Interview: Colin Trevorrow on THE BOOK OF HENRY, JURASSIC criticism, and STAR WARS Ep IX

Interview: Colin Trevorrow on THE BOOK OF HENRY, JURASSIC criticism, and STAR WARS Ep IX

Director Colin Trevorrow has experience¬†a rather incredible career in a very short period of time, making a splash with his feature directorial debut of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED in 2012, which earned him the job of helming JURASSIC WORLD. The latter became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and led to him getting an even bigger gig… directing STAR WARS: EPISODE IX for Disney and Lucasfilm, a project he goes to work on full force (no pun intended) next year. In between his two biggest productions, he found time to shoot a more intimate and personal story in THE BOOK OF HENRY, which opens this weekend. I had a chance to sit down with Colin and talk about the new film, his feelings on the criticism of JURASSIC WORLD, and his thoughts on taking on something as big as STAR WARS. It’s a rather candid and fun interview with one of Hollywood’s most talked-about directors, and I was honored he spoke so openly with me. Check out his comments below and look for THE BOOK OF HENRY in theaters this weekend. I posted Ronnie Malik’s review here on the site, as it might have appeared biased for me to post one since I had so much interaction with Colin, but I can honestly say I loved the film… and in my opinion, it’s easily one of the best to come out this year. Many thanks to the fine folks at Focus Features for setting this up.

Mark: I was looking at Twitter last night and Facebook, and I saw people were posting a lot of good comments… not just here, but like it other cities you’ve been going to.

Colin: Yeah, it’s playing GREAT. It’s playing great. And I didn’t know whether that was going to happen on not. You can’t… for a movie that takes as many risks as this one does, I mean it could have been a disaster. I’ve had moments of abject terror throughout this process, of how this is going to go down. And in the end I just have trust my instincts that people want to see original stories that don’t pander to them, that will challenge them. I’m actually most interested in seeing how the fan community for both JURASSIC and STAR WARS reacts. I feel like there’s this assumption that ‘fanboys’ just love certain kinds of movies, but it’s not true… we just love movies.

Mark: No, absolutely!

Colin: We love all kinds of movies.

Mark: Well when were in the Q&A last night and I asked you the question about the feeling it evokes, it really does make me think of not just Amblin era, but… when I was a kid, and when you went to see a PG family movie, it still had adult themes in it, it still had serious stuff in it that was maybe a little more heavy than what you would think of as family fare. But it made me think of that 1980s era family film that you could take the whole family to, and even if it had those heavy themes it was still something you could discuss later. And I think that’s really where it excels.

Colin: There’s a movie I was thinking of recently that had like the most… I can’t believe it was considered a “family” movie… SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.

Mark: Oh yeah!

Colin: So scary! (we’re both laughing)

Mark: I know, I’ll never forget, my first experience with that film was going with my parents to Disneyworld, and watching it on the Disney Channel, and being scared out of my mind. Because I watched it right before I went to bed. And the visuals of it, still to this day, they haunt me… when I think about that merry go-round…

Colin: Second scariest movie next to CHITTY-CHITTY-BANG-BANG, which is the scariest movie of all time. (we both chuckle) But beyond that, the scariest Disney ever got.

Mark: One thing I did want to ask you about, and we briefly talked about it last night, I was talking about how much I loved that tree house, which you said was not in the original version of the script.

Colin: Yeah.

Mark: So when abouts did that come along and who put that together and conceptualized it?

Colin: Sure, well in the process of working the script with Gregg, I didn’t type any of it, I didn’t write any of it, I wanted it to be a consistent voice, but I just gave him kind of a template… I’m a writer myself, with very specific “This is a version of this I see, can we work together and try and find it.” And that was part of it, because I think with a movie with this budget especially, you have to tell as much story as possible with as few images as possible within each image as possible. The idea of there’s a very iconic image, and a mom in a tree house with a sniper rifle, you just hear that and that’s like… crazy.

Mark: Childhood innocence going away, yeah.

Colin: So trying to find as many of those… that’s what I do in movies, but especially for this, that kind of iconic imagery really matters and the other major thread that I brought to it was keeping him in the story, the headphones and the voice wasn’t an element. So really everything, and the talent show and the dancing, everything you’re seeing come together there is part of what we put together of… he’s speaking to her with admission and this other thing happening simultaneously. I saw a way to cut that together that would give you that sense of edge-of-your-seat suspense that “big” movies give you, in this context of this tiny $10 million movie. I knew with Kevin Stitt cutting the movie, with Michael Giacchino doing the music, that we could make something pretty indelible if it all goes well. And I love that. I think that part of the movie… it’s some virtuoso editing, man, and Kevin just destroyed it.

Mark: Well I just love the little touches, like the fire truck door, and the refrigerator door that still has the jars of milk in it.

Colin: Yeah, well that was Kalina Ivanov, who is our production designer, and I talked about it for a while, and I just threw ideas out. She started just going to markets and just collecting stuff, pieces of it. We had this real little warehouse, it was in New York City so it was like storage garage kind of stuff. She’d be like “I found a tuba! What can we do with it?” And I’d say “I don’t know, through it in the box!” It started to come together and she made a beautiful little paper cut out model which I have in my home now in England, that she designed… she’s done a lot of theater in New York. It feels almost like stage craft. But a bunch of guys with hammers and nails went out and built that in the middle of a forest, for real, and it’s 360 all-around, there’s no paper on the back of it. You see every side. I even added a couple additional moments, just to make sure we got as play out of it as possible. But to me, it ended up representing the safety of childhood. It ended up being a character of its own.

Mark: There’s so many things in there, even the idea of a refrigerator doors with milk jugs in it is something from my childhood I think of. You have those strong visuals in your head, and yeah, I guess it would create a comfort level to have that be the door you walk into the tree house with. You also said something last night about bringing a lot of your own childhood into the aesthetic sense of the film and whatnot. What were some of the biggest thing you brought from your own childhood into this?

Colin: I mean, mostly that sense of like, riding you bike around alone with a mission only you understood.

Mark: Right. (we both laugh)

Colin: …feeling safe, you know. That little section of the movie where he finally decides he’s going to put together a plan, and he goes to all these places that if you ever see the movie again, you’ll first of all see that the entire movie is laid out in the opening animated sequence as it happens. And later in as he’s buying the book and he goes to the bridge and all these places that you’re going to see later on at night. I found that sense of “I have to accomplish something today and I know what it is and it makes sense to me, and I’m going to ride around this town until I pull it off.” There’s something magical about that feeling. I don’t know if my kid could do that today. Just get hit by a car, I mean the streets in England are too tight anyway, you couldn’t… but just in general, I don’t know if you have kids but there’s a sense of a lack of security that we all feel because of the world we live in for so many ways, and I feel like all of those are lumped into one movie that probably should be a pretty stressful and horrifying watch, but because of these performances, because of the warmth of it… it isn’t.

Mark: Yeah, you know I think about all the places I used to ride my bike as a kid, and… I don’t have kids, but if I had kids today, I wouldn’t just let my kid ride off on a bike because who knows where they’d end up?!

Colin: Exactly.

Mark: It’s definitely a different mentality now than it was before. You mentioned Michael Giacchino, who is one of my favorite composers, and you guys have obviously worked together on JURASSIC WORLD. When you go from something like that to something like this, had you built up enough of a trust level where you knew you didn’t have to necessarily dictate how you wanted the sound of the score, like you knew he was just going to come up with it? Is there a nice trust level there?

Colin: There is, I don’t really do that with him anyway. We have a process, he has a music supervisor that works for him that comes to our cutting room and actually moved to Vermont, because that’s where I cut it for several months, who layers in other pieces of Michael’s scores over the film. So there will be like some LOST, and INTO DARKNESS, and all these pieces… and it will make it work for us, and then Michael will watch the movie. He says that he listens to it with our temp score, but if you get a couple of beers in him he’ll admit that he doesn’t… he’ll just want to go and feel it himself. So as a result of that, sometimes I’ll hear a version of exactly what I thought will be there, and then I’ll hear something completely different, and then of course initially I’ll be like “Ah, no!” But I do trust him, so I’ll let it sit, and even last night as I’ve been watching the movie – I haven’t seen it for a couple of months – there’s cues that I always felt like “Well this isn’t exactly what I would have wanted” and now I love them. So I trust him enough to even ignore my own instincts.

Mark: Well it’s interesting because it is, especially for him, it’s a much more intimate-feeling score. We’re used to hearing him do kind of these loud bombastic, epic types of scores. So hearing him do that, it reminded me of the first time I heard Danny Elfman do a small score, I was like “Oh, he can do this too.” Yeah, he’s just so diversified in his projects, it’s really amazing.

Colin: He didn’t do it as a favor, he did it because it was a challenge. And he really, he saw the movie, he read the script and was like “I’m in! This is what I need to do right now.” It’s a pretty sparse score, it will come out next week and people can listen to it. He did something he normally would only do with Pixar movies which is establish a theme, and then repeat it in various ways, like the theme that plays over the opening credits. But then he subverts it and puts it into minor keys and changes it as the movie changes. What he does at the end… it’s out of control, that ten minute sequence is pretty incredible.

Mark: One thing I think is really interesting about your career, just looking over the past few years, when you go from something like SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED to JURASSIC WORLD, and then to doing this, and of course your next movie is STAR WARS… do you imagine yourself being able to kind of keep that sort of momentum going, to be able to do a giant movie but then still be able to come back and do something that’s like an intimate personal story… is that what you want to do, or where do you see yourself kind of going from here?

Colin: I think my real priority is to make original movies. I think the size of it will be more dictated by the story I want to tell, and yet the fact that I was able to do JURASSIC WORLD, obviously the fact that I have the gift of being able to be a custodian for STAR WARS is something I take very seriously, equally seriously, and yet I feel like almost for the sake of those other things, especially for the sake of STAR WARS, I need people who need to trust me, and need to feel like I have the right priorities to tackle something that is as emotionally challenging as the end of STAR WARS, to see where my instincts are, to understand my desire to take risks to introduce characters that are flawed, that learn and change… these are the things we need in our stories. So there was a little bit of that in this. To send a clear message to anyone who may have seen JURASSIC WORLD and questioned whether that was the voice they wanted behind STAR WARS, that look, check this out, and let’s talk about it.

Mark: Yeah, if you can handle a smaller movie with big character development, that speaks greatly to what you can do from there. The main reason I asked it because we do see a lot of directors to where it seems like when they get to those bigger movies, they do quite go back to something like this. So I was just curious if that was something you’ve thought about. Do you always want have that freedom to come back and do these kinds of films… it sounds like you do.

Colin: I think I will. You know, I think, obviously those who rely on movies to make their corporations giant amounts of money would prefer if I can pull off these larger things that I do that, but this is a Focus movie which is Universal, and I’ve delivered on JURASSIC WORLD 2 for them when it comes to conceiving of where that franchise is going to go, and I’ve delivered a director who is doing an extraordinary job and make it his own, so these relationships with the studios can go beyond actually directing the movie, it’s guiding the way the story is going to go, and in the case of my relationship with Steven (Spielberg), you know, giving longevity to something that has proven in the past to have diminishing returns – said as politely and politically as I can. We’re all capable of… the best filmmakers are capable of making bad movies, the ones I’m interested in seeing. If I can be the kind of filmmaker where people are just interested in what I have to say and what I’m thinking? All the filmmakers I love are those kind of people, where I may not have liked his last movie but I’m going to go see his next movie… I want to see what he’s thinking about this year.

Mark: Absolutely. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least ask you… because I know you can’t really talk about specifics when it comes to STAR WARS, but just the fact that it is looming as your next project, is it a little nerve-wracking knowing that you’re having to take on something that is so big and so iconic and ingrained in society the way that it is? I mean just from a filmmaker perspective, I imagine, having that kind of weight on your shoulders is a little bit stressful.

Colin: Yeah, but not as stressful as this! THIS was stressful. There was a moment after…

Mark: It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?

Colin: It’s just what happens. When I finished JURASSIC and I was on the cusp of doing this… I started shooting this just a couple of months after JURASSIC was over, I was with my family and we were in my wife’s village, and I remember, I approached anxiety for the first time in my life. I’m not an anxious person, and the process of this kind of freaked me out for a second. Because, you know, I had won a bunch of chips in the casino, and like I said I’m just slowly backing out before security caught me… I always feel like i’m underage when I’m gambling in this world… I went in and laid it back on the table. I did feel like I had something to prove, and you wouldn’t think… JURASSIC WORLD was successful enough you wouldn’t think that director had something to prove, but I felt… I really felt that I did. I didn’t respond well to the criticisms of that movie because I felt like “These people don’t know me, they don’t know what I stand for, and I need to communicate that.” I need to demonstrate that, or else no one is going to trust me to go on and take on the thing that we all love.

Mark: But you were also the first guy to make a JURASSIC PARK movie… I don’t know the nicest way to say this, but in this internet age of everyone wanting to hate something immediately.

Colin: Sure.

Mark: So you have to also reason that into it, and know that’s it’s not necessarily that you didn’t do it right, it’s just that everyone want to criticize everything like right now.

Colin: I can know that intellectually, but emotionally? It’s not how it plays.

Mark: It’s hard when you read the reviews, I get it.

Colin: It was actually that it ended up… it was a pretty well-reviewed movie as far as movies of that size go, but what I mean is that’s not the stuff. You have to treat people’s childhood memories delicately. And WE are a generation where the movies of that childhood are engrained into that experience and into our memories, so there’s a sense of violation if you feel or sense that someone has tampered with your memories. And I think… I just get it. If somebody gets angry because it felt like it was a JURASSIC WORLD for a 9-year-old as opposed to them… well they’re right first of all, it was for a new generation, it was for our kids, but I get where they’re coming from. I was a kid who… I loved the same movies.

Mark: Well we’re also of an age where we’re having to realize more and more that when it comes to these types of movies, the sequels and the reboots are not necessarily made for us…

Colin: They are literally not. (laughs)

Mark: They’re made for a new generation of people, and sometimes you have to play it safe because if you don’t, you run the risk of making it even worse. And I think that what you did with JURASSIC WORLD, in my opinion, was you found the most sensible way to recapture that same type of fandom. Had you gone in a much different direction with you could have risked people saying “Well that just ruined the franchise.” Bottom line is it’s still one of the most successful movies ever made!

Colin: It did very well, and when you look at that, it’s not just that everybody went on opening weekend, people kept going back and back and back… and even on it’s opening weekend, it wasn’t the biggest Thursday ever, it wasn’t the biggest Friday ever… it’s the biggest Saturday ever.

Mark: Right.

Colin: And it’s because people told each other “Go have this experience, you’re going to feel like your 9 years old for two hours and in this world where you have to feel like an adult because it’s terrible, mostly, go get away from that for a second. That said, I feel like the positive result of that is with the second one, we can make it more complex, we can make it deeper and richer and that’s what we’re doing.

Mark: And at the same time that kind of, in a way, connects with STAR WARS. People’s biggest criticism of THE FORCE AWAKENS was they felt like it was the same movie they had already seen, in a weird way. But at the same time I’d say yeah, but you’ve got to figure out a way to pull everybody back in, especially after the prequels, you’ve gotta save face, and sometimes saving face means you have to do things a certain way, and it’s going to piss certain people off, but the grander picture of what it does for the actual franchise I think is more meaningful at that point.

Colin: There were things in JURASSIC WORLD that I couldn’t imagine anyone would ever think would be in a JURASSIC PARK movie, and when we first saw them were completely bonkers, like in that first trailer… “Dude’s on a motorcycle with raptors, how is this going to make any sense?!” And so I feel like part of that is making something that’s going to appeal to kids now, who are just different than we were. It’s the conversation we were having in the beginning. We grew up in a world where you could ride your bike around and feel safe. These kids grew up in a different universe, and you have to listen to them and adjust based on the world that they know. It’s interesting, they’ve give me… when you get into marketing, especially for a sequel, they give me these spreadsheets that say “Look, here are the age ranges, and if you are between 5 and 25, JURASSIC WORLD is your movie. Once you get to 30 to 50, JURASSIC PARK is your movie.” And that makes a lot of sense, but it’s actually really telling that like for an 8-year-old kid, you might watch JURASSIC PARK and feel that it moves a little slow, or that the characters just run the whole time and don’t go on the offense, these are thngs that you need. And I totally understand how an adult can be like “This isn’t my JURASSIC PARK, get the hell out of here!” Totally get it, but this is the job I’ve been given.

Mark: Well just to put a button on this, do you have… when you get through with STAR WARS, do you have another sort of smaller and more intimate idea looking for maybe a new project? Do you have something you want to do, a story you want to tell that’s maybe a more personal type of story that could potentially follow what you do next?

Colin: I don’t… I don’t, actually. I wish I did, you know, I feel like…

Mark: Something tells me you’re going to need a break!

Colin: I might… I may just walk the earth! I might just grow a long beard and walk through the deserts of Spain. I should take a break, and my children are of a certain age to where I may just take a second, because I’m gonna miss it. In the end I feel like a story just tells you that you have to… it draws your attention, you have a gut feeling, that I have to tell the story against all odds or all logic and rationale. And I know that will come along. I’m so eager to hear the new stories that are coming out of newer and younger voices… I’ve been active in helping younger people find their careers and give them opportunities and also, in a selfish way, you know, there’s gonna be a screenplay written by someone who is 12 now that I’m going to want to make.

Mark: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Colin: So yeah, keep trying. Just got to keep it up.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.