Storm (1999): The Done Thing

Dave chats to writer-director Harris Done again, and learns about his time making a movie for the legendary Phillip J. Roth.

“In the opening sequence of STORM, we have all these great sound effects,” remembers Harris Done. “There was the growl of the plane engines, the missile being released, then the wind howling. They all seemed so good! Then, we added the music score, which sounded absolutely amazing.”

“The guy doing the mix turned to me and asked what element I wanted to hear. He said when they’re played all at once, it’s too much noise! I said I didn’t know. After all, my last movie was pretty quiet. It was just desert breezes and footsteps with a moody soundtrack [laughs].”  

You have to admit that if you put a wager on Done’s next movie after the sublime, sweat-stained subterfuge of Sand Trap (1997), chances are you would have lost a few quid. Instead of another lo-fi wonder that made use of an intelligent and multifarious script, Done found himself on the set of a Phillip J. Roth movie. Now, despite our heartfelt affection for the tireless mogul, a superior screenplay is an infrequent sight on the set of a Unified Film Organization picture, as Done agrees.

“Going into Storm from Sand Trap was a lot of fun, but the script we had was not good. I love Phil Roth, but script development wasn’t a strong suit at UFO. They developed solid, FX driven concept films and spent their money on the promo trailers to get pre-sales – not paying good or even actual screenwriters. So my preparation was filled with a lot of rewrites, which I did with my friend Diane Fine, who was a USC classmate and my previous documentary film editor, and with whom I’d already done a couple spec scripts.”  

The work of Done and Fine in beating the original script into a workable shape is all too apparent because Storm is that rare beast of a Phillip J. Roth movie, one that juggles a handful of tropes successfully, while skipping between disaster movie and conspiracy thriller with relative ease and coherence.

Beginning with a flashback to August 1992, we’re privy to a Black Ops research program led by General Roberts (Martin Sheen), which has perfected a device that’s capable of controlling the weather. However, during a test run, the mechanism goes rogue which leads to a catastrophic hurricane that leaves a trail of death and devastation. Fast-forward seven years, and the project is on the cusp of being revived, with Roberts having enlisted the help of a boundary-pushing meteorologist, Dr. Ron Young (Luke Perry). Young, though, despite his initial ignorance of the General’s nefarious plan to use the new technology as a weapon of mass destruction, soon realises he’s the only person who can prevent its deployment.

For Done, it’s clear that the casting of Sheen was a colossal draw in terms of why he signed on to the project, and the director is effusive in his praise for the legendary actor.

“I was so thrilled to get to work with him. In terms of the script, he asked us to make him a shadier character with questionable intentions, which was fun, but working with him on the set was a career highlight. A real movie star, a total pro, and generous to a fault. I remember the first scene we did was the opening of the movie in the control room.  We were shooting in Van Nuys in the Valley at the height of summer ’98, and it was hot as balls on set. After we shot his coverage, I told him he could leave if he wanted, but he elected to stay so he could do off camera looks and lines for day players who only had one line! He wanted to keep the uniform on as well to make it better. Martin was so good in scenes even when he didn’t have anything to say. He was the best listener. In the edit you kept wanting to cut to him because he enhanced the performance of the performer with the dialogue. And the Apocalypse Now (1979) stories he would tell at lunch were amazing [laughs]. He would be my first call for any project I ever did. A great actor and an even better human being.”

“Luke Perry was really fun to work with too,” continues Done. “I was surprised: he always played these cool Brando-esque characters but he was so goofy and funny on set. Martin’s daughter, Renee Estevez, was part of the package with him. When I came on, she was going to play the pilot, and then she decided she wanted to play the reporter – so we tweaked that. There was a lot of freedom, both with the rewrite and how to play the scenes. Providing we stayed on schedule and made our days, we were good. I had shot enough around Phil that he knew I’d get it done. He’s a fun guy to work with – plus, it was so much fun to be shooting around airplanes. I feel like I got to do some Michael Bay-esque hardware shots. We got to do an aerial day which was a blast.”

Lensed a few years prior to Shark Hunter (2001) when Roth upped sticks, headed to Bulgaria, and increased his output, Storm has a smidge more quality than its post-millennium stablemates. Its weaknesses lie in sparse set decoration, an occasional plot contrivance, and the crude rendering of the weather device. Otherwise it’s an effective programmer.

Done recalls the experience with great fondness, not least because of the scale that Roth’s production provided.

“It was great to have those extra days and be able to shoot for a full month. It was also fun to do an FX movie and to design shots and sequences that were to be totally computer generated. Then, the sheer extent of having a whole crew with actual departments and a script supervisor and an art department and effects people as opposed to doing it all yourself. It was a world away from Sand Trap.”

Sent to British rental stores courtesy of the much-missed Third Millennium label, Storm appeared in the U.S. under the slightly revised title of ‘Storm Tracker’ via York Home Video, a few months after it had premiered on the Fox Family Channel in a primetime slot.

Despite featuring Luke Perry, Uwe Boll’s The Final Storm (2010) bears no relation – nor does NBC’s mini-series The Storm (2009), which tells the eerily similar tale of a secret military project that has created a device to manipulate the weather.

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