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‘Geostorm’ director Dean Devlin on his first feature film

MANILA, Philippines – Having been part of films like Independence Day, Stargate, and Godzilla, Dean Devlin is certainly not new to the film industry, though it is his first time to direct a full feature film – and a massive disaster movie no less.

The film, Geostorm, is set not far into the future, with the earth’s crazy climate finally taken under control by a complex system of satellites called Dutch Boy. For some reason, the system starts malfunctioning, setting off extreme weather patterns all over the world. The system’s creator, scientist Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) and his brother Max (Jim Sturgess) are tasked to figure out what is causing the malfunction before the crazy weather causes irreversible destruction.

 

With a good chunk of the film set in outer space, and a lot of scenes involving sweeping tidal waves, tornadoes, and blocks of ice raining down from the heavens, nailing the visual effects of the film alone is no mean feat. That, and making sure the action-packed story unfolded at just the right pace were some of the challenges Dean had to take on while making the film.

In an exclusive interview with Rappler, Dean – who is half-Filipino and refers to the Philippines as his "home country"– talks about how he managed to do so, as well as how the idea for the film came about, and it's underlying message about climate change and international cooperation.

You’ve been a screenwriter and producer in the industry for so long. How was it sitting in the director’s chair this time?

It had a lot of challenges. It’s a big, big movie, it was a lot to take on, but it was very exciting. I’ve directed a lot of television, but directing a film this large, there’s a lot of people involved…it was exciting but also kind of overwhelming.

How did you deal with that?

I was surrounded by a lot of talented people. A lot of people brought their experience and their expertise to the table and it was just kind of something to marvel at. It was very impressive, very humbling.

DEAN DEVLIN. The director is a veteran screenwriter and producer. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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How did you feel when you saw the full movie for the first time?

It’s such a journey. You have a lot of different emotions. Some of it is like watching home movies, some of it is like watching this dream you had 10 years ago. The whole thing started when my daughter, when she was about 7 years old, she was just learning in school about climate change. She said to me kind of naively, "why can’t we just build a machine to fix this?" And that kind of started this whole idea of, how can I tell a fable, a children’s story in a way of that kind of journey. What could happen, the good things that could happen and the bad things that could happen if we wait too long and decide to deal with this with some kind of machinery. To come this far this many years later from my daughter’s intial question to the final movie is a remarkable journey.

How did you go about researching for the film?

I produced the movie Who Killed the Electric Car, so I have a lot of history with people in the green energy business. I’ve had a lot of conversations with them about the different types of geo-engineering techniques that are being developed, different ways that people are trying to actually create something like Dutch Boy from our movie Geostorm. Most of the stuff is theoretical, but I gathered a lot of that information and I basically kind of winged it at first. I just said, well, based on this very loose information, I’m just gonna kind of have this fantasy of what if it all came together.

DUTCH BOY. The film imagines a satellite system called Dutch Boy that controls climate change. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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What was remarkable is when NASA came onboard, they came over to basically look at our designs and the things that we were working on and I was really expecting to be taken to the woodshed by the scientists who knew what they were talking about and much to my shock, they kept saying, yeah that’s basically how this thing would work. And they would show me drawings of stuff they’d done… and they looked almost identical. It was kind of shocking… sometimes I think our dreams are closer to reality than we imagine.

Was there any concern on your part about how a film about climate change and natural disasters would come across to people?

I think everybody is concerned about this affecting anybody in a negative way. Of course this movie is not at all meant to be cynical or any kind of exploited reaction. That said, the underlying issue of the movie has never been more relevant. At the time we made the film, we were still calling these kinds of storms the storms of the century, and now they’re happening that fast. So while I regret the timing of the release of the movie, I also at the same time feel that it’s never been more relevant.

Aside from climate change being an issue that this movie talks about, there’s a message about international cooperation. Was that another issue you wanted to tackle from the beginning?

I’ll never forget shortly after 9/11 happened, how all these countries around the world came together in an unprecedented way… and I think if we get to the stage where this kind of extreme weather keeps building at the rate it is, it’s a worldwide problem, and the world will have to come together to resolve it. And I think there’s something beautiful about when humanity forgets their local politics and realizes we’re all one species.

GEOSTORM. The film shows parts of the world being destroyed by extreme weather. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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There are subtle political digs in the movie… was this intentional?

Not really… but I always find it interesting when art and reality collide. A lot of things we talk about in the movie ended up colliding with things that ended up happening after the fact. I think context is a very important thing watching a movie.

We’re releasing a movie in a couple of weeks about Lyndon Baines Johnson, and it was really interesting because when we filmed, Barack Obama was president and a lot of the things in the movie felt like a history lesson. And now the movie is coming out and [Donald] Trump is president, and a lot of the issues have become much more relevant than they were two years ago. Context is important in a movie, but in this case, it’s not really intentional.

In a way, it’s coincidental?

Or inevitable.

Your cast includes actors from Australia, the UK, etc. Was this something you planned, to really have a cast from all over the world?

Absolutely. We really wanted it to feel like it was an international effort and we felt that the best way to do that was to get an international cast. I believe that the initial ISS [International Space Station] was built with the cooperation of 17 different countries, so I think we wanted to recognize what this kind of endeavor would take. And then of course, quite selfishly as a director, it meant I got to work with talented people from all around the world, which was really exciting.

What was it like working with Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Andy Garcia?

They’re joyful. They’re joyful people to work with. They take what they do very seriously. They also have a real great zest for life... it made the entire experience really joyful.

Why did you choose to cast Andy Garcia as the president?

I have to give a lot of credit for that casting to David Ellison and Warner Brothers Studios because that was their idea at first. I got very excited about Andy because I know Andy a little bit… it was a really interesting idea. At that time, there was a lot of talk about Marco Rubio being a potential presidential candidate for the Republican party, so the concept of a Cuban American president was a very realistic idea.

What’s next for you?

I directed a movie called Bad Samaritan and it stars David Tennant and a brilliant young actor named Robert Sheehan. That’ll come out first quarter of next year, I’m very excited. It’s a thriller, about two young boys working as valet parkers at a restaurant. And they come to realize that when people hand them the keys to their car, they’re also handing them the keys to their houses. So they decided as a little scam that when people came to the restaurant if they lived near enough to the restaurant, they would go burgle the houses while they have dinner. But at the start of my movie, they end up burgling the house of a very dangerous, very scary man.

Geostorm is hitting Philippine theaters on October 12, 2017. – Rappler.com