Interview: Filmmaker Colin Trevorrow Talks Dinosaurs & Hollywood
by Alex Billington
June 13, 2022
"We saw the dinosaurs as our heroes. Even the ones that were scary and wanted to eat you — they were icons…" Now playing in theaters is Jurassic World Dominion, the sixth (and supposedly final) movie in the epic Jurassic Park franchise that began all the way back in 1993. Jurassic World Dominion is the second of these dinosaur movies directed by Colin Trevorrow, a filmmaker originally born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, who worked his way into Hollywood with his indie sci-fi film Safety Not Guaranteed that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He went from that indie film, which starred Mark Duplass & Aubrey Plaza, to spearheading the reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise by introducing us to Jurassic World in 2015. I am lucky to get a chance to chat with Colin Trevorrow this year, talking about Jurassic World Dominion and his place as a franchise director / producer working in Hollywood. Everyone knows he almost directed Star Wars: Episode 9, before J.J. Abrams returned - but we didn't have the time to talk about that.
This interview contains minor spoilers for Jurassic World Dominion. Nothing major is revealed in our conversation, but I suggest reading only after you've seen the movie. I've been looking forward to talking to Colin Trevorrow about this one, and I wanted to cover a bunch of different topics - not only the sci-fi genre and the evolution of the JP/JW franchise, but how much involvement the studio has and if he encountered any pushback, how Colin has established himself as a franchise director after starting with an indie film, and so on. As always, there's never enough time to cover everything in these interviews — but I'm glad I had 15 minutes to chat with him and ask him about his experiences making this big dino movie. I must mention how much I enjoy Mamoudou Athie in this, and we talk about his character briefly. I'll also recommend rewatching the Dominion prologue here, and also Trevorrow's other Battle at Big Rock dinosaur short film.
Some people still see you as this indie wonder who went from making an indie hit that played at Sundance to now running these massive franchises. Is this where you always wanted to be? Do you feel better in this position? Or would you rather make more indies again?
Colin Trevorrow: You know, it depends on what day you ask me.
Trevorrow: I'll go back and forth sometimes. Look, I love this job. And I love that I've been able to play in this sandbox and build something that I think is — obviously it has become hugely successful and kids love it, but it's also a little weird and it has moments that are the kind of things that I would be putting into independent movies if I was making them. So to be able to have the resources and to work with the most insanely talented craftspeople in the business is amazing. There's also that thing that we're reaching for as independent filmmakers that I'm still reaching for all the time. I really want to do something that is different and fresh and new and sometimes that can be discordant with the needs of a major blockbuster like this. So there's a lot of wrestling that goes on, internal wrestling.
That's what I figured. How much do you feel like you can fight that battle and represent what you want to say versus would you rather be in a position where you can do exactly what you want and not have to fight with them about it all of the time?
Trevorrow: I think that having made both independent films and larger scale movies, the idea that when you're making a small, indie film that you can do whatever you want is a bit of a myth because there's always gonna be collaborators, producers, financiers… people you're going to have to answer to. And I think any indie filmmaker would tell you right away, even in my case, some of the challenges of making a movie at a $10 million budget or a $750,000 budget — when it comes to the idea of doing whatever I want, it's not exactly the case. And I'm also not sure if a filmmaker should be able to do literally whatever they want. It's good to have others involved.
Of course. That's a whole topic for another day, because that's essentially what one of the key Netflix discussions is about nowadays.
Trevorrow: I think that's [better saved for] a podcast.
Trevorrow: In every movie I've made, I've had somebody who's paying for it. And when that's the case, you are — you do need to have respect for someone who's willing to take that kind of a flyer on your vision. And that applies to [Jurassic World] as well. There's obviously a lot of things that I care about that are in this movie. Some things, in a really remarkable and surprising degree, make it into these movies. I've actually found the balance to be pretty satisfying for me. I think the thing that I chase a little bit is that energy of having: knowing what you're after — a bit more of a niche audience and you can make a movie for that very specific, focused audience that you know. I miss that a little bit.
Of course, makes sense.
With the studio, with all these expectations, with this legacy of what the franchise is, where do you begin thinking about this next one? Do you say, this is where Fallen Kingdom ends and therefore we have to continue from there? Do you look back and say, where did Jurassic Park begin? Or do you start fresh and say, okay, we've had five other movies, now what do we do with this one? Where do you even begin to figure out what Dominion should be?
Trevorrow: Well — all of those things at the same time. Everything you said. And…
But that is challenging, right?
Trevorrow: Yeah, definitely. And it has to be something that incorporates and satisfies all those needs. And also creates new needs and satisfies those. Especially creating new characters like DeWanda Wise's character and Mamoudou Athie's character. So this is a movie that does need to do a lot. You can argue that it could've been two movies. You can argue that it could've been a longer movie. But this is the streamlined, summer of '22, post-pandemic, still two-and-a-half-hour version of this really big, epic story that does a lot of things. And I actually hope that as people rewatch — I make movies for the fifth watch, not for the first.
I'm constantly thinking about the fifth time you watch something, and the second and the first, but in this case, I know these movies are watched over and over again, especially by a certain generation of kids that happens to be young whenever one of them comes out. So for the most part, I'm thinking about them. Growing up with it and feeling like all the characters that they've gotten invested in over the years are safe at the end.
Watching this Jurassic Park franchise evolve over the years, I feel like it has gone from "holy shit dinosaurs are real and they're scary!" to "oh wow dinosaurs are cool and they're also just animals and we need to take care of them."
Trevorrow: Yeah. To a certain extent, that's what the assignment is… You very clearly identified what it is that I've done with this franchise. And you can only really see the patterns when you look back on it. But obviously that represents values of mine and probably a natural result of having seen Jurassic Park when I was young and growing up on it. We saw the dinosaurs as our heroes. Even the ones that were scary and wanted to eat you, they were icons just as our heroic, iconic characters are and… it shifted to a place of, these are real animals and we should respect them, even though some of them will try to kill us. This is very much the dynamic we have with animals on the planet now. A lion will kill you.
Yep. What I wanted to see a bit more of in this one is that question of: can we coexist with dinosaurs? I think the funny thing is that you can say that's what Jurassic Park addresses where the answer is no. But at the same time, after all of these other movies, maybe we can. Maybe there is a solution to this where we can coexist with them. I wish we could.
Trevorrow: Well, that's kind of what the arc of this movie is, is the beginning is a question: can we coexist? Can we possibly survive this new dynamic? And the answer at the end is: we actually have no choice. These are the consequences of choices that we made long ago, that maybe even an earlier generation made, and now we have to figure out a way to move forward because we can't put it back in the box. Which is kind of like us now [humans on Planet Earth].
Yep, exactly. I connected with Mamoudou Athie's character because he's the one who gets to make the choice this time. It felt like a reminder that as an audience, there's more you want us to think about than just being entertained. Even though dinosaurs don't technically exist, we still have a stake in making a choice as well.
Trevorrow: Yeah. I like that you identified that character. That one is the one that's most important to me — the arc that Mamoudou's character has. And it's actually a great example of the kind of thing that I've been able to put in a big, blockbuster movie that you wouldn't really imagine would make the cut. A message to young people that listen… the older generation, your bosses are going to make you really comfortable in hopes that you're not gonna shake things up too much. And I thought that was an amazing message that Jeff Goldblum sends in the movie to all these young employees that he's talking to. It's a very pointed thread in the movie that I think it's very cool that you identified with it.
This makes me want to ask — and yeah this is a cliche question, but still — how much does the studio push back and how much say do they have? How often do you say hey I want to do this, and they say "no"? Is there a balance to working with the studio?
Trevorrow: Honestly the level — and for those who don't like these Jurassic World movies this puts me in a corner, but… I've had an extraordinary amount of creative freedom on these movies. And the honestly, the idea of me saying, hey, I want to do something and them saying a hard no, I can't think of a specific time when that even happened. I think it's very often a conversation about resources. And we also do have our creative conversations, but there's never — beyond Steven [Spielberg] who can come in and be like, "nah," but he doesn't do that. It's more, he'll come in and add something to it. He'll have things he wants to see.
Trevorrow: That was the case in the first film, and second film. The first film he really wanted to see raptors that felt weaponized to a certain extent. And so that was his jam. And in the second one, always wanting that the big — the Indoraptor to be the next step in the weaponization of dinosaurs. And then in this one, he really let me go on this one. I think I took that thread to a place that felt like the natural landing for me — that they realized this hybridization and this weaponization is wrong and we should just go back to them being animals, which is the same way you sic a dog on someone. There's the scent, go get him.
Why do you think the studio has so much confidence in you to manage this franchise? Is it because you are a dinosaur nerd and because you know so much about the franchise and where it should go? Or is it because they trust you as a filmmaker and a storyteller?
Trevorrow: It's not because I'm a dinosaur nerd. I loved dinosaurs when I was a kid, but I was a Star Wars kid. I mean, that was my mythology. I played with dinosaurs when I was a little kid. And I do know a lot about them. But I think you could find a lot of people—you could hire a paleontologist to direct the movie.
I think the reason why I have had a good relationship with the studio is because we have really productive conversations toward a shared goal. And when you're looking at something of this size: the way I treat my crew, the way that I communicate with my actors… I'm saying, "my" — they don't belong to me. All of these people who come together to make a movie like this, the ability to think about the film as a whole while having individual conversations with all of those people to make sure everybody's working toward the same goal. That is the job. In this case, the idea of an independent filmmaker being handed a massive corporate piece of IP is no longer a novelty.
Trevorrow: It was when it happened to me and Gareth [Edwards making Godzilla] and a couple of other filmmakers. But now, I call other filmmakers who have been handed these giant IP's all the time and we have conversations. At this point, I am almost a grizzled veteran of that. And I have good conversations about it, like, here's the potholes [to watch out for]. Let me put a couple cones around this, so you can just run around them and hopefully have the most success that you can have in this really interesting dynamic.
What are your thoughts about where science fiction is right now? Do you still think science fiction is as innovative as it has been? Or has it become more generic and manufactured?
Trevorrow: I actually find science fiction to be in a really exciting place at the moment. And maybe it's just this year. I think the idea of… Everything Everywhere All at Once is a Multiverse movie. I don't know if it's traditional science fiction, though it's technically science fiction. It's more of a superhero thing. But the combination of that and then everything Denis Villeneuve has been doing. Dune is an extraordinary vision with massive resources available to it.
I think that the world of superheroes has blended into science fiction now in a way that it is hard to differentiate them, cause they're in space and there's spaceships and all that. I think that in a lot of ways because we have found, especially on television and on streaming, that it's not such a niche audience and there's people who are really interested in very specific visions from filmmakers within the realm of sci-fi. I think it's actually a great time for it.
I agree and I think sci-fi is one of my favorite genres because it is always innovative and it is always progressive. There's always some filmmaker who's going to try something crazy. And even if it's a failure, it's like, hey this is cool that they even tried this with sci-fi anyway. To throw out big ideas and see what happens.
Trevorrow: I feel that way about this film. They're science fiction thrillers, kind of leaning on the science a little bit more than any other franchise would. But the world that we are looking at here is presented in hopefully such a naturalistic way. Like, look, there's just some dinosaurs and they're in a lumberyard. And these are very specific choices that I think don't make you think about the directing that much while you're watching them and that's part of the goal. It's not an "arresting vision from an extraordinary filmmaker." It's just like, look, this is us in a real world and this is hopefully how we would deal with it.
Thank you to Colin Trevorrow for his time and also to Rowe PR for arranging this interview.
Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World Dominion is now playing in movie theaters everywhere, exclusively on the big screen. Check your local listings for the showtimes and enjoy the exhilaration of returning to the Jurassic universe and meeting all the dinos they've bought to life this time. Best experienced in the cinema.