Exclusive: Alan Ruck reflects on Twister’s 25th anniversary & hectic filming
While chatting with the Succession for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the hit horror-comedy Freaky, ComingSoon.net looked back with Alan Ruck at his work on Jan de Bont’s hit disaster adventure Twister for its 25th anniversary and its notoriously hectic production. Click here to digitally purchase Freaky!
Shot on location in Oklahoma, the technical-effects-heavy set of Twister was laden with problems across its five-months shoot, from various rewrites happening all the way through the first two weeks of production to weather and physical taxation on its actors and crew.
Ruck, who had previously worked with de Bont on his acclaimed directorial debut Speed two years prior, looks back fondly on the production in spite of some of these issues, even laughing at the recollection that the former cinematographer’s catchphrase on set throughout the shoot was “F***ing Hell Shit!”
“He was demanding, but everybody was so behind him, the whole crew was behind him because it was like, ‘Wow, one of us made it over the line, baby,” Ruck warmly recalled of the Keanu Reeves-starring production. “A cinematographer’s directing a picture, and so the camera crew was just outstanding and we had a lot of fun. We had like, 12 different buses. It was insane, we had the 105 freeway all to ourselves before it opened to the public and it was a thrilling job. So then, Twister comes along and Jan, I came in to read for it, but Jan had just decided that I was going to be in that movie and so, I’m happy to go, you know? He was under a lot of pressure from bigger people than himself on that picture and he had difficult times because he is a cinematographer and the original cinematographer on that was a guy named Don Burgess, who’s a wonderful, talented guy, but is not like Jan at all. Don does his own storyboards, he does his own shot lists, he plans everything out to the last detail. Jan is like, ‘Let’s shoot from the hip, baby.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ Sometimes he’ll jump in and say, ‘I’m going to operate. I’ll operate this shot.’ You know? That’s just who he is. So there was a clash of personalities, and that did not go well at all. At one point Jan pissed somebody off and Don just said, ‘That’s it.’ He took his whole crew back to LA.”
Following Burgess and his crew’s departure from the movie, Warner Bros. and de Bont hired frequent Clint Eastwood collaborator Jack Green to come in and finish up the shoot and while Ruck felt “it went well,” he did note that a lot of the physical effects and the work trying to imagine the titular storm at the size de Bont envisioned was “punishing.”
“We were out in the boiling sun in Oklahoma and in Iowa under clear blue skies, you know, pretending we were looking at horrific weather,” Ruck explained. “So we were just like, acting our asses off, and then when we saw the movie we’re like, ‘Oh, we all could’ve been bigger.’ Because Jan was always saying, ‘You guys are scared to death. You think you’re going to die. It’s the biggest tornado you’ve ever seen. You’re going to die.’ You know, and we would just be looking at a clear blue sky and we’d be like ‘Ah, ah, ah,’ just feeling like assholes because it’s like everything they teach you not to do in acting school. They had a machine that was a long chute down which they slid huge blocks of ice and at the bottom of the chute was a V8 engine that was attached to an enormous chopper blade. They cranked that thing up and they dropped the ice and it would chop the ice up into ice cubes and hurl it into the sky and they could shoot it wherever they wanted. They would pelt us with this stuff that was supposed to be hail, but they were ice cubes and they had a lot of velocity. When you get hit like on the top of your head or your shoulder blades, the top of your shoulders, your arms, your hands with pieces of ice that — I don’t know how fast they’re going but man they were moving — it just hurts. You know, it just sucks.
“Then, they had jet engines to create enormous wind, just like, taken off of airplanes and mounted on the back of a truck,” Ruck continued. “They would generate all this jet exhaust and then throw pieces of Styrofoam to look like wood and brick and we’d get pelted with that stuff. You know, it just sucked, but I was glad I did it. I was glad for the experience, it was a long job. I mean I think we started in April and I think we finished in August, we went to Iowa and there was this sequence called ‘the beautiful farm’ and there was this old farmhouse they found on a pig farm. They came in and they did Hollywood magic on it and they made it look like it was gorgeous. But the inside is basically rotten, it was just a façade and they planted like, an acre of corn, the Hollywood people, the crew people planted like full grown stalks of corn, right, because they’re all going to get ripped out in the final sequence with Bill and Helen. But the problem there was everything smelled like pig manure. Everything. I mean, the smell got into our clothes, it got into our campers. It got in. It was just bad, man. I mean, it was just like, moviemaking is not always sunglasses and red carpets. Sometimes it just hits you. [laughs] It’s a long time ago. I was a lot younger. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’d want to do it again.”
Though Jurassic Park scribe Michael Crichton having written the original script and Steven Spielberg acting as a producer on the project via his Amblin Entertainment banner, Ruck notes he didn’t recall seeing either on the set of the production, but did see the latter while working on the pilot for the Michael J. Fox-led ABC sitcom Spin City.
“I believe he was there and then I saw him once – I’m trying to remember the name of this show I worked on about 2014, I worked on this show up in Canada that starred Lily Rabe,” Ruck said of the short-lived mystery drama The Whispers. “It was about aliens, but I can’t remember the name of it now. But it was under one of Spielberg’s companies and so, I met him up there. He’s a very, very nice guy, but I don’t remember him being on set during Twister. He might’ve been, but I don’t remember it.”
Released in May 1996, Twister centered on estranged married couple Jo and Bill Harding (Paxton and Hunt) as they’re reunited while storm chasing during a sever tornado outbreak in Oklahoma as they make efforts to deploy a research device to help improve lead times on tornado warnings.
Alongside Paxton, Hunt and Ruck, the ensemble cast for the film included Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Jami Gertz (The Neighbors), Sean Whalen (The People Under the Stairs) and Jeremy Davies (Justified).
The film proved to be a massive hit upon its theatrical release, grossing over $495 million at the box office on its estimated $92 million budget and garnered two Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound, and would continue to find audiences over the past 25 years thanks to frequent showings on cable TV. A reboot is currently in the works at Universal Pictures with Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) in talks to helm.