It’s been a long journey for producer Sean Bailey in rebooting the 1982 TRON film. Now, TRON: LEGACY is arriving tomorrow with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn who is trapped in a computer world he created and it’s up to his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) to save him.
In an exclusive interview with ASSIGNMENT X, Bailey, who is now Disney’s President of Production, spoke about bringing TRON back online, as well as discussing the status of THE BLACK HOLE remake also slated to be directed by TRON’s Joe Kosinski.
ASSIGNMENT X: Were you a big TRON fan as a kid?
SEAN BAILEY: I saw it with my dad in 1982 and it was pretty impactful for me. It was not like I went back and saw it fifteen times. I probably saw it a couple more times on video after that. It definitely registered and I admired both what they went after visually, but also conceptually what they were trying to do. I love high-tech, and big thematic futuristic movies, so when I heard Disney was kicking around a sequel, we started talking about it and that’s how I became involved with it.
AX: There’s also the thing of “remake vs. sequel”? How did you decide to make this a sequel and have it not be a sequel?
BAILEY: I like to say this is a “stand-alone sequel.” We’re going to accept the events of that movie happened as back story, just as you would if you would be creating a new movie, but there happens to be a movie where some of those events happened. So it was critical to us that we had to assume an audience would go in not knowing anything. I get nervous when the word “sequel” gets out there. If you know the first movie great, but you don’t need to know anything. In terms of how we made the decision, when [screenwriters] Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz] came in and said, “Kevin Flynn had a son, Kevin Flynn disappeared and the son has to find him in a new digital world” and I thought it was an interesting idea. It was no more complicated than that. The cherry on the sundae was, “and the bad guy is the digital replica that Flynn built of himself?”
AX: Did you know if technology was advanced enough to be able to make Jeff Bridges look like a younger version of himself?
BAILEY: Oddly, right when they were talking about that, I met Joe. Joe is a very technically fluent guy and started riffing on the idea. So we started to figure out how to marry this really ambitious creative, with this very ambitious visual. That’s how it got started.
AX: What do you think was the biggest challenge of doing TRON: LEGACY?
BAILEY: The challenge is also the fun. In 1982, TRON looked unlike anything anyone had ever seen. We looked at “how do we do that? How do we visually create something that’s unseen.” The other big challenge was we wanted to create this visual, epic world, but how do we create real, human emotion in this huge digital environment? We talked endlessly about finding the balance between visual and unprecedented spectacle, tied to a real human story of father and son. That balance was always being navigated.
AX: Disney flirted with a sequel for years, but nothing ever took shape or form. Was it something you had to do to convince Disney to do or did they say, “we’re ready for this.”
BAILEY: When I came on, they experimented a little bit. Joe had such ambitious philosophies. We argued to Disney, “we know we’re suggesting things that no one has ever really done before. Why don’t you let us go shoot a test and we’ll show you. Then you can assess whether or not we can do it. We’ll learn a lot from it.” So for us it was great R&D. So that’s what got the test going which is what we showed at Comic-Con in 2008 – it was the light cycle battle.
AX: What did Steven bring to the table? He’s Flynn basically, and you’re all his children? How did he help with the universe?
BAILEY: It worked out incredibly. It was a strange thing to come in as a producer and be partnered with Steve Lisberger who created the original and “how do we find the balance here?” I remember once we brought in Joe, Steven came to us and said, “this is your generation’s turn to make this movie. What I would like to be is your Obi-wan” and that’s exactly what he did. We would sometimes get stuck in the weeds on something, and in the detail of the lines and he would say “Have you thought about this?” And in one sentence it would re-orient the thing. He never would go “why are you doing that or ‘that would never happen in the TRON world.’” That was never his role. It was a much more philosophical Zen thing. It was very much the Zen thing.
AX: Any specific example of getting you on track?
BAILEY: It happened a lot, but there was a theme he talked about early on we really latched on to that led to some of the plot turns in the movie. That idea was Sam going to go into their world and the way the two worlds are merging is bigger than anyone realizes. Their world is pushing into ours and Steven would say, and his long held the belief that if other life would ever emerge on our planet , it would not be extra-terrestrial. Steven would always say, “It ain’t coming from outer space. It ain’t coming from out there, it’s coming from in there, in the servers.” That was an idea that was interesting to us and I think it manifested itself a couple of ways in the movie.
AX: What’s the status of THE BLACK HOLE remake?
BAILEY: We have a writer named Travis Beacham working on a very exciting take and Joe is attached to direct who I think is a dream guy for it. We’ll see. Travis has a very ambitious pitch that he’s writing now, which I love. Joe is also attached to direct an idea of his called OBLIVION. That’s an original idea of Joe’s. OBLIVION is being written by Bill Monahan.
AX: TRON was a good movie, but obviously there’s stuff that’s dated, but THE BLACK HOLE is a movie that had a great idea but failed miserably. It was trying so hard to be STAR WARS and missed the boat at every turn, and in that way it seems like it makes it an easier movie to remake.
BAILEY: We think so. there are a lot of interesting terrain in the pitch about black holes.
AX: If you have more TRON’s, will you bring Joe back into the fold?
BAILEY: Certainly if we were lucky enough to be able to do it, and the audience wants us to, it’s Joe. It’s his universe.
(additional reporting by A.C. Ferrante)
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