Set in a rural community, Silverton, Into the Storm follows a group of townspeople and extreme weather chasers as they encounter one of the most dangerous storms in U.S. history. When group of powerful tornados pummel the town, Gary Morris (Richard Armitage), father and vice-principal of the local high school must race through deteriorating conditions to find his lost son. Along the way he encounters professor of Climatology and Meteorology, Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies) and her tornado chasing friends, but as the storm intensifies, becoming one of the biggest weather systems to hit U.S. soil, even the experts are put in grave danger.
Sitting in the director’s chair for Into the Storm is Steven Quale – a Hollywood veteran with a number of high profile credits to his name, most notably second unit directing on Avatar and Titantic as well as developing and helming Final Destination 5 (the most recent, and surprisingly enjoyable, entry in the series). Producing the film is Todd Garner, the man responsible for xXx and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, among other films.
In our on-set chats with Quale and Garner, the filmmakers explain the challenges of real time storytelling, pushing boundaries in the found footage genre, as well as working with fan-favorite writer Simon Beaufoy.
Check out the trailer for Into the Storm below (followed by the complete interviews with Quale and Garner):
Steven Quale, Director
What is the time frame of this film?
Steven Quale: Over a half a day. It starts in the morning when everyone is going to the last day of school which is only a half day, because they have a graduation ceremony so it’s a bunch of high school students getting ready for their big day. Then suddenly the weather changes. Big black clouds are in the sky and then this unbelievable storm comes in and this enormous tornado narrowly misses the school and then suddenly erupts this huge furry of tornadoes all over. Then you see the action unfold almost in real time as you see this parallel story of three things happening; the high school students; a group of storm chasers trying to find these tornadoes and just some local people looking at the tornadoes as well and at the end all the storylines intersect. You see the awe and beauty and the horrific force that these tornadoes can inflict upon both in the toll in devastation and horror of town suddenly being disrupted.
What are the challenges as a director of telling a story in real time?
SQ: That’s the challenge, because it’s really easy to tell a movie that takes place of a famous person from birth to death and you have all the most important highlights of their life. But in a six hour period, there’s a lot of boring things that can happen if you show it in real time so you don’t necessarily show the highlights, but you have what is the most emotional beats for the characters during that time. How are they feeling? How do they react to all that happens? Everyone has been through some tragedy or natural disaster and the community groups together to help. Seeing so many hurricanes and tornadoes over the last few years with this crazy weather, I got the inspiration: Can we tell a story that shows some of that as opposed to just a disaster movie with some visual special effects? Let’s get into what it feels like to be a victim of all this and how do you respond and deal with that.
You’re balancing this movie with a lot of different camera styles. Can you describe the overall visual look you’re aiming for?
SQ: The found footage genre is a new genre. There are different types, there are even sub genres of found footage and it might even be that we call it ‘first person narrative’ instead of ‘found footage.’ We definitely want to let the audience know that these are different cameras, different people and different styles of camera, but what I was afraid of doing is that some found footage movies tend to be overly conscious of that and so they make the camera so zoomy, so jerky that it makes you sick. There’s a different sensibility astatically for filming something on TV with the small screen versus the large screen for cinema and when you do the same things, it may look fine on your little monitor but when you blow it up on the big cinematic screen, it makes you sick so you have to find a balance to make it look visceral but at the same time not make the audience sick.
So what do you?
SQ: I go up to the tiny monitor and put my face right up to it to simulate what it’s like and I insisted on seeing all the dailies projected on a big screen, so we fine tune that balance and make it work. Things have changed a lot since the introduction of the Blair Witch Project with found footage, everybody has a camera on their phone. There are surveillance cameras. So what we have here is high school graduation, every parent has a camera so now suddenly you have hundreds of viewpoints to actually film this graduation ceremony. Plus you have the professional crew who are actually students that are also capturing the graduation. Now you have a legitimate, rational reason for all of these cameras. Our film has a group of kids who have their own cameras, and he happens to be the head of the audio video club so he’s really good with the camera. And then we have a couple of local people who aren’t quite as good with the camera and that will be messier. Then we have the professional storm chasers who are making a large format theatrical movie about tornadoes so they’re professional filmmakers with the state of the art high resolution cameras so their goal is to film the eye of the tornado, a shot that nobody has ever seen in this great cinematic manner. So my cinematic style will be reflected in those storm chasers because I have had experience co-directing documentaries like Aliens of the Deep which is an IMAX 3D documentary. So I applied that experience thinking how these guys would act and relate to shooting in a tornado situation.
So how is all this footage presented? Who has found it?
SQ: We are leaving that up to the audience. We are not saying ‘who’ cut this but someone made a piece showing what happened in this community when multiple tornadoes hit. It could be a news channel. So some people may die and some may not, so we show the aftermath and the audience has to go on a ride to figure out what happened to whom and why and learn the story. We leave clues along the way.
Are there any red herrings?
SQ: You’re going to have to wait and find out!
What kind of research did you do to prepare for this tornado movie?
SQ: I went on You Tube and edited together all the greatest hits of real tornado type footage and showed it to the actors and they were amazed. So now they have an idea of looking at the blank sky of what that would actually look like. The thing about the You Tube clips which inspired me is that there is a lot of great reference out there of real tornadoes and the spinning action, because so many cameras exist out there, the right person at the right time and you get this amazing F5 tornado that no-one has seen before. That’s the huge difference as when Twister was made, it was just VHS camcorders with not very high resolution. One of my mandates has been let’s keep it real. This isn’t an action movie, this is a real event which we’re trying to show in a very visceral way. Right now no-one has been in the eye of the tornado, they’ve just been close, so what we’re saying is we’ll just go closer in getting that footage in the eye.
How do you stay out of the shadow of Twister?
SQ: I think that’s easy because Twister was a great movie but it was in 96, so it’s been a few years. And it’s a very different movie. We are doing a more urban film, Twister was all about the whirl areas and farm areas, but we set in a downtown square. We’re not seeing a barn go up; we’re seeing a high school go up with a thousand students at risk. It’s a completely different drama.
In Final Destination 5, you pulled off a very exciting twist which is challenging to do in this day and age of movie making. How important is it for you to keep a level of surprise?
SQ: Trying to keep a twist in Final Destination 5 was a very difficult thing and we had to be very secretive about it. Having twists and turns are interesting and it engages the audiences and makes people think, but you can still have a successful movie without it. Most film makers underestimate the intelligence of the audience, the audience is really smart. I think it’s always good to keep the audience guessing.
So what’s the ending to this movie?!
SQ: (Laughs) It’s actually a pre-prequel to Final Destination 5 and ends up in the documentary Aliens of the Deep and ends up on Avatar.
Todd Garner, Producer
How did you come up with the film’s concept?
Todd Garner: Having lived in Los Angeles and been through a bunch of earthquakes (laughs), I thought how do ordinary people react to extraordinary situations. That’s totally fascinating to me. If you look at Katrina, or the Tsunami in Japan, you can get so much footage on this stuff…one minute you’re a fisherman in Japan and the next minute you’re five miles out to sea. What does that do to your life?
How did you nail down Simon Beaufoy to pen the script?
TG: Well, he’s been a friend of mine forever. When I was at Disney, I tried to buy The Full Monty. I thought it was a sample and I called Simon and I said: “I want to buy this!” He told me it was being made. In the back of my head, I thought when it comes out it will make a dollar and I will re-make it. (Laughs) We became friends and he wrote a lot of different projects for me over the years, which a lot didn’t get made so I called him and asked him for a favor and he agreed. He did 127 Hours and he has a good understanding of inner dialogue and real feelings. I just caught him at the right time in between projects.
How much action versus special effects?
TG: Well, we don’t have a real tornado! (Laughs) When I first came up with this idea, I thought we can shoot this in three hours, wait for a real tornado and give the actors some cameras and edit! It’s got a lot of action and a lot of special effects. This is why I wanted Steve to direct this movie because I knew he could make it look real. I had seen Final Destination 5 and I was intrigued by his special effects training and his second unit training with Jim (James Cameron, on Avatar). The effects being such a big part of it, led me to him.
What is the demographic of this film?
TG: People. I personally make movies for everybody. Movies are a communal experience so I try to make movies that a lot of people enjoy together.
What are your personal opinions on why people risk their lives to go chasing after storms?
TG: I think it’s so attractive because it’s tough to imagine going to the moon. It’s tough to imagine going to the bottom of the ocean. You can’t really explore new lands anymore, because everything has been discovered. So in theory the ordinary person can do this. There’s a spirit of adventure to it. There’s the spirit of it being extremely dangerous and exciting. I don’t think anybody does it without wanting to understand it. There’s also this feeling of being able to control it ultimately by improving the warning systems and why are they are reoccurring.
Lastly and probably most importantly, are any cows being blown away?
TG: There are no cows. I can guarantee that!
Into the Storm arrives in U.S. theaters on August 8th, 2014.