He’s the first-time director who’s created a new spin on both the found footage and superpowered slackers genres. And yes, he’s heard of Misfits!
Chronicle is now out on DVD and a special extended Blu-ray edition . S FX talks to director Josh Trank.
SFX : Chronicle feels like you phoned up our readers and asked them what they wanted from a movie. Did you consider it a superhero movie while were you making it?
“I don’t think it’s a superhero movie. I think it’s a character-based drama about how super powers would affect the lives of ordinary teenagers. Dramatically-inclined ordinary teenagers."
Having said that, the end boasts one of the most impressive superhero slug-fests ever filmed – especially for a low budget film
“Thank you, I don’t deserve praise like that. I bought in so many influences. I’m a big, big movie fan; really I’ve seen everything. I really mean that too. There were so many films here that I think I’m celebrating and I hope that comes across in the ending. But I wanted to make the experience in this movie not just a homage to a lot of those other superhero films but to stand on its own two feet as a unique, thrilling movie.”
Have you ever heard of a British show called Misfits ?
“Yeah! I was told about Misfits when we were in prep for Chronicle , and I wanted to watch it badly because I’m a fan of that kind of stuff. But I stopped myself because I was very careful about not getting too much contemporary influence. And yeah, there is always the fear of ‘crossing the streams’ a bit. But I ended up watching the whole series – I had a week off at the end of production and I was very happy that we weren’t doing exactly the same thing. And now I’m a very big fan of the show. Really love it.”
I didn’t mean it as an insult.
It’s just that in Britain, when we heard about the film, it was easy to label it as “the American Misfits ” just going by the trailers. But watching the film, you realise it’s not as simple as that.
“Why [scriptwriter] Max Landis and I felt so passionate about Chronicle and getting Chronicle to see the light of day, was that I’d never really seen a film, in live-action context, about what would happen to people if normal people had superhuman powers. In that they wouldn’t go out fighting crime or anything like that. In superhero movies it’s all about moral conquest and there’s a very strict objective that superheroes live by. And this movie isn’t a reaction to those films – it’s not like I have to make my comment on superhero films. But this is a very stripped-down kind of basic approach – how would superpowers affect a pre-existing internal conflict? Carrie and a lot of Cronenberg’s movies have really dabbled in that zone, but we didn’t want to make this necessarily a horror movie or a science fiction movie – just a drama. I love how Misfits is a drama-comedy. So yeah, there is a similarity.”
More of this interview on the next page…
How did you and Max Landis (son of John Landis) cross paths? And who had the basic idea behind the movie?
“I started with the idea and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try and write it myself. Writing is a very, very lonely pursuit, and especially as I knew this was going to be coming from a very depressing place. Because I’ve dealt with depression. I was a very depressed teenager, on a lot of medication and stuff – so I didn’t want to go to that place alone.
“So I pitched the idea to a couple of writers and, you know, it wasn’t really going anywhere and I ended up running into Max. It was a sort of coincidence. It didn’t start off with a pitch – I told him what I was up to and he told me what he was up to. He was working on just really fun genre-blending sort of stuff. And he brings a sort of magical realism to everything he does. We knew each other in high school, briefly, but hadn’t seen each other in many, many years, so after many years of not seeing Max, I run into him, tell him about this thing I’m working on and he goes, ‘I love it. I want to write it.’ And it was perfect.
“Max is the ultimate comic book fan. I don’t know anybody in my life that knows comic books and the world of comic books as much as he does. He’s like an encyclopaedia. He is amazing, his mind is amazing. So I was really excited about that. He wrote a draft in two weeks and it was really brilliant script, I mean that. It was very R rated, kind of different script that what we put through production. We did some work on it after his first draft. He had his own reps, I had mine. We put it out to the studios and Fox bought it and two days later we started work on it.”
I’m glad you mentioned about your past – not that I’m glad you were depressed – but watching the film I did wonder if Andrew was based on any personal experience.
“Yeah, I was bullied to within an inch of my life as a kid. I was very, very, very overweight. I was probably about eight years old when it developed and it got really bad. I didn’t just feel like an outsider; I didn’t feel like a human being. Everybody else was skinny and active and running around. Everybody was poking at me and prodding. Everybody was able to harass me every day. I ended up losing weight and going through a lot of stuff but yeah, that is so much of my life and my past. I’m glad that I went through that because I don’t think I would be where I am now if I hadn’t gone through it. It spills over in most of my love for movies and being alone.”
What’s the phrase? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?
“Yeah, or sometimes makes you go on a telepathic rampage.”
Makes me worry about what you would have done had you had super powers.
“If it were right now, we’d be fine. If it were ten years ago it would be a very different story.” [laughs]
The other main aspect of the film is the format – it’s not really “found footage” as such, more a “life caught on camera”. Why did you decide to go down that route?
“It began like that. I like to punish myself by setting myself challenges. I didn’t know any serious filmmakers who wanted to make a found footage movie because it has that stigma of not being, quote unquote, ‘a real movie’. And I wanted to prove that I could make a movie that existed in the style to elevate the aesthetic to something more cinematic. And with the concept of telekinesis and the personal documentary to be able to operate your camera telekinetically – right there is the answer to how to make that work. It’s the missing link.”
It’s easy to believe that Andrew was the kind of obsessive who would want to record everything.
“Max brilliantly establishes at the beginning of the film that he’s documenting the problems that are going on in his house. And that’s a brave thing to do. We know from the beginning that this is a kid who is calculating and while he hasn’t endured enough to the point where he’s going to strike back, he has endured enough to passive-aggressively strike back. So the movie is kind of how he eventually, very aggressively, strikes back.”