‘This is a very orig­i­nal film’

Di­rec­tor Colin Trevor­row made the jump from mi­cro-bud­get films to block­busters. But for his lat­est, he’s gone back to his in­die roots, he tells Tara Brady, and the crit­ics aren’t pleased

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

His­tor­i­cally, the phrase “one and done” used to re­fer to those film­mak­ers who made a stone cold clas­sic – say Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Saul Bass’ Phase IV, or Bar­bara Lo­den’s Wanda – only to never di­rect another pic­ture.

These days, the phrase has evolved to cover an elite class of young di­rec­tors who jump from mi­cro-bud­geted indies to $200 mil­lion tent­poles. This year, we’ve watched Jor­dan Vogt-Roberts tran­si­tion from the cute $1.4 mil­lion gross­ing com­ing-of-age dram­edy The Kings of Sum­mer, to the gar­gan­tuan $566.2 mil­lion gross­ing Kong: Skull Is­land. In 2015, Jon Watts made his fea­ture film de­but with the thriller Cop Car, shot for $800,000 in his Colorado home­town. Next month, his rather costlier sopho­more fea­ture, Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing, web-slings into mul­ti­plexes with huge mone­tary ex­pec­ta­tions at­tached.

Mean­while, that same sum­mer, Colin Trevor­row demon­strated the bril­liance of the “one and done” sys­tem with a four-quad­rant sen­sa­tion. Trevor­row, a for­mer teenage opera star, scored a Net­flix hit with Safety Not Guar­an­teed in 2012. Made for $750,000, the film would catch the eye of Steven Spiel­berg, who hand­picked Trevor­row to di­rect Juras­sic World.

“I know when Juras­sic World was re­leased that Uni­ver­sal pre­sented it as a Cin­derella story,” says Trevor­row. “But there are no Cin­derella sto­ries. Be­fore I sold my first screen­play there was 10 years of crush­ing, mind-numb­ing re­jec­tion. That spec script – writ­ten when I was 30 – was bought by Dream­works. So they were aware of me for a while. So there was a phone call. Come in and talk to us and tell us how you feel about Juras­sic Park. And a series of meet­ings. You get your mo­ment. You’re ready. But even af­ter that there’s a huge amount a work and a lot of stum­bling along the way.”

Juras­sic World would scare up $1.672 bil­lion of busi­ness to be­come the fourth high­est gross­ing movie of all time. Two months into the di­nosaur film’s prof­itable run, Trevor­row was an­nounced as the di­rec­tor of Star Wars Episode IX.

“Di­rect­ing Juras­sic World turned out to be the world’s long­est job in­ter­view,” says Trevor­row. “In or­der to get any of these jobs, peo­ple come ob­serve you in pre-pro­duc­tion and in post-pro­duc­tion for two years. They watch how you man­age peo­ple and how you han­dle the re­lease, and your abil­ity to weather it all.”

And what of the “Ge­nius of the sys­tem” as film his­to­rian Thomas Schatz calls it? As stu­dios be­come re­liant on fewer and more ex­pen­sive prod­ucts, con­trol has tight­ened to a de­gree not wit­nessed since the Golden Age pe­tered out dur­ing the mid-1950s.

Just ask Gareth Edwards. Edwards is another “one and done” ben­e­fi­ciary. His first film, Mon­sters, cost just $500,000; his sec­ond was the 2014 re­boot of Godzilla, the $529.1 mil­lion gross­ing cor­ner­stone of Leg­endary Pic­tures’ Mon­ster Verse.

Last May, when Dis­ney ex­ec­u­tives re­put­edly baulked upon see­ing Edwards’ first cut of Rogue One – his third fea­ture film – the stu­dio drafted in Tony Gil­roy to re­write and over­see reshoots for the stand­alone Star Wars film. Gil­roy, who wrote sev­eral Bourne-films and the Os­car-nom­i­nated Michael Clay­ton, was ini­tially paid $200,000 a week to whip the film into shape. His fi­nal pay cheque – which fell some­where north of $5 mil­lion as the reshoots and rewrites mul­ti­plied – prompted many com­men­ta­tors to won­der if the di­rec­tors cho­sen to di­rect tent­poles ac­tu­ally get to di­rect?

Of course, says Trevor­row: “I know a lot of di­rec­tors of my own gen­er­a­tion – Ava DuVer­nay and Ryan Coogler – who have come outof Sun­dance and gone onto di­rect big­ger films. And I feel like all of us have been given tremen­dous amounts of cre­ative free­dom. It’s a tough job. You need to be able to make a lot of de­ci­sions and com­mu­ni­cate your vi­sion to hun­dreds of peo­ple. So when you look to­ward an in­die di­rec­tor, what you re­ally need to know is if can they or­der off a Chi­nese menu for 500 peo­ple every day and know all of their al­ler­gies for three years.”

Trevor­row had his pick of projects be­tween Juras­sic World and Star Wars IX, which­be­gins shoot­ing next Jan­uary for a May 2019 re­lease. To the sur­prise of many, he opted for The Book of Henry, an idio­syn­cratic fa­ble about a boy ge­nius (Jae­den Lieber­her) who en­lists his mom (Naomi Watts) into an elab­o­rate scheme to help the abused teenage girl next door.

“I made this out of a sense of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says the di­rec­tor. “I don’t only want to make new ver­sions of the things we love. Of course I’m hon­oured tobe able to do that. And I love do­ing that. But I wanted to make an orig­i­nal film. And this is a very orig­i­nal film. I ac­knowl­edge the tonal tightrope it walks. But it was some­thing that def­i­nitely spoke to me.”

Trevor­row’s “com­ing-of-par­ent­hood” story has won both ad­mir­ers – writ­ing in Em­pire, Ian Freer called the film “a rare cin­e­matic treat” – and mer­ci­less de­trac­tors. The filmmaker has been ad­mirably gal­lant to­ward the lat­ter. “Be proud of ev­ery­thing you paint, even if Mom doesn’t put it on the fridge,” he tweeted last Thurs­day.

“If you’re go­ing to make art you are open­ing your­self up to in­tense crit­i­cism,” he tells me. “That’s part of the job. And I guess I’m dis­cov­er­ing that on this movie more than ever. But I know that’s a re­sult of me tak­ing risks and telling the kind of story that I haven’t seen be­fore.” The Book of Henry is out now and is re­viewed on page 11

When you look to­ward an in­die di­rec­tor, what you re­ally need to know is if can they or­der off a Chi­nese menu for 500 peo­ple every day and know all of their al­ler­gies for three years

Kids’ stuff Jae­den Lieber­her and Ja­cob Trem­blay in The Book of Henry. Be­low: di­rec­tor Colin Trevor­row

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