After more than two years of the adventures that inspired the creation of this site, it felt a fitting conclusion to finally sit down with Mr. Brad Bird to discuss his latest film in anticipation of its impending in-home release.

Having had a deeply foundational experience in the summer of 2013 during Walt Disney Imagineering’s “The Optimist” alternate reality game -- which established the universe of the film -- there was an incredibly personal investment that carried us through the release of Tomorrowland. Our anticipation was met and exceeded, as we were not shy about proclaiming the film to be no less than modern mythology.

This positioned us uniquely to sit down with Mr. Bird, not as journalists more interested in futile questions of his upcoming films, but as impassioned fans of his work.

Considering the general population’s box office apathy toward the film’s initial theatrical release, one question drifted to the fore:

What would your feeling be toward the Tomorrowland universe continuing on in other media?

I think it would be wonderful. Jeff Jensen already did that with “Before Tomorrowland.” Certainly there’s enough in the idea that Jeff and Damon first had -- and I was lucky enough to contribute to -- to take it in a lot of directions. You can hit any area between the forming of Plus Ultra to now. And, also, there’s time travel that could occur in any of those times. It’s a huge potential universe.

One piece of additional story content, originally intended to follow the Blast Fom The Past commercial as a piece of viral marketing, will be featured on the upcoming Blu-Ray: “outtakes” from a 1960s Mr. Wizard-style science show, hosted by Hugh Laurie’s comically out of place David Nix.

While good taste prevents us from expressing our opinion of Tomorrowland’s official marketing campaign, we felt this piece would have set the stage beautifully for the audience, and address a number of lingering questions expressed by many viewers. We were curious as to why the decision was made to excise the piece:

What contributed to the nixing of the Nix short?

I don’t know, I think that -- all this stuff gets to be a blur at a certain point. It was probably [marketing] felt that it stepped on something else or it didn’t fit into the tone that they wanted at that moment. I don’t remember, but my attitude was, “Well, it’ll be a good DVD thing.” It works on its own. Hugh is funny.

Though we had met Mr. Bird several times briefly in our extended stint as de facto Tomorrowland groupies, we hadn’t yet had the occasion to discuss his view of the experiences that formed a community of our fellow optimists:

How aware were you of the reaction to “The Optimist” experience in 2013?

Well, we were aware that it was catching a little bit of fire, which is good. We wanted to play with that, but -- if we could go back in time, to Damon and I and Jeff talking about this, our plans for how we were going to have fun with that were so elaborate. They were like a movie where everything is possible. 

There’s a little bit of a honeymoon period at the beginning of a movie where you’re like, “AND THEN YOU COULD HAVE A SQUADRON OF ROBOTS ATTACK, YOU KNOW, AND IT’S GONNA BE THE GREATEST THING EVER, AND EVERY MOVIE THAT YOU WILL HAVE EVER SEEN WILL BE INFERIOR TO THIS,” and there’s a tiny little period where that happens, and then you basically wake up the morning after with a hangover going, “Wait a second, this actually has to be produced, and it can’t cost four hundred billion dollars.” 

But we had very elaborate plans, most of which were Damon and Jeff’s. I’m just kinda sitting there going, “that’s interesting.” But they had all kinds of really cool ideas. And they were going to involve the Park, and we touched on it a little bit, but we never went as deep as we wanted to.

Did anything the fans did along those lines rub you guys the wrong way? 

No, we sort of felt like we were initially gonna do more with that, and then we were kinda tired and otherwise engaged. When it finally came time to do it we kinda felt slightly apologetic to the very overzealous fans. 

At this point, we had to interject and clarify his inevitable suspicions of our self-serving question: those “overzealous fans” were, of course, us.

In the three-months leading up to Tomorrowland’s release, we produced a piece of interactive fan-fiction called Stop Plus Ultra. Both as a tribute to “The Optimist” and its still-thriving community of players, which the Disney company seemed content to brush under the rug, and as a bit of rogue viral marketing we felt the film deserved.

For those that weren’t able to join in the adventure, here is a video walkthrough of the experience:

Our game’s finale culminated in players traveling to used bookstores throughout the country to retrieve a dusty old paperback that contained a chapter on the film’s fictional secret society, Plus Ultra. We created this entire book from scratch; perhaps one of the most esoteric pieces of fan-fiction ever produced.

Upon presenting Mr. Bird with a copy of this book, the man with whom we had asked to take a picture on several occasions now asked for a picture of us. You can imagine our appreciation for this flattering gesture.

Fueled by his openness, we entered into some of our lingering questions, which we assured Mr. Bird he had no obligation to answer should he find them too impertinent:

The “storytelling device” by which the film was initially introduced to the public was the fabled 1952 Box. Purported to be a relic discovered in “The Morgue” beneath the Disney Animation Building.

Though a fun device to curate the inspirations of the film, the origins of this box were soon called into question by astute players of “The Optimist.” The Plus Ultra “+U” logo seen on many “artifacts” in the box had been discovered throughout the alternate reality game. While the direction of influence could conceivably have flowed in either direction, it seemed unlikely that an authentic piece of history would be augmented with the logo of a presumably fictional secret society.

Despite any questions of the boxes legitimacy, the community at large was more than willing to accept the box as real. To engage in a sort of ritualistic dance for the purposes of preserving the the experience. Early on, however, the film’s marketing took a sharp turn away from the box concept:

It seems as though there was a point at which the 1952 box was abandoned.

That was kinda me that gave up on the box a little bit. Damon and Jeff could do refrigerator boxes. They could do the biggest box ever and have fun and spin theories and do that forever, and I’m just sitting there going “I’m never going to be able to pull this off. I’m going to be the guy that blows everything you do by saying the wrong thing. That shatters whatever illusion you’re trying to do.” And I’m just saying, “I’m just going to make the movie, okay? You guys figure out this alternate universe.”

Interestingly, the only point at which the curtain was fully pulled off was in the end credits of the movie. 


“Plus Ultra Logo Designed By Brad Bird.”

Oh! You mean if I would have taken that credit off? You know what, that never occurred to me. Oh, damn that credit. Damn that credit! Oh, crap. Oh, man. Now I feel terrible. I feel like the terrible egotist. (In a self-mocking voice) “You must put that I designed the Plus Ultra logo.”

While we take no pleasure in being the ones to bring this to Mr. Bird’s attention, we also can’t help but feel that the revelation of the box’s true origins -- though unintentional -- allows for a deeper appreciation of the craftsmanship that went into this story world.

These incredible pieces weren’t merely curated by the production, many were fabricated entirely. (There are even Wikipedia edits referencing Plus Ultra that date back to September of 2012.) In our eyes, the truth of this fabrication only serves to further cement this film’s status as a truly original work by a group of impeccable craftsmen.

Emboldened by his honesty, there was one more potentially sensitive topic we were compelled to broach with the director:

Would you consider the theatrical release of the movie your director’s cut?

Yeah, I would. It doesn’t mean that it’s exactly the movie I set out to make. But, you do your best shot at it, and then the movie has its own things in mind. And I’ve tried fighting a movie, and saying, “No, this is what you are.” But if you do that, you don’t wind up with anything good. 

You have to play tennis with the movie you think you’re making. And that movie always answers back. And you say, “THIS is what you are.” Then it goes, “I’m THIS.” And you go, “No you’re not. You’re this.” And then pretty soon you come to some sort of agreement, which is between the movie you set out to make, and the movie that it wants to be. 

So the movie fought you back, not the studio necessarily?

No. Movies are not remotely an exact science. You’re dealing with, I mean if you thought about it in a rational way, like, “here is your assignment: you’re making a movie. What is my mission? Your mission is to figure out what people of all ages, in every nationality, and every life experience will like, two years from now, or three years from now. That’s your goal. Okay, go.” And you just go, “AH, that’s impossible!” There’s no possible way for me to do that. All that does is send me into a fetal ball in the corner. 

What you CAN do is go, “Your assignment is to make something you would like to see.” Then that becomes simple, and you go, “Okay, I can do that. I don’t know how many other many people are going to agree with me, but I can make something that I want to see.” 

Then you go out, based on your best guess of what you’re trying to go for. And then you do it. And then you look at it. And it tells you, “This part works, this part is not exactly -- you thought it was going to work. It doesn’t work.” So, what are you going to do about it? Are you  going to just let it not work? Or are you going to try to find a way to work with it? 

And sometimes you wind up with something that’s better than what you set out to do. And other times, you’re just trying to go, “You know, I don’t know that the thing that I imagined actually ever would work. My imagination was faulty.” 

This candor about the filmmaking process was refreshing, especially considering the rumors that persisted about Disney taking control of the film away from Bird.

Hopefully this conversation has illuminated many questions for curious Dreamers. The truth behind these stories is always more dynamic, infinitely more complex, and tends to defy our often jaded assumptions that conform to industry stereotypes. The convenience of “the filmmaker vs. the mega-corporation” narrative betrays the very real internal conflict between a group of artists and the piece of art they are trying to create.

It’s clear that, in the creative battle to bring Tomorrowland to the screen, Brad Bird, unsurprisingly, opted for the optimistic path.

From the seeds of this concept, to the creation of the 1952 box; from the beautiful prose of “Before Tomorrowland,” to the film’s final metaphorical image, I find the ambition on display staggering to behold. A testament to a group of artists that dared to look “further beyond” the screen. Let us hope its cross-platform authenticity inspires the next generation of storytellers as it has inspired me.

See you in the wheat field.


  1. Great article, thank you, I am a huge fan of the film, I can't wait to get it in a few days and watch it again with bonus features!

  2. I can't believe I missed this interview! I'm so glad you got to talk to him, and his answers were very revealing! Thanks for doing this, and for your devotion to a film I deeply love and have written my fair share about!