Brad Bird & Damon Lindelof On Tomorrowland's Secrets

Teasing, tone and the war on spoilers...

Disney Tomorrowland Logo

Given the presence of Hugh Laurie in the cast, and the carefully curated sense of secrecy that the filmmakers have wrapped around the movie so far, we half expect Laurie’s classic comedy song 'Mystery' to appear on the soundtrack to Tomorrowland.

Laurie was not on hand at the Disney D23 event this weekend, but the Mouse House had director Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof in attendance, and the pair spoke to us about the challenges of making a film in a world where so many essential elements leak before the finished version is even in cinemas.

“You're always worried,” admits Bird. “It's kind of like a heckler who yells out a punch line to some guy's well-crafted joke. It's never going to be as good as hearing it with all the care that you put into it. It's very hard to tell a story as well it should be told when everybody has devices that can record and post things on blogs. That's why I encourage anyone who loves storytelling to avoid reading spoilers online. Be excited about a movie, but if you like storytelling, why would you want that?”

The man who made The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and, more recently, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, is trying to keep his latest under wraps as long as he can, and has just started shooting the sci-fi adventure. He’s concerned that the eventual trailers may just go too far. “That's a trend. People often explain too much and to me, it feels a little desperate, like you don't think being intrigued is enough. And there are many trailers where, if it ended halfway through, I'd be in. And then they go, 'It turns out the villain is the best friend!'” Added Lindelof with a laugh: “That was awesome, that movie,” “But it goes deep into the third act!” protested Bird. “Why am I getting this in a trailer? Now I don't want to see it.”

Early chatter about the film pointed to alien involvement, but Lindelof is happy to shoot that rumour down once and for all when we ask about the influences on the film’s tone. “When we first started talking about it, the movie we were referencing was Close Encounters, so people incorrectly deduced that it was about some sort of alien contact, which we've ruled out. But that movie was about discovery. It was about that level of excitement of, 'There's something out there, and it inspires me and I can't quite explain why it inspires me, but I need to know more about it. I need to get to it.' That became the driving, fundamental feel behind it. We're not trying to make a Spielberg movie, this is very much a Brad Bird movie, but I feel like that's the vibe.”

Bird is clearly happier talking tone than plot at this point, which really does make a refreshing change. “It's what we want to have the audience feeling. When I was first at Pixar, they were making Finding Nemo and doing all these tests for water and trying to reproduce stuff from the ocean. They did it really well and once they managed it, they said, 'We shouldn't be trying to reproduce what it looks like, we should be trying to evoke what it feels like.' As soon as they did that, they had the ocean they wanted. That's really what this is about in a weird way. When you hear that word, how does it 'feel'?"

“What does it evoke?” said Lindelof, taking up the baton. “When you close your eyes and think of three things that it makes you picture when I say Tomorrowland, those are the things that should be in the movie, not necessarily the theme park ride Space Mountain.”

For the duo, the real inspiration here was a mysterious box, reportedly dug up in the Disney archives and containing all manner of intriguing items, including strange animation reels and a forged picture of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart. “We put together an exhibit at D23 that curates everything that we pulled out of the box,” said Lindelof. “We don't know if the contents are authentic in the traditional sense. Some of them are absolutely real, we just don't know who put them there and why and our job as storytellers is to say, 'What if everything in this box was put there for a reason?'”

And the box helped sway the film’s leading man, George Clooney, into signing on. “We brought the box to his house. We made him put on the gloves that Disney makes you put on when you handle the artefacts. Then we told him the story. He said, 'I'm interested, send me the script when it's done.' He read it and liked it enough to take the leap with us.”

We’ll all get to take the leap when Tomorrowland arrives next year.