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Behind the scenes on Need for Speed
“I find it hilarious that everyone thinks the stunts were computer generated. There’s zero CG in the film. I come from the stunt world, man, we do this s*** for real…”
Scott Waugh, director of the new Need for Speed movie, has perhaps unwittingly invoked playwright Robertson Davies’ age old maxim that the “eyes only see what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
Because it’s difficult to comprehend an £866,000 McLaren P1 being totalled, or one of the three heartbreakingly exquisite Lamborghini Sesto Elementos being toasted into oblivion. Or a one-off, two-million dollar Mustang being air-lifted by a military helicopter. It has to be CG, right?
Wrong. Turns out Scott’s quite passionate about his new movie. He’s a chatty, Los Angeles dude who can’t really believe his luck, having been handpicked by none other than Steven Spielberg himself to direct a movie adaption of one of the gaming world’s biggest franchises.
And seeing as you’ve just witnessed Aaron Paul - aka Jesse from Breaking Bad and lead star Tobey Marshall in Need for Speed - set a scorching time around the TG test track, we decided to grab a few moments with former stuntman and NfS director Waugh to get behind the mechanics of building a car movie.
Top Gear: How did you get the gig directing Need for Speed?
Scott Waugh: I ended up having a meeting with Steven Spielberg, after he’d seen my film Act of Valour and was a fan, telling me that he’d love to work with me. He’d just bought the script for NfS, and asked me to direct it. Steven Spielberg!
I was so excited. I mean, I’m a little perplexed as to how we can’t beat what was on screen 50 years ago from the car movie world.
TG: What do you mean?
SW: Some of the best car movies are still from the 60s and 70s, from my perspective. I mean, we still always only say Bullitt, French Connection, Grand Prix, Smokey and the Bandit. I have a lot of subtle throwbacks in NfS to all these car movies, whether it’s American Graffiti, Vanishing Point, Cannonball Run and the rest.
I still think Bullitt’s car chase is incredible, it has a raw grittiness, plus a) it had Steve McQueen, and b) Steve McQueen actually drove in it. It’s seems to be a lost art form in actors these days.
TG: Why choose the Ford Mustang as the hero car?
SW: I wanted a car to represent the average consumer’s modern version of muscle. Not these $100,000-plus supercars, but something represents the middle of America. There’s really only three - the GT500 Mustang, the ‘Vette, and the Viper.
Personally I was always a Carroll Shelby fan, and when Carroll passed away it hit me hard; he was such an innovator. Plus, the Mustang is the car Steve McQueen drove. I think it’s as cool as ass. Bullitt set the tone for car culture movies.
And the Mustang in NfS is the Bullitt car if you think about it - it was a ‘68 Mustang in a ‘68 movie. I thought if I’m doing a 2015 movie, lets make it a 2015 Mustang, right?
TG: How many Mustangs did you destroy during the shoot?
SW: We built eight Mustangs, and we wrecked six. Five of them were complete write-offs. The one that did that jump didn’t want to see the light of day afterwards, for example. The others went in straight T-bone accidents. We were really pushing the envelope. It was a bummer to see that happen to these cars, but it’s part of the deal.
Overall I’d say we destroyed just under 100 cars. I don’t know the full body count, but I mean… [thinks] the biggest car body count is still the Blues Brothers. There’s a homage to that in NfS too.
TG: What about the supercars - the Veyron, P1, Koenigsegg etc - surely they’re all replicas?
SW: The cars in the movie are all real. The ones we wrecked aren’t real, obviously, because I didn’t want to wreck the real cars, because I felt they were art pieces. The McLaren P1 was the only real car we couldn’t get.
TG: How did you get the manufacturers to play along and build these exact replicas to destroy?
SW: EA (Electronic Arts, the NfS publisher) has a great relationship with all those brands, so they opened the doors for us to get all the CAD designs. We had to sign over huge NDAs, because they’re giving over their magic to us. I mean, that was a real Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, man. Lamborghini solicited us, there are only three of them, and we got one of them.
TG: Why the Koenigsegg as another hero car and not, say, the P1?
SW: There are no Koenigseggs in America, man. At the time we were filming they weren’t allowed over in the States. They couldn’t get the airbag clearance. A lot of the audience won’t have seen a Koenigsegg.
TG: What chassis was underneath the ‘wreck’ cars?
SW: We took a Saleen S7 race-frame, and put Chevy LS3 motors in all of them, pushing out over 500bhp, I mean those were full race cars. We had Tanner Foust, Rhys Millen, Rich Rutherford, Paul Dallenbach all drive in the movie for us. We had some of the top drivers in the world, and they were like kids in a candy store.
But those kit cars would step out on you really fast because the ass-end was so light. For movies, you want the ass-end to step out. It’s sexier looking. But if you’ve got say, a four-wheel-drive car, that’s hard to show on screen. Those cars are not designed like that. You can’t drift a Veyron like that. To a camera, it doesn’t look as exciting when they hug and stick.
TG: What about the camera cars? They must have been quick to keep up?
SW: We built a supercharged Mustang with Steve Saleen to keep up with the racecars, and we modified the hell out of it. Then [exhaust manufacturer] MagnaFlow came in and did the exhaust to give it more power. I think Steve said we had 580bhp at the start, then after the exhaust and other bits, maybe over 600bhp, There’s no other way to do it. That was for the shots above 150mph.
We had a Porsche Cayenne that had a big crane arm on top, and the limits on that car were 90mph [for filming reasons], but I had a former Baja 1000 champion Steve Holladay as my lead camera car driver [laughs]. Man, he got that thing up to 120mph, and up on three wheels at times. I was always in the camera cars with him just laughing.
TG: What were the shooting highlights?
SW: The race that all the stunt drivers had the most fun in was the classic car race, those cars were the best cars in the movie. I put a Porsche 944 in there too, because that car is bitchin’, man, and everyone forgot about that car, but I think it’s cool. And the classic BMW. A lot of those people won’t get them, but the car nerds will get them.
For these cars, these classics, we restored those up from the frame into race cars. Brand new LS3 motors all round, all-new suspension, all-new transmissions. Tanner was like, ‘forget the supercars, these cars are the best’. The asses on those things were super light, so the drivers would light them up and drift them forever. There were times I had to tell them coming into shot, ‘guys I can see your teeth, stop smiling’. It’s a trend in LA called sleepers, classic on the outside, but underneath the hood it was all horsepower.
TG: We’ve seen Aaron Paul light up the TG track, but was he a good driver on set?
SW: When I cast Aaron I was really looking for the next young Steve McQueen. I saw Aaron as being the guy. But I thought, ‘could he drive?’
I told him he needed to learn how to stunt drive and he was game. I was nervous because most actors can’t drive race cars. So I asked my stunt guy how he did after the first day of learning, and he turns to me and says, ‘If films don’t work out for Aaron, he can always become a stunt driver.’
He’s got the finesse, he doesn’t muscle the car, he lets the car work for him. After just the first day he was drifting, and you could see he’d got the bug. I wanted him to do the ‘French Connection’ shot when you drifts into the scene up to the camera, stop and get out all in one shot. And it worked, man. He had zero mishaps.
TG: And what about you - are you any good behind the wheel?
SW: My father [Fred Waugh] was the original Spiderman stuntman from the TV show in 1976, so I come from a stunt family. He taught me how to drive really early. I’m an OK driver. It’s one of those things, as a stuntman when they call you to do a driving gig, I can’t tell you how big the smile is on my face.
You’re getting paid to play. Normally you’re doing a big fall or some fire work and you’re like, ‘oh boy’, but driving is the best. Every stuntman who has to do car work? We should be paying someone, not the other way around.
TG: Sounds great. Thanks Scott!
SW: My pleasure. Hope you enjoy the movie.