From its humble beginnings as a street racing Point Break riff to its current status as one of the biggest motion picture franchises in motion picture history, Neal H. Moritz was there. The producer of the Fast and Furious movies helped shape this staggeringly successful action franchise into an absolute juggernaut that continued last weekend, when The Fate of the Furious broke box office records.
He’s one of the driving forces in this driving franchise, so I had to get him on the phone to talk about The Fate of the Furious, the history of the series and its promising future. We spoke on the phone shortly before the film’s release last week, about what he has planned for this new Fast and Furious trilogy, why we haven’t seen Eva Mendes’ character in a long time and why all the entries in the series have unconventional movie titles.
Crave: Congratulations on this franchise. It’s obviously one of the biggest on the planet.
Neal Moritz: Thank you.
But it didn’t start out that way. It started out as a street racing movie. Can you tell me a bit about…?
Honestly, it started out as a small underground street racing movie. I always loved movies about lifestyles and cultures, and I thought this was a great culture to go into and examine. It just started off that way. And we were lucky enough that not only did people love the action and the cars and stuff, but most importantly what they loved was those characters, and I think that’s the thing more than anything that has allowed this to become a franchise.
Can you tell about this interesting period in the Fast and Furious franchise, where it felt like you were trying to figure out where you were going to go? Because the second film, you lost Dom, the third film is almost a Karate Kid riff in a lot of ways, and then it didn’t become a big action series until the fourth film. Can you tell me a bit about that period and what that was like?
I think that after number two we felt like we just could do, like, oh, let’s just do the same thing but do it bigger. And that was a very valuable lesson for later on in the franchise. But then when we did three and unexpectedly saw there was still interest in the movie… when we added that tag on the end of the movie of re-introducing Dom […] we saw this flurry. It was kind of a test for us, like, how would people react? And people reacted overwhelmingly that they wanted to see the further adventures of Dom, which meant the rest of the crew, and that’s how it kind of allowed us to continue on.
Can you tell me at what point you found out, or decided, that for several sequels in a row you were making prequels to Tokyo Drift? That’s a really interesting choice to make.
Well, when we started to really look at the timeline, about how things could happen, we realized that the order of the movie was different than it was initially thought out to be. I really think that was an interesting thing, to be able to allow that to happen. I’m sitting here in my car but [I think] it’s one, two, four, five, six, three, seven or something.
Or like part of seven, and then three, and the rest of seven.
Exactly, and I don’t think that’s ever been done before. I think that Chris Morgan, the writer, really was smart to be able to figure that out, and we were lucky that there were a few confluences of events that really allowed that timeline to work. You know, I think that what’s interesting about the Fast and the Furious franchise is that each movie, whereas each movie has somewhat of the same things you expect from a Fast and Furious movie, each movie also is given something completely new. That’s what I think allows us to go forward with number eight after what could have been a fitting end to the franchise after number seven.
That approach you just talked about, is that one of the reasons why, unlike a lot of movie franchises, every movie on the series has a different title? You’re not just slapping a different number on at the end of all of them.
To me, what most franchise try to do right now is, they don’t necessarily put the number. I think what we’ve done interesting is keep the number, but give a twist upon the title as well. Basically we always use the words “fast” or “furious,” and in this one we obviously change the word “fast” to “fate” by just changing a couple letters, and that was in-keeping with what we’ve tried to do the whole time.
But is there ever any pushback from studio? Like, “We’re trying to brand this thing and now you’re throwing ‘Fate’ in there?”
No, no. I mean I work so closely with the marketing department and kind of everything we do is lockstep, lockstep. We were looking for something that said the beginning of something new but that takes over from where we left off, and I don’t think we could have done a Fast 8 unless Chris Morgan would have come up with that idea that Dom turns rogue and goes against the team. I think that that gave it a reason to be versus just doing another Fast and Furious with just the further adventures. I don’t think “the further adventures” work. I think there needs to be almost episodic chapters, where each chapter has something completely different.
There’s been some talk that this is the beginning of a new trilogy within the franchise.
Yeah. That’s the plan. That’s the idea, definitely. But I’m always the guy saying, you know what? One movie at a time. Make one great and then move to the next one. I don’t really go for the theory [that] you gotta plan them all out in advance. I really like the idea of really working hard on one, make it great, and then it’ll tell us where the next one should go based on what we learned each time we put a movie out. Our problem has never been “Do we have a story to tell?” Our problem has been that we have a lot of stories to choose from, and which one are we going to choose?
Right, but what makes this the start of a new trilogy, then, in particular? What’s going to connect? Is it the themes, do you have an overarching story you’re starting?
We definitely have an overarching story and we definitely have what the end point is going to be. We do not have what’s in the middle yet.
You’ve got this huge ensemble cast. It’s a big part of what makes this so likable. Everyone likes all of these characters. But is that a nightmare for you from a production standpoint when it comes to just scheduling everybody?
I mean they’re all very busy, in-demand people so it is very hard to clear everybody’s schedules to work at the same time. But everybody realizes how important this franchise is to them, not only personally but professionally, and everybody makes themselves available. We give everybody plenty of notice when we need to be shooting.
But I think what’s so special about the fact that is such a huge ensemble cast is that it’s a movie that feels very inclusive, versus exclusive, and I think the strength of it is, and why it’s successful, and why people can relate to it so much is that there’s somebody in everybody that people can relate to. People feel like if they were going to be able to join this crew that they would be accepted for who they are. I think that is something that we’ve tried really hard to be: a diverse movie without being a diverse movie that’s not organic to what this world we’re in is.
One actor who showed up early in the franchise, and then made a cameo later, and then hasn’t been around for a while is Eva Mendes. Have there been attempts made to work her in, or does she just not fit into any stories that you’ve been working on?
Honestly, she was in and then she did a cameo for us, and I think that she’s just been really involved with her personal life and being a mother, and that’s the decision that she’s made as to where she wants to spend her time right now. We would love to have Eva back though. She’s fantastic.
There has also been talk for a while now about the possibility of spin-offs. Is that the sort of thing you’re actively pursuing, or is that the sort of thing you’re interested in if it comes up?
We’ve definitely all discussed it and we definitely love the idea of a universe, and if the right story came up for us now that’s something that we would definitely entertain.
So you’re one of these producers who, if you look at your IMDb page, it looks like you have a million projects actively in development. What’s your day like? Are you just focusing on the thing that comes next, or is every hour working on a different movie?
Honestly I’m really good at compartmentalizing, so whatever I’m dealing with at that particular moment I deal with and then I’m on to something else, and it could be on a completely unrelated project. You know, the development process is a slow, long process and so I’m jumping around from thing to thing all the time, and just kind of […] bringing my energy into whatever needs [it] at one particular time. Obviously for the last four or five months while we’ve been in post-production on this movie, a bulk of my time has been spent on this but I’ve been spending a bunch of my time on a bunch of other stuff including our tv shows as well.
Are you just waiting on the numbers for The Fate of the Furious, or are you already working on what Fast Nine would be?
Oh, I’ve been working all day today on a ton of different projects including just barely starting to think about what the next one could be.
What is that the franchise hasn’t done yet that you’re excited to do in the future?
There’s this crazy thing that people keep bringing up that we’re talking about going to space, but I don’t see that in the future to be honest.
It feels like they’ve pitted their cars against an airplane, a tank, a nuclear submarine now, zombie cars…
Until we started talking about this movie I would never have thought we were going to talk about going up against a sub, so who knows what’s in store?
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Top Photos: Universal Pictures / Kevin Winter / Getty Images
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.