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NEED FOR SPEED

Bringing the Game to Life
In 1994, EA Entertainment (a division of Electronic Arts) released "The Need for Speed," a racing video game which made the player an active participant in the intense action of street racing. The game was immediately heralded for its authenticity, winning over fans with its enticement of exotic race cars and the chance to triumph on the race track.

The game spawned a series of increasingly popular racing titles, becoming the most successful racing videogame series in the world and one of the most successful video-game franchises of all time. It has been published in 22 languages in 60 countries, selling over 150 million units and raking in sales of more than $4 billion.

When EA first began thinking about the possibility of bringing their iconic video game to the big screen, they decided to take a proactive approach and not wait for the right script. The company had been pitched different concepts over the years but nothing had resonated. Plus the majority of games made into films had not been successful.

"We went in knowing the kind of film we wanted to make and looking for experts in the industry to help us make it even better," says producer Patrick O'Brien. "The brand is important to us, as are its fans, so we knew we had to do it right - and with the right partners - or not do it at all."

Movies develop for all kinds of reasons, but "Need for Speed" came about for the best reason: passion. Screenwriter John Gatins and his brother and co-writer George own an auto shop in Van Nuys, California where they restore classics. Both have been enamored with the culture of cars since childhood, and when the company visited their garage to discuss a possible screenplay, everyone immediately hit it off. In the Gatins brothers they found kindred spirits who spoke the same language and were equally as well versed in cars and filmmaking.

John Gatins says, "What was great about the writing process is that the various iterations of the video game don't provide a lot of narrative which created an open slate for George and myself to infuse the characters into this world."

The Gatins ended up delivering a screenplay that was a character-driven story set against the backdrop of gear-grinding street racing. EA then partnered with DreamWorks once it was apparent they were interested in making the same kind of film and together they began to focus on finding a director to take the helm.

Everyone was in agreement the key to a successful film would be someone who could make the material stand out and tell it with a unique, visual style and one name that came up repeatedly was Scott Waugh. Waugh had just finished directing "Act of Valor," one of the most realistic action films ever made about an elite squad of Navy SEALs, many who actually had leading roles in the film.

According to producer Mark Sourian, "Scott has a real passion for cars, starting out as a stuntman himself, so we knew he could bring a grit and truth to the film and convey the suspense of the car sequences."

Waugh also wanted to pay tribute to the great car movies from the '60s and '70s with "Need for Speed," by making a film in the same vein as "Bullitt" (1968), "The French Connection" (1971) and "Vanishing Point" (1971) where the car sequences were authentic and executed without any visual effects. Or "Grand Prix" (1966) and "Duel" (1971) which had strong stories with characters the audience really cared about. Waugh believed shooting movies without practical stunts was becoming a lost art form, being replaced with the effects of computer technology.

He explains, "Capturing the action sequences in the camera works on a couple levels. First, there's an innate trigger in humans when we know something is not real, no matter how good it may look. And on a visceral level you can tell when an actor is in a real environment."

"We wanted to honor Scott's vision with a story that felt real and had events in the movie that could actually happen," says John Gatins. "You won't be sitting in the theater saying, 'A car can't do that.'" The Faces Behind the Wheel

When making a movie about America's fascination with the car culture, it was essential to find an actor for the role of Tobey Marshall who could embody a time when everything was cool and definitive ... someone like a young Steve McQueen. The star of such films as "The Great Escape" (1963) and "The Getaway" (1972), McQueen was the definition of cool. Handsome, masculine, dangerous and lovable all at the same time, he was also known to do all his own car stunts, and he remains a cultural icon to this day.

"Steve was a huge movie star but he was also a racer, and it was something that permeated his life," says Waugh. "He had this hip factor that you couldn't explain, and we wanted to find someone who was a younger version of that."

Tobey Marshall (Paul) is a good guy leading a simple life. He is focused, dependable and fiercely loyal ... the kind of person who considers his buddies at Marshall Motors his family. For Tobey, racing is more than just a way to escape the stress at work and help pay off the mortgage at the garage. It is an art.

Aaron Paul was an actor the filmmakers had always been considering, but initially it was for the role of the film's antagonist, Dino Brewster. Best known for his riveting performance as Jesse Pinkman on the critically acclaimed television series "Breaking Bad," he was an obvious choice to play a bad guy like Dino. Waugh was certain that Paul was his Tobey, but there was some concern the actor could be perceived as too edgy as a result of "Breaking Bad." Then DreamWorks Chairman Steven Spielberg and CEO Stacey Snider saw Paul's audition tape and immediately said he should play Tobey.

"Tobey's got a good view on life. He's a true gentleman," says Paul. "But after 'Breaking Bad' I can see why people would not automatically think of me." He immediately jumped on board, intrigued by all the talk of Steve McQueen, yet understanding it was a reference to the style of film as opposed to an actual impersonation.

"Scott wanted to make a film that was a throwback to classic car films like 'Bullitt' with Steve McQueen - something that was raw, gritty and honest without being too polished," says Paul. "And as an actor, those concepts and aspirations for the movie were very, very exciting to me."

The filmmakers went against type when casting Paul as Tobey, and for the role of Dino Brewster, Tobey's archrival in racing and in life, they were determined to break the cliché of the stereotypical bad guy and make the character a little better-rounded.

Waugh says, "It's always easy to point out the mustache-twirling bad guy in a film, but I wanted our villain to be more complex and actually go through tough decisions and face the occasional morality check."

Dino Brewster, played by Dominic Cooper, and Tobey have known each other for years. A former NASCAR driver, Dino is arrogant, dresses impeccably and drives expensive cars. Dino dates Tobey's ex-girlfriend and Little Pete's sister Anita (Dakota Johnson), which, coupled with the fact that Tobey has always been a better racer, has left him jealous and resentful.

"He is a troubled soul who is extraordinarily competitive and probably as talented a driver as Tobey," says Cooper. "Unlike Tobey, Dino comes from a background of privilege and was given every advantage in life. But he is obsessed with money and success which sends him into a state of madness."

Cooper adds, "The beautiful thing is that Scott [Waugh] knows guys like Dino from his racing days, so I trusted him with how far I could go with the character."

The crew that support Tobey at Marshall Motors are like brothers. They have each other's backs and they all uphold the same values of honesty and good sportsmanship, both as men and as racers. Once they realize Tobey's shop is in jeopardy of going under, everyone comes together to build the Mustang for Dino, joining the journey to The De Leon when Tobey needs them, and dodging authorities and fighting off new adversaries along the way.

The filmmakers were hoping to cast Tobey's crew with a mixture of both familiar and new faces and hoped the actors they chose would become friends off-screen, leading to a more natural, believable camaraderie on screen.

"You can't force people to be friends, so boy did we get lucky with these guys," explains Waugh. "They did everything together and essentially became the Marshall Motors band just like we'd hoped."

Ramon Rodriguez was brought on to play Joe Peck, Tobey's chief mechanic at Marshall Motors. Joe, the heart of the group and a jack-of-all-trades, builds the engines and takes his job very seriously. Rami Malek plays Finn, another of the Marshall Motors mechanics. The only college graduate among his friends, he is the most laid back of the guys and very tech savvy to boot.

Scott Mescudi is Benny, the fun-loving, wise-cracking car detailer at the shop and an Army Reserve pilot on the weekends. Mescudi has appeared on television shows including "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "One Tree Hill" and, as a recording artist, has worked with artists ranging from Kanye West, Jay-Z and Common to Mary J. Blige and Shakira and sold over 5.2 million digital singles.

"I was fortunate not knowing who he was before his audition," says Waugh. "I cast him because he was Scott Mescudi, a funny guy with a lot of charisma." Which is just how Mescudi prefers it. Performing on stage as a musician has made him a better actor and provided him with a sense of confidence on camera, but he is quick to differentiate between the two.

Australian actor Harrison Gilbertson was cast in the ill-fated role of Little Pete. He is Anita's younger brother who looks up to Tobey like an older brother.

Imogen Poots is Julia Maddon, the uptight Brit working for a big-time car broker with an impressive knowledge of cars. The role was a tricky one to cast. A good part of the film is Tobey and Julia in the Mustang. Since there were not a lot of tricks to fall back on, the actors needed to have the acting chops and chemistry to keep the audience engaged. Fortunately Poots had worked with Paul in the past. They trusted each other and were comfortable enough to be fearless with their actions and emotions.

In discussing Poots, Paul says, "She is so brilliant and says the most random things that alternate between hilarious and insightful. If you ever get a chance to jump in a car with Imogen Poots, take it."

When it came to casting the role of the semi-disembodied voice The Monarch, the filmmakers were looking for someone very specific. They needed an actor who could become the soul of street racing, similar to what the voices of Wolfman Jack did in "American Graffiti" (1973) and Supersoul in "Vanishing Point" (1971). The Monarch, a former racer turned billionaire and orchestrator of the high-stakes underground race The De Leon, is vehemently opposed to any kind of sanctioned racing and is only seen via the internet from an undisclosed location. He dictates who gets in to The De Leon and when and where it takes place.

"We wanted someone who would bring the eccentricity associated with old-school racers like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Cale Yarborough ... guys who were incredibly charismatic but totally bizarre at the same time," says Waugh. "Fortunately Michael Keaton was eager to be involved and brought stuff to the role I never could have imagined."

Adds Sourian, "This role is similar to some of the wacky characters he played earlier in his career but hasn't done in quite some time. We were very blessed to get him."

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