Interview: ‘Terminator Genisys’ Screenwriters Reveal a Big Secret

Terminator Genisys

Screenwriters Patrick Lussier and Laeta Kalogridis had their work cut out for them with Terminator Genisys. Not only were they responsible for jumpstarting a beloved but flailing movie franchise, they also had to rewrite the entire history of the series without pissing the fans off. So they pumped Terminator Genisys full of one surprise revelation after the next, and then – for reasons that seem a little unfathomable to anyone who loves movies (at all) – the trailers revealed practically every surprise they concocted, ruining the film for everybody.

It’s a tough position to be in, but Lussier and Kalogridis are diplomatic about it. It’s not the way they wish the marketing department have gone, but they are more than happy to talk about why it happened the way it happened. And they are also perfectly willing to deconstruct the complex time travel mechanics of their new movie, which adds new wrinkles to the series and sets the stage for future sequels.

Check Out: Jason Clarke Explains Why John Connor is Right in ‘Terminator Genisys’ (Exclusive Interview)

What’s more, they are also willing to reveal a major piece of information about Matt Smith’s character, who only makes a minor appearance in Terminator Genisys but is obviously going to be a big deal in the upcoming movies. Who he is gets explained in the movie, but EXACTLY who he is, where he comes from, and how he wound up changing the events of the Terminator movies forever is never discussed in the film. So if you were wondering, basically, “What’s up with that?” at the end of Terminator Genisys, now you will finally know.

Spoiler warning for all those who have not yet seen Terminator Genisys, because Lussier and Kalogridis are about to explain the whole danged plot in this exclusive interview.

Terminator Genisys Jason Clarke John Connor

CraveOnline: I’m fascinated by this movie from a writer’s perspective, because you structured it around not one but two major reveals that were then both revealed in the trailer. How do you feel about that?

Laeta Kalogridis: We are not in charge of marketing.

Granted, but it will affect how people view the story…

Patrick Lussier: It does, and again, how do you feel about it? 

Laeta Kalogridis: I feel that I am not in charge of marketing.

Patrick Lussier: We are not in charge of it and we don’t have any say over it, and it’s happened, so would it have been the way we would have done it? Maybe, maybe not. Do I understand why marketing did it? Absolutely. I totally understand why. They very much wanted to say what’s different and what some of the new hooks and things are. I totally get that. 

Laeta Kalogridis: Certainly when you’re writing it…

Patrick Lussier: You’re not writing it with that in mind.

Laeta Kalogridis: You don’t imagine it that way. You imagine that people will experience it without that knowledge.

Patrick Lussier: Yes, and again, it’s very much crafted that way. So, how do you feel about it? Well, it is what it is. [Laughs.]

Terminator Genisys Emilia Clarke Jai Courtney

It is what it is. It’s interesting though, because it feels like the first time you see the movie – if you’re familiar with the marketing materials – it’s almost going to feel like the second time you see the movie. You’re going to look at the way the film builds up to these reveals rather than seeing them as a shock. Do you think about how audiences view the film the second time? Or are you mostly interested in the first experience?

Patrick Lussier: I think you’re mostly interested in the first experience.

Laeta Kalogridis: If the first experience isn’t good you won’t get a second time.

Fair point.

Patrick Lussier: Yeah, you think about the first experience, what they’re going to feel the first time they see it. And obviously not everything in the movie is revealed in the trailers, but…

Laeta Kalogridis: Or the trailer would be longer.

Patrick Lussier: Or the trailer would be longer! The trailer would be 125 minutes. [Laughs.] And somehow they would have released the movie for free!

Laeta Kalogridis: But no, I think it’s a funny thing. Trailer-making has become an art form in and of itself now, so it’s almost a larger conversation. How do you feel about the mini-narratives that have become the way in which trailers are constructed. I think one of the most interesting things about looking at a lot of trailers, for me now, is the way in which the story is meant to be encapsulated. How much do you give away, or how much do you tell the arc of the story? One of the things I liked a lot, actually, about Jurassic World is the fact that you don’t know until you’re in the movie theater. I enjoyed the fact that you don’t know that those raptors get a new alpha until you’re in the movie theater. I enjoyed that. I thought that was a lot of fun.

Patrick Lussier: But if you think back on… do you remember Cliffhanger?

I do remember Cliffhanger.

Patrick Lussier: Do you remember the trailer?


Patrick Lussier: It was like two minutes of [Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor k626], and it was just like, “Oh my god!” It was nothing but music and action and you’re like, “What the fuck is this?! It looks amazing!” But it doesn’t drop its pants and say “examine my dick” at any point.

Laeta Kalogridis: Oh my God…

Patrick Lussier: Sorry. 

I wonder if now, when you’re writing these big tentpoles, do you have to be aware now that they’re going to reveal up to at least the first act, just to tell people the story? Is it harder to put a twist at the beginning of a movie?

Laeta Kalogridis: The funny thing about it is I think that marketing choices are so individual to each film, that you can never really anticipate…

Patrick Lussier: And the time it’s being marketed in. I think how movies are marketed now won’t necessarily be how movies are marketed two years from now, or a year from now, and certainly is not representative of how they’ve been marketed in the past. I think you write the best story…

Laeta Kalogridis: You have to.

Terminator Genisys Arnold Schwarzenegger Bill Paxton

Patrick Lussier: And you write the characters, and you have to focus on that. That has to be your focus. You can focus on, “This will be a great marketing moment.” We need to put this dialogue into the movie because A) it will help the movie, but B) it will also help sell the movie, sure. You think about that. But do you think, “Well, I can’t do this because of this?” I think that’s a dangerous trap, if you start saying…

Laeta Kalogridis: I would never write any part of the movie thinking towards marketing, because A) it’s completely fluid, it does change constantly and it’s totally mercurial. And B) because it is its own art form, it’s going to do whatever it is it’s going to do. My focus has to be on the journey of the movie, otherwise I think you’re no longer writing a script.

Patrick Lussier: No, you’re writing a 2:35 trailer.

Laeta Kalogridis: Yeah.

Patrick Lussier: And there are people who do that! That’s exactly how trailers are told.

Laeta Kalogridis: Yeah, that’s exactly it. There are people who do that. It’s not us.

Patrick Lussier: You talk to marketing and that is their whole model, and I totally get it. They are analyzing each frame for maximum impact.

Emilia Clarke Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Genisys

Well, talk about just script then. You’re kind of rewriting everything…

Laeta Kalogridis: We are creating the alternative universe…

You are creating the alternative universe. What was the first moment that cracked it? What was the first “What if?” What was the moment?

Laeta Kalogridis: It was definitely all about Arnold.

Patrick Lussier: Arnold, and what that would mean, how he would get there, how would we write for Arnold being 67. What that journey would be? What would the journey be following Kyle Reese back, seeing what happened to Kyle before he went back? And very much wanting to stay in the imagined canon of the world that James Cameron created for that opening. And then the what if of Sarah Connor, of what if a machine goes back and tries to kill her when she’s 20? Fails. A machine goes back and tries to kill her son. Fails. A machine says, “Okay, fuck you, I’m going to go back and get you when you’re a child! When you’re easy to get!”

Laeta Kalogridis: Which is actually logical if you think about it. If you were going to pick a time to get Sarah you probably…

Go back and kill her grandparents in the 1920s!

Laeta Kalogridis: Yeah.

Patrick Lussier: We can show you that version! [Laughs.]

Laeta Kalogridis: I believe at one point there was a version of that.

Patrick Lussier: It’s Terminator in the Wild West.

It’s Westworld.

Patrick Lussier: Yul Brynner! Who doesn’t love Yul Brynner?

Laeta Kalogridis: The HBO Westworld, I hope it’s going to be awesome.

Patrick Lussier: I’m sure it will be.

One of the things I think a lot of people are going to be looking is how the previous films affect Terminator Genisys, and what counts. It seems like you’re rewriting everything except the first movie.

Laeta Kalogridis: The intention was totally to go from the first movie and create a branching timeline that doesn’t rewrite anything, but creates an alternative universe in which the characters are having a different adventure, with some signposts that are familiar.

Terminator 3 Claire Danes Nick Stahl

But in Terminator 3, wasn’t it clarified that there is only one timeline, and it just corrects itself because major events need to happen?

Laeta Kalogridis: It might have been. That’s possible. I wouldn’t pretend to have great conversancy with the movie. I’ve seen it but that level of… I haven’t looked at it and taken it apart in the same way I have the first two. So that may be the case.

Patrick, do you have thoughts on Terminator 3?

Patrick Lussier: I remember really enjoying 3 when it came out, having real fun with it. It was a fun movie.

Laeta Kalogridis: It was fun. I remember that.

Patrick Lussier: A friend of mine did the score. Marco [Beltrami], who did all the Scream movies. Yeah, I didn’t lock into that part. We very, very interested in… again, this is really keyed into telling the gospel according to Kyle. Once you started doing that, then you’re really locked into the first two movies where he has the most effect because Sarah’s not in the third movie. That seemed like the first two became quite critical.

I’m mostly interested in how it works thematically, because one of the themes that goes through all the movies is there is no fate but what we make for ourselves…

Laeta Kalogridis: Yes.

But Terminator 3 says actually it has to be fate because otherwise it’s an ontological paradox.

Laeta Kalogridis: Our idea was, simply put, that there are multiple timelines. It’s a multiverse model. So there are individual, multiple universes, and within those universes there is – as John says – a momentum to time, and the amount of energy and sacrifice that has to occur in order to alter a timeline so far that Judgment Day doesn’t occur is huge. 

I think the best explanation, my favorite explanation for it has probably been Days of Future Past. The movie, not the comic. When they’re sitting in the room and they’ve got all three channels, plus PBS, and they’re talking about the river of time and how difficult it is to divert its course. Maybe if you throw a rock in, and stop Mystique from killing Trask, but they still have the same problem and the problem now has become worse because they don’t know what’s going to happen. Before they knew what was going to happen, now they don’t anymore. 

Linda Hamilton Terminator 2

So the idea of the river, and the fact that trying to divert its course requires so, so, so much more than one act – it requires multiple acts – is probably as close as we come to anything remotely resembling a coherent theory. 

Because even if you look at Terminator 1 and 2 back to back they operate on different paradigms of time travel. The first one is a closed loop, so everything is contained within the story and continues to happen over and over again. The second one assumes, essentially, a divergent timeline, because when Sarah decides to try and change the future she never stops and thinks about the fact that if she’s in a closed loop, her son will cease to exist. Because clearly if Kyle Reese never comes back then she never has a child. So she goes ahead and does something that, in the original movie, results in no Judgment Day, but in the original movie John continues to exist, grows up, becomes an adult, has a child of his own. So the second movie operates on a branching timeline theory.

My brain hurts.

Laeta Kalogridis: Sorry. [Laughs.]

Patrick Lussier: Our version is basically you travel in time, you age, your time journey is constant.

There’s a moment in Terminator Genisys when John says something that I think essentially translates to, “Screw it.”

Laeta Kalogridis: Yes it does! He basically says, “Maybe I’ll die, maybe I won’t! Who knows?”

Patrick Lussier: He says, “You hear that? The dice are rolling.”

Laeta Kalogridis: It’s a crapshoot.

Patrick Lussier: “Maybe I can kill you,” because look at that John. He sends Kyle back… let’s talk about the first movie. He sends Kyle back, Kyle goes back, fathers John, dies. John grows up, meets Kyle, John and Kyle get to this point, going to send Kyle back. This time he sends Kyle back, John is attacked. Kyle goes back, everything’s different. […] So there are interrupts in the loop.

Terminator Genisys Matt Smith

What is the moment that changes this new timeline? What’s the thing that got altered to prevent this from being just a remake, essentially?

Laeta Kalogridis: Skynet. You see in the beginning. He grabs John. He’s not from this timeline. He’s from an alternate universe, in the multiverse, another of the many universes that exist. That Skynet is not from that timeline.

Patrick Lussier: It is the understanding that for Skynet, finally realizing that “I cannot just wipe out the humans, I can never defeat the humans unless I have the best weapon that humans have, and that is him.”

Laeta Kalogridis: Or, more simply put, if you have a Skynet that has witnessed multiple iterations of the rise of the machines, which Skynet has… 

Patrick Lussier: And being wiped out over and over…

Laeta Kalogridis: This Skynet has been to this universe, and this universe, and this universe. That’s why he says, “I came a very long way to stop you.” He’s not from here. So he’s watched it. He’s watched it happen a bunch of different times, and each time he’s seen it there is a different result but the same result.

So Skynet [Matt Smith] can now hop between dimensions?

Laeta Kalogridis: This particular Skynet, from another place. This Skynet – not from the original two movies – can.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.