Franchise mastermind Chris Morgan talks Fate of the Furious
Screenwriter Chris Morgan has been behind the wheel of the Fast franchise since the third entry, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, back in 2006. Starting with the fourth movie, he’s managed to put Vin Diesel‘s Dominic Toretto back at the center of things while keeping characters from every entry in the franchise in play. Now that Universal Pictures‘ eighth entry The Fate of the Furious has hit theaters, ComingSoon.net got a chance to talk 1-on-1 with franchise mastermind Morgan about all aspects of the series, including the Jason Statham controversy, why Dom went rogue, taking the series into space and putting Helen Mirren in a car! Beware of mild spoilers…
ComingSoon.net: Thematically the hallmarks of the Fast franchise are family and loyalty. In what ways do you think “Fate of the Furious” reinforces those themes?
Chris Morgan: Even deciding to do the movie after 7, especially after the tragedy with Paul and everyone having to link arms and try to decide whether to continue and how to give a great end to that movie. I think we did a good job for the audience and to give a cathartic send-off. We kinda stopped and had to really look at each other and say, “Is there a need to do another one? Do we WANT to do another one?” The answer is unless we have a story that’s really different and really worth telling, then we just don’t do it. We’ve had seven movies where our guys say, “You’ve gotta stick together as a family and you solve the problem together,” and they do. Suddenly there’s this exciting idea of what happens when the guy who’s the father figure, who’s your brother, who’s the moral core and has taught you all your lessons about your code and your life… What if he breaks from that and goes dark? What do the people around him do? Do they fall apart? Do they stick to the lessons? Something about that felt different for the franchise, an interesting question for the character that I think we want to lean into. Just that core idea got everyone really excited.
The answer is that even when Dom seemingly goes dark, abandons his code, goes against the team. Especially with Letty, Michelle Rodriguez. She has had faith, 100%, all the way through, she sticks to it, and at the end she’s rewarded. They’re ALL rewarded. Thank God for the faith, ’cause now the family’s back together. The family’s grown a little bit by the end of this film. It just kind of proves that the lessons Dom has been teaching the family and the audience now over eight films still hold true even in the darkest of times. “Have faith at all times” is what’s proved out by the end of these films.
CS: When I watch these films I love them for the soap opera-like twists of people you thought were dead aren’t dead, or good guys turning bad. Do you see it in those soap opera terms or do you like to look at it a different way?
Chris Morgan: I appreciate it in the same way. “Soap opera” has a good context and a bad context. I take the good context that we’re eight films in, we get one every few years, and the fact that we get to expand on these characters’ lives, throw new challenges in front of them, watch them grow, that’s the soap element to me. Look, we get it. We’re in on the joke of, “You say family so often people make drinking games about it!” True. True, but you also feel it in a weird way too. They’re not saying it because it’s popular for the franchise. The characters say it ’cause it’s true for them. I think the audience feels that…
CS: They feel the camaraderie and the earnestness of it.
Chris Morgan: I think so. It’s a fine line, believe me. You can say it too much, you can hit it too hard. We’re always judging what the right emotional tone for that is. As long as they believe it and they’re earnest about it then we stand in good ground on it.
CS: This has been called the first part of a new trilogy. What will set this trilogy apart from the previous set of films?
Chris Morgan: I think what we set up in 8 will pay off in 9 and 10. It feels like we’re building up to a big last showdown. I think you’re gonna feel the velocity moving towards an end of something. I think that’s gonna be important. If you’re a fan of the franchise you’re gonna want to see it, because it may be the conclusion.
CS: The series has undergone a wild evolution from a street racing crime movie, essentially Point Break with cars, to a kind of Ocean’s 11-style heist franchise to now a full-on Roger Moore-era James Bond movie. Is there another genre left to explore with these characters or will it continue down this path?
Chris Morgan: No, I think it evolves. Can I get really nerdy with you for a second? Vin has said it in the past that he’s a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, he used to play a lot. So am I, I still do, and when we break these down… going back to soap operas… we kind of look at it as being a dungeon master, creating a campaign for these characters. Every movie gives us a chance to create a hurdle for the characters, a dungeon or something. In going through the plot and the story they end up leveling up emotionally. That’s the groundwork we’re using. In terms of genre-shifting, it kind of comes down to what fits the story we’re telling right then. The shift from the car racing to a little bit of a heist thing to more government big world stakes kind of things….
CS: “Mission: Impossible,” essentially.
Chris Morgan: Yeah yeah, for sure. I started as a fan of the films. I stood in line at a theater to watch the first one at a late night show. When we’re developing these, the thing is I just remember the love of those characters and the action scenes. The threshold for it is, as a fan do I get excited about what I’m about to see. The shift to the heist thing felt like… our guys are characters who are not only racers but they are able to use cars as lateral ways of thinking. There’s a bank heist, how do you use cars to do it? There’s a government thing, how do you use cars to do it?
CS: There’s nothing that a car can’t solve.
Chris Morgan: Pretty much. (laughs) That should be a t-shirt. At least for Dom you’re 100% right. As for whether I think there are different types and models for it? I do. Will we end up seeing them? I think we will.
CS: I did love the fact that you mentioned Dungeons & Dragons. I understand you play D&D with other screenwriters like Craig Mazin and John August?
Chris Morgan: In fact I do! I was just there the other night, like a week ago.
CS: Do you guys ever say a line in-character and then it winds up in a movie?
Chris Morgan: Well we definitely do kind of role play it, and it is hysterically funny. I can’t think of any off-hand that have ended up in a movie yet. I’m certain character names and things like that will just as little inside jokes, but nothing I can think of so far.
CS: You have some crazy set pieces in this movie, whether it’s Dom driving a flaming car backwards in Cuba, or the avalanche of drone cars in New York and, of course, the submarine chase. You probably spend a lot of time pitching set pieces. What were a few ideas you had where the producers were just like, “NO, that’s too crazy,” or “NO, that’s too expensive or reckless or what have you.”
Chris Morgan: That pretty much happens every movie. We only have two hours, we only have a certain budget, and I tend to think a lot in set pieces. This one we honed down pretty well. We knew we were gonna do the car race in cuba. By the way, that car race idea was actually something we wanted to do for the third movie. The original pitch for “Tokyo Drift” — I guess for the fourth one too — was Dominic Toretto goes to Japan ’cause something happened. Originally that sequence where Dom has to keep a car going even when it’s trying to break down was there. We’d never found a place to put it and we found the perfect place in Cuba. But, I’m trying to think of something that was too gigantic… we have a couple but the only problem is we may end up using them in what comes next.
CS: I know everyone always jokes about them going to space and all that. Is there definitely a line you think the series won’t ever cross?
Chris Morgan: Yes. I’ll tell you what the line is, but it’s a little bit of a fuzzy one. For me it’s a personal line, which is when I’m thinking about the fast films and the characters I want it to be blue collar. These guys aren’t special agents. They’re blue collar guys who happen to use their blue collar skills and their heart. They’re not all the smartest guys and they’re not all the fastest guys, but all of them have heart and none of them are ever gonna give up. When I watch superhero movies I love them, but I don’t attach to them in the same way because I know I can never be that guy. You always think you might be the guy who keeps going no matter what. I think everyone thinks they have heart. You want to keep these characters grounded in the real world, real world rules apply, although we go heightened with pretty much everything. The rule is we’ll do heightened physics, we’ll talk to people and say, “What is the maximum you can do with this car in terms of speed, energy, and whatever.” We’ll hit that line of what’s possible and we’ll fudge it sometimes and sometimes it goes over, you know. But if it ever breaks the movie, if you ever watch the movie and you’re like, “Forget this, that is so unrealistic that I can’t enjoy the set piece. I don’t care about the characters anymore.” You check out. That we’ll never do. An example of something that hits the line is the jet scene in “Fast 6.” At the end of the movie you do calculations, you figure that with the airspeed of the jet it’s probably a 26-mile runway. True, true, we knew that going into it, BUT when you’re watching it does it stop you? If the answer is no then we can kind of ignore it for a bit. I’m okay with that, I just need the physics to apply enough that the audience doesn’t reject it.
CS: Funnily enough, I once did an infographic based around that scene where I compared it to the runway scenes in “Argo” and “Die Hard 2.” I think your runway was three times as long as the one in “Die Hard.” It definitely went long.
Chris Morgan: Oh yeah. One of the funniest experiences I had was I went to a premiere and at the party I ran into Adam Savage from “Mythbusters” and he’d done a couple of “Fast & Furious”-style “Is this true? Is this not true?” things. He’d also done one for “Wanted,” which I wrote on, about all the curving bullets and stuff. Just to sit down with him and go, “Here’s what’s bullsh*t, here’s what’s not,” was one of the best nights. It was so funny. So again, the physics can get fuzzy, but I want to keep it more in the real world. So the question is, “Will you guys ever go to space?” The easy answer is, “No.” I think you kind of break faith with the audience if you do. Having said that, if there was the perfect story that fit it perfectly that the audience would then go, “You know what, that’s not a bad idea.” You never say no to anything. That’s one of the things we all agreed on: There’s gonna be no time travel, no dinosaurs, we’re not going into space. (laughs) It would be awesome if Dominic Toretto came into possession of Marty McFly’s DeLorean!
CS: I was honestly a little bummed that you wrote a movie for Helen Mirren AND Furiosa yet neither of them get behind the wheel. How good are the chances we’ll see these two very capable wheelwomen in some cars for part 9?
Chris Morgan: Incredibly high. Hopefully. That is my dream. I would love that.
CS: I know Helen has been very vocal about wanting to get into a car.
Chris Morgan: She was great. I got to talk to her about that. She was like, “Why wouldn’t you put me in a car?” I’m like, “Just wait. We’re gonna get you there and it’s gonna be an awesome sequence.
CS: Another point, which I talked to F Gary about, was Jason Statham’s Shaw, who redeems himself to a certain extent, but how did you reckon with the fact that he killed Han just one movie ago and the level of acceptance within Dom’s crew?
Chris Morgan: I would say a couple of things about that. I don’t think we know Shaw’s full story, “we” being the audience. I think as things become clear some of those things will go away, so that’s a good thing, but beyond that what we do know right now as the audience is that Dom and Deckard actually have a lot in common. Dom, in the first film, was kind of considered a bad guy because he did a stint in Lompac, because of beating a guy down that almost killed his dad on a racetrack. Dom using violence against someone who hurt his family. Shaw’s story is not that dissimilar. His brother got messed up by Dom and his crew, so he lashed out. I think these guys may have a code in common… by the way, they may have gone about it the wrong way! (laughs)
CS: “Do as we say, don’t do as we do.”
Chris Morgan: Yeah, exactly. Deckard being able to recognize their code and then being able to recognize his code… I gotta say, I love Jason in this movie. We got really lucky. If you look at it, we got Vin, we got Dwayne, we got Jason, we got Charlize… there’s something very special about being able to lean into all these characters and let them get dirty and have fun. As a writer it’s just a wealth of riches to be able to get in the sandbox and play.
CS: You give everyone their moment, which is really cool. I didn’t come away feeling like, “Oh, this person kind of got short shrift.” Everybody had their time.
Chris Morgan: I love hearing that. That’s the goal. When you’re doing an ensemble, everyone’s showing up… all the people have their favorite character in the franchise and you try to service all of them so that everyone gets that moment for their favorite character. That’s one of my favorite things about this franchise, which we started in 4 and 5, was to take Tyrese and Ludacris out of “2 Fast” and got to bring them into our franchise. “You guys like Dom and Brian? Great! We’re using Dom and Brian. You guys like Roman and Tej? Great, we got them as well. You like Han? Sung Kang? You like Lucas Black? You like Sean? We’ve got them. In our world we’ve got all these characters, and they are living their lives between movies, between the scenes that we see and don’t see. We kind of tell the audience that whatever you come to these movies for we agree with you, you’re right. You like the seventh movie best? God bless you. You like the first movie best? Awesome, we love it too! You like the fifth movie? You like the third movie?” They’re all equal, they’re all part of this world, and we’re a very accepting, inviting franchise. Whatever people like in our world we like it too, we’re just glad they’re enjoying themselves.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Franchise Mastermind Chris Morgan Talks Fate of the Furious – ComingSoon.net