Manhattan tv

I won’t ask you story questions. TV right now is the best it’s ever been.

GOLDBERG: We agree.

I’m really curious to see what Skydance is going to bring TV. Your work on Manhattan is fantastic.

ELLISON: Thanks.

Game of Thrones - Kit Harington as Jon Snow

When you envision the Terminator TV show, and other shows you’re developing, are you envisioning more like The Flash on CW, or more Game of Thrones on HBO?

GOLDBERG: It’s on a case-by-case basis. Honestly, I can’t give you a blanketed answer to that. One of the great things about television is that you can tell almost any kind of story. As you were saying, right now is sort of the second golden age of television because you can watch Game of Thrones which is humongous in scope, and you can watch Breaking Bad, which in terms of scope is relatively small, but it is so brilliantly written and brilliantly acted and directed and the characters have such depth to them that you’re just dying for that next episode. Or you watch Netflix, which we’re happy to be in business with on Grace and Frankie, and you sit down and you stop your life and you binge watch until you actually have to sleep. So it’s on a case-by-case basis. Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, everything we do at Skydance is going to come back to one thing and one thing only, and that’s story. It always starts with story. I had a few people as I was coming up in the business who when you asked what’s the key to Hollywood, they would say ‘don’t be stupid, it’s just the story.’ It’s where everything else starts, it’s the thing you layer everything else on top of, so whether it’s going to have huge action, which of course we’re gonna do shows that fit into these sci-fi fantasy action and adventure space because we love them. But we’re also going to do something like Manhattan because when we read it, we thought it was brilliant, and when we sat with Sam Shaw and we talked about his vision for that television show, we fell in love with it, and we looked at one another and said ‘that’s a show we’d watch’.

Both of the shows you have mentioned are thirteen episodes.

ELLISON: They’re both thirteen, yeah.

The thing that I found is that a high concept show that is 13 episodes or under is so much better than a 22-episode commitment. With, for example, Terminator or other shows that you are developing, do you envision them being 13 episodes? Do you envision going to a network or cable?

ELLISON: 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, and so it really is on a case-by-case basis. And Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob’s [Roberto Orci] writing on those first two seasons, I mean I was riveted, absolutely loved it. I really think it depends on what executives and who wants to do what at what particular point in time.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, we’re always gonna try to pick the place that’s the best for that show. With Grace and Frankie for example, we pitched it to three places, and all three places wanted it. One was network, one was Netflix, one was HBO. It’s a great luxury to be able to make that decision and ultimately when we’re sitting in the room with the people who are working on the show, Marta [Kauffman] and Lily [Tomlin] and Jane [Fonda], we all decided that Netflix was the place to be. We couldn’t be happier. We’re having a fantastic time and we look forward to working with them again in the future on other shows, but it’ll always be what is best for the subject matter.

Three Days of the Condor

When you were talking about TV, I was really interested in Three Days of the Condor, being a 70s film fanatic. Was it the story which attracted you to that to make that into a series?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean we started talking about the idea of Condor in general, and for all of the CIA thriller type movies that have been made, that just that word, you say Condor, and everybody immediately knows what you’re talking about. You don’t even have to say Three Days of. When you say Condor people go ‘oh, that was great’. And we just thought it’s a great title and the inherent setup of that movie would be so great for a television show in this day and age, when between technology and the lack of privacy and the international landscape of what goes on, how rich is that gonna be? We hired Jason Smilovic, who is an incredible writer, and he’s worked hand in hand with Marcy Ross, who runs our television division, and has created a script and bible that we think is just incredible.

ELLISON: Just to add to that, one of the things that I love and Jason talks about it a lot, is the original Condor very much predicted what happened…the original movie ends with the prediction of the war in the Middle East over oil, and there are writers like Tom Clancy who when you read his books you always felt like you were getting a peek behind the curtain as to what was going to happen next. That doesn’t really exist today, so one of the things we very much hope that Condor is able to do is very much be the Condor for this generation and very much be predictive in regards to what’s going to be happening with future events.

steve jobs movie flashbacks

I wanted to skip for a second. You mentioned Steve Jobs earlier, and I learned that he was one of your mentors. I wanted to find out how did that come about and what was the experience like? What did you learn from that?

ELLISON: I had the incredible luxury that Steve happens to my dad’s best friend, so he was like an uncle growing up. To give you an example, at his last wedding, there were six people there. It was me, my sister, Steve, Laurene [Powell], and Tom Lantos and his wife, the former congressmen. He was a very, very close friend and truly the Thomas Edison of his time, and I was fortunate enough in building this company to be able to talk to him about it throughout the entirety of it. And a story I’ll never forget, because in irony it was actually the day they were launching the second iPhone, we were getting close to closing our deal at Paramount with Skydance, and I told Steve I wanted to talk to him about it. He said ‘why don’t you get on a plane and fly out here tomorrow?’ And I said ‘you’re launching the iPhone tomorrow.’ He was like ‘I don’t care. Get up here.’ I sat down and pitched him the entire company, the way we had been pitching everybody else on our fundraising tour, and Steve looked at me in the way that only Steve Jobs can and he goes ‘this isn’t gonna work.’ [Laughs] And I was like ‘alright, why?’ And he said ‘you know the answer, you’re just not thinking about it.’ And I didn’t, I was kind of floored at the moment in time, and he was like ‘look, why does Pixar work?’ He said ‘the biggest mistake everybody makes about Pixar is that they think we were successful because we created 3-D animation, and nothing could be further from the truth. We simply went back to a world where we found out how to make movies better than anybody else.’

And he talked a lot about how free agency was created because the golden age of Hollywood was when the studios had a very firm handle on the talent, but because they did not treat them appropriately, didn’t compensate them appropriately, that created the free agency, and we live in the world we exist in now. Steve adjusted that by actually making the talent his partners, and by treating everybody well both creatively and economically, and really changing the model. And as Dana said, that was really what led to, when he talked about the brain trust, really going to that idea where we had a core group of both executives and filmmakers that we could work with over and over and over again, because any one person can make a bad movie. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time have made bad films, but when you get a group of people together, five really talented people will usually not miss. It doesn’t mean that on their own that would necessarily go differently, but that was really the model.

From that moment on, we went back and restructured the company and changed it, and re-pitched it to him, and he said ‘that’s gonna work better.’ I was very fortunate and truly blessed to have him as a friend and as a mentor and to be able to work with Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross and Don Granger who are these incredibly talented producers and storytellers at our company and to be able to work with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie and Alan Taylor and writers like Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, our company is what it is because of the incredible people that we get to work with.

GOLDBERG: Just to stay on that, you can use Terminator Genisys as a specific with Laeta and Patrick and Alan, but we’ve been lucky enough that it really applies to most of the films we’ve been involved in, which is a really nice gathering of people who are talented but where the best idea wins. It really doesn’t matter who the great idea comes from, it really doesn’t. Laeta and Patrick love to kid around that they’ll listen to the guy at Starbucks if he has something really intelligent to say about Terminator. It sounds like it should be common sense, it should be the thing that everybody does, and we all know people where unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily apply because arrogance and ego can get in the way. We have been incredibly fortunate to work with such talented filmmakers who all feel that way where it’s just whatever’s best for the movie, because then the movie wins.

star trek beyond fan made logo

You bring up Damon and Alex, and I want to segue into a certain Star Trek sequel that I believe starts filming soon. Is it called Star Trek Beyond?

GOLDBERG: To be determined.

What can you tell people about when it’s filming and where?

ELLISON: We start shooting in ten days and we’re shooting in Vancouver and Dubai.

Dubai is an interesting place for an alien planet.

ELLISON and GOLDBERG: Could be [laughs].

star trek simon pegg

Well talk a little bit about where you are right now and the fact that next year is the 50th anniversary and there has been a little bit of turmoil behind the scenes. Could you talk a little bit about how you got to Simon [Pegg] who’s working on co-writing the screenplay?

GOLDBERG: First of all, yes, it’s the 50th anniversary, and trust me everybody involved feels an incredible responsibility to deliver for the 50th anniversary edition of Star Trek, and we are all such fans and such Star Trek geeks, everyone involved in this franchise. So I think we absolutely understand the very high hurdle that everyone has to jump for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Then Justin Lin stepped in and who knew Justin Lin was such a Star Trek fan? And he is. He met with J.J. and Lindsey Weber at Bad Robot and they fell in love with him, and brought him in to meet with us and to meet with everybody at Paramount and pitched a version of the film that we just thought ‘wow, that has huge potential.’ We’re not allowed to talk about the specifics of the film to say the least, but what we can tell you is there are some sequences that we have seen in pre-vis that are just incredible.

We work in the world of online, and there are a lot of cynical fanboys there. What reassurances do you have?

ELLISON: You’re wearing a Bad Robot t-shirt right now, right? So you know how shrouded in secrecy everything over there always is, and we don’t want to say anything that will give anything away about the film. We want to make sure that we preserve everything so that when an audience goes to see it for the first time or when the first trailer comes out, everything is new.

GOLDBERG: I feel like you’re a test. It’s like a Mission: Impossible mask. We’re gonna actually say something, you’re gonna rip the mask off and be J.J. [Laughs]

I honestly wasn’t trying to get story details from you.

ELLISON: We all love Star Trek. As for the specifics of the screenplay, we’re just not at liberty to say. It stays in the mystery box.

Star Trek tv series

I have a question that hopefully you can answer that is not about the story. One of the things about the Star Trek movies is that they’re big budget and they’re big spectacles. Everyone’s going after a four-quadrant movie with a movie you spend that much money on. One of the things I miss tremendously and I know I represent fandom, is Star Trek on TV, where you can tell smaller stories, more sci-fi, more of a metaphor or an allegory for what’s going on, you can go deeper into the sci-fi. A lot of us, myself included, want to see Star Trek on the big screen and on the small screen. What is the status of Star Trek on the small screen? Is Skydance involved in that?

ELLISON: It’s something that we would love to be involved in. As I’m sure everybody knows, the rights situation given the CBS and Paramount divorce on the Star Trek rights is very, very complicated. The exact status of it is absolutely something being worked on. We would love to be involved, but all to be determined at this time.

GOLDBERG: You’re preaching to the converted. We would love it, both as fans and as people who would want to be involved in the making of them. We would love it. Everything you just said is right. It goes with what we were talking about before with television is you can just take more time to tell very specific stories and it would be fantastic. It’s not something we control, sadly.

ELLISON: Just for example how much we love it is when we were talking about Terminator recently and the episode we kept referencing was obviously whether or not they argue if Data actually doesn’t wanna get transferred, if he actually has a right and has free will and is a human being and switches him off. It’s amazing, the television show explored these incredibly deep phenomenal themes that we would absolutely love to do and be a part of, and we wish it was entirely up to us.

Is that the reason why there hasn’t been a TV show in all of these years? Because it’s such a popular property around the world, you would think that they’d get their head out of their ass and do something with it.

GOLDBERG: You said that, we did not [laughs].

ELLISON: It’s wildly, wildly complicated. Just speaking towards going to something we do control, not trying to get myself into trouble by answering this bluntly, because you said it appropriately, is the Terminator rights were scattered all over the world prior to us getting involved. And it’s when a franchise has been around for thirty or fifty years, different people make different deals at different points in time, and it really took for Terminator the previous owner actually going bankrupt and going through obviously bankruptcy court, and then even after that it took a year to clean up the straggling pieces that that process did not clean up. We’re very thankful that the rights now all revolve under our house so they are now all at Skydance so we can control all assets of the property. That’s not always the case with franchises, and when they’re fifty years old, there’s a lot of complicated deals that have been made that sometimes prevent things that might seem obvious that need to happen from happening.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

I was just gonna ask about Rogue Nation. I’m super excited for the movie and I’ve already heard really good buzz. Can you talk about some of the test screenings and some of the reactions to that?

GOLDBERG: We will talk about that all day long [laughs].

I’m so excited to see it. It just keeps getting better and better with each episode of the series.

GOLDBERG: It is getting better and better with each episode. Credit to Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise and Don Granger who works with us, and it’s a phenomenal movie. It’s a phenomenal movie and I think I’m officially allowed to say that we tested even higher than Ghost Protocol. There’s not a lot of times in your life, you dream about them, but those moments you go to a preview screening and everybody’s there, your director, your star, the studio, you sit there and from the second the movie starts, you’re just like ‘oh, this feels really, really good’. It feels that way from top to bottom, and then they walk in and they tell you what the audience thought and it felt even better to the audience than it did to you, and that’s how we felt in Arizona a couple weeks ago.

Mission: Impossible 6

Tom Cruise is known as someone who likes to do his own stunts. He’s a bit of a daredevil. Has there ever been an instance where you’ve had to say no to him just for fear of his life?

ELLISON: In development of certain scenes we’ve said maybe not such a good idea.

Such as the plane scene for example?

ELLISON: No, no, that’s Tom on the side of the plane. There is not a single stunt double in Rogue Nation.

Mission Impossible 5 trailer

I knew it was him, but did you advise against it?

ELLISON: No, we were 100% in support of that. These stunts are rehearsed to within an inch of their life, but the one thing that Tom feels very passionately about, and it really comes from a place of wanting to entertain the audience, is in a movie like Mission: Impossible, where it’s possible to do these things using a camera that doesn’t rely on the CG that Star Trek or Terminator relied on, when you actually see Tom Cruise holding onto the side of the airplane and the camera doesn’t cut, you get this pit in your stomach that’s just uncomfortable. It puts the audience there in a way that you could never do with CG, and there is an underwater sequence in the movie that has only been teased out in the trailers thus far where Tom worked with three divers to learn how to hold his breath for six minutes, and the tension you get in that sequence when you’re underwater and you see it’s Tom and the camera is not cutting, you’re at the edge of your seat. And that all comes from a place of storytelling and wanting to entertain an audience and Tom is the most dedicated and hardest working movie star we have ever worked with, and he is sensational in Rogue Nation.

Mission Impossible - Tom Cruise

You’ve been working with him quite a lot.

GOLDBERG: We love working with Tom. The truth is Tom spoils you because you work with Tom and you then have the expectation that of course every movie star/producer is going to be like that. Because he’s typically the first person on the set and the last person on the set. And he will openly look at you and say ‘I don’t expect you to work harder than me, but I expect you to keep up with me.’ He says it by example, which is beyond impressive. We all kid about Tom, the stunts, and that’s he insane, an adrenaline junkie, all of that, all of which is true, but I also really don’t wanna undermine one very clear fact which is the thought, the planning, the meticulous safety that goes into these things that he is involved with from second one is just so impressive.

So when you asked the question about whether we’ve ever said no, yes when we sit around rooms like this and we’re talking and we’re in the development phase, and somebody goes ‘I know, let’s dangle him outside of a…’ and you go ‘okay, let’s not do that. Let’s not kill Tom Cruise.’ Rule number one: do not kill Tom Cruise. But by the time you get to a plane, that’s months and months and months literally of work has gone into making sure by some of the most talented crew in the business, to making sure that when we put him on that plane, every precaution has been taken. Now by the way, it doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong. If you ask Tom, the thing that we’re most afraid of is a bird strike because if it just in the same way sadly birds have affected planes in normal life, if there was a random bird in the wrong place when we were shooting that sequence, it could have been really, really bad. But in terms of everything that can be controlled, he is meticulous in his preparation.

How did changing the release date impact getting that movie to the screen?

GOLDBERG: Chris McQuarrie hasn’t slept in months.

ELLISON: There is not a moment of sacrifice to the quality of film in moving it forward that way, but it required everybody led by Chris McQuarrie to work twenty plus hours a day. I think when everyone sees this movie if they didn’t already think it after Jack Reacher, they are going to see that Chris McQuarrie is a truly visionary filmmaker.

GOLDBERG: He sort of ruined it for other filmmakers. We were chatting with some people yesterday who said ‘so now just anybody can say you’re going to move your movie up by five months, and just get it done, right? That’s not going to be a problem.’ Because that is actually how it happened. It was a meeting that was a lot like this, it was like ‘well you know what, it would be the perfect date, July 31st, but you guys can’t get in ready in time.’ Yeah, we can. And it was Tom and it was Chris. They both said ‘yeah, we can. We’ll get it ready. We’ll do it.’ And they have not sacrificed one thing. They have killed themselves, our whole crew. Eddie Hamilton, our editor, they have worked non-stop on this movie, and genuinely cannot wait for you guys to see the result. It is beautiful filmmaking.

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