There are certain films you watch thinking ‘how did they do that?’ or, more precisely, ‘how did they persuade anybody to do that?’. Into The Storm, a disaster movie to end all apocalyptic weather disaster movies, is one of them. Frankly, if The Sloth were a Hollywood actor and our agent proposed we shoot a movie involving tornadoes, hurricanes and torrential rain, we’d get ourselves a new agent. Fortunately, star Sarah Wayne Callies and director Steven Quale are made of sterner stuff. Brave or foolish? The Sloth found out…
Stephen, can you take me through what went into creating these massive tornadoes onscreen, in terms of both on-set effects and working with visual effects companies to bring them to life digitally?
As I did the research for this film, I found that tornadoes can be radically different. There are the really thin and narrow rope tornadoes. And then you’ve got the more traditional tornado, which we’re most familiar with. And then you have these mile-wide or two mile-wide wedge tornadoes, which are enormous tornadoes that can spin with rotational speeds as high as 300 miles-per-hour.
Then there is a fourth one, actually, the fire tornado, which is probably one of the most spectacular things in the film. It’s an absolutely true phenomenon, and it looks almost exactly like we depict it with our digital simulation.
Then, the difficult part was how do you create all that and do it in a photorealistic manner? So we took all our reference footage and showed it to the visual effects companies. These are probably some of the most difficult visual effects to accomplish because everybody knows what clouds look like, and everybody knows what trees look like blowing in the wind. It took a lot of effort and time, and many passes at watching it and tweaking it, because the way they create these tornadoes is through really complicated math procedures.
The big challenge was trying to use the artistic and the scientific methods, and having those two meld together. What we found was that to make the effects feel as real as possible, we had to have our principal photography shot in an overcast situation. So the solution was to get these giant construction cranes and put these silk screens on them, basically. Instead of having the silks be white, which you normally would use to bounce light off of, Brian Pearson, the cinematographer, came up with the idea of making the silks dark grey, like storm cloud color, so that dark grey light would bounce and block the sun, and create an overcast look directly over the actors.
Then the challenge for the actors was to endure the high speed of these hundred-mile-an-hour fans that are blowing in their faces. And when you stand in front of a rain tower that’s pouring rain on you, it’s bearable; you can deal with it. The problem is when you combine the two, now suddenly those raindrops are like projectiles going a hundred miles-an-hour, hitting you, like little needles hitting your face.’
You shot the movie using a variety of cameras, from SteadiCams to security cameras and iPhones. You even have cameras on the Titus, the storm-chasing vehicle in the film. What did you want to achieve using this shooting technique?
‘Interestingly enough, my take on this was that we have cameras and point-of-view shots that would traditionally be considered part of a ‘found footage’ movie. But I didn’t want that to be distracting for the audience. The irony of this film is that the entire movie was shot handheld. We didn’t have camera dollies or cranes or any of those techniques that you’d normally use in a movie. But the audience doesn’t notice. About halfway into it, you forget about the cameras and the ‘found footage’ aspect; it just becomes a movie. And we did that intentionally.
The biggest nightmare was trying to keep the cameras dry with all the rain pouring in, but the camera department did a wonderful job.’
Sarah, what was it like for you to work on such a stunt-heavy film? Did you do those stunts for real?
‘Oh, yeah. That was a part of the draw of the film for me. I showed up on the first day and they harnessed me up onto the wire and an hour later, we were just playing like children. The one thing they wouldn’t let me do is the fall just because insurance companies at a certain point stand up and say, ‘You can’t drop our female lead 20 feet onto concrete. We’re not going let you do it.’ I said, ‘Okay, fine.’
Part of the thing that’s great about that kind of work is there’s just no acting involved. Somebody puts you on a wire and yanks you backwards, there’s a hundred-mile-an-hour fan and a rain tower in your face, you don’t have to act scared. [Laughs] You’re right there. You’re scared. It’s pure adrenaline. And it was fun. It was really, really fun. The stunt coordinator and I talked about it afterwards. I was like, ‘Dude, let’s do a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where we just fly through the whole thing.’ [Laughs] I absolutely loved it.’
How about the special effects? I understand that the rain and the wind machines were there for about half the shoot?
‘Yeah. I read scripts differently now, which is to say I now look at a script and say, ‘Wait. I’m wet for how long? There’s how much rain in this thing?’ I just read the script and thought it was a great story and it wasn’t until we were actually in prep and I was breaking it down that I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’m going to be soaked to the skin for 45 days out of this filming.’
We had hundred-mile-an-hour fans, which you can’t really fathom. The first time they turned it on in front of me in a scene it blew me 20 feet off my mark. You could literally lean your full body weight into it and it would hold you up. And then they’d throw dirt and leaves into it so there’d be debris flying around. Then they turned the rain towers on and it certainly wasn’t comfortable, but, again, it saved us the indignity of trying to act like you’re in a tornado. You’re just there.’
Sarah, looking back at the experience, do you have an experience that was particularly memorable for you?
[Laughs] ‘Yeah. It’s not particularly serious but Richard (Armitage) and I were doing a scene in the weather van where we were both indoors but soaked to the skin. Then I took a deep breath and said, ‘Does it smell like a barn in here?’
He had on a cheap wool suit because his character would wear a cheap wool and when it got wet, he smelled like a wet sheep. And they can hear this conversation over the earphones. And the makeup artist came in and handed me a tube of Chap Stick that was bacon-flavored and said, ‘Put this on,’ and closed the door.
So, I was sitting there with my pig-smelling lips. Richard was here with his sheep-smelling suit and for the rest of the day, every time they cut, he would just turn to me and go, ‘Baaah!’
And we all think actors are overpaid… Now you’ve heard the theory straight from the horses’s mouth, let’s see the reality with a special behind the scenes video clip:
Into The Storm is available on Blu Ray and DVD on 15 December 214.