In 2010, Joseph Kosinski breathed new life into the TRON franchise and delivered a truly breathtaking digital world unlike anything seen before, and while it was his debut feature film, for those in the know, TRON: Legacy‘s successes didn’t raise any eyebrows. Having forged a hugely successful directing commercials including for video games Halo 3 and the award-winning Mad World spot for Gears of War, it was only going to be a matter of time before he took his talents into film. We talked to Joseph Kosinski about his new film, Oblivion, returning to sci-fi adventure and set 60 years into the future, with earth left ravaged by an alien invasion, detailed to maintain the drones extracting Earth’s vital remaining resources, comes into contact with a female from a crashed spacecraft, and sets in motion a series of events leaving him questioning everything he previously knew as fact.
Your background and schooling is in architecture, not the typical route of a Hollywood director. There is a growing trend amongst the new age of filmmakers to have not taken a traditional route into the industry. How do you feel your background has helped in your journey to where you are today?
I do think there are a lot of parallels between architecture and filmmaking. The obvious benefits are the design and production of a world in a film, it’s good to have a background in design and that part of the process I really enjoy. The blueprint in architecture is very similar to the script in a film. An architect can’t create a building by himself in the same way a director can’t create a film by himself. You need to choose a team of collaborators and set a vision that guides that group through the whole process in order to create something singular and unique. For me I just found that I was more interested in telling stories than building buildings.
What were some of your favourite movies growing up that really inspired you to want to change course and become a filmmaker yourself?
I grew up loving Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark was another big one for me just because I felt like the hero in that story was different from anything I had seen before; he had this dual nature, he was an archaeologist on the weekends but during the week he was a professor. That aspect of Indiana Jones I remember being really inspired by because you could be an action hero and be pretty smart at the same time. Back to the Future, Blade Runner, I love all that stuff too.
After working on such an iconic film franchise as TRON for your first feature, Oblivion is actually an original story of your own. It’s evident from your previous work that your huge fan of sci-fi, what gave you the idea for this particular story?
I wrote Oblivion eight years ago, before I made TRON, and I thought at the time that Oblivion would be my first feature, that’s why I purposely contained it to a small cast of characters and focused instead on big ideas and a big landscape. You could say the inspiration can from my fascination with the Twilight Zone TV series from the 60’s and also 70’s science fiction that was more character driven. I wanted to do something different and bring science fiction into the daylight and that was the inspiration for the visual look of the movie.
There are a number of exciting filmmakers such as yourself, Christopher Nolan for example, who are not only tackling big franchises but also demonstrating individual creativity in developing original ideas. Working on Oblivion do you feel you have more creative freedom to express yourself because it’s your own idea as opposed to perhaps working on an already established franchise?
Because it my story, you understand it, you have more control of it, I’m a producer on this movie as well. Being my second film having been through it you know what the potential traps are, you learn lessons from previous projects, I went in knowing what I wanted to do. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes from developing your own project from beginning to end.
Without a doubt, even so early in your career, you’ve already established yourself as a storyteller who really concentrates on creating amazing visuals that will leave a long lasting effect on the audience. You say that Oblivion is a character driven mystery, but just from the trailer you can’t help but to be overwhelmed and in awe of the epic look and feel of Oblivion too. When telling a story, what do you place the greater importance on; the look and feel of the film or the underlying story itself?
I don’t think you can say you’re going to focus more on one or the other; they have to work hand in hand. The visuals always have to be in support of the story; you can’t design a story around great visuals, working that way is an exercise in futility. What I like about this movie is that it started out as just a story, and then the visuals, the hardware all sprung into place from that. When selling a movie you’re going to lean into the epic shots, you’re not going to focus on the more small intimate drama; this film certainly has a mix of everything. I’d certainly describe it as a thriller/mystery, but it does have elements of drama, romance and some big spectacular action.
What would you say is your main takeaway from Oblivion as a project you’ve worked on from writing the first words in the script to shooting the last shots behind the camera? And what was the most challenging aspect of getting the movie made?
Getting any movie made is a challenge, an original story is probably the most challenging because there is no existing fan base, and it’s an even harder sell to the studio. It helps to have a big movie star on your side and having Tom Cruise attached to Oblivion from an early stage made huge a difference. Tom Cruise saw some images and an excerpt of the story from a small preview issue I did down at Comic-Con a few years ago and he called me to talk more about the project. It was a pretty surreal meeting; I had grown up watching his movies and the directors he’s worked with in the past are ones that I really admire and look up to.
Another Hollywood heavyweight in Morgan Freeman stars in Oblivion, was it always your intention to have him star in the film?
He was like the dream casting for that particular role, Tom and I talked about how great it would be to get Morgan Freeman and we sent him the script and he said yes; we were both thrilled. Morgan was excited too because had wanted to work with Tom for a long time and they were waiting for the right project, and this happened to be it.
After TRON and Oblivion, it’s fair to say that you are very particular in the type of visuals you want to bring to a movie. I believe you used a brand new type of camera for this movie that had literally just come off the assembly line for shooting. What made you so eager to use this particular camera?
The Sony F65 camera is a 4G camera and it has an 8K chip; it’s extremely sharp, has extreme detail and great dynamic range which are all the qualities you look for in a camera. For shooting in Iceland I needed all those qualities. We were lucky that Sony made it available for us in time for shooting. We are actually going to be the first film released with this new camera.
With the advancements in technology, the ability to visually tell a unique story has become increasingly possible. Do you see the landscape of the sci-fi genre changing in the near future?
Sci-fi is a genre that has no limits so these tools are going to allow filmmakers to create anything they want, obviously story is key but I think your already starting to see a lot of exciting films come out and the future of film is certainly going to be in the sci-fi genre.
In terms of future projects I believe your working on TRON 3 at the moment, what stage are you are currently at with the much anticipated follow-up?
Currently in the script stage of this project, it’s a really exciting idea that really delivers on the promise of Legacy. I’m also working on the Black Hole script with Disney. Archangel is in development at Fox but that’s further behind the other projects.
Oblivion is released in the UK tomorrow, April 10th