Universal Pictures brought the director Joseph Kosinski to WonderCon in Anaheim to promote his upcoming sci-fi movie that stars Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.
The film is about Jack Harper, who is assigned on Earth to fix drones for extraction of resources after a war with alien invaders called Scavs. However, he rescues a beautiful stranger from a crashed spacecraft that makes him question everything he previously knows and places the fate of humanity in his hands.
In a roundtable interview with a small group of reporters, Kosinski discussed about the experiences with “TRON: Legacy” and the development of “Oblivion.” He talked about the graphic novel and the visuals for the movie. In addition, he mentioned on what veteran actors Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman brought to the table. And finally, he updates us on the sequel to “TRON: Legacy” and Disney’s remake “Black Hole.”
“Oblivion” will be in theaters on April 19.
Check out the edited transcript of the interview below.
What is the most challenging aspect of making this film?
Probably just getting it made in the first place. Just getting any movie made is a miracle. As you know, there are hundreds of thousands of scripts written each year in Hollywood and a select few make it to the end and actually come out on screen. For me, this is the end of an eight-year process. I wrote this story in 2005, so that journey of getting it into production was most of it—just selling it to a studio. Certainly the making of it has been challenging in itself but I think the hardest one is the first hurdle of just getting a studio to buy off on it.
Coming off your last film, it must’ve made [the process of selling] easy.
Yeah, this movie doesn’t exist without “TRON” for sure.
In a sense, you have a calling card to show to the studios.
But still, there are not a lot of directors out there making original science fiction. An original story in a world which is mostly sequels or based on some sort of existing well known property like TRON was, not that Tron was well known, but at least it was based on something. That is the norm for studios these days. So to sell an original story makes it that much more difficult. There are a lot of factors that made it possible. I knew I was going to have to get a big movie star to be at the center of it. You have to have that so I am thrilled that I got Tom (Cruise) on board very early on to commit to this project.
Is that what he brings to this project? You have a guarantee that it’s going to get made when his name is attached, right?
I don’t know that anything is a guarantee but your odds go way up. [Laughter] But for me it is above all having a fantastic actor. There are few people out there that can carry a movie on their shoulders, a movie that really relies on a protagonist that can do everything. Tom, he is the biggest movie star in the world, but he is an amazing actor. What I’m most excited about people seeing in this movie is his performance—it’s really just incredible.
Visually, you have to encompass several elements. You have the natural elements, ruined civilizations, and sterile futuristic look. How did you come out to balance everything and how this world will visually strike us?
The world of Oblivion was kind of what I had in my mind first. It’s a juxtaposition of high technology setting against a very rugged landscape. The other thing I wanted to do, which I haven’t seen done a lot recently, was to make a daytime science fiction film. One of my favorite films all-time is “Alien” in 1979. It was in a dark hull of a space ship. It’s in the darkness for most of that film. A spectacular movie, but I think it created a trend of darkness in science fiction for a long time. I wanted to bring science fiction back in the daylight. It is a post-apocalyptic movie, I wanted it to be beautiful of the desolation of this world. I want it to be gorgeous. You’ll see shots in the trailer of Tom riding his motorbike across this expanse of landscape. That lighting and that look I haven’t seen in science fiction before. That’s what I’m really excited about and thrilled about going to Iceland to capture that.
What is about the science fiction genre you like as a mode of storytelling?
I feel like it has no limits. You can tell familiar stories in ways that are completely different. Like the way “Avatar” told a love story in a way that we never seen before. “2001” opened people’s minds to the world of space exploration in a way that hadn’t been done before. For me, it’s kind of like the new western. We live in a science fiction film. In the world we live in, we’re surrounded by elements of science fiction. I think it’s what people are very comfortable with. At the same time, you can bend the rules in ways that are very exciting.
I love building worlds. I love going to the cinema and disappearing somewhere else for a few hours. And in science fiction allows that. They are very hard movies to make. From a story point of view, there’s a lot of world building you have to do. It’s not like a cop drama where you can just drop people in New York City and you know the rules of the world then go right into the story. You have to set the table correctly and there’s an art and a challenge to that. When you do it right—the payoff is huge.
Are there any other famous landmarks besides the ones in the trailer going to be presented in the movie?
You’ll have to see it. [Laughter] I can’t tell you. You’ll have to experience it.
You talked about the love of building worlds, was there a piece of technology that you were really satisfied that you got to create?
The thing I’m most proud of was the front projection system we developed for the Sky Tower. There’s a featurette online that shows that rather than doing blue screen surrounding the house—we actually front projected ultra-high definition video on to the screens around the Sky Tower and shot it all on camera. It’s very similar to what Stanley Kubrick did in the opening sequence of “2001” with front projection stills. The whole ape sequence are all photograph shots out in Africa and projected back on top of the set so that the lighting background matched the lighting in the foreground.
We did the same thing, but gave it a 21st century spin where we projected fully 15,000 pixel-wide ultra-high-definition video with 21 cinema projectors arranged around the set. There is no blue screen in the Sky Tower and it’s all captured on camera. The light that the cameras see is in the background also lighting the actors. So there are no visual effect shots in the Sky Tower, which is a very challenging system to build and develop. But, the payoff is visually better and financially it saves a lot of money.
You talked about Tom Cruise and how great of an actor he is. But, you also have Morgan Freeman playing against him. Talk about working with Morgan and the man-on-man dynamics in the film.
Tom and I from the very beginning talked about how amazing it would be to get someone like Morgan Freeman in that role. Then to be able to get him was not only a huge thrill for me but for Tom as well, and I think Morgan. Morgan told me that he and Tom had always wanted to work together but they were waiting for the right project and that Oblivion was the right one. So for it to be in my film was a real honor. I think the scenes between Tom and Morgan are some of the best in the movie just because you’re seeing two incredible actors with so much experience playing off each other in a really fascinating way. So I’m really excited for people to see them together.
When you were developing Oblivion, there was the graphic novel made. Is that different in some way? Obviously, in a graphic novel, you can invent as much as you like beyond a budget.
It was just a stage in the process. The writer’s strike occurred in 2007 so I had a treatment for a film, but I had no way to actually write it. It couldn’t be written by anyone in the guild so the partnership with Radical Comics allowed me to continue working on the story by developing a series of images and continue to refine the story more over a period of years. Then I basically used all that development as a pitch kit to the studio. So even though we really never released it as an illustrated novel the story is being told as a film, which was always the intention.
Will you ever release the novel? Will it ever be part of special features?
I don’t know? I don’t have any plans to do it right now. To me it’s feels like it’s in the rearview mirror, you know? It’s like part of the development process. The film is the end result. I won’t say no to anything. Maybe at some point it will be fun to go back and show the steps and the journey.
What was the first inspiration of this story? Where did it come from?
Who knows where it comes from? I will tell you that I had just moved to Los Angeles, and I was having a lot of trouble breaking into the commercial business. I was trying to get into the commercial/music video business as a steppingstone into feature films. I was trying to mimic the path of Ridley Scott and David Fincher, the guys I kind of looked up to. So Oblivion became a way for me to keep my creative juices flowing because I wasn’t able to get any work at the time. It was kind of a side project. As a kid growing up I loved The Twilight Zone television series, the black and white half hour episodes. [It has] a small cast of characters, a very limited budget, and sometimes just a couple of sets. But somehow the stories had such big ideas, and big concepts to them that they always felt so much bigger than that show and even now they are a blast to watch.
So I think for me it was trying to create a character driven mystery thriller, set in the future that I thought might be my first film. I purposely kept it small and contained so I could make it for a small budget. Obviously, eight years later it’s become much bigger than that. The story of Jack Harper, the core elements of that are basically unchanged. I’m really proud of that and that it survived the process of being turned into a big tent pole film with that story intact.
The trailer hints at a twist in the plot, a game changer. When you were developing that—was that a difficult concept to come up with? We have seen so many different kinds of twists and audiences are expecting that element?
The twists and turns of a film are a tricky thing. In marketing the film, you want to hint that there’s mystery. You want to hint that there are payoffs but at the same time you don’t want to give things away, especially in a big movie. It’s interesting. The way that we watch trailers, being in this business, is different than the way that most people watch trailers. So the stuff that I would say, “Man! I feel like it’s just giving it away” to guys like us. But, to a test group—they have a completely different reaction.
That is the challenge with marketing big movies, especially an original story. I think people say they want something original, but the truth is they also want it to be familiar enough that they know what they’re getting. That’s the challenge of marketing a big movie. If your movie relies on one twist, I don’t think that’s enough these days. You need to have multiple twists and turns in a movie because audiences are very savvy. They’ve seen a lot of movies. The amount of media people have access to is pretty incredible. So that’s the challenge.
Are there a lot of deleted scenes? Will there be stuff on the Blu-Ray?
Yeah, I think I put three scenes on the Blu-Ray. One being a scene that I thought for sure had to be in the movie for people to understand. We tested it without and people just got it. So, yeah, there’ll be three good scenes on the Blu-Ray. It’s for people who want to have a more slightly filled out experience. They’ll see how those pieces fit in and how the movie works without them.
You probably have more ideas in your head, do you have more stories in the world of Oblivion? Maybe for a possible sequel?
Potentially. Honestly, just in the blue sky casual conversations. We’ve talked about what happened before the movie and what happened after. That would be a thing where you’d really want the demand to be there before you start thinking about it. For me, I think it would be nice to take a little break from this world for a while and to think of other things. That’s not to say we wouldn’t want to go back to it at some point.
Speaking of sequels, is the sequel to TRON: Legacy still in development? Are you still involve with that?
We’ve been working on this story for four years now. Jesse Wigutow is writing it. The first draft is supposed to come in in the next week. The idea we have is really exciting. It would have to be pretty exciting to get people back together because they’re really hard movies to make. Legacy was almost three years. We’ve got an exciting idea for it and as long as the script can deliver on that the interest is there from the studio side, I just want to make sure it gets the creative juices enough to dive back into it. We got some exciting ideas we’ll see.
Since you’ve written Oblivion so long ago, do you feel you’re better prepared as a director after TRON: Legacy?
Absolutely, it’s my second movie. I’ve learned a lot on Legacy. So having written the story and having a script—it needed to be airtight before we roll for a picture. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a movie, but certainly knowing a script is nailed down before shooting makes a huge difference. And my priority in this is to go in with a finished script. Legacy is that we told the right story and there’s a lot of vision there. I’m really pretty proud of it. But, for the script, it’s like changing the tire on a Formula One car while you’re driving it. [Laughter] It’s a tricky thing for you to be able to do. Making movies is difficult and trying to tweak it at the same time can make it even tougher.
Since you’ve done a sci-fi stuff, your name was thrown on the Internet when Disney acquired Star Wars. Would you consider more sci-fi movies or would you consider getting away from sci-fi genre in the future?
After these two movies, I have mixed feelings. Science-fiction is a really exciting genre because of what you can do, the world you can build and the ideas you can explore. I love the genre and I loved making these two films, at the same time, there is a desire to try to make something slightly different and then maybe come back to sci-fi. I’ve got Black Hole in development at Disney, the Tron sequel, but some exciting, non-science fiction projects as well. It’s all about having what script coalesces first and that will be the next project for me.