Sci-fi thriller “Chronicle” hits movies next week, and I was lucky enough to have a sit-down chat with director Josh Trank. “Chronicle” – his first full-length feature – tells the story of three teenagers who get super-powers, but then find their lives spinning out of control when they discover one is capable of using his powers to do terrible things.
On a side note- we got to sit in on a group Q&A with Josh and watch some sneak-peek clips of the film with him – our review of that will be posted up here in a couple of days!
So Josh, congratulations on the film!
Thank you so much.
And especially congratulations with it being your first feature film. What was it like to have your first feature become “Chronicle”?
It’s been surreal. I think I’ve been operating purely in tunnel vision, but it’s so exciting to have this opportunity – and when the opportunity became real about a year and a half ago when we sold the script, I knew it was a once in a lifetime kind of deal. So I’ve been operating, like I said, in a fight for my life, a fight for the movie with a real focus on making this the best movie I could possibly make.
What was your original vision for the film, and did it turn out exactly how you originally planned it?
You know, it really did. In a lot of ways it surpassed what my expectations and original hopes were. I had a very, very specific plan from the beginning. I did pre-vis and story-boarding for every single scene so that there was no question by the time we hit prep as to what we were going to be shooting. So I pretty much had everything pencilled out both on paper and in my head, like how the movie was going to look and feel and we were very strict about how we approached it.
It all started out with an idea I thought was really cool and really new and interesting. At the same time it touched on every movie I had ever loved growing up, so it was an idea that allowed me to comment on all of my influences, which is great as a young filmmaker. So when I realised it was timely enough that we could actually sell it – that it would be a practical kind of thing that the script could sell in the marketplace – we looked at it as a very pragmatic thing. No BS, we’re going to sell this movie, we’re going to shoot it, and we’re going to make it. So when you walk into the gates of 20th Century Fox you have to kind of put all that wonder behind you and go “I’m here for business”.
I have my plan in my pocket.
You’ve got your dream!
Yeah, my dream in my pocket, but I’ve got the approach like it’s a business thing. So we went in and Fox really loved the script and wanted to buy it, and to me I kept actually thinking “this couldn’t be real”. That I’d wake up in the morning and have to keep proving to everyone that I could do this. I wrote a very specific director’s manifesto, of how I was going to shoot it so the studio ha a really good idea of what I was about and what I saw the production for this movie. So they were immediately collaborating with me, and the directors [of Fox] were awesome and saw eye to eye with me and [screenwriter] Max Landis and we got to work right away. They were as determined as we were to make sure this movie made the light of day.
Because it hasn’t been a long process for you, has it? A year and a half- it’s come out so quickly!
It’s very quick. From the time that we sold it there was a 6 month development process, where we did the usual amount of studio notes and everything. We had to change the script to start with because it was a very hard “R” script; because it was written to be, you know, kids curse and say all kinds of horrible things. But then we had the challenge of “it needs to be PG-13” so to kind of go back to the script and re-write it, but maintain that authenticity of teenage vernacular. So that was a challenge in itself. And while we were doing that we did a lot of pre-vis work, I shot a test scene for the head of the studio, Tom Rothman, he wanted to see what the movie would look like in a glimpse. So I shot one scene from the film and went in and screened it for him. I was definitely a little nervous! But he saw the scene and that’s where we got the green light. It’ was just a 5 minute thing, we were tucked in a little theatre under the executive building, and just me, Stephen [Altman, cinematographer] and Tom.
Yeah we were like arghhhh. And then lights went up and he said ”This is terrific”, I had a huge sigh. And he goes “When can you start?” And I gave like a really pragmatic answer, I was like, “Well probably April or something”. And he said “Kid, when a studio head asks you when can you start, you say tomorrow!”
Yeah, you say now! So I was like, “Ok, we start tomorrow!” So within a week we had started the ball rolling with cast scouting and everything.
Have you enjoyed the process?
Yes, oh my god. It’s been my dream since I was like 2 to do this, so yeah I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve put my whole life into it, my everything into it. It’s my baby.
With the genre of the film being POV, found footage kind of film, did you get any inspiration from other films? Or any films you specifically wanted to make it different to?
I loved “Paranormal Activity”. I thought it was genius. I loved “Cloverfield”. I loved the hype they built up before it came out. It was the most exciting thing ever. You know, we knew there wasn’t a monster attacking New York, but the idea we could see and experience what that would look like from a bystander’s camera was a huge influence on me and the movie. As far as how could this be exciting it’s a little different, because it’s not over the course of one night or several months of things being documented, but it’s something that plays out like a teenage drama rooted in reality. So audiences are prepared to see a movie like this, so they’re expecting a lot.
The three lead actors are all young and reasonably new to the business, what was it like working with them?
Well, the three main guys are very close to my age – I’m 27, and Alex [Russell] is 25, Dane [DeHaan] is 25 and Michael [B. Jordan], I think is 23, so we were very close throughout the production. And I learned a lot from them. I don’t know how much they learned from me [laughs], but we really had a natural rapport with each other, so there was a lot of teamwork and all coming from the same place.
And talk me through the visual effects creation of the film – it’s certainly a key part of “Chronicle”. Working with a limited budget, how did you make that happen?
We wanted to make everything, from the biggest visual effect sequence in the film, to the smallest little itty bitty vis-effects moment of the film, to moments where there are no visual effects; to make everything look as consistent and as real as possible. We were trying to avoid digital where possible and keep everything practical. We would shoot plates using practical gags, and the collaborated very closely with this guy names Simon Hanson, a local in South Africa who’s one of the biggest geniuses I’ve ever met. So we worked through prep and production and attacked every single scene from a slightly different standpoint. And I think a more limited budget allows for more creative solutions to every problem in every scene.
And what would you like to see happen next? A sequel? What’s next for you?
I have no idea. I think just maybe a week off. Just one! Even a couple of days or something [laughs]. I don’t really know what’s next. I would love to continue down this path of making genre films with a more dramatic angle to them, so whenever that happened to be that’s what I’ll be doing next.