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Phyleology: Fast and Furiously Entertaining

Lessons for Hollywood, and the industry at large.

In a cinematic season jam-packed with “big event” movies such as “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” it seems unlikely that the sixth installment in a street-racing franchise would make a big splash.

And yet, that’s just what “Fast and Furious 6” has managed. With a reported budget of $160 million, and a combined foreign and domestic take of more than $300 million to date, “Fast6” is poised to serve up a helping of high-octane afterburn to the films left in its wake.

It’s especially impressive when you consider the series was pretty much written off after the third installment, “Tokyo Drift,” received lackluster revenues.

But like an American muscle car rescued from the junk heap and souped-up with nitrous, this rumbling, roaring, beast of a narrative demolished expectations when it emerged as a “reboot” that was simply getting back to basics. The audience wanted hot cars, fast races, thrilling stunts, and Brian and Dom at their outlaw-cowboy best as their extended “family” grew and evolved with each heist.

While there is much commentary bandied about on the appeal of the films, to include the somewhat surprising fact that as an example of feminine empowerment Fast and Furious exceeds far better than more “cerebral” offering, the truth boils down to one very wise quote from an unnamed marketing exec speaking to the success of “Fast4,” according to Entertainment Weekly: “Give the people what they want and they reward you with their money.” It may sound trite, but it’s a lesson that much of the industry should pause to consider.

Say what you will about artistic vision and importance of scope, at the end of the day the entertainment business is a service industry. You don’t pay top dollar for a restaurant you don’t like, or return to a retailer that offers rude service. Likewise, we all live in an employment world where salary, advancement and even retention are based on performance appraisals; fail to meet expectations, and expect punitive consequences. Producers, directors, writers and actors need not feel themselves exempt; they are creating a product for consumption, and are employed solely by the good will of their consumers.

In a very real sense, every person involved in the production of an entertainment property works for you. That’s right; you. Does it sound like I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to the films, books, and television shows I watch and read? Absolutely! Do I think that sense of privilege is ill-placed? Absolutely not!

The trick, of course, is in identifying the portion of the consumers of fanbase who will be most vocal or most vital in the success of your product. This can become a logistics nightmare, especially when the viewership diverges widely in terms of what they want. Yet, it may often be the case that the passionate minority is the better point of consideration, since the neutral majority will likely be OK with any direction while the more rabid and avid fanbase is the one likely to abandon ship if bitterly disappointed. An argument can be made that this is the bridge fan-works provide, but that is a discussion for another day.

In the case of Fast and furious, the direction was clear and unanimous. The audience wanted the original cast, and they wanted to see Brian’s journey from stalwart FBI agent to criminal-of-choice, allied with his chosen family. Luckily for all of us, that’s exactly what the production team delivered. Luckily for them, we rewarded them with a lot of our money.

And while I can honestly say that I’ve been very disheartened by the information recently leaked on formerly much-anticipated projects, I can say with confidence that “Fast6” lived up to all my expectations and I can’t wait for “Fast7.” In a world of fallen heroes, mixed messages, and bad behavior from many producers and directors, Fast and Furious truly is a beacon of hope.

To the team behind this franchise: bravo!

To those who’ve been enraging so many of us lately, and you know who you are: take note, or take warning!

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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