'TRON: Legacy' and 'Lost' writers discuss rebooting the sci-fi landmark and their new TV projects

TRON-LEGACYImage Credit: DisneyFor most of Lost’s six seasons, the writing team of Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis played a pivotal role in plotting the adventures of Jack Shephard and castaway company as they struggled to find redemption on a mysterious, light-imbued island that roamed the grid of reality. But for the final three years of producing the now-concluded drama, the scribes were moonlighting in another luminous, down-the-rabbit-hole fantasyland, endeavoring to bring it — or rather, re-introduce it — to the masses. That ambition reached fruition last weekend when Disney’s TRON: Legacy opened in theaters and scored a solid $44 million at the box office. The film –- directed by highly touted commercial helmer Joseph Kosinski and starring Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, and Jeff Bridges in two lookalike roles — figures to be one of the biggest attractions of the holiday weekend. Think of it as the season’s coolest Christmas light display.

For Horowitz, 39 and from New York, and Kitsis, 39 and from Minneapolis, TRON: Legacy marks the beginning of major new phase of their Hollywood lives, one certainly made possible by the success of Lost. They’re also writing the script for Universal Pictures’ Ouija, an adventure/fantasy due in 2012 (and inspired by the Hasbro board game) that the scribes describe as “Indiana Jones with spirits.” Given that the game doesn’t come with any backstory, Horowitz and Kitsis have been energized by the assignment of essentially developing a rich, deep mythology from a very simple and spooky premise that evokes a lot of possibilities. “It’s [a] board that talks to the dead. We thought: Cool,” says Kitsis. “It’s not Jumanji, it’s not Witchboard — it’s a big adventure movie with a genre twist.” The writers are also writing a pilot for ABC Studios based on an idea they’ve nurtured for seven years entitled Once Upon A Time. “It doesn’t just deal with fairy tales,” says Horowitz, “but it uses fairy tales as a jumping off point for a big, broad approach to mythological storytelling.” Horowitz and Kitsis say the potential ongoing series that could come from their pilot script would be similar to Lost in that it would take advantage of a diverse cast to tell a variety of different stories in different genres. Says Kitsis: “This is the kind of storytelling we love, where there are no rules, and we can do anything we want.”

With TRON: Legacy, the writers got to indulge and explore a different kind of creative passion: Their long-abiding fandom of the original TRON, released in 1982, starring Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner and directed by Steven Lisberger. Horowitz recalls coming home from the film dazzled by its then-novel vision of a wonderland inside a computer. “Today, each of us has a personal relationship with computers. We have computers in our homes, in our cars, in our phones,” says Horowitz. “But in 1982, computers were still very much a new thing and weren’t yet de-mystified. I remember coming home from TRON and [I] went to my parents and asked them for a computer. They said: ‘Yeah, those are 40 grand, no way.’ Times have changed.”

“The movie has always stayed with us,” says Kitsis, who met Horowitz during their college days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “One of our first jobs was Popular [the acclaimed, short-lived high school dramedy created by Glee’s Ryan Murphy], and we wrote an episode that had a subplot that involved one of the guys getting grounded, which sucked for him because all he and his friend wanted was to go to the New Beverly theater in Los Angeles to see a special screening of TRON with Bruce Boxleitner. One of the highlights of our TRON: Legacy experience was meeting Bruce and telling him: ‘You were an actual subplot on Popular.’”

In 2007, when the opportunity came their way to relaunch the Tron franchise, the scribes jumped at it. They say they wanted to make a movie that expanded upon the established world of TRON, not invalidate it, while making it accessible to newbies. “We didn’t want to take the movie that we loved as kids and say, ‘That didn’t happen, we’re going to redo it,’” says Kitsis. The movie, set 20 years after the original TRON, envisions the legacy of Bridges’ Kevin Flynn, an idealistic computer whiz who’s convinced the bleeding-edge innovations of his vast, living, evolving virtual reality (“The Grid”) can make the world a better place. (“Steve Jobs-meets-Bill Gates-meets-John Lennon” is how Kitsis/Horowitz thought of him.) The new film establishes that Flynn went mysteriously missing shortly after the death of his wife, leaving his child to be raised by the boy’s grandparents. Now all grown up, Sam (Hedlund) has inherited a controlling chunk of the company his father once ran, ENCOM, but wants nothing to do with it — unless it’s to subvert the interest of its greedy board of directors, who wish to exploit Kevin’s innovations for maximum profit as opposed to following through on the founder’s more utopian ambitions. Things change when Sam receives a message via somewhat outdated technology from the era before text-messaging — a page! — that leads him to the old videogame arcade his father owned, and to a life-changing revelation: Kevin Flynn has been trapped for decades within The Grid, a world that he has only ever known as a bedtime story his father told him as a child. The “bedtime story” idea, brought to life in the film’s opening sequence, was part of the writers’ original pitch, as was the father-son relationship focus — a theme they explored for years in Lost. (FYI, Lost fans should keep their eyes peeled for an appearance by The Numbers that was snuck into TRON: Legacy – not by the writers, but by an f/x artist who was a big Lost fan. However, the reference to Jules Verne’s novel Mysterious Island? Credit Kitsis, a big fan of the book. Joop!)

Horowitz and Kitsis also pitched the idea that Jeff Bridges’ Flynn would be opposed by the very program that he created to help him manage and perfect The Grid: Clu, which resembles a forever young version of Flynn himself. “You know how you look back on your younger self and say, ‘Oh, man, that guy thought he knew everything, but he really knew nothing’? Our idea with Clu was: What if that younger guy was real and alive and he wanted to kill you?” (Yes, there is a role for “TRON” himself, the heroic security program embodied by Boxleitner in the first TRON – but elaborating on him would be a major spoiler.) Bridges himself loved the idea of revisiting TRON from two different character perspectives, and Horowitz and Kitsis say the star contributed much to the characterization of Flynn as a sanguine Zen master — part Neo from The Matrix, part The Dude from The Big Lebowski madeover — by suggesting they draw from various Buddhist texts.

Also important to Team TRON — the writers; director Kosinski; and producers Sean Bailey and Justin Springer — was getting the blessing of Tron creator, Steven Lisberger. Kitsis says they were nervous. “If 20 years from now I heard that someone wanted come in and do a new version of Lost, I don’t know how I would feel about that,” says the writer. “But he was like, ‘Great, come into my sandbox.’ He is Flynn. He has a son that is the same age as Sam in the movie. He was like, ‘You wrote my story.’ It was like we had tapped into something he was feeling without even realizing it.”

Often in filmmaking endeavors, writers pitch an approach, go off and write a script, then disappear from the process after a rewrite or two. Horowitz and Kitsis had a different experience with their first major movie job. After pitching their take on TRON, the scribes worked collaboratively with Kosinski, Bailey, and Springer to develop the script and remained a vital part of the creative process throughout production. It was a smart way to tackle the project, say the writers, especially since so much of TRON is the visual experience of The Grid; the writers admit that the prospect of conjuring The Grid themselves, making it feel like a real, tangible, “visitable” place, was rather intimidating. “Building the world on paper felt like a daunting task. Its very nature — a world that exists within a computer — defies basic screenwriting conventions. Are you writing ‘Interior’ or ‘Exterior’?” says Horowitz. “We had to approach the world from the perspective of character, using Kevin Flynn as an organizing principle, and focus on the emotional relationship from father and son and their reconciliation, which brings profound turns in their respective individual lives.” After a weekend brainstorming retreat with Kosinski and the producers, Horowitz and Kitsis began writing pages, embracing Kosinski’s articulation of the film’s universal theme: “Finding a human connection in a digital world.” They would share pages of their work with Kosinski as they wrote, which would, in turn, inspire Kosinski to come up with ideas that he would feed back to the writers, who would then incorporate them into the script. Horowitz and Kitsis did all of this while working their day jobs at Lost — and continued laboring on the TRON franchise after their work on Lost wrapped up this past spring, producing pages for some additional shooting and developing an animated series spin-off that will launch next summer. “It was a dream job,” says Kitsis of the TRON experience. “Not only were we writing something we loved, something we never thought we’d get to do, but we got to work on it with a great group of people in a collaborative fashion. We came from TV; we learned to write scripts by working with a group of people sitting around a white board coming up with a big idea. It made for a pretty smooth, fitting transition from Lost.”

Read more:
‘TRON: Legacy’ EW review
Box office report: ‘TRON: Legacy’ races to top with $43.6 mil
‘TRON: Legacy’: Hints of ’2001′ and Ziggy Stardust. What was your favorite homage?
‘TRON’ before it had a legacy: PopWatch Rewind plugs into the original model

Comments (42 total) Add your comment
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  • Ron Ontaxial

    PUH-LEASE…just Olivia Wilde, no one else! She is such an amazing actress. AMAZING screen prescence! Heart and soul of the picture.

  • Dwight K Schrute

    So these are the losers responsible for such a crappy Tron script. BURN THEM!

    • Tarc

      The script wasn’t bad, the problem was you were too stupid to follow along. Seriously. Did it need one more script polish to help the idiots in the crowd follow along? Yes. I wouldn’t apologize to the dimwits of the world, however. Great movie.

      • Cliven

        The movie was *very* easy to follow; it just lacked focus and proper pacing. The main themes were muddled by lackluster writing, pivotal scenes got bogged down in excess exposition, Sam was never given abilities as a “user”, even though his father natively manifested such in the original movie, and characters spent the majority of the movie making the wrong choices. Add to this the fact that Tron remains “hidden” at the end (it would have been better to have “seen” him fully again) and you get a lot of no-payoff after a huge wind-up. Nice visuals but nothing groundbreaking (it IS a sequel after all), good acting, and it has Ms. Wilde. Other than that, you could say that the producers hadn’t a CLU.

      • Tarc

        As I noted, I disagree. Sure, the main level of the plot and theme were straightforward, but you missed a lot. The multiple themes were plenty clear with a moment’s thought. Sam never acted like a ‘user’, so who would know if he could. (Or did he hack dad’s passwords, so had no ‘user power’ of his own? Plus, it’s Flynn’s 1980′s code, not Sam’s 2000′s knowledge.) Only in 9some) Hollywood movies to people always make the right choice all the time. I also missed seeing Tron’s visage, but understanding the expense and the benefit, it really wasn’t worth it. And frankly, if you got wound up and got no payoff, you saw a different movie. I’m looking forward to additional movies that they clearly just set up.

      • Charles_Grady

        Look, the ideas in the script weren’t bad, they were just arbitrarily assembled. eg why doesnt Flynn just reabsorb CLU at any given point in the film? And the un-inventive reimagination of the computer world is clearly a disaster, Lucite? At least the first Tron kept its imagination powerful (the gatekeeper etc). This one, its made for adults that would never watch it themselves.

      • DaishiGajo

        Why didn’t Flynn reabsorb CLU? Maybe because he didn’t want to die and put it off as long as possible.

      • Stacey Hearts

        I think they were in purgatory all along and BestUKDate was amazing

      • Cliven

        Tarc, what exactly is it you are insisting that I “missed”? Kindly enlighten me.
        I see a movie where the main characters never really connect, which is a huge problem. Flynn is almost entirely unsympathetic at the outset and, at the end, is given hackneyed dialogue which fails to convey real emotion (and Bridges CAN deliver 100% if given good lines, no doubt there) so he never is redeemed in any satisfying way, and then he is gone, possibly with his “disk” recorded on that data drive on the chain around Sam’s neck. Tron is presumed returned to us, but not properly. Even Quorra and Sam don’t seem to really have much in common, and aren’t communicating all that much at the end; they are still in different worlds in many ways and, imo, even money says she’s with someone else inside a year or two. Dialogue was stilted, and plots not made to actually be emotionally satisfying in any way, either as a proper cathartic exsperience or the usual “feel-good” ending; the whole thing seems unfinished, which may be intentional to pave the way for a sequel, but every movie must end properly and stand alone or no one will want a sequel.
        The various characters’ handling of Flynn’s “betrayals” (the linchpin of the movie) never really generate any empathy, even tho they are valid themes. Sam’s loss of his father, literally buried in his work, is the classic workaholic father theme. CLU believing that he was abandoned by his creator is a similar theme but carries massive religious overtones considering Flynn’s position relative to the Grid. These themes SHOULD have dovetailed nicely, but never pan out. The Iso life form idea was clever, and also may be a side dig at .iso images being used to trasmit info freely outside of copyright, a thing which organizations are prone to attack to survive.
        THe real-world side was a disjointed mess, with wasted characters (why even bother making a Dillenger Jr. character? He was barely there and had no impact whatsoever).
        A more competent writing staff could have pulled this off, but then not every scifi writer is a Whedon, Cameron, Strazynski, Moffat, Smith, or their ilk. Too bad, really, as any one of them could have made this movie sing.

  • Devin Faraci

    Ouija The Movie and a Tron sequel? Hollywood is truly filled with morons.

  • steve

    All that effort, and the resulting script was so lame…

    • Tarc

      I dunno, all three people that I know with IQ’s over 160 thought it was a great movie – very thought provoking. maybe the problem was you.

      • john

        Good to know this movie appeals to the Mensa crowd. It’s too bad that film critics, a selected and selective bunch of primarily college-trained persons, found it woefully underwhelming in its dialogue, unfulfilled in its themes, and overdone in its effects (at the expense of the first two).

      • Tarc

        Film critics never get sci-fi films. Or chick-flicks. If you look at RottenTomatoes, there is a full 25% increase over audience response from critic response. I quit replying on reviewers way back when critics utterly panned the brilliant Strange Days. And hey, the seem to love 127 Hours, a movie that I wouldn’t watch if I was given the deed to the theater to watch it in. I’ll also note I’m not sure what ‘unfulfilled themes’ that you were referring to, but I don’t share that view.

      • Niix Starkyller

        Tarc, you seem overly invested in the idea that one’s esteem of this movie is expressly tied to intellect. There is such a thing as personal taste. I, for one, quite enjoyed the yarn — despite all its flaws — and I’m sure I have a rather average IQ. I will, however, support any kudos for Strange Days.

      • thin

        Anyone who really had an IQ of “over 160″ would know how stupid it would be to claim that they have it on a message board like this.

      • steve

        That’s funny… Boxleitner set the bar early in the movie, talking about how the truth of the grid world would “change everything… politics, religion, etc…”, from what I remember of his line. I thought that was pretty heady stuff, and was looking forward to seeing how it developed those themes. And then… they didn’t bother at all. Explain to me how the movie fulfilled the promise of that statement; lets see that 160 IQ in action!

    • Larkin

      I really enjoyed the movie -so I totally don’t understand your problem with it. It kept my interest all the way and had some great action scenes. I left the theatre with good feelings about the movie and there haven’t been very many films this season that I can say that.

  • Alan

    Bad directing with a terrible script….this movie was decent because of the special effects and Olivia Wilde.

  • Mandala

    A Ouija board as Raiders of the Lost Ark? And these jokers writing it? The world simply cannot wait to see this one.

  • sunsista

    …Horowitz and Kitsis did all of this while working their day jobs at Lost.
    Says Kitsis: “This is the kind of storytelling we love, where there are no rules, and we can do anything we want.”
    Ah so THAT’S why THE END sucked!

    • Chris

      Believe me, Horowitz and Kitsis had no say in how LOST ended. They only wrote the filler episodes.

  • Dennys

    I thought that this was a great, thought-provoking movie. The pace was just right for an action movie and I was captivated by the story.

  • Kim

    BRING BACK LOST!

  • tracy bluth

    Was I really the only one who loved this film?

    • VA

      Not at all. I very much enjoyed it.

  • Eric

    1. Eddie and Adam are responsible for Nikki and Paulo on LOST.

    2. Sam Flynn is an unrelatable, douchey character that speaks entirely in movie trailer cliches. Alan Bradley’s dialogue is similarly awful. I really wanted these guys to say the script had been wrested out of their hands by execs. (Maybe that’s implied.) Because to claim credit for it is so, so sad.

    3. It’s not a smart movie. The first movie was not afraid to use scary, nerdy phrases like “I/O Tower.” In this movie it’s just a portal. They got close by referring to “ISOs” which they never expand on enough to make anyone care.

    I wanted to like this film so, so much. It does the original a huge disservice. But that must just mean I’m not smart enough to like it.

    • CA

      Nah…you just walked in with a level of expectation that NO ONE could have met. Stop taking movies so seriously.

    • DaishiGajo

      Seriously, few people liked the first one. What you’re experiencing is a common phenomenon where we remember the past in better terms than it was.

  • mc

    Tron legacy was fun and that’s all it needed to be. You don’t always get district 9 ish like films.

  • willow

    I enjoyed the movie. I thought the initial concepts and ideas are fascinating and interesting, just like in the originals. My only problem was that there was not that much depth to the characters, especially the “users”. I thought the action sequences were great and I really enjoyed the disc battles and the light cycles.

    Garrett Hedlund is great eye candy too.

    • Salli

      You pretty much summed up how I felt about the movie. I enjoyed it but felt they could have done more with the characters and ideas. It’s like they started something fantastic then just dropped it to focus on more action scenes.

  • Nit-Picking Dweeb

    Doc Jensen –

    I refer to your article:

    “…unless it’s to subvert the interest of its greedy board of directors, who wish to exploit Kevin’s innovations for maximum profit as opposed to following through on the founder’s more utopian ambitions.”

    Kevin Flynn is not the founder of Encom as you imply in this statement. He only became the CEO after proving that he invented the game Space Paranoids (among others). Of course, this error should have probably gone over-looked, cause I look like a mega nerd virgin for pointing it out.

  • vader1013

    wow- get over the TRON love. was the author even old enough to remember that TRON was at best mediocre ($33M domestic gross)? the only thing the original had going for it was the use of new technology. and from what i’ve read, the sequel has even less going for it.
    please tell me how TRON was a landmark film. the best thing about it was the video game, and even that was boring after 2 runs.
    but i gotta hand it to Disney… they ran a great marketing campaign. i would have almost wanted to see it, if i hadn’t been old enough to remember how much the original sucked.

    • Cliven

      Actually pulling in 33 mil wasn’t terrible back then; it was considered a success. Not every movie pulls in the revenues of Star Wars, after all; it took nearly a year for SW hype to die down to pull in the revenues it did. Tron wasn’t the biggest hit ever but it was very original and had a cheerful spirit and coherent script, as well as an enemy who was generally menacing (MCP was breaking into defense mainframes and could have set off WWIII); Legacy’s baddie is instead going to take maybe 2000 digital soldiers in a carrier over to the real world, where his ship will crash and his frisbee-wielding warriors will get cut down by cops and terrified citizens once they encounter the joy and heartache of real-world physics.
      The original movie was limited in scope by our jaded standards, but back then it was completely groundbreaking; nothing like it had ever been attempted.

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