Bad Robot Producer Bryan Burk Exclusive Interview – STAR TREK
Posted by Frosty
Written by Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub
At the recent Los Angeles press day for “Star Trek”, not only did I interview the entire cast and director J.J. Abrams, I also got to speak with Bad Robot producer Bryan Burk.
While most of you have probably not heard of Bryan’s name, as one of the producers of Bad Robot’s movies and TV shows, he’s very involved in a lot of projects I like. Take a look at his IMDB resume; I think you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Anyway, since I had never read an interview with Bryan and I love most of what Bad Robot creates, I decided to sit down with him to find out how he got involved with the company, and also to talk about “Star Trek”, “Fringe” and “Lost”.
If you’re a fan of the shows, or just curious how some of them got made, you’ll like the interview.
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio of our interview by clicking here.
Collider: Let’s start with the basic stuff which is you look at your resume with “Bad Robot” and all this other stuff and you’re like the mysterious…you’re like the mystery guy behind the scenes. So talk a little bit about, if you don’t mind, how did you and J.J. first hook up.
Bryan Burk: Well, actually we’ve been friends for years. We’ve been friends since…it’s going on like 25 years because we made movies when we were kids and I was one of those kids who made Super 8 movies when I was a kid. He’s older than I am. A couple of years older as is Matt Reeves, and I first met Matt Reeves—we had a mutual friend—who said, “Hey you make movies? So does my friend, Matt. You have to meet him.” And we became friends and Matt and J.J. had met the same way because they made Super 8 movies when they were kids. And we soon met afterwards. It was right when they were going off to college and Matt went locally to USC so our friendship continued to blossom during that time and J.J. went back East to Sarah Lawrence, so we would only see each other like over the summers and really only started getting to be better friends after college when he was done. But suffice it to say, we’d always been friends and did not actually start working together until “Alias” when he was coming off of “Felicity” where he’d been running the show with Matt and then he was on “Alias” where he was spending so much time in the writers room that he didn’t have enough time to work on the cuts. It just became like an all-night affair. And usually it’s the directing producer who does all the cuts for the show or supervises the cuts until the show runner comes in and locks it. And the problem that first season is Ken Olen, who’s our directing producer, was directing something like 8 of the episodes, maybe more, which means he’s out for all those 8 plus prepping before you start shooting them. So he was in essence out for 16 of the episodes. And so J.J. asked me in kind of the middle of season 1 of “Alias” if I would come in and help him block cuts and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had no interest in television but you know, your friend’s asking. So I thought I would go in and I ended up staying and finishing out the season. And then we started talking about he had the idea…oh no actually it was the summer he started writing “Superman” so I was kind of his bounce-board that summer when he was just….it was hiatus so it was that summer when we were just hanging out everyday and he was like kind of working on this script. And then at the end of the summer as we were starting season two, he was like “hey, we should start a company” and I was like okay, but we never did. And it was just like something we always talked about doing and “Alias” went on in season one and then obviously then two and three. And then when “Lost” came about it happened so fast that we kind of quickly kind of put together kind of a shell of a company. It wasn’t the way we always dreamed of getting into features and television, but we like quickly expanded a little bit and we started developing some shows and “Lost” came to be. It was at that time that J.J. went off and started “Mission Impossible”. And it wasn’t until after “Alias” was done and “Lost” was up and running that we had made a deal for television at Warner Brothers and a deal for features at Paramount and really kind of set up the company as we had always talked about.
So in other words you’re trying to say that life has dictated some surprises?
Oh, it’s all crazy. You never know obviously what’s going to happen. And, in fact, “Lost” was born out of a late night meal. He was working on another script and it was like midnight and the head of the network had sent down this script that they’d been working on, that they’d been developing that wasn’t going. And pilot season had already started—this was 2004. This was late January 2004 and pilot season had already started. And I met J.J. and literally it was like midnight at this restaurant we always go to and he was working and I said, “What’s up?” and he said, “Oh Lloyd sent this script down. Take a look at it. I have to get back to him on it.” It was something he was interested in. To this day, J.J.’s never read it. I read half of it, okay and can see what the concept was and then we started having a separate conversation about like a show that I always wanted to do or something to that affect and he was like, “Well why can’t we do that on an island” and the next day—none of us were thinking about actually doing a show obviously—and he came in the next day and had conversations with some of our other “Alias” writers, you know Jeff McCurran and Jesse Alexander. Again, just fleshing out like when the head of the network calls, you have to call them back, okay? And J.J. said like, “Well you know if we did a show about people on an island it would have to be man against man, man against nature, man against the unknown or something vague like that”. In which case Lloyd was like “great. Let’s do a series” and that was a Friday. And J.J. was like “Well, I’m working on all these things. I don’t have time to just sit down and write it right now” and they’re like “Well, we’ll find you a writer”. Enter Damon Lindoff who showed up that Monday, who was sent that same script, and had the same reaction I did and started fleshing out ideas and he came in Monday morning and we instantly all fell in love with each other, or I can say for myself I fell in love with Damon, and it was just amazing. It was a few hour meeting like where he came in and started talking and he and J.J. instantly started riffing on ideas and he came every single day for that….he came Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—all those days, and was kind of fleshing out the idea and kind of typed up an outline and he and J.J. like kind of together fleshed out what it was. By the end of the week—turned it in Friday—a week later turned it in on Friday a week later turned it in and on Saturday Lloyd called all of us at home and said “You’re going to go make this pilot”.
I’ve heard a lot of aspects of this—not everything—which is crazy to me because the fact of how much I love “Lost” and how amazing the show is. It’s just fucking awesome. And the fact that it came together so suddenly like this just proves that some of the best ideas can happen in like lightening fast time.
Well, it happens in those things where you’re surrounded with people that have that same kind of passion and that same kind of taste and the same kind of excitement over something and again none of us really thought…this is all something we thought, yeah hey, maybe we’re doing a show. Okay? Like one day down the line. And keep in mind, as this was happening other shows were already casting. Like we didn’t have a script…we had nothing. And so the fact that it all came together was, as you said, you never know what’s going to happen but again, the best thing that came out of it more than anything else was our friendship with Damon and meeting him and the whole finding someone else who loves movies and television the way we all do.
Totally. I definitely want to get into “Star Trek” but I do have “Lost” question though.
We just locked the finale this week and I can humbly say, since I was obviously not a writer in it or anything to that affect, that people will not be disappointed.
I actually…what’s interesting and I don’t mean to put myself into this at all, but my roommate is obsessed with spoilers and I want nothing to do with them.
Your roommate will get nothing ever from me.
Yeah, no exactly. I want nothing. I don’t even watch the preview for next week. I don’t want to know anything. I want to go in completely surprised. Saying that, I don’t want to know a thing about the finale. I don’t even want to know about their series finale.
I’m telling you nothing.
Good. I don’t want to know. What I do want to know though is when the show is all over, is there going to be I don’t want to say like a wrap up or is there going to be some sort of thing for people who are the casual fans who didn’t understand certain things or whether it be, not the smoke monster or the polar bears which a lot have been explained, but there’s going to be little mysteries here and there that might not get answered.
I’m pretty sure but I’m saying this 17 episodes out, okay? But I’m pretty sure that everything will be answered.
Okay. That’s good enough for me.
Let’s move on to “Star Trek”.
So what was it like for you, were you a “Star Trek” fan growing up?
Not at all. I didn’t watch the series at all. J.J. references me always at the other end of the spectrum as the dumb guy. Okay? Who’s never seen…I didn’t see any of them, but there was a reason why I never watched it and we grew up on all the same things which were “Twilight Zone” and all those shows. And I never watched it because I remember vividly turning in to the show and it would come on and I wouldn’t know who these people were and they were just like talking and they were all standing on a bridge and I’d be like “I don’t know what the hell’s going on”. There was never an entry way for me into the show. Even in the sense that like “The Brady Bunch” at least said here’s the story of the lovely lady and I could say oh, okay and she had all these kids and they married and at least in the opening sequence I learned who all these people were every time I would watch an episode. And “Twilight Zone’s” were obviously all self-contained but “Star Trek” I didn’t know who these people were so I always felt like the dumb guy in the room which doesn’t take much, but I particularly didn’t understand like and wasn’t able to follow it and it wasn’t until the movie series that brought me to “Star Trek” because I was a “Star Wars” child. So it came afterwards. Here’s another big giant movie set in space and I remember going to the theatre, sitting down, watching it and the spectacle of seeing it but I remember all these characters came on and everyone in the audience applauded and I didn’t know who these people were that they were applauding for. So that was part of when we started talking about the beginning of this movie, the franchise never had, for me, which was an entryway and that’s why one of the reasons why doing the origins of Kirk and Spock really made sense for doing this movie is it felt for people who were not familiar with “Star Trek” there was a way in. And if you were familiar, it opened up a whole new layer of canon that had never been filmed before.
When you get the keys to the Ferrari, which is what the “Star Trek” franchise is, how daunting is it for everyone involved behind the scenes? Is there that moment that you’re like “Holy S…?”
Yes, I’ll tell you exactly what it was because it happened immediately, okay? Which was J.J. sent off an e-mail to myself, Damon, Alex and Bob that said we’re doing “Star Trek” shhhh. I think the subject heading was “shhhh.” And then it was like we’re doing “Star Trek”, okay? And as you could imagine, we were all like kind of giddy. But where it really started settling in is after the story was broken the very first two meetings we had, the first one was with Shatner and the second was with Nimoy and this was before we even talked to the studio. Like they had signed on, everyone agreed to it, we were working on the story and once we had the story the very first meetings before we talked to anyone else, were the two of them separately because you realize that after 40 years of a franchise unlike “Bond” there had only been one person to play Kirk and one person to play Spock and Kirk and you definitely wanted to talk to them about it. And at the time we desperately wanted to find a place for Shatner to be in the movie. We didn’t know how we were going to do it. And in fact there was, I think, scenes in it but they felt what they were which were like cameos and weird and they just didn’t work. But the idea that you’re sitting in a room and you’re pitching Kirk/Kirk and Spock/Spock stories and it was so out of body and weird and crazy and it’s just like Alex and Bob would be going through the story and they’d be like so Spock, you, would be….and it was just crazy. It was just like really, really weird. And you’d have other moments where you saw the Enterprise being build, which was a very surreal experience. And by then I started seeing the series and catching up and whatever so I suddenly became getting into “Star Trek”, so it was all very out of body and weird; particularly you suddenly realize you’re working on something that was so iconic in your childhood, even for me. Like all those terms. I remember it all and the idea that now you’re being allow to make it is very crazy.
Totally. My biggest thing is what I’m most confused about with the film is how was it so good when there was no whales and it’s not an even number?
How did Boston break the curse, okay?
I’m from Boston actually.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Like what are you talking about? They’re a great team. You know, it happens. Okay? Curses are meant to be broken.
It’s just very strange. I guess my next question or close to last question is, obviously critics around the world have seen this thing, they’re loving it. Everyone I’ve spoken to is loving it. There’s no doubt in my mind that this film is going to be a big, big hit.
Damn it, Steve. (he knocks on a desk)
Okay, sure. I’m pretty confident on this one. My question is obviously Paramount has hired Damon and Rob and Alex to come back and blah, blah, blah. If the film does as well as everyone thinks, how quickly do you think you guys would want to move forward, this is a big if, on going back into making a sequel. I mean, is it in the back of your mind? Are you guys all thinking this is such a good experience, you know?
Candidly we’re really not having conversations about the sequel yet because, you know…?
Oh it hasn’t come out yet. I totally get it.
It’s like naming your child before it’s born.
Sure, I get it.
You don’t want to jinx anything. And simultaneously I can tell you that the experience of working on this has been incredible. I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough in my short career that working on “Lost” with this cast coming together and the crazy experience of making it in 6 weeks or 11 weeks from that fateful conversation to the day we handed them the pilot and said “here it is”.
It’s crazy and it was just one of those amazing experiences and “Star Trek” was similar in the sense that to work on something where everyone gets along and everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s thinking this could be either a complete debacle, okay, or it could be something great that we’re all excited about. And to have it turn out something that we’re all really proud of and that we all love. We’ve been doing all the world marketing tours and going around spending a lot of time with the actor—totally on a social level and going around—and realizing…and it’s been months since we’ve seen them and how much we miss each other and how great it is to get back and do it again. I can’t tell you when we would jump in and start doing a sequel, if they allow us to, but I can tell you that we’re all chomping at the bit to work together again.
It’s nice when there’s no divas.
There are definitely no divas in our world, yeah.
And that’s really what it comes down to.
Yeah, yeah. There are no divas anywhere and everyone’s all….even having Leonard come on and work on “Fringe” like immediately there was like a window and the idea that we could keep working with Leonard and it was kind of a no-brainer that we’d have the opportunity to work with him even more was exciting.
I know I have to wrap up with you. I didn’t even talk about “Fringe” with you. Have you heard though if there is a 2nd season? Has it been green-lit?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s been official, but we also proceed until people tell us we can’t do anything anymore we just keep going forward.
Totally. I’ve got to wrap up but thank you so much for giving me your time today.
My pleasure. It was very nice meeting you.