Director James Wan on Shooting ‘Furious 7’ Like a Horror Movie and His Plans For ‘The Conjuring 2’
It has not been an easy two years for director James Wan. The man, perhaps best known for creating the Saw franchise and directing 2013’s surprise hit The Conjuring, signed on to replace Justin Lin as director of Furious 7. Wan had never directed anything of this scale before, and that would have been enough of a challenge. Then, on November 30, 2013, as they were a little more than halfway through filming, Paul Walker was killed in a car accident.
The next year was particular difficult for Wan, who not only had to move past his own grief, but find a way to bring the cast and crew together. Despite all this, when we joked with Wan that doing press was the fun part, he said he found this to be more exhausting than making the movie.
The atmosphere at the SXSW screening was like a rock concert. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a film festival.
Oh man. Like yourself, I’ve never experienced anything like that in my career. It was pretty incredible to see how it played. That kind of validated all our hard work that we had to do to get the film finished.
Did you stay to watch the movie?
I did. I did, actually. I’m usually sheepish about that. I’ll usually step out. But I had to see this one with the crowd and I’m so glad that I did.
After the movie, it was an unusual atmosphere for an action movie. A lot of hugging and teary eyes.
That’s true. It’s a testament to how beloved Paul was and is. Clearly, people wanted to come see and say goodbye to him, one last time. I’m really glad we were able to do that for him.
The cast and crew who’ve made these movies have been doing this for a long time. What was it like coming in as a newcomer?
I equate it to being invited to a Thanksgiving dinner where I pop in for dinner and everyone’s already been seated at the table and I’ve got to carve the turkey. Everyone sort of stops what they’re doing and they’re looking at me like, Who’s this guy, again? That’s how I feel. The truth of the matter is that everyone welcomed me with open arms and I’m very grateful for that. That way I could just jump straight into the film and focus on that. Not have to worry too much about all the craziness that could’ve come with it. I met with up with Vin very early on so we could get the ball rolling so to speak, get to know each other and each other’s vibe. Basically trying to be friends before we started. Doing that definitely helps a lot.
How much, of any, of this movie was pre-ordained before you signed on? Where there action sequences that had already been designed or planned?
Yeah, of course. That sort of goes without saying. I’m coming into a movie that’s a Number 7, right? They have an idea of where they’d like things to go and that’s just the nature of it, right? That’s the nature of coming on to something that’s been established. The key is to look at it and say, the sandbox has been built and constructed but now you get to come in and build the sand castle your own way. Put as much of my own stamp on it, knowing that this franchise belongs to the studio, producers, Vin and the actors. I’m a guy who’s coming in to play in their playground.
There’s an undercurrent of tension throughout the film. Given your background as a horror director, how much of that was intentional?
(Laughs) I called him Jason Voorhees on set, not Jason Statham. I’m glad you picked that up. That’s the one thing I could really put my stamp on. The action stuff. When I came on board, the whole concept of dropping cars out of the back of a plane was already conceived but then it was up to me to execute it and make it as thrilling as I could. To give you an example, the very first action beat I designed was the armored bus teetering on the edge of the cliff and Paul has to jump over and climb onto the roof as the whole thing is falling off the edge. That is what I brought to this film. That kind of stuff was what I really wanted to do. Some of that horror/thriller suspense to an action movie.
What were the weeks like after Paul’s death and how did it change the original ending of the movie?
Firstly, when the tragedy happened, it hit us in such a big, big way. First it was the shock of it all. Then the hard part was when it really sank in. There were moments there where I wasn’t sure how I would continue with it. I don’t mean that in a technical logistics way, I mean in an emotional way. I didn’t know if I had it in me to pull my actors and crew together. What became very clear for all of us was that we had to finish this movie. We had to finish this movie for Paul to honor his legacy and memories. When we realized we had to do that, we took time off and went back to the drawing board. We reassessed all the footage we had shot and luckily I didn’t have to change the overall story very much. But, everyone’s primary goal going forward was to finish the movie with the correct and elegant way of sending Paul off. So, I think what we tried to do is say, we know where we want to go with the ending, it’s a matter of backing up and layering those elements throughout the movie, so the ending doesn’t come from out of nowhere.
The movie is highly emotional, but as someone who worked on it for years, does it still effect you the same way?
Let me put it this way: I edited the movie, I shot the movie, I worked on the music... Yet, every time I watch the film it still hits me in a big, big way. The ending has such a huge emotional impact for me and I have such a hard time watching it. I have to get up before the credits start rolling and just walk away. Just walk the emotion off. Even now, the final shot we have in the movie has such a strong impact on me.
After this, you’re set to return for The Conjuring 2, do you think this is a one-and-done thing for you? Would you return for Fast and Furious 8?
I don’t know, actually. At this point, I’m just going through the motions and waiting for this film to open. This film took two-and-a-half years of my life and so taking a break from the heartache from all of this is nice. But, I’m open for whatever. I wouldn’t say no to anything at all. If the next couple installments are cool and I get excited about it, I’d be happy to be back.
Can you talk about some of the plans you have for the next Conjuring movie?
Basically, the amazing thing about the Warrens is, they have thousands of cases they investigated. The idea of doing another story from their case files just feels very organic. For this next one, it’s set in England and it has a very different vibe than the first movie. It still lives in the same world, but the location and the next case they have, has a different flavor to it. So I’m very excited.
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