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.
- 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.”
- After 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?
Damon 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?
Lindelof: 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?
Lindelof: 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?
Lindelof: Yeah, so there was First Contact then Generations. First Contact may be the last on I saw. I saw the one where they were with the Borg, that’s First Contact.
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.
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.
I think that the first film nails it in terms of in the beginning you’re ready to cry, then through the middle you’re laughing with the crew. It has a great balance. Will be any nods for the fans who have read the comics or have played the upcoming videogame?
Lindelof: 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.
How did the script change, if at all, when Benedict Cumberbatch signed on?
Lindelof: Well, it changed in terms of anytime you cast any actor, even though you think that Kirk is a fixed thing and you’re not going to change him at all, when we cast Chris we rewrote the part to basically match up with what we viewed Chris was doing. Because these parts are not off the rack suits where you put them on and they fit like a glove. You make the suit and then the actor puts it on and then you say, “I’ve got to now tailor this thing so it fits them perfectly.” So Benedict was no different. The kind of actor that he is-
Which is spectacular.
Lindelof: Which is spectacular, necessitated a certain shift in just the way that the character was going to sound, you know? Our own inner ear for that character we were like, “O.K. we wrote this character John Harrison and this is what he said and this is what he did, but now we’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch playing him so let’s rewrite the movie with that in mind.” And that didn’t mean that John Harrison did anything differently, or it didn’t change the story in anyway, but it did change the words coming out of his mouth.
How early did you guys have the plot nailed down for the follow up?
Lindelof: What do you mean by how early?
As in when you guys were plotting the first movie did you guys at that time have this idea or a knowledge of where you wanted to go? Or was it that once the first one was a success then you started brainstorming?
Lindelof: While we were making the first movie there were certainly conversations about what a potential sequel would be and how closely tied to the first movie that it would be. For example, the idea of saying let’s just tie the second movie entirely to the destruction of Vulcan because that’s a big deal and many tributaries of story could flow out of that. Should we do that? Or should this in many ways feel like The Dark Knight where you need not have seen Batman Begins at all in order to understand the circumstances in which The Dark Knight opens. The Dark Knight opens much in the same way that Tim Burton’s Batman opens which is Batman is living in Gotham and he is an established figure there and he is beating up bad guys. This is an introduction to a new bad guy who is creating all sorts of problems for Batman. So if you’ve seen Batman Begins there are really no references back to it other than Rachael, and she’s been recast, so you understand that Maggie Gyllenhaal, or Rachael and Bruce have a relationship, but you may not have seen the first movie. In fact, maybe it helps you to attach to Bruce and Rachel’s relationship more if you haven’t seen the first movie, but in the third movie, Dark Knight Rises you have to have seen Batman Begins in order to make any sense of it whatsoever. I think the conversation that we were having is, we’re going to have to pay for what we did in the first movie because it’s a big deal. Do we want to pay for it now, or do we want to pay for it later? That was the first creative conversations that we had related to a potential sequel. Then the movie came out and it did well and Paramount wanted to make another one so we started to get excited about some of the ideas that we had and started developing them further.
In the first nine minutes and the little bit that they show at the end we can clearly see that some of the movie takes place on Earth and some of the movie takes place in space. Is there a big percentage of the movie that’s on Earth? Is it just a tiny percentage of it?
Lindelof: I don’t want to get into percentages of how much takes place on Earth and how much takes place off Earth, suffice to say I think one of the things we felt a lot of people didn’t know about Star Trek was that they didn’t think that Star Trek was the future. You take something like Star Wars; Star Wars is not the future. It’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and Luke Skywalker is not a human being and isn’t from the planet Earth. The idea in Star Trek, they are. 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.
I really like the beginning of the prologue, just the little touches in the hospital. You know just with the thing being pushed, little future touches, little J.J. touches.
Lindelof: Yes, indeed.
Now that all the characters have gotten to know each other in the previous movie, what was it like the write their interactions now? Are you pulling a lot from the previous cannon? Are you trying to create new stuff because it’s a new timeline?
Lindelof: Our guiding principle was that there was a certain level of excitement in that if the first movie was to use Mrs. Pacman terminology, “they meet”, the second intermission is going to be the falling in love part. The idea that the characters are all sort of getting to know each other, but don’t know each other all that well yet. Certainly Kirk and Bones have a relationship because we established that they met each other and were fairly close all though the academy. So those guys are tight, and were tight in the first and remain tight. But a lot of the others, especially now that Kirk is in command of these people as opposed to I’m the insolent rabble-rouser running around the ship trying to tell everybody what I think they need to be doing. Now he’s in charge. That was a very interesting dynamic to play with because, again, it wasn’t something that we’ve seen before. 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.
I cannot read star dates. I’m not nerd enough to do it.
Lindelof: Don’t look at me, talk to Bob Orci about it. Star dates drive me insane.
I don’t know what the ended star date was in the last movie, but you guys have clearly specified how much time has passed. So how much time has passed between the first and second movie?
Lindelof: Without any insular knowledge of star dates my understanding is that it’s roughly six months since the end of the first movie to the Nibiru mission of the new movie.
O.K. thank you. I knew some time had passed because they were obviously on a mission.
Lindelof: Yes, and it’s not their first mission.
Exactly. Are we going to see or talk about the long term impact of destruction of Vulcan? You mentioned earlier that that’s obviously a major thing, is that something you guys address? Or was that lets kick it down to another one?
Lindelof: It’s too specific of a plot question to answer, suffice to say we understood when we did it in the first movie that it was going to have a 9-11 level impact on that universe. In the same way that 9-11 happened over ten years ago, but we’re still talking about it and it still influences everything about our daily lives. Anytime you want to fly on a plane and you take your shoes off we’re still reliving that experience in a certain way. Anything that happens in our new timeline has to walk in lockstep with Vulcan was destroyed and what is the impact of that on the federation? And what is the impact of that on Spock? What is the impact of that on Kirk? What is the impact of that on the geo-politics of the galaxy itself? We had to enter in to it. How directly this movie relates to the destruction of Vulcan is not anything that we’re willing to talk about.
Lindelof: There was not a lot of debate. It was an idea that, of all the ideas that we had about the sequel and the movie, having Carol in the second movie was something that we all agreed was a good idea. The follow up question is how are we going to use her? What role is she going to play? Is she going to be a love interest for Kirk or something else? And what would that something else be? We have so many phenomenal characters and actors to service in this movie that it feels, on the surface, like it’s an embarrassment of riches, but in the actual execution of making a two hour and ten minute long movie, or however long this movie ends up being, you want to give the audience- you want to satiate their appetite for Bones, and Chekov, and Uhura, and Scotty, and Kirk, and Spock; so you’ve got all those guys to service and Pike from the first movie and obviously [Bruce] Greenwood is back for this one. The idea of introducing any new character, in addition to servicing Benedict, is going to take away from the screen time or storylines that are being connected to those other guys. So we had to look at Carol as, as opposed to she’s a new character that we want you to pay attention to, how can she interact with all those other guys in a way that doesn’t take away from them, but enhances them?
What did you learn from making the first movie that you tried to avoid in the second? And what things did you try to incorporate more of, if any?
Lindelof: It’s a great question but one of the things I’ve learned is there’s no lesson to be learned. You have to resign yourself to the fact that mistakes are going to be made at any time in the creative process and it’s a little bit of “An Appointment in Sammara” in that the more you go out of your way to not make a mistake you discover a whole new mistake. At the end of the day, right or wrong, you have to go with your gut on this is the movie that I would want to see. And like you said a fair amount of anxiety is taken off the table for me personally because of the collaboration. Because of writing with Bob and Alex, bouncing ideas off of Burk and most importantly the buck stops with J.J., he’s going to have to direct this movie. so if there’s something that all five of us are really psyched about, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be great, but it gives us confidence. The things that we were psyched about in the first movie, other people ended up being psyched about. There’s not much in the first movie that didn’t work, or that we regretted when push came to shove.
If you buy the DVD for 2009 Trek one of the things we found in the process of editing the movie was that here was just too much Nero. Nero had a whole story where he was basically taken to a Klingon prison planet and tortured, because we felt like we needed to account for his time in between the opening of the movie, the destruction of the Kelvin and when we re-experience him in the present-tense of the movie, prior the attack on Vulcan. And it turned out that we didn’t. So that idea of saying really even though we’ve got Benedict, who’s just incredible, the idea of using the force of antagonism to complement whatever conflicts and themes are happening amongst the crew that we know and love, that’s what we learned during the first movie and we try to apply again here. So the idea of, “Wait a second we just got Benedict Cumberbatch maybe we should write like five more scenes for that guy and understand a lot more about that guy.” That temptation was huge. From the moment that we not just cast him, but the moment that he came in and we started doing fittings with him we all became completely and totally enamored of Benedict and it was just like, “God, should we do that?” But from the first movie it was just, nope, always leave them wanting more.
For more on Star Trek Into Darkness, click here.