Writing Jurassic World Dominion –> Trevorrow & Carmichael

June 10, 2022 Jeff Goldsmith

For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from the latest issue of Backstory.

If you enjoy what you read below – we hope you’ll join us to read the full version of the article and the rest of the issue by subscribing to Backstory Magazine!

Current Cinema: Jurassic World: Dominion

Co-writer Emily Carmichael and co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow on wrangling dinosaurs for the beloved franchise’s final film.

By Jeff Goldsmith and David Somerset

Spoiler Warning: This excerpt discusses plot points from the entire film, so proceed with caution

Jurassic World Dominion aims to be bigger than any of its forebears while keeping the feeling the beloved franchise has had throughout––human-scale storytelling infused with giant creatures. The new movie is set roughly five years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which saw dinosaurs released from captivity and spread across the United States. Now, with prehistoric creatures roaming and flying around the planet and two very different species uncomfortably living side by side, we catch up with the famed Jurassic World duo. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are splitting their time between life in a remote cabin and heading out on missions to deal with dinosaur encounters in the wild, such as rounding up a herd of Parasaurolophus or advocating for better treatment of the creatures. Living in the woods nearby is the raptor Blue, the creature Owen has trained since birth. In the safety of seclusion with Owen and Claire is rescued child Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon, returning from Fallen Kingdom), the cloned “granddaughter” of the late Jurassic Park co-financier Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Their relatively peaceful isolation is shattered when Maisie is kidnapped by dinosaur rustlers along with Blue’s baby, Beta. Turns out, it’s all part of a plot by the corrupt boss of genetic company Biosyn, which in the years since it was first mentioned in Jurassic Park has grown to become a giant Apple/Tesla-style corporation with enough funds to build its own dinosaur facility in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains.


That is just one of the driving narratives of this new tentpole, which looks to tie up the various threads from the previous two Jurassic World films while respectfully layering in some of the classic cast to reference the original Jurassic Park. To wrangle this sprawling brute of a screenplay, writer-director Colin Trevorrow knew he’d need some help. He began cracking the basic beats with regular writing partner Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed), then schedules got in the way. “Derek has created a career as a solo writer that’s been very successful, and so we reached a point with the third film where we felt like we understood where we wanted it to go,” Trevorrow says. “Because he had some stuff he was working on, we talked about bringing in a new voice and giving it a new perspective with somebody I already had a relationship with as a writer. That’s where Emily came from.” So don’t worry folks, Connolly didn’t fall afoul of a hungry Atroci­raptor. At least, that’s Trevorrow’s story…


Emily Carmichael came to Dominion after being introduced to Trevorrow by a mutual friend and collaborating with him on a couple of still-unproduced scripts. But through that connection, Carmichael got a job writing Pacific Rim: Uprising, the 2018 sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster-mash movie where humanity battled giant beasts with equally hulking robots. Her time with Uprising director Steven DeKnight offered Carmichael a lesson in scripting big-budget movies featuring huge creatures and tight deadlines. “There were moments in the writers’ room where the script would have a problem and somebody would come up with a solution to a problem, which of course brought other problems,” says Carmichael. “And that was the point where I as an indie artist would say, It’s time for me to take a walk on the beach to think about this for a week, because I need a third option. We were in a situation where Steven would say, Okay, we need to choose one. They both have upsides and downsides. Choose, stick to it, and write the movie. I learned that stuff can be good and stuff can be bad—but stuff that doesn’t get written at all can’t be anything.”


Though she had already written at least one script based on an existing Trevorrow idea—a family action movie called Powerhouse, currently in development at Amblin—to work directly with him gave her a true sense of collaboration. They began by building on what she and Connolly had already configured, including the idea of twin nar­ratives for the different casts and the dramatic advantages offered by a world where humans and dinosaurs must truly co-exist. “Like any process of building an outline, it began with, Oh this would be cool—what if they jump out of a helicopter, and what if there’s a volcano? ” Carmichael recalls. “Then it gets successively more and more technical: If the villain knows that this group of heroes has arrived, he’s in the control room, so why doesn’t he know about this other group of heroes if they’re right down the hall from him? Stuff like that. When the outline was pretty detailed and complete, we started the script. I would write the first pass of the pages—and Colin had told me five pages a day was a good pace, so I did that. I’d send them to him, and he would do a pass, then I would do a pass on his pass—back and forth ad infinitum.”


Two main plot strands power Dominion. In one, Owen and Claire head off in search of Maisie and Beta, tangling with rustlers, dinosaur fight club merchants and a quick-witted smuggler/pilot named Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), who ultimately ends up helping them in their mission after having a change of heart. Then there are the Jurassic Park veterans: Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). As we meet up with them, Sattler is investigating genetically tinkered locusts created by Biosyn boss Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) that are causing havoc on the crop supply. Grant is back doing what he does best––digging up dino­saurs—while Malcom, surprisingly, is on Biosyn’s payroll. When asking whether there were left turns made at the scripting stage, we pinpoint the plot arc of Malcolm’s working at Biosyn before the relatively quick revelation that he’s in deep cover looking to unearth their dark genetic secrets and aid his old friends. “I wanted him to be a sellout! That’s what I advocated for,” Carmichael says vehemently. “He’s a sellout, but he comes around in the end. I think Colin thought it was more compact storytelling to have him help early on.” Still, she thinks the quirky, leather-clad Malcolm could have survived a darker turn. “People love this character enough that if he’s a dick for a bit before coming around to do the right thing, he can afford that.”


There was a plan from the start for having the two casts not come together until the last possible moment, partly because they would be serving separate plot purposes. “The characters really came from different franchises, and because their paths don’t cross until the end, we really set them on action voyages that were appropriate to them,” Carmichael says of their intention for the storylines. “Claire and Owen are on motorcycles and jumping off roofs and out of planes, while Sattler and Grant are doing corporate espionage and flipping keycards between each other! That works really seamlessly. It feels like it’s part of the same world, and at the same time everyone has an action level.” For Trevorrow, though, the task of melding things seamlessly was a big challenge, and he uses skiing parlance to highlight that. “We call it Black Diamond screen­writing—the highest level of difficulty, the steepest hill. It was something we wanted to take on, though, because we felt it was just a massive opportunity, if we could pull it off, to bring all these characters together. We also felt we had a responsibility to not shortchange those legacy characters, to not just have them appear as a cameo and then dis­appear.” When the two sets of heroes do meet, it’s not exactly an explosion of exposition, and that’s by choice, at least on Trevorrow’s front: “I wrote five different versions of what they say when they actually meet, and when they finally meet, they say nothing. That’s being a writer sometimes! I loved the idea that Owen would be in awe of Alan Grant and that Grant wouldn’t really know who Owen and Claire are. Sattler explains them by saying, ‘They worked at Jurassic World,’ and then Grant replies, ‘We were not fans.’ That’s also an apt summary of Jurassic Park––paleontologists give the thumbs-down on a theme park.”


As the filmmakers wrote, there were moments crafted on the page that never saw the cameras. Carmichael misses one in particular, from a scene where Owen and Kayla are arriving in a plane to the Biosyn facility, only for the craft to be taken out of the sky by a flying Quetzalcoatlus. While the sequence in the sky and the plane crashing into an icy lake was shot, then it cuts to the heroes emerging from the ice, only to be menaced by another dinosaur beneath it. “After the plane goes down, I dramatized the moment when Kayla’s seatbelt doesn’t unlock and the cockpit’s filling with water,” she says. “I said this is so cool and such a badass moment for her, but it’s not essential to the action, and we’re already getting Chris [Pratt] wet. I was writing a scene where another actor gets soaked for no reason, and I knew that was not going to end up in the movie. It didn’t stop me from writing it, though!” Trevorrow concurs, explaining why the moment was never shot. “Those kinds of action sequences are part of the reason I go to the movies,” he says. “As an indulgent filmmaker, I would love to shoot all of it, but it saves lot of a lot of money, and saving money is valuable because you have that money to spend on something else that matters to you.” Even on a mega-budget movie like this, compromises have to be made.


The Biosyn storyline brings all of our heroes into contact with Dodgson, the weirdly calm head of the company who comes across as a crossbreed of Tim Cook and Elon Musk. Dodgson, of course, is legacy in his own way––the character was a minor villain in Spielberg’s 1993 original Jurassic Park. Played previously by Cameron Thor, he is the junior executive and scientist who provides Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) with the means to smuggle dinosaur embryos off the theme park’s home of Isla Nublar. That subplot ends disastrously for pretty much everyone involved: Nedry shuts off the park’s systems, allowing the dinosaurs to stomp rampant and ends up dying himself when he crosses paths with a venom-spitting Dilophosaurus while fleeing during a hurricane that hits the island. Now years later, Trevorrow was happy to cook up a suitably thematic end for Scott’s new take on the character. It’s one that straddles the line between nod to the fans and meaningful plot point, as Dodgson dies at the mouths and claws of several Dilophosaurs in a malfunctioning underground train car as his own facility loses critical system power and is overrun. “We always have to find a balance, and I tend to lean away from fan service and homage as much as possible, though you might not know it from watching the movie,” he says. “I would suggest that’s because I know it’s in me, [and] I’m going to do it anyway. So if I ever see an opportunity, I say no to it, because then it’s almost about how much we love the other thing, and that’s not what we’re here to do.”


We hope you enjoyed this excerpt!


If you’d like to read the rest of the article (another full 1,400 words) we hope you’ll support independent film journalism and subscribe to Backstory Magazine!

Jurassic World Dominion is in theatres

If you’d like to subscribe – feel free to use coupon code: SAVE5 to take $5 off your subscription and get instant access!

All you need to do is click here to subscribe!

There’s plenty more to explore in Backstory Magazine issue 47 you can see our table of contents right here.

Thanks as always for spreading the word and your support!