Exclusive: Damon Lindelof Talks STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS; Talks Bigger Sets, Redshirt Deaths, the Writing Process, the Timeline, Studio Requests, Easter Eggs, Benedict Cumberbatch, and More!

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If you’re looking forward to director J.J. Abrams Star Trek sequel (Star Trek Into Darkness), you’re about to have a great day.  That’s because at a recent Star Trek event at Bad Robot, I landed an exclusive interview with co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof and got some great updates on one of the biggest movies of 2013!  If you’re curious about the new timeline, when the movie takes place, how writing the sequel was different than the first film, studio notes, how casting Benedict Cumberbatch changed the script, the way Abrams wanted to convey the Enterprise was this massive starship, Easter eggs, Redshirt deaths, and so much more, hit the jump.

star-trek-into-darkness-posterIf you’d like to read the full interview with Lindelof, it’s further down the page.  Here’s a few of the highlights:

  • Abrams wanted people to feel like the Enterprise is a massive ship and one of the ways to accomplish this goal was connecting the sets so you could follow actors through the hallways and elevators without any cuts.
  • How there were four different ways to access the set, and you could walk a minute and a half to two minute before you actually got to the bridge.
  • They started filming with all the bridge scenes and it was like fast forwarding through the entire film.
  • Says about six months have passed since the events of the last movie.
  • Even though Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and  Roberto Orci are credited as the writers, J.J. Abrams and producer Bryan Burk are very involved in the creative vision of the movie and they all talk about the big picture story ideas that they want to reflect in the movie.
  • Each of the creative team has a different level of Trek knowledge and it’s by bouncing ideas off one another that the film becomes even better.
  • Paramount, specifically Adam Goodman and Marc Evans, gave them “no mandates.  They pretty much let us do what we wanted, but that’s because they liked what we wanted to do.”
  • benedict cumberbatch star trek into darknessAfter casting Benedict Cumberbatch, the story remained the same, but they did “change the words coming out of his mouth.”
  • The destruction of Vulcan is not some random plot point from the first film.  The way Lindelof spoke, it’s still affecting Spock and the geo-politics of the galaxy.
  • According to Lindelof, bringing in Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus was not that big of a decision.  However, with having so many characters to service in a “two hour and ten minute long movie, or however long this movie ends up being,” the issue was “how can she interact with all those other guys in a way that doesn’t take away from them, but enhances them.”
  • When they cast Cumberbatch they were tempted to write even more scenes for his character, but after the first movie had so many deleted Nero scenes, they decided to leave the audience wanting more.

Regarding Easter eggs, Lindelof said:

“The majority of the Easter eggs are already embedded before we go into production.  I think that there are a couple things that along the way where you find an opportunity.  But I think the fans want to feel that that stuff had a lot of thought behind it and that we’re not being casual about referencing the original series or the Trek-verse.  And you have to do your homework especially because we started a new timeline.”

damon-lindelof-1952What about trying to top the awesome redshirt death of the first film:

“Look, redshirts have become so proliferate in popular culture that it’s one of those things where it’s almost like in a Bond movie you know that Q is going to show up with gadgets, so now there is a reasonable expectation that redshirts are going to die and that’s the nature of it.  But if you’re too cutesy about it, it penetrates the reality of the movie.  So all I can say is you’re asking a very insightful question and much discussion was had about it.”

They wanted Earth to play a bigger role in the Star Trek movies.

“They’re in the 23rd century and these people are from Earth.  The Earth needed to play more of a role in these movies, especially in the sense of giving the audience a degree of relatability.  I think that in the same way that New York City becomes this anchor point for people in the Marvel movies; that’s Spidey’s stomping ground, that was the stomping ground for Tony Stark, that was the stomping ground for The Avengers, it’s New York.  We wanted to do the same thing with Earth in the Star Trek movies.”

star-trek-into-darkness-chris-pineOne of the things they wanted to focus on was the phase before Kirk is the Captain that everyone knows and trusts.

“The only Enterprise that were familiar with is where Kirk has been the Captain, nobody ever questions his judgment, he knows what he’s doing and occasionally gets in trouble, but he has the trust and love of everybody under his command.  But there was a phase that preceded that and that’s the phase into which Into Darkness plays.  So that’s very exciting for us.”

star-trek-video-game-box-art-xbox-360Don’t look for nods towards any of the comics or video games.  Lindelof said it’s the other way around:

“I think that the nods will probably becoming more in the spirit of, if you read the comics or you play the videogames, the nods will come from that direction versus the movie towards those things.  If you play the game or read the comic books you will understand what role they have in connecting to the new movie versus the movie is going to be winking and if you played the game you’re the only one who got that line, because that kind of stuff has the risk of alienating the people who haven’t gone for the plus version.”

Here’s the full interview with Lindelof.  Star Trek Into Darkness opens May 17, 2013.

Collider: Everyone’s told me that they built the Enterprise this time and everything connected to each other so you could do long tracking shots.  What was it like for you walking on the set for the sequel and being able to walk through the Enterprise?

prometheus damon lindelofDamon Lindelof: I think it was a much more immersive experience, because before you could be on the bridge of the enterprise, but once you went to where the turbo lift was you were back in the real world so there’s a couple of grips standing there with lights.  So the illusion gets shattered.  But for the new movie you could walk onto the soundstage at Sony and there were four different ways to access the set, and you could walk for a minute and a half or two minute before you actually got to the bridge.  And there’s all these tributaries where you could shoot off and we had to change out certain parts of it once they were shot out.  So it was almost like a constantly transforming algorithm, the inside of the ship, so you could actually get lost on it and not know which way you were headed.  So it was just, I think for the actors certainly, the idea of being much more in your environment without needing to break that illusion was probably much more useful for them and certainly directorially for J.J. [Abrams] in terms of his options.  But I think that as cheesy as this sounds, it’s true, the audience has a reasonable expectation for the sequel that it’s going to feel bigger and what does that word mean per se?   Does that mean that there are bigger stakes?   Does it mean that you spent more money on it?   Does it mean that the bad guy is twice as nasty?   Who knows?   It means a lot of different things.  But what J.J. was very passionate about- and it’s a big deal because to not shoot on the Paramount stages is a big break from tradition, but they just couldn’t accommodate this idea, which was that the Enterprise is a massive ship.  And you don’t really have a sense of scale when the Enterprise through space or it’s in the orbit of a planet.  How can we get a sense of how big that ship really is?   And there were two answers.  The first is from the outside in relation to things that are planetary and the other answer was from the inside.  Seeing how many decks there are and being able to look up and a big part of that was connecting the sets, so I’m really glad that he did it.

Chris Pine told me that the first week or two of filming was all on the bridge, were you there when they were first filming that bridge stuff?

chris-pine-zachary-quinto-star-trek-imageLindelof: Sure, Yeah.  Either Bob [Orci], Alex [Kurtzman] or I was on the set for certainly the first month because there a lot of writing that’s still happening once you’ve got the movie out of the blocks.  Everyone’s very excited about the script and you kind of do nothing for a while and it just sits there and then you go into production and everyone starts reading it again and now it’s alive with the actors.  And then things start happening in scenes where you’re like, “Oh wow, that would be something nice to carry forward”, or “That would be much more impactful if it was the payoff to something that happened earlier.” Producorially there’s not really much you need to do, but as a writer I think it we all needed to be present.  And the great thing about the bridge stuff is as frustrating as it is to shoot stuff out of sequence or out of chronology, you’re shooting all the stuff on the bridge throughout the entire movie so it’s like fast forwarding and always stopping when you get to a bridge scene, and suddenly you’re like, “Oh my god, so much happened between the last bridge scene and that scene.  That scene the guys in a new costume and he’s got a huge gash.” It’s kind of funny in a way, but you get a whole sense of the entire movie is, just by having that experience.

What was the writing process like on the sequel versus the first film?   Did anything change?   Did anybody’s responsibilities change?   Were they similar?

star-trek-2-sequel-klingon-jj-abramsLindelof: It’s different on every movie no matter what you do and I think that J.J., Bob and myself, we’re all TV writers at heart, so the majority of the writing process happens in- on a TV show, we’re referred to as the writers room where all of you are basically sitting and hashing out character stuff and story stuff, and actual story structure.  That’s all happening in group think, but then when it comes to the actual writing of the script or the writing of materials, whether it’s the outline or the scene, you’re spinning off and going and doing that stuff.  So the continuity of the movie, it started with J.J., Alex, Bob, myself  and even Bryan Burk, J.J. and Bryan are not credited writers but we’re all producers on the movie, the creative vision of the movie.  We all talk about what are the big picture story ideas that we want to reflect in the movie?   What is the story that we’re telling this time?   What’s happening with the characters, what’s happening in the story, what if any thematic feel are we going for here?   Let’s get all our ducks in a row on that stuff and you have those meetings and then you go off and riff off of them and then you come back and say, “O.K.  we’re now pitching the following storyline.” Then you pull some things out, make some things better, rubberstamp some things, and then you go off and repeat the process. 

When you go off its different permutations every time because Alex was directing People Like Us for a certain part of the period I just described to you, that was Orci and I doing the majority of that heavy lifting, then I would get distracted and Orci and Kurtzman would fill in the blank, then Bob would go off and then Alex and I would work together, and sometimes only just one of us would be working and so we generated the first draft of the script.  So literally I could not point to the script that we shot and say, “Oh, Bob wrote this scene, I wrote this scene or Alex wrote this scene, or I remember when the three of us wrote this scene.” By the time the movie gets shot every single person has weighed in on it multiple times and we reach a consensus.  Alex, Bob and I are getting screenwriting credit but obviously all of it is in service of J.J.’s vision as director.  He doesn’t take a writing credit, but he’s one of the primary storytellers in there too.  And I don’t think anybody is really precious about the idea.  Very often we get into disagreements about what should happen in a scene.  Always respectfully, it’s not like there are blue states and red states.  I think we’re all sort of aligned in terms of what it is we’re going for.  The thing we talk most about in terms of what is our allegiance to the original Trek?   What is our level of fandom?  You have Orci on one end of the pole where he’s read the novelizations in addition to seeing all of Voyager, DS9, Enterprise, all of the movies; everything.  And then ne step to the right of him is myself.  Well, multiple steps because I stopped watching; I’ve seen all of the original, Next Generation, some of DS9, but no Voyager, no Enterprise, no novelizations, and I stopped really going to the Trek movies after, probably Insurrection was the last one I saw.  Were there a couple after that?

star-trek-2-into-darkness-benedict-cumberbatchI’ve lost count of the Next Generation movies; there are like four.

Lindelof: Yeah, so there was First Contact then GenerationsFirst Contact may be the last on I saw.  I saw the one where they were with the Borg, that’s First Contact.

Yeah.

Lindelof: That’s probably the last one I saw.  Bob’s knowledge, particularly of the original series, which is probably the most important thing to have knowledge about for these movies, is second to none.  I can’t quote those episodes chapter and verse like he can.  Then you have Kurtzman and J.J. in the same kind of field of saw the original series and all the original series movies and liked them.  And then you have Bryan Burke who really had no entry point to Trek whatsoever; and he wants to stay that way so that he can be our bouncing point for the audience who has no inside knowledge of what proceeded.

I think we’ve proven that group the consensus on Star Trek- I’ve said to you many times how much I loved the first movie.  And I think whatever you did on the first one works, no reason to mix it up.  Did Paramount for anything to happen in the sequel or have any sort of requests?

Lindelof: No.  If they did, it wasn’t anything that I was aware of.  I think that we went in very early days and once we knew this is the movie that we want to do, we went in before we started writing it and we pitched Adam Goodman and Marc Evans, “Here’s the movie that we want to do.  Here’s what it’s about.  Here’s what happens in the movie.  These are the arcs and the major characters.  This is where we are at the end of this movie, what do you think?” They had a couple thoughts, but at the end were incredibly enthusiastic and they said, “Go.” Now do they give notes as you go along?  Of course they do, and their notes are in the spirit of making something that’s confusing more clear, or trying to understand motivational issues.  But never were there notes, “I don’t think you should do this.” Or “I think you should do this.  This movie needs to have an explosion every nine minutes.  This movie needs darkness in the title, etc, etc.” There were no mandates.  They pretty much let us do what we wanted, but that’s because they liked what we wanted to do.

How much in the writing process are you thinking about possible Easter eggs?  Or is it something that you start thinking about when you’re on set?

Lindelof: The majority of the Easter eggs are already embedded before we go into production.  I think that there are a couple things that along the way where you find an opportunity.  But I think the fans want to feel that that stuff had a lot of thought behind it and that we’re not being casual about referencing the original series or the Trek-verse.  And you have to do your homework especially because we started a new timeline.  You have to be very responsible about the sequencing of things because it’s not we can do whatever we want now.  Our timeline can’t really abberrate before the first movie where Nero basically destroyed the Kelvin.  So Kirk’s birth actually becomes the splitting point for the new universe and anything proceeding it in terms of Trek history you can’t really violate and you have to get a sense of- in Star Trek the original series they’re on the five year mission, they’re already on it.  Our crew is not necessarily caught up to where Kirk and Bones and Spock were, not even Chekov yet, when we first met them in the original series.  So if you’re going to do something you’ve got to do your homework.

Star Trek Red ShirtAre you guys going to try to top the redshirt death of the first film?

Lindelof: No comment.  Look, redshirts have become so proliferate in popular culture that it’s one of those things where it’s almost like in a Bond movie you know that Q is going to show up with gadgets, so now there is a reasonable expectation that redshirts are going to die and that’s the nature of it.  But if you’re too cutesy about it, it penetrates the reality of the movie.  So all I can say is you’re asking a very insightful question and much discussion was had about it.

I appreciate that answer.  There was a lot of comedy in the first movie.  How much can we expect this time considering the story does look darker?

Lindelof: We’ve been talking about this a lot and I think that certainly the marketing materials and the title of the movie are selling this idea of a darker Trek, but hopefully especially for the people who have seen the first nine minutes- a totally dark Trek is not Trek.  And I think that one of the things that the best iterations of Trek, whether it was episodes show or the movies that were highly successful, is that they were able to find a blend of those two things where the stakes were monumentally life or death but there were still moments of great humor.  Did we want to do The Voyage Home?  That is largely a comedic, fish out of water movie.  No pun intended, a whale out of water movie.  With strong comedy elements, but the stakes were saving the future, but the mechanics of the movies was that there was a lot of funny.  No, we wanted to do a very serious movie.  But when you look at the first movie you go, O.K.  the opening of the movie is that Kirk’s father dies and then the next sequence of events is basically a run up to Vulcan being destroyed and the fundamental aftermath of Vulcan being destroyed.  All of that stuff seems pretty dark to me and so I don’t feel like the first movie was necessarily light and frothy and I don’t feel that this movie abberates significantly from the first movie in terms of its own level of self-importance.  It’s still Trek.  I think that the ways that the characters relate to each other, even in times of immense stress can be humorous because several of them, particularly Bones, use humor as a coping mechanism for dealing with those immense stresses.  There were multiple times where we thought of something funny for someone to say and we were like that’s just not going to play in this moment.  And then the actor would say let me try it and see if I can sell it.  And we’re in the editing process now, so some of those jokes will live and some of them will die and some of them will be available on the Blu-ray and DVD.  Finding the balance has been important for us.  I don’t think anybody wants to see a dour Star Trek movie. 

Continued on Page 2




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