Published on December 13, 2013

Studio rewriting 'Fast & Furious 7' following actor's death

(Universal Studios photo)
It is possible that the seventh film will continue production after all, incorporating already filmed footage with Paul Walker (front, left).

By Jay Ramey, Crain News Service

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Dec. 13, 2013) — Universal Studios is assessing whether “Fast & Furious 7” can be salvaged following the death of Paul Walker, one of the flick’s stars, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Chris Morgan, the screenwriter behind the sixth installment in “The Fast & the Furious” franchise, is said to be hard at work at rewriting the storyline of the seventh film, for which about half of the photography had already been done at the time of Mr. Walker’s death, to allow a proper sendoff for the late actor.

Production of the film had been suspended indefinitely a day after the Nov. 30 deaths of Mr. Walker and Roger Rodas, a friend who was piloting their Porsche Carrera GT when it collided with a light pole and a tree and burst into flames as the two were returning from a charity event not far outside of Los Angeles. Authorities are still investigating the accident, but the official cause is not expected to be known for several weeks.

“At this time we feel it is our responsibility to shut down production on ‘Fast & Furious 7’ for a period of time so we can assess all options available to move forward with the franchise,” a studio representative said in a written statement last week.

The studio has decided to continue on with the “The Fast & the Furious” franchise following Mr. Walker’s death, though it remains to be seen whether the partially completed seventh film can be salvaged. The Hollywood Reporter credited one unnamed source as indicating that approximately half of Mr. Walker’s scenes with his character, Brian O’Conner, have been completed. Mr. Walker was scheduled to be back on set right after the Thanksgiving weekend break. If the studio decides to proceed with an altered script using the footage shot thus far, production could restart in January—but the film’s release date of July 11, 2014, has been retracted.

By some estimates, the film’s production had reportedly expended $150 million prior to the Thanksgiving break, during which Mr. Walker was killed. The studio now faces the prospect of abandoning the picture entirely or incorporating Mr. Walker character’s death into the storyline by rewriting the script and salvaging some of the scenes shot. The picture was insured by insurance giant Fireman’s Fund, and the abandonment of the picture would likely entail a payout of the amount expended during production thus far. This is one of the biggest film production crises caused by the death of an actor of the last decade, and there is very little precedent to follow in trying to salvage a motion picture.

For a previous story on Paul Walker, a real "car guy," click here.

The last major event of this type—an actor’s death during filming with scenes remaining to be shot—took place in 2008 with the death of Heath Ledger. Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” was in production at the time, with Mr. Ledger playing Tony, one of the major characters in the film. As with “Fast & Furious 7,” about half of the film was already shot, and the studio dealt with Mr. Ledger’s death by using three actors, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, in addition to Mr. Ledger himself, to complete the film.

The film’s script and general theme allowed for Mr. Ledger’s character to be able to change shapes, and that allowed for production to continue with a number of actors taking on his role. Prior to that event, during the production of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” in 1999 actor Oliver Reed, playing gladiator trainer Antonius Proximo, passed away from natural causes. His appearance in the film was salvaged using a body double and some impressive CGI work that made use of outtake footage, and though the effect was seamless the extent of the re-created scenes was quite limited.

In the case of “The Fast & the Furious,” it is extremely unlikely for a number of reasons that Mr. Walker’s character would be recast for this feature or for successive features in the franchise, and there is not enough existing footage with Mr. Walker to complete the seventh film with the original screenplay. The choice for Universal Pictures at this point in time appears to be complete abandonment of the feature, or writing Mr. Walker’s death into the script and reshooting parts of the film to include his character’s death.

Both options are on the table, and it depends on whether or not the screenplay can be altered midway through the filming to give Mr. Walker’s character a meaningful sendoff that would not cause rejection by the fans, the costars and the actor’s family.

This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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