'Fast and Furious 8' Eyeing to Shoot in Cuba (Exclusive)

The Universal sequel would be the first major studio production to shoot on the island.

The Fast and Furious franchise is known for globetrotting to some of the world's most exotic and exciting locations, taking stars Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris and the late Paul Walker from the streets of Los Angeles to places like Japan, London and Abu Dhabi.

But the eighth installment could potentially send the racing action series to a place rarely explored by Hollywood films: Cuba.

Sources say Fast and Furious 8's director F. Gary Gray recently returned from a scouting trip that included the previously embargoed nation as part of professional research trip. Sources say the production has moved forward with the paperwork to shoot there, making it the first Hollywood studio film to shoot on the island since the embargo was set in the 1960s.

"Universal Pictures is currently in the process seeking approval from the United States and Cuban governments to explore shooting a portion of the next installment of the Fast & Furious series in Cuba," said a statement from the studio.

It's been a little over a year since President Obama chose to re-establish ties with Cuba and ease restrictions on American travel to the island. A U.S. Embassy was opened for the first time in more than 50 years, and the new policies have opened up the possibility of increased filming on the island.

In March, Conan O'Brien went to Havana, the first time a late-night show had appeared in Cuba since 1962, when the U.S. embargo began. An indie film, Bob Yari's Papa, became the first Hollywood film to shoot in Cuba since the embargo when it filmed on the island earlier in 2014. And Showtime announced Wednesday that one episode of House of Lies will shoot an episode in Havana, becoming the first American series to shoot there.

"It has a unique beauty to it,” says Yari of shooting in Cuba. "You’re in a very unique setting which is really hard to duplicate anywhere else. People have tried in places like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, but Cuba has such unique features like the Morro Castle and the Malecon. It's a beautiful location."

Papa, starring Giovanni Ribisi and Minka Kelly, centered on a journalist who befriends Ernest and Mary Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for many years. Yari warns, however, that while Cuba does have its own filmmaking community and crews, there are many challenges to bringing a Hollywood production onto the island.

"There isn't the infrastructure and facilities and equipment down there, so a lot of it has to be brought in," adds Yari. "The crews are wonderful, they're very dedicated and passionate about what they do, but they're not used to the pace of U.S. filmmaking."

A production the size of Furious 8, which would likely include dozens, maybe hundreds, of crew, has yet to make its way to Cuba. A film has to get a special license to shoot in Cuba, which is no easy feat, even after Obama lifted some of the restrictions. A film like Papa got the exemption for the license because it was a Hemingway story which required them to shoot in places Hemingway visited. However, locations for any film are never set in stone and could easily change before shooting, and sources say the paperwork from the treasury department has not yet been approved for them to shoot in Cuba in the spring.

While the film community is strong in Cuba (the Havana Film Festival has taken place every December since 1979, and the International School of Cinema and Television is world-renowned), the infrastructure issues, like spotty internet, can add challenges to any film production, especially one as big and ambitious as Furious 8.

Sources say production on Furious 8, like its previous installment, will be based in Atlanta, Ga., but a slew of exotic locations are being eyed including Russia and Iceland.

The previous installment, which included the final appearance by Walker, who died in a car crash before the film was completed, earned a huge $1.5 billion worldwide. Furious 8 is slated for release on April 14, 2017.

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