Franchise Fred Interview: David Ellison and Dana Goldberg on Terminator: Genisys
At the press conference for Terminator: Genisys, I introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to Franchise Fred. I must’ve made an impression, because when I met producers Dana Goldberg and David Ellison for a one on one, they remembered Franchise Fred and greeted me warmly.
I have Ellison and Goldberg to thank for wrangling the Terminator rights and bringing one of my favorite franchises back, with its original star, Schwarzenegger. In Genisys, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to a 1984 where Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) has already been living with a protective Terminator (Schwarzenegger). This Terminator even waits for his 1984 self to arrive and terminate him before the first movie even happens!
See how the future changes in Terminator: Genisys, July 1, and see how Goldberg and Ellison answer Franchise Fred’s questions below.
Franchise Fred: Terminator 2 was the biggest movie of that summer. I remember Arnold going on TV and they flashed the text “Biggest Movie of the Summer” on screen. Now do you have to share the summer with the Avengers and Jurassic Worlds and all the other franchise that are out now?
David Ellison: Yes.
Dana Goldberg: Absolutely we do. Look, we just want this to be a movie that people love this summer. That’s a pretty big and lofty goal and that’s what we’re hoping for.
Franchise Fred: Did you ever consider asking Bill Paxton to come back and play the punk in 1984? He might’ve done it.
David Ellison: We thought about it but the reason why we only brought Arnold back in this movie is we wanted first and foremost to make a movie that would stand on its own two feet. We were very worried that if you started crossing timelines like that and recognizing that we brought back a different actor from another movie, that it would start to feel like inside baseball or start to actually pull you out of the movie. So we were very conscious about Arnold’s character, which is a different Arnold than you’ve seen prior, because he is a robot and there are multiple models of him as has been established in canon. So there’s really an organic way to bring him back. When you’re talking about a human character, it didn’t feel as much so.
Franchise Fred: That explains why any of the actors wouldn’t return.
David Ellison: Yeah, because Miles Dyson obviously would have to be dealt with. We have Courtney B. Vance play him. We were worried about any part of this movie feeling like inside baseball or you had to do homework to know what was going on for the audience.
Franchise Fred: Would the Guns n’ Roses song have fallen into inside baseball too?
David Ellison: We actually tried it. We actually did try it and we thought it pushed it a little bit too far.
Franchise Fred: In the scene where The Ramones is now, or a different scene?
David Ellison: We tried it in the scene with The Ramones and we also tried it a couple of other places and it just never felt organic to the story.
Dana Goldberg: As much as we love it, it felt like we’re pushing it a little too much.
Franchise Fred: I rationalized it as that was John’s song, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” is Sarah’s song.
Dana Goldberg: Yes.
Franchise Fred: Terminator Salvation did an effect where an old model T-800 steps off the assembly line with Arnold’s face. Were you able to use any of that work?
David Ellison: No.
Dana Goldberg: No, it’s a completely new process.
David Ellison: The creation of young Arnold is something that we’re incredibly proud of and our hats are really off to Janek Sirrs and Shari Hanson, who are our visual effects supervisors and producers. The holy grail of visual effects is always to create a walking, living, breathing synthespian. The reason it’s so difficult is, we’re fortunate enough to work on Star Trek, nobody knows what the Starship Enterprise actually looks like because it doesn’t exist. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most photographed people on the planet and anybody can pull up the footage from that original movie and put it side by side with ours and say, “I believe it” or “I don’t believe it.” So really that level of detail and truly fooling the human eye on something that is completely CG has never been done before. We are very, very proud and grateful to our team who pulled that off.
Franchise Fred: So if the last two shots were only finished a few weeks ago, did you have to put some unfinished shots in the trailers that came out?
David Ellison: Oh, all of our trailers had unfinished shots.
Dana Goldberg: Not of that scene. There were a series of shots. We finished a couple of them early for the trailers, but the last couple were not in the trailers because they were not done.
Franchise Fred: The rights to Terminator have been complicated for a long time. Now that you have them, is it pretty secure for wherever you want to go in the future?
David Ellison: We are very, very thankful that after a very long rights process, all of the rights to Terminator now reside under the Skydance roof which allows us to really make the franchise cohesive for the first time in a long time. Bankruptcy court cleared all of that off as well as our legal team spent about a year after that cleaning up the remainder of the rights. So all of the rights to the film now reside at Skydance.
Franchise Fred: Since I’m Franchise Fred, we’re going to be talking a lot in the future, right?
Dana Goldberg: Yes.
David Ellison: Yes, absolutely.
Franchise Fred: Do you agree with my philosophy that there are always more stories to tell? Some of them, like Jack Reacher, have books with other stories but the ones you have to create from scratch.
Dana Goldberg: Everything we do at Skydance ultimately comes down to the story. So if there’s the desire for another movie and then we can come up with the right story with the right filmmakers, then yes, we’re going to happily make the movie. Wait until you see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It’s a fantastic film and we were so incredibly proud of Ghost Protocol. The idea to make another Mission, you have to raise the bar. You can’t do the same thing over and over again. Wait until you see it. You’re going to be happy.
Franchise Fred: And that’s relatively quickly, but it doesn’t always have to be immediately. Like the story of Terminator: Genisys exists because of where Arnold is now.
Dana Goldberg: It’s easiest to say this. There was no Terminator franchise for us without Arnold Schwarzengger. Once the rights were secure, it was the first phone call that was made to say, “Arnold, we want you and let’s talk about this.” We got together. To his credit, we laid out everything that we wanted to do with the franchise and he said, “It all sounds great but I need to read a script. I’m not going to do this just because.” He’s keenly aware of the fact that this is his iconic role and wasn’t going to do anything that wasn’t worthy of the canon and the franchise he created with James Cameron. We had Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier as our writers. They wrote the script. We sent it to Arnold and had a couple of very nervous days waiting for him to respond. And then we were very happy when he called and he said, “I love this, I’m in.”
Franchise Fred: How nervous were you waiting for James Cameron’s reaction?
David Ellison: Very, very nervous. I will never forget when I saw Judgement Day in theaters. I was eight years old My mom took me to see an R-rated movie way before I probably should’ve ever seen that movie. It’s the film that made me want to make movies. To me, James Cameron is one of the greatest filmmakers working, if not the greatest filmmaker. To have him come out and actually say that he believes this is the third Terminator movie and that this film deserves and belongs in the universe he created means the world to us. And yes, sitting in that theater with him when we finally showed him the movie was absolutely terrifying.
Franchise Fred: Was his reaction immediate?
David Ellison: It was. I remember when we were watching the Arnold on Arnold scene and he saw the young Arnold rendered, the recreation from the ’84 movie. He said very quietly, “Well, that’s flawless.” Then after the Arnold on Arnold fight he was like, “Okay, that’s pretty good.” After the movie, I think he most importantly responded to the characters and really thought the Pops/Sarah Connor relationship worked. I could not be more grateful for his support in on this movie.
Franchise Fred: How involved were you with the marketing decision to reveal a certain twist not only in trailers, but on the poster?
Dana Goldberg: A lot of very smart people who market movies for a living. We all sat around a room and talked at great length about whether or not to reveal the surprise and twist. At the end of the day, the decision was made that we wanted to show the audience that there’s new news in this movie and that we weren’t just doing a remake of T1 or T2 which we would never want people to think we were attempting to do, because those movies exist and as far as we’re concerned they’re damn near perfect. You can go watch them. So we wanted people to know that while, yes, we’re incredibly respectful of that canon, that there’s a new movie here as well. I clearly understand that there are some people who are not thrilled that we gave that way. At the end of the day, we still think there’s a lot to see in this movie beyond just that one twist. In terms of people who might say that we messed with canon in a way that you’re not supposed to, when James Cameron, who’s the man who created that canon, comes out and says he loves the twist and that it was the logical next step in the progression of what Skynet would do, that means a lot to us.
Franchise Fred: Are there people who maybe said, “I wasn’t interested in this until I saw the twist?”
Dana Goldberg: Absolutely. We’ve gotten a huge response from people who say exactly what we wanted them to say, which was, “Well, if it was just a remake I wasn’t that interested but that’s not something I saw coming, so I want to see where that goes.”
Franchise Fred: It reminded me how Terminator 2’s trailers did give away that Arnold was the good guy this time and it was just as surprising to learn in the trailer as it would’ve been in the movie.
David Ellison: Yeah, they did.
Dana Goldberg: And I believe people had a similar reaction to that which was, “Oh, wow, if I’d been able to walk into a movie theater and not know that, that would’ve been great” but yet that’s the reason why you’re going to see the film. The idea of him being a good guy was so unbelievable.
Franchise Fred: Skynet has evolved over the decades of the movies. It went online in Terminator 3 and now we would call that the cloud. Now it’s an app. Does that suggest how real technology has evolved with the Terminator franchise?
David Ellison: Yeah, I think one of the most important questions we had to answer for ourselves before making this movie was why now? Why make a Terminator movie today? James Cameron has spoken very publicly about his movies being Cold War era movies because that is really what he is a product of in his childhood. The threat of nuclear apocalypse will always be a part of the DNA of Terminator movies but mankind’s relationship with technology has changed since the original films came out. In the early ‘90s, the internet and the IBM were first coming into the household and people were paranoid and pushing back. Hollywood was making movies like The Net and Hackers which kind of repelled this notion of technology becoming a part of our intimate daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth today. We line up in front of Apple stores to get the newest, latest, greatest iPhone or the new Apple Watch which allowed us to really posit a world where Skynet no longer needs to break down your front door because we’re handing the keys over to the machines willingly. We just don’t know it.
Franchise Fred: Even though I’m Franchise Fred, has the success of these franchises given you some clout to get some originals made?
David Ellison: Yeah, we’re very, very excited about a film we’re in post-production on right now called Geostorm that Dean Devlin wrote and directed which was the first movie we’re making with Warner Brothers. And it is a massive, science fiction, original disaster movie that we are incredibly excited about. Really for us, it’s all about story, whether it’s an original or whether it’s a sequel to something. It really just comes down to what we love and what makes sense for our brand.
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