EDIT: Official notice of production going on indefinite hiatus just came from Universal (via Indiewire):
Right now, all of us at Universal are dedicated to providing support to Paul’s immediate family and our extended Fast & Furious family of cast, crew and filmmakers. 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. We are committed to keeping Fast & Furious fans informed, and we will provide further information to them when we have it. Until then, we know they join us in mourning the passing of our dear friend Paul Walker.
While it didn’t take long for people to start asking the obvious franchise-related questions after Paul Walker’s tragic death, days later and the information remains scant. This is no surprise as this is not a situation any filmmaker, studio, or person wants to find themselves in, and there’s no obvious roadmap for what to do when you lose the beating heart of a one of the biggest movies currently shooting in the midst of production.
With a few days between us and the shock of the event, I feel a little less like human dogshit for going over what’s out there about the fate of Fast 7. The most substantial information comes from The Wrap, who really only know what we could all guess: lots of somber, frantic meetings between James Wan, Fast 7 Producers, and Universal’s decision makers going on right now.
While they alluded to flirtation with the idea of various face-replacement or special effects solutions to somehow finish out Walker’s performance, that was apparently dismissed quickly. Since we don’t know with certainty how the story plays out, what they’d filmed, and what could be recut with what they have, speculation is a fool’s errand. With them filming around Atlanta and plenty of people watching, I do know that the majority of the filming so far has been stunt work and 2nd unit action, so no mere story tweak is going to work.
Ultimately the buzz phrase now is “starting over.” It’s possible, even likely, that Universal will have the script rewritten so that they may restart production and more gracefully justify Brian O’Connor’s absence from the story. If that happens, look for a Star Wars/Batman Vs. Superman scooping war to break out from people trying to find out how that happens (eugh). Obviously a restart is no easy task either, even if the studio is insured for such a scenario. A breakneck rewrite, surrendering the release date, and rescheduling this cast of actors is not anything the studio will be happy about.
From the very first film, the backbone of this franchise has been a strict emphasis on family. That’s a tone and an angle that you rarely find in action movies with any sincerity, and it gives these outrageous stunts and stories an earnest, weighted quality that even those who don’t keep up with the franchise detect. It’s ridiculous to imagine a version of that Fast universe where O’Connor simply pulls out, though his new child may be justification enough. That would leave Jordana Brewster’s character in an awfully strange position, perhaps even written out as well. It’s even more difficult trying to imagine the filmmakers gracefully appropriating real-life tragedy and integrating it into their story. While I believe there is some universe in which it could be done in good faith, that is as tough a tight-rope to walk as you can imagine.
If I had to guess, I suspect Universe will start over, perhaps salvaging whatever stunt footage they can. I know for a fact there’s some militarized drone action in the film, and some pretty heavy head-on collisions they’ve filmed at great expense (because I’ve seen them with my eyes). That kind of stuff can be, perhaps, worked back in. That said, the aforementioned insurance and completion bonds might make even that more trouble than it’s worth. As for the story, I suspect they’ll go with the retirement angle for O’Connor, keeping it simple and upfront that he’s moved to somewhere far away to raise his family.
Whatever happens, it will be sad to watch these movies continue without Walker to bring that reserved charm to the screen. Not since Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings can a cast and crew claim such a familial bond, so I know whatever sadness ends up on screen from these beloved characters will be very, very real.