'Tomorrowland' co-writer Damon Lindelof discusses keeping secrets in the media age at D23 Expo
You know, I thought we had gotten past this, but evidently not.
It is a very delicate dance that we all try to engage in when we write about films in production, particularly films where there is a very high desire for information from the fan community. Today, Disney is no doubt debating whether or not they handled all things "Star Wars" correctly at the D23 Expo. I don't think they could have brought anything more than they did, but it is obvious just from looking at Twitter or websites or Facebook that people who attended the event today absolutely expected more than they got.
When I published a piece about "Tomorrowland" earlier this year, I went too far. I said that in the days right afterwards, both on the site and in private communications to the people making the film. It was a case of being surprised to have so much information fall into my lap in the way it did and being aware that because I had it, others would have it as well, and making the judgment call to publish so that I could at least try to set it in a context of sorts.
I have nothing but respect for Brad Bird, and that predates "The Iron Giant" and goes back to when I got to know him personally in the early '90s. My first conversation with Brad was all about his "Family Dog" episode of "Amazing Stories" and his co-screenplay credit on "Batteries Not Included," as well as an animated project called "Ray Gunn" that friends had told me about that was a dream of Bird's.
When "The Iron Giant" was in production, it was genuinely a sore spot for the studio. There was a point where they were debating sending it direct to home video, which would have most likely involved cropping the beautiful scope compositions of that film for a square screen, and which would have buried a film that has touched audiences deeply in the years since it was released. When I saw the movie for the first time, it was incredibly rough, with some scenes still only pencil tests, and it was not fully scored yet. Even so, I wrote about it immediately, and I began an active campaign to make sure that Warner Bros. knew that what they had was special. I ended up speaking to Brad on the record about the film while they were still in post, and it was obvious that shining a light on just how great and special the film was had helped them in their constant push to make the studio see that they had something great. I didn't get the film a theatrical release… ultimately, the film did that. But my uninvited interference was a help at a time when the film needed it.
As a result, I was surprised at first by just how much my "Tomorrowland" piece seemed to bother both Bird and Lindelof, but that was because I didn't fully understand the larger cross-media game they were planning to play. And, as far as I can tell, they still plan to play it. The various Disney parks are going to be turned into very subtle puzzles for fans who want to play a real-world game that pieces together clues about the nature of the story they're going to tell, and the presentation that they held today, which I wrote about in my live-blog of the event, was definitely part of that larger narrative outside the film.
Greg Ellwood was backstage working the press line while I was in the arena, and when he got a chance to talk to Lindelof, it seems that he is still irritated with me over that piece, and I'm guessing I've had my last one-on-one with Bird for the foreseeable future. I think part of the reason this subject is still fresh for Damon is that many of the things he's worked on have been under a microscope in the press that almost nothing could withstand. Between "Lost" and "Prometheus" alone, I think he's gone through some of the most insane hyper-scrutiny of any working screenwriter, and the two "Star Trek" movies have also worked under a cloud of intentional secrecy that only serves to fuel the hunt for people who love spoilers.
The older I get, the more I try to err on the side of "reveal too little," and that "Tomorrowland" piece was just one step in a process that will be ongoing for me as a writer, I'm sure. I don't think I've really ruined the big surprises of the film, and honestly, for me, a Brad Bird/Damon Lindelof film isn't going to hinge on one or two plot points as far as whether or not I enjoy the film. I have a feeling they'll do something fun and full of wonder and celebratory of the idea of innovation, and by the time the film comes out, that piece I wrote will be a distant memory.
Just not for Lindelof, evidently. Sorry, dude.
"Tomorrowland" will be in theaters December 19, 2014.