Making any movie is hard, but being the director of a multi-million dollar blockbuster is really, really hard.
That’s been most evident in recent weeks when much of the chatter in Hollywood has been about the shocking firing of ‘Star Wars’ directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the untitled Han Solo movie over creative differences with Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy (Ron Howard has since been brought on to complete the movie).
With so much at stake for a studio, the day-to-day job of a director isn’t easy. They’re the one who has to shoulder the burden of pulling off the (often times) short production schedule, all the while doing it in a way that satisfies his or her own creative impulses and appeases the high-powered cast, producers, and studio heads. And on top of it all, they’re on the hook for the ticket sales of a movie expected to rake in a whole lot of money at the box office.
Many have pulled it off (and been paid handsomely for it). But there are definite scares that pop up during the process of making a film.
Following the success of “Furious 7,” the 2015 hit from Universal’s profitable “Fast and the Furious” franchise that earned over $US1.5 billion worldwide at the box office, director James Wan declined the studio’s offer to return for the eighth movie in the popular franchise, “The Fate of the Furious.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, one reason Wan passed was because the two-year production on “Furious 7” was so daunting (and included late rewrites following the death of franchise star Paul Walker) that it compromised Wan’s health.
F. Gary Grey (“Straight Outta Compton,” “The Italian Job”) signed on to direct “The Fate of the Furious,” and the movie went on to earn over $US1.2 billion worldwide and is currently the fifth-highest grossing movie of 2017 domestically ($US225.4 million).
Grey is sucking in the accolades. He now has the distinction of being the first black filmmaker to make a $US1 billion movie, and he’s even getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next year. But he’ll be the first to tell you that making “Fate of the Furious” wasn’t easy, and at times he certainly felt the pressure of the franchise pushing down on him.
“It’s kind of a schizophrenic thing,” Grey told Business Insider. “When you create you don’t want to be influenced by that. But in those waking, sobering moments you’re like ‘Oh, s—! This movie has to perform!’ Especially given the performance of the last few. Then you take that hat off and jump back into creative mode. I let the creativity influence me. I don’t allow the numbers to influence me but I would be lying if I said it doesn’t pinch you every once in a while, while you’re in the process of making a movie. You have to acknowledge that it has to do business in order to be successful.”
But then there’s also managing the egos that come with a blockbuster. Grey walked into a franchise that was already showing signs of unrest, and it hit a breaking point for two of its stars in the middle of production on “Fate of the Furious.”
Last August, during his final week of shooting, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a star in the franchise since 2011’s “Fast Five,” took to Facebook to call out some of his male costars for being “candy a–es,” writing that some don’t “conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals.” It turned out Johnson was calling out the franchise’s main star and producer, Vin Diesel. There had been rumours for years since Diesel rejoined the franchise, after a two-film hiatus with 2009’s “Fast & Furious,” that he was a distraction on set.
Though some felt the whole thing was a publicity stunt, the proof is in the movie. Johnson and Diesel are literally never on screen at the same time. The storyline of Diesel’s Dom character going rogue on his “family” made it easier for them to be apart, as Johnson’s Hobbs character spends most of the movie trying to track down Dom while Dom is seemingly doing evil acts with the movie’s villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron). But at the end of the movie when they all reunite, it’s almost comical how the shots are positioned so it’s not evident that neither star is present at the rooftop gathering at the same time.
It’s certainly something Grey had to navigate, through he won’t divulge how much.
“I really can’t,” Grey said, when asked to comment on the feud. “First, because I’m a professional. It’s something I will always steer everyone to Dwayne and Vin. When you make a movie on this level, with this size, it’s so massive. You’re taking about four continents, seven different units, and in some cases being filmed simultaneously. Hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. It’s going to be a challenge. And everyone has their process. So I can’t judge them. I’m very, very proud of the movie. And I hope they are, too. In terms of just their process, I don’t have much to say. I’m happy we made it to the other side.”
Now the question becomes where Grey goes from here. The “Fast and Furious” franchise certainly isn’t done yet. Is he up for another movie?
“Who knows what the future holds,” Grey said, noting that he’s currently focused on getting his production company off the ground. “I can say right now at this very second, I’m happy with ‘Fate of the Furious.’ I’m very happy with that movie. That’s the one I poured my life and heart into and anything above and beyond that, who knows.”
“The Fate of the Furious” is now available to buy digitally and will be on Blu-ray/DVD beginning July 11.
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