We recently discussed a number of genre movies stuck in what’s known as “development hell,” a Hollywood morass that can sink a project like quicksand. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get a project out of development hell, and getting stuck in it has happened to the best of filmmakers.
It even happened to Steven Lisberger, the creator of Tron, who back in 2007 had a new project called Soul Code that he was working on with Jessica Chabot, a contributor for the website IGN.
Nothing has been heard from about Soul Code again, but of course we did get another Tron movie out there, and an upcoming animated Tron series.
Lisberger really didn’t try for a major Hollywood career. With Tron, he said exactly what he wanted to say and got it out into the world. Although it wasn’t a success in its initial release, it’s become a major cult classic today, and Lisberger was ultimately satisfied.
When Lisberger decided to come back with Soul Code, he told me in 2007: “I started doing some artistic work on my own. I spent quite some time just working on art projects and it sort of, how do I put this so it doesn’t sound like a cliché, but it sort of re-centered me.
“I met Jessica Chobot, and it was very interesting to encounter a young woman who was so committed to tech, videogames and techie cinema. We sort of started our own little film club, we looked at all these movies, and I guess when the enthusiasm is there, all of a sudden I had this moment of clarity where I saw how this story could come together.
“It was particularly interesting to me because it involves a younger and an older woman in the world of technology,” Lisberger continued. “I sort of have that combination in my own life because of my wife and because of Jess. Since I hadn’t worked on a script in a while, it was just very liberating to have it as a pet project, and Jess was a big part of why it happened.”
Thom Mount, who was president of Universal for several years, was going to produce Soul Code, and as Lisberger told me, “What’s interesting is I’ve known Thom since before I made Tron. There was the infamous famous summer of ’82 with E.T. and Tron out there, so he knew Tron and me from the other side. This is a guy that used to eat lunch with John Belushi in Animal House days, you gotta love that.”
Mount told me when he was in charge at Universal, “Steven brought Tron to me in its very early stages. I very much wanted to make the picture, but I was a young executive at the time, and I couldn’t get my guys lined up to get the picture done. Steve ultimately made a deal with Disney, and the rest is history.”
Although Soul Code has yet to be made, and may never get made, Lisberger said when he finally jumped back into making movies, “It’s actually strangely similar in some ways. It’s different in other ways because there wasn’t a sense of intimacy there is with this project. This is a story of two characters in a world of technology. Tron always felt like we were somewhat on a Christopher Columbus voyage trying to discover the new world. This is more realization of where humans are at, instead of where cyberspace is at.”
Ironically, at the same time Lisberger was working on Soul Code, the second Tron film was also in development, and it did finally reach the big screen in 2010. As Lisberger told me in 2007, “Studio development is trying at the best of times. I think the guys who worked on the videogames worked really hard to capture the look of Tron, but I think that in order to make a story of Tron make sense you really have to look at the metaphors. Because if you treat it literally, as if it’s actually interesting to be inside the software, it’s not. Cyberspace is only as good as it lets you develop metaphors for this reality.”
As Lisberger told me before Tron Legacy finally came together, “It’s a little more difficult than people think to make a sequel to Tron, because the times have changed so much. In a way, I feel that I don’t have to compete with Tron because I made the first one. ”But other people do, so it’s different for them then it is for me. There’s this strange feeling of futurism mixed with nostalgia with Tron, which is a strange brew to put those two together. Tron represents the future, but now it represents this sort of nostalgia for the early ’80s for an entire generation.”