Meet a few of the key players who helped make filming the latest installment of the high-octane franchise in Abu Dhabi possible.
Even before Paul Walker’s untimely death late last year, The Fast and the Furious franchise was already breaking box-office records globally. With the release of Furious 7 this weekend and the glowing praise it has been receiving from critics, there’s no doubt that fans will be flocking en masse to witness the late actor’s final on-screen performance.
The buzz surrounding Abu Dhabi’s featured spotlight in the film has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, and for good reason: It’s a big deal when Hollywood comes courting, especially at a time when the UAE is trying to position itself as a major hub for filmmaking and production. From cast members Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson expressing to their millions of followers a love affair with the country to a slick branding campaign that has witnessed Fast and the Furious logos splashed across some of Etihad’s fleet of aircraft, the world is set to be introduced to Abu Dhabi in style.
In neighbouring Dubai, which witnessed in 2011 its biggest Hollywood production with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the film’s impact on local tourism could never be truly quantified but was nevertheless significant. As movie goers unfamiliar with the Middle East watched their daring hero Tom Cruise climb on the facade of the world’s tallest building, they began asking: Where in the world is this place? Thanks to incredible special effects in Furious 7 that will see supercars smashing through Etihad Towers alongside high-adrenaline desert drag races, that same question will be mused over with Abu Dhabi in mind.
The filming of Furious 7 in the UAE is about more than just gaining prominence for Abu Dhabi, it was the chance of a lifetime for local industry buffs to work directly on a major Hollywood picture. Casting agency Miranda Davidson Studios was put in charge with providing over 200 locally-based cast for the film a year before pre-production began. The daunting task gave many first-time actors the opportunity to showcase the best of the UAE’s diversity on the big screen.
“You can imagine my team’s excitement and disbelief that it was really going to happen,” said company CEO Miranda Davidson. “Once we started it was non-stop intensity, much like the film itself. Now a year later we all are getting together to see the film and celebrate everyone’s hard work.”
“We had a team of six and myself working on the local casting process. You can imagine dealing with hundreds of people - for some it was their first film experience - and there were lots of questions and concerns to be catered to at all times.”
Davidson and her team held huge open casting calls for residents interested in working on the project. “We drew partly from our own database but we made a point that we wanted to give anyone and everyone in the UAE a chance to be a part of this.”
“We provided all the background extras for the Abu Dhabi portion of the movie. In a movie like The Fast and the Furious, the background is key. They had to go through a string of approvals before being accepted. Every extra was literally hand picked.”
With financial cash-back incentive plans on offer as well as a strong team of advocates ranging from the grass roots level to the Film Commission, Davidson feels that the film will be a game changer for the local film industry as more outsiders discover the benefits of shooting here.
“I hope that outside productions see that the UAE is capable of servicing a film of this magnitude and that they will consider us a serious contender in the global film market,” she said. “As far as the internal perception, I hope more people will see that there is a future in this country for anyone who wants to be a part of the film industry. I think it will help ignite awareness, passion and interest in the local entertainment business.”
When Emirati businessman Salah Almoudi, owner of PP-Performance, was asked if his company could provide the calibre of cars required for the film, he smiled and brought the crew to the Yas Marina Circuit race track. There he showcased a fleet of super charged, modified luxury cars that included the drag racing record-breaking Mercedes CC 63 (which can travel from 0-100 in about 2.8 seconds), in addition to a Dodge Viper and a BHP Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest super car according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Thanks to a life-long obsession with cars (his current favourite is the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta) and his personal contribution to the film’s vehicle fleet, Almoudi is most excited to watch the seventh installment of the series.
“I was lucky enough to be involved in something I love and to be able to see the cars we work with on the big screen - it will feel amazing. I feel proud that the world will get to see my country and our cars showcased in the film,” he said.
One of Salah’s older brothers, Saif Almoudi, said of his youngest brother, “We all love cars in our family. Our father loved cars and passed that down to us. But Salah, he dreams about cars. One day, when Salah was in his teens I came home from work and I found my car with no engine in it. When I walked into the house, Salah had taken it out and was ‘trying to fix it.’ We always knew he would do something special when it came to cars, and he has.”
If there’s one thing that has kept audiences glued to the franchise, it’s the high-octane driving. That’s where professional stunt driver Ben Menzies likes to shine.
“We are used to a lot of tight precision driving and we are trained and prepared for tailgating through the desert at high speeds,” he said. However not many high-speed tailgating is done in million dollar supercars and speeds over double the limit.”
“It was amazing working with some of the world’s best stunt directors and drivers on set. Briefings were done daily so we knew what we had to do and how it was going to get done so we could picture everything before hand.”
The experience included gruelling hours and coping with the cruel summer heat, but for Menzies it was all worth it. “When I watched the film’s trailer and saw all the supercars roaring through the desert.... it was my childhood dream and I got to live it. Not many people get to say that.”
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