Yesterday, select members of the press were invited to Digital Domain in Venice, Calif, to get a preview at the highly anticipated Tron: Legacy, the sequel that’s been nearly three decades in the making. We were only shown 23 minutes of various scenes throughout the film, but it left everyone present wanting more. Director Joe Kosinski spoke following the footage.
Kosinski spoke about how he got the job as director of his first feature, how his background in architecture was instrumental to his visual concept of the world and how, at its heart, even with all of the action and technology, Tron: Legacy is a father-son relationship story. He also explained the additional scenes he shot once the film was done and the reason for them, revealed that there would be very little deleted footage for the DVD/Blu-ray when it’s released and said that he’s looking to focus on either his remake of The Black Hole or an adaptation of his graphic novel Oblivion, written by William Monahan, for his next project.
Question: How did you come to direct Tron: Legacy as your first feature film?
Joe: It’s grown, over time. It started with a meeting between Sean Bailey and I, at his office, three years ago, in July of 2007. He said, “Disney owns this property, Tron. Do you know it? Are you interested? What would your take be? In a post-Matrix world, how do you go back to the world of Tron?” My thought was that I wanted to embrace the original movie, with the story, the characters and the aesthetic, and not make a movie like The Matrix, but make a movie that felt like Tron, though an evolved version of it. And, I didn’t want to make a movie about the internet, or anything like that. So, we went into Disney and I told them, “We can talk about this all day, but in order to really get on the same page, I need to show you what this world looks and feels like. Give me some money and let me do a small test that will give you a hint for a couple minutes of it, and see what you think.” And, they did, so I made that test piece that we showed at Comic-Con two years ago. Once we showed it, it revealed that there was this broad desire to see Tron again. It wasn’t just Tron geeks who wanted to see it. For whatever reason, the film resonated in a much broader way than they thought. That helped us get the movie greenlit.
Was your background in architecture instrumental, as far as visually conceptualizing the world of Tron?
Joe: Absolutely. And, I think my approach is different because I come from a design point of view. Ridley Scott was a photographer. Antonioni was an architect. Some of my favorite directors come from outside the film business, so that makes my approach different than most directors, but a design background makes a lot of sense for a movie like this because the whole world has to be created from scratch. If you’re not interested in design, then this movie would not be fun for you to work on because everything had to be created from scratch and all had to be in support of the story we were telling, which was an interesting design challenge.
Did it also help in communicating what the actors should be seeing when they were working with the blue screen?
Joe: Yeah. In those scenes where you aren’t able to build anything, you have to fill it in as best you can. But, generally, we tried to build as many sets as we could.
Were there any particularly big challenges in making this, that you had never expected?
Joe: I don’t how you could possibly expect the challenges of this movie beforehand. Every day on set, there was another unique challenge, and a lot of that resulted from trying to push the envelope technically, in so many different areas, simultaneously. We shot in true stereo with real 3D cameras. We decided to build fully illuminated suits rather than painting them in afterward. We decided to create a photo-realistic digital human being as one of our main characters in the movie, played by an actor who’s also one of your other characters in the film, and we had to try to figure out how to shoot scenes where he plays against himself. There were a lot of unique challenges in this movie, but you just tackle them one by one. It’s been a huge effort and a lot of work. I’ve been on it for three years now. It’s exciting to be on the homestretch, even though we have so much work ahead of us. But, it’s been a great experience, overall. I’ve had a blast.
With all the action and technology in this movie, is there anything that you think people will be particularly impressed with or that you’re particularly excited for them to get to see?
Joe: Yeah, I think that there’s this father-son story. It’s really Kevin Flynn, his real son Sam and his digital son Clu. The dynamic in that relationship and how it figure into the story is what adds a level of drama to this movie that people aren’t expecting. Hopefully, people aren’t discounting it as a video game movie. We’re trying to change that perception. There is real human drama here, and that’s what the heart of the story is. It’s a father-son story, and I’m excited for people to see that aspect of it. The scenes in the Safe House are some of my favorite scenes in the movie, just ‘cause I love watching Jeff Bridges. He’s a great actor, and just watching him work through those scenes is fun for me. Obviously, all the eye candy, the Light Cycle races and the Disc game is a blast, but it’s those other parts of the film, that I think people aren’t expecting, that I’m excited for them to see.
What was the extent of the re-shoots you did on this and what was the reason for them?
Joe: I like to call it additional photography because it really was additional photography. We added about five or six minutes to the movie, most of it in the first 20 minutes. Most of the shooting was done to set up Sam a little bit better and to give him a little more context. A couple scenes were done to bring to the surface some of the themes of the movie and to show the relationship of Sam and his father a little more clearly. Some of it was just picking up visual effects plates and inserts that we just were never able to get when we first shot.
All in all, it just amounts to a couple of minutes over a two-hour film, but it’s those little details. Being able to go in surgically and touch little things just helped bring the movie to the next level. I think we were really strategic and smart in how we did it. It was nice to be able to have a whole cut of the movie to analyze. That’s one of the benefits of having 18 months of post on this movie. We got to sit down and actually watch it and still have nine months left to say, “All right, let’s go tweak this, this and this, and remove this,” and it helped.
Have you already edited scenes out that you’re looking to put on the DVD/Blu-ray?
Joe: There is not much stuff cut out. There was one minor character in the beginning of the film that we ultimately didn’t have time for, which maybe we’ll include on the DVD. But, all in all, pretty much everything we shot, you’re going to see in the movie.
What’s it like doing so much press for a movie that isn’t even finished yet? Do you worry about creating too much hype that you’ll never be able to live up to?
Joe: It’s something that I struggle with. Sean [Bailey] was laughing the other day. He’s now President of Production at Disney and I was like, “Man, do we need to do another trailer? Do we have to do this and this?” He was like, “You’re the only director I’m working with who is complaining about doing too much. Every other filmmaker out there wants the studio to be doing more for their movie, and you’re the only one saying, “Let’s just stop.” It’s tough for me. I really want people to walk in seeing as little as possible because I want them to experience it in the movie. At the same time, I understand that you have to get the word out and you need people who would quickly dismiss the movie, just based on the title or the fact that it has something to do with video games or who think they don’t see those kind of movies, to understand that this is a different kind of film than they’re expecting. So, I understand that, but it’s always a struggle. I always say, “If you’re planning on seeing our movie, don’t look at any more of the materials.” But, I’m always there trying to make sure that spoilers aren’t getting out and trying to preserve as much of the film as possible. I think the excitement of movies is discovering stuff you weren’t expecting, and I hope to preserve that.
Once you finish up with Tron, do you know which of your projects in development you’re going to focus on next?
Joe: I don’t know for sure yet. It depends a little bit on how Tron does. Obviously, if Tron works and is a success, then that opens up more opportunities for me. If it doesn’t, then it might be harder to find a job. But, I’ve got a couple things in development. Black Hole and Oblivion are both at Disney right now and I’m excited about both of them, so we’ll see.
What’s it like to know you already have William Monahan working on the screenplay for Oblivion? How did that happen?
Joe: It’s incredible. He is so excited about the project. He’s an incredible writer and he has so much enthusiasm for it. I can’t wait to see where that ends up. I’m really excited.