Exclusive Interview with Tron: Legacy director

By Alexandra Heilbron on October 25, 2010 | Leave a Comment

In the upcoming movie Tron: Legacy, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) investigates a strange signal sent from the old Flynn’s Arcade — a signal that could only come from his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). With one flip of the switch, he finds himself pulled into a digital world where Kevin has been trapped for 20 years.

Tribute’s Toni-Marie Ippolito sat down with Tron Legacy director, Joseph Kosinski, at Digital Domain studios in California to get the scoop on what it was like working with Jeff Bridges, building the Tron world and whether or not there will be a third.

This is your first feature film and you really picked a big one!
Kosinki: Yeah. I don’t think it was this big when I first picked it. I was just interested in the possibility of this story, and the potential of this property and what I thought I could do with it. I had a meeting with Sean (Lisberger, producer of Tron and Tron Legacy) a couple of years ago and he said, “Disney has this property…Tron, and they’ve been trying to figure out a way to go back for 15 years now. What would your take be?”

I said I wanted it to, if I was lucky enough to do it, embrace the original movie, both the story and characters, but also the aesthetic, but to also evolve it forward to 2010 and in a way that made it feel completely photorealistic and real, but clearly Tron. I wanted to make sure on first look of any of these things you’d know it was a Tron movie, even though it obviously had changed. So I convinced the studio to let me show them — you know you can talk about these things all day — but you really need to see it to understand it. I convinced them to give me some money to do the test piece, which was meant to show them the look and vibe.

Does that happen very often?
Kosinki: I don’t know. I know on the first Tron Steve did a test piece that was like 10 seconds long. I know Zach Snyder did a 30-second piece for 300. I had done it for commercials to get commercial work. I started out doing spec spots and said, “Let me build a three-minute piece, and you guys can watch it and decide what you think.” So I did, and they were really excited about it. Sean and I convinced them to show it at Comic-Con two years ago. Once people saw it, it showed that there was a large interest out there to see this movie, so it gave us the momentum to put the movie into production.

What was your reaction when you read the script?
Kosinki: Well, there was no script! I made that teaser with no script. That was a narrative that we were interested in, this story of a man trapped in a computer, so there was no script at that point. After we had done that teaser, we sat down — Sean, Justin, the writers and I — and we cracked a story, starting with an outline we wanted to tell. We just worked on it for the past couple of years, refining it, and getting it to the point that we were happy with it. So it was really a collaborative effort, building the movie, the visuals, and the script at the same time.

A lot of Hollywood blockbusters seem to rely on the spectacle of things lately but I keep hearing that the story for Tron: Legacy was very critical to this film. You could have just made some spectacular looking film in 3D.
Kosinski: It wouldn’t mean anything. The technology and the visuals ultimately don’t mean anything if there is no story that they’re supporting. We wanted this film to mean something. I grew up loving Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanted to make a movie, attempt to make a movie, that people will still want to watch 10 or 20 years in the future. So story was where it started, focusing on the father-son angle, the first movie sets us up so perfectly for it, with the time frame.

Kevin Flynn, 32 in 1982, has a son in the next year, today he would be 27 years old. The idea of Kevin Flynn, this computer genius disappearing, and his son, Sam, having to go search for him, is just a compelling story. The son, searching for your father, the desire to make a connection with your father, is something that everyone can relate to, and it just felt like it was a great way to provide an audience with something grounded, something they could relate to at the center of this movie that was going to look and feel like nothing else out there.

Having seen early footage and the technology your team has created at Digital Doman is absolutely amazing in itself. There are so many people involved, how to you get a grip on it all?
Kosinki: It’s thousands of people! Well, first you pick good people, talented people that are good to work with, that get it. As a director, a big part of my job in the beginning was just trying to get this vision of the world in their heads. And that’s what a big part of those first couple months at the art department was. You’ve got all these incredibly talented people who all have these amazing different skills and all have their own styles. How do you get those 50 artists to behave like one brain? It’s all about communication, and references, and examples, and talking, and having them try something and giving them notes. As a director, as long as you have an idea of where you want to get to you can eventually get them there. It just takes communication, and that’s the job, because you can’t do it all yourself, it’s impossible.

I think it’s pretty cool that you guys sort of grew together on this project with all the groundbreaking developments you’ve all achieved. Did you ever stop and think, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Kosinki: I can’t imagine there’s any director who doesn’t think that at some point in a production, especially something this big. It’s one thing to be sitting in a room talking about it, but it’s another to walk on to a film set with 300 people standing around saying, “Where should we put the camera, what should we do today?” But you’ve just got to stay true, you’ve got to believe in your vision and just serve your story. Everyday is a struggle, and you’re always trying to improve everything all the time, and push people. It’s like as a director sometimes you feel like you’re the guy who’s just never satisfied. Especially now with visual FX reviews, my job is to point out the flaws in everything. But that’s the job, to hire talented people who you know are capable of doing amazing things and just push them, and inspire them. I’ve had a blast. I love everyone in the cast and the crew and it has really become this kind of family because you’re working for years with these people.

What was it like working with Jeff Bridges?
Kosinki: It was everything you dreamed it could be. He’s been doing film for more than 35 years, worked with all the great directors that I admire. And, his attitude on the movie was that he wanted to serve my vision. For someone of that caliber to submit to that was amazing. Jeff is so open, gracious and so talented. But he always knew he was working to serve the film, and it was just an amazing experience. I can’t imagine this film without him.

Was this a no-brainer that it was going to be shot in 3D?
Kosinki: Pretty much. I even shot the test in 3D with the Pace Camera system. It seems like a no-brainer now, but think about us being two years before Avatar, it wasn’t a no-brainer then. It was a lot of extra work and cost and technology had to be developed, so it was a lot more work, but I think in the end people will appreciate a true 3D film.

Do you think this will be made into a trilogy? Would you be on board for that?
Kosinki: I think the world we’ve developed, and the mythology that we’ve setup in the story, that there’s an opportunity for more story down the road. But ultimately, I think, it depends on how the movie does, and I would love to go back into that world, but with a small break!

Would have to break more barriers, though.
Kosinki: Yes, that’s the hard thing. How do we raise the bar again?

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