Colin Trevorrow is the director of 2015’s smash blockbuster, Jurassic World, the fourth installment of one of the most successful movie franchises in history. He is responsible for creating the third highest grossing domestic film of all time, taking in world-wide ticket sales of over $1 billion. He has signed on to be the director of Star Wars: Episode IX, the last chapter of arguably the greatest story the movie business has ever produced.
And yet, Colin Trevorrow is the last person you would expect to be Colin Trevorrow.
Colin gives off a vibe that is somewhere between the dad next door and a Storytelling Strategies professor. He’s down to earth, loves his family, and has a special place in his heart for 1980s Amblin films.
Inspired by directors like Spielberg, Colin attended NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film & TV in the late 90s hoping to become the next great American film director. It would be surprising to learn that his filmmaking career at NYU ended with Sight & Sound. As Colin put it, “I didn’t want to waste my parent’s money”.
After tuition and fees at Tisch, Colin just didn’t have enough to fund intermediate or advanced projects. Since it would be another twenty years until he would be given a budget of $162 million to direct a summer blockbuster, Colin focused on the screenwriting track. What was originally a way of staying in film school without making films, writing scripts now became Colin’s training in how to be a great storyteller.
How do you tell a story in 90 minutes that appeals to everyone around the world?
Almost a decade after his graduation from NYU Colin had sold several scripts but he had not yet directed a feature film. Even after years of creative struggle, Colin still loved telling stories, and he decided it was high time that he made one of his own. He called up his old classmate from Tisch, Derek Connolly and they started a writing team.
Eventually they put together an independent feature called Safety Not Guaranteed. Based on a classified ad by a man seeking someone to assist him in his time-travel escapades, Colin and Derek created a low-budget movie that was artistically professional and “jointly personal.” This independent feature would be Colin’s directorial debut.
Before the final screening at Sundance, Colin made a drastic change, much against Derek’s wishes. He completely changed the ending of the film.
The film was set-up for the time traveler to be proven crazy at the end. Instead, Colin reedited the sequence so that the time traveler succeeds in his mission. That decision led 3,000 audience members at Sundance to cheer at once.
Sometime later, Colin got a call from Universal.
Steven Spielberg had seen the film and wanted to talk to him about a future project. This project, of course, eventually became Jurassic World.
Talking to Spielberg during the production of Jurassic World, Colin finally asked him why he had picked a guy who directed one indie feature to head this monster of a movie.
“Ultimately the question of Safety Not Guaranteed came down to this,” he explained. “Is this person crazy or is magic possible? I liked your answer.”
We all ask that same question when we see Colin. I think that’s a question that not only says a lot about film making, but Colin as a person. But we have to recognize the magic in his life when we see it and use it as an example in our own lives. And the truth surprises us.
It’s the financial limits, the desire for collaboration and the spontaneous decisions that cultivate success. And maybe someday, like Colin, we’ll have the opportunity to create worlds to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Thomas K. Fields is a student in the NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film and TV Department from the class of 2017.