WonderCon 2013 Interview: Director Joseph Kosinski Talks 'Oblivion' and 'Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel'

Sunday, 31 March 2013 14:04 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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WonderCon 2013 Interview: Director Joseph Kosinski Talks 'Oblivion' and 'Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel'

Opening in theaters on April 19th is visionary director Joseph Kosinski’s highly anticipated follow up film to Tron: Legacy entitled Oblivion. The movie stars a fantastic cast of actors that includes Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths), Zoe Bell (Django Unchained), Nikolaj Costar-Waldau (Mama), and Academy Award-winners Morgan Freeman (Olympus Has Fallen), and Melissa Leo (Olympus Has Fallen). The film is loosely based on Kosinski’s own Radical Comics graphic novel, which was never published. 

Oblivion takes place in the year 2073, and revolves around a former Marine commander named Jack Harper (Cruise) who is one of the last few repairman stationed on Earth, which was destroyed by an alien invasion sixty-years earlier. As part of a massive operation to extract the planet’s remaining vital resources, he lives in an airborne space station floating thousands of meters above the Earth. With his mission nearly complete, Jack’s world changes when he rescues a female stranger from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a series of events that force Jack to question everything he knows about the war and its aftermath. In addition, after being captured by an insurgency group led by Malcolm Beach (Freeman), Jack is learns that the people he works for have not been telling him the truth about what happened to his planet.

Co-writer and director Joseph Kosinski attended WonderCon 2013 in Anaheim, California on Saturday to speak with press about Oblivion. I had a chance to sit down with the acclaimed filmmaker, along with a select group of journalists, to discuss his upcoming science fiction film, the unpublished graphic novel that helped developed the movie, working with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, deleted scenes, and plans for a sequel, as well as the current status of the Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel

I began the discussion by asking the director what was the most challenging aspect of making Oblivion. “Probably just getting it made in the first place,” Kosinski said. “Getting any movie made in the first place is kind of a miracle. There are hundreds of thousands of scripts written each year in Hollywood and a select few make it to the end and actually make it on screen so 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 its self but I think the hardest one is the first hurdle of just getting a studio to buy off on it.”

I followed up by asking Kosinski of it was easier to sell the film to a studio after the success of Tron: Legacy. “Yea, I don’t think this movie exists with out Tron for sure. But still there are not a lot of directors out there making original science fiction,” he explained. “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 are important 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.”

Since the director brought up the subject of Mr. Cruise, I asked him to discuss the advantages of having a major superstar like Tom Cruise attached to the project and if his involvement essentially guaranteed that the film would be made. “Well, I don’t know that anything is a guarantee but your odds go way up for sure,” he laughed. “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 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.”

Next, I asked Kosinski to talk about casting an acclaimed Oscar-winning actor like Morgan Freeman opposite Cruise and what their own screen dynamic is like. “You know, 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,” said Kosinski. “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.”

Kosinski also talked about his original inspiration for the project. “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 and mimic the path of Ridley Scott and David Fincher, the guys I kind of looked up to. So Oblivion became away 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,” he explained. “As a kid growing up I loved The Twilight Zone television series, the half hour episodes, with 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,” he continued. “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 being turned into a big tent pole film with that story in tact.”

The director was also asked about the unpublished graphic novel that he developed with Radical Comics years earlier and how that helped inform the upcoming film. “It was just a stage in the project. 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 continuing 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.”

Kosinski was then asked if he had any plans to ever release the graphic novel either in print or perhaps as a special feature on the Blu-ray and DVD. “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. But never say never. Maybe at some point it will be fun to go back and show the steps and the journey.”

I followed up by asking him if there are any deleted scenes that he is planning to put on the Blu-ray. “Yeah, I think I put three scenes on the Blu-Ray. One I thought for sure had to be in the movie for people to understand. We tested it without and people just got it.”

As anyone who has seen the trailer knows, it definitely alludes to a game changer twist part way through the film. Since audiences today are very savvy, I asked Kosinski if it was difficult to come up with a twist concept that science fiction fans won’t expect. “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. That is the challenge with marketing big movies, especially an original story,” he explained. “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.”

Inevitably, the director was asked that if the film were to be successful, does if have ideas for a possible sequel. “Potentially. Honestly, just in 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 great to take a little break from this world for a little while. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t want to go back to it at some point.”

Finally, since we were on the subject of sequels, I asked Kosinski about the status of the Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel. “We’ve been working on this story for four years now. Jesse Wigutow (It Runs I the Family) 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.”

“Sci-fi is a really exciting genre because of what you can do, the world you can build and the ideas you can explore,” he continued. “I love the genre and I loved making these two films, at the same time, there is a desire to try to make something 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 seeing what script coalesces first and that will be the next project.”

Oblivion opens in theaters on April 19th.

Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel is scheduled for release in 2014.

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