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‘Fast & Furious’ studio pressing insurance claim after Walker death

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Paul Walker appears in the seventh installment of Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious’ series, but some scenes will be recreated with body doubles and CGI.

By Jay Ramey, Crain News Service

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (May 28, 2014) — Universal Pictures is said to be seeking a $50 million insurance payout from Fireman’s Fund, the insurer for the upcoming “Fast & Furious” installment, following the death of actor Paul Walker, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Shortly following the deaths of Mr. Walker and his friend Roger Rodas during a filming hiatus over the Thanksgiving holidays on Nov. 30 of last year, there was speculation as to whether the studio would be filing what is now said to be the largest insurance claim in Hollywood history, and whether the picture could be completed at all following the death of one of its stars.

After a few tense weeks, filming resumed and the studio has enlisted the help of a number of actors in addition to Mr. Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody to complete the film using some clever CGI face-replacement technology in addition to body and voice doubles. The script has also been revised to give Mr. Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, an exit from the franchise, which will be going ahead after the debut of the seventh film in 2015.

The movie is facing substantial delays and expenses associated with recreating scenes with Mr. Walker’s character, which are said to be tremendously complex. Director Peter Jackson’s company Weta Digital, famous for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has been brought in from New Zealand to help. In addition, a number of unused scenes from previous “Fast & Furious” featuring Mr. Walker’s character have been incorporated into the new film.

As a result, the total cost of the picture is now believed to be $250 million or more, and the studio is in negotiations with Fireman’s Fund over an expected $50 million payout in order to compensate for the expenses associated in recreating Mr. Walker’s character. The insurance company, by design, will not have to pay the cost completing the picture per se, but rather the cost of replacing Mr. Walker in the film had the accident not occurred—and that means the expenses that arise from the steps taken to remedy his absence.

The Hollywood Reporter, citing a source close to the production, states that there is tension between the studio and the insurance company over the separation of expenses associated with recreating Mr. Walker’s character vs. cost overruns for the picture as a whole.

Insurance payouts to movie studios as a result of actors’ injuries or deaths are not uncommon, though it is rare for a picture to be scrapped entirely following death or injury. Most recently, Robert Downey Jr.’s broken ankle during filming of “Iron Man 3” precipitated an insurance claim believed to be between $10 million and $15 million as a result of delays during production.

“Fast & Furious 7” starring Vin Diesel, Mr. Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and Lucas Black is set to premiere April 10, 2015.

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

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