Interview: Steven Quale, director of ‘Into the Storm’


Into the Storm is set over a few hours in the city of Silverton as it is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of the most furious twisters they’ve ever seen.  The entire town is at the mercy of the erratic and deadly cyclones, even as storm trackers predict the worst is yet to come.  Most people seek shelter, while others run toward the vortex, testing how far a storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime shot.  Told through the eyes and lenses of professional storm chasers, thrill-seeking amateurs, and courageous townspeople, Into the Storm throws you directly into the eye of the storm to experience Mother Nature at her most extreme.

Film Ireland braved the storm and caught up with director Steven Quale to find out more about his latest film.

Was it your intention to deliver the most intense experience possible?

As a kid, I grew up with the idea of tornadoes in the neighborhood because I was from the Midwest, and I never experienced a tornado directly, but I felt what it’s like to have that tension leading up before, if it’s actually going to hit your house or not. And so, when I made this movie, I thought, well, I need to do justice to what tornadoes can– The amount of energy, the force, the intensity. And the more research I did on YouTube, the more I found. It’s unbelievable how powerful these things are. So as I made the movie, it just became this more intense, relentless sort of ride that you just have to hold on to your seat and hope that you survive. And it really became something that just elevated as we made it. So, I don’t know if I necessarily started out to do that, but in the end, it kind of turned out to be like that.

What was it like to have to manufacture the storms?

The irony is we are in the Midwest, shooting in Michigan, and they have tornadoes in that area as well. But it was the summer with bright sunny, hot, humid weather. And so we had to have giant construction cranes with big silks and rain towers and everything, and manufacture this artificial weather to make it feel like it was overcast and cloudy. And wind machines blowing rain and debris on the actors. So, it was kind of a weird contrast in the sense of the reality of the bright sun and then the fiction of the final product when it looks all gloomy and overcast.

Were you always confident being able to deliver the massive, intensive, violent storms that appear in the film?

Yes, I thought that we would be able to deliver that. But my concern was trying to make it believable, because a lot of films that are these natural disaster films, go over the top. They go huge. You have earthquakes and you have runways splitting and people falling in. Such epic scale that it’s amazing and the audience loves it, but it’s not real. It’s so beyond what can really happen that it doesn’t give you quite the same intensity. It’s more of an amusement ride. And so I wanted to get that spectacle and that awe-inspiring energy and power that Mother Nature has, but do it in a realistic manner. So, it was a matter of toning down things and getting it to a level that’s huge and unbelievable, but still real. That’s the difference. It’s unbelievable because you don’t think it’s real, but it really is a natural phenomenon that can occur.
How did social media and the availability of cameras play into how the story was told?

It’s getting even more and more to the point where everybody does a YouTube, an Instagram, Facebook. You name it, people have a camera there. And so, what better way than have our characters in our movie all doing the same thing to draw you into that world and see it from this first-person experience, as opposed to the constraints of the stylistic approach of a normal movie that has a kind of very conservative, traditional framing. And it just gives it an energy, an intensity that it wouldn’t have if we hadn’t used that technique.

The characters in this film all had different reactions to catastrophic weather. Was that your intention?

What I wanted to do was explore the different types of people and how they react when confronted with something like that. Some people turn around, run away. Other people are obsessed with it and fascinated with it, and want to photograph it, so they actually seek the tornado. And other people are just trying to help other people in harm’s way. So, it’s an interesting study in human nature and how different people react differently when you have something like that.

How realistic is the film?

We talked to a weather expert before we started the movie to see if any of these things were real and believable. And the only situation that he thought was a little bit on the edge was two tornadoes converging into one bigger tornado. And then, after we shot the movie, that actually happened. And I saw a video, and I’m like, “Wow!” So, every single one of our different types of tornadoes actually had an analogue equivalent in real life that had occurred.
How did you manage to set up the characters and their respective relationships during the storm?

My feeling is the spectacle, by itself, becomes very boring very quickly. So if you can have the time to set up the characters and understand what’s at stake and what they’re dealing with, their own little world and their microcosm, then you thrust them into this epic disaster. Then, it becomes more personal and you realize what’s going on. In fact, there’s an arc to those characters because in the beginning, the high school kids are all worried about who likes me and what does he think of this, and am I accepted and having that teenage angst moment with your father and all these conflicts and problems that you have. And then after a disaster like this, you realize, wow, what’s really important is family and how you treat people. And all of the kids have a fresh outlook on life. And it’s unfortunate that it takes a natural disaster like this for a community to come together and realize what’s really important.

Did you watch disaster films in the pre-production phase?

Well actually, interestingly enough, I have seen a lot of the epic disaster films, even going way back as a child. And everybody has done a great job in all of them. But when I start a project, I tend to avoid any films because I don’t want to color my vision on what I’m trying to do. I want the material to speak for itself. And I want to be motivated by what that’s saying and what I’m trying to say. So, I sort of try to speak for myself and what’s going on. I will say we gave one small little homage to Twister with a little cow that people will have to look carefully to see because, after all, that was a pretty amazing film. But for the most part, I was trying to focus just on our own project and what I could contribute to it.

How intense and intricate was the process of building the set that eventually was destroyed?

Part of the challenge was, we needed to have a neighborhood that went through and destroyed several houses. And we were trying to figure out how do you do that. And then we came up with the idea of finding a brand new housing community that there were houses that were under construction, that weren’t built yet. So then we could take those houses and make them look like destroyed houses. So, we then had this big production value of this whole community that we didn’t have to build it all from scratch. It was just kind of a hybrid combination, and the same thing with destroyed debris and other things like that. It’s a difficult, time-consuming, expensive process. But done properly, it can add to the realism of the film if you augment that with some digital effects in the background.

Do you claim ownership of the creation of the new “Cli-Fi,” or “Climate Fiction” genre?

I don’t think I can claim ownership, but I think you can look back and see a number of films. Like any new genre, you know, it comes into being at a certain point and there are some seminal films before and after and that, at a certain point, becomes a genre. And I think we’re right in that transition phase. But, yeah, I think that it’s a genre and we’ll see more of them.

Into the Storm is in cinemas now


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