Interview: ‘The Fate of the Furious’ Writer Chris Morgan on Building the Story Like a Dungeon Master, Hints of ‘Fast 9’, and More
I’d argue that there’s no one more important to the Fast and Furious franchise than Chris Morgan. Directors and actors have come and gone, but Morgan has been the sole writer on these movies since 2006’s Tokyo Drift, which was the turning point that saved the franchise from direct-to-DVD obscurity. He’s the series’ architect, crafting the blueprints responsible for its meteoric rise in popularity and helping to turn what began as a simple Point Break riff into a billion dollar box office behemoth. In addition to writing every movie since then, he also executive produced Fast and Furious 6, Furious 7, and the newest film in the series, The Fate of the Furious, which comes out this Friday.
Last week, I had the chance to speak with Morgan about the process of crafting a new sequel. In addition to teasing a possible return for Han Seoul-Oh and updating me about his exciting time travel sci-fi film Crime of the Century, we chatted about how many set piece ideas he has left, if he ever consults physicists about the series’ insane action sequences, whether he’ll ever take Dom into space, and much more.
Chris Morgan interview
First question: I’m sure you've heard jokes about this before, but I’m asking completely seriously here: do you have any intention of taking these characters into space before this franchise comes to an end?
Well, OK, imagine this: someone comes to Dominic Toretto. His long-lost relative…Riddick! The fate of the universe depends on them working together! [Laughs] No, the answer is no. We’re not going to space. I mean, never say never. We’re definitely not going to space, but how fun would that be to put Riddick and Dominic Toretto together? It would be hilarious! I think Riddick would like Dom, actually. I think they’d find common ground.
One random thing, too. I hear that same thing about space – like, ‘You couldn’t go to space because if you go to space, then that’s where you lose me.’ So we hear that from fans a lot. Also, time travel and dinosaurs. Those things do jump the shark for everybody as well. Although how fun would it be for Dom to find Marty McFly’s DeLorean?
I mean, if some people are telling you that’s not the direction you should go, I think they’re incorrect. I think that’s where this franchise needs to go, personally.
[Laughs] I’m going to take that under advisement.
Everything changed for the Fast movies in a big way with Paul Walker’s accident, and Furious 7’s ending was entirely reworked. How much, if any, of that film’s original ending were you able to repurpose in this movie?
So Brian’s arc, Paul’s arc in that movie, it kind of remained the same. Paul died partway through the filming and it was devastating. He had done a lot of the action stuff but not a lot of the drama stuff, and so obviously you’ve heard all the stories about how we were able to pull that thing together and give him a really good send-off. But his arc essentially remained the same.
His original character arc was, here’s a guy who’s now a family man – we had this great scene we didn’t end up shooting, we didn’t put it in the movie. It’s at the beginning of the film and he’s mowing his lawn somewhere, and these teens or 20-somethings come racing down the road and they stop at the streetlight and start revving their engines because they’re going to race. Brian just kind of looks on wistfully, and Mia, inside, sees him and realizes he’s still aching for something. He’s this guy who’s at this moment in his life where, even though he loves his family and loves his kid, he still misses the action and the bullets. The journey for him was, after going through this giant adventure, realizing what he really wants out of life is the family side. He can appreciate all that stuff, but where he really belongs is here.
So we were able to maintain that story and give him a great sendoff. Now, obviously, we wouldn't have sent him off had the accident not happened. But there’s nothing really for us in this film that we didn't get to do that we put in or to be repurposed. We were able to close that out as we planned.
Vin [Diesel] has been very vocal about his involvement in this series as a producer and an actor, and I’m interested to know how much impact he has on the overall storytelling. What is the process like between you two when you set out to develop a sequel like this?
He has a massive part of the storytelling. We’re really in sync from the very beginning. Normally what will happen is, while we’re shooting one of these films, we’ll be thinking about what comes next and we’ll be bouncing ideas back and forth. Eventually I’ll form a basic idea or a structure, and I’ll go to the studio and I’ll go to him, and we kind of spitball and bounce it around, it starts taking the shape.
Ever since I’ve met him – it’s funny, he and I have a lot in common in that we’re both kind of nerdy. We talk in Dungeons & Dragons [terms] a lot. So we throw around words like ‘saga,’ and ‘mythology.’ Essentially the way we look at telling these stories is – again, nerd alert – is kind of like how a dungeon master would create a campaign for their players. We’re building a world for Dom and Letty and all our characters, and we’re watching as they level up emotionally. To go through the hurdles of their lives and become stronger and more potent for it. So we’re pretty tight together on creating the world of the stories for Fast.
So we’re eight movies in, and you’ve written six of them. How many ideas for set pieces do you have left in the bank at this point?
Oh my God, a ton. A lot. It’s interesting. The way we tell stories over a long period of time really is more like a cable TV show. Every time we have a movie we don’t have to reestablish everything about the characters. People who come to the films generally know some of the backstory about the characters, so we can always forge ahead and let them grow. We don’t have to carry this obligation to reset everything for everybody. The problem is always the time. So you get essentially two hours every couple of years for one of these films, and a lot of that tends to have to be plot and we end up having a certain budget and things always get trimmed out for time or money.
So as an example, in Fast Five, when we were developing the story, we were going to put a version of that Antonov plane that ended up at the end of 6 at the end of Five, and we just ran out of space and money. So we ended up lopping it off and doing it at the end of the next film. So we have a lot of things like that. We have a lot of action set pieces that we’ve thought about, talked about, but we just haven’t been able to do for time or money.