Producer Chris Morgan on 'Bird Box' and The Rock's 'Fast and Furious' Future

The longtime 'Fast' screenwriter explains what drew him to Sandra Bullock's post-apocalyptic film and how Dwayne Johnson's 'Hobbs and Shaw' spinoff could intertwine with the main franchise.
Courtesy of Netflix; Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Netflix
'Birdbox' (Inset: Chris Morgan)

There aren’t many cars, or car crashes, in Bird Box; a brief, chaotic sequence toward the start features a dollop of vehicular mayhem, and at one point a stray character wanders right into a flaming sedan on purpose, but that’s about it. So you may wonder why Chris Morgan, longtime screenwriter on the Fast & Furious franchise, signed on to produce Susanne Bier’s pre-and-post-apocalypse thriller (adapted from Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel).

But the answer to that burning question lies in Bird Box’s character dynamics, the story element Morgan looks for first and foremost in his projects. Bird Box, like so many movies of its genre, is all about those dynamics. The film stars Sandra Bullock as Malorie, a woman in a world where people must wear blindfolds, or else they risk death by suicide for an unkown reason.

The Hollywood Reporter recently had a conversation with Morgan about his work on Bird Box in tandem with his work on the Furious films, as well as that franchise’s future as he steps away from the main series to write the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. While there has been some behind-the-scenes drama on the Furious franchise with a reported beef between Johnson and co-star Vin Diesel, Morgan expects to see Johnson in future installments of the mainline series, not just his spinoff film. Read the full conversation below.   

If I look at your writing and producing credits on paper, Bird Box sticks out. What about Bird Box stuck out to you in particular?

Fast & Furious is one of those things where you can look at it, and you see the races and the cars, but the thing that I will always respond to is character dynamics, people with codes finding themselves over the course of a journey. That's what appealed to me when I first read Bird Box. I was meeting with Scott Stuber and John Mone, who was over at Universal, while we were working on I think Fast Six, and we were in London and we were talking about books and galleys, and there was one that someone described, and I said, “I’ve got to read that.”

So they gave it to me and I started, I think, at 8:00 at night, and read it the whole night through, and met them in the morning and said, “I love this.” There’re so many things that work for me ... I’m a sucker for end-of-the-world scenarios. They put characters in this crucible that makes them find things within themselves that either they didn't know were there, or didn't know they were capable of. In the case of Malorie, she finds not only inner strength, she finds profound understanding of motherhood. I think the one takeaway I'd like people to have is, it's a bit like the parable of Pandora's box: You open the box and all these terrible things come out, but at the very bottom of the box there's hope. Right?

End of the world stories seem to be on the rise. Maybe that speaks to the time we're living in?

I think they’re becoming more relevant. When you're being hit with stories in the news every day of potential nuclear war and the world's governments falling apart, it just feels like it's an easy avenue into a story that people may already subconsciously be thinking about. I think we've always had, for as long as stories have been told, from Biblical stories and beyond, end-of-the-world scenarios. I don't think it's a new thing, but I do think we're at a place now, especially with how connected the world is, that these stories are shared in a way they've never been shared among masses of people, so that they can all comment on it at the same time. The fact that Bird Box is coming out on the 21st, this Friday, there's potentially 130 million people, who are members, that are going to watch it at the same. That's kind of stunning. I think ideas land harder and probably resonate more because more people are discussing them the next day.

Is there any temptation when you're removed from the [writing] process to try to get your hands on it?

I'm not tempted to do so, but my favorite thing about movie making, going back to when I was working at a video store — I worked at a video store in Los Angeles for like 10 years — was always discussing stories. “Oh, what would happen if, can you imagine if…” You know when you leave a movie with your friends and you're like, “You know, what would have been cool is if they had done that”? What I get to do as a producer on these films is not only functional, put-the-movie-together organization, but also take the story out for a speed test with incredible writers, especially when you get Eric Heisserer, who's one of my favorite writers in the world, and also a friend. That guy is so capable and so talented, you're hoping to see what his brain is coming up with, and then you get to have the discussions. If an idea makes things stronger and it's clear to everybody, then you adopt it, and if it doesn't, that’s great, because then it just shakes loose naturally. That's my favorite thing, just talking stories.

Everyone can watch Bird Box at the same time if they chose. With the kind of movie Bird Box is, does that experience become more powerful just because of the subject matter?

I think so. It’s one of the real unique things about working with Netflix. They're just incredible partners to begin with. They’re supportive, they're willing to put their money where their mouth is, they really do fight for artists, and on top of it they have this very unique platform where ... everything goes day and date. When we're working on traditional film releases, they tend to be either platforms or they're released in stages. You'll get a day and date occasionally, but it typically isn't everywhere around the world, whereas this is. It’s really exciting that all around the world there's a new idea that people are able to watch, that people are able to discuss.

The Fast & Furious movies are a global event, too, but not necessarily day and date.

When I was kid, my dad worked at a public library and as a school teacher. So he'd have one job during the day and one job at night. He’d get home late. So we'd always on the weekends try to go out to a film or do something. And one weekend he came home — I think it was ‘81 — and he goes, “Hey, so we're going to go to Mann’s Hollywood Theatre, and we're going to go see this movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And I was so bummed, because the trailers at the time were just this blowing sand dune, and I thought it was all about Noah's Ark. I was like, “Really?” I was so upset. We had to drive an hour to get there. And of course I had the greatest, most profound movie experience in my entire life, and pretty much anything I work on has some callback to that film.

But the point of that long preamble is that for my dad to do that on a teacher's salary or a librarian’s salary, he's got to buy the movie tickets, he's gotta take a tank of gas, he's got to drive somewhere, pay for parking, got to get dinner, got to get popcorn. By the end of the day, it's so expensive, it's such an investment of time . . . that's always landed with me. So every time I'm on set, I'm thinking, “Are we giving these people something to take home with them that makes them say, ‘I'm glad I did that’”?

With Fast & Furious, they have to go to the theater, buy those things . . with Netflix it's a little different. You're watching it in a different way. You have the commitment of the subscription, but you’re watching in the comfort of your home. It's a different level. I respect both ways of doing it. On the global front, we'll look at the release schedule on Fast & Furious, and it comes as close to a day and date as pretty much any movie out there, but that’s not the case for most films in the world. We're a unique and rare exception on that front.

How do you feel not writing on the next Fast & Furious movie and writing the spinoff instead? 

It’s a very deliberate decision on all of our parts. The goal for Universal has been . . . when we were going to try to expand the universe, the Fast world. There're a lot of stories. We've been working on these films for so long that inevitably, you're thinking about, “Well, what's next?”, or, “What is this character's story?” We all became intrigued with that. What are the stories between the main line films? What do the characters do between movies? We have so many alpha characters, male and female, in the Fast franchise that whatever they're doing privately is also super interesting. 

It got to a point where we said, “We think now's the time. We'd like to expand the world, we have several stories.” It just felt natural for Dwayne [Johnson] and Jason [Statham], just from the kind of repartee we got going between them in the last one. So we're making a conscious choice about putting the best we have into making this franchise as strong as Fast and work just like Fast, and it’s 100 percent within the universe and timeline of our Fast films. We're interweaving the character stories and where we ended up going. So it’s a collective thoughtful effort.

Do you expect that we'll see Johnson reappear in new Fast & Furious films, or are they going to be a separate thing from here on? 

Yeah. I think we're going to find the natural temperament for it; if I put my brain out there and think, “Where are we years in the future, and where do these characters go,” of course they interweave, of course!