When it rains, it pours. No one knows that better right now than John Swetnam. He has two big summer movies: Into the Storm and Step Up All In. And they both open on August 8. Courtesy of the WGA West’s Behind the Screen 2014-affectionately called WriterCon-I talked to the screenwriter about his fortunate storm.
You got a big play at Wondercon. How does it feel to be part of the Geek culture for a disaster film?
It’s always awesome. We tested it a couple times, and I’m super proud of it.
What was the impetus of your project?
Todd Garner. Todd’s an amazing produ8cer. He emailed me and said, ‘Inspirational. Tornado. POV.”
But it’s not only a tornado. It’s three tornadoes.
I lived in Tennessee for a while in the tornado belt. I’ve been through tornadoes. So when he said those three words, I knew exactly how to do this. It’s pretty hard to do an entire film in one town. If it’s just one tornado, it’s going to be boring. It’ll be over in ten minutes. It was based on a real event. In 1984 there was a town and within 7 or 8 hours, they had nine tornadoes. So for me, it was a super tornado in one town, and I just did research and found all kinds of interesting tornadoes. All the tornadoes in the movie are based on real things. No one believes me, but there are fire tornadoes so I literally put images in the script of a real fire tornado. So I knew how to do it. And once I told him I wanted to do it, I went off and wrote it on spec. We did it in four days.
You wrote the script in four days?
It was really fast, and it turned out great.
When you write a disaster movie, how detailed are you in the action sequences?
I tried to be detailed. I did a lot of Wikipedia research. I looked at a lot of pictures. I tried to be detailed, but the director Steven Quale is a mad digital genius. Once I laid it down, he elevated it. It’s the craziest disaster movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s literally edge of your seat. We did this screening and after super intense scenes, there’s one climactic silent moment. With 300-400 people in the theater after screaming and yelling, you could hear a pin drop with everyone completely silent. It was the coolest experience ever. I used to do part time work for screenings, and I used to dream about one day that I’ll be here with my movie. I finally got to be at a screening with my movie, and it played really well. I think it’s a super unique disaster movie. It’s not found footage-it’s POV which makes it interesting.
When you’re writing a disaster movie, how difficult is it to find the human element?
Not really difficult. I’m working on another disaster project now, and when you start researching any disaster especially with the internet and YouTube, there’s so many personal stories. People blog about it, interview themselves on YouTube so it was really easy to find super personal stories. You just find those personal nuggets and develop characters around that.
Step Up All In (another movie John Swetnam has written) opens the same day.
I know director Jon M. Chu and am really good friends with the guy who directed the movies before. It’s Vegas, and there’s a battle and there’s flamethrowers.
So how do you make something original that’s in its fifth iteration?
Bring back everybody from all the other movies. I looked at 2, 3, and 4, and I brought back the main girl from 2, the main guy from 3, and the main guy from 4. And then brought back all the fan favorites. So it’s the Fast Five of dance movies.
Or pretty much X Men but for Step Up.
That’s my quote!