He’s the writer-director of TV series The Kill Point, starring Steve Cirbus, Donnie Wahlberg and Michael Hyatt, about a group of Iraq veterans who pull off a major bank heist. He’s also dabbled in a spot of editing, acting and producing with comedy Big Fan.
Now Josh Trank sets his sights higher by taking on his ‘reality TV’ style sci-fi thriller, Chronicle, about three high school friends who gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery and find their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides. The new film stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Kelly, and relative newcomers Alex Russell and Dane DeHaan.
At an exclusive ‘first-see’ screening in central London in January, Trank talked about the origins of the Chronicle, working with director John Landis’s son, Max Landis, on the ideas and the script, his documentary influence, whether he’s been asked to revamp Fantastic Four/X-Men, and if there’s more to the story to warrant a sequel:
You’re known after Stabbing at Leia’s 22nd Birthday on YouTube.
Josh Trank: We’re looking at the most self-photographed and filmed generation ever; maybe this movie can be part of that?
How did you and Max come to work together?
Josh Trank: I knew Matt from being a teenager. Max said he wanted to write a feature, and after seeing the treatment for Chronicle, she wrote something within two weeks.
Where did the concepts come from?
Josh Trank: From a daydream about wishing I could move stuff – the ability of telekinesis, and how would that be an everyday skill that could be developed. Chronicle is also a celebration of our love for comic-book heroes; what separates this story from other superhero ones is Chronicle doesn’t’ come from a moral justice aspect – the kids don’t have anything too prove and just do what they can do.
Why did you decide to use hand-held footage?
Josh Trank: I grew up with my dad (Richard Trank, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1997 for The Long Way Home) as a documentary filmmaker so I wanted to blend documentary with sci-fi – as inspired by Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller District 9 and its documentary approach. I wanted to make this film look like raw and unhampered footage.
The POV of the camera operator chances throughout – who actually ‘edits’ it?
Josh Trank: Every scene plays deliberately as a long single shot. There is the idea of some kind of ‘outside existence’ editing it, what with the jump cuts. Perhaps, like the character Matt (played by Alex Russell) at the end, his powers allow him to start and stop the camera, so there’s no need for a camera operator? That’s one for the audience…
Josh Trank: People respond better to real dialogue, rather than movie dialogue. Dane (DeHaan) was hired first out of the leads, and we auditioned the others to see how they would play off each other.
[SPOILER ALERT] Was following superhero tropes, such as making Andrew (DeHaan) into the villain, what was always planned as the outcome?
Josh Trank: Yes, definitely, also the influences of things going on around him, from him changing from being the victim to the threat. The character of Matt slowly grows up throughout, too, and goes to stop Andrew, not through any gallant superhero move, but because it’s a grown-up, adult instinct to do the right thing.
The film has a 80s’ feel to it…
Josh Trank: Yeah, it was only after watching the first cut that we realised this. Amy Heckerling movies obviously had a big influence in the way the characters relate to each other and have chemistry.
How are there no repercussions from Andrew and Steve showing off their magical talents at the school talent show?
Josh Trank: There were a couple of takes for that scene, like water going over the audience, but it stopping mid-air. However, we couldn’t afford to do that! We got give far enough at the talent show for it to still be humanly possible – any further and it would have been too far.
Anything else you left out of the final cut?
Josh Trank: Yeah, you’ll see them on the DVD extras; mainly things to do with scheduling or that didn’t fit into the movie. The idea is to be absorbed on first viewing, and asking, “where’s it going?”
Running at under 90 minutes, did you deliberately make the film short?
Josh Trank: I just like short movies – a movie needs to be as long as it needs to be. I’m a big Alan Clarke fan, and his movies are short and are played naturalistically.
Josh Trank: Well, it seems to be working and getting a lot of attention. I leave that sort of thing up to the marketing guys. I gave they some ideas, and just wanted them to embrace the style of the movie and that it gets darker.
Are there any nods to Brian De Palma’s Carrie in this?
Josh Trank: Max and I have not gone into what other film influences are put in. We’ve basically tipped our hats to a lot of little things.
If there was a US version of Akira, Chronicle would be it – would you make one?
Josh Trank: After Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, I stopped judging remakes. Who knows?
Will you be doing Fantastic Four or X-Men?
Josh Trank: It’s a little weird, as I knew this movie would work, but it’s been surprising how everyone’s responded. I have been working on some original ideas and things are being talking about, but nothing’s a signed deal yet.
Who’s your favourite comic-book character?
Josh Trank: Batman – Frank Miller is my favourite writer as I grew up with the Tim Burton Batman.
[SPOILER ALERT] Will the Chronicle story continue?
Josh Trank: We have ideas. We’ll see what happens as Matt’s still alive – and the others might be too…
Chronicle is out 1st February. Read our review here.