Oblivion, Cruise, Kosinski

It's difficult to determine the more nerve-wracking scenario for director Joseph Kosinski: Helming a much-anticipated sequel to "Tron" for Disney as his first feature, or following it up with an original, $120 million sci-fi concept with Tom Cruise in the lead. The movie, about the last man on Earth whose life is forever changed when a spaceship containing a mysterious woman crash lands, launching him into an unexpected adventure, has already opened overseas to big audiences.

Ambition is clearly never waning for the architect-turned-filmmaker, and with "Oblivion" set to hit theaters stateside this week, we sat down with him to discuss the film's long journey to the screen, in-camera special effects, and his relationship with Disney the entire time.

You first wrote “Oblivion” as a short story, which then turned into a graphic novel. What has been the biggest difference from that initial germ of an idea to now?
Well, the story of Jack Harper has always been there, and his emotional throughline has too. The short story was only 12 pages, so the film is so much more fleshed out in terms of specificity. And I played with different openings and endings to the story, but it's always been a piece about Jack, Julia, and Victoria, and Jack having his world turned upside down.

So in terms of the visual look, the influences like architect Mies van der Rohe have always been there as well.
Oh, yes. Mies, he has two favorite sayings: “Less is more,” which when it comes to design I firmly believe in, and the other is "God is in the details." That one deals not only in the notion of building the set, but also every aspect of the film, from story to character to props -- understanding the world so well that you know what's around every corner. And I think an audience can sense a world that's completely figured out, versus one that's only what you're seeing on screen.

Oblivion, Tom Cruise
Did you meld advice like that from other directors, such as [early mentor] David Fincher?
David was really instrumental more when I first got to Los Angeles. He really loved my stuff, and actually helped me get my first commercial job, which was the “Gears of War” [“Mad World” spot] I did. David really went to bat for me and helped me get that. Not only did he help me there, but he's also just a good sounding board for ideas.

Any good tips this time around?
No, you know I haven't even shown him the film yet; I wanted him to see it fully finished, and I'm really excited for when he does.

“Oblivion” started out at Disney, where attempts were made to shape the film into a PG-rated result. Could you ever imagine a PG version of the film, or was it always PG-13?
I knew it had to be PG-13. I think that when you see the movie, you see that it doesn't quite fit within the Disney brand. I always saw some Hitchcock in it -- a "Shadow of a Doubt" or "Vertigo." I loved how he was able to make these thrillers but there was also this incredibly twisted romance at the core.

But I have a great relationship with Disney, and it was one of those things where we both looked at the project, and I said, “I don't know if I can make the Disney version of this movie” and they agreed. So they let me make it with Universal, which was a pretty generous thing of them to do.