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INTERVIEW: Colin Trevorrow (Director of ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’)

During the Sydney Film Festival I had the great please of chatting to director of Safety Not Guaranteed about the film, meeting Brad Bird, the Amblin influence and how his flick is at most a B+.

Blake Howard: For the uninitiated (break the film down for us)?

Colin Trevorrow: It’s (Safety Not Guaranteed) based on a classified ad that appeared in a rural American magazine called Backwards home designed to help prepare for the coming Armageddon by teaching various survival techniques, how to can your own venison, build a cabin with your own hands…things like that [Laughs]. It turned into an internet meme and a phenomenon. The ad read ‘Wanted: someone to travel back in time with me. This is not a joke. You must bring your own weapons. Safety’s not guaranteed. I’ve only done this once before.’ Derek Connolly the writer saw in that ad a story about a guy who honestly believed that he could do what he says he could do. As I’ve said before it’s a very American attribute to believe without any evidence you can do something impossible [Laughs]. Derek is responsible for the movie existing because he saw that and a movie in it. He wrote the whole script before I even knew what he was doing. The script was a little bit more focused on the characters finding the guy: more of a comedy road trip movie in its first half and a mystery in its second. When we worked on it together, and as I said directors do it, Derek wrote every word in this movie but we really tried to bring out the love story and bring out those emotional needs that, with a time machine, we could very easily solve. And to make a movie about that but also not losing all the comedy and just the fun mystery-comedy-action elements that Derek had already written. So it was really just handed to me and (I) went about the process of begging him to let me direct the movie. It seems like because we’re writing partners that that would be an easy choice but imagine you’re Derek and you have a pretty brilliant idea, to give it to his buddy who’s a first timer who has zero evidence that he can do what he says he can do. I really wasn’t able to offer him anything except my promise that I wasn’t gonna fuck up and I will always really have a warm place in my heart for Derek Connolly. Apart from the fact that we’re going to be working together forever he allowed me to do what I always wanted to do.

BH: What’s your favourite time travel film?

CT: Well Back to the Future is my favourite film so that’s an easy one. Actually, I would have to say my favourite time travel film would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

BH: Great Film

CT: Truly great film, probably my favourite film of the last decade. That movie was about regret and that movie was about wishing that you’d dealt with a relationship differently and treated someone differently. They really tread on similar thematic ground (although) they’re obviously (very) different movies. That’s an A and I think we’re a B plus tops [Laughs].

BH: Is that gonna be on the poster?

CT: Yeah, director says ‘B plus TOPS’. Everyone relax. I admire that film a lot. I admire any time travel film that addresses the more emotional side of time travel. It’s a universal thing that people have a regret that they wish they could go back and fix. A lot of the time those regrets aren’t big things, they’re small personal things. I’m sure if I ask you you may not share them but you’re thinking ‘I shouldn’t have said that to this girl’.

BH: You’re cataloguing them in your mind.

CT: You’re cataloguing them in your mind and as you grow older you learn how to be less judgemental and more polite to people and it changes your behaviour a little bit. Maybe it’s just me and I was just an asshole [Laughs]. But I think we all have and I think we all want to. Hopefully we’re all self aware enough to be constantly trying to be better versions of ourselves and a time machine could really come in handy.

BH: So Back to the Future is your all time favourite film. Have you ever met Christopher Lloyd or Mr Michael J Fox?

CT: No I didn’t, however when I was about a week away from shooting this movie I had a Back to the Future poster signed by Robert Zemeckis saying ‘Best of luck on your time travel movie – Robert Zemeckis’. It was pretty awesome.

BH: Yeah, I was going to say is that framed in the office now?

CT: It’s framed. I actually have a loft above my office at home where I keep all the things that I want to have but I don’t want to show off to people [Laughs]. ‘Everyone look at my awesome Robert Zemeckis poster!’. So I go up there by myself. No one can really go up there, but it’s where I can be surrounded by all my geeky shit.

BH: What’s the geekiest thing in that office besides the Roberts Zemeckis poster?

CT: I have a signed LP of Huey Lewis’ Sports from Huey. I have piece of art from a script I sold to Warner Bros called World War X and before I sold it we started to do it as a graphic novel so I have one of the original pieces of art from the graphic novel that is unpublished, which is for me personally very geeky. I’m young, that room has a lot of space to grow.

BH: Who is someone you want to work with desperately as a director? After going through your first feature it’s broadly comedy but it’s partly a time travel mystery too. Is there an actor or actress that you’re really drawn to and you have them on a bucket list to work with?

CT: It’s really tough you know because it’s so specific to the role. I would want the best actor for that role. There’s a tonne of hilarious, brilliant people out there. I think there are certain storytellers in the producers and the executive producers that I would love to work with. I would be very lucky to meet Brad Bird as a result of this movie. He’s brilliant and he’s somebody that showed Derek and I a lot of support. And Mr Spielberg watched the film yesterday.

BT: WOW! How was that?

CT: He enjoyed it very much.

BH: Is that the most surreal thing for a bit for a film geek, to get a Back the Future poster signed by Robert Zemeckis and then Steven Spielberg watches your movie and enjoys it?

CT: Yeah, well, I could die now theoretically on the geek level [Laughs]. The trifecta is that I did the sound for this movie at Sky Walker Ranch and those guys actually invited me back on the eve that we opened in America last Friday. So on the Thursday night they invited me up to come and show the movie to all the employees on the ranch and we just sat and drank vodka overlooking George’s vineyard and I was like ‘This is it, what else is there… I did it’ [Laughs].

BH: What drew you to Sydney?

CT: We were invited and I’ve always wanted to come here. Very specifically being the closing night film (at the Sydney Film Festival) I definitely wanted to show up and show my appreciation for that selection. I looked at the movies that had been chosen over the past years and they tend to have gone on to be very well liked films.

BH: Beginners last year was a very, very good one.

CT: Yeah, Beginners last year, An Education and Persepolis – again much better movies then our movie is [Laughs].

BH: I want your version of the poster the B+ quote on it.

CT: [Laughs] Breaking it down is really what it is. Which is why it’s nice that it’s Aubrey Plaza. There’s a scene in the movie with Aubrey Plaza and Kristen Bell and as far as nerds are concerned that might as well have been Abraham Lincoln and George Washington – like a face off for history buffs. It was a big risk for us. We could have made this movie with three or four million dollars with movie stars and instead we decided to make it for $750,000.00 with these actors and that was something that was important to me because I feel like a lot of the independent films that have been really notable often at times introduce a new actor. I felt like independent cinema in America has become very star driven and almost corporate, and almost beholden to those same rules that the studio films have to follow as far as like do they play in Bulgaria? Do the Chinese know who they are? And so for us for once probably in my whole career to be able to cast the best actors for the role and not have to think about that… I just wanted to completely embrace that entirely and the only ones that took a bit of convincing where the bigger stars that play smaller parts, like Kristen, Jeff Garland. There was a little bit of cajoling that went into that cause there in it for like a minute each. But to me it adds a little bit of the older – Ahh I don’t want to say older cause Kristen’s not old, none of them are old, but it’s kind of like the more established guard and just adding a little bit of weight and supports these younger new talents so they can get a chance to show what they can do.

BH: You guys really shined at Sundance. Your writing partner won the screenplay award so that’s a huge thing. Did you have any kind of surreal moments at Sundance? I mean, there’s probably nothing more surreal then working at Sky Walker Ranch and seeing Spielberg and seeing him enjoying it and getting him to sign posters. Is there any moments from Sundance particularly because it’s such a huge festival.

CT: Well, Brad (Bird) approached us at Sundance, so that was the biggie. It was a big screening and we had done well and he just walked up to me as I was greeting people and was like ‘Hi I’m Brad Bird’. Actually he said ‘Hi’ and I looked at him like an idiot and was like ‘It’s Brad Bird’ you know like a 12-year old kid [Laughs]. He was just so complimentary and brought us all up to Pixar to show the movie to the entire company. He did a Q&A with me, Aubrey and Derek, the three of us went up there and I think that night after the Pixar screening we all went out to dinner and had an incredible night. I think that it might be the warmest memory of all because the pressure was gone and we knew we had something the people liked. The people that we really admire are paying attention to our little movie and it was very satisfying.

BH: Have you had any weird or badly conceived offers since then? Like has someone offered you something that is totally outside of your wheelhouse or not interested you at all since then?

CT: Yeah you know there’s certain things that don’t even that make it to me ‘cause my agent will look at it or my managers, but there’s definitely comedies, romantic comedies, things like that. I don’t really want to just do comedies. That’s not what this movie is. It is funny but it’s not a comedy. But there are some things that I wish I could tell you, I do some pretty cool stuff now that I wish I could share but unfortunately I’m not allow to disclose it. But … people who have enjoyed the film and they’re very consistent with the Amblin (Spielberg) influences that are clearly at work here. So I’ll have a chance to continue to explore the new Amblin. I don’t want to make carbon copies of these movies and I don’t want to be derivative in any way but I think there are lessons to be learnt from those movies and there are things about them that are not just endearing but very honest and real and I think that its part of what audiences respond to about this movie and I think part of what they will respond to about other movies that I do is going back to the little people that aren’t wealthy who talk like actual human beings and talk over each other and an alien shows [Laughs]… I mean like crazy shit happens. I think that we really respond well to seeing people who remind us of ourselves dealing with fantastical things instead of like these ridiculous looking movie stars who just aren’t even super human in away.

BH: Yeah – I mean there’s more charm with how the family interacts with each other in ET and how the mum doesn’t listen to the kids whatsoever. That scene where she’s just walking around the house continues to resonate.

CT: Soo good, we were actually talking about that a lot recently. It really jumped out at me the last time I watched it and also the scene in Jaws when he’s just like playing with his kid doing his thing. I mean it’s an incredible moment when you think about what that moment did to give him humanity and to make us believe he was a real man out there. In that boat you’re like ‘Dude you’re in f’ing danger, something bad could happen to you’. Whereas if its Schwarzenegger out on that boat Schwarzenegger’s gonna win [Laughs], he’s going to take that shark out, but I don’t know if Roy Scheider is gonna make it. Spielberg was an Indie director and I know he worked in television and he came from a generation of independent directors. What he did was so damn good that it became the mainstream, but I think that people forget at the time that Star Wars was like a crazy ass thing. Like we are gonna have guys in space with a f’ing gorilla and I mean it’s crazy, but now it’s become this mainstream standard. I think we like how revolutionary all those guys were cause they are the establishment now.

BH: Colin Trevorrow thank you so much for taking the time to chat to Graffiti With Punctuation. Anything to say to our film geek readers?

CT: You gotta get in there. It’s pretty geeky man. If you like nerd shit this is for the Star Wars guys out there. It’s basically like the Star Wars guy who keeps his action figures in the box gets a girlfriend. That’s really what the movie is.

BH: [Laughs] Perfect.

Safety Not Guaranteed is released on the 18th of October 2012 in Australia. 

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here.

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