On our latest Screen Rant Underground Podcast we addressed to the solemn issue of Paul Walker's death, what it means for Fast & Furious 7 and the future of the franchise, overall. Universal has been trying to do the respectful thing by delaying production (which started back in September and is about halfway done), but there remains a massive hurdle in regards to the question of whether the footage already completed can be used, how it should be used, if it should be used - or if a fresh start is in order.
Recently we heard that the fresh start option was looking likely, but apparently that's no longer the favored case. Now we're hearing that Universal and the Fast & Furious 7 script writer could be working on a way to use what they have to create a send-off for Paul Walker's character, Brian O'Connor.
THR had the news to share about Fast & Furious 3 - 7 writer Chris Morgan working on a version of the script that provides an ending for O'Connor. Of course, as ever in the land of Hollywood, the report comes with a more cynical twist; it's actually about how the situation with Walker's death could scrap the film and force the studio to file the "largest insurance claim in Hollywood history." A revised script would help get the stalled production back into gear (no pun) - but as we (and many others) have pointed out, that provides a massive challenge to Morgan and the producers, creatively speaking.
Since Fast & Furious 7 centers on a revenge-seeking Jason Statham wreaking havoc on Dom, Brian, and the rest of the "familia," there were two obvious ways to write-out the Brian O'Connor character: as a victim of the villain's revenge, or as a family man sent off into the sunset (and out of harm's way) with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and young son. Those options still seem like the most viable - but how to incorporate the footage of Walker already shot - which is rumored to be more static character scenes and not the big action sequences - is something that only director James Wan (jumping into this franchise at a most unfortunate time) the cast and producers can answer.
Failing to find a through-road (again, no pun), the picture would essentially need to be restarted from scratch, leaving insurance firm Fireman's Fund with a whopping $150 million tab to pay to the studio (the cost of production on the film so far). One can only presume that the firm is doing its utmost to avoid that scenario - which is why what should be an honorable and sympathetic decision about an unforeseeable tragedy could very well melt down into a mess of ugly Hollywood economic politics.
It's hard to imagine putting a price on human life - but insurance firms surely can, and do. There will almost certainly be a push not to restart this movie, and grieving cast members or compromised creativity don't necessarily stand up against $150 million dollars in payout. If you think I'm being overly cynical or presumptuous - I say that the early warning signs are already there: As a footnote to their report, THR offers quotes from industry execs both inside and outside of Universal, who think that tragedy could be good for business:
"I actually believe [the tragedy] will add to returns," says a rival studio exec. A Universal insider agrees: "Sadly, it will probably make people more interested."
When you hear it like that, the easy-but-sleazy fix of a Brian O'Connor death scene (in a house explosion, some offscreen demise - or even a car crash/explosion) doesn't seem so impossible anymore. (As in, the same moral compass that tells grieving fans and cast members that such a crass move is wrong, won't necessarily point the same way to the people concerned over the loss of $150 million and/or a strong pipeline to the summer box office.)
Just remember to keep a critical eye open when all the fanfare starts about how Fast & Furious 7 will retire Brian with "respect" and "honor." In the end it could all be about the dollar dollar bills - with the rest of the cast caught up in the web of studio politics.
Fast & Furious 7 is currently in a holding pattern. We'll keep you updated.