Any film that loses a key member of a movie during production due to tragic circumstances has to think long and hard about what they are going to do. Whether it be Brandon Lee before The Crow would be released or Vic Morrow for Twilight Zone: The Movie, the key stakeholders need to rally around as a group. Moving on to decide how they are going to honor their work and legacy.
This was the situation Universal had to encounter on November 30, 2013. Seeing their lead star for Furious 7 perish in a car accident alongside his friend Roger Rodas. Traveling at over 100 mph in a Porsche Carrera GT, the vehicle would veer off the road into a light pole, killing both men instantly.
Studio Urged Patience Over Heartbreaking Decision
Sitting down on The Bill Simmons Podcast, producer Neal Moritz opened up for the first time about that painful process in late 2013. Sure that the footage would be discarded and the movie canceled as a result, he said that calmer heads would prevail.
"I can't watch the movie anymore, because I know that if I watch it right now, I would cry," he admitted. "Paul was the greatest guy I've ever met. He was a real guy's guy. Girls loved him. Guys loved him. He was so full of life, a surfer, outdoorsman, more than an actor, even though he was really good at what he did. He was just the greatest guy in the world. Honestly, when that happened, when his passing happened, when that accident happened, we were like, 'We're not gonna finish the movie.' We'd done over half the movie. We were like 'We can't finish the movie. We just can't do it.' And Universal said take some time. Think about it. See what you guys want to do. We didn't know what to do. We didn't know what we could do or what we should do."
Writers and Musicians Tie Up Loose Ends With Powerful Farewell
Debating whether or not Walker's character Brian O'Connor should be killed, Moritz told the show that screenwriter Chris Morgan had a much more apt idea instead.
"It wasn't until Chris Morgan came up with the idea at the end of the road splitting that we knew we had a way, a path to the end of this movie. Then we had to work our way backwards and figure out with the footage we already had existing and with the special effects things we were able to do, how we could make that story work. That scene, in combination with that song, it was perfect. That song was written for the movie. We have these songwriting camps, where we show songwriters the movie, or particular scenes, and we showed them this scene, and said, 'Here's what we're looking for.'"
Then it would be a case of Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa stepping in at the right moment, offering a track that would not have a dry eye in the house.
"I remember when I heard that first melody that Charlie Puth wrote, we knew we had something incredible," said Moritz. "There was talk about, 'Is Charlie Puth going to be the artist? Or are we going to replace him with someone else?' I was so glad that we went with his soulful version, with Wiz Khalifa on top, and I just think it's the perfect combination of music and film. People ask me if we're ever disappointed that we're not honored with awards, and I say the only award that I ever thought we got bypassed for, that we should have really got, was at the Academy Awards, that song wasn't nominated, and should have won. There was no song more fitting to a movie, to the emotion or the picture, than that song, in the history of cinema, as far as I'm concerned."