How Fast & Furious became the first – and maybe last – US film to shoot in Cuba

How the Fast & Furious became the first – and maybe last – US film to shoot in CubaHAVANA, OCT. 15th In 2016, as the US government worked towards a friendlier relationship with Cuba, film studio Universal decided to make a bold leap for Hollywood and set their next movie in Havana.

No US film had shot in Cuba in over 50 years but with restrictions lifting and President Obama making a visit to the country – the first president to do so since 1928 – the decision was made base the next movie in the Fast & Furious franchise in Havana, home to beautiful architecture, colourful culture and stunning American vintage cars.

It was a move that would pay dividends for Universal and the franchise; the local people welcomed the cast and crew like family and the film was a global success, with box office receipts totaling over $1 billion and the film holding the number one spot for several weeks around the world.

A year after it was shot, took a trip to Havana to visit filming locations and discover how the first US production to film in the country in three generations changed the way Havana and its people lived.

But while there, President Donald Trump announced in a shock press conference that he would be ‘canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba’ claiming the easing of restrictions on trade and travel were only enriching the government and not the Cuban people.

Suddenly a story on how Hollywood and Cuba were successfully working together was thrown up in the air, and it became a question of would Fast & Furious 8 become the first and perhaps last US production to film there? ——- ‘I’ve seen the women in Brazil but I’d never seen Brazil until Fast 5,’ says Tyrese in Havana.

‘And same with Abu Dhabi and Dubai and now Cuba.’ The Fast and Furious movies are renowned for taking their audiences on journeys around the world, from Los Angeles to Tokyo, the Dominican Republic and Rio De Janeiro, to London and now Havana.

The cast and crew pride themselves on this attention to detail; ‘You get a real sense of what Cuba looks like because we came here and shot – didn’t just do exterior shots but we physically came here,’ adds Tyrese. ‘

All of this stuff is a big deal. We pride ourselves on diversity and wanting fans around the worlds to feel like they can watch a movie and see someone that looks like them.’ The decision to film in Cuba came early on in pre-production with Universal aware of the tight laws and legalities they would need to work through.

They brought Richard Klein from McLarty Associates on board – Klein advises studios on locations, script development, production and marketing and was a former Special Assistant for International Security Affairs at the Department of State – and it was Klein who helped the studio to begin the at-times tedious process.

‘There were two initial thoughts. It was perfect because of the car culture – you want muscle cars? classic American cars? – and beautiful girls and great nightlife. But then you think “how do we do this?” The rules and laws aren’t impossible by any means but you have to be aware of the different things you have to do in the US to do it legally,’ says Klein.

American classic cars parked in Havana (Picture: Getty Images) The Cuban government was very open to the production taking place in their country and it was, perhaps unsurprisingly after decades of restrictions, the US government where things were more difficult; everything from how equipment would be used to the technologies Universal would be working with had to be put under the microscope.

‘The Cubans said “We would love for you to come here and do this but it’s up to you to navigate the US end”, and that was fine as it was the right project,’ adds Klein. ‘There was a real devotion to having made this happen in Havana.’

As we made our way around Havana, it became clear that for those that lived in Havana the excitement of the first US production taking over their city still hadn’t faded, more than a year after the crew packed up and left.

Many were happy to speak to us about their experiences of the production and the one constant refrain was that they hoped it would lead to the city becoming a hotspot for Hollywood which in turn would help the city flourish.

There was never real conversation about placing the production elsewhere and pretending it was Havana – the colours and architecture of the city are so unique to the city it would have been difficult to recreate – and so when it came time to shooting, there was no choice but to shut down roads and busy popular areas, including Parque El Curita, which was given a makeover by the team before shooting.

The Fast & Furious franchise was lucky in many respects that its reputation preceded it – reportedly when Cuban officials told their families and news began to leak the government was unable to ignore the request – and when they arrived on the island they were greeted warmly.

‘We were visitors, strangers, and the communities we were filming in wanted to watch us work but they also wanted us to feel like we were welcome,’ says Klein. ‘People watched all day long from balconies and windows and roof tops, and when people were asked to keep it quiet they did, and when someone yelled “cut” they would applaud and when someone did something cool there would be loud cheers, it was so interactive and in really warm ways.’