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‘Twisters’ Team on Including Accurate Science, Climate Change in Film

‘Twisters’ Team on Including Accurate Science, Climate Change in Film

At the Hollywood Climate Summit on Wednesday, Twisters director Lee Isaac Chung, executive producer Ashley Jay Sandberg and actor Brandon Perea were joined by some real-life tornado experts to discuss how science and climate change were woven into the upcoming film.

The new movie serves as an update to the 1996 project of the same name, following storm chasers who find themselves in a fight for their lives as multiple tornadoes converge over central Oklahoma. Technical advisor Kevin Kelleher, who works for the National Severe Storms Laboratory, was involved in both the original and new movie, and admits that from a scientific standpoint there were a lot of inaccuracies in the 1996 version.

“Now you fast forward 30 years and everybody’s got a cell phone. They have access to a lot of the data that we have access to, and you’ve got radar, you’ve got everything. And if you’ve been to the Midwest or live in the Midwest you know that everybody’s pretty weather aware,” Kelleher said during the discussion, held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. “So if we didn’t get it right this time, it would be a big deal. You don’t want a lot of people who know about this to start saying negative things about [the movie]. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on this and I’m really hopeful we’ll get it as right as we possibly can.”

He did acknowledge, though, there is a little bit of Hollywood embellishment in the storyline and it dips into science fiction at points, while also warning of storm chasing, “It’s really dangerous to go out and do this stuff… don’t do this.”

Tornado consultant Sean Waugh also took part in the conversation, noting, “This is a really unique opportunity that we have to share what the actual science is that’s behind a lot of this and set that example. I mean, when the original movie came out 30 years ago, undergraduate enrollment programs across the country tripled in meteorology enrollment for the next 20 years.” He said it has since dropped a bit, but “I guarantee you, we’re going to see the same thing from this movie.”

The panel also discussed the movie implementing Universal’s GreenerLight sustainability program into its production and depicting climate change’s impact on the weather.

“Climate change is a very real thing that we’re all dealing with and we’re seeing the effects of that in what we consider as Tornado Alley, which is where we predominantly see a lot of tornadoes across the U.S. There’s been some conversation recently that suggests that that’s expanding,” Waugh explained, saying that while the total number of tornadoes hasn’t changed much, “but what we’re seeing is a shift towards less total days, but more active days when they happen. So the events are becoming larger when they do happen and then there’s more spacing in between those.”

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These storms predominantly affect the southeast portion of the U.S. and can demolish small towns, which “don’t quite get the attention that a lot of the big ones do that get hit, that don’t have the emergency response systems,” he continued. “I’ve come up on towns that have just been leveled, and the people that are supposed to be doing the rescuing are also digging out of the rubble. I’m like, ‘How do you handle that?’ I think there’s really good avenues here, with things like this, to start that kind of conversation and bring awareness to that fact.”

The Hollywood Climate Summit is an annual environmental conference designed to strengthen climate consciousness in media by educating and connecting professionals across film, television, gaming, marketing and advertising, and journalism. This year’s event runs from June 25 – 28, with participants including Jane Fonda, Patty Jenkins, Shailene Woodley, Connie Britton and Bill Nye.

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