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Five Reasons to See Into the Storm, Including Firenados and Storm Porn

You've got your garden variety tornados, and then you've got "firenados."
You've got your garden variety tornados, and then you've got "firenados."
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Chances are you've caught the trailers for the upcoming Into the Storm, the latest summer action extravaganza from Warner Bros. that promises "holy-shit-we're-gonna-die" scenarios, frighteningly realistic, apocalyptic visuals and the obligatory storm-chasing characters who seem to relish driving into certain cyclonic murder in a small Oklahoma town.

You wouldn't be blamed for filing it under "popcorn flick," and screenwriter John Swetnam would have it no other way. But further investigation reveals a well-researched tale with heart. And Swetnam, who's based in Los Angeles (where the rare rainfall becomes literally breaking TV news), wants Houstonians who know a bit about storms to know that he actually did his homework to create Storm. Just back from his new film's New York city premiere, and currently in pre-production for Breaking Through, a dance movie he's directing for crooner John Legend, Swetnam helps us dissect his perfect Storm with the kind of refreshing real talk that we wish everyone in Hollywood would employ.

5. Sharknados? Puh-leese! Firenados are a thing

"There's a scene in Into the Storm where this tornado made of fire appears and does this crazy stuff," recalls Swetnam. "Initially, everyone who read that part was like, 'Man, this writer is a fucking idiot. This is silly. That's impossible.'" Undaunted, Swetnam went online, found pictures of a real "firenado" and put it the script. Not only did he educate the general public on this (awesome) phenomenon, but he also got to fire back at his Twitter haters. "I tell them, 'Okay, go to YouTube, type in 'fire tornado' and you'll see like four or five videos right there."

Disaster arguments aside, Swetnam may have just stumbled onto the next big 'nado craze. Maybe a formulaic Firenado, perhaps starring former 90210 star Luke Perry, a la Ian Ziering in Sharknado?

"Dude," says Swetnam, "I would write the shit out of that."

4. For the climate change and storm chaser crowd, this movie is essentially porn

More than just a new-fangled Twister, Swetnam's Into the Storm is an homage to the YouTube generation. He had just penned Evidence, a found footage/POV movie, when LA producer Todd Garner, who had seen the script for Evidence, contacted Swetnam with an idea: an updated tornado movie, with a POV/found footage feel. "He approached me with those two words--and I immediately knew what to do."

Perpetual 80-degree SoCal weather didn't hinder Swetnam, as he drew inspiration from his hometown. "Before LA, I lived in Tennessee for years," he says. "We had tornadoes, and tornado warnings were constant--it felt like there was more and more every year. And I lived in Japan, where we had typhoons. I still have friends in Tennessee who call me when there are tornado warnings, and they have friends who've suffered terrible damage from them. It's just a part of life there." Polar vortexes, snow in Vietnam, and other recent bizarre worldwide weather patterns helped, too. "I'm not here to preach, but you can't deny something's happening," he says. "I don't address climate change in this movie per se, but it does suggest that maybe this could happen."

This story continues on the next page.  

Swetnam married his personal experience with hours of Web research. "It was really just about sitting in my underwear and getting on YouTube," he says. "Seeing all these cool tornadoes, and how people were filming them. Everything was in-your-face, so much closer, like nothing I'd ever seen before. And then I did some research and found some crazy stuff, like a town in the eighties that had been hit by something like nine tornadoes in a couple of hours. So I based everything on the idea that a town can actually get hit by multiple tornadoes, and you see that from the point of view of the townspeople, like those stormchasers. I was off and running."

He also didn't have to become an expert in meteorology, as he drew from real-life occurrences. In his original script, there's a picture from YouTube from every tornado in the movie. "Every single one of them is based on something I saw on the Web," he says. "So I didn't make up, really, any of it. You want to take it to a whole other level and make it a fun run ride, but it was all based on what was real, and I kind of 'movie-fied it, if you will. I wish I was smarter and more creative and that I made all this shit up, but I didn't."

3. The Handsome Hobbit, kickass effects--all on a budget cheaper than a pro baseball player's contract

As a young screenwriter, Swetnam says he was just thrilled to have his film picked up. But landing passionate, stickler-for-realism director Steven Quale, and studly lead actor Richard Armitage (of The Hobbit fame) was a dream come true. Now, Storm is being hailed for its authenticity and paltry $23 million CG budget. "I sold the script as a spec script," says Swetnam. "You hope that they cast it right and get it right. I'd love to take credit for it, but I was really fortunate that Steven and the studio brought in visual wizards. The best description of the movie Cloverfield I've heard is that it's Godzilla--through a straw. And that's what I tried to do when I sat down to write this script: take a large story and bring it down to a more intimate point of view. And Richard grounded the movie--there's intensity but a likability with him." In a Hollywood lexicon, big star plus cheap effects means a homerun that could've cost the studio mountains of cash. "As a spec screenwriter, I knew Storm was never going to be a Roland Emmerich-style, $200 million script," Swetnam says. "I'm smart enough to know not to write a $200 million script--ain't nobody gonna buy that.

Helpful hint: When being swept away in an action flick, grab the nearest actor
Helpful hint: When being swept away in an action flick, grab the nearest actor
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. It's time to jump on screenwriter John Swetnam's bandwagon

Effortlessly self-effacing, Swetnam doesn't talk like a guy who has not one, but two movies opening tomorrow: Into the Storm and the sequel to the dance series Step Up All In. Now set to direct his first feature, Breaking Through, which he's created with John Legend. "I had just come out with Step Up when John and I met," he says. "I had an idea of a new way to tell a dance story with a new kind of technology. People got really interested, and we realized that the only way we could make this movie the way wanted it was to make it ourselves. It's really about the subculture of dance on the Internet." Swetnam and Legend have partnered with Madonna and Dance On, YouTube's behemoth dance channel and home to all things hip underground dance. It begs the question: With two dance movies soon to be out, how are Swetnam's moves? His split-second response: "Pretty damn fierce, my friend."

This story continues on the next page.  

Five Reasons to See Into the Storm, Including Firenados and Storm Porn
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

1. Hate writing? One day, you too might have three Hollywood flicks under your belt

Five years ago, Swetnam was a waiter at Olive Garden (hardly a strategic job locale for contact with producers) and an aspiring screenwriter. "I wrote 19 scripts before I sold one," he recalls of those days, "so I obviously didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I believe that you don't fail til you quit, so I kept trying to write stuff I thought was cool, that would hit the marketplace, and would open in theaters--and I was wrong 19 times."

Clearly, the 20th time was the charm, but that experience has moved Swetnam to mentor and help aspiring moviemakers where he can. "I would've loved for someone to give me some good advice, like, 'Hey, you should probably stop writing comedies, since you're not fucking funny,'" he says. "I don't think I was born writer--I fucking hate writing. But I'm really stubborn, I worked really hard, and after 10 years, I figured it out." Swetnam is now more interested in people with "great personalities, who're cool, who're fun to work with, have a great work ethic and are talented. And usually, what I've found is that those people are the ones who're out here hustling - maybe they drove a truck to get by - those are the ones who I respect."


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