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Families come in all shapes and sizes. They can be loving and nurturing, they can be boisterous and brash, they can be fractious and frustrating. The Fast and Furious franchise, which runs on the theme of family, became the latter when, only days into shooting the latest installment, Fast 10, director Justin Lin did the unthinkable: He quit.
Directors have been replaced mid-production before, Bohemian Rhapsody and Solo: A Star Wars Story being recent examples. Those, however, were incidents where filmmakers were fired. In the case of Fast 10, it was the director who had had enough. Enough of the constantly changing script, enough of the process of making a Fast movie, and enough of the managing from the movie’s driving star and fellow producer, Vin Diesel, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Lin was handling writing duties on the movie and believed he had a locked script going into it. Universal and Diesel had other thoughts. A key location that had been secured was cut due to its Eastern Europe location amid the war in Ukraine. And the movie still hadn’t cast one of its villains yet. On top of that, even as Lin tried to draw lines in the sand, the studio said it would be sending a writer to London to polish dialogue for some of the actors, a move that was expected but apparently not welcome by Lin at that time, sources say.
The constantly moving target proved too much for the seasoned Lin, who on April 23 had a “major disagreement” with Diesel. The four-person meeting had begun with Diesel having new notes. It ended with a slammed door. “Justin finally had enough and said, ‘This movie is not worth my mental health,'” says one source. Both Lin and Diesel declined comment for this story.
A Universal spokesperson told THR: “Any creative differences leading to Justin Lin’s exit were with the studio, not with fellow producers, cast or crew.”
In the heat of the moment, Lin said he was through with the movie. The studio took him seriously. And by April 25, a settlement was reached for Lin to exit the production. He would remain involved as a producer. A great many of the crew had worked on F9 with Lin and for a spell wondered what their next moves should be, but Lin, according to insiders, gave his blessing that they should stay on. Regardless, the muscle car had lost its driver as it was speeding down the highway.
On April 26, three days after the blowup, Lin announced his departure on the Fast social media channels. “With the support of Universal, I have made the difficult decision to step back as director of Fast X,” he wrote, also thanking his cast and crew for their support, and expressing pride at helping to build “the most diverse franchise in movie history.”
Lin’s departure was months in the making and offers a glimpse into the kind of pressure-cooker environment that working on the franchise, now almost 21 years old, has become. It also illustrates how high the stakes are for its studio, Universal Pictures, its key star and producer, Diesel, and any director caught in the Sturm und Drang of making a mega-blockbuster.
Lin, more than any director, knew what he was getting into with Fast 10. He had directed five Fast movies, starting with the third installment, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. He guided the series from simple and modestly budgeted, car-oriented action movies to a globe-spanning, stunt-cranking worldwide box office juggernaut, especially with 2011’s Fast Five, which brought in Dwayne Johnson and set the new course: big names, bigger set pieces.
Lin was coming off of 2021’s F9: The Fast Saga, which had the unfortunate luck of being released during the pandemic. While a $726 million worldwide gross is nothing to lose your engine oil over, it was the lowest tally since Fast Five. Pressure was on to make the 10th installment a barn-burner and the director, with little break, put the key in the ignition and started up right away to work on the next one.
The pressure on Universal to maintain the Fast franchise is immense. It is the biggest franchise in the studio’s history, grossing close to $6 billion theatrically. But 20 years in, the movies have become extraordinarily expensive.
Sources tell THR that Fast 10′s budget was creeping upwards of the $300 million mark, and that is without any marketing and publicity spend. Over $100 million of that is for above-the-line costs, which have ballooned over the years as the studio juggled high seven- and eight-figure salaries for actors such as Charlize Theron, whose part has only grown, latest newcomers Jason Momoa and Brie Larson, and veterans Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson. All those figures pale in comparison to the fees coming Diesel’s way. (Universal declined to comment.)
Diesel had become his own personality to be reckoned with at this point in the Fast franchise. He long ago had become the dominant force and was not afraid to flex his ample muscle. His clash with Dwayne Johnson led the former superstar wrestler to leave the franchise — even rebuffing public outreach. And the writing process for the movies was unorthodox, to say the least. Insiders say writers would pen action sequences and Diesel would say “yes” or “no” to them, leaving to the director the job of making them fit. Or not, if Diesel changed his mind. “The whole process is a mosaic that never stops moving,” says one insider who has seen the making of several Fast movies up close.
Fast films have also seen their share of unfortunate, if not tragic, setbacks. In 2013, Paul Walker, who starred in the movies with Diesel, died in a car accident while on a break from production. The movie, Fast 7, suspended production for months while the studio, producers and director James Wan overhauled the entire shoot as they figured out ways to both honor Walker and move forward without him.
While clearly not as dire, Lin’s exit certainly was a most unwelcome development. Fast 10 pivoted to shooting second-unit photography as the studio and Diesel scrambled to find a replacement director. The process was costing the studio upwards of a million dollars a day to keep crew and locations on standby.
And finding a director for the franchise wasn’t going to be easy. “You need someone who can play ball with the studio, Vin and the actors,” notes an agency partner. “You can maybe count on two hands filmmakers that can take on this challenge. Most filmmakers will file this under, ‘Life’s too short.’”
Obvious candidates, those who had previously helmed installments, were unavailable. But the production tried. F. Gary Gray (Fate of the Furious) is in the middle of shooting a Kevin Hart movie for Netflix. Wan is in postproduction on Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. David Leitch (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is due to shoot a Fall Guy feature, to star Ryan Gosling, this summer. Even if Universal were able to pull him off that film, the studio risked losing Gosling to another project, or worse, angering the actor, who may not want to push his schedule.
On the plus side, as one agency source notes, it could be a great opportunity: “If you can land this 747 and prevent a crash, you’d be a hero.”
The hoped-for hero was found in Louis Leterrier, a sturdy hand who had experience in big visual effects work, having done the remake of Clash of the Titans and the well-regarded but short-lived Netflix series Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and action car chases thanks to the Jason Statham-starring Transporter movies. Leterrier had, according to one insider, always been in contention for directing gigs for the Fast movies due to his experience and interest. Now, he’s getting his shot.
His deal is expected to close this week, with the project out of the pit and back on the road shortly after.
May 3, 10:20 a.m. Updated to reflect that Gray directed Fate of the Furious and Wan directed Fast 7.
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