‘Into the Storm’ Director Steven Quale on Found Footage and Keeping it Real

Steven Quale loves a good disaster film. He whetted his appetite as the second unit director on “Titanic” and “Avatar,” and claimed the director’s chair for 2011’s “Final Destination 5.” Born in Evanston, Ill., the 48-year-old helmer returned to his Midwest roots for “Into the Storm,” a tornado-centric drama spinning into theaters Aug 8.

What’s new in the tornado film genre? 

YouTube changed everything. You can see everything online. For the film, we wanted to keep realism, but stretch it a little bit. I didn’t want lion roars in the tornado sound effects. And I wanted our beastly end tornado to be one mile long.

Sounds big. 

Not big enough. We filmed the movie, and then there were reports of a tornado 2.6 miles wide. So we changed ours to two miles wide. This last decade, there have been some crazy storms.

You opted to shoot this film in Michigan — why? 

I knew exactly what I wanted the film to look like. I wanted the details to be right, like how the curbs are. In California, the curbs are rectangular and in the Midwest they are curved, rounded. We shot with natural light and that part of the country has a very particular light. You can’t really fake it.

Are you a weather junkie? 

I come from the two biggest movies ever made. I played with all these toys and had huge crews. I’ve done air-to-air shots in a helicopter. The irony is, until this film, I’d never combined wind and rain in the same frame.

This film had a 200-person crew and a $50 million budget. How’d you keep it so tight? 

I ended up being the overall visual effects supervisor. I also did a bunch of pre-vis sequences on the computer. I directed several shots in a motion capture stage so I knew exactly what I needed when it came time to actually shoot. And all of the shots were handheld, there were no Hollywood cranes on set.

There were a dozen different cameras used for this film. Did that help with the “found footage” feeling you were going for? 

That’s right. We used GoPros for a few shots and early prototypes of the Nikon D800. I tend to call the movie a “first person narrative” as opposed to “found footage” because sometimes found footage has a negative connotation as far as really shaky cameras. My feeling is, these are professional camera operators who are hired to be professional storm chasers so they know how to shoot good footage.

You’ve got a shot that clocks in at over two minutes long. Isn’t that awfully long for a tornado-centric film? 

We had some four-minute takes. We tried to make that two-plus-minute scene, Max’s confessional, shorter, but didn’t have the same impact.

How much does the natural disaster genre factor into your next project? 

I’m developing a submarine action thriller that revolves around an American captain dealing with the tensions of a Russian military coup.

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