Sean Bailey

While at Comic-Con, I had a chance to interview producer turned Disney President of Production Sean Bailey about the highly anticipated 3D sci-fi sequel Tron: Legacy. I talked with Sean about his recent rise to power at Disney, returning to Comic-Con for three years with one film, del Toro’s Haunted Mansion, the possibility of a Tron ride at Disneyland, screening a rough cut of Tron Legacy for David Fincher, Pixar creatives and Ben Affleck, how a Lightjet flys and David Fincher’s vision for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After the jump I’ve included a full transcript and the original flip video recording.

Peter: How are you man?

Sean: Good, how are you?

Peter: Good!

Sean: Having a good Comic-Con?

Peter: So far, so good. Everything…I’m expecting one thing and it goes in a completely different direction. I’m going to record you with video and audio, is that OK?

Sean: Cool.

Peter: So this is your third Comic-Con here. Can you talk a little bit about the journey of being here three years in a row, for one film?

Sean: It’s pretty wild. I have to say though, I love coming down to San Diego and Comic-Con. As you know, the folks here in ‘08 two years ago were so instrumental to getting this movie made. We made that V Effects test. We showed it to a crowd. We thought we had a real opportunity two years ago. We thought, “Can we maybe surprise a crowd that is un-surprise-able?” I mean if we went into TRON and showed them Jeff Bridges, that we’d actually shot something, we thought that could be a real thrill. But we also knew, as a producer, you want to get your movies made. And we thought, “Well, if it plays big, we will probably make the movie. If it doesn’t, we’re probably dead.”

And so when they responded the way they did, they really, I think, were integral to getting this movie going. So we came down last year, and to come down this year and show part of the movie, part of the work…

Peter: And you stepped up the game with this location (referring to the End of Line club which was recreated from the movie in San Diego).

Sean: I love this stuff. I mean I think to try to build out the universe and to make it feel as realized and as whole as possible, big, big thrill for me. I love the ARG stuff that’s happening down here. And to kind of really let people touch the universe with Joe’s vision in as many ways as possible, it’s fun.

Peter: Now I’ve been following you since Project Greenlight. I think I was one of the three people that watched that.

Sean: [laughs]

Peter: I miss it! I was wondering, how do you go from… that, to being handed the keys to the magic kingdom of movies? How does that feel?

Sean: You mean specifically the job at Disney?

Peter: Yeah.

Sean: It’s a real honor, I have to say. To come up…My very first job in the industry, I produced a game show for Disney. I produced a game show, and I have…It was the first time I ever drove onto a lot as a producer, and I still have the pass onto the lot. So to have this opportunity now to work on all these great movies with all these incredible filmmakers…you know, to kind of be able to do TRON one day and then fly out to Hawaii and there is Johnny, and Rob Marshall, and Jerry Bruckheimer making Pirates of the Caribbean, and then to be able to, you know, work on these legendary franchises, Haunted Mansion with Guillermo, it’s a thrill. I mean it’s a real, real thrill.

Peter: How did that come about?

Sean: Haunted Mansion?

Peter: Yeah.

Sean: You know, as a kid, my favorite two rides were Pirates and Haunted Mansion at the park. There’s something about the tone of the ride I felt had never really ultimately been captured. Which, as I remember going on the ride as a 10 year old and being really scared. Really thrilled, charmed, and really scared. And I started talking with a colleague of mine, Brigham Taylor, about, “What if we could go really get that feeling?” and Brigham was working with Guillermo on finishing up Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, brought it up to Guillermo, Guillermo invited us up to his house where he’s got a dedicated Haunted Mansion room, and the Haunted Mansion logo hangs over the door, and you’ve never seen a bigger fan. And so the ability to work on that with him and to start to build Haunted Mansion, it’s a thrill.

Peter: I love the ride. Is there anybody on the team yet, or is it just…?

Sean: We’re adding some people to the team. Guillermo is writing it with a colleague. And we’re adding some artists and starting to kind of build out the world. And as Guillermo mentioned yesterday, we are kind of focused on the Hatbox Ghost, who was there for day one of the ride…there’s portraits of him hanging on the walls. You’ve kind of got to really be a diehard Haunted Mansion guy to know a lot about the Hatbox Ghost, but Guillermo’s built out a whole world and story that I think is really, really exciting.

Peter: Well that’s awesome. I love the theme park. And I love that it seems like there is a new focus on the films, and the theme park, and kind of this symbiotic relationship. When I was on set for the End of Line Club, there were also Imagineers on set. Are we going to see anything at the theme park from TRON?

Sean: We don’t know yet. Look, as a kid, I went to the park like you. Certainly, the idea that something you worked on is ultimately one day at the park, what a thrilling possibility. These rides take a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of thinking to do them at the level our Imagineers so brilliantly do. So I think it’s kind of in the thinking about stage, but man, I would love it if it became a reality one day.

Peter: I would love to even have, like, the End of the Line Club somewhere.

Sean: [laughs] Yeah.

Peter: There’s been some recent reports that there were some rewrites and reshoots with some Pixar creatives. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sean: Yeah. I think it’s interesting. We had always planned to go do some additional shooting as part of our process. And most of the filmmakers I really respect and like, at a certain point in their process, show it to a filmmaking friend or two. I’ve done it on almost every movie I’ve ever worked on, just to get the benefit of other minds looking at your movie. So we did that a few months ago with a few filmmakers in LA; live-action filmmakers. The one I think that’s kind of the world knows about, we showed it to David Fincher. And then also, I had…

Peter: Can I ask who else was at that screening?

Sean: We don’t really talk about who else was there. But knowing my history like you do, you might be able to guess a name or two. [laughs]

Peter: [Ben] Affleck…Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sean: So we also had the tremendous benefit of I have this new job, where I thought, “Well, there are some other folks who are pretty damn good at story who maybe would take a look and tell us what they think, in addition to some of these LA screenings.” So I picked up the phone, and these guys incredibly generously said absolutely. And I think these guys are some of the best storytellers in the world. And so the benefit of them looking at the movie, and then Joe and I came back and kind of went through, “Well, here’s what we want to add. Here’s what we think can help the movie.” And then we went and we did it. So it was a great part of the process. Those Pixar guys are geniuses.

Peter: Are these just punch-up’s, or did Joe come up with a new idea in the direction to take the movie?

Sean: No, I would say these were really kind of additive ideas that enhanced what we were already kind of after.

Peter: In the trailer and in the footage, we saw something…we saw someone jump out and take off. I heard Light Jet. Is that what that is?

Sean: Well, we wanted it to be a little bit of the tease that it seems like it played like with you. We wanted to pay homage to a lot of the vehicles that Steven Lisberger, Sid Meade, Mobious—all these brilliant designers created back in ’82. So as everyone knows, we have our new Light Cycle, the Recognizer. You see some tanks at a certain point in the movie. But we also said, well, with what we can do today, and drawing on that kind of iconic with these bands of light in 3D space, what could you do, we wanted to build some new vehicles as well.” And so there is indeed a big sequence with some new vehicles that, yeah, involve aerial stuff, which should be pretty fun.

Peter: I have to ask you one more question with the Light Jet, or whatever it is going to be called. Does it have a trail of light coming out of it? Does it go down to the ground? What’s the deal with that?

Sean: I think it will do some visually amazing stuff. We thought about, “Well, OK. What’s the…” To give a hint without hopefully giving anything away, we thought, “What’s the light cycle by way of the Blue Angels?” So, those maneuvers, that kind of aerial stuff in 3D. What would that look like and feel like? And that was kind of our inspiration.

Peter: How did you convince David Fincher to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

Sean: [laughs] I’m really excited. One of the great benefits of this job is I get to meet with filmmakers who I tremendously admire. So to be able to sit down with David and have David say, “Look, I’ve never really thought about Disney before, but I really want to try to do my Empire Strikes Back. And I think 20,000 Leagues is the title.” It’s a thrilling conversation to be in. So we had a lot of conversations about what we viewed as Disney, and what David obviously so brilliantly pushes for in his movies. And the fact that we were able to kind of align those two goals is…I have been really excited about it.

Peter: What is the take on it?

Sean: It’s a bold, you know, Fincher-esque take. It’s a bold, aggressive…It’s got some of the characters from the original. It’s got Land, it’s got Aronnax. It’s got Nemo, of course. But it’s kind of a bold way in.

Peter: Well thank you very much, Sean.

Sean: Thanks a lot, man.

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