Film Review

The Maze Runner: Review

The Maze Runner hits the ground running, and within seconds of the film starting, we are thrust into a strange world. This does causes some confusion, which mirrors what our hero, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), must be feeling. His memory erased, and deposited in a maze with a bunch of fellow “runners”, will he be able to work with this community and have a chance at escape?

Thomas must overcome his own fears, and confusion, find courage and discover his ability to lead, and fend off conflict from those doubt him, and those who blame him. The maze is not the only place where there is danger. Putting up this community conflict, are the ideas of Gally (Will Poulter, “We’re The Millers“)

The Maze Runner increases in suspense, and tension, as we learn more about why this group is in the maze, and discover what lurks in the maze. With a big opening internationally, just further proof that this is an enjoyable film, and just as things look like they’re finished, the world opens up for yet more future films in this series. The wait will be excruciating.

Catch the fun and excitement as The Maze Runner opens 26 September 2014 in South African cinemas.

Film Review

The Equalizer: Review

Denzel Washington is back as Robert ‘Bob’ McCall, an action hero in The Equalizer, a former black ops operative who left the game by faking his own death.

When his good nature compels him to intervene, to help a local prostitute who is badly beaten by some pimps, he gets embroiled in a fight with the local Russian mob, corrupt police, and a great number of really bad guys. The damsel-in-distress lands in hospital from her injuries, and there remains while Bob performs his heroics. Perhaps she would have just been in the way.

While this is an action movie, about a black ops member, we learn about Bob’s mysterious past rather far along into the film. He is a dark, brooding character (who performs many of his pre-action scenes in extreme slow motion). This darkness carries over to the image itself, and the overall picture is incredibly dark, meaning that in most of the action scenes, you struggle to see what is going on, and end up not being able to follow the action. Bob also seems to have far too many sayings of ‘zen’, for each situation, as he travels the neighbourhood doing favours for everyone, as the perfect boy scout.

The film is far too long, and would likely benefit from removing all the slow motion pondering prior to a fight, brightening the world so the audience can actually see anything that is going on, and perhaps containing the story a it more. The final act of the film would have been fun on it’s own (minus aforementioned slow motion and near solid black), yet takes its time reaching this point.

Another action / thriller that falls short of the mark. For those who wish to brave the experience, or reminisce about the days of listening to a story, as opposed to watching it, The Equalizer opens 26 September 2014 in South African cinemas.

Film Review

Planes: Fire & Rescue: Review

World famous air racer Dusty (Dane Cook) is back, in Planes: Fire & Rescue. Sadly, he discovers his aging engine is damaged, and there is a chance he may never race again. After an unfortunate incident at home-base, he is propelled into the world if aerial fire fighting, help his friends, and find a chance to get back into racing.

During the course of his fire fighting training, Dusty meets veterans Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), Dipper (Julie Brown), Windlifter (Wes Studi), Cabbie (Captain Dale Dye) and together with these brave fire fighters, battles a raging wildfire, threatening the land and lives of those at a nearby lodge.

Planes: Fire & Rescue has a few nostalgic references that will amuse the older audiences, there sadly these are rather few.  The look of the film stays true to the previous Planes and the Cars franchises. And the story feels a lot more engaging than the first planes. however, the handful of junior audience members present became restless.

Planes: Fire & Rescue tries, and falters. The nostalgic references for parents are too few, and far between. Many other jokes will go right over the head of the young target audience. And the story, of overcoming, camaraderie, and friendship is not deep enough to satisfy adults, and too vague for the juniors.

This is perhaps one of those to rather view in the comfort of one’s own home.

Planes: Fire & Rescue flies in to South African cinemas 26 September 2014.


Cinema Nouveau Presents The 2014 Tri-Continental Human Rights Film Festival

The 2014 Tri Continental Film Festival (TCFF) returns to South African cinemas at the end of September. The festival will be screened exclusively at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg (Rosebank Mall) and Cape Town (V&A Waterfront) from 26 September to 06 October. Johannesburg 26 – 29 September and Cape Town 3 – 6 October.

Unlike previous festivals, where the selection criteria focused on human rights cinema of the South, the twelve films in this year’s line-up have been chosen because they are the big issue films that are currently making waves in festivals across the world. Four of the films are from South Africa. Each title represents documentary at its best, and all the films are in some way being used to push social justice agendas that go beyond viewing.

In one way or another, each film is a call to action. Its intention is to move audiences beyond passive viewing to active engagement, whether that means reading up on a particular issue, signing a petition or joining a campaign.

“Documentary film has a special role to play. It goes deeper than straightforward reporting and demands a point of view,” says TCFF Festival Co-Director, Anita Khanna.

“Good films are made by filmmakers who have thoroughly researched and thought through how best to tell a story, so that it is both compelling and convincing. This means they have to be all the more rigorous in their journalistic integrity,” adds Nhlanhla Ndaba, the festival’s Co-Director.

This year the festival organisers have implemented a different scheduling strategy, with the screenings limited to two consecutive weekends at the two venues. The festival launches at Cinema Nouveau Rosebank Mall on Friday, 26 September and runs till Monday, 29 September. It then moves to Cinema Nouveau V&A Waterfront in Cape Town from Friday, 03 to Monday, 06 October.
The festival co-directors are Nhlanhla Ndaba and Anita Khanna, who are both impact producers of the hard-hitting South African documentary, Miners Shot Down. Faced with the unwillingness of the two free-to-air broadcasters, SABC and eTV, to schedule the documentary, they have spent the past five months implementing an alternative distribution strategy for the film that has seen demand across all sectors of society, and a significant bolstering of the justice campaign associated with the film ( and As such, it has been included in this year’s Tri Con festival line-up.

The thirst for the truth, as told in the documentary format, is plentiful, not only in South Africa’s current turbulent times but further afield too. Following this year’s festival, the team will use its experience and expertise to screen some of the other titles to a wider audience, again working hand-in-hand with relevant campaigns and social justice partners.

“There is nothing wrong with a bit of controversy, we say, and we judge the success of a festival not only by the number of people filling the seats, but by the liveliness of our audiences. As any good storyteller knows, there is nothing as numbing as silent consensus,” states Ndaba.

Included in this year’s TCFF line-up are: Crumbs: Toppling the Bread Cartel; Miners Shot Down; Roadmap to Apartheid; and Unearthed: Fracking in the Karoo (produced in South Africa); Dirty Wars and God Loves Uganda from the USA; Judgment in Hungary (Hungary); Marmato (Colombia); Return to Homs (Syria); The Square (Egypt); Ukraine is not a Brothel (Ukraine/Australia); and Virunga (UK).

For screening times and booking information for the 2014 Tri Continental Film Festival, visit or, or call TicketLine on 0861-Movies (668 437). Follow Cinema Nouveau on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook. You can also download the Ster-Kinekor app on any Nokia, Samsung Android, iPhone and BlackBerry smart phone, for updates and to book from your mobile.


“Doing Lunch” With The Cape Town Fringe

One of the easiest, breeziest things about the Cape Town Fringe festival – set to run in the Mother City between 25 September and 5 October – is that the programme has been planned to keep step with the everyday rhythm of the city. This means that you will be able to catch a world-class performance over lunch without skipping a beat.

Shows have been specially scheduled to take place in the middle of the day, so that you can enjoy some transporting theatre during your snack break before nipping back to the office, taking an afternoon stroll through the Company Gardens, or hunting down vintage paraphernalia on Long Street.

“We’re very conscious that this is a working City and we’re trying to stage a big event in the middle of it. And so we’ve been careful to schedule around people’s lives, trying to give them plenty of opportunity to be part of it,” says CT Fringe CEO Tony Lankester, keying straight in to the pacey metropolitan energy of the fest.

Unlike the fully immersive experience of the National Arts Festival, the Cape Town Fringe is a part of a City, which means you can time your bookings to make them work for you. So whether you’re planning on taking in one show or 10, why not lunch out creatively?

With performances taking place in a variety of venues in the CBD, from the City Hall to the German Club, “we also invite you to take some time to explore the city”, Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, a proud partner in this inaugural Fringe event wrote in the Fringe programme. “Cape Town boasts a wide selection of activities for everyone to enjoy and the diversity of its people is its most magnificent attraction.”

The lunchtime shows will start at 1.05pm and end just before 2pm, giving you time to dash back to your desk for the afternoon. Shows have been carefully scheduled to ensure that they start and finish within an hour so that you won’t be late back at work.

What’s more, if you add just R20 to the price of your ticket, you’ll get a sandwich and cool-drink of your choice delivered to the theatre for you.

With a variety of lunchtime venues on offer, you can pick your show by ’hood (which is closer – Hope or Darling Street?), mood, or generic preference. The lunchtime options provide audiences with a genre-crossing mix of performances to choose from – from music, to performance poetry, to illusion.

Here’s the tasty lunch-hour line-up:


  • Ashes to Ashes
    Friday 26 September. City Hall 3
    Award-winning actors Terry Norton and Mark Elderkin bring to life a script by renowned playwright Harold Pinter exploring the relationship between repression and desire.
  • The Year Of The Bicycle
    Friday 3 October. City Hall 3
    This 2013 Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award-winner returns to Cape Town after a sell-out run in Germany. Skipping from the lightness of play to the dark borders of loneliness, this is “a piece of theatre that will leave you breathless” (Cue).


  • Narrative Dreams
    Thursday 25 September. City Hall 4
    Presented by Lereko Mfono in association with ASSITEJ SA, this is the tumultuous coming-of-age tale of two boys from very different worlds navigating their way into their teens.
  • Qhawe
    Monday 29 September. City Hall 4
    Told through a cast of puppets exquisitely conceived by the design team of Masiphumelele Community Theatre Group and produced by Handspring Trust, this visual spectacle is about finding the courage to face the demons of the past – and vanquish them.
  • Get Kraken
    Wednesday 1 October. City Hall 4
    Presented by Jon Keevy in association with ASSITEJ SA, this underwater adventure of unimaginable proportions was a deserving Standard Bank Ovation Award winner at the 2013 National Arts Festival.
  • Foursight
    Thursday 2 October. City Hall 4
    Written and performed by Kate Liquorish, directed by Kyla Davis, Foursight cracks open the shell of school violence by delving into the psychological motivations of a teenage killer a year after a traumatic event.
  • Jabulani And The Book
    Friday 3 October. City Hall 4
    Told through beautifully crafted animal masks and muppet-style puppets, this vibrant play brings to life the story of Jabulani and the Lion by Gcina Mhlophe.


  • Being Norm
    Thursday 25 September. City Hall 2
    Although he is invisible to everyone around him, everyone and the universe are exceptionally visible to Norm as he goes about his day-to-day life. “Another exceptional performance by Richard Antrobus” (Cue – NAF 214), Being Norm will leave you in stitches of laughter.


  • O.T.T.
    Friday 26 September. The German Club
    Energetic powerhouse Nkosinathi Gaar embarks on a high-octane interrogation of love, beauty, and how men and women really relate to each other.
  • #Why Not Poetry
    Thursday 2 October. The German Club
    Including a play, a reading, a powerful spoken word performance and visual collective poem recited in union, this production asks the peculiar, yet honest question, “why not poetry?”


  • Amateur Hour!
    Monday 29 September. Galloway Theatre
    Featuring 12 astonishing acts in under an hour, this loving celebration of rank amateurism and the remote outer reaches of show business is brought to us by the creators of The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults.


  • The Bentleys Bettys
    Wednesday 1 October and Friday 3 October. Galloway Theatre
    Slip behind the scenes of a busy restaurant on a Friday night with four hot young waitresses who unintentionally unearth their stories as they attempt to juggle difficult customers, absent managers, food, flirting, alcohol and drugs.
  • Blowing Candles
    Thursday 2 October. City Hall 3
    Five women (in the 40+ age bracket) set out to prove that age is not a just a number in this humorous yet bitingly real look at a topical issue uppermost in South African minds – crime – and how we live with it.


  • Hutsetiket
    Tuesday 30 September. Galloway Theatre
    Showcasing the talents of Elizna Vermeulen, Hutsetiket (the Afrikaans word for “hashtag”) is an offbeat, one-woman comedy that takes a fresh perspective on the social media phenomenon.


  • The Brothers Streep
    Friday 29 September. The Dragon Room
    With their charming and catchy songs, and their sharp and satirical humour, the Brothers Streep bring their reinvented sell-out Grahamstown Fringe show to Cape Town – now with a full band.


  • Mick Jagger is My Nightmare
    Sunday 28 September. The German Club
    Fresh from the Amsterdam Fringe – in this intense exhilarating dance performance the legendary frontman of the Rolling Stones tries to possess the body of Marius Mensink, a recent graduate of the Theatre Academy Maastricht.


  • Steve Newman & Ashish Joshi
    Sunday 28 September and Friday 3 October. The German Club
    The rhythmic percussive style of this much-loved instrumental duo mesmerises and transports fans both in South Africa and elsewhere.
  • The Phax Trio
    Tuesday 30 September and Friday 3 October. The Dragon Room
    Sultry and hair-raising Contra-Balkan, Hosh-Klezmer and Parisian-peepshow-inspired music from a powerful triumvirate – Eu(PH)onium and two s(AX)ophones – formed by the alumni principal players of the South African National Youth Orchestra, Shaun Acker, Andrea Fisher-Jeffes and Levi Alexander.
  • Philip Malan
    Thursday 2 October. The German Club
    A fingerstyle guitarist like no other, Malan uses the whole of the guitar to conjure up magical melodies, harmonies and bass lines, all at the same time.


  • Sleight of Mouth
    Wednesday 1 October. City Hall 3
    Volunteers’ minds are read, sewing needles are consumed and cutlery is melted into pieces in this intimate performance by Marcel Oudejans of visual sleight-of-hand magic, mental illusion and modern-day mystery, punctuated by witty commentary.
  • Think Twice
    Thursday 2 October, Galloway Theatre
    Join Brendon Peel as he guides you on a journey through the miraculous and the magical. This extraordinary show that blends illusion, psychology, mentalism and memory techniques was a sell-out at the 2014 National Arts Festival.


  • Na-aap
    Sunday 28 September. City Hall 2
    This co-lab between De Klerk Oelofse, interactive designer/programmer Andries Odendaal, choreographer Ina Wichterich and director Jaco Bouwer brings to life a searching philosophical tale by Franz Kafka about an ape so good at playing human that he can fool even the professors.



Central and convenient to the max, you’ll find our lunchtime venues at:

  • City Hall: Corner Buitenkant and Darling streets, The Grand Parade, City Centre
  • The German Club: Roodehoek Terrace, off Hope Street, Gardens
  • The Dragon Room: Harrington Street, East City
  • Galloway Theatre: Waterfront Theatre School, Port Road, Waterfront




Four Corners Marks 20 Years Of Democracy At Countrywide UK Screenings

The South African award winning thriller Four Corners has been invited to screen as part of a special UK film tour designed to bring attention to South Africa’s 20 Years of Democracy.

Supported by the BFI Programming Development Fund and the SA-UK Seasons, The ‘South Africa at 20’ film touring programme aims to feed into the various events that are taking place both in South Africa and the UK to mark the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy.

A slate of UK Film Festivals will screen Four Corners and other related films at cinemas across the UK – from London to Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, Glasgow and Wales, with the intention of building UK African cinema audiences and raising the profile of African cinema in the UK. The tour will launch at a VIP event in London in early October to be opened by former Labour government minister and philanthropist Baron Paul Boateng – and will continue to run from 2014 through to February 2015.

South African filmmaker Ian Gabriel, director of Four Corners has been invited to take part in Q&A sessions and other events around the UK. The films will also be complemented by an extensive educational and outreach programme, which would include school and pop-up screenings.

Featuring in a section titled Post-Apartheid Challenges, Four Corners will screen alongside two other South African films, Life Above All and Miners Shot Down.

Four Corners has also been selected to screen in Competition during the same period at The Santa Fe Film Festival USA and The Bahamas International Film Festival. It will compete in Best Foreign Film and Best Feature Film Categories at both these festivals.

The film has already garnered International success with two Best Film wins and one Best International Film nomination. The producers plan to continue to promote South African made film both at home in South Africa, and abroad through initiatives like the British Council Film Africa tour.

“We are very excited to be part of the Democracy Tour,” says the film’s director Ian Gabriel. “This news comes with the announcement that Four Corners has been picked up by independent film distributor Munro Films for general cinema distribution in the UK. The film opens a window on marginal South African communities and tells a positive coming of age story set in tough circumstances. The ‘forgotten community’ depicted in Four Corners is only one of the many marginal societies in South Africa whose voice is only faintly heard despite the 20 year old challenge to deliver inclusive democracy to all South Africans. We’re proud that Four Corners has been added to the voices calling for broadening of democracy among youth in South Africa.”

A Special Features DVD of Four Corners has been released in South Africa and is currently available through Musica and on line through Takealot.


Producers Guild Of America Honours Jon Feltheimer WIth 2015 Milestone Award

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today that Lionsgate Chief Executive Officer Jon Feltheimer will be honored with the 2015 Milestone Award.  The award will be presented to Mr. Feltheimer at the 26th Annual Producers Guild Awards ceremony on January 24, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

“On behalf of the entire Lionsgate team, it is a tremendous honor and deeply humbling to join the elite group of recipients previously honored with the Milestone Award,” said Mr. Feltheimer.  “The Producers Guild represents the creativity, innovation and dynamism that sets our industry apart from all others.”

PGA Awards Co-Chairs Todd Black (THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, A KNIGHT’S TALE, THE EQUALIZER) and Ryan Murphy, (‘The Normal Heart,’ ‘American Horror Story,’ ‘Glee,’ ‘Nip/Tuck’) stated, “Jon Feltheimer is one of the most accomplished leaders in the industry and has played a pivotal role in Lionsgate’s evolution from independent studio to global content leader.  Jon’s passion across the spectrum of storytelling has brought us such iconic films and TV shows as ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Weeds,’ ‘Orange is the New Black,’ Monster’s Ball, Precious, Crash and The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises.   We look forward to celebrating Jon and all his contributions to entertainment by honoring him with the Producers Guild’s highest accolade.”

The Milestone Award is the Guild’s highest honor recognizing an individual or team who has made historic contributions to the entertainment industry.  In the past, the Producers Guild has paid tribute to such industry leaders as Clint Eastwood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ron Meyer, Bob & Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves and the 2014 recipient Bob Iger, among others.

Jon Feltheimer

Chief Executive Officer, Lionsgate

During his 30-year entertainment industry career, Jon Feltheimer has held leadership positions at Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Entertainment and New World Entertainment and has been responsible for tens of thousands of hours of television programming and hundreds of films, including the global blockbuster Hunger Games franchise, the launch of the Divergent franchise and Academy Award winners Crash, Monster’s Ball and Precious.

Mr. Feltheimer was named Chief Executive Officer of Lionsgate in March 2000.  During his 14-year tenure as CEO, Lionsgate has grown from its independent studio roots into a leading next generation global content leader with a reputation for innovation.  The Company’s market capitalization has grown from $80 million in 2000 to nearly $5 billion today, and its revenue has increased more than 15 times over.

During Mr. Feltheimer’s tenure as CEO, Lionsgate has established a reputation for leadership in films, television programming and digital content driven by a prestigious 16,000-title library, innovative partnerships with digital platforms, a feature film slate led by the global blockbuster Hunger Games franchise, and a vibrant television business encompassing over 30 shows on more than 20 different networks including multiple Emmy Award winner Mad Men, successes such as Weeds, Anger Management, Nashville and Nurse Jackie and the critically-acclaimed hit Orange is the New Black.

Mr. Feltheimer received MIPCOM’s prestigious “Personality of The Year” Award in October 2010, was inducted into Broadcasting & Cable’s Hall of Fame in October 2012 and received NATPE’s coveted 2014 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, reflecting 30 years of leadership in the global television business.  He has been named to Vanity Fair’s “The New Establishment” list as well as being named one of “America’s Most Inspiring CEO’s” by Esquire Magazine.


Die Windpomp Wins Five Awards

The recently released Die Windpomp, won five awards at the Silwerskermfees held last week in Cape Town. From its nine nominations, the ZenHQ produced film won Best Film, Best Director (Etienne Fourie), Best Support Actress (Marga Van Rooy), Best Original Music Score (Johnny De Ridder) and Best Screenplay (Etienne Fourie).

The film is a beautiful, humorous and quirky love story that revolves around 20 year old Hendri who arrives on the doorstep of an oddly familiar retirement village. Bingo nights, garden ornaments and weird and wonderful behaviour of the people in the village soon invest Hendri’s world. Hendri is taken under the wing of a kind, elderly neighbour, who, for some reason, forces him to take regular baths at her house after deliberately damaging the plumbing.

Lying on the roof one night, Hendri sees five silhouetted figures making their way into a forest. He follows them and finds more than he expected – elderly folks swimming in a dam, a windmill rising from its moonlit centre. A beautiful young girl appears from amongst the darkness and introducers herself as Margot – Hendri is immediately mesmerised by his mysterious new friend.

But not everything is as it seems in Hendri’s world…

“The wins came as a huge surprise, since we were up against the big titles and box offices successes of this year. It is welcoming to see the nature of Afrikaans films changing. Playing in the Afrikaans terrain for the first time, it’s a great honour to be awarded Best Film with our debut film.” Says Chris Roland, who was pleasantly surprised to collect 2 Best Film awards.

Die Windpomp will be available on rental DVD and VOD services from 12 September 2014 and on DVD at leading retail stores from 26 September.

“ We are pleased that the public can now rent, own or streamDie Windpomp. We’re going to insure that no one is left out from seeing this award-winning game changer for Afrikaans films” saysDie Windpomp’sproducer Lee-Ann Cotton, who also owns ZenHQ Films, which produced the film.


947’s Darren Simpson To Voice Disney Character

The Walt Disney Company Africa is proud to announce that local comedian and 947 presenter Darren Simpson, will lend his voice for the theatrical release of Disney’s upcoming animation Planes: Fire & Rescue, out in cinemas across South Africa in 3D on Friday 26 September.

Darren Simpson - Drip - Planes Fire and Rescue

Darren will voice the character ‘Drip’, one of five firefighters called the ‘Smokejumpers’, a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles who support a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire. ‘Drip’ is an ‘outgoing dude who’s always leaking oil and uses a skid-steer claw to clear fallen trees and brush’.

‘Voicing ‘Drip’, and featuring in a Disney movie is huge! It’s a dream project, I’ve had fun and enjoyed the whole process. I’m a big fan of Disney animations, and it’s a tight contest between me and my two-year old as to who’s more excited about watching the completed movie,’ said Darren.

Planes: Fire & Rescue sees the return of world-famous air racer Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) who learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again. Dusty realizes that he needs to shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting, joining forces with veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris) and his courageous team, including spirited air tanker Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), ex-military transport Cabbie (voice of Captain Dale Dye) and, of course, The Smokejumpers. Together, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.

‘We are thrilled to be able to bring Darren’s voice to the big screen in Planes: Fire & Rescue this September,’ says Christine Service, Senior Vice President, Country Manager for The Walt Disney Company Africa. ‘Darren brings that local flavor, together with a great mix of comedy and a very big heart that the character ‘Drip’ adds to the mix’.

Tune into 947 in September to stand in line to win tickets to the South African Premiere of Planes: Fire & Rescue and exclusive movie merchandise.

Catch Darren Simpson voicing the Smokejumper ‘Drip’ in Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue, in cinemas nationwide in 3D from Friday 26 September 2014.


Q&A With Into The Storm Director Steven Quale

Into The Storm opens in South African cinemas 5 September 2014, and in the run up to this release, why not prepare for the storm by checking out the Q&A with director Steven Quale below, and reading the SAMDB Review of Into The Storm.

Can you talk about the feeling you wanted to create as you introduce us to the characters that we’re about to go on this incredible ride with in Into the Storm?

For me, it’s actually two parts.  At the beginning of the film, there’s the father and his sons, and the other people from the small community of Silverton who are doing their normal thing.  The threat of a storm is coming, but nobody knows it’s going to become something as big as what it eventually ends up developing into.  Then, on the other side, we meet a group of storm chasers who are actively seeking a tornado but can’t seem to ever be at the right place at the right time.

There’s a lot of suspense leading up to when the storm finally hits, and then, once it does, the third act is just non-stop where you’re just fighting for survival.  And when the two groups converge—the storm chasers seeking the thrill of the tornado and the people who are just trying to survive—it’s interesting to see their dynamic together and how they come to help each other out in the end.

Richard Armitage plays Gary, the father who has to go out into the storm to find his son.  Can you talk about what qualities you wanted for Gary and what Richard brings to the role?

Well, Richard Armitage has this wonderful quiet presence to him, and what I liked about him as Gary is that he could be a Vice Principal, who maybe is in charge of the football team as well, and does some other activities for the school.  At the same time, he’s trying to deal with his two kids, being a single father and having teenagers in that awkward moment in life when they’re rebellious.  So, as a result of all that, things aren’t exactly smooth in his family life and he’s just doing his best to try to be a good father, but he’s spread kind of thin.

But then, when this tornado hits, he becomes the reluctant hero.  Suddenly he has to step up and take charge, and try to save the school by going completely against what the Principal because he knows instinctively the right thing to do to try to save these people.  He is able to have those leadership qualities and lead not by intimidation, but by inspiration.

What I liked about Richard playing this character is the contrast because everybody knows Richard from The Hobbit movies, and here he is, this huge warrior, super strong and powerful, even though he’s small.  It’s nice to have him play just a normal guy who doesn’t have all these amazing powers and just has to use his intelligence and his reasoning to try to convince people to go with him to save as many lives as he can when this horrific disaster occurs.

How about Sarah Wayne Callies as Allison, the scientist who joins Pete, Matt Walsh’s character, and the storm chasing team?  What was it like working with Sarah and what did she bring to the role?

Sarah Wayne Callies is an amazing person.  She was wonderful to work with, as were all the actors on this project, but she just brought this immediate intelligence and believability to the character.  The very first time I met her, I knew immediately that I would buy her as this dedicated, enthusiastic scientist researcher who’s trying to save lives by learning more about these storms and trying to predict when they’re going to hit, to try to have earlier warnings than they currently have.

So, for her, it’s all about saving lives and helping the community through research, as opposed to the thrill-seeking aspects of storm chasing, or the idea of getting the most amazing video shot in history that Pete has.  They’re kind of at odds with each other because of that.  She just wants to get the scientific data and Pete wants to get spectacular-looking video footage to show how amazing these storms are.

So, what Sarah brought was a total believability to the character, and particularly with her relationship with her daughter onscreen, and what was kind of fun is we were able to use Sarah’s actual daughter to play her fictitious daughter in the movie for the scene where they Skype together.  So I was really pleased, and it was adorable to see both of them together, so I was fortunate in that respect.  You can’t always do that, per se, in films, but that was wonderful little thing, and again, I just loved how much conviction Sarah brought to it, and also her likability.

How did you work with the actors to communicate the massive visual effects components they’d be interacting with while also bringing naturalism and spontaneity to their performances?

Well, what was important for me was in the whole film, from visual effects all the way to the characters and performances, was to have a sense of realism.  When I did research for this movie, I found that tornadoes are so spectacular in their own right that you don’t really have to augment it.  What’s there in actual Mother Nature is stunning and horrific, impressive and awe-inspiring … lots of adjectives when you see these images and video of real storms and tornadoes in particular.

So, I filtered that down to all aspects of the film.  I wanted the performances grounded in total reality.  I wanted the characters, the situations, the conflicts not to feel contrived, but to feel believable.  With all the actors, the idea was to try to make it feel as real as possible.  We developed back-stories for each of the characters that aren’t included in the film, but gave them ways to relate to what they were doing.  Then we just worked as a team.

Part of what helped keep it grounded was the fact that we shot the film using handheld cameras for the most part, and in a kind of relaxed environment.  Yet it had to be very structured because of all these visual effects that we would be adding later.  We also had practical special effects with wind machines, and so forth.  So, we had to maintain what you normally have in a movie, with rehearsals and hitting your marks and all of those normal things.  But we let it be a little looser as far as the back and forth between everybody.

With improvisation, interestingly enough, you find that if you go too far with it, it almost becomes incoherent as far as dialogue.  If you actually take a recording device and record a person’s conversation, people cut each other off so quickly and so frequently, and you finish other people’s sentences.  It’s kind of a shorthand but you can understand it when you’re in a conversation with someone.  When you make a movie, that same thing can be incoherent and it just doesn’t feel real.

So, we came up with a hybrid where you interject just enough of that into it, but still stick to the dialogue and the way it was written.  It’s just a very fine line, but I had wonderful actors who were very talented, and did a great job of making it feel believable and real.

So, moving on to the other main character of the movie, 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?

Well, when I first read the script, I thought there was an amazing potential for the tornadoes.  We have four major tornadoes that hit and, in some cases, merge together, and my fear was that you could potentially have a feeling of repetition.  But it also occurred to me that the tornado is a character, so like any great character in movies it can be very diverse and have different attributes.  So, as I did the research for this film, I found that tornadoes can be radically different.

Having grown up in the Midwest—in Madison, Wisconsin—I never actually experienced a tornado directly growing up, but we had numerous tornado watches and warnings when you’d have to go into your basement and wait it out.  But I did have some indirect experience with it in terms of friends and relatives.  But when I was looking at all the videos and all of the photographs of tornados, I was surprised and amazed at all the different types there are.

There are the really thin and narrow rope tornadoes, which can have multiple vortices in the same tornado storm system.  And then you’ve got the more traditional tornado, which is just a big wedge that goes up into the sky, 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.  As I was researching this, I found that it’s an absolutely true phenomenon, and it looks almost exactly like we depict it with our digital simulation.

So now we have four different, unique tornadoes throughout the film, and as each tornado comes, it gives the audience something new and unexpected to deal with.  So that, for me, was this moment of ‘Ah-hah!’  I knew we could escalate and build up to the end when we have this giant, two-mile-wide tornado, which is just destroying entire buildings, like a giant beast coming at you, and it’s unstoppable.

Then, the difficult part was how do you create all that and do it in a photorealistic manner?  We wanted it to be absolutely real.  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.  This is not a science fiction movie where you can create your own universe to have a unique particle effect and special rays that cause destruction.  We had to create these tornadoes and these digital cloud formations that looked exactly like the real tornadoes.

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.  Procedural techniques aren’t artistic, meaning if you want a cloud to have a certain look and paint it a certain way, it’s hard to do that when you’re dealing with these procedural simulations that are basically computational exercises inputting wind sources and other calculations.

Sometimes you get lucky with those, and they look good, but sometimes they can be kind of boring.  The big challenge was trying to use the artistic and the scientific methods, and having those two meld together so that the effects companies could deliver digitally what I wanted.  All of the effects companies did a fantastic job getting there.

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. If hard sunlight is hitting your main actors, and you have an overcast grey tornado in the background, it just doesn’t match.  So I insisted that we have overcast skies for all of our shooting.

The problem with that is it’s not practical because not every day’s going to be overcast.  Ironically, they have what they call weather cover days, and normally they’re for rain or overcast situations; we had just the opposite in our film.  If it was bright and sunny, we had to go to 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.

The only problem with that is that would only work in a twenty- or thirty-foot square area directly where the actors are, and we were shooting wide distances that would show the whole environment.  So what we did is we figured, as long as we can get the actors in shade, we can digitally paint out the rest of the frame and create it with digital trees and dark, overcast skies.  That way, it would all feel coherent, like it is in this gloomy, dark, stormy weather.

That was the big challenge, and 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.  We did some tests, and I always made sure they were safe.  But when you stand in front of a hundred-mile-an-hour fan blowing, it’s intense, but it’s totally doable.  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.

The actors did an amazing job, having to always be running around with that rain and debris hitting them.  It also added so much realism to the film because all that stuff flying around was real and we augmented it with digital rain and debris.  We did a hybrid approach, a combination of the practical special effects and digital effects integrated throughout the film, and it worked flawlessly.

In creating the tornadoes, how important was the sound for you, and can you tell me about working with the Per Hallberg to create that component of the storm?

Well, the sound is always very important for me and I feel that it is fifty percent of the movie going experience.  So when we got Per Hallberg to be the supervising sound editor, it was amazing.  The first thing I told them was I don’t want lion roars, I don’t want over-the-top sound; I want it to feel absolutely real.

He took that and went way beyond any of my expectations, so I’m thrilled, of course, with the sound, and we even did things like intentionally re-recording dialogue sloppy so it sounded more real, as opposed to making it perfectly pristine and audible.  We would futz it a little just to make it feel like it was recorded in the real environment.  And with the Dolby Atmos mix that we did, we could literally have the sounds of the tornado enveloping you everywhere in the theatre.  It’s like a horror movie where you don’t see anything, but you hear it.  And it gets more and more intense until finally, the storm hits and that’s all done with sound.  Per and his team did an amazing job.

One of the things that I always like to do with both visuals and sound is to create dynamics.  If it’s loud throughout the whole movie, you build up a tolerance, you block out the sound and it becomes quite monotonous.   But if you go from really loud to really quiet moments and get that contrast, that dynamic range, then that perception for the person watching it is that the loud moments are more horrific and scary, and the quiet moments are quiet, and tension-building.  That worked really well for this film, and it’s a testament to all the hard work of all the artists and technicians that worked on both the sound and the visuals.  But I think that sound is incredibly important to the movie, and hopefully people will be able to see this in really good theaters, and get that experience.

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; I didn’t want it to get in the way of the storytelling.  So we used lots of different cameras, and we had an amazing camera operator in Peter Rosenfeld.

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.

I told Peter, ‘I want this framed like a movie.  I want good composition, I want steady shots, but we want to do it handheld so we achieve a little bit of that tension and realism.’  Because, with handheld, if you do just a slight zoom-correction during a shot, like a person who would, it’s imperfect.  But it’s just enough of that imperfection that it feels organic and real.  And when you add a digital tornado to that shot, now suddenly it feels like you’re really there, as opposed to a Hollywood shot with a camera crane booming up, perfectly still, and then suddenly it feels a little fake because you’re aware of the technique.

That worked out really well, and we had tons of different cameras.  The biggest nightmare was trying to keep the cameras dry with all the rain pouring in, but the camera department did a wonderful job.

Tell me about the Titus, the ultimate storm-chasing vehicle that Pete, played by Matt Walsh, drives in the film?

The Titus was a vehicle designed by David Sandefur, our production designer, which drew inspiration from an M1 Abrams tank.  He’s really into cars and worked with a group of artists and designers and came up with this concept of the hydraulic outriggers with grappling claws that deploy anchors to secure the vehicle to the ground and so forth.

Fortunately, since we were filming in Michigan, we found a specialized auto company, Kustom Creations that does prototypes and concept cars for Detroit and they were able to build the Titus for us.  It was based off a Dodge pickup truck, and then heavily modified.  All we had was the chassis of a pickup truck, and they built the entire vehicle on top of that and did a wonderful job.  It is almost a little mini-character in and of itself when you’re trying to deal with all the storms in this movie.

And Pete, played by Matt Walsh, is obsessed with getting the ultimate shot of the tornado.  Specifically, he wants a tornado to come right over him in his tornado-reinforced vehicle, the Titus, and to be able to shoot the eye of the tornado—the inside of a tornado where the storm is quieter.  Nobody’s ever really seen the inside of a tornado, so that’s been his lifelong quest.

So, we thought, ‘Well, what would the inside of a tornado look like?’  We did see some footage of a tornado that rotated slightly, almost parallel to the ground. There was a telephoto lens on it, so we could almost see inside.  It was a rope tornado, so it wasn’t quite the same as a wedge tornado.  But it was very interesting, so we based the inside of our very large, two-mile-wide tornado on that, and wanted that sense of its large size and diffused, misty light you see the further up you go.  It’s like the atmosphere of a cave.

Method Studios, which was the effects vendor that created that shot, did an amazing job of getting the scale, the scope and the beauty of it.  Because one of the things I noticed with tornadoes is that there’s an awe and a beauty to these storm systems in addition to their horrific destructive power that you have to respect.  I wanted to capture a little bit of that in contrast the horrific violence of the storm, and in that moment when we’re inside its eye, I think we were able to do that.