?
LIN: “Yes, and I alternated from one room to the next, which I love, so I never have to sit and wait. Every frame I know by heart, and this method’s the next best thing to editing it myself. When [editor] Greg D’Auria joined, I needed him in London as he was cutting pre-vis on several sequences we were doing there, so he had to be close by. Then, when we all met up, I’d explain why some cuts work in a certain way, so it would all be very cohesive. Once we began production, all five editors were on.”
POST: There’s obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there, and what was your approach to dealing with them?
LIN: “We had over 1,800 and used a lot of companies — Double Negative, Pixomondo, Image Engine, MPC, Hydraulx, Level 256, Hatch. What I’ve learned is that VFX only work if they’re designed correctly. That’s why I bring all the editors on so early. They’re there while I’m designing them with the DP and production designer and so on. That’s crucial.”
POST: You also used two VFX supervisors. How did that work?
LIN: “David Vickery from Double Negative comes with his whole team, and Kelvin MciIwain [from Kaliber Visual Effects] has worked with me on every film, as either a supervisor or vendor. It’s a big team effort. The more eyeballs I have and trust to create these shots, the faster and better we can do it, because often shots arrive in batches. So it was a great set-up and David also worked directly with a lot of the VFX artists on a lot of the big sequences, while Kelvin oversaw all the outside vendors.”
POST: What was the most difficult VFX sequence/shot to do and why?
LIN: “They’re all tricky. The Antonov plane sequence was mitigated by the fact that we built the whole plane, so the extensions had some context. Trying to support all of the practical stunts is always a challenge, and making sure the VFX are enhancing, not taking over.”
POST: Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
LIN: “It’s huge. I now have 13 characters I need to take care of, so a lot of the subtext needs to be dealt with through music and sound. Music editor Paul Rabjohns has been a hero because he came in and helped the composer and music supervisors find the right music to fit the film.”
POST: The DI must have been vital? How did that process help?
LIN: “We did it at Universal and it’s the final touch on the whole post process, so I’m in there for hours and hours making small adjustments and making sure it’s the right tone.”
POST: Did the film turn out the way you hoped it would?
LIN: “It did. I think it had to, or I wouldn’t make my deadline (Laughs). I love the challenge of pulling it all together.”
POST: So will you do another?
LIN: “No. This is it for me, the last one. Eight years ago, I felt that if we could grow the franchise, we’d be here today. So it means we fulfilled all the dreams, and it’s very satisfying to get here. It wraps everything up from the first five films, and it feels like the end of a chapter, so it’s time for me to move on.”
POST: Any interest in doing a 3D film?
LIN: “Definitely. But I think 3D’s a medium that needs to be respected and designed. I can’t stand the 2D films that do a post conversion. They never look good.”
POST: What’s next?
LIN: “I’m developing several projects and I have choices today I never had 10 years before. It’s very exciting.”