John Gatins

Need for Speed: On Set

When you think about Detroit in 2013, it’s hard not to think about a city tangled up in bankruptcy. A community on that downward motion toward the ground right before bouncing back up again. You also might, more traditionally, think about American muscle cars and machismo. On a humid day in late June of last year, the sound of screeching tires and the oiled up masculinity of Detroit surrounded me and a group of fellow journalists on the set of Need for Speed. Amidst the smell of burned rubber and what seemed like miles of cabling linking together the technology of modern action cinema, we got to know the storytellers chosen by DreamWorks to bring one of EA’s most successful video game franchises to life. From Act of Valor director Scott Waugh to Oscar nominated writer John Gatins and acclaimed Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, they all had something to share about the testosterone-fueled world. For your expedited enjoyment, we’ve arranged them into a list of things we learned that day in downtown Motor City.

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speed

When Need for Speed was announced, it was mildly confounding. It makes sense in a world where Fast and Furious has become a billion dollar franchise, but, from a storytelling perspective, not so much. If you’re not sure why that is, you likely never played the video game series, which doesn’t have an actual narrative. Unless building up toward better cars counts as plot. That’s actually one of the few ties the movie will have to the game. If it were called anything other than Need for Speed, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow as a potential game rip-off. This may come as a surprise, but that’s a good thing, for a variety reasons. Disney recently held a press day for director Scott Waugh‘s (Act of Valor) video game adaptation, and while in attendance, screenwriter John Gatins (Flight), who cracked the story with his brother and the film’s writer George Gatins made a strong point differentiating Need for Speed from fellow video game adaptations.

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For anyone who has been clamoring for Robert Zemeckis‘s return to live-action, Flight should appease those fans of the director who haven’t embraced his recent motion-capture adventures. This isn’t exactly a triumphant comeback, but with Flight he mostly knows what buttons to push in order to please. It’s a true testament to Denzel Washington‘s performance that the blunt drama doesn’t fall on its face. Washington has major obstacles to overcome in making the character of Whip Whitaker as empathetic as he is. From frame one, Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins unflatteringly show us who this guy is: a bad father, an alcoholic, a coke addict. There is nothing to admire about him, not even his surface level charms, which are best showcased in scenes between Washington and John Goodman.

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I’ve always found Robert Zemeckis’s films to be hit or miss. Lately he’s been pretty solidly in the miss category though. Sometimes it’s hard to remember he directed films like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Movies that were full of genre weirdness, but were undeniably mainstream because they had that certain Robert Zemeckis touch. It’s even kind of hard to remember that he made the movie with perhaps the most universal appeal of all time in Forrest Gump. It’s hard to remember because of the last ten years of weird looking, off putting, motion capture animation movies that he’s insisted on making. His next film was set to be another of those creepy exercises in something nobody ever asked for, this time a motion capture take on the Beatles classic Yellow Submarine, but then Mars Needs Moms tanked at the box office. Suddenly the hammer was put down on weird, experimental forms of animation, and that left Zemeckis scrambling to find a script for a live action film to direct.

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