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Twister Director Jan de Bont Didn’t Get Call About Sequel

Twister Director Jan de Bont Didn’t Get Call About Sequel

Twister Director Jan de Bont Didn’t Get Call About Sequel

Fresh off the 30th anniversary of his all-time great actioner, Speed, filmmaker Jan de Bont is now turning his attention to his highly successful sophomore effort, Twister. On July 9, the Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt-led disaster film will be made available on 4K Ultra HD for the very first time, whetting the audience’s appetite for July 19th’s long-awaited sequel, Twisters. The original 1996 film allowed the Dutch director to pick up where he left off with Speed and deliver yet another intense thrill ride that swapped Los Angeles freeways for Oklahoma highways. And instead of a bus that’s trying to outrun its own ticking time bomb, Paxton and Hunt’s storm chaser characters doggedly pursue immensely powerful tornadoes that destroy everything in their ever-changing path.

For de Bont, it’s rather bittersweet to look back on his 1995 production due to the 2014 and 2017 deaths of co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paxton, respectively.

“Those two were basically the shapeshifters of that group, and they helped make a group of really amazing people feel as if they had worked together for a really long time. It’s unique to get that feeling on the screen,” de Bont tells The Hollywood Reporter in support of Twister‘s July 9 4K release.

Based on the involvement of executive producer Steven Spielberg and his production company Amblin Entertainment, Twister also served as a technological follow-up of sorts to the celebrated filmmaker’s 1993 smash hit, Jurassic Park. De Bont’s blockbuster would expand on its predecessor’s use of visual effects in combination with in-camera practical effects, and he’s of the mind that Twister helped pave the way for the modern blockbuster. 

“I believe that we helped dramatically improve the technologies based on what we developed for Twister. We made a lot of future movies really easy to do and really simple in a way,” de Bont says.

That said, the longtime cinematographer turned director now pines for the days when films had a greater ratio of special effects to visual effects.

“You have to make a total picture. I did not want any of those things to stand out from each other, and that happens so often right now. I can spot visual effects from special effects almost immediately,” de Bont explains. “I didn’t want the whole film to be shouldered on the visual effects. That would be really insane because actors cannot react to visual effects. Those effects are kind of soulless. They’re pretty beautiful and they look really real, but there’s something missing.”

As for Lee Isaac Chung’s fast approaching standalone sequel, de Bont admits that he was not consulted with regard to the highly anticipated film that’s already receiving very positive word of mouth around town. He also doesn’t consider Twisters to be a proper sequel since it’s telling a new story involving new characters.

“I didn’t know that there was [another] movie until I actually saw the first trailer, which was not that long ago,” de Bont says with a laugh. “If you want to make a sequel, it should really be a sequel. It should be about the same people. It should be the same continuing story and saga of the same group of people, preferably in different circumstances that are even more interesting and more exciting. But to make a whole different story [like Twisters], then you shouldn’t really call it a sequel in my opinion.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, de Bont also discusses why he could never truly take off his DP hat once he transitioned to director by way of 1994’s Speed

Well, following Speed, you were on top of the world, and you likely had your choice of many great scripts. So what made Twister the right next move? 

When I read the script, I immediately saw the possibilities. I felt like I could make Twister into a really high-energy movie with real people in it, and preferably not movie stars, but actors who looked like they could have been storm chasers. I already had so many ideas for how the twisters could work and how to attack the whole plan, and I just felt extremely excited about it. So, in my head, I had already made the movie, almost. I was so sure of it. 

From Speed to Twister, you seem to enjoy putting Alan Ruck in extraordinarily dangerous circumstances. Did you guys have a laugh about that at the time? 

(Laughs.) Yeah, I love Alan, and that’s so funny. Alan is another one of those actors where I really wanted to make sure that you could believe that they would actually ride a bus [in the case of Speed]. Most actors ride in limos and taxis, but never in buses, especially for long periods of time. So I really had the best casting director in Risa Bramon Garcia [on both Speed and Twister], who was really only looking for that. 

The actors could then actually respond to real things in front of them. I didn’t want them to act a reaction. I wanted them to see something and respond to what they were seeing, not the opposite way around and not separately. That’s why I filmed many of those scenes at the same time. I filmed the action and the reaction of the actors at the same time, so it really is the same moment. The right response is always the first response, and in movies like this, you cannot act in a scene when you already know what’s going to happen.

Bill Paxton as Bill Harding in Jan de Bont’s Twister (1996)

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To be honest with you, it was hard to rewatch Twister knowing that Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman are no longer with us. When you think back to your time together, what memories come to mind first? 

They became such a team, which I hoped would happen. I hoped there would be a relaxed feeling about them and that they would support each other and that they would have this quick-witted banter with each other — and it did happen. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was really laid back, was one of the people who contributed the most for it to happen. He was so completely ready to make a character for himself in the movie. In the script, he was in a lot of pages, but there were very few scenes with him on his own or with somebody else. So he created a character almost from day one, and everybody was surprised by that. What was also amazing was how witty he was. He could create such a light tone and humor that it would relax all the other team members. 

So, slowly but surely, they all came together, and that was so nice to see happen. [Hoffman] was a very big part of that, and so was Bill Paxton, of course. He was such a high-energy individual, and he loved stepping in the middle of an action scene. He loved really dangerous things. He loved getting other people involved as a group. So those two were basically the shapeshifters of that group, and they helped make a group of really amazing people feel as if they had worked together for a really long time. It’s unique to get that feeling on the screen. 

Bill Paxton’s character referred to Cary Elwes’ character as a “night crawler,” before describing him in a way that’s very similar to Bill’s stringer character in 2014’s Nightcrawler. (Both films involve competitors racing to capture something deadly before the other could.) Did you make that bizarre connection as well?

(Laughs.) No, I didn’t. I didn’t even think about it, but that’s so funny. He said it in a really negative way, and he really meant it. [Elwes’ character, Jonas Miller] is that type of character, and it’s really funny that you bring it up.

Jan de Bont’s Twister (1996)

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

For all sorts of reasons, Twister was a very challenging movie to make in 1995. Does part of you envy the modern technology that would’ve made your life a whole lot easier back then? 

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Not really, actually. I believe that we helped dramatically improve the technologies based on what we developed for Twister. We made a lot of future movies really easy to do and really simple in a way. I was always so convinced that you could not get the action to work in an action movie with only visual effects. You had to have physical effects in front of the camera and actors in between. The background could be visual effects, but with real life all around us. So you have to make a total picture. I did not want any of those things to stand out from each other, and that happens so often right now. I can spot visual effects from special effects almost immediately.

Special effects are always different because things never fall as they should fall. You drop them and then they roll in a way you could never anticipate, but visual effects always drop the same way. So the combination was key, and I insisted that the movie be made like that. I didn’t want the whole film to be shouldered on the visual effects. That would be really insane because actors cannot react to visual effects. Those effects are kind of soulless. They’re pretty beautiful and they look really real, but there’s something missing.

So that’s why Twister was probably one of the last movies to have the combination of all three items, and that is, to me, one of the reasons why the movie was successful. People could identify more with it. It was much easier to really understand what was happening and the impact of things falling and a storm blowing in your face. So, to see that really happen on actors’ faces was really key for me.

Jan de Bont’s Twister (1996)

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

There’s a sequel coming out next month. Did anyone from Twisters pick up the phone and ask you for advice?

No, I didn’t know that there was [another] movie until I actually saw the first trailer, which was not that long ago. (Laughs.) If you want to make a sequel, it should really be a sequel. It should be about the same people. It should be the same continuing story and saga of the same group of people, preferably in different circumstances that are even more interesting and more exciting. But to make a whole different story [like Twisters], then you shouldn’t really call it a sequel in my opinion.

You were a DP for many years before transitioning to director. Was it ever difficult to completely let go of those DP responsibilities as director? 

Actually, no, because being a DP is physically hard work. (Laughs.) I did a lot of handheld work myself. I operated the camera. On The Hunt for Red October, I was not allowed to because union rules tell you that you cannot do that. So we made an agreement that we would hire operators to sit on the set while I would operate the camera. To me, it’s all very personal. When I have a camera on my shoulder, I feel like I’m a viewer in a theater, and I ask myself, “What do I want to see now? What should I see now?” And you cannot teach that. I really try to find operators who get that, but then it becomes random. But I didn’t want that at all, and it makes it even worse. So, yes, it was hard [to let go of DP responsibilities]. 

But, in those other movies [I directed], I always operated the camera. I was there with the actors, especially in cars. First of all, they would feel safe because I was there as well, but then I could actually film their real reaction, which is quite often the first take. That was so important to me, and it was the same way in Speed. I had cameras mounted to the front of the bus for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, and I could feel the tension between them. So I could go back and forth between them depending on the feeling, and that is so hard to teach. I wouldn’t know where to begin. You’d have to get in my mind, and it’s really too hard. 

But I was a really big help for DPs because I understand their problems. I know exactly how hard it is to light big sets; I’ve done it many, many times. So I can help them, and if they need more time, then they get more time. If you need more lights, then you get more lights. So they actually become partners a little bit. With [DP] Jack Green on Twister, he really knew what I wanted, and if I ever said, “It has to be a little bit more like this,” he would immediately be on the same page and tone.

On Die Hard with [director] John [McTiernan], there were multiple cameras, but I always had to operate the camera. That was key because he trusted me to be there with the camera at the right time, and that is something I’ve done all my life. That’s what I did on all of Paul Verhoeven’s movies. I started with that, and it’s still not changed. Those heavy cameras have ruined my shoulder, my elbow and my right knee, but, even after all of that, I don’t regret any of it. I really, really loved it.

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Twister will be available on 4K Blu-ray for the first time as of July 9.

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