John Gatins made a name for himself as a go-to Hollywood screenwriter thanks to his work on the Hugh Jackman vehicle Real Steel (which is getting a sequel) followed by his Oscar-nominated writing on Denzel Washington’s Flight. Before going into Flight, Gatins knew very little about the world of aviation and through his own research, pieced together one of the best-written films of 2012. For his next ambitious project, John Gatins teams with his brother and co-writer George to tackle a genre very close to home with DreamWorks’ Need For Speed.

The Gatins brothers actually own their own auto shop in California and have grown up with cars always being a big part of their lives. It was at that very shop where they met with and won over video game maker Electronic Arts, earning the chance to write and produce the Need For Speed film adaptation. We met with John Gatins while visiting the set of Need For Speed where we spoke about a potential sequel, crafting a completely original story from a game series that doesn’t have one, and how to make a action-focused video game adaptation work.

Talk about the challenge of adapting a video game and especially a series that doesn’t feature stories or characters.

John Gatins: Sometimes video games have a hard time translating to movies, but I think that a video game with no narrative is a good place to start, because my brother and I were able to create the world, the characters, the story. Electronic Arts was amazing, because that game has been around for seventeen-eighteen years – and I’m a huge car freak personally, which I think they thought of me first, and then I’m a gamer. My kids are gamers too. I knew the game really well, and the thing that we most took from the game was the landscapes. Any kind of a driving game, we wanted to create a quest into the story, so kinda got to do all kinds of cityscapes and mountains and stuff, and that’s why we’ve been to Mendocino, San Francisco, Atlanta, Macon, Detroit, Utah. It’s like we kind of wanted to honor the game in that way. It was a great opportunity for open landscape as far as the story went.

What is it about the Need for Speed franchise that makes it the most successful selling racing franchise?

Well, as a car freak, which I am – I just grew up a white trash kid who loved cars – I’d never heard of a Koenigsegg, and I’m a grown man, and it’s like in the game there’s all this wish fulfillment where you get to experience driving a super car that goes 250 miles an hour, and it wasn’t until making this movie that I put my hands on a real Koenigsegg and Spano and cars that I had only seen in magazines. So I think that that game gives you a great opportunity, because Electronic Arts has great partnerships with all of those companies, from Porsche — some of these, all of these incredible cars you wouldn’t see in other games, they have these great longstanding relationships with.

You talked about wish fulfillment, but you’re really making this kind of gritty, and there’s been a lot of talk about ‘70s car movies. Why did that seem the way to go for you?

Well, I think that it comes from Scott Waugh [director], who has an incredible story personally, in that he grew up in this family where his father was a famous stuntman, stunt coordinator, stunt director, and he grew up as a stunt kid. The first meeting that we had with Steven Spielberg, looked at Scott and said, “Wait, I know you,” and he said, “Yeah.” He said, “I stunted on Hook.” So as a little kid he was a stunt player for one of the actor kids in Hook, and Spielberg recognized. So Scott grew up in a world of authentic car stunts, so for him it was really important for that authenticity carried its way into the movie, unlike other movies that really rely so heavily on CGI, we’re not gonna.

It’s more Two-Lane Blacktop, less Fast and the Furious.

Exactly. It’s more — Scott uses Vanishing Point and Bullet, and I always talk about Smokey and the Bandit because I was the perfect age when that movie came out. I loved movies and I loved cars, and then now there was a movie about a car. It was like the greatest thing that ever happened. I saw it every day for two weeks. So I think that that’s a big part of it, and they introduced this car to the world, and we’re getting an opportunity — where Ford is our partner — where we get to reveal their new Mustang.


Is it safe to say there are no hybrids in this film? Nobody wants a hybrid driver movie?

You never know. We may destroy a few hybrids. We’ve destroyed a lot of things, both intentionally and unintentionally.

What’s the one thing that you guys have destroyed that you got–

That made you cry a little bit?

Yeah.

Well, it’s funny because we have a warehouse where we keep – as we keep moving place to place, as our circus continues to move – like, the carnage comes with us, because we’re honoring our partnerships to these companies who shared their CAD files and all the blueprints and the architecture, because we had to duplicate some of them, and so we have them, and they used to be beautiful, and now they look like lunch boxes that have been run over by a school bus.

What’s the most expensive car that you guys have trashed?

Most of the cars that we absolutely destroyed were cars that we built, but even those cars that we fabricated were three hundred thousand dollar builds.

You talked a little bit about creating characters from scratch. Obviously action movies are great, but if we actually about these people who might be getting hurt in these car chases, that helps sell the movie.

I mean, for me, anytime I approach a story, I usually place myself somewhere in it. So, for me, he’s obviously a very young, very handsome blue-collar hero, but honestly, it’s true, he comes from a part in the world that’s familiar to me, which kind of a beat up town outside of New York City that’s kind of urban and suburban and rural all at the same time, and he kind of grew up — so it was kind of like the idea that my brother and I both grew up really big car fans, car freaks, and for us, we were like, “Let’s have this group of guys who kind of grew up together, tinkering and putting cars together.”

So do you have to treat the car like a real character with plotting out things are getting handled? Because I know you can’t always focus on Aaron Paul and what he’s doing.

A couple of the cars have real personality, because we also start the movie, like I was saying, like this kid who’s the blue collar hero, the every man, who is down on his luck financially and every other way, and doesn’t have access to world where he can show off his real talents as a driver, and it’s not until — down on his luck. So the cars that we witness at the beginning of the movie are cars that I can kind of grew up — their muscle cars, American muscle cars that you could start with a couple thousand dollars and slowly kind of put it together and put it together, and those are the cars that our lead character, that Aaron plays, gets to race and campaign against other cars.

And it isn’t until Dominic Cooper’s character enters the picture that gives him an opportunity to step into a level that’s magic with these super cars. So those cars, I think were important because they’re the ones that I grew up with that we still kind of see that are still iconic, that are still big cars at auctions. You know, we have Camaros and a Grand Torino and GTOs, and cars that are very iconic to American car culture and the collector hobby, and then these other cars — like I said, I’m a guy that’s been in that hobby my whole life, but now this super cars thing is like a-whole-nother thing, so those have personalities too, because we have European drivers for them, so it kind of brings this different kind of flavor to it. And the Beast is a really big part of it, the Ford F450. The support car, basically — they call it the Beast and it has its own kind of personality and they tricked it out in kind of this amazing way.


He’s also got the “Beast” [the modified F450 truck] following him. He’s also getting attention from the cops. Does he have a lot of conflicting emotions going on?

He does, he also has Scott Mescudi [Kid Cudi] in various different fixed and unfixed winning aircraft that are trying to help him along the way too. He’s got air support, ground support, and they’re constantly trying to divert here and there to kind of elude everyone who’s chasing him from police to you know.

Can you talk about Dominic Cooper’s character?

Personally, the guy’s an un– no, it’s so great, ‘cause the nice thing is I haven’t done a movie with a young cast since Varsity Blue, you know? So it’s like I work with grown ups who come to work and just go home. So to be with this cast who’s like, “Come on, we’re done with work, let’s go out!” It’s like they get along so well, and Dominic Cooper is like a ringleader of like, “Come on, let’s go to this spot. I found this place, let’s go dancing.” It’s like, oh my God.

He talks like Dickensian urchin?

He does, he does! He really does. But his character — he’s the guy who also they kind of grew up with, but he was on the Tony side of the track, so he comes from a family that wealthy, and that money gave him access to kind of campaign cars on a different level, and he ultimately kind of slithered his way into a world of high end racing, but he always knew that Tobey had incredible talent, so he comes to Tobey with an opportunity that Tobey kind of can kind turn down because of the financial situation he’s in, despite the fact that they don’t think much of Dominic, obviously — and there’s like an antagonism from the beginning.

Page 2: The Actors & Action in ‘Need For Speed’

DreamWorks Pictures’ Need For Speed is directed by Scott Waugh and stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, Harrison Gilbertson and Michael Keaton.

Need for Speed hits theaters on March 14, 2014.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.


So he’s involved in that race that they’re trying to get to?

Yes. Ultimately — well, he is, yes. He’s the antagonist.

Did you have any guidelines or must have scenes that you had to put into the script or did you just have kind of a freedom?

The interesting thing about this process what that Electronic Arts decided to, because they’ve have video games before that have great titles and some of them have worlds and narratives, and they’ve made partnerships with movie studios that have developed their titles into the ground. So EA sort of felt like, “We can develop stories. We do it in our games all the time.” So their agents who are my agents said to them, “Why do you keep the process a little longer? Don’t just sell off the ID, develop the story yourself.” So that’s when we partnered. So with Electronic Arts and myself and my brother George — we developed it with them, so it was kind of great because there was no shocker to them. It wasn’t like we turned in a script and they went, “Oh my God, what did you do?” Along the way we had really detailed treatments where we said, “This is what we want to do.”

We want to create this ensemble of young guys, and this what we think we should put them through, and they had input all along the way. So by the end we had a script, we had a game with a great title and a great following, and then we were able to go out and meet with DreamWorks and Fox and a couple of studios — and DreamWorks, I’ve worked with Steven [Spielberg] and Stacey [Snider] for years like on and off, and they knew that I had the project kind of thing, and then it was was kind of like, “Let’s do this.” So it was great, because that’s what Electronic Arts really wanted to hear, because they had been down the movie development path a few times and they were like — but Spielberg literally walked in and just looked at them and said, “Let’s make this movie.” And they were like, “Okay. Good.”


I know you said there were new models of cars that were being debuted. Is there also though a sense of timelessness to the story?

Well, I think so. Like you were talking about, like Two-Lane Blacktop — it’s been so fun. We were in Macon, Georgia. The race that opens the movie features a ‘67 GTO and a ’68 Camaro, and all of these iconic muscle cars, that no matter where we go, we have to bring all that stuff with us, and people always want to stop and look at them and want to talk about them. So I think that that definitely invites you, especially because it’s the opening of the movie, that it just immediately invites you into like into like, wow. This a movie that I want to see. Those cars — I remember those cars. I had this car.

What makes a great villain car?

A great villain car? It’s gotta be fast and deadly, probably, and Dominic has a variety of them, which is really funny, because he constantly shows up in a car that’s like, “God, what is that?!”

You said that Aaron Paul’s character is like a blue collar hero. What traits about his character, other than the themes of vengeance, which everyone can get behind him, you think make him so relatable and such a good character?

What’s interesting is these guys, as much as they’re kind of like wise asses, are very honorable and very loyal to each other, and have grown up together, so that’s a theme that comes through, is this loyalty and friendship and love they have for each other. And there’s a tragic event that happens that even draws them closer together and Aaron’s character’s right in the center of it, so you kind of click into him right away.


What do you think he actually brings to the role?

Aaron? Well, it’s, I mean, it’s funny, ‘cause that’s kind of who Aaron is in life. He’s such an open, straight away kind of guy. I’ve worked with a lot of actors, like he’s a guy — the first day I met him, I actually talked to him on the phone while he was in England making a movie, and just on the phone in two seconds, it was super comfortable. He was so humble and excited and not an asshole at all. It was kind of amazing.

How big of a team of guys are we talking about? You said there’s air support, there’s gonna be another car — because I thought it was just a guy and a girl traveling cross country.

No, like I said there’s Rami Malek and Ramon [Rodriguez], those guys are the Beast guys, and there’s Scott Mescudi in the air, so that’s three. And then the two of them, Aaron and Imogen [Poots].

Can you tell us a little about her character?

She’s amazing because by design, Scott really loved Imogen and was like, “I want her to be a twisted version of herself.” Like, wasn’t gonna her make try to do an American accent — wanted her to be European and play this kind of upper crust character so they can be opposites. He’s a kid, an American kid, and comes from humble means and he wants to run in this world of dealing these really high end cars. So immediately they’re a little bit like oil and vinegar.


But that makes a delightful salad dressing.

Absolutely.

Is she running from a wedding?

Is she running from a wedding? Hah! That would be good. Maybe in the second movie. God, that’s gen– I didn’t even think about that. We should’ve totally did that. We actually did put a bandit car in at one point. I don’t know if it’ll make the movie, but Scott was like, “Should we give the guy your hat, or is that too much?” And I said, “Yeah, let’s leave the hat out.” We do a bandit in there, a ’79 Trans Am.

There’s obviously big action set pieces in this film. Was there one before filming began that you guys were like, “Oh, how are we doing this one?”

Oh, we have a couple like that. Like, there’s one called The Grasshopper that we’re doing here, which is kind of great because Scott’s father — there’s a great history among these stunt guys. There’s a camaraderie and this amazing almost military like respect they have for each other, ‘cause they’re real jokers and they’re hilarious guys and you see them out and they’re full of life, but when it comes to doing the work, like — when we get closer and closer to doing what they call the events, it gets quieter and quieter and they get more serious, and then literally, like, the last moment before they go to do it, there’s a lot of like, everyone stops to get out of their car, and all this hugging, and like, “Hey man, see you on the other side.”

They take it incredibly seriously. Because I’ve never worked on a movie with stunts like this. It’s usually a lot of green screen and different kinds of stunts. Car stunts are intense. You’re driving thousands of pounds of metal at tons of miles an hour at each other. It’s kind of insane. So the Grasshopper was one of the Gilbert — Lance Gilbert is our stunt coordinator, and the Gilberts and the Waughs, Scott and his brother and his dad, they’ve all known each other for years. They’ve kind of grown up together. Mickey Gilbert’s a very famous stunt coordinator, stunt director, so they’re redoing a stunt that their fathers had done, which a car stunt called the Grasshopper, which is a huge jump and all this crazy stuff. So the Grasshopper is very near and dear to the heart of the production, but there’s other things too. I mean, we’re using a Sikorsky helicopter to lift a mustang and fly it off a cliff. There’s some shit that’s like, “Oh my God, please let’s all survive this day.”

Page 3: What To Expect From ‘Need For Speed 2′

DreamWorks Pictures’ Need For Speed is directed by Scott Waugh and stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, Harrison Gilbertson and Michael Keaton.

Need for Speed hits theaters on March 14, 2014.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.


Since you mentioned a sequel, if you were to do a sequel, is there a specific car, rig, model, anything that you would like to see that you were not able to include in this one?

That’s a great question. I think that I’ve kind of joked that I want the opening of the sequel to take place in Sweden and in the Koenigsegg factory, and one shot, I want to a Koenigsegg being completely put together, so that people know that it’s actually a $2.3 million dollar car, and then take it out onto some highway and just destroy it. Just to put it all to bed, like this is what we’re gonna be doing. It’s like, go to Europe and just destroy amazing cars. No, but I do – we’ve talked about the idea in a second movie, because the video game lives in North America, and we’ve even said to EA, we’ve said, “Look, you know, if we make a second movie, don’t you think we should take it overseas?” And we were a little worried that they might be like, “No, it has to live in the world of the game.” But they were like, “No, let’s do it.” So, they might end up tailoring the game to what we potentially do in the movie, because why not take it to Dubai and Paris, and race cars 180 miles an hour through the streets of Paris?

You’ve done a couple movies now that are based on worlds that have really obsessive cultures like high school football in Texas and car culture. Is that something you intentionally pursue as a writer, or is that something that happens?

I think it’s somewhat intentional — like, Flight, for example, is a movie that came out of my intense and obsession of flying and airplanes and the pilot culture, and working on a movie like Behind Enemy Lines gave me the initial idea, ‘cause it was working with all these technical advisers who were military pilots. Getting to know these guys and realizing some of these guys become commercial airline pilots. It’s used to be much more so, it’s a little less now, but yeah, I think it’s always like, what do you want to learn about? And then you get inside something and you’re like, “Wow, there’s a movie here.” But as a writer, that’s what you’re always thinking. It’s like you walk around going, “Is that a movie? Is that a movie?”

They deal a lot with American masculinity as well. Does that kind of interest you as a topic?

I’m gonna field that one.

You’re the one in the cowboy hat right now.

I trying to think. I never thought — I want to come up with a clever answer — I never thought of it that way, but I guess, yeah, I grew up playing a lot of sports and I’ve done a lot of sports movies, so I think that’s probably part of it. And it’s such part of the American thing that, you know, the sports references when it comes to business, you know. Like people just talk about sports metaphors all the time, and I think sports reveal character. That’s the reason I get my wife interested in sports. She’s always just, “Ah, I don’t want to watch this football game,” but then if I say, “But wait! This guy broke his leg two years ago and he’s back, and it’s just him and his mom and she was a prison guard,” and now she’s crying, and, “I’m in! I’m in! I’m in!” So I think that any time you can apply a little human experience to whatever it is, we as Americans are suckers for it.


Is it tricky to find – I feel that racing and sports, there’s sort of a twist of like, maybe they won, but they won in an nontraditional way that surprises the audience. You need some sort of, “Well, I never thought of that.”

Well, I think that’s always the case, because I’ve done enough sports over the years to realize how the trends go. It’s like they have to win! They shouldn’t win. The win should be a different win. Okay, the win is a different win, so I think that it’s how funny how there’s trends. I love the movie School of Rock, because that was a thing that was like, hey, guess what? They didn’t win, but that’s the good thing. It’s like, okay. There’s movies like that, and I think that were always trying to look for a twist on things. I think the Tin Cup was a great movie too. That surprised me. He makes great sports movies, Ron Shelton. Do you remember that movie though? It was like the third time he put the ball down and started, I was like, “Is this really happening? Costner’s supposed to win, right? Like, what the fuck?” So I like that. We did that too, here. We hopefully twisted it a little bit. We tried to keep the movie in front of the audience as much as we could.

Your films have a lot of minutia and detail — and a lot of accurate detail — how many drafts did you do of this? Where do you really put in those details?

It’s a lot. It’s always many, many, many drafts and it’s a ton of research, and it’s the reason I say no more than anything when somebody comes to me with something, ‘cause a lot of times I say, “Look, I’m just gonna be honest: I don’t know a lot about that.” And I feel like why would I be the guy who should write a period Western. I don’t know shit about that. It would take me forever to get up to speed with how they do what they do living in that place. So cars was a little bit something more up my alley. Sports came really easy because I played so many sports through college and all of that. Cars, sports, things I know about, and things I get fascinated with, like Flight being the airplane thing. But I had to learn a lot on this. It’s like I said, I don’t know anything about European super cars. I didn’t even know what a super car was. Like, think about this: airplanes, like the commercial plane that some of you took to get here, that takes off at about 150 miles per hour. When that plane takes off, it’s gonna take off at about 150-160 miles an hour. The Koenigsegg (unintelligible, 21:31) can go 250 miles an hour. That’s 100 miles an hour more than the speed of the plane you’re taking off in. You just put that in your head and you go, “I don’t even understand that.” It’s like, how is that even — yeah.

More Need For Speed: Aaron Paul Set Interview

DreamWorks Pictures’ Need For Speed is directed by Scott Waugh and stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, Harrison Gilbertson and Michael Keaton.

Need for Speed hits theaters on March 14, 2014.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.