What’s filmmaker Colin Trevorrow doing at the moment? Well, he co-wrote and directed a little film called “Jurassic World” last year that became the third highest grossing film of all time (now it’s fourth thanks to “‘Stars Wars: The Force Awakens’; but nothing to sneeze at). Making the movie all the more impressive is that it came on the heels of his directorial debut, the micro-budgeted Sundance indie and Independent Spirit Award winner “Safety Not Guaranteed.” If you want to talk successful indie leaps to blockbusters, Trevorrow’s jump was Evel Knievel-esque: it was one of the strongest, most daring, and record-breaking vaults in film history.
And though Trevorrow ascended into the A-list ranks of sought-after talent nearly immediately (he’s also helming “Star Wars: Episode IX,”), the director feels like he’s an indie filmmaker at heart. So, for his follow-up to one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Trevorrow has changed gears and gone back to his roots for “The Book Of Henry.”
A drama and thriller, written by crime novelist and comic book writer Gregg Hurtwitz, “The Book Of Henry” centers on story of a single mother (Naomi Watts) who is raising two boys, one of whom is a genius. The casting of the young kids is pretty impressive too with Jacob Tremblay of “Room” in the role of the lead boy and the equally talented Jaden Lieberher (“Midnight Special”) playing his brother. The lead cast is rounded out by up-and-coming young actress Maddie Ziegler.
Taking time out of his editing schedule, Trevorrow spoke to The Playlist about “The Book Of Henry,” returning to smaller scale films, the importance of retaining your independence and more. There’s no release date for “The Book Of Henry” just yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you see it on the fall film festival circuit first.
So what was it like going from a huge-scale production, back to a small-scale one?
It was more challenging in certain ways. “The Book of Henry” was a small production, but the story feels epic to me. I tend to judge scale by how much happens to the characters internally, the scope of their journey. For me, the most epic films of last year were “Creed” and “Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
What was the impulse to tell this smaller-scale story?
The choice was both creative and personal. I connected to this screenplay several years back and it never let me go. And honestly, I wanted to make the movie I felt I should have made between my first two. I think it’s important for filmmakers to build trust with an audience, to create a relationship.
What’s the difference between small indie crews and larger-scale Hollywood crews? There must be some great aspects to huge crews and all those tools on a big budget film.
We didn’t have the expensive toys. There wasn’t a 50 ft. Technocrane on hand every day. It was an acoustic movie. We had to go back to the fundamentals. We challenged ourselves to tell as much story with a single image as possible. But we had the luxury of the best crew in New York. Everybody showed up and crushed it.
Do you personally pick your crews? If so, what are you looking for?
I choose department heads and rely on them to build their crews. On ‘Henry,’ it was a mix of people I’d worked with before and some new faces. Our Production Designer, Kalina Ivanov, is a true artist. She did “Grey Gardens” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” beautifully designed movies. Melissa Toth did the costumes on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” A couple keys from “Jurassic World” came out. John Schwartzman shot it. Kevin Stitt cut it. Luca Kouimelis is a great script supervisor who is also a kind of stealth creative advisor for me. Michael Giacchino scored the film. I feel very fortunate — it’s rare for people at that level to do a smaller independent movie. But if the story has purpose, they’ll do it.
Which size film do you prefer?
I get a lot out of both. There are challenges to both. I had more moments of self-doubt on “The Book of Henry” than I ever did on “Jurassic World,” because the tone had such a small bullseye. But that’s what drew me to it in the first place. If something feels too easy, I’m doing it wrong.
In your mind, what is this new movie really about beyond the log-line?
For me, it’s about the moment when you become a parent. That moment doesn’t always happen when your children are born. It can happen years later, sometimes decades. The story is about a single mother who relies on her genius child to handle the complexities of adult life, and how that dynamic changes when she has to do something unimaginable to protect another child in danger. It plays out as suspense thriller between two houses, but ultimately it’s a very emotional film.
What motivated you to do an independent film after “Jurassic World”? You could have easily done the sequel or any number of blockbusters afterwords. The world was likely your oyster.
I’m an independent filmmaker. That hasn’t changed. Big movies like “Jurassic World” are designed to be enjoyed by a vast range of people from all over the planet — all ages, all points of view. Hopefully a movie like that can still act as a Trojan horse for ideas about the world we live in — our reliance on technology over instinct, the dehumanizing nature of profit, the unethical treatment of animals, the lack of humility in the face of nature’s most magnificent creatures. But a movie like “The Book of Henry” isn’t expected to crack a billion worldwide. It gets to serve a more specific audience — adults, especially adults who are parents. You could say it’s a risky move to do an independent film, but it’s my job to put myself on the line creatively. I could take my bucket of coins and back out of the casino, but I wasn’t raised that way. Sounds like you weren’t either.
While not quite always indies per say, Christopher Nolan went back to do an original project between each Batman film. Is that an approach that might interest you?
I’ll always want to tell original stories, but I’m also interested in producing work by other directors and supporting talented people I believe in. I’ve been able to do that on a couple projects this year and it’s been really gratifying.
Do you want to give any teases of what to expect from ‘Star Wars IX’?
My family and I are about to leave our home in Vermont and move to England so I can immerse myself in the galaxy I grew up in. But it’s not my place to talk about it just yet. One story at a time.
The last time we talked you weren’t sure how involved in “Jurassic World 2” you’ll be. What should we expect?
We’re moving it into new territory. J.A. Bayona is an incredible director and I know he’ll push the boundaries of what a ‘Jurassic’ movie is. I think it’s important that we take risks. A franchise must evolve or perish.
— Colin Trevorrow (@colintrevorrow) October 5, 2015
— Jacob Tremblay (@JacobTremblay) May 4, 2016