"There was a lot of unrequited dino love out there." A few years ago, a little film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called Safety Not Guaranteed. It earned praise from critics and introduced a filmmaker, Colin Trevorrow, who later landed the gig of a lifetime - directing a brand new Jurassic Park movie, to restart the series again after it died with JP3 in 2001. Colin Trevorrow is the director of Jurassic World, a continuation of Michael Crichton's vision of a dinosaur theme park that Steven Spielberg made us all believe in back in 1993. It's already breaking box office records. A week before it hit theaters, I was lucky enough to spend 15 minutes chatting with Colin (on the phone) talking about creative control, Spielberg, the attention he's getting nowadays, and how he pulled off a movie like this as only his second feature as a filmmaker.
Trevorrow's Jurassic World continues the story started in Jurassic Park by finishing the park that John Hammond first built. But this time it's bigger, better, with more dinosuars, more rides. Trevorrow had to balance time with a huge ensemble cast, various park staff and visitors; plus he had to wrangle dinosaurs, through VFX and practical special FX, as well as massive sets and complex action set pieces. To handle all of this, and still make an entertaining movie that is better than the other two Jurassic Park sequels (Sound Off right here), is certainly an achievement for a filmmaker jumping from a low budget indie to a $100 million+ Hollywood blockbuster for his second film. Anyway, let's get into our chat about making movies and more.
My first question is - are you okay with all this attention now? You seemed to be pegged as the "Spielberg protégé" with this one. Are you fine with that?
Colin Trevorrow: I don't know. I reject it to a certain extent because I feel like anytime you start throwing that around, it doesn't end up for anyone who claims to be anywhere close to what Steven Spielberg is and what he means to all of us. So I sort of immediately say, "No, no, no." I hopefully am myself and somebody who has a certain kind of film that I'm interesting in making. And I think that we share a certain set of priorities, he and I, as far as how much we love the audience and the way that I think we can have movies that have multiple different tones that are all functioning at once.
I grew up on these movies. So did you, and so did a lot of us. We have a certain love for this stuff that is unique in our generation. And I recognize that. Yet, my biggest fear going into this was it was going to be fan fiction; that it was going to be some kind of carbon copy of this thing that I love. If anybody wants to insult me or make me feel terrible, they'll say ,"It's just a giant rip-off of Jurassic Park."
I hope no one is saying that.
Colin: Someone is gonna.
Don't take this the wrong way - but what made you feel confident, or was there someone or something that made you feel confident, that you could undertake something this big and not be worried it would turn out that way?
Colin: No. I don't know man. I felt that the very fact that he asked me in the first place gave me the confidence to attack it. The first conversation we had was… I never said no, but I was very hesitant at first, because… a couple of reasons. One is that I do feel like a filmmaker needs to earn the street cred that they're given and not all right away, like over time. You make a series of films and they grow in their scope and scale, if that's even what you're interested in, but ideally they grow in their complexity and their success.
And to make that kind of a leap, I skipped four or five movies in between my first film and my second film. That was the first thing I said, was: "Look. I'm kinda being robbed of something to a certain extent here." And not to make it sound like a negative, but robbed of the ability and the time to make myself better and to get good, and just really, really good. And I have high standards for what good means. And I knew that in order to do it I would have to almost travel through time and direct the movie as myself 20 years and 4 movies from now, which is kinda what I had to do. I had to push confidence all the way to the border of arrogance without slipping over the edge into arrogance..
Were there any ideas you really wanted to include but learned you had to let go of, or realized "we just can't pull this off"? I've been reading about your rules, but I'm curious how you determined what was important, what wasn't and how it evolved through production.
Colin: Once we wrote that first draft and decided to push the movie to really make it as successful as it could be as a piece of storytelling. It was a long and very involved, challenging process - Derrick, Steven, and I on the phone having those kinds of transcribed phone calls that we've all read. You know, the ones they had on Raiders of the Lost Ark, I would get these transcriptions that looked exactly the same of our story and conversations. And it was those kinds of discussions: Why does this exist? Who is this person? What are the attributes that we can put into this animal that means something? What is this movie about? Those kinds of things led to the movie that we have now.
The only thing, just to give you a very specific answer, the one thing I can think of that I really loved that we didn't put in the movie was there was once scene where the Indominus Rex gets surprised by an animatronic T-Rex, like an animatronic that's in the park that they had. He bites its head off. So it's like a real dinosaur biting the head off a robot dinosaur. It looked so awesome. And Stephen was really against it. He was saying, "No. You are saying CGI dinosaurs are destroying Stan Winston's dinosaur." I was like, "Oh, no. that's not what I meant, but you're right. I don't want to say that at all." So we didn't do it. But, man, I'm telling you. That image was the coolest.
That would've been cool. It still seems like there are a few of those, "we just had to put this shot in here" kind of moments anyway…
Colin: Well, not because anyone had a gun to our head at all. I made the movie that I wanted to make. There certainly was no studio pulling strings. I didn't get a studio note on this movie. I answered to Stephen and that's where the notes came from. And it was a very collaborative, creative experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I'm so proud of the result. I loved making this movie. And I love this movie. I have no shame in saying that.
I'm impressed by the way you balance what would be a really entertaining, fun action movie, but also a smart movie that makes you think about ourselves at the same time…
Colin: Well it wouldn't be a Jurassic Park movie if I didn't do that.
That's what the first movie is all about. You could very easily lose track and deliver something that is pure fun, or has no fun. There's a great balance to it all of the characters and where the story goes with each of them, I was impressed.
Colin: Thank you. And in addition to that, it being something that does deal with certain themes. Hopefully, if it's just like a fluff piece, I wanted to make these scenes additionally emotional and to have characters that you not only care about, but you get truly engaged in what they are going through. And also, you know, to experiment with characters that are not all entirely likeable at first. That's something that I am very interested in. I did it in Safety Not Guaranteed and I did it here. I think Bryce Dallas Howard's character and Nick Robinson's character are both somewhat unlikeable at the beginning of the movie. They grow into characters that… I think you really love. And you are glad they changed in the direction that they did. That's something that's difficult, especially in a movie of this size and with actors who want to be portrayed as likeable at all times, usually. They were both very brave to allow me to do that.
I was also impressed by the cast, since it's such a massive cast and everyone gets their time, yet the story also keeps progressing. There's no time wasted on any of them in any scenes.
Colin: It's an ensemble piece. I think that's something that the marketing does not entirely communicate. Chris Pratt is awesome in the movie, but it's not just a Chris Pratt show. It's an ensemble of great actors.
How much of this was you saying, "I love these actors. I want them." And how much is it agents and marketing lining up?
Colin: None of that was a factor. I got to pick all these people. I gotta tell you, man. I remain shocked at the level of creative freedom I was given on this movie.
What's interesting hearing you say this now is how much it lines up with what we see in the movie.
Colin: Yeah. It is. I was actually frustrated when I mentioned that I wasn't planning on doing the sequel, which is always something Stephen and I agreed to a long time ago. I felt like the reaction when you hear something like that is one of three things—either I didn't have a good experience, the studio didn't have a good experience and fired me, or the movie is bad. And none of those things are true. It's really out of my love for this particular movie and how great an experience I had and how I just sincerely believe that this particular franchise is very difficult to sequelize. I think much like Mission Impossible, the best prescription in order to keep this thing going is to have a new voice every time to give us just a different take on something that does threaten to get pretty repetitive.
I agree. I'm already looking forward to the next one, thankfully because you have delivered something that's really satisfying to us so it makes the next one that much more appealing, bringing back the dino love that originally built up when Jurassic Park first came out.
Colin: There was a lot of unrequited dino love out there. It needed someplace to go.
Was there one moment or one character you really wanted to make sure you got right, or that it came out completely satisfactory to you in the end?
Colin: Bryce's character was a challenge, because she's the one who really changes over the course. The two boys, making sure that didn't dip into… the saccharine… was a tough balance. Pratt was pretty awesome from start to finish. This guy's rad. I felt like there was… On a story level it was a challenge for me to make some of the moves we were making. I follow your website and I know how people respond to the idea of a guy who trains raptors. I knew how that was going to shake out and I knew what we were going to do in the story. But I didn't want to reveal any of that. So you kinda have to take some hits. You have to take some bullets for the movie and be like, "Yep, yep. They're just friendly raptors the whole time."
That's interesting you mention, because you were just talking about creative control. Your creative control must end when it comes to marketing then, or at least with how much you want to make sure it gets out there… As a movie fan want to make sure that people have an experience in the theaters, but also they have to sell the movie. They have to make sure enough gets out there.
Colin: I would say that's arguably true. It entirely was a collaboration. And I worked very closely with them in cutting the Super Bowl trailer specifically, because I wanted that to be a certain way. But those guys very earnestly believe they know what it takes to get people to come to the theater to see this movie that we're making. Unfortunately, for any argument that I would ever present, they've been proven right time and time again, especially this year; they are just killing it. We live in a day and age where if you don't let an audience know what they are in for, they may not want to go. And we've seen that happen in response as well.
So that is a balance. It's a bit of a dance. In the end, I think the campaign that they put together has been really effective and clearly people want to go. If I ran the world we would show far less. But I don't.
I hear that a lot from filmmakers. They don't want to show anything from the film.
Colin: Well yeah, of course. It's like a magician telling everyone how you do your tricks on their way into the theater. Who wants to do that? I knew I wouldn't want to necessarily withhold everything, but there is a magic that Steven Spielberg's original movie had that was only enhanced by the fact that we did not know what we were going to go see, even though there was a book and we kind of knew. But there's moments in this movie that are in the trailer that are surprises, that are literal jump scare surprises that are in the trailer. My big fear is people are going to be like, "There's the part where that happens." But I've seen it with audiences. It's actually not what happens. People are so engaged that they don't really have time for their brain to process, necessarily, that this is the moment.
And marketing and I did collaborate in some ways to make people think they'd seen the moments and then realize that it's actually something very different that's happening. So there are surprises embedded throughout even the things that everyone has seen. They were also kind enough to keep my last 15 minutes for me, for all of us.
There was a kid at my screening, when it ended, who flipped out and was saying "This is what it's like to go to the movies again - people screaming, everyone watching it together…" And I thought, "yea, I'm glad someone else had that experience, too." I'm glad you've brought back that idea about "Hey, don't forget, this is all about all of us going to the theater together to watch this together."
Colin: Yeah it is. Movies are a shared experience. It's funny. I had to approve the Blu-Ray yesterday, the 3D Blu-Ray. So I watch it on this monitor and it looks spectacular. It just looks insane. The way we're able to watch things at home is that much less of an argument to go to a theater. But when you are in a theater with a movie like this and people are laughing, and screaming, and punching each other, that's a very special, very unique feeling. Personally, how much money this makes doesn't really affect me that much. I hope it makes them all of the money. I just want a lot of people to love it and I want people to go and share that experience together.
I think you've pulled that off. What are your plans for the future? Do you want to make bigger studio movies? Do you want to go back and make smaller movies? Where do you see yourself?
Colin: I want to do both of those things. I just want to be able to tell many different kinds of stories. I love big movies. And I love smaller films and medium sized films. I'm not a filmmaker who feels like, "Oh, I'm going to make one big one for them and then one small one for me." I can make a big one for me and a small one for me. That's really the hope. What is really important to me is I'm able to… I just want to make at least one or two of the movies that I probably should have made between these two movies, just so I can feel like I have a body of work that is diverse. The kinds of filmmakers that I love, they don't all hit homeruns every time. Sometimes they are a little weird. Sometimes they don't plan. But you want to go to the next one because you want to know what's going on in that guy or girl's brain right now. So that's all I can hope for.
You've totally sold me. I want to see the next six films you've made… Ha!…
Colin: Well, thanks, man. We got one. We got $12 per movie.
A very big thank you to Colin Trevorrow for taking the time to speak with me, and also thank you to Universal Pictures for arranging the interview.