It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of all the Fast and the Furious movies. In fact, if you’re the type of person that likes to hate on these films, then this post is not for you. I’m pretty unapologetic about my love for them, and I will not entertain any detractors. Even though the movies are full of things that, according to the laws of science, are impossible, I don’t even care. These movies are 100% full-on good times.
As a writer, I’m interested in how the movies pull that off. It’s one thing to write a bad ass action movie. It’s quite another to have it turn into the juggernaut that the Fast and the Furious films have become.
But how do the films achieve this? That’s a very good question, and I’m not sure I can answer it completely. Obviously, it took several years, a very complicated timeline, and several new and amazing characters to get there. So, while I can’t tell you how the writers got there, I can tell you what I’ve learned in watching these movies.
So settle in and pop a Corona, because I’ve got the 10 writing lessons I’ve learned from the Fast and the Furious franchise.
(Fair warning: This post is hella long, but it’s because I have hella feelings about these movies, and have learned hella things about writing.)
001: Improbability + Sincerity = Good Times
I never took physics in school, but I know the difference between things that can happen and things that can’t. That having been said, I don’t necessarily care whether or not things can happen. Some of my favorite stories take place in spaceships, and those stories never tackle how the characters’ bodies would degrade from living in that atmosphere, or how traveling at the speed of light all the time would affect the aging process. I LITERALLY DON’T CARE THOUGH. That’s the thing. If you’re telling a good story, it doesn’t matter whether or not it could actually happen. And, if the writer has done their job, they’ve set up the rules of the story world well enough that these little details shouldn’t matter.If you're telling a good story, it doesn't matter whether or not it could actually happen. Click To Tweet
So, I have to believe that in the story world of Dominic Toretto and his crew of unruly criminals-turned-secret agents, things like jumping from cars in high-speed chases or government law enforcement agencies asking crews of thieves to help them out to catch real bad guys are totally possible. And I believe this because the story delivers all these things with the sort of sincerity that you don’t usually get from action movies. It’s not that most action movies don’t try, it’s just that they can’t achieve it. If you don’t get what I’m saying, then you need to watch any of Jean Claude Van Damme’s movies from the early 1990s, and you’ll totally see what I’m saying.
002: One-liners don’t have to be terrible and cheesy.
Alright. One of the big problems I have with comic book movies is the comic book-style one-liners. If Spider-Man is hanging from a web, I DO NOT LIKE IT WHEN HE SAYS SOMEWHERE IN THE DIALOG THAT HE’S JUST HANGING OUT. I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT. So, for a number of years, I thought I just hated one-liners. However, thanks to the Fast and the Furious movies, I’ve realized I don’t. And if I’m being real, we have Tyrese to thank on that.
Tyrese plays Roman Pearce, a pretty badass dude that also serves as the comic relief of the movies. Not only is his timing perfect, but he plays off the other characters so well that there is never a point where his one-liners feel forced and cheesy. Could he say “just hanging out” in a scenario where for one reason or another he’s trussed up by the big bad villain? Yes, yes he could. And I would want to murder Peter Parker even more because Tyrese would do it so well and make Spidey look like an even bigger chode.
003: Character interaction is everything.
I would argue that the main reason people have fallen in love with the Fast and the Furious movies is the characters. Sure, there are plenty of badass men-of-few-words style tough guys, but at the end of the day, they’re family. (If you don’t know, one of the most common phrases spoken by Dominic Toretto is “I ain’t got friends. I got family.”) So, as a family, there is a fair amount of ribbing and general fun.
And let’s be real. As a part of the audience, you gotta wonder how in the world a movie full of actors, rappers, a former professional wrestler, some MMA fighters, and a Jason Statham (he belongs in his own category) would get along well enough to pull it off. And it’s such a damn delight to see all these people interacting and making it work. And the reason it works is because the characters interact in very real, emotional, and often hilarious ways. Without those interactions, the movies don’t hold the magic necessary to enchant large audiences.
004: Diversity is stupid easy to achieve.
I won’t say that this series is the most diverse film franchise to date. There are no LGBT characters, and the only disability I recall being portrayed was Jessie in the first film, who had ADD. (He was later shot.) However, I will say that this film series brings together a lot of different ethnicities, and does it in a way that never pays lip service to diversity, which tends to be an issue when Hollywood execs say “let’s get some brown folks in a movie!”
And not only are there are a lot of ethnicities represented, but they are represented doing a wide array of things. Ludacris is a computery tech guy! Michelle Rodriguez is a badass who, much like Eowyn, is no man! Gal Gadot can handle anything with a motor or a trigger! Sung Kang is a chameleon who can do whatever is needed and he eats lots of snacks! Don Omar and Tego Calderon just get work done and win all the dollars in Monte Carlo!
It’s also worth stating here that the ethnicities never come into play in a forced way. Like, Letty never has an unnecessary monolog about her abuela to let you, as the audience, know that she’s Mexican. I really appreciate that.
005: If you keep the audience happy, they won’t do the math.
If you’ve seen Fast & Furious 6, then you know that the climax of the film involves cars chasing a plane down the runway. The cars, using harpoon-like cables, hold the plane down and prevent it from taking off. They do this for like 11 minutes. I don’t know where in the world this 11-minute runway is, but I don’t even care. And I don’t care because I am having a good time. It’s like I said back in 001. It’s that sincerity that makes the improbability okay. And even more, if I’m enjoying it, I won’t do the math. In fact, I think Chris and I had seen the sixth movie like 3 times before we even noticed that this plane was taking hella long to take off.
And just like in the gif above, do you think I care that it’s pretty impossible for a car to jump from skyscraper to skyscraper? Nope. Not at all. In fact, I’m planning on trying it in Downtown OKC later this year.
006: When in doubt, add a red head.
Adding a red head works great in stories, but it’s also just good life advice. I have a red headed boyfriend and a red headed dog, and I can say that they’ve definitely enriched my existence. I like to think that’s why the filmmakers decided to add Kristofer Hivju to the the eighth film.
And side note: When we went to see The Fate of the Furious, a worker at the theater came up to me to ask if Chris was my boyfriend, because in her words, he looks just like that new bad guy in the new Fast and the Furious movie. Chris has also been told he looks just like Zach Galifianakis and the country music singer, Zac Brown. If you ask me, he looks like boyfriend material. #Heyo
007: You can write yourself out of any corner.
If you’ve seen the Fast and the Furious movies, then you know that there is no corner that can’t be written out of. Characters can come back from the dead. The story’s timeline can be completely changed to allow for a dead character to be in two more movies. The most touching tribute can be put into a movie to acknowledge the death of one of the actors, even when there are plans for the story to move forward.
Writers can basically imagineer everything, and you can imagineer your way out of any corner you’ve written yourself into. Because if we’re being real, Tokyo Drift should’ve been the corner to end all corners. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t come at us with Fast & Furious, which is the fourth film. (Screw you, article adjectives!) And like pretty much every other Fast and the Furious think piece published since 2015, I’m going to agree that the fourth film was the renaissance the film franchise needed to bring us the delights of the later films. So, if you find yourself written into a corner, think about these movies. Can you add a character? Can you change the story timeline? Are the bad guys suddenly on your side? Seriously. Watch the movies. It works.You can write yourself out of any corner. #amwriting #F8 Click To Tweet
008: Characters will grow in the direction you make them.
In 2001, we were given a Dominic Toretto who was a bad guy. In the original movie, Dom and his crew are thieves. They highjack semi trucks so they can steal DVD players. (For the younger readers, those used to cost actual money, and you couldn’t just stream movies.) In fact, Dom has a super dark past that involves him brutally beating a man nearly to death with a wrench.
And yet, now we know him as a family man who would do anything for the people he loves. He’s a pardoned criminal who functionally saved the world from several drug dealers, a mercenary, a hacker, a warlord, and a Jason Statham. (It’s worth noting that Jason Statham evolves into a good guy in the eighth movie. Basically, friendship and goodness can all be built by driving fast cars and working together.) And the only way that we believe this is because we see the slow evolution of Dominic Toretto. We see the goodness that the other characters bring out of him. We see why he does what he does, and realize that there is no one in the world who is all good or all bad. These characters are products of their choices and their relationships, and that’s what ultimately shapes who and what they are. It’s the sort of nuance that the Star Wars prequels would kill for.
009: There IS a such thing as too many butts.
I bet you were wondering when I would address the scantily clad, faceless women who attend the street races, though they have very little to actually do with the races. Yeah. It’s problematic. It’s an unnecessary nod to the original film, a very niche movie made for people who were into street racing. I’ve never been to a street race, but considering the street racers in Oklahoma City like to drag through Bethany, the most conservative and elderly part of OKC, I can’t imagine that these booty shorts-wearing ladies actually exist.
So why do the movies continue to show these moments? I have a feeling it’s because people like me aren’t the intended audience for the Fast and the Furious. So, while I’m sure the filmmakers are aware of objections to these scenes, ultimately, I think they don’t care. So that’s a writing lesson in and of itself. As your audience expands beyond your original target, you have to be aware, as a writer, of how specific elements of your work will be perceived by the new members of your audience. And sometimes, that means taking out unnecessary butt shots.
It’s also worth noting that Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Letty, is a badass who doesn’t take shit from any man. She’s seen as an equal throughout the movie. So is Gisele. And Elena. And hell. We’ve only had Ramsey for two films, but she gives Tej and Roman as much shit as they give her, and she invented the god’s eye software macguffin from the seventh movie! And, hell. Even Charlize Theron as Cipher is like the pinnacle of hacker villains.
(For more on women in the Fast and the Furious movies, check out this post from the Ringer.)
So, while the movies give us these very capable, multiethnic women, there are still those moments that remind you, as a woman, that even if you’ve achieved some semblance of equality in your role, there is still work to be done. And I’m not saying this to shame anyone who likes to dress it hot pants. That’s a perfectly legitimate choice. The issue is more of agency. When those street race women in booty shorts are portrayed as fully formed people and not objects, that’s when it will be okay. Close-up shots of butt cheeks hanging out of hot pants definitely don’t portray or respect the agency of those women.
(And, like, I could write a dissertation on how crappy the movies are to mothers. But pretty much everyone else has already written about the treatment of Mia Toretto, and they’ve written way smarter things than I ever will. And I like to think that Helen Mirren as Jason Statham’s mom in the last film is penance for the bad treatment of Mia. And yet, don’t even get me started on what happens to Elena in the eighth movie.)
010: Just keep adding character ingredients to your story soup.
I don’t think anyone, after seeing the first Fast and the Furious movie in 2001 could predict the success this franchise would have. So, we have to look at what happened over those past 16 years to determine why the later films have so much box office success in comparison to the first one. And I have to believe it’s because of the addition of characters along the way.
I’m not saying that all the characters the Fast and the Furious introduced were great. I mean, the only character that anyone liked from Tokyo Drift was Han Seoul-Oh, and his death in that movie created the alternate timeline. But if you look at the evolution of Dom’s family, you can definitely tell that the addition of characters, and the evolution of those characters, is what keeps people coming back.
So, there you have it. Those are the 10 writing lessons I’ve learned from the Fast and the Furious movies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be busy writing a short film about Tej and Roman muttering stuff under their breath about Tego and Rico while Tego and Rico simultaneously mutter under their breath in Spanish about Tej and Roman, while they all stare each other down. THIS IS THE SHORT FILM WE DESERVE, and I’m adding it to the list of fan fiction I want to read.The Fast and the Furious: 10 Writing Lessons I've Learned from Dom and the Gang #F8 Click To Tweet
Any lessons I left out? Let me know in the comments!