'Need For Speed' Set Visit Report: Real Cars, Real Action

In late June 2013 Screen Rant was invited to visit the set of DreamWorks' Need For Speed on its 57th day of shooting (out of 67). Principal photography had moved frequently from city to city across the United States and for our portion we headed to Detroit "Motor City," Michigan to watch star Aaron Paul, director Scott Waugh, and a large team of cast and crew work their magic on location.

Our journey began on a beautiful and sunny but hot and humid day in Campus Martius Park. We begin at one end, on a street as we watch a crane shot take place as a stunt driver speeds by. It's an establishing shot highlighting downtown Detroit and the fact that we're watching real cars in a real place performing real stunts.

And that practical, real feeling was the standout theme of the day and a rightful pillar of the Need For Speed marketing. This isn't your CGI action fest and that's why Scott Waugh, the veteran stunt coordinator who directed Act of Valor, was chosen to help this video game adaptation. Disney and DreamWorks attempted to make that very clear to the world yesterday with their 30-second, car-focused, quickly-cut, high-octane Need For Speed Super Bowl TV spot.

NEED FOR SPEED Set Visit Photo - Downtown Detroit

Right off the bat we had the opportunity to chat at length with producer and writer John Gatins who couldn't help but smile at the idea of talking cars or movies he's worked on. John and his brother George actually co-wrote the film. George is new to the screenwriting game but John is coming off an Oscar nomination for writing Flight and the success of Real Steel - the latter of which has a sequel on the way.

More: 'Need For Speed' Set Interview With John Gatins

For Flight, John Gatins needed to learn from the ground up everything there is to know about aviation, the air industry, rules, regulations, etc., but for Need For Speed, the Gatins brothers feel right at home. The pair actually own a car restoration shop in Van Nuys, California, and grew up with cars being a big part of their lives. In fact, it was in that very same garage where they met with representatives from game maker Electronic Arts and won them over to have the opportunity to work on Need For Speed.

“Need for Speed” tells a story of honor, friendship and loyalty and the high-octane journey of one man looking to clear his name. For Tobey Marshall (Paul), who runs his family’s auto shop and races the underground street circuit with his buddies on weekends, life is good. But his whole world is turned upside down when he is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In prison he spends the next two years thinking about one thing: vengeance. His best chance at defeating his enemy, Dino Brewster (Cooper), is the high-stakes car race known as De Leon. The Super Bowl of underground racing, De Leon takes place once a year and only a few select drivers are invited to participate with the winner taking all. While questioning the morals to which he has always adhered, he is nevertheless determined to bring down his enemies…no matter what the cost.

We were told by cast and crew how shooting actually on location in various U.S. cities was extremely important for director Scott Waugh who wanted the ability to move production around more than keeping the film primarily shooting in one city  - despite the benefits of tax incentives for staying put. Before heading to Michigan, they had shot in San Fran, Utah, Atlanta and other locations.

NEED FOR SPEED Set Visit Photo - Hero Mustang

As we walk towards the primary set after spending some time with Aaron Paul we see the hero car parked in front of a building, a specially designed Mustang, crafted by Ford just for this movie in collaboration with DreamWorks, featuring a 900-horsepower all-aluminum supercharged 5.8-liter V8 engine. The car travels so fast that they had to add extra air ports to increase the aerodynamics of the car to keep it on the ground when it's hitting speeds upwards of 150 mph.

More: 'Need For Speed' Set Interview With Aaron Paul

Behind the grey and blue Mustang sat the other hero vehicle. The Mustang is the dubbed the "Beauty" and the Ford F450 custom truck is the "Beast."  The scenes shot today involve Tobey (Aaron Paul) intentionally earning the attention of the police and media without getting caught, so they're speeding in circles around the park.

NEED FOR SPEED Set Visit Photo - Mustang Chase

The film isn't just a personal revenge story for Aaron Paul's Tobey Marshall character, it's a human story for his entire crew of five. There's Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots' characters riding the 'Beauty' across the country, attempting to draw the attention of the police to make national media to earn enough of a reputation to get invited to a special race in California, hosted by the "Monarch" (Michael Keaton). Poots plays Julia Maddon, a high-end car broker who hooks Tobey Marshall up with the super Mustang "hero car" of the film. She - for reasons yet to be revealed - joins Marshall on his journey cross-country.

Julia is the surprisingly resourceful car broker who first meets Tobey Marshall at the Manhattan Art Space when the new Mustang is publicly unveiled. Although the two start out wary of each other, Julia becomes the conduit for Tobey to take possession of the Mustang and then accompanies him on his relentless 48-hour journey across country from New York to California, to join the De Leon race and compete against Dino Brewster. During their coast-to-coast trek, a relationship between them begins to develop.

NEED FOR SPEED Marshall Motors Crew

More: 'Need For Speed' Set Interview With Imogen Poots

In the 'Beast', Tobey's pals Finn (Rami Malek) and Joe Peck, (Ramon Rodriguez) ride as support on Tobey's mission. Although we didn't see the vehicle or meet the actor, rap artist Kid Kudi is playing Benny, an Army Reservist who pitches in as Tobey's air support. There's an especially insane stunt involving the aircraft and a cliff which is teased in the second Need For Speed trailer that the cast and crew were pumped up about since they had shot it days before.

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While on set we moved back and forth across the block, getting as close as possible to the shooting without getting in the way of the production. Most of the day's shooting involved close-ups and dialogue with Paul and Poots in the Mustang, talking as he revs the engine, attracting the police. Finn and Joe come out of the building with Finn only wearing boxers as they head intro the truck. We're not sure what happened in the building but it all seems to be part of a larger plan we see play out later in the day.

NEED FOR SPEED Set Photo (Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots in Mustang)

In between interviewing all of the writers, producers and cast working that day, the shooting we did see was all leading up to a big action set piece where a stunt driver and a double step in for Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots, respectively, and drive the Mustang at insanely high speeds in circles around the park as a cop cruiser does its best to pursue and as other cars and pedestrians dodge the high-speed vehicles. It's a complicated shot, done in real-time with real vehicles and drivers.

The coolest part however, is how moviegoers will see this scene play out. It's only been teased in the Super Bowl commercial but Need For Speed will feature several first-person moments much like director Scott Waugh used in Act of Valor. The driver is wearing a camera (fun fact: this is a concept brought to Hollywood by Scott Waugh's father back in the '80s) and on the monitors we take turns watching the driver racing from a first-person perspective, drifting the car as the loud sound of engines offer a thunderous ambiance for the whole city block to hear.

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We learned later that the Beast (the F450) is sitting there parked for a reason - Finn and Joe are actually recording what's happening, and we expect they're doing so to share it virally and boost Tobey Marshall's chances of catching the attention and respect of the Monarch. The crew is literally toying with the police. And we were lucky enough to see it happen live. No special effects or CGI.

From our own experience and watching not only the trailers, but the series of behind-the-scenes videos about the supercars and driver training Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper went through for the film, it's easy to feel confident about the gritty and realistic action the Need for Speed adaptation aims to deliver. Only time will tell if there's a story to go with it, since the games certainly don't offer one.


More: Need For Speed Interview With Director Scott Waugh


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.

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