Scott Waugh - The Interview (Need for Speed)

Scott Waugh - The Interview (Need for Speed)

Video game film adaptations tend to get a bad rap in Hollywood. They're often rushed and fail to capture the same vibe the game they're based on created.Director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) attempts to break the superstition surrounding the genre with Need for Speed, an adaptation of Electronic Arts' popular racing franchise. We spoke with the director about making a film based on the game and how his stuntman background helped bring a realistic view of racing to the sliver screen.

Shakefire (SF): How influential was EA in terms of the filmmaking process? Were they very involved or did they give you the franchise and let you do your own thing?
Scott Waugh (SW): Well, kind of both. EA are the ones who started the whole concept. They paid for and wrote the screenplay so it was developed internally. Then they shopped it to Hollywood. Steven’s company bought it and then they hired me to direct it. I had been working with EA as well on other brands within their game community, so I already had a relationship with them. It was great because they knew I was all about authenticity and I wouldn’t do anything that would be disrespectful so they were very lenient and would say, “Scott we trust you,” and I took over with the story and we brought in new writers and just tried to bring more authenticity to the screenplay. They still are a great partner. I think they’re proud of the movie as well. It follows the format of the games, but has a heartfelt story.

SF: Were there any specific titles from Need for Speed that you drew from or was it the franchise as a whole?
No, it was like you look at the 18 games that they did and I thought it was fun because at the time I knew what was coming and I knew it was a cop versus racers game which I was excited about because it was inherent in our movie and it was also how the game originally started. If you remember the very first game you got chased by cops and they kinda brought that back so there’s this whole kind of retro thing that they’re doing that really lined up with what we’re doing.

SF: How did you decide on the cars that would be in the film?
SW: It was fun. Every vehicle in the movie that was going to be significant went through an exorbitant casting process. Even the color of each interior and exterior. Like the classics. I really wanted to find some classics that hadn’t been seen. That’s why we came up with the Gran Torino, the ’68 Torino, hasn’t been in many movies at all. Camaro’s a go-to GTO. The vehicle that defines Toby is really important.

Then we picked all the true pantones for all those cars so those are all stock colors from the era. Then all the supercars. We paid respects to the video game so I said, first and foremost, “What are the cars in your current game, in the last two years?” So we looked at all the cars that are in the game and from those were the ones I picked. We wanted to pay respect to all the gamers and to the video game.

We spent so much time making sure the car sounds were accurate to every car. I’ve done so many, I did a documentary called Dust to Glory that was on the Baja 1000, and getting motor sounds while recording is really complicated because the wind noise interferes and you have to spend a lot of time redesigning to get it back to how it originally sounds. I think the sound designers did such a great job and the cars sound exactly how it did but even cooler.

SF: The film keeps you captivated because the scenes are so intense.
SW: That’s great! You know, I grew up in a stunt family. My dad was Spider-Man for the TV series in ’76 so I grew up on those sets. I grew up on Smokey and the Bandit and Vanishing Point and Bullitt and really watched what they did. It was so badass. Those were real stuntmen back then, before we had CG. When I read the script and I met with Spielberg and he said, “What do you think?” I said, “If we’re going to do it I want to do it for real.” Like an homage movie back to when the car culture movie started I think it would be awesome to do everything for real with no CG at all. He looked at me and was like, “You think we can do that?” “Hell yeah we can!”

I felt like if we did it for real, the audience would inadvertently and subconsciously be on the edge of their seat because it’s real. We’re so used to the superhero movies now and anything goes. Nobody really dies. Anything can happen. You just kind of sit back and eat popcorn. Those movies are fun, but I just felt like, I tried to do the same thing with Act of Valor, I wanted people to be on the edge of their seats like there are real consequences.

SF: How much did your background as a stuntman help you direct this movie?
100%. Absolutely I think the reason my style is different than any other director is because I’m the only one that’s ever been a stuntman. The easiest way to give the analogy, I did a movie called Step Into Liquid; it was a surf movie. I was talking to someone like Laird Hamilton, one of the big wave surfers, and I asked, “What’s it like to surf a 60 foot wave?” And the common denominator answer out of every single surfer I interviewed and Dana interviewed was, “You would have to do it to know.” There’s a lot of validity to that and the same thing goes with respect to doing stunts and my directing style. I think the only reason my style is different is because I’m trying to show and give you angles what I’ve been so lucky to see and they’ve never lived that side of that life and that’s all I’ve ever seen. So I’m always trying to put cameras and energy into angles that are like, “I know what it’s like to be in that car going that fast and when it flips and that angle.” I want to sell it to the audience to experience that because it’s crazy as hell and it makes you on the edge of your seat because we’ve never had that opportunity to see those things. I use my background a lot when I direct.

SF: What is it like doing a throwback movie but using the new technology that wasn’t available back then?
SW: I think it’s fun when you have new technology. My father invented the helmet cam in the 80s and it was still film at the time so you’re putting 25 pounds on your head. I remember I used to wear it and was like there’s only so many things you can do with a dumbbell on top of your head. It’s just too dangerous. But with technology nowadays you’re really only putting three pounds on somebody’s head now and getting full resolution imagery. That has allowed myself and my DP to do things they weren’t able to do just cause physics didn’t allow it.

I think I have my own style of filmmaking and I really like to immerse the audiences in it whereas back in the old days it was really more you sit back and watch a lot. I really wanted to put the audience in it. I still feel like there’s a fun, fine line of being a throwback but also new. We try to walk it so that you’re not going back and seeing a movie that was made in 1965. It has the vibe of that era but it feels contemporary.

SF: What’s the balance between your stuntman brain and your filmmaker cinema brain, and when those two meet which one rules the day?
SW: Storyteller always rules the day and I’ve always been a storyteller. I was lucky by growing up in the stunt field I never wanted to be a stuntman. It was just my job, which happened to be cool as hell, until I could become a filmmaker. I started being a filmmaker in the mid-90s, but I got into docs for a while. Docs take four years each so I almost spend a decade making two docs and then I got into Act of Valor which was another four years. So there was 12 years. And then finally I’ve learned how to make a movie in two years.

SF: When you were scouting locations, why did you decide on Georgia to film?
We were looking for possible places to double New York, upper state New York, and this definitely has the rolling hills and the great vibe of upper state. Macon really was a great double for it. Georgia, first and foremost, is a great tax incentive state. That’s always a primary reason people are going to come out here. But I find that the people are so nice here it’s so refreshing.

SF: What was the most fun part of making this movie for you?
SW: For the first time in my career, the movie was exactly what we conceived in the beginning. That’s never happened to me before. They always take on their own life and they become something. And on this film it’s like literally exactly what we talked about from the beginning. I’m proud of this. It’s never happened to me.

Need for Speed is out in theaters this Friday, March 14. Be sure to check out our interview with stars Aaron Paul and Scott Mescudi.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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