John Singleton doesn't mind being viewed as an “actiondirector” by film aficionados. In fact, he likes the label.Singleton, who as a boy genius fresh out of USC Film School wrote anddirected 1991's inner-city drama/critical hit, Boyz N the Hood,has taken over the frenetic Fast and Furious franchise helm with2 Fast 2 Furious, and he's “really into this actionstuff.”
“I've always wanted to do this,” he says. “Earlyin my career, out of film school, I wanted to be taken seriously as afilmmaker. I wanted to produce serious work, not stuff some might callpopcorn fare. But I proved right out of the gate that I can make aserious movie, and now, I want to have fun. Making this movie was a lotof fun, we did cool things, and I learned a lot.”
Singleton admits he was a bit jealous when Rob Cohen won the rightto direct the first Fast and Furious a couple of years ago,because the film's theme — the street-racing subculture —has always intrigued him.
“We had the scene in Boyz N the Hood where the guys aretalking about street races and the whole car culture in LosAngeles,” he says. “I grew up around that culture in SouthCentral. I always thought that would be a good topic for a movie. Whenthe first one came out, I said, ‘Damn, why didn't I think ofthat?’ So, when the opportunity to direct this picture camealong, I jumped.”
The gig, however, required a big learning curve for Singleton— digital effects to the tune of about 600 shots and complex carstunts all far beyond his previous experience.
“I did Shaft, of course, and we had that big trainsequence in Rosewood, which was a big logistical thing, but Ihad never experienced this level of effects and stunts before,”he says. “I had worked with greenscreen before, but on thisshoot, we had almost three-quarters of a month of greenscreen work. Inever realized how you can lose an actor's energy on a greenscreenstage, if they have nothing to react to, so there was a lot of effortinvolved making them comfortable, making it seamless. Luckily, we hadthe same, basic visual effects team as the first movie [under theleadership of returning supervisor Mike Wassel of Illusion Arts, VanNuys, Calif.] and many of the same stunt people. They had a great dealof experience with the specially designed camera rigs we used and werewell suited to handling the new things we put into it.”
In particular, the sequel takes place on the streets of Miami, notLos Angeles, so the approach to street racing was intentionallydifferent this time around.
“I did not want to replicate the first movie in terms of theaction,” he says. “The first movie featured spectacularraces, but they were all straightaway races, like drag races. Here, weare in a different city, so the cars are hitting curves, twisting andturning, reacting differently. Creatively, the cars are basicallycharacters themselves, thematically linked to their driver. I tried tohave the characters interact with their cars — like the way adriver's face contorts as the vehicle hits a turn at 85 mph.Technically, we digitally previsualized many of the race scenes [atPixel Liberation Front, Venice, Calif.], and that allowed us to come upwith some new approaches.”
Singleton adds that using digital tools and techniques on theproject has clearly made him a better filmmaker.
“I now realize things like digital previz, intermediates, andso on, are basic filmmaker tools at this point,” he says.“These techniques have let me give the film a more organic flow,without worrying about little things. For instance, we had some radicalweather changes shooting in Florida, going from overcast skies to aquaskies. We didn't worry about it; we knew we could focus on theperformances, not the sky.”