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– by Gig Patta

Director Rob Cohen started many movie franchises that is larger than life, such as The Fast and the Furious, DragonHeart, and xXx.  And The Hurricane Heist is another risk-taking venture on the big screen.

The Hurricane Heist is an ambitious story about a group of bank robbers taking on a federal facility to steal $600 million in the face of one of the largest hurricanes in history. However, a lone federal agent with the help of a meteorologist will try to foil the plans of this organized gang.

The film stars Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Ralph Ineson, Melissa Bolona and Ben Cross.

LRM had a phone interview earlier this month with director Rob Cohen on how he brought the story, special effects and stunts of The Hurricane Heist on to the big screen.

The Hurricane Heist will be playing nationwide in theaters tomorrow, Friday, March 9.

Read our interview transcript below:

LRM: If you want to know my reaction to your movie, The Hurricane Heist–it’s ridiculously fun. We have to say that. [Laughs]

Rob Cohen: Alright, I’ll take it! It sounds like a quote.

LRM: There you go! You have done so many movies, especially of those started many franchises. Why did you want to do The Hurricane Heist?

Rob Cohen: When I read this old script, it was an idea of a heist in the cover of a small hurricane with everything going wrong. Well, I thought that if you do a cross-genre in something like this–you’ll have to look at every action film [ingredient]. You’ll need to have gun battles, car chases and fights. You got to re-interpret everything, because it’s not just happening in the normal world. It’s happening in a very unnormal world of a hurricane.

That’s really exciting. It’s how you can re-invent each one of these ideas to have major nature playing a role in this human struggle. That’s got me up every day. I wanted to tackle the ideas to this day.

LRM: One of the things I just realized, this is sort of like a big indie film. I thought it was a major blockbuster project. How did you manage to pull that off?

Rob Cohen: No, it’s a 35 million dollar movie made with pieced together monies, foreign sales and every other trick. It held together and fell apart. It held together and fell apart. Finally, we just started to shoot it.

There was no way you can try to make a film opposite to the studio experience. You cannot get it further away from The Hurricane Heist. [Laughs]

LRM: Why were the choices of Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace perfect as stars for The Hurricane Heist? How did you mold them into superhumans in the storm?

Rob Cohen: First of all, when I was developing the script, I decided that I wanted the hero to be a woman for the Treasury agent and not with a guy. I thought I would make the meteorologist a guy who is terrified of hurricanes. I’ll show you on why he was terrified of them in the opening three minutes of the film. You’ll watch her take on an impossible job on defeating these burglars, who had the control of the Treasury facility. It’s also to create this unlikely partnership between the two of them, in which he never really becomes the action hero per se. He is the intellectual hero, who does some wonderful exciting things. But, she is that Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, etc.

I just liked that idea. I wanted actors that could really act. They’re not just pretty girl and pretty boy type of actors. I also wanted them to be able to take the punishment of actually making this film. A lot of more famous actors would never put themselves through it. They don’t need to. They can earn their ten million dollars by speaking lines and wearing nice clothes.

I needed people who would throw down with me in this experience. Not complain. Not afraid. Maggie is a ballsy woman. Toby will take on all challenges. Ryan [Kwantan] and Ralph [Ineson] are all the same. They relished the fact they’re being put through in this experience. It’s didn’t require acting, but believe me–that set was intense. They didn’t have to act with intensity. They just had to survive the set.

LRM: [Laughs] Speaking of the set, you filmed this in Bulgaria, in which I assumed it’s due to the project costs. How did you managed to transform Bulgaria into Alabama? You definitely fooled me.

Rob Cohen: I realized we had to build the whole Alabama town of Gulfport. The beauty of Bulgaria is that you can do some really big construction without the costs of trying to do it in America or England. They do it so well.

First, we built the town and all the parts of the town. Then we had to find practical interiors that looked American if you didn’t’ panned left or right. We also tried to pick landscapes that were not too hilly and too mountainous. This way, you can create this flatness of Alabama.

Of course, then it’s all in the actors like Ben Cross, Toby, Ryan and their accents. They’re being true in their accents. Like in any film, you have to build it up in layers, in layers and in layers. All the layers had to interact. All the layers had to sit. All the layers had to radiate a certain truth while you’re having a lot of fun on top of it all.

LRM: Could you talk about the practical effects and CGI effects on this film? How did you manage to blend everything wonderfully together?

Rob Cohen: Well, that comes from experience. I’m a super-obsessed storyboarder. Even though I don’t follow my own storyboards, once I get on the set to the letter I’ve drawn, I like my scenes broken down into pieces that I can work with my team. Like in board 107B, we’re going to have the rain here. The debris has to come from this direction. We’re going to shoot it this way. We’re going to light it this way. And we should do this in the sequence, so we can a certain amount of degradation.

It really helps everybody to get on the track. When you get there, you go, “Aw, fuck! I had this in three shots. I can do this in one shot. I can take the wind chill and move the camera here. I can the door open and flown in after the camera pulls out. I can do all three shots in one.”

You’re always alive to the possibilities of things you can’t think up in your office. It’s good to go in with a battle plan. It really is.

LRM: You always do terrific car chase scenes, which is in a lot of your movies. Can you talk about that mini-tank that Toby Kebbell had to drive? The Dominator?

Rob Cohen: Yeah. We had to design that and built that. One [was built] out of aluminum in America. One was built from fiberglass composition in Bulgaria. The American one was lighter. It was better for the car stunts. For the Bulgarian one, that’s the one in which we shot most of our dialogues in.

LRM: What was the greatest challenge you had to do on this project? What was the most difficult for you to create?

Rob Cohen: I think it was that eye-wall sequence, which is the last twelve minutes of the film. Even though I’m very comfortable around vehicles, the whole idea of the heroes trying to take over the villains with a sub-atomic wall chasing everybody. It was a very extended sequence that was twelve minutes long. It was building off that truck sequence from The Fast and The Furious. This takes it much, much, much further. So that was a tough one.

Then there was a scene, in which we had to pull that tower down.

LRM: That was an awesome scene.

Rob Cohen: That too was pretty tricky. We did that for real. Some people say that was a miniature. No, it was a thirty-foot high steel tower that we put on top of that building. That was even more tricky.

LRM: That’s even more impressive. Let’s me start wrapping things up. Rob, can you talk about any future projects after The Hurricane Heist?

Rob Cohen: I’m going to do a movie, in which we are casting right now. It’s called Razor. It’s based on the comic book series by Everett Hartsoe. It’s a slightly futuristic Joan of Arc story.

LRM: Wow. That sounds really awesome.

Rob Cohen: I think it’s really cool.

LRM: Rob, if you did manage to steel $600 million–what would you do with it?

Rob Cohen: What would I do? I would pay off my mortgage. I would finish my kids’ college fund. I would make a couple of movies on my own that I wanted to do that no one else would let me do. Then I would go play like a madman all over the world. [Laughs] My girlfriend and I would know no limits. I would try to die without one penny left.

LRM: That’s a great answer. Real fast answer, Rob. I know you’ve done so many great franchise movies like The Fast and the Furious, xXx, DragonHeart or even with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Which of these franchises did you missed the most if you had a chance to revisit?

Rob Cohen: Well, making The Fast and the Furious was a beautiful experience. No one believed in the film, but me and the actors. No one showed up every day, but me, the crew and the actors. Now there are a thousand fathers, who would say, “It’s my movie!” They didn’t care back then.

There was something about shooting on the streets of Los Angeles back then. It was a very hot summer. You’re all around the cars and the cast. It was that quiet feeling that we were making something special even though no knew what. No one knew why it was special. It felt like every day that everybody was very happy to get to work. That was a very pleasant experience.

xXx was a lot of fun you launch a car off of a 700-foot high bridge near Sacramento. A base jumper jumps off the falling Corvette. You have seventeen cameras and capturing this one take opportunity. There’s something about being on the edge on that massive stunt stuff that really was thrilling.

Each one is like a child. It’s like asking a parent, “Who is your favorite child?” It’s really an unfair question. You love everybody differently. You may be closer to your son than your daughter. But, your daughter is loved in a different way than your son.

I will love the movie xXx in a different way than The Rat Pack or Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. My heart was so invested in it. Everyone is a different child. Everyone is loved. Some of your children will graduate with honors. And some of them will flunk out of college. [Laughs] You got to love all of your children and never turn your back on them.

LRM: Thank you, Rob. Thank you for speaking with me this evening. I really appreciate it. You are very awesome. Thank you for making all those movies.

Rob Cohen: It was a great pleasure to be talking with you.

The Hurricane Heist will be playing nationwide in theaters this Friday, March 9.

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and IESB.net. He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @officialgigpatta.