Fifteen years ago, Neal Moritz produced a modest little film about truck heists and street races called The Fast and the Furious. Next month, Universal will re-release the movie in theaters. It’s been a busy decade and a half for Moritz, not least because the The Fast and the Furious spawned a wildly successful movie franchise. Last year’s Furious 7 grossed $1.5 billion worldwide – and today, Moritz is calling in the middle of production on the sequel. “I’m on the set right now,” he says over the phone, “Just about to walk right out onto the set where we’re going to do an encounter between Jason Statham and Charlize Theron.” Before that fateful meeting could take place, Mortiz offered some memories of working on the film that started it all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does typical day on the set of Fast 8 compare to day working on The Fast and the Furious?
NEAL MORITZ: We’ve got a lot more trucks, and a lot more equipment, and a lot more actors.
Have you gone back to re-watch the first film recently?
I fly back and forth between L.A. and Atlanta very week, and there’s TV on the plane now. I would say that every ride, I see some piece of some Fast & Furious. They seem to be running a lot of Fast Five on USA now, so I’ve been seeing a lot of that one. There’s been so many memories associated through the Fast & Furiouses. A lot of times I can’t remember the exact movies, because there’s been so many! My son will remind me, that’s what happened in that one.
What do you remember about making the first film?
I had not been married yet. I didn’t have my two kids yet. We were shooting a movie in Los Angeles, which is a rarity now, we never get to shoot in L.A. anymore. It brings back a lot of memories, different places in L.A. I grew up in L.A., it’s my hometown. To be actually shooting those places was amazing. It was an amazing thing to make a small little movie, in Los Angeles, and to think 15 years later what it has become. It’s just incredible.
It definitely sounds like a more low-key production than the more recent films.
It was a very street-level movie. I don’t even think we had any press come to set. We were the little movie nobody really cared about, to be honest. It was kind of, like, “Let’s take a shot at the street-racing movie, it will fill a date on a release calendar sometime in February.” Then all of a sudden, it had become a summer movie. It became a whole different thing.
We always believed we were doing something cool. The idea of family has never changed. That’s something that’s been ingrained since the first one, that we’ve been able to carry over, no matter how the Fast & Furious family has grown. We really feel like we’re a huge extended family right now. In fact, I was on the phone with Gal Gadot [who played Gisele in Fasts 4-6] two days ago, calling her to congratulate her. I finally got to see Batman v Superman. Even though she’s not [in the Fast franchise anymore], she’s still in our family.
People never stay dead in the Fast & Furious films!
I reminded her of that the other day.
There are people who’ve been with the franchise since the beginning. What was it like putting the cast together for the original film?
I had worked with Paul Walker previously [on The Skulls.] I talked to him early on. Vin, that was the first movie we worked on together, but then we worked on a number of movies together since. Michelle Rodriguez, somebody I’ve done many movies besides Fast & Furious with. I love her. A lot of characters from the beginning, we’ve all stayed in touch. That’s one of the great things about being able to re-release this movie 15 years after it came out for the first time.
I want to watch it on the big screen again. I haven’t watched it on the big screen since the day of the premiere. We’re shooting in Atlanta, and I think we’re all gonna do a cast trip to see the movie when it’s released.
The movie wasn’t always titled The Fast and the Furious. If it had been called Redline or Racer X, would it have been the same film?
I actually do not think it would. What’s interesting is, we had Race Wars, Racer X, Red Line, Street Wars, all these titles. I was actually at a screening of a documentary on American International Pictures, a company that my family had been involved in for many years. They did all the beach party movies, the Vincent Prince movies. I was watching that documentary, and I said, “We need a title like AIP would have done in the past.” They talked about a Roger Corman movie called The Fast and the Furious, and I was like, “That should be the name of the movie!”
I called up the head of Universal the next morning, and said, “I think I have a title.” I was embarrassed to say it. “It should be Fast and Furious.” And there was just silence on the other end of the phone. He said, “Uh, may-beeee.” And then the next morning he called me, and goes, “That title stuck with me.” So then we went to Roger Corman, and we were able to trade the title for some stock footage. Roger Corman, he wants to make a deal. He was happy to get the footage, and we were happy to get the title.
Did you have any remote notion, while filming the first movie, that The Fast and the Furious would become a franchise?
The first time I had an inkling that there was something more to come was when we did our first test screening, in Chatsworth. The movie played like gangbusters. The lights came up. There was this huge buzz, people clapping and so on. But then we went outside to the parking lot, and we saw people get in their cars, and we saw how they drove their cars after, and we were like, “Okay, we think we got something.”
How has the process changed since making that first film?
Each of the actors know their characters so well now. We listen a lot more to what each of them have to say about what their characters might do in a particular situation. We would be dishonest if we didn’t listen. We’ve become more inclusive to really listening. We want everybody involved to really make it special.