"Eventually, his mother stepped in with a little common-sense help. Presenting him with a copy of Rick Schmidt's book Feature Films At Used Car Prices, she set him on the path to self-help. With an idea for a short screenplay, he bought a word processor, wrote the piece inside 30 days, and took the WP back to the shop, it still being within the guaranteed return period. On a budget of $3000, Multi-Facial was shot in 3 days. In it, Vin starred as, well, as himself, really, playing a multi-ethnic actor who, deemed suitable for neither black nor white roles, tries a different ethnicity for each audition and fails every time.
Released in 1994, Multi-Facial was shown the next year at the Cannes Film Festival, causing something of a stir. On the strength of this, Vin returned to LA and, telemarketing once more, managed to raise $50,000 for his next effort, a study in misogyny called Strays, once more starring and directed by Vin himself. The movie was accepted by and shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, but did not sell well. Vin returned to New York once more, wondering what the hell he had to do to make it.
Then, out of the blue, a call came through, a dream call from Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, impressed by a viewing of Multi-Facial, said he was writing a part for Vin in his next epic, to be titled Saving Private Ryan. Thus 1998 saw Vin employed in Tom Hanks' band of brothers (alongside fellow newcomers Barry Pepper and Giovanni Ribisi) as they crossed war-torn France in search of Matt Damon. It was a brief part, Private Adrian Caparzo being the first of the platoon to die, but it was an absurdly impressive big feature debut. Vin's second major role, too, was Multi-Facial-inspired. Director Brad Bird was also taken by Vin's performance and had him provide the voice for the titular monster in The Iron Giant, an animation based on a story by Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, co-starring Jennifer Aniston.
And it wasn't just Multi-Facial that was catching the eye of the industry's prime movers. Strays, too, had had an effect. Producer Ted Field had seen the movie at Sundance and made contact with Vin. He was particularly keen on Vin writing a screenplay based on his experiences as a bouncer. Vin, in turn, was interested in a movie Field was developing, a sci-fi thriller called Pitch Black. He hounded Field till allowed to audition - and thus won the part that would make his name.
It was a superior thriller, interesting in that it deliberately blurred the edges between good and evil, with none of the characters being obviously likeable. And Vin stood out, so much so that the script, which originally had him die in the finale, was changed to allow Riddick to appear in a sequel. This made all the pain of the shoot worthwhile. With Riddick having had his eyes polished and lasered in jail, Vin had to wear contact lenses that gave off a weird metallic glow. After the first day's shoot, lasting 14 hours, the lenses fused to his eyes, forcing the producers to fly in a specialist from a town three hours away - the shoot taking place in the Australian outback, where Mad Max had been filmed two decades before.
Pitch Black and Boiler Room were released on the same day in 2000, immediately marking Vin as one to watch. Critic Roger Ebert noted his potential in his review of Boiler Room, saying "Diesel is interesting. Something will come of him".
How right he was. For a start, New Line, noticing the inroads made by Vin and by his Private Ryan co-star Barry Pepper with We Were Soldiers, released Knockaround Guys, a movie completed in 1999 and then shelved. Here several sons of Brooklyn mafia bosses attempt to recover a bag of money lost in a small Montana town. Vin put in another unusual performance. Though a tough guy and a fighter, his Taylor Reese also possesses a "wise sadness about human nature".
Now Vin was in the big league, and he knew it. Approached to play the lead in another SFX-fest, he went on holiday, telling his agents not to call him unless the producers offered $10 million."