Exclusive Interview With ‘The Hurricane Heist’ Director Rob Cohen

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Rob Cohen Interview for 'The Hurricane Heist'

The actual hurricane season has come early to the U.S., so I guess it’s only natural that the movie The Hurricane Heist is arriving soon as well. Debuting on 4k, Blu-ray and DVD June 5, 2018, The Hurricane Heist is about an attempted robbery of $600 Million from a U.S. Treasury facility on the Gulf Coast using a category-5 hurricane for cover.  The action-packed movie is directed by industry veteran Rob Cohen, who described the incredible challenges bringing a movie like this to life in an exclusive interview. Check out my conversation with Rob below and pick up a copy of the 4KBlu-ray or DVD beginning on June 5th. If you can’t wait until then, it’s already available for streaming. Enjoy!

GeekDad: “Since you’ve been involved in making movies for several decades now, even having produced Eighties classics like The Legend of Billie Jean and The Monster Squad. What has changed the most for you in how you approach movie making throughout the years?”

Cohen: “Part of it is comfort with the process. There’s a very complex process of getting films made, which is like “act 1.” Then “act 2:” getting them physically made, getting them made by financing or getting a studio to green-light a film. Then you got to go make it, which is a whole other technical swath of knowledge and lately it’s become more important for marketing, which is your “act 3,” your advertising or marketing where in this atmosphere with so much clutter and so many things pulling people’s attentions, you need to give that as much thought as you did to how to make the film. Otherwise, you’re gonna wind up unnoticed and unloved.”

GD: “You’ve had previous experience directing fast-paced action movies like The Fast and the Furious and XXX, but neither of those took place during a hurricane. What were some unique challenges you faced during filming of The Hurricane Heist?”

Cohen: “I made two decisions off the bat. One was we were going to put the storm in front of the lens and not do it digitally. And two, we were going to have the actors do their own stunts so that the reality was absolute. Then once you make ideas like that, you then have to put up or shut up. You have to figure out how to do it. Elia Popov, our head of onset special effects, we had a series of tests to see how much we could do to make it look like the hurricane footage we got from NOAA and The Weather Channel. How much wind we could create, how much water we could create, how to get the water to look the way it does in a hurricane where it creates a certain density, the nature of debris and how much debris we could chance? And through the experiments we dialed in a technique of putting the actor in 100 mile an hour wind with all sorts of stuff coming at their face, but to keep them safe, and you see that especially in some of the scenes, especially the tower sequence. As Maggie (Grace, the film’s star) said, ‘There’s no acting required.’

That’s The fun part of directing for me is figuring it out. The execution is fun, but the stuff where you really get your jollies is the day you put a bank of four 100 mile-an-hour fans together and you’ve got just the right amount of water feeding through and just the right amount of smoke, just the right amount of chopped up leaves and grasses and things to create this blitzing debris field and you balance it all out and you’ve got the stuntman out there being the guinea pig and you go ‘Holy Christ! That looks like they’re in a hurricane!’ We had so much wind on these actors that if they jumped in the air they landed four to five feet behind themselves.”

Maggie Grace
“No acting required.” Says element-braving ‘The Hurricane Heist’ star Maggie Grace, according to director Rob Cohen

GD: “I imagine this movie was long in the works before Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. How did those devastating events impact or inform your movie? Did you change anything during production?”

Cohen: “No. The whole thing was in the can before the hurricane season even hit. The one thing I was really happy with, and I had a lot of resistance is I had written this monologue about global warming or man-made climate change as the source of all this. There were a lot of people that said “Trump this and that…” it. I want that. I want people to know. These storms are going to get worse and they’re going to get worse because the oceans are warming and so on. And I had Toby give that whole speech, so when they started to hit like Houston and all the stuff through the Caribbean, and the reporters were going ‘Well, the ocean surfaces have record warm temperatures’ and I went ‘Good!’ We said it. It’s in the film and maybe people will think about it. To me, that was one of the places that the reality impacted well on the film.”

GD: “This movie is so many things, a heist movie, a disaster movie, and a car chase movie. How would you classify The Hurricane Heist, and what was your favorite part of the finished product?”

Cohen: “I considered it a kinda multi-genre movie to begin with. The minute you have a heist and a natural disaster crossing it kinda opens up the gates for “follow the thread of the crazy that could have in fact happened.” Where you come up with ideas like ‘hub caps thrown like Frisbee could become death stars!'”

The Hurricane Heist
Trucks in a hurricane for the film ‘The Hurricane Heist’

GD: “That was one of my favorite parts.”

Cohen: “And you know, you go out and test real hubcaps and plastic versions of it, and damn it, if we put it in front of our 100-mile-per-hour wind machines, those fucking things flew and were lethal. The real ones. Then we made props and plastic ones so anyone who got hit wouldn’t get killed, but you follow these ideas where they lead. You say ‘OK, we got a shoot-out.’ How is a shoot-out different when nature is roaring from when it is just human beings who are roaring. Well, the human beings suddenly look very under-powered compared to what’s going on around them, and it makes for a very different type of gun battle. Everything gets reinterpreted by the power of nature. I love the tower sequence. I love bringing down the tower. I’m very fond of the truck chase ending. It’s 12-minutes long, on the move, nonstop. the actors are doing all their own stunts. You’ve got a triple chase or double chase. you’ve got the good guys trying to infiltrate the bad guys and rescue the female hero. You’ve got the storm chasing all of them, and it just was different, and I was able to keep it at my fingertips and keep events happening that I don’t believe got repetitive and yet it was non stop. I had fun with the one I did with the Fast and the Furious, but that was very short compared to this. So it was a wonderful chance to do a kind of, what I hoped is a virtuoso set piece on the move to create a really powerful unexpected climax to the film.”

GD: “Your actors are the stars of the movie of course, but I’d argue that another star was the character Will’s armored weather tracking vehicle. Tell me a little about how the idea for that came about and how it was actually brought to life for the big screen because I don’t recall being able to buy one of those off of the car lot.”

Cohen: “No, you can’t buy that! I wanted him to have a next-generation storm chasing vehicle and have it be an outstanding automotive presence. The first thing I started to look at as far as the new generations of small tanks…military tanks. I found some compact tanks that had the big engine plant in the back which raised the back end up so it almost had a wedge shape. We started working on that principle then talked about what they would need for shooting, what they would need for instrumentation. Then I came up with the idea that it’s jerry-rigged. It’s hand made. This is a prototype. It’s not a slick finished thing. This is like the first one they created at the national Weather Service. So I wanted wires hanging out everywhere and toggle switches just to have its guts still visible that it wasn’t’ all tidied up and looking slick. And through creating that interior in this wedge-like power plant exterior and putting on the largest tires made, we were able to create it. There were two of them. One was made out of aluminum for the stunts for lightness, and the other was made out of carbon fiber and resin. It was heavier, but prettier to look at. It had more curves and less straight lines. We just called it ‘The Dominator.'”

GD: “Other than The Hurricane Heist, what’s your favorite heist movie, and did you draw inspiration from that when making the movie?”

Cohen: “I think my favorite heist movie was Kubrik’s The Killing, where they’re going to knock over the race track. What I loved about that movie and what spoke to me was the character of Perkins, was the idea that the whole heist at the end is undone by the character flaws of the planner, of the villain. I created a character kind of like the guys in The Killing because I think it was Edward G. Robinson had a crush on the girl and every decision he made was based around the girl, and of course, that led him to disaster. Just the idea that your fate comes from your flaws…that was one of my all-time favorites. Of course I loved Ocean’s 11. I loved The Italian Job, I loved Topkapi, I loved so many of the classic ones. Heists are very imaginative and very complicated to work out. My hats off to Terry Griffin, God rest his soul. That plot of Ocean’s 11 was really, really well done.”

GD: “Do you have any new projects in the works, and are you involved in the new Monster Squad documentary at all?”

Cohen: The Monster Squad documentary?”

GD: “Yeah. There’s a Monster Squad documentary in production now, I believe, directed by Andre Gower, who you know was the star. It’s called Wolfman’s Got Nards.”

Cohen: (Laughs) “They have not contacted me and I’m learning about it now. Look, Monster Squad was one of those movies that I loved that no one got. I said ‘You don’t understand. This is the touchstone of the eighties. This is like Goonies, but with monsters. You’ve got to make it!” and nobody really believed in it, then it got a half-assed release and it only got discovered on TV and video on its various forms. So it’s good to be right in the end even if I wasn’t right at the box office. It’s one of those movies you’re really proud of when you produce it because you go “Nobody believed in it, but it stood the test of time.” It’s so much more loved. Then you look at a series like Stranger Things. I see Monster Squad references all the time!”

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