Why A Trilogy Was Planned Before Making 'Terminator Genisys;' How Will The Terminator TV Series Connect?

In our extensive interview with Skydance Productions CEO David Ellison and Chief Creative Officer Dana Goldberg, we learned a little bit about why they developed and wrote a trilogy of new Terminator movies before releasing Terminator Genisys. How far out have they planned in advance? Will another James Cameron Terminator alumni appear in the next planned Terminator film in the series? And how will the new Terminator TV series (still in development) connect with the new films? Find out what we learned, after the jump.

Terminator GenisysDavid Ellison explains that the new Terminator films were envisioned as a trilogy because they wanted to plan for the future like some of his favorite film series:

We're wanting to hopefully plan for the success and plan for the future. My favorite trilogies of all time—I think Dana and I share that—are the Star Wars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And those two have one thing in common which was they were all written prior to shooting a frame of the first movie. They knew they were going to, so you weren't having to figure it out as you go along. Obviously there are very successful examples of that, The Dark Knight being one that is unbelievable, but we wanted to know where we were heading. We spent a lot of time breaking that down, and we do know what the last line of the third movie is, should we be lucky enough to get to make it.

Dana Goldberg wants you to know that they planned for the future to help inform this movie:

The thing that's really important to know is that it wasn't done because we were taking it for granted that we were going to get to a second and third movie. It really was done because it helps inform who the characters are in this movie. In really being able to understand these people so well that you would have to sit and talk about what were their lives like in the portion of the film that we didn't see. ... So to that end, it was important to know at the end of this movie, with everything that has happened to them, what would be the logical next step for these people?

And Goldberg wants audiences to know that Terminator Genisys is meant to feel like a standalone movie, unlike some of the other franchise reboots we've been getting that have cliffhanger endings. (I even noted in my Terminator Genisys review that the movie feels like a whole story while cleverly leaving some unanswered questions and a simple teaser during the credits.)

So again, really it's important to us for everyone to know that Terminator Genisys is a standalone film. You're not gonna walk out of this theater and feel cheated and think we left you dangling and now you have to wait for the next movie. Do we want you to want a next movie? Of course we do. Are there questions in this movie that don't get answered? Yes, that's absolutely true, but they're not questions that keep you from enjoying this film, and that was really, really important to all of us.

And Ellison warns that a new Terminator trilogy won't happen unless Terminator Genisys does well at the box office.

Right now, the audience is 100% going to decide if there is another movie.

The other two Terminator films remain untitled at this time. They're known just as Terminator 6 and Terminator 7. David did reveal that they have written a part in the second film for another returning star from the James Cameron Terminator movies:

I can't say what it is, but there is a particular part written into the second movie from somebody that you have seen in the prior film. Who it is we will have to wait to be lucky enough to make the next movie.

It was something they originally considered including in Terminator Genisys, but as Dana Goldberg explains, they decided to save it for a future installment:

We talked a lot about whether or not to do that for this film. I mean it isn't something we just ignored or blew off, we actually really sensitively discussed it with Laeta and Patrick and Alan, whether or not we wanted to do that in Genisys. We ultimately decided not to because honestly we so want this movie to stand on its own two feet. Clearly we've all said it a hundred times, you've heard it in the last two days, how respectful and reverential we are of the Cameron films and how our movie obviously starts in a very similar place to T1 and then diverges and really our movie becomes its own. So we made the conscious decision to place somebody from one of the other films into this movie with an audience, let's just say a brand new audience who's never seen a Terminator film before could pull you out of the movie when half the audience is skittering and making comments about 'oh, that guy!' while you're sitting there not knowing what they're talking about, so we consciously made the decision not to do that. Should we be so lucky to get to a sequel, we might be on solid ground.

My first guess is that they somehow want to involve Robert Patrick, who played the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Terminator Genisys

When Terminator Genisys was first announced it was also reported that a new Terminator TV series was also being planned that would directly connect into the new film. Variety said at the time that the "TV project is said to follow a critical moment from the first Terminator film — where the film's story goes one way, the upcoming television show will take that same moment in a completely different direction." We still don't know what that connection might be, but we did learn some clues. I asked David Ellison how the new series would connect with Terminator Genisys and this was his sly answer:

A little premature to be able to say, but I will say anything we do along those lines, it will absolutely have connective tissue. It would be a mistake and a little old-fashioned to have a television show and a movie, both based on something that actually don't cross over in any way, shape, or form.

At one point in our discussion about Genisys, Dana Goldberg might have tipped her hat a little possibly revealing subject of the television series:

We've had I can't even tell you how many...I don't want to say hours because it'll wind up being days and/or weeks of conversation about 'what did pops and Sarah [Connor] do in the interim between when she was nine years old to when we see them enter our film?' That's not in the movie. But for us to really understand who these characters were, we and Laeta and Patrick felt it was really crucial for all of us to be on the same page, that again we were sort of rowing the boat in the same direction.

The flashback moment she's talking about can be largely seen in the first trailer: a younger looking Arnold Schwarzenegger T-800 saves a young Sarah Connor from a Terminator attack. The moment is to set up that the timeline has been altered and that Connor's life has changed significantly, taken under the wing of the T-800 (who she calls "pops") and trained her to become a badass soldier. Having recently revisited T2: Judgement Day and enjoyed the relationship between young John Connor and the T-800, I wondered out loud if they had originally planned to tell the young Sarah Connor/T-800 story as the first film. David responded:

At a point in time, there was a more expansive scene that really went into what Sarah Connor's life was like with Guardian. It was finally something that—the script was much longer at that point in time. That is something we hope we get to explore either through television or comics. There have been countless pages written on what that story was like, but for this movie, we knew we wanted to do two things from the beginning.

I think David Ellison may have confirmed my suspicions that the Terminator tv series may involve the story of Sarah Connor as a young girl coming to grips with the end of the world and being brought up by a Terminator to somehow save humanity. As for the tv series, Ellison confirmed "It's something that we're developing as we speak." And their plan is to build a world that will stretch standalone experiences across films, tv shows, comic books and video games, and it will "all interweaves to feel like a larger universe that you can experience if you're a huge fan of Terminator."

As for what format a new Terminator tv series may appear in, it looks like Skydance is aiming for cable. Here is what David Ellison said:

Our gut aspiration would be a cable-driven show for something like Terminator. It's amazing to be in the network space. We have not been a part of it yet, but obviously when you're focused on making 13 episodes, it allows you to have more development time to dive deeper. That being said, there have been amazing shows on network television. One of my favorites is the first couple seasons of Alias. I'll never forget seeing J.J.'s pilot for that show and just being blown away and floored by how phenomenal it was.

Read more about Terminator Genisys and Skydance Production's other films in development in our extensive interview with Skydance heads David Ellison and Dana Goldberg.