Fast & Furious 8 filmed in Cuba and Iceland
Action sequel Fast & Furious 8 filmed a major action sequence on location in Iceland and became the first big-budget US feature to shoot in Cuba.
The film is the latest in the multi-billion dollar action series that was first launched back in 2001 as a relatively small-scale street racing drama that shot entirely in California.
In the nearly 20 years since, the franchise has gradually grown in popularity and has become almost as well known for its exotic international settings as the James Bond films.
Director F Gary Gray (pictured) and the team for Fast & Furious 8 – or The Fate of the Furious for the US market – knew early in the pre-production process that they were working towards a Cuba shoot, and that the movie’s finale was to take place in a landscape of snow and ice.
“The studio knew they wanted to be the first big-budget American movie to film in Cuba,” says Eric Hooge, the film’s supervising location manager, in comments to KFTV. “But scouting the country with just a few people is very different from bringing over 300 crew and equipment for three weeks.”
Long negotiations took place between the film’s producers, the US State Department, Cuba’s ambassador to the US and eventually the government of Cuba itself, to get the necessary permissions to shoot in the country just as relations with America were helpfully starting to thaw.
Hooge eventually sent a small team to Cuba four months ahead of the shoot to lay the groundwork for production and to ensure that the local filmmaking practices would meet US studio standards.
Gray and the production team ended up chartering a ship from the US to Cuba. They took with them everything from star trailers to food, drinking water and even basic sundries like toilet paper. An extensive collection of car parts also had to be taken from the US as the crew would not have the local resources in Cuba to carry out repairs to any of the vehicles on location.
“It was a big deal for me to become the first of my profession to film like that in Cuba,” Hooge tells KFTV. “The country has been thought of up until now as a kind of forbidden place and none of my colleagues had ever done that before.”
The production team was allowed to shut down the equivalent of nearly 40 city blocks in Havana for the shoot, which Hooge says would never have been possible in the US.
In addition, in filming aerial shots for the movie the Fast & Furious crew became the first to fly a foreign helicopter in Cuban airspace. Hooge says the sight astounded the locals who were used to much more archaic technology in their everyday lives. Cuba is renowned for its ‘time-warp’ visuals, as much of the country has remained unchanged since the revolution of the 1950s.
Planning the locations for the film’s snowy finale was a challenge of a very different nature. The producers needed a frozen lake setting standing in for the ice-covered Barents Sea that could safely take the weight of nearly 20 vehicles driving at speed.
“Alaska and northern Canada were both considered, as were southern hemisphere locations like Argentina, which we could have shot during the US summer,” says Hooge.
However, El Nino climatic conditions in 2016 meant finding suitable frozen lake locations in North America became a problem.
“To shoot on a practical ice plain, the ice has to be a specific thickness,” Hooge tells KFTV. “We monitored weather models to get a long-term sense of ice thicknesses around the world and found northern Iceland to be the best option. But it was expensive.”
The Iceland leg of the shoot was in fact filmed almost entirely with the movie’s stunt team, with servicing from Truenorth. Interior hero shots of the main cast driving their vehicles were filmed in the US against green screens.
Iceland has been a popular filming location for years owing to its unique volcanic visuals, glacier landscapes and generous production incentive. The country also has experience hosting car stunts on ice since the James Bond franchise staged a high-speed chase on a frozen lake for Die Another Day back in 2002.
“It was a calculated risk to go to Iceland after lots of research and deliberation,” Hooge tells KFTV.
“But we got emails afterwards from Quebec and British Columbia saying it was a good thing we hadn’t chosen them as they’d had unusually warm winters and the ice just wasn’t thick enough.”
Fast & Furious 8 eventually established Atlanta as a production base but used expansive warehouses owned by technology company OFS Optics, instead of choosing one of the purpose-built studios available to producers in the state.
“There was a lot of space available for us there,” Hooge says.
“Marvel is dug in at Pinewood Atlanta Studios these days (with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War at the time of writing), but the facility’s a drive outside the city.”
Location filming in the US focussed on Cleveland, Ohio, which in fact doubled for New York.
“New York is very congested and restrictive as a filming location,” says Hooge. “Stunt work is basically impossible so it was a matter of working out what they would actually let us do. We used Cleveland for everything else.”
Cleveland is long established as a convincing New York double, perhaps most famously having stood in for the streets of Manhattan during a climactic battle sequence in Marvel’s first Avengers movie. The city offers filmmakers a degree of production flexibility that’s not practicable in New York.
The Fast & Furious franchise’s most eye-catching location shoots in recent years have included Abu Dhabi, Rio de Janeiro and London (and in fact Glasgow doubling for London). Huge box office over the past couple of entries means that at least two more films are currently planned in the franchise.
Images: Paramount Pictures