SDCC EXCLUSIVE: Walt Disney Studios’ Sean Bailey


Ever since a tremendously well-received Hall H announcement at the 2008 Comic-Con, TRON: Legacy has been building a steady fan momentum by way of a virtually unprecedented large-scale viral campaign. This year saw the return of Flynn’s Arcade, a fan experience not far from the convention center that let con-goers enter the world of the film.

The morning following the surprise reveal of a new lounge addition to Flynn’s, had a chance to speak with TRON: Legacy producer Sean Bailey who was recently promoted to Disney’s President of Production. He shared his thoughts about working on TRON, the importance of the fan-supported universe, and the projects he’s eager to work with next, including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Oz, the Great and Powerful and The Haunted Mansion.

CS: Tell me a little about this room we’re sitting in.
Sean Bailey:
It’s scaled down, but it’s remarkably similar in feel to what we had up in Vancouver.

CS: And it’s a bar in the film?
Yeah, it’s called The End of the Line Club. It’s a big, big nightclub in Tron City.

CS: It seems as much work went into the viral marketing as went into the movie.
It’s all really fun. It’s all kind of story from my perspective. To bring people into the TRON universe. That’s really what we’re trying to do and to do it here in San Diego at Comic-Con has been integral in getting this idea off the ground. I love watching the folks find the information and put together the clues and then go online and sort stuff out. I came here last night and was able to interact with the fans who had found their way into this space. It’s fun.

CS: It’s probably the most involved viral marketing a film has ever done. Did you know from the beginning that you guys were going to push it this far?
I really wanted to push it. I like how storytelling is evolving. It’s a fascinating topic for me, personally. As people do more and more digitally, you can really build these movies. You can build these characters and these mythologies in new and interesting ways. We thought a lot about the history of ENCOM. It’s not something we’ll get into too deeply in the movie, but you can still sort of feel it. It’s all part of the Tron universe. How do we deal with ENCOM? What about the disappearance of Kevin Flynn? Are there people out there who still believe? Who don’t buy what the corporation has told them? To be able to tell all that story in this platform — When you see the movie, it will all kind of inform and be there, even though it’s not a prerequisite. But if you know it, you’ll see that it’s there and it’ll be fun.

CS: Do you think that the viral aspect will influence other projects you work on, or do you think this is specific to “TRON: Legacy”?
The ARG, you mean?

CS: Well, “TRON” was about going into a game and with the ARG, you’re actually pulling a game into reality.
Well, I think that a lot of great marketing is actually storytelling. It’s all part of your experience with the property. J.J. Abrams is really a leader in this. I remember the “Cloverfield” trailer and the very first piece of “Star Trek” content I saw. He was building something and it’s exciting. I love that kind of thinking. It’s all an experience. How do you give the audience everything and try to pull them into this world? The early “TRON” pieces and the stuff that lives online is about building awareness, but you’re also giving them story. What excites me is when people ask, “Is everyone more aware of ‘TRON’ after Comic-Con?” And the answer is that, yes, I hope so, but also that they know things now. They know things about our story. They don’t just say, “‘TRON’ is out now.” they say, “Well, I know Kevin Flynn disappeared in 1989.” And that’s really thrilling.

CS: The movie has obviously meant a major step up for you, professionally. You’ve just come on board as Disney’s President of Production.
It’s been interesting. You start out as a producer one day and then you get a phone call and, all of a sudden, you’re flying out to Hawaii and there’s Johnny Depp and Rob Marshall and Jerry Bruckheimer on the “Pirates of Caribbean” set.

CS: I suppose we should take that as a sign that Disney is very happy with “TRON: Legacy”.
I think so. I hope so. Joe [Kosinski] has really done an amazing job. I think we really are putting out there something very ambitious for the audience, which is something that we’ve always wanted to do. We wanted to go out and swing big. What [Steven] Lisberger and those guys did in 1982 made some of the choices easy. Joe and I would sit and ask, “Are we going to shoot in 3D with the Pace camera?” and it always came back, “Would they have done it in ’82 if they had the technology?” Yes, they would have. Would they have released it in IMAX if they could have? Yes, they would have. Would they have put Jeff Bridges in the movie twice and digitally de-aged him by thirty years? Yeah. So we went for it all. In ’82, they went for it all and that was something that we knew we had to live up to.

CS: From the beginning, did the story have the two roles for Jeff Bridges?
It was the core idea that when Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, our writers, came up with. It was the thing that Joe and I both said, “That’s it. That’s big.” To have Flynn and Clu in the movie, but at two different times in their lives. Not only what that could look like technically, but to create new storylines and new scenes. I give Eddie and Adam credit for that idea. That really made it big.

CS: The world of the “TRON” looks like it’s going to be expanding beyond the movie. There’s talk of comic books and a television series and there’s the rumor that the sequel is already moving forward.
Well, it’s not exactly greenlit, but we are tossing around some ideas. We put everything we had into this movie and really hope that this movie works. What was really cool, though, was when we decided to make a standalone sequel, we took the events of 1982 and decided that they all really happened. This movie is standalone. You don’t need to know that. But once we accepted that backstory and mythology from 1982 to 2010, we came up with a lot of history. What was happening in this world and what was happening in the system. What that gave us was a lot of real estate. We’d say, “Okay, a lot of interesting things happened here in the system around 1989.” So when we met with the video game guys at Propaganda and Disney Interactive, they’d say, “This 1989 thing is interesting. What if we built the video game there? Then Disney XD and the publishing side got involved. We had so much real estate that we could say, “You explore that and you explore that and you explore that.” You don’t have to see all of them to understand any of them but, if you do, it all adds up to a realistic universe.

CS: They were showing off some of the merchandise on the convention floor. There are RC cars that drive up walls and all kinds of retro but also state of the art products. Can you talk about striking that balance between modern and nostalgic?
I think that what Steven [Lisberger], [Jean] Moebius [Giraud] and Sid Mead and those guys built had so much in the design that was really beautiful and timeless. Joe said early on about the light cycle, if you look at a Porsche 911 from 1969 and you look at one today, you know they’re they’re the same car. They’re both 911’s. But today’s is obviously a very different machine. For things like the light cycle and the Recognizer, they’re really the same thing. Joe just brought a lot of evolution to it. As we hinted in Hall H, there may be some new vehicles straight out of Joe’s head.

CS: What excites you that you’re working on beyond TRON?
We’ve got some movies coming out that I’m really, really excited about. Secretariat turned out to be a great movie. I’m spending a lot of time with the Pirates guys. Rob Marshall is just doing a heck of a job. Jerry Bruckheimer, Johnny Depp, Ian McShane and Peneople Cruz. It’s a really cool cast.

CS: Is this one a sequel or is it a prequel?
It’s a story — it’s kind of it’s own story with Jack Sparrow and Barbosa and a lot of new characters. We really, really wanted to return to what I kind of view as the narrative propulsion of the first movie. So it’s kind of a great A to B to C to D story, but set in the wonderful “Pirates” universe.

CS: And it’s based on a book this time?
Yeah, I think Terry [Rossio] and Ted [Elliott] took inspiration from the “On Stranger Tides” book. Then, also, there’s other projects. We’re getting ready for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with David Fincher and Oz with Sam Raimi. Obviously, announced yesterday, The Haunted Mansion with Guillermo [del Toro]. We’ve got a couple of original ideas coming up. The Muppet Movie is something else that’s coming up and about to start shooting that I’m really excited about. Tim Burton is making Frankenweenie. I just saw a test of that last week which looks great in stop-motion.

Tron Legacy opens December 17th, 2010