Rob Cohen interview

Director Rob Cohen has been shooting car chases, explosions, and shootouts for years now. The director behind xXx, The Fast and the Furious, and The Boy Next Door enters new territory with his latest, The Hurricane Heist, which has its shootouts and chases unfold during a category five hurricane that brings brothers, played by Toby Kebbell (A Monster Calls) and Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), together.

It’s an entirely self-aware disaster movie and exactly what a moviegoer would expect from something called The Hurricane Heist, which Cohen takes as a compliment. We recently spoke to Cohen about the challenges of making the effects-heavy film, defying physics, his thoughts on critics, the evolution of the Fast and Furious franchise, and more.


I think you got the tone of this movie right.

That’s always the director’s battle. If you do a movie like this and you take yourself too seriously, you’re fucked. Take it just seriously enough. If you take it like nothing matters, then you lose in another way. You’ve got to create enough reality, enough grounding, and then really have fun with the idea.

You’re very well seasoned when it comes to shooting action. What challenges do you face these days with set pieces?

I’ve been offered many, many heist movies. I could have just done a heist movie, you know, that may be more complex than this heist, more involved and so on. I love those movies like Ocean’s 11The Italian Job, and all that, and you could do that, but what made this amazing to me, when you’re having a gun battle in a 140 mph wind, that gun battle is no longer a gun battle as in a normal action film. Now it’s become something else. There’s another character force acting on all the action tropes, car chases, gun battles, and explosions. It’s all changed because of this other element layer that you’re adding. To get some likable, relatable characters and to balance the storm and the story was new to do. Just technically how to do a hurricane in front of the lens was a challenge, and I love those challenges.

Obviously you can take liberties and have some fun with a concept like this, but how much research did you do?

A lot. I had meteorologist advisors and so on. We’d go out with our 100 mph fans and I would throw hubcaps and I’d see what happened. The truth is, a lot of the shots where you see Toby hurl those hubcaps and they kind of make a dog leg and then shoot off, that’s because they’re hitting our wind bank. Out on that street we’re creating a hundred mile an hour wind, and when that prop hits the wind, it does just what you say it’s going to do. Not that I hit anybody with a hubcap, but I was experimenting with a real one, not the heavy plastic ones we use for safety – but with a real one and I threw it out there.

This was before we were shooting, just testing, and it went and it started to torque and it hit one of those parking meters and put a dent in the parking meter. We knew we had a great idea and we’re not going to test any more real ones. I now believe it will work. Yet I did a shot where it hit the thing and put a dent in it, like it happened.

You got to keep real, and yet you have to find a way to keep it entertaining. You know, the audience does not want to be lectured about hurricanes. I gave a speech because I had to. You have to talk about man-made climate change. I don’t give a fuck what Donald Trump and his shit heads say. You have to address it in a movie like this, otherwise it’s like what kind of movies is this?

You don’t want too much of that in a movie, either. I was just watching Geostorm and there’s a surprising amount of standing around and exposition. Usually not what you want from a disaster movie.

I know, I know. Believe me, they spent a lot more on that movie than we did.

$35m, right? How’d you stretch that?

It’s a lot of things. First of all, my years as a producer always helps, but I had just done The Boy Next Door for $4.8m. Now when you do a $4.8m movie with a nice movie star, like Jennifer [Lopez], you got to learn a few things. You got to go, “Wow, you mean I have to count how many extras? It makes a difference whether I have four or six?” Suddenly you’re making those decisions, but the value is that you order your priorities really severely. You go, “I need to cut this, this, and this. I need this techno crane on this one day for this one shot, and I have to have it.” So they go, “Well, we can’t afford a techno crane. I mean, that’s $20,000 a day.” So you go, “Then I have to cut $20,000 to get that crane.” So then you go through your script, which you’ve already mutilated a number of times, looking for ways to make it for the money. You have to find another pocket of fat that you’re willing to live without.

When you do that kind of Haiku of production where you’re trying to fit it into 17 syllables instead of your normal novel, you take that with you to a movie like this and you go, “Oh no, I can do this and no, no, no, no, you don’t have to build all of that, just build me the two walls.” You do all the tricks, because you know what you’ve got to achieve and you know where you want to spend the money.

We happened to partner with two effects houses that really came in kind of as producers, so they basically did more effects work for the money I had than what I could afford. You make deals, you cut corners, you try everything, and you keep your eye right on your story and on what’s important.

Do you prefer that to working on a big production and throwing money at a problem?

That’s a problem with some of these films. You know when you look at… I mean, I was the godfather of a certain franchise about cars. You look at what they do and they spend $350m and, yes, there’s a lot of spectacle on the screen, but it feels wasteful. It feels like certain things have been lost in order to get the spectacle. You know, I think the audience has a very good sense of when a movie is overproduced and when it’s too raw and too under-cooked. I like to think that this movie, for $35 million, got to a place where it felt solid, didn’t feel cheap and got you going.

How tough is it getting action movies that cost $35 million made?

Impossible. This is a movie that studios would never make. They would have to have a film that cost over $100 million to do the same script, and they would throw money at everything. They’d demand, of course, bigger names, and the bigger names would not want to put themselves in harm’s way the way I asked these actors to do. It’s not fun to get out and to work every night and have a 100mph wind and debris and, you know, fucking 6,000,000 gallons of water dumped on you week after week, month after month.

You get a certain actor that’ll go, “Send in my stunt double or shoot it from the back. It’ll be OK.” You tell them that’s not what’s going to resonate with the audiences, and they go, “Well, call my agent and I don’t want to do this.” With this, I sat down with the actors before we started and I said, “Look, this is how I’m doing it. So if you don’t want to be in this movie because this is how it’s going to be, you should not do it. You know, or suck it up and know that I’m going to help you create the reality. You’re not going to have to wonder what it feels like; you’re going to get out of the dominator and you’re gonna get hit with that storm. You’re going to fucking know what it feels like.”

Continue Reading Rob Cohen Interview >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: