'Fast Five' Director Justin Lin: 'CGI Never Replaces The Real Thing'

Director Justin Lin talks about what makes 'Fast Five' special, what we might expect from 'Fast and the Furious 6' and how he plans to deal with CGI car action.

Justin Lin director Fast Five set visit interview

Director Justin Lin continues his role as captain of the Fast and the Furious franchise with his third consecutive movie in the saga. One of Lin's best traits as a director is his ability to give each film a different tone and style, and Fast Five is no different.

The latest installment of the franchise collects nearly every major character from the previous four movies and adds a big name - Dwayne Johnson. While cars are still a major part of the action, Lin has given the characters of Fast Five a new objective - stay alive.

Our week of Fast Five coverage continues with our on-set interview with Lin. In a brief discussion with the director, he addressed how the franchise has become his own, what it means to add Dwayne Johnson and how he plans to win back gear-head car enthusiasts.

As a young director, Lin is still finding his comfort zone behind the camera. Better Luck Tomorrow remains one of his best films, but that doesn't mean he has lost his touch. The Fast and the Furious franchise continues to grow in scope and the last film did extremely well at the box office. Lin remains confident in his ability to evolve the focus of each Fast and the Furious movie:

Justin Lin: I’ve enjoyed the process and I feel like I’ve grown. I always approach these films almost like I hope it continues but I don’t know if I’m going to be a part of it. I think that the one thing I’ve really enjoyed about being part of this franchise is that all three films are very different stylistically and tonally. They are three separate films in a way and thematically you get to grow with it. That is the thing that I’ve enjoyed most.

I think the last one, just because of the subject and Letty’s death and everything, it kind of established a tone for what that movie was going to be. For me personally, it was actually during the publicity tour in Europe I actually had a lot of time to talk with the fans and it was the first time I had a chance to interact with them in a big way. The one thing that I realized is that it is a very working class franchise. So for me, when I was watching it and talking about it with them I understood that if we were going to do another one what that was going to be. I think that when you have a reunion you are going to have things that are fun but at the same time it is grounded in something real in why they're coming back together. So I feel like thematically and tonally it is going to be a lot more complex than the other ones, just by the nature of the construct of this film.

Aside from the addition of Dwayne Johnson, the most interesting aspect of Fast Five is the decision to bring back as many of the franchise's stars as possible. In another set visit interview, Paul Walker told us the crew was even close to bringing Eva Mendes back for Fast Five.

An ensemble cast can prove difficult for any director, but Lin seems to be attracted by the idea. In fact, if Universal did not agree to bring back the majority of the cast, he might not have been a part of the franchise anymore.

JL: For me, I felt that if we were going to repeat the same things, then I felt like someone else could continue on. So when the conversation came up about what it would take to comeback and do another one, I love it as a big action franchise. I think the theme of family is so strong in this franchise that it just felt appropriate to have everybody comeback. It just felt like that was the right thing to do on this one.

[In reference to Dwayne Johnson] Well that is another reason I wanted to come back. I’m excited because it came from that conversation of if I was going to come back what would it take? I think the fact that Brian has now come on to this side, then to introduce a new character and for someone like Dwayne Johnson to say, “I want to be a part of this,” that validates the whole reason of why we would even go and make a new one. For someone of his stature to say, “Hey this is part five but I think there is life and lets go do this the right way,” that to me is a big reason why I decided to come back.

While family is a central theme of the Fast and the Furious saga, cars are the eye candy that drive each film. But many car enthusiasts are unimpressed with Lin's use of CGI environments. In some cases, the action is so intense that disappointing CGI is worth the risk to prevent injury or even death. Frankly, some stunts are just too big for even the best stunt men.

Lin recognizes the disappointment in his tendency to favor CGI over practical stunts. The director plans to put those concerns to bed with a more practical Fast Five. While some stunts are still over-the-top and require CGI enhancement, Lin argues that he has focused on limiting its use.

You can get greedy and what I’ve learned is that [CGI] never replaces the real thing. There is something very special and unique when you crash a car. That is something that I can’t speak for the franchise before me but I think since I’ve been on I have also learned a lot tonally about what we are trying to achieve. I think Tokyo Drift was more of a post-modern approach. We had a lot more fun thematically and also just tonally and look-wise.

In [Fast & Furious] I was trying to hopefully incorporate both of them and I think this one will be the next level of that. The funny thing is that I know the CGI and I hear that a lot, especially when I came on to do the third one, that is all I heard that car people were pissed off. I understand why the people who love cars had issues with that. To be honest I think the third and forth movies, all the articulation of the cars we’ve actually shot for real. A lot of the CGI helped in the last two were environmental. The good thing about this one is that I feel like we are taking it even further. On the last one there were challenges like the tunnel where you just can’t physically do it. There is no tunnel that exists that is like that. All the cars are real but we had to build the environment. That in itself has certain elements and is going to bring out different reactions subconsciously from the viewer. So on this one, I was very conscious to not even want to go and approach that. There are effects but I feel like our approach and the coverage in it at the end of the day is not even noticeable at all.

In our other set visit interviews, each cast member has shared their vision of a Fast and the Furious 6. Vin Diesel told us that Fast Five is simply the middle chapter of a brand new trilogy that began with Fast & Furious.

Justin Lin's perspective on the franchise is no different, but he strays from the conversation of what comes after Fast Five. Of course, he was directing Fast Five at the time of this interview, so his focus was on that movie and none other. Now that production is complete, Lin may be more open to discussions about the plot of another sequel.

JL: It feels like there are a lot of directions that it can go. I don’t approach these things like that. I hope that it can have a life of its own but I do approach every film as if it is the last one. I remember seeing the first “Fast and the Furious” when I was in film school. I know the exact theater, AMC Santa Monica. I saw it while I was in film school so to be part of this franchise and then to be able to help it evolve, I just think that there is room for it to grow. We’ve also kind of evolved into other genres too and I’m excited at what’s to come with this one.

'Tokyo Drift' proves that I think there other characters that still have a lot left in them and this franchise can branch off in many different directions in my mind. I think that the third one just proved that there is life left in this series, with or without me. At the same time, this is an evolution and I feel like I’m a better filmmaker, I understand the craft better and I’m trying to respect the growth and maturity of the characters.

It is reversed engineered in a certain sense that I like engaging in that discourse about the mythology of this and I’ve also talked to Vin about it. So yeah, it does continue on but like I said, mentally just for me, I have to treat this like it is the last one. But yeah we’ve spent nights in New York just talking about where this could go and stuff.

Justin Lin is as much a part of the franchise as any of its stars, including Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. While we may not associate the films with him in a traditional fashion, he has now directed over half of the franchise. There is no question his mark is seared into the fabric of the Fast and the Furious saga. If it continues beyond his direction, the mythology he has established will undoubtedly stick around.

Fast Five Vin Diesel Dwayne Johnson

Fast Five is a promising fifth installment. Many have their reservations about each subsequent film, but Fast & Furious had a tremendous run at the box office and won back a number of skeptical fans. The addition of Dwayne Johnson keeps the franchise fresh in a way many others refuse - just look at the Saw saga.

With another chapter remaining to complete the hexology, Lin needs to replicate his success with Fast & Furious if he wants to stay onboard. His focus is important to keeping the movies fresh, but his absence could bring the entire product down to Direct-To-DVD quality if Universal doesn't invest properly.

Check out the rest of our Fast Five set visit interviews and come back tomorrow for the final report - The Cars of Fast Five.

Fast Five hits theaters on April 29th, 2011.

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