Many indie filmmakers have made the transition to mainstream movies, and even blockbusters. But as far as ambitious leaps go, few have made as far and wide a jump as Colin Trevorrow. While a director like Darren Aronofsky amassed a deep body of work before tackling the epic scale of “Noah,” Trevorrow went from the charming but tiny indie “Safety Not Guaranteed,” and graduated straight to one of this summer’s biggest tentpoles, “Jurassic World” (read our review here). And it was all thanks to Steven Spielberg, a filmmaker who recognized a kindred soul in the tiny indie and a storyteller who understood narrative fundamentals.
Tackling “Jurassic World” was in no way part of Trevorrow’s gameplan, as the filmmaker was mounting an modest indie next and was hoping to take a slow and steady path forward. But Spielberg presented him with an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, and perhaps more importantly, let the younger filmmaker rewrite and remake it as his own.
We recently spoke to Trevorrow by phone and discussed the unlikely offer to direct “Jurassic World,” the generosity of Steven Spielberg, taking on this ambitious endeavor, his involvement in potential sequels, “Star Wars,” Joss Whedon’s recent comments and much more.
I would assume somewhere in your loose career plan following “Safety Not Guaranteed” something of this scale and magnitude was not part of the plan?
Noooooo, not at all.
So how the hell did you make that leap?
I think the studio was appropriately horrified at first that I would be directing their dinosaur franchise. This all came from one man, from Steven Spielberg. He saw “Safety Not Guaranteed” and as he told me later, he recognized certainly a shared set of priorities in it, a love for the audience that he shares. But he said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, “In that movie, you posed a question,” which was is this man crazy or is he capable of something that is impossible? And he really liked the answer.
That’s all the recognition he needed?
That was it. They asked if I would come in and talk about this movie. I had already set up the movie I was going to do next which was about an 8 million dollar movie with just a few characters and a house, school and a hospital and small screenplay that I was very excited about directing that had been written by someone else. We talked about [“Jurassic World”] for a bit and we talked about what it was about. I only ever read the screenplay they already had once. I asked, “Can I build something that I feel is my own, that I can be proud of, that I feel is an original film in the context of Jurassic Park?” and Steven said, “Yeah, go for it. We’ve been trying for 12 years. Good luck.”
I remember driving over to where [“Safety Not Guaranteed” writer] Derek [Connolly] was staying and he’d just been working for Pixar for a while and he’d just got back. I’m like, “Derek, we’re putting together a special team and we’re going to this hotel.” We sat in the hotel for 3 weeks and wrote a new movie that we really believed in and put it in front of Steven and he said, “Okay, yeah. This is ‘Jurassic Park 4.’ Let’s go.”
That’s incredible. So if Steven and the producers liked the screenplay, the deal was you would direct it?
Actually, I had the directing job the whole time. I was hired, but I had not read the screenplay. I was brought in. There was a production office already going and they gave me the screenplay that I was to direct. I didn’t understand it and I just couldn’t do it. I knew I would do a bad job if I directed that movie and so that was when I said, “No, please let us try to write another movie that can also be called ‘Jurassic Park 4.’ ”
That’s impressive. Especially as committee can rule Hollywood and new writers are often beholden to the studio template everyone agrees is worth pursuing.
I had no choice. It was one of the first things that I said to [Spielberg], “Look, man, if this movie is a failure, you will continue on to be a legend and I will disappear, never to be heard from again.” The only way that I could do this movie and make this leap is for it to be entirely my fault. If the movie is a failure, it has to be my fault. I can’t have anyone else to blame. If it’s a success, then it belongs to all of us.
There’s some Amblin-esque touches and some nice respectful nods to the past, but it doesn’t feel like it’s nostalgia heavy. What was important about “Jurassic Park” and the other films that you wanted to tap into?
There were things that attracted me. They were all inherent in the three ideas that Steven had that he had given to previous writers that he gave to us which was, one: let’s have an open park. Two: let’s have a raptor trainer who can be given these animals and three: let’s have this dinosaur that breaks free and threatens everyone in the park. In hearing those basic ideas, to me, that suggested three pretty interesting areas that we could explore and one is the way that we co-exist with animals on the planet right now and the way that we communicate with them and we use them.
We put them in cages and we put them in zoos and we use them in agriculture and in medicine and in war. What if we made a movie that started to address some of that dynamic in the context of dinosaurs? The other is if we’re going to create new dinosaurs, that is not just the hubris of man, that is greed and that is excess and that is a corporation seeking profit at all costs. We can make a movie about the dehumanization that goal of profit tends to bring.
I like a lot of that texture in the film.
I thought those were some pretty valuable things that we could address in the context of something that could also be very fun and funny and romantic and adventurous and all the other things that one of these movies has to be. We all are hungry to be given a chance to show what we can do and I just went to town on it.
Whose decision was it to discount Jurassic Park 2 and 3?
It’s just inherent in the story that we’re telling and we actually don’t discount it. There’s references to both movies. Those movies took place on a different island and they weren’t about a theme park. This being on Isla Nublar and also, being about the realization of the theme park that was being beta tested in the first movie, it just very naturally is more organically a sequel to that movie. We have some connections to ‘Lost World’ and to “Jurassic Park 3″ that are buried in the film for people who really care.
So the word is you’re not directing the sequel. Are you going to be involved in any other way?
I will be involved, but that’s something that Steven and I talked about a long time ago and it’s a decision that we made early on in the process just because he was aware of how important it was to me to have a body of work and to exist in different worlds and to make different kinds of films and the privilege that he had over the course of his career. I didn’t want to lose that privilege and just become the “Jurassic Park” guy for an entire decade. Also, I poured everything I had into this. I laid it all out and you put a piece of your soul into these movies. I gave this one a lot.
So then pass on the torch?
Yes. As someone who is personally responsible, along with Steven, for making sure this does move forward and does continue, it genuinely is my opinion that this is one of those franchises that will benefit much like ‘Mission: Impossible,’ by having new voices, new directors that come in and they’re able to put their own stamp on it. These movies, they’re not inherently franchisable. It’s not like Marvel or like “Star Wars,” at least creatively where you have infinite ways that you could go and this whole universe or galaxy to move in. These movies are in danger of just being remakes of each other over and over and over again.
It’s on me and whoever we end up collaborating with to make sure that it doesn’t become that, but I think part of that recipe is to bring in—there’s really cool men and women right now who could give a very, very different take on what a dinosaur movie is. I think it would be a favor to the audience to show them that.
Do you think you’ll stick on as a producer or writer or something?
Yeah. We’re talking about that right now and what I do know is we built this thing and I’m not just going to walk away and leave them flailing with it. It really is important to me to ground it. Maybe that does mean that I’ll do some writing. We’re not exactly sure what form that’s going to take and it might just be helping guide it forward creatively, but I really did try to imbed this movie with some ideas that would help us move forward.
There’s actually a line that I cut from the movie that really did sum it up. Dr. Wu said in that scene where Irrfan [Khan] and [BD Wong] are going at each other, he says, “We won’t always be the only ones who can make a dinosaur.” I think the idea of this technology much like any potentially weaponizable technology being exploited. Many different interests having their way with it; I think there’s room to grow there and I think we can find a way. I didn’t mean to quote my own movie, by the way. That was super cheesy.
You mentioned “Star Wars.” I forget the story there, but your name was mentioned in connection with it early on, no?
Yes, but not really. It really all came about from Brad Bird’s initial [almost] involvement and of us potentially collaborating with it. I remember at the time, I was in Sweden and I was as surprised as anyone else because I had never heard that. That was a shocker. I hadn’t talked to Bird. But man, I couldn’t be more thrilled of what I’ve seen of what J.J. Abrams is doing and certainly, with the choice of Rian Johnson. I think he is a truly, truly great filmmaker. It’s all very exciting.
You’re doing some indie movies next? Is it just going to keep switching up, trying to as you said earlier build up that body of work?
Yeah. The next movie I’m going to do is significantly smaller; no dinosaurs, not in 3D, there will not be toys released. We’re going to make a movie close to my home in Vermont and then I’m going to figure out what the next step is [from] there.
There’s some nice meta-touches in “Jurassic World” addressing the inherent problems with blockbusters, sequels and topping yourself. There’s even some winky self-deprecation.
Make no mistake, Derek and I wrote about what was going on at the time, which is that a corporation had a release date set and they were going to make this movie whether it was a good idea or not. We’re like, “All right, well let’s make a movie about why ‘Jurassic Park 4’ exists.” In the end, we didn’t want to make it too meta. It’s not that kind of thing. It was what our reality was and the lesson here is people will make the same mistakes again and again as long as there’s money on the table. We can apply that to this theme park and why they would make this new genetic hybrid because there’s money to be made.
A potential risky commentary, but I think it works.
That’s what the fun of it was for us. Can we go in making something look like its going to be some kind of meta commentary, but to me, if I’m saying anything it’s that, “Look, by the time you get to the end of the movie, you have given in.” You hopefully have submitted to the joy and to the fun that is inherent in this franchise. That would be the biggest success, if by the end you’re like, “Whatever, man, I’m 8 years old. I’m on board.”
I know you’ve responded, but I wanted to discuss Joss Whedon for a second. I feel like if anyone should understand footage out of context it should be a fellow filmmaker.
Right. If anything, it just made me really want him and everyone else to see that in context. I’m very proud of the arc that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character makes in this movie and a little bit impatient for people to see how that was designed and what we were really doing because there’s a little bit of, “No, no, no, that’s the point; it’s what we’re doing.” In the end, I think on more of a macro scale, I was frustrated and almost offended on his behalf in the level of anger and nastiness that was thrown around in the wake of that and in the wake of ‘Avengers.’
I hope people understand how much people like Joss and I care about what we’re doing and how we share in people’s love for these movies that are so personal to all of us. That, to me, if there’s any message in all of this, it’s we can all agree or disagree about what is the right way to treat these properties that we care so much about, but do recognize that we do care and there’s not a lot of cynicism at work here.
Did you feel that crush of the weight of fan expectation? I know at one point early on some spoilers leaked and you guys responded.
That was a bummer. But that was a while ago and it really did hurt my feelings at the time. I felt personally hurt by it and now I’m realizing, look, it’s a bit par for the course; it’s part of this job. In the end, marketing has shown a lot of that stuff. I think to me, the next time I do one of these bigger movies, I’ll think about it in the context of what are people going to know before they see the movie and what will they not. It’s not something that can be controlled always.
On the flip side of that, this is being very candid with you, but I have really embraced the lowered expectations of this film in recent weeks. I’ve seen a lot of the general consensus that this thing was going to be a piece of shit and to me, I have some surprises left in this movie. To me, one of the big surprises is that I know the movie is good. Let that be the surprise — that the movie doesn’t suck.
Do lowered expectations have anything to do with the sequels not being as well received? Or the big gap between “Jurassic Park 3” and your film?
That expectation is not just an issue that I deal with. It is a reality and because all of the fans care a lot about this stuff and they really want it to be good. One thing that I tend to bristle at sometimes — I sound like my grandmother who uses the word “bristle” — but is the idea that someone’s childhood is being ruined by one of these movies not working the way that it should. I would just encourage people: your childhood belongs to you and don’t give anyone, especially me, the power to ruin your childhood.
It’s too important and too valuable a thing and all we can do as filmmakers is add an addendum to your childhood and hopefully, make you feel the way that you did just a little bit back then. But also, recognize that this is for a new group of children who I think deserve their own “Jurassic Park” movie that feels like theirs. That’s really why we’re doing what we’re doing.
My standard line is “maybe you should have had a better childhood,” but I’m also a jerk.
[Laughs]. Ouch, too mean. Where I live, in Vermont, there’s this thing that women know about men which is this disease: their childhood was so idyllic that nothing in the rest of their life can ever be satisfying. It’s almost a plague. I think that almost applies to some of these movies. The movies of our particular childhood were so great that it’s almost impossible to recapture that magic, especially as adults. I remember when I had some other bloggers came to the set and one of them asked me, “Is this going to be better than ‘Jurassic Park’?”
I said flat out, “No.” I think he was just surprised at that level of honesty. I’m like, “Look, man, you’re not going to see this movie as a 9-year-old and there’s just no way that it can have the same effect on you as it did on you when you were 9, but it can have its own special effect on you when you’re in your 30s and hopefully, you’ll bring a kid with you and it’ll have that effect on them.”
Nostalgia and our affection for things we experienced as a child are much bigger than we realize I think. It totally affects our relationship to certain movies. I never saw “Jurassic Park” until much later in life because as teenager I’d discovered David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, and others.
Right. I was 16 at the time and so I wasn’t a child, either, so it certainly wasn’t the same thing for me like “Back to the Future,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Star Wars.”
All those were big touchstones for me too. But imagine seeing them cold for the first time having not seen them as a child? We’d have a totally different reaction to them.
I think that my job was to make something that could work both for the super deep fans — and believe me, they exist, they care deeply — and people who weren’t that at all and also, people who are being introduced to it for the first time. That’s a lot of different masters to serve. What we did was really designed to make sure there was something for all of them. I did try to not lean too hard onto the nostalgia and to bury a lot of the references in ways that if you want it, it’s there, but if you’re not looking for it, it’s not going to get in the way of the story that’s being told.
“Jurassic Park” opens nationwide on Friday, June 12. Here’s our review.