The found footage genre continues to do big business in Hollywood, where films like the Blair Witch Project firmly established the format as a go-to for the horror genre, the subsequent years have seen the idea applied to sci-fi and superhero movies, among others. Cloverfield set a high bar for found footage spectacle, while Chronicle managed to blend epic eye-witness video with quality human drama, and now director Steven Quale is set to apply the idea to a storm-chasing disaster film.
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.
In our on-set chat with Armitage, the actor offers new details about his character, which of his own High School teachers inspired his performance, as well as the challenges of filming a found footage disaster movie.
Check out the trailer for Into the Storm below (followed by the complete interview with Armitage):
Tell us about Gary?
Richard Armitage: He is the vice-principal of Silverton High School and the father of two boys, Trey and Donny. He’s asked them to create a video diary of the graduation ceremony so they are going to make a time capsule video diary of their town. And then this storm comes and the two boys become separated and he loses Donny. Through the story, Gary’s mission is to find out where his other son has gone, because he’s lost contact with him so he’s trying to juggle two things; he’s trying to protect the older son and go in search of the younger son.
What kind of guy is Gary?
RA: He is an English teacher. But I kind of decided as we were shooting that he’s a football coach because I needed the kind of level of fitness that is required to run and shout quite loudly. (Laughs) It was the dialect coach’s idea after he came up to me and said: “You know you do sound like you coach a football team.” I’m like, okay, that will go in the biography as well!
Did you research weather patterns in your preparation for the role?
RA: I began to look at the science behind tornadoes and I decided I would like to be caught out unaware by it rather than knowing too much about them. I wanted him to get caught up in the shock factor of what the tornado was rather than understand it like the meteorologists do. I mainly looked at the idea of a guy who is an everyman who is forced into a situation where he has to become heroic for a day to save his sons. He has to do that thing which we all hope that’s in us, and that’s to run into a burning building to save a child. None of us really know if we have the potential to do it until we’re faced with that situation and before you realize you’re becoming a hero.
Since this is a found footage film, how are your scenes captured?
RA: Well, this is one of the reasons why Trey comes with me is because he’s a camera holder. (Laughs) But that’s the game of the film. You have to acknowledge it but then ignore it. Each camera becomes a character. So there are times when my son isn’t in the scene but his camera is and I have to talk to him as if he’s there, but it’s a camera operator. Some of them are surveillance cameras, so you have to know very specifically that you don’t start talking to a surveillance camera like it’s a person!
Are you familiar with this shooting style?
RA: It’s very unique; I’ve never filmed like this before. There are no formal set ups. The lighting is to look like it’s not lit. There is no such thing as a close up unless Trey or Donny is on handheld doing a punch zoom but I don’t know what size the shots are. I always know on film sets what lens we’re on whether it’s mid or a tight shot, but on this I am never asked that question and I actually don’t want to know in this instance because it’s found footage. I want to be captured and found rather than having any control of how the performance is. This is a very different kind of work. You do build your relationship with your camera operator so that you can create the illusion that they’re just finding a moment.
How challenging is it for you as an actor to have dialogue with a camera and not an actual person?
RA: I’ve spent most of my career working on exactly the opposite of that. Working for camera, and how to let the camera in and how to let the camera be a part of the scene and effectively with this you have to ignore them. At times I have to ask Trey to put the camera down, and I have to push the camera out of the way so it’s an avoidance of the camera.
How much does your character interact with the others?
RA: It’s interesting because he gets thrown into a situation where he meets Allison who is the professor of the weather team, and they are forced into a situation which is what we’re shooting today…. He sees a girl in the street get caught in the storm and he grabs a hold of her and instantly saves her life. So he’s thrust into this relationship with each other which you can’t predict or explain but it’s that life long bond after two people have been in a life threatening situation. It’s a bit like a patient’s relationship where their life is saved by their doctor. Allison assists in finding his son and they are both single parents. That relationship is the strongest relationship.
Like a life or death situation which has brought these two characters’ together over a period of an eight hour day.
How tough is it working with the wind machines?
RA: There have been a couple of shoot days where we were running across the parking lot of the garage and the wind machines were so strong that I was literally running on the spot and not actually going anyway. I was like: “Can you please turn the fan down a tiny bit or I’ll never get to the other side of the lot?”
Are you involved in any wire work?
RA: Yes, but we haven’t reached that point yet in the schedule. That’s when Allison gets sucked into the tornado. I’ve got a bit of tank work to do. It’s always water with me. It wasn’t in the script when I agreed to it and then it changed… “He dives into a tank of water to saves his son.” That’s my worst nightmare. And this is the thing I’m really conscious of is that I didn’t want him to suddenly turn into an action hero. I wanted him to be struggling with it. I wanted him to run in a school teacher kind of way. So in his loafers, he runs like a Math teacher. There’s a fine line as I didn’t want people to think he was a rubbish runner.
Is it hard to imagine there’s a tornado coming?
RA: No, not really. When he realizes that there is such a strong storm coming and that they need to get away from the school before it gets ripped apart, as a teacher you begin to accept the responsibility for those kids’ safety. When we shot that scene there were huge wind machines evoking a big storm with 800 extras getting absolutely soaked all day. And I really felt responsible for them. When the sirens went off and we were trying to escort everyone off the football field, there people slipping and sliding all over the place. One guy lost his flip flop and I helped him… I really felt that responsibility to make sure they were all safe. There haven’t been many moments where I’ve had to imagine stuff. It all feels very real.
Did you base the character on any of your school teachers?
RA: I went to a couple of comprehensive schools in England back in the Seventies. I actually did base him on a history teacher called Mr Brunchflower. It’s such a strange name I know (laughs). He was a bit of a dude actually, he would sit there with his geeky glasses on but if you got into trouble, he would be the guy to save you.
Into the Storm arrives in U.S. theaters on August 8th, 2014.