Every once in a while, it's interesting to focus on missed opportunities in advertising. A perfect example is the disturbing absence of Jay Maynard, aka the Tron Guy, from Disney's insanely expensive three-and-a-half-year marketing bonanza for Tron: Legacy.
If you don't remember when Tron Guy went viral, you should know your memes better. Since appearing in his homemade spandex light suit in 2004, Maynard, a computer programmer and sys admin by trade, has appeared 16 times on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and had cameos on South Park, the "We Are the Web" net-neutrality PSA and, most recently, Tosh.0. He's been remixed and parodied and relinked to the point where you've probably seen his likeness even if you don't know his name.
In 2004, when Maynard's attire went viral, no one had really been talking about Tron. Disney had left the property virtually untouched since 1982, when the original movie flopped. (In fact, Disney didn't make another live action film for 10 years.) Less than a year after Maynard's debut, Variety reported that Disney had hired Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal to write the Tron sequel. While Maynard may not have been the sole reason for raising Tron from the dead, it's hard to ignore the coincidence. And furthermore, even if he didn't have much to do with it, as Tron's biggest and most recognizable fan, what's wrong with tossing the guy a T-shirt?
AdFreak chatted with Maynard over e-mail to see why he hasn't been included in any of the Tron: Legacy fuss.
AdFreak: So, you've said no one from Tron: Legacy has contacted you about potential marketing for the film?
Maynard: Nobody, not a word. I have been contacted by just about everyone else who's doing something for the film, and a wide array of the media wanting to know what I think of it, but not a word out of Disney.
AdFreak: Did they at least send over some swag? A nice T-shirt, perhaps? A velcro Flynn's Arcade wallet? A "bit in a box" from FlynnLives.com to invite you to participate in the worldwide Tron alternate-reality game?
Maynard: Nothing. They were sending out bits in boxes? That would have been neat.
AdFreak: Have you been following the Tron: Legacy marketing and/or participating in the ARG online? If so, what do you think of it?
Maynard: I've been following the marketing to some degree, as any fan would. Unlike the original [movie], Disney's marketing machine is fully behind this one. I'm really happy to see that.
AdFreak: Many people have said it would be fitting if you got a cameo in the new movie. Did anyone contact you for that?
Maynard: No, and I was more than a little disappointed about that. I would have killed to appear in that movie, even just a cameo.
AdFreak: What about appearing at the premiere?
Maynard: Again, nothing. I'm of two minds about this one, though: I'm not sure that I should do that in the original costume, both because it would detract from the new film's branding (or something) and because I'd probably be the only guy there in costume.
AdFreak: Your self-made electroluminescent Tron Guy costume made you famous. I know you've said you'd like to update your costume for Tron: Legacy, but that some things are beyond your control. What things?
Maynard: The main ones now are time and funding. … I estimate the new costume will cost between $500 and $1K for a reasonable approximation. I suspect that's still a lot less than the ones Disney custom-tailored for the movie characters.
AdFreak: Now that the design has been revealed, what do you think about the new light suits in Tron: Legacy? How hard would it be to create one?
Maynard: I think it'll actually be easier to do that than to create the original, and to get closer to the movie-costume designs. The problem with the original was that it was difficult, to say the least, to make the glow appear on the main body of the costume; I wound up just punting that issue. After all, the unitard has to be washable, and electroluminescent wire doesn't survive washing. The new costume doesn't have that problem, at least, and it should be simpler to make the glow stripes detachable.
Easier doesn't mean easy, though. There's still a learning curve for me.
AdFreak: In 2008, you bought a small plane and painted it to match your Tron Guy outfit. Two years later, the only new vehicle in the Tron world is the Light Plane. Coincidence? What do you think?
Maynard: Quite possible, although the light plane doesn't look much like the Zodiac I bought. Still, they had to make it bigger, badder and cooler than anything in the real world—after all, they didn't have to worry about little things like power-to weight ratios and parasitic drag!—and I'm not disappointed.
It would have been nifty to see N55ZC (my plane's registration number) on the side of one, though.
AdFreak: The new Tron has also inspired a lot of fashion wear. Versace gave a nod to Tron in it's 2010 Milan show. Opening Ceremony has a Tron: Legacy collection out. And Disney commissioned a series of high-fashion designs for the movie. Do you think your outfit had anything to do with that? You are, after all, the originator of Tron fashion. They didn't make fashions out of Secretariat.
Maynard: Only very peripherally. The fashions I've seen for the new movie bear little to no resemblance to the actual movie costumes. I think it's more due simply to the fact that the costuming in Tron: Legacy lends itself to fashion design more than most films, because it's different from what we're used to seeing, and that difference highlights how alien the world inside the computer is. After all, the characters in Secretariat just wore everyday clothes.
AdFreak: People ask you questions about the fiction of the Tron world all the time, and you answer as an authority on this fictional world. Why do you play along?
Maynard: It's fun. I've been a role player pretty much my entire adult life, and that's just another role to play. Of course, having the field to myself does make that easier: Who's gonna say I'm wrong?
AdFreak: Not me. So, how do you pee in a light suit? Or does biological function cease to have meaning once inside the mainframe?
Maynard: A program would simply dispose of its own unused bits by using the system's automatic garbage collection functions, leaving no traces. (And that's an answer straight out of computer programming; I didn't even have to invent it.)
AdFreak: So, you're inventing and expanding on the fiction of Tron as it's best-known real-world representative. Have you ever written fiction about Tron? If so, could you share a bit?
Maynard: I'm not much of a writer. I'd love to write stories, about that world and about others, but my problem is simply that I don't have stories to tell. I think once I come up with a good story, I could tell it, but the initial hump is the issue.
AdFreak: Any thing else you'd like to add or comment on?
Maynard: I think the big reason I haven't been called on to do anything official with the new movie is revealed in the stories that went around a few weeks ago about Disney's test-marketing of a Blu-Ray of the original movie. The stories said that Disney executives were horrified when audiences laughed at the original, and especially the costuming. Supposedly, that's why the release of the original movie's Blu-Ray was pushed back to the release date of the Tron: Legacy Blu-Ray. If that's true, then involving me and the original costume would cause the very reactions in the public eye they're trying to avoid.
The fix is simple: leave me out of it. I'm very disappointed by that, as you might guess, especially since I do believe that my fame/notoriety/popularity/(insert noun here) is at least responsible in large part for the resurgence of interest in the franchise, but I understand it.
It's not too late … there's another fix: Disney could put me in a costume from the new film and send me out into the world. I kinda doubt it'll happen now, less than a month before the premiere, though.
AdFreak: Thank you, Jay.
Tron: Legacy opens in wide release Dec. 17 in the U.S. Special thanks to Gladys Santiago at Nielsen, who helped us survey Tron Guy mentions in the media, to gauge his possible influence on the filmmakers.