For years, Joseph Kosinski‘s been gradually working on the story for Oblivion. It’s been revised multiple times, bobbing in and out of development. Luckily, the director’s already familiar with sci-fi, thanks to his run on TRON: Legacy. Kosinski recently spoke to ScreenCrave and went into detail about what it took to create Oblivion. 

How does the finished film compare with your original vision for Oblivion? What did you tell yourself on the first day of shooting?

Joseph Kosinski: I wrote this story — the first version of this story — about eight years ago. I thought it’d be a first film so that’s why I wrote it with a contained cast. The sky tower was going to be the main setting. It was always the story of drone repairman Jack Harper and his kind of journey of redemption. Never would have imagined eight years ago that I’d be able to make it on this scale, going to Iceland, New York City, building all the incredible sets and vehicles and getting the cast I was able to get for this film. I will say, in the end, it’s the same story I originally wrote. Despite the spectacle of the final product, the story of Jack Harper has remained unchanged and that’s something that I’m really proud of. In terms of what could I tell myself on day one of shooting? Gosh I don’t know. It’s going to be a lot of work. I’d tell him it’s all going to be fine, but yeah it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of challenges but some of the experiences I had shooting on this movie, shooting on a mountain top in Iceland and working with Tom [Cruise] and seeing him and Morgan [Freeman] together were just spectacular. Kind of what I always dreamed filmmaking would be like. Seeing movies like Lawrence of Arabia as a kid, I got to experience that in Iceland on this movie which was fantastic.

In your stories you’re not afraid to let the audience wonder. You pose questions. Can you talk about that decision and not caving in?

Joseph Kosinski: I wanted to make sure that people understood the story, which is not a straight forward story, at least in context of watching the movie. I think in the end, you’re able to figure out much of what has happened. It is fairly simple. You never want to intentionally make a confusing movie. I love movies that ask big questions but don’t necessarily answer everything. I like people walking out, thinking about something. I wanted this to be a movie that people would talk about and debate and argue over and discuss and think about a couple of days later. Hopefully, great science fiction films help you think about issues that relate to yourself. What’s my purpose? Why am I here? What is it that makes me who I am? Those kind of questions I think my favorite science fiction films ask. So yeah, hopefully it’s a movie that people walk away with talking about after.

What was the M.8.3 song that wooed you and inspired you to include them in the film?

Joseph Kosinski: You know, I think one of the songs I was listening to was a song called “Unrecorded.” They were relatively unknown then but I remember listening to the track when I was writing this treatment. I had such a great experience working with Daft Punk on TRON: Legacy that I wanted to kind of find that artist from outside the film business and create a film score. Anthony [Gonzalez] always wanted to do a film score. So we met, talked about it, I showed him some imagery, showed him the story. I paired him with Joseph Trapaneze who’s the orchestrator on TRON: Legacy and joined Anthony as a co-composer. I really wanted to create something that sounded original, different and fit the film. I’d like to say it’s a more complex film than TRON: Legacy in terms of writing music for it, because it’s got so many different types of scenes. But considering it’s his first film, he did a pretty phenomenal job.

How did you get Melissa Leo involved in such a small but pivotal role?

Joseph Kosinski: The role of Sally was one that I looked hard at looking for the right actress who could be both caring, almost motherly but have a firmness and a strength behind it that’s unmistakable. I sent Melissa the script and she just sparked to it immediately. She got it, she got the character and she’d never done a film like this. She usually does more independent films so the opportunity to be in a big movie in an unexpected way I think really appealed to her. I’m thrilled to add her into this incredible cast I was able to get for the film.


What we loved about TRON: Legacy was the technology. For Oblivion, it’s the bubble ship and the drones. Can you talk about the design because we know you have an engineering background?

Joseph Kosinski: Well, you know my background is in mechanical engineering and industrial design, that’s what I got my undergrad for. Then I went to architectural school for graduate school. I think I was going to be an architect. I was always looking for a career that could combine my kind of creative interests with my technical side. It ends up directing films is kind of the perfect combination. But with Oblivion, with the vehicles you see in this film, I wanted it to feel like it’s all a part of the same design family, which makes sense when you see the film, why everything feels related. The bubble ship and the sky tower were two elements of the story that I had a very kind of clear image of from the start. I did three images of my treatment, when I first wrote it, and two was of the sky tower and the bubble ship. One was of the empire state building sticking out of the sand. That was something I had very early on. Then [I] brought my same design team from TRON: Legacy onto this project, [to] flesh out the details of the hardware.

Was it difficult creating a sci-fi world that we’d never seen before?

Joseph Kosinski: I was inspired by the science fiction films I’d seen as a kid, sci-fi films of the ’60s and ’70s. I loved The Twilight Zone television show. I remember seeing Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man. It felt like, in the ’80s after Alien, which is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, science fiction went into a very dark place of deep space and dark ships. I like the idea of bringing science fiction back out into the daylight. So for me, that felt like something we haven’t seen in awhile. That kind of juxtapositions the world that we know, set against the landscape of Iceland, to me was an exciting depiction of the Earth’s surface. I thought we’ve seen so many dusty grey, green, brown post-apocalyptic worlds. It would be fun to see something with a little bit of color, of daylight, of brightness in this world above the clouds. That to me as an aesthetic was really exciting.

Oblivion opens in theaters April 19.