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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 clichÃ© 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
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 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
"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
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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