When director Joseph Kosinski got the assignment to create the science fiction film Tron: Legacy he had a lot to prove. A commercial and feature film director best known for his computer generated imagery, Kosinski became famous for such CGI related television commercials as the "Starry Night" ad for Halo 3 and the award-winning one -- "Mad World" -- for Gears of War.
Born in May 1974, this former Iowan was barely aware of the movies when the original TRON was released, but like a lot of his generation, he grew up on comics and video games. After moving to Los Angeles, his professional career had its first boost when a graphic novel he was creating, Oblivion, stirred the interest of Disney. Then Warner Brothers engaged him to direct a remake of the sci-fi thriller Logan's Run.
In making this big-screen debut with Disney's Digital 3-D Tron: Legacy, a sequel-of-sorts to the 1982 original, Kosinski had to comprehend the first film, incorporate its star Jeff Bridges, apply all the most fantastic state-of-the-art effects and make a coherent story that would serve both the fans of the original and newcomers who had never seen it. Apparently, he succeeded since Tron: Legacy won the sales figure sweepstakes grossing $67 million after its weekend opening.
Q: With a legacy film like this there is a responsibility on your shoulders; how does it feel?
JK: The first film pushed the envelope in so many ways technically, visually and conceptually, so I felt like in doing this movie I would have to push this film in all the same ways to live up to that first film. In every choice we tried to take the most ambitious path possible.
Q: This legacy with actor Jeff Bridges, star of the original TRON, puts another responsibility on you, especially in having the director of the previous movie as your producer. How does that feel -- the strain, the stress, and the drama.
JK: Getting Jeff on board was my first goal, and once I did, I felt a lot better. I approached him three years ago, before we had a script, before I even shot a test piece for the studio. I knew that having an actor of his caliber was important to be at the center of this movie when you're taking people to this other world. So Jeff was the first part of the equation.
Then my second meeting was with Steve Lisberger, the director of the original TRON, and he could not have been more gracious in what he saw his role in making the film would be and how he wanted to support me and be there for anything I would need. It was incredible.
It was great having him as a producer on the movie as well. He gave me access to his archives of the first film, so I got to see the original sketches that [French graphic novel creator] Moebius did for the first movie, which was really cool.
Q: Are you a big comic book fan; a Moebius fan?
JK: I remember his books, but my big inspiration was [futuristic illustrator] Syd Mead; he was a god. He was the man.
Q: Do you see this as a classic mythological story or were you trying to figure out some new angles to good and evil, right and wrong, madness and sanity?
JK: Yeah, I think it's a TRON twist on a classic mythical story. It's a father and son story, but it also has an interesting triangle of characters. You've got Kevin Flynn, his biological son, Sam Flynn, and also has his digital son in Clu. It was that triangle of relationships that was something that hadn't been done before.
Q: You're not making a romantic comedy or a dog story; it's sci-fi. Was sci-fi inevitable in your life?
JK: Science-fiction is a genre with no limits. I have a background in design and I love the idea of creating these worlds and showing people things they've never seen before. So it seems like a good place to be working right now.
Q: What's your favorite? I am asking about the obvious inspirations, but I also want to hear about the literary ones, the comic books, and the games. Are you a games boy?
JK: I grew up at the arcades in the '80s like everyone else who was born at my time. So my gaming years involved putting quarters into Galaga and Pole Position and those kind of games. I'm not an X Box or a Play Station 3 kind of guy.
Q: Are you a science-fiction book reader?
JK: As a kid I was a pretty voracious reader because that's what you did but lately not so much. Now it's all kind of image making.
Q: Who do you consider your godfathers in terms of the graphics, the visuals, and technology?
JK: Of course, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and Steven Spielberg. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the movie that blew my mind as a seven year old kid.
Q: Are you a tech geek as well in terms of exploring the limits of technology and where it's going? Do you favor a silicon/carbon interface?
JK: I was the kid who was hanging out at the Mac store in the late 1980s rather than playing in little league. I was on Mac Paint when the first version came out, so I've always been a tech geek trying to push technology, but trying to do something creative with it.
Q: Would you snort nano-bots to alter your body and mind? To make you live longer so you could make more movies to think of new ideas? That is, If you had that option.
JK: Absolutely. I would do it. You've got a connection? You've got a line on something like that?
Q: I'm working on it. When it came to coming up with this story, how much of it was this fixed idea? You have a responsibility to an older story but then you have to figure out how to diverge from it; at the same time you want to draw audiences so tell me about the conceptualizing...
JK: I promised the studio two things: I'd deliver them a father/son story at the heart of this film, but also I would create something that didn't rely on seeing the first movie to appreciate it. That was the challenge with this movie -- to make sure that there's this kind of human relationship at the center of it, but also to try to capture a whole new audience and get them up to speed on the world of TRON so that they know everything they need to know in the first 10 minutes of the movie. That was a challenging thing.
Science-fiction films are tough enough with exposition when you're trying to explain the rules of the world, but on top of that we're trying to catch people up with 28 years of back story. So that certainly was a challenge and required a lot of work, especially on those opening scenes, to make sure that people go into this movie knowing everything they need to know. This is a movie where you're going to have to pay attention to everything that's said, because it all comes at you pretty fast.
Q: Who had that idea of going from the 2D real world to 3D Tron world?
JK: We got that idea from The Wizard of Oz. It's not my own. I always admired how The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color when Dorothy got pulled in, so for me it felt like 3D was an amazing opportunity to kind of do the same thing.
Q: Alright, why Daft Punk for the soundtrack?
JK: I've been a huge fan of them for years and knew that there was a level of musicianship to their music that went beyond typical dance music. Obviously, they're huge TRON fans, as you can tell just from seeing them, so I approached them very early in the process.
We had breakfast, talked about our favorite movies, favorite film composers, and it was clear that we shared this desire to create a new kind of film score. A classic film score with classic melodies and themes, but we wanted to combine orchestral and electronic music in a way that hadn't been done before.
Q: You've had opportunities to do other remakes. What is it about the idea of remaking or building on a past cinematic legend that excites you?
JK: That's more of a function of what studios are willing to take bets on these days. They love the idea of having a built-in audience on any property, and those movies of the '70s and '80s provide that. I should just note in the story that it's not a remake it's a stand alone sequel. We're building on the story of the original.
Q: You have lots of science fiction ideas of your own or any writers that you want to pick from if you had your druthers?
JK: Yeah, I'm actually working on a project right now called Oblivion, which is based on a story I wrote and the script is being written by William Monahan, who won the Oscar for The Departed a couple of years ago. He's just finishing up the first draft as we speak.
Q: What about taking some other classic science-fiction and doing it, like the stories Alfred Bester or J.G. Ballard or somebody like that?
JK: I'd love to. It would be great to go back and bring some of these unfilmable stories to life because now anything's possible. I'm also working with Disney on a reimagining of the movie The Black Hole, I don't know if you remember that.
Q: I love The Black Hole. I have it on DVD. What about your namesake -- I assume you're not related to Jerzy Kosinski?
JK: I am not.
Q: Not a bad namesake to have -- maybe you'll be making a Jerzy Kosinski book into a film. Or do you have literary pretensions?
JK: Someone already did Being There, and it's hard to top that film, so I don't know how I could do any better than that.
Q: What about branching out? In doing commercials you've got a variety of narratives you've worked with. Where will you go from here?
JK: I don't know, we'll see. Obviously this is the big push is to get the word out there about Tron: Legacy, but after the first of the year we'll see which one of these projects I'm working on catches first.
Q: Were you anxious when you got this project? It's great to finally get that feature out of the way, that first feature, but a lot is on you for a first feature.
JK: Normally, you try to do that first movie so no one would see it and get it out of the way, but it doesn't' look like I'm going to be able to do that with this movie. It seems like it's going to be out there in the spotlight.
I feel very lucky and honored to have gotten the opportunity to make this movie and I'm really proud of the cast and crew that worked on it. Obviously a movie like this takes thousands of people to work on it. It's not a one man job by any means. It's a huge group of people, and I'm really proud of the movie and of the work they've put into it.
Q: What's it like to live with a movie for so many years? Are you neurotic now?
JK: It's a crazy process. There's a point in the middle of it where you're a year and a half into it and you still have a year and a half to go where it feels like it will never end. My wife had a baby boy for days after I finished shooting and now he's 17 months old and the movie is still not out yet, which is insane.
Q: Finally, what do you think about the irony of having something as opposite as Tron: Legacy possibly could be with True Grit out there at the same time? They kind of fit together there in a sense but it must blow you away. Have you seen it?
JK: I have seen it and Jeff is fantastic in both. Everyone should see both of them for sure.
Q: It's funny -- there two very opposite genres at least in terms of setting. How do you feel about Westerns?
JK: I love Westerns. I actually was thinking as I made Tron: Legacy that I treated the world inside like a Western. I mean, I thought of our movie as that. It's like light cycles instead of horses. But yeah, it's great. I think they go well together; it's a good one-two combo.
Q: You're going to have to get the Coen brothers to come see the movie.
JK: I'd love to see what they think.