TR Interview: The Writers of Terminator: Genisys


The writers of Terminator: Genisys are an interesting team, in that they haven’t been one before. Laeta Kalogridis was a producer on Avatar, and has written for Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island) and OIiver Stone (Alexander). Patrick Lussier comes from a more exploitation-heavy background; he’s a former editor on MacGyver who wrote and directed the Dracula 2000 trilogy as well as Drive Angry 3D. Whatever you think of the final product, it’s a bold combination of high and pop art creators, which is what a Terminator movie ought to have.

There are SPOILERS within, including, semi-randomly, one for Jurassic World. Proceed with caution, and feel free to use this as a spoiler talkback for the movie if you’ve seen it.

Luke Y. Thompson: I’m curious – based on what you guys said in the press conference about stuff that’s canon still counting, and it all being in canon, because obviously the way John Connor and Kyle Reese meet in this is different from Salvation, so Salvation off the bat doesn’t seem to be canon. Is Terminator 3 still canon? Does John Connor know his mother is going to get cancer, for example?

Laeta Kalogridis: Well, I can honestly say – and this is only from my perspective, I can’t speak for you – because I was such a student of the first two films and more hyper-aware, that’s, for me, is where canon comes from – those first two movies. I haven’t – as much as I enjoyed the other two, but I didn’t pay close enough attention to them. In part because – and again, this is just me – I love the characters so much, that the idea that she died of cancer was so frustrating! I sort of just tuned out.

Patrick Lussier: Do you consider Alien 3 part of canon?

LYT: Yes. Although apparently Neill Blomkamp does not.

PL: But don’t you think Newt dying that way and Hicks dying that way is just wrong in every way imaginable?

LK: I’ve never seen Alien 3. I have literally never seen Alien 3, precisely because of that. Because I can’t handle the Newt kid’s death in the opening idea. When someone told me that…

PL: The comic book version of that….

LK: …I was like, “No.”

PL: The Dark Horse comic book version is way more interesting.

LK: [laughing]Fair enough!

LYT: I think much like Game of Thrones, when you have a character you care about who’s just suddenly unceremoniously offed, it’s…

PL: Or they die offscreen.

LK: Mostly in Game of Thrones they don’t die off screen. There’s definitely a little – I mean, you may not actually see the sword go into the neck, but you do…

PL: I think we follow mostly the first two movies, because the main character we follow is Kyle, and particularly we see the beginning of the idea – the beginning of the movie is that we track Kyle from before he would have been sent back, in almost like the original film, you’re seeing – and then you see the deviation of what happened the moment that he’s sent back.


LK: I thought she had leukemia. I’m sorry – it’s been so long.

LYT: Who had leukemia?

LK: I think it was leukemia. Sorry. Go ahead.

PL: In the third movie.

LK: In the third movie. But then they reference it also in Sarah Connor Chronicles, which clearly isn’t in continuity with the third and fourth movies.

LYT: Yeah, right.

PL: Because where’s Derek Reese?

LK: I’m saying it’s clearly an offshoot and side timeline as well. So sometimes in my head I organize it that way. I think three and four are one timeline, and Sarah Connor Chronicles is another timeline, and we’re yet another timeline.

PL: It’s just where you appear in the loop.

LYT: Well, you’ve obviously planted a few things that I think are going to appear in future installments, if there are any. Would there be something in those future installments that would allow for Sarah Connor Chronicles to be part of canon in its own multiverse kind of way, for example?

LK: I think everything, in its own multiverse kind of way, is part of canon already.

PL: Yes, if the other – let’s say the other adventures go and all the cards end up on the table, there would be a venue for her.

LK: Conceptually the multiverse idea is already part of it.

PL: Everybody will play in the pool!

LYT: Obviously there are still things like who sent back the “Pops” Terminator. That’s clearly being saved for a sequel.

PL: Yeah.

LYT: However he gets the upgrade at the end, I’m not clear on that. I assume that would be clarified later on.

PL: Yep.

LK: Mm-hmm.

PL: Yes. Absolutely.

LYT: Is it in fact planned as a trilogy, the way they announced originally? Or is that up in the air still?

LK: I think everyone – in a perfect world, in a most optimistic world, you always want to continue the story if you can.

PL: You always want to know what happens next to the characters. But it was also really important for this movie to finish on a real emotional climax, where we left the characters in a really great and wonderful place, that it could stand alone and on its own. So it’s OK that we arrive here, at the end of this journey, and then you feel that you have earned a sense of completion. There may be questions; there may not be answers for everything. But did the Death Star blow up? Yes.

LK: Is Darth Vader still out there? Yes.

LYT: Is it safe to bet that in the great gaming console wars, you are Nintendo people?

PL: Uh, you mean like N64?

LYT: I mean as opposed to Genesis.

PL: Oh, wow.

LK: A question not for me. I assiduously avoid games.

PL: Never had a Genesis. Did have – well, my son had an N64 that I used to play on. But now it seems to be…We even played Mario Kart together. It was fantastic!

LK: Yah!! Such a good parent!

LYT: The way Genisys is first presented in the movie as a kid’s Christmas present just takes me back to the old console games. It’s like Sega must be real happy about that, being the bad guys!

PL: Sega – yeah, well. We didn’t think about that. [laughs]

LK: I can honestly tell you it didn’t cross my mind.

PL: No, Genisys, being named Genisys, never even crossed my mind. Not once.

LK: Me neither.

LYT: When this project first came to you guys, was it a case of come up with anything Terminator and see what you could do? Or was it like “We have Arnold on board. Now find a way to get him in there so that his age makes sense”?

LK: No, not at all.

PL: No, not at all. It was – the original concept was very much wanting Arnold very much to be part of the story in a real, significant way.

LK: To be really clear, though, they came to us and said “If you were to write a Terminator movie for us, what would it be?” And after saying no a few times, when we said yes, we said “Well, we would want it to revolve around Arnold.”

PL: “We would want it to revolve around Arnold.”

LK: “That’s what we would do if you asked us to do it. We would want it to encompass his current age. We would not want to try to do some sort of digital craziness.”

PL: “You encompass time travel, and in comes – use Kyle Reese, use Sarah Connor, use John Connor. Use these iconic characters.”

LK: “You asked us what we would do – that’s what we would do.”

PL: Yeah. That was very much what we set out to do.

LK: And then they said, “What can you pitch us? What would that be?” Then we pitched them a more sort of expansive version of it, and then Dan, David, Patrick and I all started working together on how that story would come together.

LYT: But it does actually use some amazing digital trickery, in terms of the young Arnold. Was there ever a concern that you were writing something that couldn’t be realized?

LK: All the time.

PL: Really?

LK: Constantly. Yes. Oh, yeah! Are you kidding me?

PL: I had blind faith.

LK: Not me. Having been through a whole bunch of “How hard is it to digitally recreate humans…”

PL: But you were in Avatar

LK: …because aliens are one thing, humans is another thing entirely!

PL: Yeah, no.

LK: The eye can be fooled, because you don’t actually know what a Na’vi actually looks like in real life, so you’re not looking for all the little myriad imperfections that give you…

PL: You went forward with knowledge. I went forward with pure hopeful ignorance.

LK: But you know, if you don’t try – and if you’re going to do it with anybody, do it with David Ellison. If you’re going to do it with anyone who REALLY understands how – what cutting-edge effects can do…

PL: With David, and then bringing on Janek Sirrs, who is brilliant. Between the two of them they found…

LK: If they had said initially, “It can’t be done,” then I would certainly have backed off of it. But since they thought it could be…

PL: And were excited by it. Janek was really excited. “Well, that hasn’t been done – let’s do it!” And so at that point, it was like, “OK, he seems smart.” [chuckles]

LK: Yeah. He is smart.

LYT: Did it bug you when midway through the marketing they revealed the big twist?

PL: Well, it may not have been our choice, but…

LK: We are not in charge of marketing.

PL: …but certainly I completely understand why it was done.

LK: When you write a script you don’t, for the most part – and when you’re part of the movie, which is different than writing the script – you don’t, I think most of the time, in your head think through what will this experience be like for the audience if the marketing campaign does X or if it does Y or if it does Z? You’re only thinking of it the way you experience it, the way people experience it the first time they read it.

So it’s certainly different than we imagined it would be – when people go into the theater, there are things that they will already know that we didn’t imagine that they would know. So I would say it’s different.


LYT: Like with Shutter Island, obviously, if people go in knowing how that ended, for example…

[WARNING: Jurassic World SPOILER in the paragraph below]

LK: Or Jurassic World, I think – if people went in knowing that the raptors were going to get a new alpha, and that Indominus Rex was partly raptor. I think that would have affected your expectations, viewing-wise, because that falls in a similar place in the movie that the John reveal does in our movie. But it just – all I can really say about it is that it isn’t what we had imagined the experience would be.

LYT: And yet the funny thing is when you look back at Terminator 2, they play it like you don’t know Arnold is the good guy.

PL: Exactly. That’s marketing.

LYT: But right upfront everybody knew that.

LK: But that wasn’t unexpected though. Certainly, people talk about that a lot as having been something that at the time, the director was opposed to everybody knowing about it, and was not expecting everybody to know about it, all the way through the posting process. You know, operating on the assumption that people would view the movie without knowing that.

I saw the movie knowing it, and for me, with T2, I would have preferred not to have known it. I would have enjoyed the movie more if I hadn’t known it.

PL: Yeah, I agree.

LYT: It’s not something you think about at the time, but it’s hard to imagine that anybody saw that without knowing it, as was probably intended.

PL: But it is one of those things that when you watch it, you’re like, “Oh my god, if only….” I’ve told this story to Laeta before – I had this great experience when my son was young, like 10 years old, and with a bunch of his friends, showing them the original Planet of the Apes for the first time. None of them had seen it, and when you get to the end and it’s the Statue of Liberty, all of the kids were completely gobsmacked, like [gasping]“OOOHHH!! Oh my god!” And it’s sort of like, wow – marketing Planet of the Apes with that Statue of Liberty at the beginning of the movie might not have been the way to go.

LYT: Was the rating of the movie as PG-13 incidental, or was there any point where they said “This is going to be PG-13 – you can’t have Arnold swear as much as he did in the first one,” for example?

LK: I think that pretty much the reality of the business now is that the way you approach an R rated movie versus a PG-13 movie is different, and this film was always envisioned as a PG-13 film.

PL: Just given the scope of the budget and the wideness of the release, this is what it was going to be.

Terminator: Genisys is now playing. Feel free to talk spoilers in this thread.