Colin Trevorrow, who was in Cleveland this week promoting his latest film, is the little director who could.
Hollywood handicappers were aghast in 2013 when he was handed the reins to Jurassic World, the long-delayed sequel in the dinosaurs-gone-wild franchise. His previous feature, the quirky indie comedy-drama Safety Not Guaranteed, had cost about $750,000 to make and hauled in $4 million at the box office.
Jurassic World’s budget was north of $150 million, and Trevorrow would be following in the Tyrannosaurus-sized footsteps of Steven Spielberg. When the release date was delayed a year, it sounded like the quintessential “troubled” project.
In June 2015, Jurassic World, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, debuted and went on to earn $1.6 billion worldwide and become the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar and Titanic.
Trevorrow had the last laugh. After wowing the movie world and proving all the experts wrong, what do you do for an encore?
Well, three things.
• He co-wrote the Jurassic World sequel, which will hit theaters in June 2018.
• He was hired to direct Star Wars: Episode IX, which he is also co-writing and which starts filming early next year. When it is released, in May 2019, it will conclude the epic space saga’s third of three trilogies. No pressure there.
• He made a small-budget film based on a script he loves and has wanted to direct for years. Its title: The Book of Henry.
Lacking a huge marketing budget, Trevorrow decided to hit the road for a series of screenings and audience Q&As in New York, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Dallas and Los Angeles.
I caught up with him at the Hilton in Cleveland on Tuesday before he zipped down to the Cinemark in Valley View for what would be the first public screening of The Book of Henry. It opens nationwide next Friday. (Look for our review next Thursday in the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com.)
The bearded, bespectacled Trevorrow, 40, is friendly and easygoing. He grew up in Oakland and San Francisco. He and his wife, Isabelle, who have two young children, recently moved to England.
The Book of Henry, written by novelist Gregg Hurwitz, is kind of the anti-summer movie. It is not a sequel and features no superheroes. It stars Naomi Watts as the single mother of two boys, the adorable Peter (Jacob Tremblay of Room) and the exceedingly smart, 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher of St. Vincent). Henry is such a sensitive soul that he realizes something dark is unfolding in the house next door where his friend Christina (Maddie Ziegler) lives with her stepfather.
In many ways, it is an old-fashioned family drama. But then it suddenly turns into a thriller. How does a director keep those two tones balanced?
“Very, very carefully,” said Trevorrow. “You have to think about the tone every step of the way. That happens in the screenwriting process, and then as we were shooting, constantly making adjustments, and all the way through. It’s not just in the editing, but even after we’d test-screened it, we made changes. There’s something you can feel, how a movie is going when you sit in the middle of a crowd.”
The Book of Henry also serves as a lesson in helping your neighbor.
“We all have a lot of fear and a lot of anger right now. I think this film is a parable for that fear and anger. And I think the need for safety for our children is a really universal idea,” he said.
With his resume suddenly loaded with blockbusters, Trevorrow felt the need to tell a more human story, a nonfranchise, nonsequel.
“Part of my job at the moment is to give myself an identity by making something original,” he said. “The audience has a relationship with filmmakers and they want to know what they stand for and what kinds of stories they’ll be telling, especially if it’s something they care about so deeply, like Jurassic World and Star Wars. Part of me needed to make this particular story and part of me needed to make an original story.”
Watts had high praise for Trevorrow, calling him “a real actor’s director” in the film’s press materials. “He has a clarity of vision, and so many ideas, yet he makes an actor feel safe enough to try anything and everything,” she said.
How do you create that “safe zone” for actors?
“We have a lot of conversations about where they are at any given moment,” said Trevorrow. “And having observed, a little bit, other directors working, sometimes actors can feel all alone out there. They’re surrounded by lights and the camera. Sometimes they don’t even see the director, he’s behind a monitor 20 feet away and an AD [assistant director] is calling out communications to them. I make sure I walk out there and sit with them between takes and make sure we are communicating.”
From Cleveland, Trevorrow was heading to Minneapolis, then Dallas. “I genuinely believe in this movie and think it will connect with people outside of New York and L.A.,” he said.
It’s a far cry from the miles of international red carpets he’ll be walking on behalf of Star Wars, and light years removed from the mega-budgets of the Jurassic and Star Wars universes.
“We didn’t have a big budget,” he said. And because The Book of Henry was shot on actual 35 mm film (as opposed to digital), guided by cinematographer John Schwartzman, “it has more of a time-capsule feel. It does not look like a slick movie made today.”
“It was also the way we shot it. John and I would always reference Tin Cup. Remember that round of golf Kevin Costner played with just a shovel? That was us in this movie,” he said.
“We’re going to see if we can win with just a shovel.”
Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies .