BMDQ&A: Colin Trevorrow, Director Of JURASSIC WORLD

How Trevorrow learned to stop worrying and love the blockbuster machine.

Few films are as self-aware as Jurassic World. The fourth entry in the franchise and a new attempt to raise it from extinction, Jurassic World is a movie that is constantly aware, and commenting upon itself. That comes directly from director Colin Trevorrow, who co-wrote the movie, and who described himself to me as being highly self-aware. 

Treverrow's previous big screen credit was the Sundance film Safety Not Guaranteed, and the choice to put him in the director's chair for a movie upon which Universal is banking billions seems weird. When I attended the junket for the film I expected to find Trevorrow displaying the usual pallid shell-shock of a filmmaker who just got spit out of the most vicious machine in Hollywood, the Blockbuster Device, but I found him instead to be happy, relaxed and friendly. Not only had the system not killed Colin Trevorrow, it had made him stronger. 

You’re making a movie that is, on some level, critiquing the modern blockbuster - the need to be louder, scarier, to have more - but at the same time you’re making a modern blockbuster. How do you take the thing you are critiquing and not become it?

I didn’t consciously think about that element of it, although I understand how it seems that way now. When we were writing it we were writing what we knew, which was that we have these release date and they’re going to make this thing whether it’s a good idea or not. We expanded it a little beyond the movies and made it about the last 22 years, and what have we seen again and again? We will repeat our mistakes if there is money to be made. The Indominus Rex became a monster made out of that desire for profit, a very dehumanizing monster. Yet I recognize that a giant mosasaurus eating a shark can represent the big new blockbuster eating the old little blockbuster.

When people saw that in the trailers it almost seemed like a statement of intent - here’s the big new dinosaur eating Jaws.

To people like us, who think about these things. I think we have to put that in context! But in the end part of what I hope the spell of the movie is is that you start to shed all the deconstructing you do in your head and start to enjoy it and regress to being a kid. The idea of giving us the Jurassic Park feeling is a nebulous idea, and how I defined it was abandoning the way we watch movies, the way we break things apart and let it wash over you and suck you in so that you actually have an experience - which is pretty hard to do these days.

That’s interesting because in a lot of ways the Jurassic World park feels like a place where it could be hard to have an experience. As opposed to the personal safari nature of the first park, this one is much more like a standard theme park - long lines, a food court full of familiar brands, overcrowding and tourists milling about. You’re criticizing the corporatizing of experiences from within a corporate structure. There’s a line in the movie: “The original park was much more legit” that comes during a discussion about the lameness of branding a dinosaur attraction as “Verizon Wireless Presents” - a name-drop that I am sure Verizon either paid for or had to approve.

They didn’t pay, but they did agree.

You’re making a big corporate movie that is taking on big corporate entertainment.

That was always the design, and it’s there in the main character of Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), who starts as a very corporatized human being, who is completely about not just the bottom line but is all about using these assets [the dinosaurs] to make a profit. There’s an impersonal nature to the way she looks at them in the same way that there’s an impersonal nature to how corporations look at the movies they’re making. As you and I talk about it it’s becoming more about the movies, but it was really meant to be a bit broader in what it was examining.

In the end, as she begins to shed all that and becomes her more human self and discovers the animal that is deep within, like I said, that dehumanizing force that is the need for profit - and it is a steamroller - and the desire to please the stockholders, and the need to please them will leave a lot of bodies in the wake. They say to write what you know, and this is what we were living every day writing this movie.

There’s this infographic making the rounds about the worker deaths during the construction of the Word Cup stadium in Qatar, and something like a thousand people have already died. Someone made an infographic lining up all these human figures to show the death toll, and someone else took those figures and used them to make the logos of the corporate sponsors. That feels very much like what you’re talking about here.

That’s our version of “don’t play god, don’t mess with nature.” We didn’t want to remake Jurassic Park, so what we felt like what we could address was our relationship with animals on the planet now. There’s a lot of talk in the movie about who is the alpha. We, as humans, walk around like we own the joint, even though we have only been here a fraction of the time the dinosaurs were. There’s a great humility in that. There’s a line that Irfan Khan’s character says - “Dinosaurs are here to remind us how small we are, and how new.” It’s not some kind of message movie - I feel like we’re talking about it like it’s a manifesto or screed! - but I do think it’s about these things, and if children will walk away with anything it’s that they recognize we are only the dominant species on this planet because of the time in which we exist, and the minute you put dinosaurs into the mix, that balance is going to tip.

You mentioned Claire as the main character which, for anybody who is familiar with the movie only through the marketing, will find surprising. The marketing is pushing Pratt very heavily.

It’s her story. It starts with her, and she’s the one who changes and acts with great bravery. I understand why that choice was made and, honestly man, a lot of surprises are taken away from a filmmaker. You’ve talked to filmmakers, and you know what a common gripe this is. To me the surprise of the movie is what it’s like and what it’s about and what it is. That’s all I’ve been left with, in a lot of was - but I’m okay with that. It’s cool to have your surprise be what the tone is… and that it’s not terrible, that’s the surprise of the movie!

I’ve been told that one of the biggest challenges facing indie directors making the leap to big movies is that they can no longer micromanage, that it’s hard for them to trust the studio filmmaking machine on which they sit and allow decisions to be made without them. The productions are so enormous that you simply cannot have a finger in every pot.

There are many more pots on a movie this size. It was maybe a little easier for me because it’s part of my style to empower everyone to be creative and to invent. One of the first things I said when we got on set was, “I know you know how to do your jobs better than I know how to do your jobs - and know that I know that, and be brave and be aggressive in your suggestions of what we should be doing.” It helped me learn at a rapid pace. If I had any super power it’s the guy on Heroes who was able to take other superheroes and put them in his brain.

He was a bad guy.

I guess I’m a villain in this scenario! I’m the best when you throw me in the deep end of the pool and I have to learn at a rapid pace. I was lucky to be surrounded by great men and women who know how to do what they do very well. And they were some of the best in the world, because Jurassic Park means so much to so many people, especially the animators at ILM - for many of them Jurassic Park was the movie that got them into the business.

I have heard of filmmakers fundamentally flaming out when making movies of this scope. But it sounds like for you the experience of being in this big franchise system has been much more positive.

It was positive. This has been, by far, the most creatively fulfilling experience of my career. I remember back at the beginning talking to Sciretta and the guys at Slashfilm when we had some leaks, and I took full responsibility for it then. I knew that [Universal] was giving me a level of freedom that was almost unprecedented on a movie of this size and especially with someone with my level of experience. Steven Spielberg was putting up the wall and saying, let him do what he wants to do. So I wanted to get out there early and say, “If this is terrible look to me, it’s my fault. But in success, look to everyone.” There are literally 3000 people who have made this film what it is… but it’s a surprisingly personal film. It hasn’t turned me off making large scale movies, especially if they can go as well as this. And I know it won’t always be that way. I know this one was special. That might be one of the reasons I don’t plan to direct another Jurassic World, because this was such a good experience. Although I do plan to stay involved creatively. But no, man, I do not feel exhausted. I feel very invigorated by this, and it’s given me confidence.

I don’t know how much of this is conscious, but this movie has an intriguing relationship with the original. You have a lot of echoes and reversals, starting with the fact that the first dinosaur we see in this movie is the apatosaurus, just like in Jurassic Park… except this time it’s a hologram, a fake. There’s a reversal of the scene where Dr. Grant and the kids watch the apatosaur as it lives its life, where Pratt and Dallas-Howard watch one die. And the kids find the original vistor’s center and use the iconic “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” banner as a torch - burning it!

I was hyper-aware of all of it. Some of what you mentioned was designed, and some of it just came from an instinct. I always knew this movie would have an interesting relationship because it isn’t a sequel or a reboot or a remake, it’s all of those things in a strange way. My third rail was being derivative and making a carbon copy of Jurassic Park. If anyone wants to insult me, that’s what they can tell me I did! It was my worst fear.

It felt like an opportunity to make a descendent of a certain kind of movie we all care about. I think filmmakers are going to be tasked with that a lot, because they’re going to keep making these movies. We’re realizing now the value of these stories from this group of creators at this time when we were young. They’re being given the same weight as Peter Pan and Oliver Twist and fairy tales and legends, and things that have stood the test of time. That’s why we’re seeing them not so much get remade but expanded upon -

Revisited and remixed.

Remixed is an interesting word. People in our generation has a little bit of a remix quality to our filmmaking in the same way that hip hop functions. Kanye is going to take an Otis Redding track and he’s going to use it and recognize that it is truly great and then build something new that is also great. I think recognizing that, and embracing it, is what can make our work vital as well.

Your attitude towards this is fascinating and different from a lot people in your generation, especially those who have come out of Sundance. For a lot of filmmakers these franchise movies are just treading the same ground, they’re bankrupt creatively, but your vision of this is that we’re going back to a terrific creative well and allowing that to inform us as we make new art.

I agree. Well said.

But has that always been your attitude, or is that the result of your time in the big franchise machine?

It’s an opinion I have formed based on my experience over the last couple of years. I don’t know if I felt that way when I went into it; when I went into it I had a real lunchpail mentality, where I had been given this job and I would do this job. I had Derek Connolly with me, and Derek and I are kind of a hive mind and we function in a way where we hold each other’s feet to the fire in a way that is creatively healthy. Then we had Steven, who was pushing forward and making sure we were changing and inventing. It is, and it should be, a priority of all these men - and hopefully women, once we get our shit together - as we tell these stories to recognize the breadth and the depth of these universes and the themes that are inherent to them and to try to push the walls out.

We’re all the kid in Time Bandits, trying to make the room bigger.