Exclusive: You’ve wowed Hollywood with your daring, genre-defying action film. You’ve got the critics on your side. You made the film on a tiny budget. And now, you’ve got a hit. What do you do next? Most would pursue the sequel route, particularly with something like “Chronicle,” the found-footage drama revolving around three superpowered teens. But twenty-six-year-old director Josh Trank isn’t exactly sure he wants to go down that path.
“I’m still not sure [about ‘Chronicle 2‘],” Trank told us in a recent interview, crediting his reluctance with a follow-up to his concerns about the first film. “I was nervous this type of movie would be perceived as a gimmick,” he said, speaking of the proliferation of found-footage films. “So I was in denial for awhile about what the potential of the film could be.” It took a chance encounter with childhood friend Max Landis to change his perception about the film.
“We reconnected on Facebook,” Trank says. “I ran into him, we were catching up on what we had been working on. The topic of ‘Chronicle’ came up, and I basically told him everything, but he stopped me halfway through and said, ‘Alright, I’m gonna write a script in two weeks and I’ll be back.’ And that’s exactly what he did, he wrote it in two weeks and came back to me.” Trank credits Landis with bringing a genuine sense of perspective to the main idea. “I gave him the skeleton,” he says, “and he filled it out with the heart and soul and muscles.”
Thanks to Landis, Trank’s vision came to the screen almost completely intact. “This is something I had been working on for a couple of years,” he says. “The movie you saw was what I had in mind. It’s this film that plays out as a personal documentary. And it feels like it could be another found footage film, and then it turns into something a little different. I wanted to use the superpowers to heighten the drama, heighten the relationships.” Of course, there was a dollop of autobiography involved, while Trank says the key in developing the characters was to completely avoid stereotypes, “Matt is the character I relate to a lot as far as my high school years, being a pseudo-intellectual, trying to prove to everyone how smart he is.”
Casting was key for the three leads, but Trank got his first choice each time, buoyed by the intial casting decision of Dane DeHaan as Andrew. “He was an actor that had this incredible strength, but extreme vulnerability,” he says. “You want to see what it would be like for him to go from an unhappy place to a happy place.” Of course, Trank acknowledges the movie’s roots when he says that DeHaan “was my American Tetsuo,” an added dimension coming from DeHaan being linked to the role in an American version of “Akira” (“I wouldn’t even know how to adapt that correctly,” Trank shrugs when asked about the mooted American redo).
As for people looking for answers regarding the logic of the film’s more fantastical elements, Trank says that they’re ignoring the purpose of the movie. “It was very important in this film to not worry about the answer of what’s in that cave,” he says. “The film is a first-person perspective, and the most important feeling is the emotional experience of what this would feel like, instead of searching for the science fiction movie answers. This isn’t the type of movie where we cut to the Pentagon and see a bunch of brass, and maps and four star generals describing what we found in Haven Hills. We really wanted this to play out from a point of view where we don’t have any of the answers. The challenge was to make this film emotionally satisfying.”
Which of course points to the question of where you could take a sequel and keep it fresh. In discussing the format of the film, Trank says. “I kind of stubbornly tried to maintain the purity of the [found footage] concept throughout. This movie is rooted in that style, so any kind of sequel should go along the same track. But again, there’s the risk it could be less fresh than the last film.”
Trank’s also been linked to rumors of a “Fantastic Four” reboot at Fox, though he reiterates that he knows as much as you do. “I have not met about ‘Fantastic Four’ reboots,” he declares definitively. “I was on the press tour and had to call everybody up and ask, what is this about? ‘Fantastic Four’ is at Fox, and I guess someone theorized about it, someone heard it, and Variety was like, that’s happening! I can’t really speak on that, because I don’t know what to say.”
However, it’s still a door he won’t close, growing up as a comic book fan. “I do have a deal with Fox, but right now I’m trying to work on original ideas,” he says. “To me the most important thing is a good story, though I know how cliché that sounds. Finding my next project, whether it’s a big franchise idea, or a small idea, it’s all about strong characters and a good story, making something I would really want to see.”
“Chronicle” is in theaters now.