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Producer Calls ‘Furious 7’ Most Challenging Film of His Career

Amid a stunning box office performance for “Furious 7,” producer Neal Moritz told an industry conference Friday that dealing with the death of Paul Walker presented the toughest task of his career.

“He would have wanted us to do the movie,” Moritz said at Variety’s Massive Entertainment Marketing Summit keynote event at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “It was by far the most challenging thing — physically and emotionally — that I’ve ever done.”

Walker died in late 2013 in a fiery car crash while “Furious 7” was in mid-production, forcing Moritz and Universal to figure out how to deal with fan expectations — which led to a simple mantra, the producer revealed. “We had one goal in the making of the movie, which was to honor Paul,” he said in a far-ranging half-hour discussion with Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller.

Moritz also explored the intricacies of marketing “Furious 7,” which looks likely to lead the U.S. box office this weekend with an estimated $60 million — enough to propel the domestic cume to $250 million in its first 10 days. International gross has hit $316 million with China and Russia launching this weekend.

He recalled that one of the early challenges in 2000 was finding the right title for the first film, with such possibilities as “Racer X” deemed unacceptable. Moritz explained he discovered a Roger Corman “Fast and Furious” film, was struck by the resonance of the title and swapped stock footage with Corman for the rights.

“I like to think of my movies as elevated Roger Corman movies,” Moritz said, eliciting laughs from the audience.

The producer also said that the multiethnic cast for the franchise — a key factor in the strong box office — was not driven by marketing. “We could not have made ‘Fast and Furious’ without a multiethnic cast because it would not have felt authentic,” he added.

Moritz, who has produced every film in the franchise, became coy when asked about Vin Diesel’s pledge that there will be three more “Fast and Furious” films. “Of course, I’d like to make more, but it’s got to be great,” he noted.

That discussion was followed by a dissection of marketing strategies with seven studio heads of marketing — often with analysis of movies released by rivals. Disney’s Ricky Strauss spoke admiringly of Paramount’s “World War Z” dealing with negativity, then grossing $540 million worldwide.

“‘World War Z’ was a movie that overcame bad social buzz — a very hard thing to do,” he noted. “In the next 10 years, it’s going to be unrecognizable…it is a remarkable time to be doing what we do.”

Universal’s Josh Goldstine complimented a Fox hit, saying, “‘The Fault in Our Stars’ spoke to teenage girls in a really authentic way.”

Fox’s Mark Weinstock noted that the trailer premiere of a movie has emerged as one of the biggest components on any campaign. “Television is the most effective buy, but it’s going down,” he added. “We pick events for ads that people aren’t going to TiVo.'”

The execs all admitted the titles are key to box office. “We had a movie, ‘Let’s Be Cops,’ with the perfect title,” said Weinstock of the comedy that grossed $137 million worldwide.

The biggest laugh of the event came from Michelle Hooper of Fox Searchlight, which released Best Picture Oscar winner “Birdman.” “‘We rely a lot on a film being really good,” she said.

“Our jobs are harder than ever because of the fragmentation of media,” noted Relativity’s Angela Courtin.

And Paramount’s Megan Colligan said the instant feedback on upcoming fims can be unnerving. “You can go to a cocktail party and get totally freaked out,” she added.

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