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As a boy growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of La Canada, Chris Morgan often celebrated his birthdays with a trip to Universal Studios with his friends and family. Now, Morgan is moving from the tram to a bungalow on the lot.
The writer of the third, fourth and fifth installments of Universal’s Fast and the Furious franchise (Fast Five opens April 29) has signed a two-year first-look production pact with the studio, a rare move in a time when companies are actually slashing producer deals.
Morgan will also begin writing Fast Six.
Morgan has been a key player in the Fast series, working alongside director Justin Lin, who directed the same three movies. Beyond Fast, Morgan also wrote Universal’s 2008 hit Wanted and 47 Ronin, the Keanu Reeves samurai epic currently in production. He also is developing for the studio a movie based on the popular Japanese monster game Bakugan.
While some might look at the deal as a studio rewarding past success, Morgan, repped by ICM, takes the opposite view.
“I don’t want to be the guy who gets a vanity production deal and does nothing,” he says. “I want to be the guy who goes out there and busts my ass and fixes broken stories and finds material to bring back — quite frankly, as a reward to the studio that has worked with me for so long. We have a very effective partnership, and we want to get some big movies off the ground.”
Universal co-chairman Donna Langley praises Morgan for being more than just a writer.
“He’s been not only integral to the Fast and Furious franchise, he comes up with fresh ideas and he thinks like a producer when we have budget conversations,” Langley says. “We wanted to show him our appreciation, and we selfishly wanted to make sure his home was here. We don’t want him going anywhere else.”
Morgan, in the process of assembling his production team, is already dreaming up of the movies he wants to tackle.
“I grew up on Raiders, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard,” he says. “Those are in my wheel house. Those are the movies I want to find, I want to help make. They’re genre movies but heroic ones, ones that have a hyper-real sense to them. Summer movies.”
Morgan credits his mother, an author, for putting him through college by writing 18 novels of all sorts of genres for a small publisher. That might have indicated that some creativity was in his blood, although Morgan says boredom in a Russian political science course got him to write his first screenplay.
Morgan shared that script, a Medieval siege story, with a fellow PA while working on the set of 1997’s Flubber. Months later, the PA showed it to a director, who showed it to his development exec, who showed it to a story editor at DreamWorks.
It was that story editor who asked to meet with Morgan, helping him score representation and eventually putting him on a path to a writing career.
“I have never worked for DreamWorks but I owe my entire career to these people who liked the writing and for absolutely no reason whatsoever — other than they were good people — gave me chance,” Morgan says. “It’s amazing how something so small that people can do can make such a profound impact on people’s lives.”
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