Visiting the Need For Speed edit bay at the Bandito Brothers office in Los Angeles a few months later, it became extremely clear why the members of the stunt team became so serious just before getting to work. The 20 minutes of unfinished footage showed off all kinds of death-defying maneuvers like the aforementioned "Grasshopper" (which involved making a car drive across and over a grass embankment, causing the car to fly about 50 feet through the air); huge explosions; and even driving a car of a cliff and having it get caught by a helicopter.
As insane and impossible as those kinds of stunts seem, Waugh was adamant about making the film 100% realistic in its physics so that the audience can get their heads around the difference between real, practical action scenes and those constructed almost entirely out of CGI. Waugh worked as a stunt man on all of the Fast & Furious movies and and says he lamented how "99% of the time" the car work with the actors would take place on a green screen set, and joked that you can always tell which car is the star’s in a movie because it sits on a process trailer one foot off the ground. Getting the chance to direct his own car film the director decided he would not copy those strategies.
" There’s a rule I have here in my company, that you can’t break physics. If you break physics, it hurts the story because then the characters don’t apply to the physics either. So, if a car can jump off a bridge 100 feet up and land on the ground and keep going, then my characters can get shot and their head blown off and they can keep going too, because it just doesn’t apply. I wanted to make sure that everything in this movie is authentic and real, so we put the cars through things that it would survive, so that the characters’ stakes are real, so you really feel for the revenge story and you really believe in it, because it feels real and it’s not a fantastical world. It’s a very practical world."
About more than just physics, using real cars on the road also meant that Waugh and his crew had to be creative with camera placement and cinematography in order to cinematically translate the reality of what the production was doing. The inside of a car is an extremely confined space that limits the number of coverage options available, and the director added that at this point we have seen so much fake car driving that it’s hard to distinguish it from reality. "I really wanted to make sure there were angles that really told you, ‘Yes, we’re really doing it,’" Waugh said. "So we really made sure all the angles really made you know that these guys are in the car and they’re really driving."
A big part of accomplishing that realism was actually having the film’s stars driving during stunts – but of course there were also certain limitations to that. Speaking with Paul at the edit bay, the actor lamented that he wasn’t the one in the driver’s seat when his car went for a helicopter ride – a gig he said he volunteered for– but there were other action sequences that he was more than happy to let the professionals take care of.
"The grasshopper thing was not me, thank god. That was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen. There were, I think, 27 cameras rolling for that stunt… That was speeding down the freeway at god knows what speed, going up this ramp and flying over three or four lanes of traffic. That’s all practical. They actually did it. It wasn’t CG. They did it. I was just like, ‘Oh my god. Please be okay." Seeing that happen, I was like, "Thank god that isn’t me.’
Need For Speed will be in theaters on March 14, 2014, and stay tuned in the next couple months to learn more about both our experiences on set and in the film’s edit bay.