Direc­tor was ready to take on ‘World,’ his sec­ond fea­ture film

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

“Juras­sic World” direc­tor Colin Trevor­row was hav­ing lunch on the Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures lot on a re­cent af­ter­noon when the chair­man of the stu­dio, Donna Lan­g­ley, came up to his ta­ble with a big smile on her face.

Lan­g­ley’s 6-year-old son had just been vis­it­ing her of­fice, she told Trevor­row, and he was buzzing about the idea of see­ing dinosaurs run­ning amok on the big screen. “He’s my fo­cus group of one, but he’s so locked in,” she said. “I was just at his kinder­garten grad­u­a­tion. All of the kids were talk­ing about it.”

Not that there’s a lot of pres­sure or any­thing. At 38, with just one pre­vi­ous low-bud­get, lit­tle-seen in­de­pen­dent film to his name, Trevor­row now finds him­self the stew­ard of one of the stu­dio’s most im­por­tant fran­chises, one that has spawned ev­ery­thing from toys to video games to theme park rides. Oh, and he was hand­picked for the job by the se­ries’ cin­e­matic god­fa­ther, Steven Spiel­berg, and the film stars ar­guably Hol­ly­wood’s hottest lead­ing man, Chris Pratt.

But if Trevor­row is feel­ing the heat, you wouldn’t know it. He’s not prone to brag­ging, but the fact is, he clearly has the ut­most faith in his film­mak­ing abil­ity — and has had it ever since he him­self was a young kid go­ing to see Spiel­berg movies.

“I don’t know where it came from,” he said mat­ter-of­factly. “I guess it came from where it does for a lot of film­mak­ers: watch­ing films and maybe hav­ing a preter­nat­u­ral abil­ity to speak that lan-

guage. For what­ever rea­son, from a young age I’ve al­ways been able to shoot images and cut them to­gether with sound in a way that was very en­gag­ing.”

Still, even as an in­creas­ing num­ber of film­mak­ers are be­ing plucked from the indie world and tele­vi­sion to helm big-bud­get tent­pole films, Trevor­row is well aware of how im­prob­a­ble the whole thing seems.

“I was jok­ing with my mom that all Jewish moth­ers now will want their kids to be film­mak­ers in­stead of doc­tors,” he said dryly. “Be­cause you can make one film and sud­denly you’re di­rect­ing a ‘Juras­sic Park’ movie.”

Three and a half years ago, Trevor­row brought his first fea­ture, a quirky dark com­edy with a sci-fi el­e­ment called “Safety Not Guar­an­teed,” to the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val. Made for $750,000, the film, which cen­tered on an ec­cen­tric su­per­mar­ket clerk who thinks he’s solved the rid­dle of time travel, earned glow­ing re­views from crit­ics. But when it was re­leased that fall, it grossed just $4 mil­lion. (By way of com­par­i­son, Wes An­der­son’s “Moon­rise King­dom,” re­leased the same year, earned more than 10 times that amount.)

For­tu­nately for Trevor­row, one of the peo­ple who did see “Safety Not Guar­an­teed” hap­pened to be Spiel­berg — and the leg­endary direc­tor hap­pened to be look­ing for some­one to re­vive the “Juras­sic” fran­chise, which had taken in $3 bil­lion over three films but had lain dor­mant since 2001. Im­pressed with the con­fi­dence of Trevor­row’s film­mak­ing, Spiel­berg called him in for a meet­ing.

“I was told go­ing in, ‘You’re one of one — and if the meet­ing is good, he’ll want you to do this,’ ” said Trevor­row, who lives in Ver­mont with his wife and two chil­dren. “Ob­vi­ously I wanted it. I wanted it for my fam­ily, for the cre­ative chal­lenge. But I also made very clear that if I was go­ing to do this, it had to be an orig­i­nal film. It had to be a movie that I could feel was per­sonal and my own.”

Raised in Oak­land by a pho­tog­ra­pher mother and a mu­si­cian fa­ther, Trevor­row started writ­ing and shoot­ing his own films when he was just 12 years old, in­spired by films like “Star Wars,” “Back to the Fu­ture” and the In­di­ana Jones movies. Even in th­ese early works, his am­bi­tions were al­ready ev­i­dent.

“There was one that I felt was my great master­piece of child­hood called ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In,’ ” he re­called. “It was ba­si­cally a ‘Die Hard’ film about a guy who gets trapped in his house with a cat who’s in­tent on killing him.” The film cli­maxed with the man shoot­ing a flam­ing ar­row into a pool of gaso­line to kill the homi­ci­dal cat. “I poured all this gaso­line in the backyard, and we did it for real,” Trevor­row said. “On the video you could hear my mom scream­ing as we lit this thing up.”

When Trevor­row first met with Spiel­berg, the “Juras­sic” fran­chise had been stuck in am­ber for years. Var­i­ous writ­ers, in­clud­ing John Sayles and Wil­liam Mon­a­han, had taken cracks at writ­ing a fourth in­stall­ment. When Trevor­row read the lat­est draft, he couldn’t make sense of it.

“It was just a dif­fer­ent film,” he said. “There were two boys, but they were Chi­nese, and their mother was a Chi­nese pa­le­on­tol­o­gist who had dis­cov­ered a di­nosaur, and she thought Juras­sic Park had stolen the DNA. I said, ‘I can’t di­rect this screen­play. I can’t use a sin­gle word.’ ”

Trevor­row holed up in a Santa Mon­ica ho­tel with long­time writ­ing part­ner Derek Con­nolly, who had writ­ten “Safety Not Guar­an­teed,” to write a new draft. Three weeks later they had a script that car­ried three ba­sic el­e­ments that Spiel­berg had al­ways in­sisted on — a park that’s open to tourists, a raptor trainer char­ac­ter and a new di­nosaur that breaks free — and in­tro­duced the idea of ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing and a love story. “We wrote it very quickly,” Trevor­row said. “I don’t know what we chan­neled.”

The prospect of go­ing di­rectly from a low-bud­get indie to a $150-mil­lion, CGI-heavy sum­mer tent­pole could eas­ily be over­whelm­ing — in tak­ing such a rad­i­cal leap, safety is most cer­tainly not guar­an­teed. But Con­nolly, who first met Trevor­row when they were both study­ing film at New York Uni­ver­sity, said the direc­tor was un­daunted.

“Peo­ple ask, ‘ Was he ner­vous? How did he hold up?’ And I just laugh,” Con­nolly said. “Colin’s at­ti­tude was, like, ‘ Fi­nally! This is what I de­serve and what I’ve al­ways wanted to do.’ He wasn’t in­tim­i­dated at all.”

Pratt, who plays a park trainer who has de­vel­oped a spe­cial rap­port with ve­loci­rap­tors, was im­pressed by Trevor­row’s self-con­fi­dence from their very first meet­ing via Skype. “He has a strong point of view, and he’s not afraid to ex­press that point of view,” the ac­tor said. “He’s not delu­sional to be­lieve in him­self, be­cause he’s tal­ented. He’s got the goods.”

With Spiel­berg not on the set but of­fer­ing notes and sug­ges­tions through­out the shoot, Trevor­row was in­tent on living up to the stan­dard of the orig­i­nal 1993 “Juras­sic Park” while also tweak­ing many movie­go­ers’ in­her­ent skep­ti­cism about spec­ta­cle-drenched se­quels.

With droll, dead­pan hu­mor rem­i­nis­cent of “Safety Not Guar­an­teed” — not to men­tion wink­ingly self­aware re­cent block­busters like “22 Jump Street,” “The Lego Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” — the film tries to beat au­di­ences to the joke.

“Colin took this on know­ing that some peo­ple were go­ing to be cyn­i­cal, and he was ready to meet them head-on,” Pratt said. “He was like, ‘Look, no mat­ter what, there’s al­ways that 5% on Rot­ten Toma­toes who doesn’t like some­thing, even if 95% do. I am that per­son. That is me. And I’m mak­ing this movie for those peo­ple.’”

As the project went on, though, Trevor­row came to re­al­ize that what he’d been think­ing of as sim­ply a movie was, in re­al­ity, part of a much larger, In­domi­nus rex- sized brand­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing en­ter­prise for Uni­ver­sal.

“In the be­gin­ning, it was just, we have to tell a great story,” he said. “Down the road, when I saw the fifth wave of Has­bro toys and the Dairy Queen com­mer­cial and the Mercedes tie-in and the Sam­sung thing at Best Buy, I started to re­al­ize, ‘Oh, this is a stock price is­sue, isn’t it?’ ”

With “Juras­sic World” track­ing for a mas­sive $125mil­lion-plus open­ing week­end and plenty of run­ning room be­fore the next big ac­tion tent­pole comes along, Trevor­row’s own stock is very much on the rise. But while it would be tempt­ing to strike while the iron is hot with a lu­cra­tive job di­rect­ing an­other high-pro­file fran­chise film, he isn’t look­ing to jump straight into an­other tent­pole and has al­ready said he will not di­rect the next “Juras­sic” in­stall­ment.

In­stead, Trevor­row is pre­par­ing to di­rect a smaller, in­de­pen­dently pro­duced pas­sion project called “Book of Henry” — which he de­scribes as “a beau­ti­ful tragi­com­edy about a mother and her two kids, one of whom is a ge­nius” — which he then plans to fol­low with a larg­er­scale ro­man­tic sci-fi thriller called “In­tel­li­gent Life.”

“I’m a hor­ri­ble busi­ness per­son. I guar­an­tee I’m the least wealthy per­son to ever di­rect a movie at this bud­get,” he said with a laugh. “But our life­style in Ver­mont is not one that re­quires a great deal of money to sup­port, and that gives me a lot of free­dom to make strange and in­ter­est­ing choices.

“I had to travel into the fu­ture and di­rect ‘Juras­sic World’ as my­self in 20 years — and I did. But it’s hard to know out of two movies what my style of film­mak­ing is. I look for­ward to find­ing that out.”

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

COLIN TREVOR­ROW said he wanted to make “Juras­sic World” his own film.

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