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.
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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?
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.
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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.
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.
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