SDCC Redux: Disney’s Head of Production, Oren Aviv


Last week at Comic-Con, was getting all excited to have a chance to talk to director Tim Burton when something happened and that interview fell through. As a consolation, Disney offered us a chance to talk to the studio’s Head of Production Oren Aviv, a man so deeply involved in every single movie that the studio greenlights and makes that he seemed like the perfect person to interview as the studio kicked off Comic-Con with the first-ever 3D presentation to take place in Hall H. (You can read our write-up of that presentation as it happened here.)

We covered a wide array of subjects, including the origins of Robert Zemeckis’ animated Disney’s A Christmas Carol (out November 6), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (out March 5, 2010), and the anticipated Tron Legacy, as well as finding out more about Disney’s take on sequels and which ones we might see in the near future.

ComingSoon: Today was pretty amazing because Disney was able to get in first and officially have the first 3D presentation in Hall H ever. Have Disney decided to do everything from here on in 3D?
Oren Aviv: You know, I’m a big believer in the right thing for the right project, whatever that means. In the case of “Alice in Wonderland,” in the case of any Zemeckis movie going forward, if 3D makes sense… When I first talked to Tim Burton about “Alice in Wonderland” what I talked about was when Alice goes down the rabbit hole, I want to see it in 3D. I want the movie to become 3D, because as a viewer I am thrown down the rabbit hole with Alice. It’s kind of the same thing with “Tron” because he’s in the real world and then when he goes into the “Tron World,” it’s a different world. So whatever that portal is, whether it’s a hole in the ground for Alice or whether it’s this way we do it in the movie which you’re going to see, it’s a unique experience, so it makes sense to fully be immersive. So how can we do that? There are many ways to do it. I mean, movies have done it without 3D, but since that technology’s available to us in a way that maybe wasn’t available, certainly even five years ago, that plus the availability of the digital theaters that can show it in 3D. We’re making some big bets on 3D.

CS: You’re still at the point where there still were only 1,500 theaters, which is not a lot.
Aviv: You know what it is. You can be in 1,500 or 1,600 theaters, but there are almost twice as many 3D films. It’s just that since there are more movies in 3D now, you don’t get all of the theaters you only get a percentage of the theaters. So that’s a distinction that you always have to keep in mind. Currently, because of of the limitations of the sheer number of theaters, you have to make the movie in 3D and 2D, because there are more 2D theaters.

CS: I want to ask about “A Christmas Carol” and “Alice in Wonderland,” which are very iconic literary properties. Disney is famous for “Cinderella,” “Snow White.” You guys made all these great animated movies in the past based on iconic fairy tales. Is it something where you guys decide, “Alright, we should look at some of these other classic books and do something similar for them?
Aviv: My process is a little more loosy goosy than most. When I was first sent “Alice in Wonderland”…

CS: Now was that a script?
Aviv: It was a script. Linda Woolverton, who actually wrote “Beauty and the Beast” did this movie. I read the script and I thought, “Well, this is a really good script, but I don’t want to see a movie about a 12 year old girl, and I don’t want to see dailies for a movie about a 12 year old girl for the next days.” I thought, “But it’s a classic story, and it’s a really well written script and it updates and upgrades elements from the books.” I thought, “Alright, I have one choice for a director and if we can get that director, I’ll make that movie, and if we don’t get that director, I don’t want to make the movie.” It wasn’t putting the cart before the horse to me, it was really putting the horse first and if that horse’s name is “Tim Burton,” I’m in. It seemed like the perfect marriage of filmmaker and moviemaking. We sent it to him on a Friday and Monday morning he said, “I’m in.” It was only after that that we found out at the company that this was one of his dreams to make “Alice in Wonderland.”

CS: I’m still hoping to interview him because I’m curious about his interest in tackling such classic and iconic properties, because he probably could do anything he wanted. Robert Zemeckis is the same, so one wonders why they want to work on adaptations like these.
Aviv: Zemeckis came to us, the approach for him was, “I believe the Charles Dickens book is the greatest novel ever written.” To film it, to have the tools to film it and be able to do it the way Dickens intended was his journey and his vision for it and the truth is–for all three of the movies that we’ve talked about today–I think they all have a unique characteristic besides 3D which is they each have a visionary filmmaker who directed it. I think without that element none of this even really matters. You’re not gonna get the best version of that movie.

CS: I was kind of surprised that Jerry Bruckheimer wasn’t here because I visited the set of “Prince of Persia” and in New York, I got to see some of the stuff they were doing for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” really amazing stuff. So how come Jerry’s not here with those movies? Is he too busy working?
Aviv: No, no, no. We just finished shooting “Sorcerer’s” ten days ago. I personally believe and my big bet on that one is that it’s one of those titles that nobody’s going to be talking about until they actually see something and I think they’re going to be blown away. I think it’s a big sleeper type movie.

CS: Kind of like “Pirates.”
Aviv: Yeah, or even the first “National Treasure” where you’re not even clicking into what it is and you may even discount what it is, but at the end of the day, you look at this and go, “I’m in.” That and “Prince of Persia” just didn’t have the effects done, so to bring stuff that wasn’t quite ready, we just all agreed, “Let’s wait until we’re ready and then when we’ve got the stuff, let’s show it.” I think in both cases, I think your instinct is right is my belief, I think this stuff is so cool, but it’s unfinished, so we didn’t want to risk showing it here or anywhere else until it’s ready.

CS: I’m sure at WonderCon there will be a presence.
Aviv: When is that?

CS: WonderCon’s in February or March of next year.
Aviv: Yeah, exactly.

CS: Going back to the 3D stuff, Jerry released his first 3D movie, “G-Force,” and Disney obviously has done two big franchises with him. He’s said that they’re working on the script for “Pirates.” Do you think you might try to make the next one in 3D?
Aviv: I have no plans. We’re gonna shoot “Pirates 4” in April or May of next year. We are gonna release it hopefully in 2011 at this point.

CS: You’re going to one movie this time, not two.
Aviv: Correct. Hopefully, it’s the first of another trilogy, but the goal on that one is… (we’re interrupted by someone coming by to say “hi”)

CS: So he’s going to do one movie, see how it goes and then finish the trilogy in a similar way?
Aviv: Of course, it’s important to get the story right and it’s important to me to fill a gap, because you can’t get bigger. The movies got bigger and bigger and very complicated and they were satisfying on so many levels obviously, but I want to kinda reboot the whole thing and bring it down to its core and to its essence which is the characters.

CS: There’s definitely a possible prequel because there’s a lot of Captain Jack Sparrow stories we’ve heard about but never actually seen.
Aviv: All true.

CS: What is your take on doing sequels, because a lot of studios are hesitant about sequels, but Disney is one of the companies that’s always been very gung-ho about doing sequels.
Aviv: I’m just a huge movie fan and I want to see continuing stories featuring characters that I love in movies. So, “National Treasure” for instance–and we’re working on a third one now–those are all characters that I want to spend time with and it’s a cool idea, but they’re standalone movies. You don’t need to see the first “National Treasure” to see the second. Hopefully, we will start writing on the sequel for “Tron” and that doesn’t come out for another year and a half, but all the stuff that I’ve seen is so amazing, and I know how good the story is and I love those characters. I personally as a filmmaker want to see more stories with those characters, so that’s kinda how I approach sequels.

CS: I was curious about that because it’s been over 25 years since the first “Tron,” so what made you finally say “Hey, let’s do another one”? It seemed to come from out of the blue even though it’s been in development for many years.
Aviv: It’s been in the works for years and we were trying to figure out the best way to tell the best story. It wasn’t until the director, Joe Kosinski, came in and showed me his reel, which was all commercials, spectacular commercials. Knowing that Michael Bay started in commercials and similar directors with a unique vision started in commercials, I was going to give him the benefit of the doubt. I love first-time filmmakers.

CS: It really looks amazing for something done by a first-time filmmaker.
Aviv: I think so, too. The stuff you saw last year is bad compared to what it’s gonna be in the movie. The tipping point for me was Joe Kosinski, his vision for the movie.

CS: Having seen some of what Tim Burton has done with “Alice,” has anyone at Disney talked about doing a live action movie of “Cinderella” or “Snow White?” Especially now that you have the technology to do create a world using a combination of live action and CG animation?
Aviv: The short answer is “yes” but it’s with an asterisk and the asterisk is, “If it reads like a great movie.” There’s no agenda for me to mine the Disney vaults and go back and tell the same story again in a different way. To me, it’s really about, “Does that story in and of itself feel like something special?” If it does, I’m open to it and if everything comes together–the right filmmaker, the right script, the right cast–I’d say “yes.” Movies like “Tron” or “Alice,” I don’t sit down at home and go, “God, I wish there was a idea to get another ‘Tron,’ or let’s get another ‘Alice,’ or let’s get a classic story to film.” All three movies came alive because of the filmmakers behind them and that’s the difference-maker.

CS: How did “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” come about? That was also based on a Disney cartoon, in that case the segment of “Fantasia.”
Aviv: I’m glad you brought that up because “Sorcerer” we gave to Jerry. “Pirates” we gave to Jerry. Those are movies that Jerry does so well. The genesis of “Sorcerer” is all an original idea, but it was inspired by that moment of “Fantasia.” That was one where I said, “Can we use that and weave that inspiration into an actual movie?” The producer of the movie, along with Jerry, is Nic Cage. Nic Cage developed that script and he brought it to us and we loved it, we thought it was just a fantastic movie. His idea was contemporary and grounded, but it had a layer of magic to it and it felt original. We said, “It can’t be ‘Harry Potter.’ I don’t want to be a version of another movie. We have to be our own thing.”

CS: I love the fact that it takes place in New York City and involves all these iconic places like the Chrysler Building.
Aviv: I know, I know. I’m so excited about that movie. I truly wish we had the footage to bring down here for that version.

CS: Like you said, I think it’s going to surprise people.
Aviv: It didn’t work out this year, for this event, but we’ll see.

CS: But “Alice” killed, that really looked great.
Aviv: Thank you.

You can look for more on the projects discussed in the above interview over the next few years right here on

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