Justin Lin

I never saw Justin Lin’s directorial debut, Better Luck Tomorrow, but I remember Roger Ebert staunchly defending it from criticism at the 2002 Sundance Festival in a famous moment (you can easily find it on Youtube).  In 2006, he took the helm of the Fast & The Furious franchise and has now steered it through 4 successful instalments.  I recently spoke with Justin about the film and his plans moving forward.

You can listen to / download a short audio extract by clicking here. My review of the film can be found here.

Matt:  This series has been going for some time and we had Michelle Rodriguez’s killed off in the 4th film but now she returns here in the 6th film.  Did you always know you were going to bring her back?  Are you thinking that far ahead with these movies?

Justin:  Yeah.  When I first signed on it was about 8 years ago and one of the things I’d wished for was to alter the sensibility of the franchise.  As early as the beginning of the 4th one, I knew she was going to come back. 

Matt:  So if this series is to continue then are there other possible storylines and subplots in your head at the moment that you can’t really tell us about?

Justin:  When I came on 8 years, I pitched the whole arc and so this is now the culmination of everything I’d wished for.  The series will go on but it will go on without me.  I’m sure they’re going to have a lot more adventures but for me, this is where it ends.

Matt:  You’ve got the 4 original cast members back – Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordan Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez – along with some of the other supporting players.  How easy is it getting them all to commit given their own busy schedules?

Justin:  We’ve become a family so it’s not hard.  When I started off, it was all about trying to prove to everyone why they needed to come back.  We’ve earned that now and everyone wants to come back.  It feels like a reunion every year. 

Matt:  Whenever there’s a sequel, people always ask me the question about whether they need to have seen the original films first.  How do you balance that up as a filmmaker?  Do you expect people to have knowledge of the earlier films or are you trying to create something that stands alone?

Justin:  That’s what’s so fun about creating a mythology.  Every time we have another one, it’s a new chapter, a new episode.  It definitely stands alone but if the audience are intrigued, there are layers that they can dig into and watch previous films to find out more. 

Matt:  We’re in the 6th film now of this franchise which is an impressive statistic.  How do you keep upping the stakes in terms of action?  What are you trying to do differently in this particular film?

Justin:  I don’t design action simply for action.  The great thing is that these characters are now 12 years older than when we first met them.  I want to make sure their maturity is reflected and as they evolve, the obstacles become bigger and bigger.  For me, it’s never been artificially imposed to make anything “bigger” but as these characters have grown, the movies have naturally become bigger.

Matt:  A lot of time and effort clearly goes into these driving sequences that have become so famous in these movies.  How many cameras have you got operating at any one point in time trying to get all the shots from all the different angles?

Justin:  It depends.  For some of the best shots, you have to run just one camera as having a point of view is very important.  That being said, some of these stunts can only be done once and so I have to design shots where we have about 15 cameras rolling at any one time.

Matt:  There are a heap of cars here – a mix of old and new.  How much money gets spent on these cars?  How do you make them?

Justin:  A lot of money goes into the cars.  I try to infuse partnerships with car makers but that’s usually a crap shoot.  We were fortunate on this one to have two partners on board.  We have an army of cars, most of them classic.  We even built our own car that flips other cars.  It’s a big chunk of our budget.

Matt:  You’re shooting driving scenes in London at some famous landmarks like Piccadilly Circus.  How do you get permission for something like that?

Justin:  By now, I’m used to travelling around the world and picking the most difficult cities to shoot in but it’s still important to understand who we are.  We are a big film company going into other territories but at the end of the day, we are visitors and we have to respect the communities that are there.  If we are able to start a decision about why we need to run our cars through their streets, we can build the right relationships.

Piccadilly Circus was amazing as only three films in history have been allowed to shoot there.  We were the third film.  Going in there, they’d block off traffic for 7 minutes and then you’d have to wait for another 40 minutes to get the next window.  I would design the schedule accordingly and we’d rehearse all the moves outside of the location so that when we’re there, we’re totally ready.

The process takes a lot of manoeuvring but it’s totally worth it.  When you watch the film, there’s something visceral about seeing an iconic landmark and seeing these iconic American cars running right through.

Matt:  We always hear stories about actors who want to get their hands dirty and do their own stunts.  Is that the case here again?

Justin:  Yeah.  In the first three films I directed, the actors were pushing hard and I had to push back because if they go down, the whole production goes down.  As we’ve grown, we’ve become more comfortable with each other and with this one, I felt this was the time to give them more opportunities – not just with the driving sequences but also utilising them in the fight sequences as much as possible.  

It might be a 2-3 minute fight scene on screen but that’s 3 continuous days sometimes.  I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the actors.  They all step up and when you watch the film, nothing beats seeing the real person get in there and do the real thing.

Matt:  You’ve been heavily involved with the Fast & The Furious franchise since Tokyo Drift back in 2006.  Has there been temptation to go off and do other things?

Justin:  Yes and I think this is why this is my last one.  It’s been amazing to be a part of this and to be able to build something that you can be proud of.  It’s rare to be able to walk off while the franchise is still thriving and to be able to hand it over to another filmmaker. 

I’ve had the opportunity to be able to do a couple of smaller projects in between but these films are so time consuming.  It takes years to prepare so that you can go in to shoot.  It’s a 2 year process at a minimum.  I am excited to be moving on but at the same time, it’s a bit emotional to be moving away from the Fast & Furious family.

Matt:  Can you tell us what your plans are going forward?  What will you be working on next?

Justin:  I’m very fortunate.  In the past 10 years, I’ve been able to find some amazing projects to develop.  There are small independent dramas, comedies, TV projects… it’s all over the map and I love that.  It gives me options and that’s something that filmmakers don’t have all the time.  I have a few projects on the go and I’m not sure which one is going to float first but I can’t wait to feel the energy that comes with something new.