Disaster films are a sub genre that is often categorized under the action or Sci-fi genre. Like horror films, these films have minimalistic areas of creative exploration hence most of the disaster films made within this are template films with certain constants, found almost in all of them.
If you are gonna watch one look for these and if you’re gonna make one consider these tips.
The protagonist is never single but a family man. Let him have at least two kids, in most of the cases a boy and a girl. Never mind of the couple are separated. (In most of the disaster films we might notice the protagonist is either a divorce or separated.) The disaster will bring them together.
The initial frames are filled with their happy moments. The family most probably will have another family friend whose family is closely knitted with theirs.
The disaster is never presented at the first act. Between the happy moments, the camera cuts to a remote place where some scientists or officials secretly discuss with reddened faces, the head giving away a what-are-going-to-do stare! IF the disaster is on the way even without their awareness then show its initial moments in few frames, avoiding visual details.
Cast a lot of extras as much as the producers pocket allows. You might need them to squander at will in umpteen numbers of ways depending on the type of disaster that is on its way.
The protagonist mostly the hero (what a male dominant thought!) at any cost is intelligent to understand everything before and his power of prediction would certainly make Nostradamus envy. His emotional composure would also be exceptional. More often the heroine, a responsible mother of two, is too emotional ready to shout at the highest possible pitch when all the hell begins to break loose.
Let the hero be a middle aged father- you know a man in forties is wiser and responsible than during early thirties. Hero’s age logically enables the script writer to make his elder son or daughter (preferably a son, so that you might sprinkle some dad-son sentimental moments during the climatic sequence) in his/her teens. They are certainly less obedient and carefree so they might have a moment of transformation later amid the unfolding disaster. The younger one is usually a good angel whose role is to shout for rescue at the shrillest voice ‘Daddddddddddddd’
If the duration of the film is say 100 minutes, better stick on the 40-20-40 formula. The preparatory phase for the first forty minutes- the disaster rampaging all its way unfolding proudly the doomsday moment in twenty minutes- and the struggle and redemption of the protagonist’s family (who cares about extras!) in the last forty minutes.
In the first act use pleasant and soothing music and pep it up with terrifying music while the Mr. Disaster on his making is hinted. It is better to wrap it up with creating the anticipation just with music than visuals. After all, the producer’s money is about to be eaten by the CG guys during the middle act. Besides its better to save the fund as you will be badly needing it for tossing cars in air, sliding skyscrapers, collapsing bridges and other iconic landmarks.
A good running practice to all the actors is highly recommended during pre-production itself so it’s a lot easier for them to run like hell amid the rubble.
It’s better to have a pet- from the beginning say the hero’s little angel is fond of his/her dog. Pet sentiment- especially a land where pets are loved more than neighbours- is an important ingredient in Hollywood flicks.
(To be continued…)