It’s hard to believe one Vibe magazine article about street racing around Washington Heights in New York City would set the wheels in motion for what would become a multi-billion dollar film franchise known as Fast and the Furious. A hit vehicle for Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Melissa Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and so many more. Just as Universal Pictures gears up for its milestone release of Fast X, the story behind this tentpole series of movies is told through Icons Unearthed: Fast & Furious.
This is the third season for The docuseries from The Nacelle Company and Vice TV, which brought past installments featuring Star Wars and The Simpsons. Once again at the helm is director and executive producer Brian Volk Weiss, whose insatiable curiosity gave us shows like The Toys That Made Us, The Movies That Made Us, and Behind the Attraction. We caught up with the boss to talk about how his newest project gives Fast & Furious the credit it deserves.
What played into the decision to turn your attention to this gigantic movie franchise?
Brian Volk-Weiss: It really got to the point where we were all talking, and there are so many huge franchises that nobody talks about or had covered. The one that made the most sense to do well was Fast & Furious. I fully admit I wasn’t a fan. I’ve seen every movie in the theater. Not even sure why, and it’s without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had making a documentary was this show.
What made it so fun?
The story. I always feel like the greatest controlled experiment of Fast & Furious is James Bond. Yes, the bad guys change, the locations change, and the gadgets change, but it’s still James Bond. Whereas in Fast & Furious almost every movie there is a massive curveball that should destroy the franchise and never does. The first movie was greenlit essentially because Universal didn’t have a movie a year later and they were scrambling to find one. It just randomly got greenlit. The movie comes out, and it’s a modest success. It did well, but not that well. It didn’t deserve a second movie.
Then they decide to make another one.
They lose 50 percent of their stars. They lose their director, but not only does it work, but it does four times more. Then it’s literally one curveball after another. They get The Rock, then there is a fight with The Rock, and they lose The Rock. Everything about it was just crazy. Then you basically have what started as what was an incredibly grounded, realistic story based on a grounded, realistic article. Then they get to a Mazda Miyata going into outer space, but it works. One of the reasons I was excited to try it was because I was really curious if I could figure it out and come up with a theory about why the movies work so well…I came up with a theory I’m quite comfortable defending why this franchise is going on for 20 years when it started out as a very small kind of simple car film.
A big blow to the franchise of course was Paul Walker’s passing. How was that tackled?
Here is a lead who tragically, suddenly died in the middle of making the movie. We covered it with a lot of respect for him, his family, to the people that make the movies. We did a very in-depth dive into what actually happened and why it happened. Myself, I didn’t understand the details. One of the things we learned was Paul Walker was not a big car guy. He went into Fast & Furious, not a car guy, and then because of the movies started getting more into the cars. Then he started doing more and more of the stunts. Then absolutely that played a part in what unfortunately happened to him. At least for me, there was definitely a connection for him picking up his love of racing because of the character he was playing.
Was it difficult to get the buy-in from the people you spoke with?
We had really good luck and really bad luck. The good luck was we got amazing people that were there and they gave us amazing information. It was very powerful sometimes and very funny stories other times. The bad news and this has never happened before, but they were shooting Fast X while we were in production. For example, Tyrese had already locked and delivered two of the six episodes when Tyrese got back from shooting and was able to do his interview. Vice was wonderful and allowed us to delay for a couple of weeks. We literally had to reopen the first two episodes to put Tyreses’ interview in the two episodes and the others. A lot of people said they wanted to do it and basically said yes, but they weren’t getting back until a month after we wrapped.
How was Tyrese?
Tyrese told this extremely powerful story where he booked the part, shot the movie and everything was great. He was excited. He started to see the posters and trailers and started to do press. One day he is walking down the street and he sees the poster. He saw two black guys, a Latina, an Asian actress, and one white guy and it says in big letters with a box around the name directed by a black guy. There is no movie released by a studio system other than a movie aimed at a black audience where a studio pops out a poster where the white guy is the minority…
Wow. I never thought about that.
When he was doing press by then in Europe and Asia, everyone stayed on the poster. He said, “Listen I know Fast & Furious is never going to get an Oscar. Other than special effects, editing, and sound design but we are changing culture. We are making the world a safer place for actors of color. We’re making people get more used to seeing more black people than white people on a poster. We get no credit for that.” I would argue there are multiple things that the movies do that they don’t get any credit for. We wanted to really show that if these movies were as stupid as people think they are they’re not going to be making $800 million in the middle of COVID. They are not going to be making a billion before or after COVID. There is not going to be a spinoff, a $100 million ride in all four Universal theme parks. All that stuff gets taken for granted.
What do you think the future of these movies is?
My gut tells me at an absolute bare minimum there are at least 20 years more of these movies coming. Bare minimum. They are going to evolve. There are going to be some right turns and left turns, but it’s like James Bond. It works. It always works.
Icons Unearthed: Fast & Furious premiere, January 16, 9/8c, Vice TV