The Wheel Deal

What do you get when you cross a Hollywood film studio with a UK event organiser? A £25m deal and the launch of Fast & Furious Live of course...

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I think of it as a journey, from being a funny little UK event organiser in 2000 to ending up doing a Hollywood theatrical deal,” says Brand Events CEO Chris Hughes. “A British creative event business has done a deal with an iconic Hollywood studio to create the world’s largest ever arena car show. It’s the crown jewels.”


Hughes is discussing his company’s latest announcement – the news that Brand Events has embarked on a landmark partnership with Universal Studios to create the car show to end all car shows: Fast & Furious Live.


Debuting in 2018, the adrenaline-fueled show will transport fans of the franchise straight into some of its most memorable scenes, recreating the most iconic stunts.


“In addition to its arrival as a global live-arena tour, the launch of Fast & Furious Live represents Universal’s significant expansion of our franchises into entertainment channels that are as unexpected as they are innovative,” says David O’Connor, executive VP, global franchise management and brand marketing, Universal Pictures. “By bringing our series to audiences in entirely new formats, we are not simply growing brand portfolios, we are delivering incredibly exciting ways for fans to participate in the worlds our characters inhabit.”


The epic venture will see the show tour the globe for at least five years, spending a year in America, a year in Europe and a year travelling through Asia. But how did Brand Events come to co-produce a live show based on one of the world’s most popular film franchises?


Well, it all began way back in 2013…


A crazy notion


That year, the Brand Events team decided to think bigger. After touring the hugely popular Top Gear Live globally, they were ready for a new challenge.


“We looked around the world and concluded that the biggest actual car entertainment brand in the world was the Fast and Furious franchise,” Hughes tells EN. “We literally said, ‘How do we go to Hollywood?’


None of us knew anything about film studios, or how to do business in the US, so we started at a licensing show in London. One of our team spoke to someone who looked after t-shirt licensing – a massive organisation with global reach – and so we went and met the t-shirt person. That person then introduced us to her boss, which started a process that went on for about three years.”


The ‘six degrees of separation’ theory is the idea that each person in the world is only six or fewer steps away from any other person, and that by working through a friend-of-a-friend chain it’s possible to reach anyone. The Brand Events team went through slightly more than six steps, but then, they were aiming for the top tier of one of the world’s biggest film studios.


“Every time we met someone we’d think, ‘This won’t work, this is Hollywood. Will they do a deal with us?’” continues Hughes. “But we’d say, ‘We’ve got an idea, and we think it could make an amazing live show’ and the person would say, ‘You should meet my boss’.”


About a year into this process, the Brand Events team was finally invited across the pond to the promised land – Los Angeles.

Mr Hughes goes to Hollywood


The team was comprised of Hughes, James Cooke-Priest, who ran Top Gear Live and creative director Rowland ‘Rowly’ French.


Once in LA, they began working through the hierarchy of Universal Studios, and finally secured a 20-minute meeting with Jimmy Horowitz, president of Universal Pictures.


“He’s a brilliant chap,” says Hughes. “it seems that no one does a deal at Universal without going through Jimmy. We had 20 minutes with him, and he sat there quietly listening. At the end he said, ‘I like it a lot’. That was the moment we got through to very senior, board-level people.”


So how did the ‘funny little organiser’ manage to keep the attention of some of the most senior figures of the US film industry?


“Rowly looks like he could be in a Guy Ritchie film, James looks like a Hugh Grant-type good-looking English gentleman and I’m the scruffy one. We concluded that I was the money guy! It was a mixture of James’ authority, my Britishness – I’m funny in a room and I’m not scared of them – and Rowly.


“The key was Rowly. He has spent his life becoming the world’s greatest car circus director. Plus, he’d been sitting in his bedroom all these years watching Fast and Furious films. When we presented to the creatives who made the film his references sparkled. He showed them he knew as much about their movies as they did. Rowly really spoke their language.”


Brand Events then joined forces with an investment group, Epsilon Partners, made up of investors in sport, private equity and entertainment to raise the capital. On the last day of November 2016, the deal was officially confirmed with Universal.


In December, a factory was rented in a secret London location and a production team of 80 people assembled.


“In places all over the world, there are cars we’re securing,” says Hughes. “We’re making the set. We’re recruiting some of the world’s best stunt drivers to create the world’s best stunt driving circus team. We’re building special effects that will makes things fly, loop the loop and jump through the air.”


While Fast & Furious Live might represent a step into the unknown for Universal, and a step up from Brand Events’ previous production Top Gear Live, it’s hard to deny the franchise has an audience. Fast & Furious 7 raced past hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron to become the fifth biggest film of all time, making an estimated US$1.3bn (approx. £1bn) globally. If just a fraction of that global audience can be convinced to exchange the cinema for the arena, then the show is sure to make its mark on the world of life events.


“I love business stories where people do something that afterwards looks logical,” concludes Hughes. “It doesn’t exist until someone does it. What I want to look back on is how we created the world’s greatest travelling car circus."

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