Disney gives NFTS students preview screening of ‘Tomorrowland’ and Q&A with Co-Creator Jeff Jensen

NFTS Jeff Jensen

NFTS students have been treated to a preview screening of Disney’s latest film ‘Tomorrowland: A World Beyond’, directed by the double Oscar winning, triple BAFTA winning director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) followed by a Q&A with the story co-creator and executive producer Jeff Jensen.

The film is a mystery adventure about a teenage girl bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor who embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Speaking ahead of the film’s release last weekend, the award-winning Dark Horse Comics graphic novelist Jeff Jensen explained how he and writer Damon Lindelof  (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Prometheus and Lost) brought the inventive vision of Tomorrowland to the screen - and how their partnership came together.

Lost writer Damon Lindelof had read several articles written by Jensen about the long-running TV series for Entertainment Weekly magazine and approached Jensen to do some research for the film. After several months the story evolved and was pitched to Disney. The script went through several incarnations.

“The first pitch was more like Harry Potter where you’re quickly transported into this fantasy land, but then we decided that we wanted the film to be more Close Encounters of the Third Kind – a journey and discovery-driven movie,” says Jensen.

Asked by screenwriting students about the process of script development, Jensen said it took four- and-a-half-years from start to finish to make the film. They started by meeting every day, sitting in opposite couches and bouncing ideas around.

“The ideas that stuck would literally get written down and stuck on a wall. The wall was covered in notes! We didn’t write the script until the story was worked out fully. A year-and-a-half later, we ended up with a whole book of back story with a 100-year history of ‘Plus Ultra.’ Brad Bird said we didn’t have one story; we had seven!”

Director Brad Bird was instrumental in helping them focus the story on two lead characters but the back story hasn’t been lost; Jensen has written a prequel novel with artist Jonathan Case called Before Tomorrowland.

There were originally more characters and Casey was originally a boy, says Jensen, but they managed to bring elements of the other characters into Casey when they made her a young woman, played by Britt Robertson who stars alongside Oscar-winning actor George Clooney.

Asked by production design students about the visual creation of Tomorrowland, Jensen said that their script had deliberately left the visual aspects open for the director to interpret.

“We didn’t give much stage direction; we felt that should be the creation of the director and Brad Bird assembled the whole art department.”

Bird drew inspiration from architects Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and the futuristic architecture and design of the 1930s and 1960s.

“Those were periods in history when there was a lot more optimism about the future. Space was exciting. Although I was born later,  I for one remember thinking that by 2010 we’d all be driving flying cars! Today there is  more pessimism about our environmental, economic and political future. We hope that people will watch this film and maybe ask themselves if there is something of that past optimism that we can use today?”

This is the first film that Jeff Jensen has worked on. Asked by a directing student if it ‘wouldn’t have been easier to work on a low budget film with two actors in a kitchen,’ Jensen replied: “Yes it probably would have been! This was like being the guy who doesn’t know how to swim being thrown into the ocean in a hurricane.

“I have been very humbled by the experience. But what a great opportunity to work on a huge tentpole movie with such a fantastic director and writer – I loved it!”