Fast & Furious Spy Racers Producer Talks Vin Diesel, Family, and the Franchise Going to Space
Spy Racers executive producer Tim Hedrick lets us know how he created the kid-friendly Fast & Furious spin-off, including what Vin Diesel contributed to the process.
The following contains spoilers for Fast & Furious Spy Racers season 2.
Fast & Furious Spy Racers is something a throwback to the past, a kids TV tie-in to a popular adult movie franchise. While the Fast & Furious films are no Rambo (which somehow got a kids cartoon) it’s still a challenge to take a well beloved franchise of films and turn them into a TV series meant for kids. That’s just what executive producer Tim Hedrick has done, taking elements of the Fast & Furious universe but making sure the show can stand on its own for kids which includes Vin Diesel’s own family.
Hedrick takes us into the process of pitching his take on the Fast & Furious franchise, referencing the films, working with Vin Diesel, and even touches on those rumors of the franchise going to space.
DEN OF GEEK: Let’s go back to when you first heard about this job, what did they tell you about making a Fast & Furious TV series?
TIM HEDRICK: Oh wow. Okay. It all started when Universal bought DreamWorks, and I think they were very interested in getting into Fast & Furious and Jurassic (Park). Those were the two big properties that I think they thought would be really cool to explore for kids. I was very excited to come in and pitch for the Fast & Furious show. I grew up in Indiana, so I went to the 500 all the time. I was very into racing. I’ve been wanting to do a racing show forever. Getting a chance to just come in and just pitch, I was very excited. Never really had a lot of guidelines coming in other than they wanted it to feature some part of the Toretto family, which totally makes sense because Fast & Furious is all about family.
Other than that, it was pretty wide open. I really wanted to come in and try to create a show that could stand on its own. I didn’t want it to be too much of a real spin off from the Fast universe. I wanted it to be if you’ve never seen Fast & Furious, that’s fine, come in and watch the show and have fun. And so that was kind of where I started. I’m thinking back it was probably like four years ago now when I started working on it because it’s a gigantic franchise and it has to go through so many people who have been involved with it for so long. All the producers and writers, Vin Diesel, and everybody has to sign off on it because it’s a big money-making franchise for Universal, they don’t want to have it ruined essentially. That was my job. Don’t ruin Fast & Furious. Hopefully I’ve accomplished that.
What was it like working with the heads of the Fast franchise? What was it like pitching to Vin Diesel?
So I had to go pitch Chris Morgan, and Neil Moritz, Vin, and all of the feature executives, everybody, Donna Langley, it was an amazing experience honestly. It was very educational, I’d never been a part of anything that gigantic before. Pitching Vin was fun, it was really great. He was really nice, he was excited to work in animation. He’s a D&D fan, he kind of gets the nerd world. He was really interested and he wanted to make sure that the show was going to be appropriate for kids.
I think that was his main concern was that it wasn’t just like the movies and so adult that it wouldn’t be a show that his kids could watch because he has kids. He’s been great. I was honestly worried about that because you just never know what a big movie star is going to be like and how much of a hassle it will be to deal with that, and he’s actually been great. That’s been a blessing.
What was it like for that very first episode in season one, knowing that you were going to write lines for Vin Diesel and that they’d animate him into the show?
That was a lot pressure because Vin, I’m going to be there when he’s reading the lines and I’m sure if he doesn’t like them he’s going to tell me about it. So it was great. Vin has honestly been really, really fun to work with. His daughter’s in the show, she really makes it fun for him to come and be a part of it and kind of see the show through her eyes. That’s been great. I think it’s gone really well.
When you were initially pitching the show, what are the ideas that you were pitching which eventually ended up making it into the show? Is there anything that didn’t quite make it into the show that you were still excited about?
I think that pretty much season one was very much like the initial idea I pitched, in that the kids would infiltrate this racing crew and go undercover. I really wanted to see a group of kids who were real amateurs get jumped into a very serious situation because I think that’s a very interesting way to go into things. Have someone who’s completely unprepared, who then gets slammed at the situation then they have to find their way through.
We were at a period in the movies at that point where they had gone from street racers all the way to basically becoming international super spies and fighting nuclear subs and it just got so big. I really wanted to kind of take it back to the street level, to start out and see how these kids could grow through a season like that.
That was very similar. Layla Gray is a character that I had around for a long time that I kind of re-brought out to put in the show as this kind of Southern racer who a real scrapper and is just trouble anywhere she goes. She was a character that I’d had from a previous show that I kind of pulled out of the vault and dusted off for this. That was fun. I was really excited to do that.
So you’re talking about characters and my favorite is the team’s leader, Ms. Nowhere. Talk about creating her.
Oh my god, it was really interesting doing Ms. Nowhere because we went, there are a lot of different ways that Spy Master character can go. First of all, you’re just like, is it going to be a woman? Is it going to be a man? And we’re like, what if it’s like John Oliver? Or what if it’s, is it going to be more like R. Lee Ermey? There’s a million different dynamics you can have with this character, and so honestly with Renée Elise Goldsberry it really shifted the way we wrote that character because she was so great at coming off as a little bumbling, but also really cool and she has kind of a short temper, but also has kind of a bad dating career. She’s really evolved in a fun way. That was casting kind of leading that.
You had mentioned you’re trying to make the show stand on its own but there are still a lot of touchstones from the Fast & Furious films. You mention a family a lot, you had Dom in the first season, and this season you did the plane drop with the cars. How do you choose what to bring in from the films?
It’s kind of piece-by-piece how we do it. The plane drop is a good example where that’s something that I wouldn’t have done in the first season, because I feel like that would just be, we’re ripping (the films) off right away. Whereas in the second season that comes out and it’s kind of like an homage. We recognize that this was in there. We did do the drive a car out of a building, but I think that we had a new take on that in the first season. I love the movies and obviously that’s what we’re building on so there’s a lot to hit, but we always try to bring a new, fresh take to it.
I don’t want to just be ripping off things that you saw in the films and putting them right in the show. First of all, because it’s completely different when they do those stunts in the movies, all these awesome practical car effects. When we do them in animation we want to heighten it. We want our world to be a little bit bigger, a little more colorful, the cars have rockets and everything’s just pushed a little bit further. When we approach a stunt scene, that’s one thing that we always think of, it’s like, if you saw this in the movies, how can we make this more?
Is there a mandate for how many times you have to say family in every episode of the show?
If we don’t say family five to six times in an episode, the script goes through a rewrite. We run it through the family scanner, we see how many times it pops up. (laughs) It just comes naturally after a while.
I noticed the show has international travel around the world, you’ve got the racing, and now you’ve even got a monkey as a sidekick. I’m getting some Speed Racer vibes here. Is there any Speed Racer influence on the show?
It definitely came up. I mean, how could there not be? Speed Racer was awesome. I wish the monkey did a little more work on the cars.
Season three, got to have it for season three.
Exactly. Give him a helmet and get them out there. Yeah, I mean, there’s so many anime where this kind of racing show has lived up until now. So you’re going to have to pull some of those references.
Obviously the Fast & Furious films are a huge part of the show, but what other influences are you drawing from? Whether it be films or TV shows or anything like that?
My favorite movies as a kid, and now, were the Raiders of the Lost Ark films. I always kind of go back to that. I feel like you could show that to a wide cross-section of people, it’s got comedy, it’s got action, it’s got a little romance, it’s got everything, right? That’s always my touchstone in coming into a project. I don’t know what kids like. That’s for marketers to decide. It’s like, kids like this now or they like that now. To me, I just make a show that I’m going to enjoy and hopefully other people do as well. So, I would say Raiders honestly, that’s where I always operate from.
Looking at the credits of every episode, especially in the writing team, you’ve got a lot of Voltron alum on the show. (Note: Tim Hedrick was a lead writer on 2016’s Voltron Legendary Defender.) What was it like bringing in all these Voltron alums and what from Voltron did you bring into the show?
First of all, those guys are great. I love working with those people. So just having a familiarity when you’re starting a new show can be really helpful because getting a big project off the ground, it’s a lot of moving pieces and it’s good to have some people that you can depend on and you know what they’re going to do. Voltron has some similar elements to Spy Racers, it’s got a team that’s coming together and every week is a new challenging situation and having to fight their way through and learn how to work together. It’s very similar themes. I feel like we (the writers) have kind of been through that before. It’s a lot of finding these character moments where you can see them grow together and figuring out who does what in the team and how you can get new dynamics by putting different pairings together in different locations. That’s stuff that we’ve learned from all the Voltron episodes we did together.
Where would you want to take the show if you could take it anywhere? What would you want to do with it?
Oh, wow. There’s so much to explore in the world of Fast. I mean, it’s really a constantly growing cast. There has been a rumor online that they’re going to space in the new movie. I have not seen that, I can’t confirm it. They have not shown me the new film. But if we could send the kids to space, that’d be great. If that could be the Fast & Furious Voltron crossover we’ve been looking for, maybe that’s how Vehicle Voltron gets built.
My man. That’s it. Anyway, this new season we see the Spy Racers team put a giant engine on the back of their car and make it go real, real, real fast. Then we saw that in the F9 trailer. Now, Tim, you can tell me, who got the idea from who?
We always do it first, and then it doesn’t come out in time and then they put it in their trailer and then it’s like, aw, man, come on. I swear, you know how long it takes to make animation. We’re always first.
Since F9 got delayed, what’s it like to be representing Fast & Furious this year?
I try not to let the pressure get to me. It’s cool that we can be there to represent the franchise. I think that’s nice and we’ve gotten some good publicity that says, “Hey, you’re a good part of the family.” So I like that. It’s a fun world, I mean, it really is such a fun, ridiculous, super heartfelt franchise to be a part of. It’s been a lot of fun.
Fast & Furious Spy Racers season 2 is now available to watch on Netflix.