Into the Storm: 20 Years After Twister

into_the_storm_poster“What do you do when confronted by a two mile-wide tornado coming at you?” asks director Steven Quale.  “Do you hunker down, do you run away, or you run toward it?  I thought it would be really interesting to show how different people react, to see who rises to the occasion when faced with such an imposing natural phenomenon and there’s nowhere to go, no place to hide.”

In the funnel of a massive EF5 tornado, the highest point on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, winds whip at more than 200 miles per hour.  The sheer fury of such a twister can—and usually does—destroy everything in its path.

Into the Storm, a cli-fi disaster thriller, takes moviegoers on a wild ride right inside an EF5, as awesome as it is devastating.

The idea for Into the Storm came from producer Todd Garner, who was keen on exploring what can happen when Mother Nature wields one of her most terrifying and destructive weapons.

“Tornadoes, in their most perfect form, are like monsters,” Garner relates.  “It can feel like they’re actually chasing you, and yet their path also seems completely random.  I grew up in Los Angeles living under the threat of earthquakes, which are scary because they are so unpredictable.  But for the most part they happen and a few seconds later, it’s over.  Tornadoes let you know they’re coming, so you have to live with the anticipation of how much damage they might do.”

The producer felt that audiences would be in even more suspense if the film was presented in first-person narrative, essentially putting them behind the cameras.  “I love how that style really brings the viewer into a story, almost as if you’re an unseen character who is part of the experience, going along for the ride.”

Quale considered Garner’s concept of a first-person camera style within a disaster film to be a great pairing.  “I’ve always thought that the closer a movie is to happening in real time, the more tension you can have; there’s a certain built-in urgency,” he says.  “It’s a difficult process when you’re looking at all the action that takes place in a story like this, so I knew it would be a fun challenge to take on.”

Garner took his idea to screenwriter John Swetnam, who developed it into a script. “Todd Garner approached me with an idea to do a POV tornado movie and I immediately knew how I would execute it.  It was about using today’s technology to really get on the ground level and have the audience experience these storms up close.  I lived in Tennessee for years, and have many friends still there who have been through the devastation of these tornadoes, so it was something that felt close to home for me, and I wanted to do their stories justice.  At the end of the day, my goal was to tell an entertaining story that also had a real sense of heart.  This is an inspirational tale about how far people will go for the ones they love, and how, when people band together, they can persevere and overcome any obstacle.”

“What I liked about John’s screenplay is that it wasn’t just a spectacle disaster movie,” Quale recalls.  “It had a variety of interesting characters that you followed in a believable, day-in-the-life manner.  We feel the angst of a high school kid trying to ask out a girl for the first time as well as his relationship with his father at that awkward teenage stage.  There’s a group of storm chasers with different views of how to go about determining the path of something as erratic as the ultimate storm, and even a couple of local guys who videotape themselves doing crazy things so they can be on the Internet.”

Single Dad

It was the role of the everyman facing extraordinary circumstances that drew actor Richard Armitage, who plays a single dad, to the project.  “No matter who you are, I think a series of crushing tornadoes coming through your town forces you to find out just what kind of person you are.  I was excited to play a very ordinary man thrust into a situation whereby he has to behave in a way he could never prepare for,” he offers.  “The analogy I thought of was, if you walked past a burning building and heard a child screaming, are you the kind of person who runs in to save him or are you the one who looks around for someone else to do it?”

Actress Sarah Wayne Callies was also captivated by the evolution of the relationships that occurs over the course of this disaster-laden day.  “Under what can only be described as incredibly chaotic events, people begin as strangers and then experience, in the course of a few hours together, incredible intensity and an overwhelming range of emotions.  By the end of one very long, very bad experience, they come to mean something to one another in the way that only people who endure this kind of crisis together can.  That was something I was very eager to explore.”

The filmmakers knew that, apart from the human relationships in the film, the most important element for moviegoers would be that monster of a cyclone.  In a world with cell phone cameras, 24/7 news cycles and the Internet, savvy viewers know what such a storm should look like.  It was the job of Quale’s visual effects team, led by VFX producer Randall Starr, to deliver an EF5 that would keep even weather junkies on the edge of their seats.

Quale states, “Whether in person or through media coverage, we all know how devastating natural disasters can be.  I grew up in the Midwest and was very aware of the power of tornadoes.  With this film, we wanted to do justice to this uncontrollable force—to put audiences right into the eye of the storm and show how breathtaking it can be.”