On a balmy Wednesday in August 2012, Screen Rant visited the Detroit set of Steven Quale’s (Final Destination 5) latest natural disaster epic, Into the Storm, formerly titled Category 6 and Black Sky. Since Steven is something of a special effects mogul having worked as as second unit director for James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic, Into the Storm is visually unique in that it’s a ‘found footage’ film, fast becoming a trendy subgenre in Hollywood.
Set in Oklahoma, the entire movie takes place in the span of a single day, after the fictional town of Silverton is ravaged by an onslaught of deadly tornadoes. Needless to say, there are those who seek shelter; while others run towards the vortex testing how far a storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. And there are is an adventurous group of high school students who document the aftermath when it interrupts their hometown on Graduation Day.
There are numerous storylines interlinking over the course of the day’s disaster such as the heartfelt account of a father looking for his lost son; a young couple who migrated off from their friends to film something for a school project; a storm chaser looking to secure a picture of the eye of the tornado and some light comic relief in the form of two boozy hillbillies. But surprisingly not since the 1996 success of Jan De Bont’s Twister have we seen a movie about the disastrous effects of a tornado hitting a sleepy town. Since then, high tech visual effects have come a long way in increasing the reality and immersiveness of the movie going experience, helping make Into the Storm a trippy rollercoaster ride.
Penned by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, The Hunger Games) and Hollywood newcomer, John Swetnam (Evidence), the film is produced by Todd Garner, (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Knight and Day), who initially came up with movie’s concept. The film includes a lot of CGI to create the twisters as well as wirework, and green screen. Todd Garner tells us on set, “The film will throw you directly into the eye of the storm to experience Mother Nature at her most extreme.”
The movie boasts an impressive cast including: Brit actor, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) as Gary, the vice-principal of Silverton High School, whose son goes missing; Matt Walsh (The Veep, The Hangover), plays Pete, the veteran storm chaser who will stop at nothing to get in the center of the storm; Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) is a climatologist on board with the storm chasers; Nathan Kress (iCarly) is Trey, Gary’s son who helps find his big brother; the storm chaser cameramen; Arlen Escarpeta (Final Destination 5) as Daryl, and Jeremy Sumpter (Friday Night Lights) as Jacob and the comical duo, Donk and Reevis, are played by Kyle Davis and Jon Reep, respectively. Stay tuned for our interviews with the cast (links below)!
When we arrived at Basecamp on the Pontiac set, we were immediately shown the constructed exteriors for the quintessential main street in Silverton. It looked very much like any other relaxed town center in the South with your usual hardware store and BBQ joint. It was halfway through production, day 24 of a 48 day shoot, and you could tell the cast were at ease with one another, joking around in between set ups.
Throughout the day, the crew would wet the set down with long hoses to ward off the 90 degrees sweltering heat and to make it look like it had been raining from the effects of the storm tearing through their town. Huge Boeing 747, 100 mph fans and Ritter 80mph fans were strategically placed on the set to reenact the vibrant force wind of the tornado. Often the wind force was too strong and Sarah Wayne Callies joked, "I was trying to walk in a straight line and they put a fan in my way and I ended up like, drifting sixty feet over. And they’re shouting: 'You missed your mark!' I’m like: 'You put a hundred mile an hour fan on me? I’m not that big!'"
At various times of the day, the crew would maneuver the big black silk screens to block out the sun. As typical on a day’s shoot, we watched numerous takes of the same scene in the various set ups while we waited for the actors to become available for interviews which took place in a small air conditioned room inside one of the buildings.
The scene being shot on this day involved Pete (Walsh) driving the master storm chaser vehicle, called the Titus. Behind it sat parked the weather van with cameramen Daryl (Escarpeta) and Jacob (Sumpter) inside it on their expedition to chase the storm. As the Titus pulls up and screeches to a halt, both Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Pete jump outside with the camera operators in tow, to talk to Donk and Reevis to warn them that the tornado is about to hit and that they should run for cover. Yet the two “dipshitz” (quoting the producer here) continue to gurgle beer, laugh it all off, resolving to take their chances.
The crew constructed two identical storm chaser vehicles called ‘Titus’ (which is normal procedure on sets for filming for angle reasons); and the cast nicknamed them ‘Hepatitus A’ and ‘Hepatitus B’. This became a running joke during the interviews… “Which Hepatitus do you prefer?” A bit of inside Hollywood info for you - If you look carefully on one of the vehicles, you’ll notice the words ‘Bruce the Shark’ written on the rear bumper. The producer requested the props dept to paint this as a way of paying homage to Jaws which kept blundering, as the Titus became problematic.
Another interesting fact that came about during our chat with the cast, is that the cameras given to some of the actors are not just props but they’re real cameras shooting actual footage for the film, much like Cloverfield was largely shot by star (and cameraman) T.J. Miller. Not all was usable though, as Jeremy Sumpter, who plays one of the cameramen in Into The Storm pointed out with a laugh: “None of my footage is going to make it to the final edit because I broke my camera! I put it on the roof of the Titus, and walked away. Then I heard this crash and I was like 'Ewww!' It had fallen off. I told them a tornado knocked it off.”
As the sun was winding down towards the end of our day on set, we watched the scene being shot again but from another angle. Once again, the crew hosed down the streets to make it look like the storm was about to hit at any moment. Given the scene being shot, and the way the set was decorated, it very much felt that way and we're excited to see it realized on screen.
Check out the interviews with the cast and the director who shed more light on the characters, behind-the-scenes tidbits, and how their roles fit into the storyline. Don't worry, they don't get too spoilery as publicists reminded them not to reveal too much about the plot’s intricacies.
- Steven Quale, Director and Todd Garner, Producer
- Richard Armitage on Tornados & Acting to Disaster
- Sarah Wayne Callies Talks CGI Tornadoes & Extreme Circumstances
- Even After iCarly’ Nathan Kress is Still ‘That Camera Guy’
- Arlen Escarpeta & Jeremy Sumpter on Playing Found Footage Cameramen
Into the Storm is a New Line Cinema production in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, and distributed by Warner Brosopens. It opens in U.S. theaters on August 8, 2014.
Find more at the official site, intothestormmovie.com.