The story behind the summer’s most monstrous movie, by the people who made it

Words: Nick de Semlyen Site Design: Ross Bennett, Amar Vijay & Nick Heal

“We just got hired to write a Jurassic Park movie!”

In 2001, Jurassic Park III came and went, leaving us with the image of three pteranodons gliding towards Costa Rica. Then: nothing. The phenomenally successful dinosaur franchise became fossilised, rumours of a fourth movie regularly arising and then dissipating over the next decade. Universal and Steven Spielberg continued to bring in writers to try to crack the story. But it was only when a man named Colin came on board that the series had a true shot at de-extinction.

Colin Trevorrow (director): I first saw Jurassic Park on a Thursday night at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, California. My buddy worked there and he was able to watch it with other employees at midnight. So I put pillows under my blankets to make it seem like I was sleeping and snuck out of the house. I remember vividly the shot at the beginning where the camera pushes into a piece of amber with a mosquito inside. That hit me hard.

Pat Crowley (producer): In early 2012, we had a script (by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) for Jurassic Park 4, as it was then known, and we were looking for a director. I talked to Colin on the phone and was really impressed. I told Steven, “We should meet him in person.”

Trevorrow: They flew me out a couple of days later. I live in Vermont, on the outside of the business, and I’m a believer that my work will speak for itself. I guess there was something in Safety Not Guaranteed that Steven was interested in bringing to his franchise.

“We had a great time designing the action sequences, acting out the dinosaur parts. Scaring the guy bringing room service!”

Colin Trevorrow

Crowley: Colin was really impressive in the room. In his recounting of his love for the movies, we started feeling more and more confident in his abilities.

Trevorrow: They gave me the current draft of the script to read. And I instantly knew I couldn’t make that movie. I went back to them saying, “I’m so honoured, but if I’m going to do this we really need to build a different movie. I’ll bring in my writing partner Derek and do it quickly and efficiently. But please give us the opportunity to do that before this relationship ends.”

Derek Connolly (co-writer): Colin called me in April 2012 and said, “We just got hired to write a Jurassic Park movie! But we need to start from page 1. What are you doing right now?” It was crazy — literally the next day they put us in a beautiful hotel room in the Shangri-La in Santa Monica, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the ocean.

Trevorrow: The story evolved very quickly. Derek would write during the day and I would take over at night. I wrote the Irrfan Khan and Vincent D”Onofrio and B.D. Wong characters. Derek is excellent at writing kids and women. We had a great time designing the action sequences, acting out the dinosaur parts. Scaring the guy bringing room service!

Connolly: I’m not sure if I should reveal this, but I had never seen a Jurassic Park film until the day Colin called me. I watched all three that afternoon for the first time in my life. The first one is amazing: it’s funny and the characters are great. The sequels, not so much.

Crowley: The idea that it’s a finished park came from Steven. Hammond’s dream. Or continuing nightmare…

Trevorrow: There was a tremendous amount of potential in it being a functional park. The other idea that had been developed already was a character who has a relationship with the raptors. In earlier versions of the script he was out there with them in the jungle, hunting down drug lords. I couldn’t go there. But I could make a movie about the very tenuous relationship between a man and a vicious animal. Those guys who run around with lions on Animal Planet fascinate me.

Connolly: Our approach was to take the idea of trained raptors and make it as realistic as can be. I’ve seen people put their head in the mouth of an alligator. Check YouTube.

Trevorrow: We knew we needed to enter the story through the eyes of a child. So we start in Wisconsin, in the snow, with these two kids leaving the house and getting into a mini-van. Their parents are sending them off to the airport and all these really mundane, normal things. Then they get on a ferry and a monorail and things are getting a little more strange. Suddenly, you arrive in Jurassic World. That’s the first moment of awe — and that’s when you play the theme!

Frank Marshall (producer): They promised a full, page-one rewrite in less than three weeks. We thought it would take more like a month, but they were actually a couple of days early. It was amazing.

Crowley: We felt we were ready to go. We set up a production office in Hawaii and we were moving. But Steven didn’t feel that the script was quite where he wanted it to be. So we pushed from a 2014 release to 2015. It was a blessing — it gave us a lot of time to figure out this huge movie.

Connolly: We spent the summer with Spielberg, refining stuff. David Koepp was in one of the meetings. It was surreal. All of a sudden I’m at Amblin and there’s Rosebud, the Rosebud from Citizen Kane, on the wall. And behind you is a scale model of his giant yacht. Crazy.

Part 2

The Characters

“Were Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn just giant dorks?”

The first two Jurassic Park sequels had, rather implausibly, brought back Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum for further menacing-by-lizards. Jurassic World’s writers quickly decided that there was no place in the new theme park for franchise veterans, with the exception of one familiar face. Well, two if you count Mr. DNA.

Trevorrow: People talk about how they want Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm back. But we felt that there are other ways to make you feel that nostalgia. Showing the person, 25 years on, might make you feel old and remind you that you’re on a slow march towards death, like the rest of us!

Connolly: We would only bring characters back if the story demanded it. Not just, “How can we fit so-and-so in?” Doctor Wu makes sense. He’s the leading expert in this field, so of course they’d bring him back.

B.D. Wong (Henry Wu): I didn’t take Jurassic Park that seriously when I did it 22 years ago. To be honest, I was quite disappointed that this complex and interesting role from the book did not translate at all to the movie. I have a friend, Nathan, who is a big fan of the franchise, who over the years kept saying, “You’ll see– it’ll come back to you…” He had all these fan-fiction ideas about how it would happen. And it happened!

Trevorrow: What’s Wu up to in this movie? Some shady shit.

Wong: I have to be careful what I say. I’ve been warned. What I will say is that he is pivotal. There’s a certain responsibility he shares with several other characters for what happens in the movie. This is a juicier role this time around. And I get a cut of labcoat that is a little more flattering and less industrial-looking. I had worked with the costume designer, Daniel [Orlandi], on The Normal Heart, and my first question was, “Can we do anything about the labcoat?”

“It’s like a horror film where you don’t show the monster. That’s a good description of Owen and Claire’s romantic history!”

Bryce Dallas Howard

Trevorrow: When we cast Chris Pratt, we had no idea he’d become as big a star as he has. I just cast a bunch of character actors, as all Jurassic Park movies have. And somehow we ended up with a movie star.

Chris Pratt (Owen Grady): Colin saw me in Zero Dark Thirty and thought, “That’s the kind of guy I want.” Owen was probably spec-ops, a Navy Seal. My idea was that he worked with dolphins in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He works on the outskirts of the island, studying the behaviour of these raptors. He’s a rugged guy with a cool motorbike, who likes to fish, fight and fuck. He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does he prefers Dos Equis.

Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing): Claire is operational manager of the park. She’s the ultimate establishment lackey. Whereas Chris plays a lone wolf with a sweet shack.

Pratt: There’s a little bit of history between our characters that’s thinly veiled. We don’t know exactly what went on, but they did go on a date.

Howard: Something awful happened. Awful.

Pratt: We have our own backstory of how it went down. It’s a secret, but the audience can take away what they will.

Howard: It’s like a horror film where you don’t show the monster, and each person imagines the worst thing possible. That’s a good description of Owen and Claire’s romantic history!

Trevorrow: There’s a lot of It Happened One Night there. A roguish man and an uptight woman, sent out on an adventure that neither of them necessarily want to be on. It’s a ’30s screwball romantic comedy, with horrific dinosaurs and blood and death.

Pratt: The screen test Bryce and I did together was an incredible day. We shot it on 16mm with an old-school camera, on this airfield in Oahu, Hawaii, where planes took off during World War II. I’m looking at Bryce in this white pantsuit with her bob haircut, me tanned with a little bit of grease and oil on my arm. You could hear the film rolling and it felt like we were on the set of The African Queen. We looked at each other and I said, “Were Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn just giant dorks?”

Howard: I said, “No. They were not dorks.”

Nick Robinson (Zach Mitchell): Bryce plays our aunt. Although in real life she’s more like a mother figure. One day Ty got metal cuts all over his legs. And Bryce came over and was like, “Oh, Ty”, and rubbed his legs with soap. She’s a sweetheart.

Ty Simpkins (Gray Mitchell): I still have the scars.

Robinson: Ty and I met each other in the audition. I thought he was already cast as the younger brother, and he thought I was already cast as the older brother. Whereas in fact neither of us had got the job yet. We did a scream test — that’s what they actually called it — which was way outside my comfort zone. But it went well.

Simpkins: I like screaming. It’s fun.

Robinson: At the beginning Zach and Gray don’t get along. But there’s nothing like a near-death experience to bring people together.

Trevorrow: One of my main aims was to have the kid characters in the film not be annoying. And I think we pulled it off.

Part 3

The Dinosaurs

“The movie kinda turns into Gremlins.”

Jurassic World’s menagerie consists of a mixture of old and new scaly faces. Fan favourites like the velociraptors, the gallimimus and the T-Rex are back, while new and deadly additions to Jurassic World include flying dimorphodons, a water-leviathan called the mosasaurus, and the Indominus Rex, a designer dinosaur brewed up using DNA from cuttlefish, tree frog, T-Rex and a few classified beasts.

Crowley: We’re able to have a lot more creatures than we had before.

Marshall: The first movie’s mainly about the T-Rex and the little spitting guy and then the raptors. This is a far vaster park, and at the centre of it is the bad girl, the one genetically modified dinosaur that we have, which is sort of our reference to what Big Business does. It’s got to be bigger, badder, better, because people are bored.

Marshall: We don’t call her the I-Rex. It’s Indominus for short. We were a little nervous that the first look people got of her was through the toy, but Hasbro did a great job. She’s even scary in plastic.

Trevorrow: It’s not tremendously different from what they were doing in the first film, by adding frog DNA. It’s the next level. What’s interesting to me is that this thing was raised in captivity with no parents and no siblings, and has never seen outside the walls that it grew up in. Animals like that who are already hybrids, as any farmer will tell you, are fucking crazy.

Connolly: It’s different to anything you’ve seen before. It’s a little unhinged. A little skewed. There are dolphins that go on killing sprees when they’re cooped up. There are animals out there that murder just for the sake of murdering.

Tim Alexander (ILM VFX supervisor): She’s going to steal the show.

Trevorrow: None of the previous movies have had a dinosaur that you can kill. If the shoot a dinosaur, you die — that’s the rule. By creating one that’s synthetic, we’ve allowed the humans to go on the offensive, which takes the story to a different level.

Phil Tippett (dinosaur consultant): I was dinosaur supervisor on the first movie. All the fans say I did a terrible job because the dinosaurs got loose, so they demoted me. My job this time was to throw out ideas and try to make the big sequences better. I helped Colin work out the actions some of the creatures could do.

Dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett, consulting a dinosaur.
Dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett, consulting a dinosaur.

Crowley: I’m a big fan of the dimorphodon, which looks like a scary parrot.

Marshall: When those things get loose, the movie kinda turns into Gremlins. They’re extremely vicious.

Michael Giacchino (composer): They’ve got enormous beaks. Their heads are almost bigger than their bodies. If you were breeding a ton of these creatures and they managed to escape, there’d be chaos.

Pratt: Most of my scenes are with the four raptors. Each of them has their own distinct personality. There’s one that Owen has a special bond with — Blue, my star pupil. But he’s always right on the edge of losing control.

Glen McIntosh (ILM animation supervisor): They’re the crowd favourite, aren’t they? We talked about the idea that Ingen has genetically modified them. The one called Delta has been infused with more bird DNA, so she’s more of a problem-solver. Blue is the beta and slightly larger. Echo has a scar across her muzzle, from when she tried to usurp Blue and got bitten. She had to go into reconstructive surgery and her jaw is offset — we nicknamed her Elvis because she has an Elvis-like sneer. Charlie is the youngest and twitchiest. She knows her place, but she’s dangerous.

“We were a little nervous that the first look people got of the Indominus Rex was through the toy. But she’s even scary in plastic.”

Frank Marshall

Pratt: The training of a raptor is closest to that of a bear, because they can multi-task. Cats are pretty food-driven, so lions and tigers can do one trick. Bears can do nine or ten in a row.

Trevorrow: The first order you see the raptors follow is that they don’t eat a live pig. The idea that a velociraptor would not eat a very delicious piece of prey, at the behest of a human, to me was as far as we should be able to go.

Howard: I’m boring, so I like the herbivores. The brontosaurus is just really gentle and I have all these associations with it — even before Jurassic Park, I loved The Land Before Time. I named my dog Littlefoot.

Part 4

The Shoot

“Things happen quickly in a dinosaur emergency.”

Like the original movie, the production headed to Hawaii for a long stint of the shoot. Unlike the original movie, they managed to avoid having sets trashed by a hurricane, although some days they were reduced to three hours of shooting due to torrential rain. Interiors including the Visitor’s Centre, the control room and laboratories were shot in New Orleans, at NASA’s Michoud facility. Further days were spent at the city’s abandoned Six Flags theme park, which was suitably infested by reptiles.

Crowley: We did a lot in Hawaii. Only one jungle scene was done on an indoor stage.

Howard: It was so freaking beautiful. My first day, they rushed me out of hair and make-up because the natural light was just right outside. They were like, “Quick, quick, quick!” I wasn’t even fully dressed yet, but they put me in a helicopter and it immediately took off and went super-high. We were over the ocean, with mountains and this volcano in the distance, looking down at the dinosaur paddocks, and I thought, “This is it. I’m at Jurassic World.”

Robinson: Our big, epic running scenes, where we’re being chased by dinosaurs, were in Oahu. We actually went to the ranch where the original was filmed. It was beautiful.

On location in Hawaii, where the original Jurassic Park also shot.
On location in Hawaii, where the original Jurassic Park also shot.

Howard: My costume gets trashed during this movie. Things happen quickly in a dinosaur emergency.

Trevorrow: I wanted Claire to look like a white egret, and then be slowly torn apart over the course of the movie. To me, she is the park. And she’s the character who really transforms. I said to Bryce, “We’re going to tear off all your clothes, piece by piece. Not in a creepy way!”

Wong: I have a great fondness for Bryce, because she played my daughter in a production of Our Town at a summer stock theatre when she was quite young. It was great to work with her again.

Howard: I remember being by a lake that had real sharks in it. We would be shooting and Chris would be, “Hey, there’s a fin there…” For Jurassic, it couldn’t just be any lake. We had to find the lake with sharks!

Pratt: I’ve crashed on motorcycles several times in my life. And did in this movie. I hit the front brakes going through mud, went ass over teakettle, got thrown about 20 feet and did a dive-roll. My character doesn’t wear a helmet, because he’s cool, but miraculously I was only hurt and not injured. The bike got totalled. Every time I get on a motorcycle my confidence eventually outweighs my skill and I do something fucking stupid and eat shit. Every time.

Trevorrow: The petting zoo is fun. I have this great photo where my son and a couple of other kids are riding on the backs of these guys in grey (performance-capture) suits.

“One of the restaurants is named after Stan Winston. I showed Steven Spielberg a picture of the set going up and he got emotional.”

Frank Marshall

Howard: The raptors and many of the other dinosaurs were performed on set by guys in leotards. That was pretty funny to watch. And there was one animatronic dinosaur actually there. Luckily it was a herbivore.

Crowley: It was Colin’s insistence to make an animatronic dinosaur. I said, “Colin, this is going to cost a lot of money. Why do we want to do this?” He said, “We have to.” It’s important to him that fans be happy with this film.

Trevorrow: We were in the middle of this field in Kauai. There were five or six guys that control her. And my son was able to walk right up and watch her eating grass. I don’t think he understood that it wasn’t real. As a father, and also as the director of the movie, you go, “Oh wow, this is going to work…”

Connolly: I went out to Hawaii for two weeks and they took me over to the raptor area. I remember us hatching this nebulous idea of a man training raptors, and describing this area with elevated catwalks. Suddenly I’m seeing this huge structure that cost $2 million, but it’s exactly the way I described it.

Marshall: We built the Main Street set at Six Flags in New Orleans. It’s this abandoned theme park with alligators crawling around and snakes and stuff. One night this four-foot alligator lodged itself underneath the water truck.

Trevorrow: Any time you deal with real animals, it can be a challenge. It was a pretty short shoot for a movie of this size — 78 days — and so we were extremely prepared. But we had a tough time with a two-headed snake. The second head didn’t look like it wanted to be there. That was our “the shark is not working” moment!

Marshall: Jimmy Buffett’s a really good friend of mine, so we put him in the movie. You’ll see him serving cocktails — we call them Raptorinas — at Margaritaville. Jimmy Fallon’s in it too, as the guy who gives you instructions as to how get around in the gyrosphere ride. He’s incredibly funny in it.

Jurassic World’s celebrity bartender, singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
Jurassic World’s celebrity bartender, singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

Crowley: There are a lot of nods to the original. Mr. DNA makes a cameo on a glass wall in the Visitor’s Centre. There’s a statue of John Hammond. Colin is so imbued with the lore of these movies.

Trevorrow: I have a cameo in the movie, but it’s a voice cameo and if anyone spots it I’ll be impressed.

Marshall: One of the restaurants on Main Street is called Winston’s, after Stan Winston. I was there when the set was going up and showed Steven Spielberg a picture. He got really emotional. There’s a lot of heart and loyalty and family in this movie.

Trevorrow: This time around the control room is non-smoking. It’s amazing how many people smoke in old movies. Even the Ghostbusters do! Our control room also has a mini love story playing out in it. There are these two nerds next to each other, while the adventurers are out going through the real shit, sitting there like, “What’s up?”

Howard: Colin is an amazing filmmaker. He has total command over this world. Also, he’s just a rounded, relaxed, sensible person.

Trevorrow: We shot on 35mm and 65mm film; I wanted a Doctor Zhivago canvas. It was actually a much less stressful experience than Safety Not Guaranteed. My favourite day was when we hosed down the crowd on the mosasaurus bleachers. We just blasted 200 people with ridiculous amounts of water. There was something about seeing a large group of people having a genuine reaction that got me really giddy. I guess I just love waterboarding people…

Part 5

The Post

“We’re trying to bring back the awe.”

Jurassic World was now a full-length film — with no dinosaurs in it. ILM’s best boffins worked overtime to populate the park with beasts, not least on an epic final sequence that stretched their computers to their limits. Meanwhile, Trevorrow spent a month at Skywalker Sound cooking up roars, hisses and growls. Which prompted fellow director Rod Lurie to tweet in February: “#JurassicWorld is being edited in the bays right above me. I can’t see any footage, but I assure you this will be a very loud movie.”

Trevorrow: It’s a tricky film to get right. You’re telling a really big story, with a lot of moving parts. It’s romantic and funny and scary and suspenseful — a sci-fi terror adventure. Most of the time you only have to be one thing, but we have to be eight.

McIntosh: Colin was always pointing us back to the first film, insofar as imbuing the dinosaurs with personality. There’s new technology that we’re bringing to bear to help inform that. Every animator that came onto the show would look at rhinos and elephants and komodo dragons. The raptors have crocodile pupils and their movements are inspired by the African raven.

“The first conversation I had with Colin was about where to use the John Williams theme. We both desperately wanted to hear that.”

Michael Giacchino

Trevorrow: We have about 960 VFX shots, which is on the low end, although the last big shot of the movie is almost a minute-and-a-half long. With each one we’ve paid so much attention to making these animals move like animals. Their tails will knock flies off their back. They’ll breath out of the side of their nose. What ILM can do is pretty remarkable. They designed this app which allowed you to hold up an iPad on set, look through it like a viewfinder and see a dinosaur right there next to the man or woman. And it’s our dinosaur — it’s not Barney.

McIntosh: The last Jurassic Park film was in 2001. Now it’s 2015, which is like a lifetime in visual effects. We had parkour athletes performing the raptors on set, whose work is combined with that of animators.

Sign outside the Jurassic World sound-mix bay at Skywalker Sound.
Sign outside the Jurassic World sound-mix bay at Skywalker Sound.

Alexander: We’re trying to bring back the awe. What’s cool is that a lot of people who worked on the first film are involved. Dennis Muren has been involved all the way through it. Our modelling supervisor actually built some of the original dinosaurs on Jurassic Park.

Trevorrow: Steven [Spielberg] talked to me a lot about scale: using long lenses and being careful to put people in the deep foreground so the dinosaur looks bigger. He’d watch footage every day and dispense little bits of filmmakery advice. “Don’t get too tight in the first 15 minutes… Don’t get into ‘choker’ shots until things get really intense.” When we were plotting out the big final battle, he sent me an email: “I did a new previz.” And he’d attached a film of his two dogs on the lawn, growling and lunging at each other. So there’s one shot that’s based on Steven Spielberg’s dogs in his backyard.

A page of Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World.
A page of Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World.

Giacchino: The first conversation I had with Colin was about where we wanted to use the John Williams theme. We both desperately wanted to hear that in the theatre. From then on, Colin was saying, “Now it’s our movie and we can go where we want.”

Trevorrow: I want it to be truly great. This has been an amazing experience, fuelled by my love of the movie they made back in 1993. I’ve found myself on my iPad at 11 o’clock at night, leaving comments for the fake hotels on the Jurassic World website. It was then that I realised I’d gone too far down the rabbit hole.

Pratt: The only downside of doing this is that I probably can’t go on the Jurassic Park ride at Universal anymore. I’ll look like the saddest man on Earth. Though maybe I should wait ten years and then do it in my costume, which won’t fit anymore. “Wheeeeee!