Brian Lloyd chats to Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, which is released this week in cinemas.
Oblivion may be the second film by director Joseph Kosinski, but his credits reach far beyond Tron: Legacy. Having directed some of the most widely-known advertising campaigns in the last ten years, including the Halo 3 – Starry Night and Gears of War – Mad World to name a few, it’s clear that Kosinski is on the up and up. Indeed, his second film and he’s already working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. ‘Despite the stature he has, he’s extremely collaborative. He has opinions, he has thoughts – why would I not listen to that? Especially when he’s worked with directors I admire, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann.’ Kosinski goes on to mention how fun it was to hear stories about these directors, admitting that directors work alone. ‘We never work with other directors, as such. We’re isolated, working on our own projects so it’s really cool to hear about them and how they work.’
Joseph Kosinski, prior to becoming a director, studied architecture and design. Anyone who’s seen Tron: Legacy or indeed Oblivion will remark about the set design and its use of physical objects, as opposed to CGI’d sets. ‘If you’re not interested in design, I don’t know how you work on these types of movies,’ he explains. ‘I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to look like. The skytower, up in the clouds, if you want to look for influences, it’s something like Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.‘ Discussing sci-fi films, I mention Ridley Scott’s use of physical sets in Prometheus, which Kosinski agrees with. ‘I wanted it to be as real as possible. It looks better, the performances are better. On the flipside, as well, there’s a lot less time in post. Compared to Tron, this film had 800 visual effects shots. Tron had something closer to 1,600. Some films are 2,000. A big tentpole film like this that has fewer effects shot helps keeps costs down. As long as you plan ahead, know what you want, it’s a great way to work.’
The film does pay homage to arguably the best era of sci-fi – the 1970s. Films like The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars are all touchstones for Kosinski, but not as you’d expect. ‘Those influences come when you’re growing. It’s different to watch films after you’ve made a couple. They seep themselves deep inside you, but when you watch them again, they don’t have the same impact.’ Kosinski continues, ‘1970’s sci-fi were far more character-driven, simply because they didn’t have the tools we have. I thought Oblivion was going to be a much smaller film when I started. But the action and the spectacle is in support of the story and the character.’ It’s also notable that the film isn’t in 3D. Considering his debut is oft-considered one of the best films to make use of the technology, why did he not make Oblivion with it? ‘That was my choice, from the beginning. I looked at a couple of different formats, 48 frames. Brightness is really important to me. But with this being a daytime sci-fi, shot in Iceland, I really wanted the images to pop off the screen. With 3D right now, there’s a limitation with how bright it can be. Using Sony’s F65 Camera, it felt like the right choice to capture the detail of the landscapes, it’s very high-resolution.’
Not only is Oblivion not in 3D, it’s based on an original idea. ‘Getting any movie made is hard. An original film at this scale is a big challenge. It’s not that studios don’t want to make original material, but having something that already has an audience is a leg-up. And having someone like Tom Cruise involved is great. And to have him call me was a thrill. I pitched the story to him over an hour and he was immediately taken by the story and the character and it was something he hadn’t seen before. Having him attached gave it momentum.’ The script, written by Kosinski, was also co-written by William Monahan and Michael Arndt. ‘I wanted to work with someone who didn’t work in science-fiction, which is why I went to William (Monahan) first. But I had the sense that one screenwriter wasn’t going to take me to the finish line, because the film has so many elements. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s got action. I also worked with Karl Gadsujek, a great writer who I really wanted to work with. And Michael (Arndt) gave it the final pass, who I’d worked with on Tron: Legacy as well. I’m just the keeper of the story, working closely with each of them and it ended up being the right arrangement for it.’
Oblivion is in cinemas from 10th April and stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlyenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.