Justin Lin Talks ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Timeline, Title, and ‘Into Darkness’ Plot Threads

     December 15, 2015

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Shortly after the first Star Trek Beyond trailer hit the web yesterday, I got to participate in a group interview with director Justin Lin at Paramount Studios. While he only wrapped shooting six weeks ago, with a July 22nd release date fast approaching, he’s hard at work editing his entry in the Trek universe.

While the Fast & Furious filmmaker could be a politician with the way he answered certain questions, he did reveal the Trek sequel takes place two and a half years into the five year mission and they don’t spend time talking about Khan, Carol Marcus, or other big plot points of the previous films. His entry focuses on the crew and their relationships. He said:

“I wanted to hopefully create an opportunity or a situation where we really see how they react to things and to each other. Those are things that even in all the years of watching Trek we had hundreds of hours with the movies of stuff with engagement, but in this timeline I wanted to hopefully create something where we can be on the five-year mission, we can hopefully explore and push, and introduce new species, and put them in situations where hopefully it then mirrors back and reflects about the exploration of humanity.”

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Image via Paramount

Regarding on how the title Star Trek Beyond came about, Lin revealed it was Simon Pegg who came up with it:


“It came from my initial conversation with J.J. He kinda tracked me down and we’re talking and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe he’s offering to go shoot a script that existed, and he said, “No, it’s yours. Go and be bold, and just take it. Be bold and make it what you think you would do to Star Trek,” and the more we talked about it the more we kept saying, “Well, let’s keep pushing, let’s keep pushing,” and that’s when Simon kinda said, “Well, it should be Star Trek Beyond,” and it was his idea and it kinda came from all our conversations and then we looked at each other and like, “Oh! That sounds like the title of this film.””

Unlike the Fast and Furious movies where he felt the 3D was a money grab, Lin is designing Star Trek Beyond with 3D in mind:

“In this case, I felt like, especially with space and the depth, I think you get a different experience going 3D, so it’s definitely been kind of designed into it, and I feel like in the nature in how some of these shots are constructed, I would want to see it in 3D, you know? But it will definitely be a bit of a different experience in watching this movie 2D. So that was definitely taken into account. I don’t think I would have agreed to 3D if it was just, again, to like milk people for more money. I just don’t think that’s right.”

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Image via Paramount Pictures

With 2016 being the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, Lin has a lot of pressure to deliver something special. But after seeing what he did with the Fast and Furious franchise and spending a day on set while they were filming in Vancouver, I’m extremely confident he’s crafting something cool and fun and something both fans and newbies to Trek will enjoy. I can’t wait to see the finished film next summer.


Until then, here’s an abridged version of the fifty minute interview that was done yesterday at Paramount.

Before getting to the interview, if you missed the first Star Trek Beyond trailer, I’d watch that first.

Question: I definitely want to ask about getting the Beastie Boys in the trailer.

Justin Lin: It’s in the DNA of this canon it was in the ’09 Trek, and I think…For me it was not… I wanted to make sure, I mean, we went through different iterations of the teaser and I wanted to make sure that whatever we did here it’s using all the elements that’s in the film. So it’s been a part of this Kirk’s journey, so I felt like it was very organic in ultimately the finished film.

Is that the song in the movie?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: Well, like I said, I’m using elements that are part of the film and I wanted to make sure we didn’t do anything that is just trying to pump something else in to kinda…you know, it’s a two-hour movie, we have a minute and a half, and I looked at different versions and there are more traditional ways of presenting it and I think the one thing was that when I came on this my level of engagement in Trek came from…I didn’t even realize how emotional it was until, like, the first day I went, it was in preproduction I walked into the hallway of the Enterprise and, like, it just kind of hit me, and it’s been a big part of me. My level of engagement was really from 8 to 18. I watched Trek at 11 p.m. on channel 13 with my dad. He worked all day, closed shop at 9, and we had dinner at 10 and watched Trek. And so a lot of that is trying to hopefully create something that embraces the essence of Trek for me, but then Simon [Pegg] has a very different level, you know, and Doug [Jung] also has a very different…so it was awesome to get in there, to have those collaborators and have that discourse of how we were going to craft this movie. I mean, Simon, he knows everything about Trek and it’s great to really have those guys with me the whole way.

I’ve always thought if I had a chance to do a Star Trek, and in a way when J.J. [Abrams] called me, it was kind of that question I had to answer for myself. I didn’t plan on doing a Star Trek movie. There was a big price to pay for me personally. I was ready to go do my L.A. Riots movie and for me to kinda walk away from that was a big deal, and I had to really kind of look within myself and say, “Okay, well, this is an opportunity. What would that be?” And, again, I think it’s 50 years. It was around before I was born, and so, for me, I think that at its core I felt like on this chapter if we could kind of deconstruct Trek on different levels and then hopefully reaffirm why it’s great then we can maybe send it off and they’ll have a long run after this, and that to me was kinda on a more cerebral sense, you know, I feel like that was kinda the mission here on this one. And, again, the schedule was insane and I felt on the whole level having Doug and Simon and the crew and the cast, it felt like a big indie movie because if you weren’t passionate, if you didn’t have a connection to this franchise, then you shouldn’t be a part of it, and that was kinda the mantra when I signed up, and our point of views, our level of engagement are all very different, but I think we always had, whether it’s walking around the production office, that level of engagement, that discourse was always welcome and I think ultimately it’s gonna get infused into the film.


It seems a little bit to me that you’re taking everybody in the crew out of their — the crew of the film not the crew on the set — out of their comfort zone, at least from the set-up that I’ve seen in the trailer. You take away their ship, you kind of put them out in the wild. Was that the core idea that spoke to you about doing something different with the…?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: At the most basic level when you talk about deconstruction, I feel like that’s a very literal interpretation, but I also felt like it’s going through that journey. J.J. [Abrams] did such a great job of putting all these people together, but I wanted to hopefully create an opportunity or a situation where we really see how they react to things and to each other. Those are things that even in all the years of watching Trek we had hundreds of hours with the movies of stuff with engagement, but in this timeline I wanted to hopefully create something where we can be on the five-year mission, we can hopefully explore and push, and introduce new species, and put them in situations where hopefully it then mirrors back and reflects about the exploration of humanity. I think that’s important.

What are some of the themes that you guys are working with here?

Lin: Well, I mean…the other thing is just having someone like Idris [Elba] join. I feel very fortunate and it’s something I felt like we had to…you know, i wanted to create a situation where, anybody that joins us, we have to earn our keep. You know, I’m the new guy, but when he came in he had a lot of projects, so when I talked to him about this character, it’s not just about this or that, it’s about building it and having a philosophy and a point of view. And I like his character because his character is really challenging the way of The Federation’s philosophy and there’s just a lot of things that I think when I was growing up I wanted to see. I’m sorry, I don’t know if I answered your…

Well, his line in the trailer, “this is where the frontier pushes back,” is maybe a little literal in the way he’s reacting to the federation.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: Yeah, but also I think, as you’ll see, he’s a character that has a very distinct philosophy that’s very different than…I think it’s great being a fan and a lot of times I watch Utopia, East San Francisco, and I always feel like, “Oh wow.” When you’re building this movie, you’re like, “So they don’t have money. How do they live? How do they compete?” And those are things that I think his character in a way has a very distinct and valid point of view.

How close are the shots in the trailer to being done? How did you decide to reveal the action set piece you showed in the first trailer? Because you pretty much show the Enterprise getting destroyed in the trailer.

Lin: Six weeks ago I was in Dubai. [Laughs] So these shots usually take six, seven months just to do it. So, again, there are a lot of people in dark rooms around the clock and I’m in there and we’re talking and were building. Around the world everybody’s trying to get this, and so we knew that this was going to be the first time anybody was going to see [it] and there was going to be a lot of eyeballs on it. What’s our interpretation? How are we going to enter? How am I going to enter into this franchise?


The Enterprise being taken down is a big piece of the film. Like you said, there’s a lot of other ones, but I felt like a lot of times when you see that, even in Star Trek, you think of it as maybe second act, you know? I don’t mind sharing that. I think that’s a point of initiation, and I’d love for everyone to hopefully engage on that level and let’s see where we can go.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: I wanted to hopefully create a situation where it’s organic in putting these characters in situations where they have to react, a lot of the time off of each other and also to whatever predicament they’re under.

Did it take any convincing to get Idris to cover up his whole face in the film?

Lin: I’ve worked with some really great people, and Idris just immerses himself and I really enjoyed working with him because it’s all about the character and what’s best for the character’s journey in the film, so…I mean, the only thing that sucked was that he took four hours every time we had to get him on set, but other than that, it was great. It was a pleasure working with him.

In terms of Trek movie villains, especially the Next Gen. ones, common problem there is you have a villain coming in with a doomsday weapon, and you gotta stop a ticking clock and him. And that kind of like deflates some of the fans’ reactions to some of those films. How conscious were you guys of that and trying to shape Idris’ role and maybe going in a different direction than the previous films?

Lin: I mean, a lot of times, it’s kind of plot vs. character. I think the one thing that, for me, the way the process here is being very clear and hopefully engaging on every character. So it was either Idris or Sofia…it was a lot of time spent on dealing with them and having those point of views. I think without those point of views then you’re just kinda serving plot…When someone is really kinda challenging the way of life, the way The Federation might see how we should act, I mean, I could see that there could be a valid, whether right or wrong, there’s a valid philosophy, and that’s the point of entry.

In Into Darkness, we saw The Federation is a little corrupt. I was wondering if we sort of see it continuing on in this direction or is it just sort of being scaled back and show a more utopia this time?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: There was no conscious effort. I think it was just really embracing the idea that The Federation…For me, what would happen if you’re going on a five-year journey and you’re trying to also not only explore but also maybe introduce other people to this way of thinking? What would that mean? What are the consequences to that? Spreading a philosophy that you believe in, that you think is great, are there gonna be any other points of views that are going to counter you? It’s easy to preach what The Federation is about and how you’re supposed to act, but what happens when that gets stripped away? Who are you? That’s something that I was excited to explore.


Are you going to address how they cured death at the end of Into Darkness and possibly leaving behind some other things?

Lin: I don’t know if we’re leaving it behind, and Simon and Doug and I definitely have spent some time on that. [Laughs] But you know at the same time I feel like Star Trek has been around 50 years and I’m excited to be a part of it but I’m also excited to be a participant but hopefully to see where it’s gonna go, and I think every filmmaker that comes on has a different point of view and it’s a big universe. It could support many different points of views and journeys and adventures, and so I totally embraced what J.J. brought ahead of me because without him this whole group wouldn’t have been together. So I’m definitely very appreciative of that and to have the opportunity to kind of build on that. It definitely now exists. I think the people that really care, you can’t ignore that, but at the same time, do we address that? I don’t discount it. We don’t sit there and say it doesn’t exist. It’s part of this universe now.

Do you see real world parallels in the themes you are exploring in Star Trek Beyond?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: Star Trek has a very 1960s sensibility of who has the bigger ship usually wins, right? And if you look at it, the attack [on The Enterprise in the trailer], these ships are 40 feet long, but there’s like 4,000 of ‘em, and so I think even in the way they’re being encountered and how people are coming, you can’t help but…

There are some obviously direct callbacks to Kirk in the first movie with the Beastie Boys song and the motorcycle. Can you tell us basically a bit of how his arc maybe in this film mirrors where he’s come from?

Lin: It definitely…it’s a big part. if you think of how in this timeline how Kirk engaged and joined Starfleet, and then you’re going in on a five-year journey, you’re two-and-a-half years into it, I think some existential issues are gonna, it’s gonna very obviously gonna pop up. I think, if I was in his shoes, I would have those and I think we do try to kind of answer, and I think that was one of the challenges. When you make…you try to make a film that’s based on a franchise that was on a TV show that’s been around for 50 years, where else can you take these characters? And so that was one of the…for me that was a great find. Without that find I don’t think I would have done it. It is about why is Kirk doing what he’s doing? We assume, when we watch it on the TV show, that that’s just something he did, but I wanna know why, and are you going to continue? Are you going to…what’s the reason? Why do you do what you do? Great, you can go out and talk about how great The Federation is and be a part…whatever. But why are you part of it?

Once I was really happy with the inciting incident, I wanted to stay true to all the characters. So this was not one where…I really feel like, at least on this chapter, it wasn’t about like, “Hey, let’s do all these things.” It was about, “Okay, what at its core” — I want to hopefully experience and hopefully we can share, and then at that point let’s really be honest with every one of these characters and to make sure they have hopefully enough real estate in that journey so that we can all kind of engage so that hopefully it sets it up so that later on you see a lot more of whatever characteristics that drew you to these characters.

From this teaser trailer, it kind of looks like an old Trek episode where they get stuck on a planet. Is the whole story like that? Is it this contained, like, them getting stuck on a planet and…?

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Image via Paramount Pictures


Lin: Well, I don’t know how contained. Even if it’s a planet, it’s a big planet.

Will any follow up to Khan or Carol Marcus be addressed in the film?

Lin: We pick ‘em up about two-and-a-half years after the end of Into Darkness, but I…there was many iterations where we did go and explore. At the end of the day, I just felt we’re two-and-a-half years in…I mean, it is really interesting. What we shot and what’s going to be in theaters, it’s pretty…volume, I mean, quantity wise it’s quite a bit, but then to be honest I actually had even more beyond that, so that’s something that we definitely talked about and worked on. I didn’t think it was — at least in the presentation of this film — it didn’t quite fit in. I mean, it’s probably there with the transport…

Due to the budget the movies have to appeal to a wide audience while the TV shows can appeal to a smaller segment of the population.

Lin: Well that’s the thing. Again, it kind of goes back to this earlier question of kind of this idea of alien species. I’ve always been fascinated by them when I watched Star Trek, but I think a lot of times they end up just kind of falling behind and, aside from Vulcans and Klingons and stuff, they’re just around, and so I thought one of the great things is what if we can create a character that’s compelling that could be a part of this film and maybe, you know, let’s see where this character can take us, and so what was really great about this process, as we were creating it, I was also looking and when Sofia came in I saw her audition and I was like…it was great because I felt like I found the character but I also can use what her strength is to help build the character because it was just the way this process was, and so the next time I had her in makeup and she came in for a screen test, it was like boom. That was great, and who she is I think, as a filmmaker, I’m using a lot of what I love about the strength of Sofia and her personality to kind of help build the character.

Did you approach this more like an episode where this is a story that is told here or did you approach this as more like what happens here will inform the next six pictures?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: No, I keep kinda telling everybody we’re doing the Gattaca thing where, just swim as hard as we can to the buoy and figure out how to swim back later.

What does the title Star Trek Beyond mean to you and how did that come up?

Lin: It came from my initial conversation with J.J. He kinda tracked me down and we’re talking and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe he’s offering to go shoot a script that existed, and he said, “No, it’s yours. Go and be bold, and just take it. Be bold and make it what you think you would do to Star Trek,” and the more we talked about it the more we kept saying, “Well, let’s keep pushing, let’s keep pushing,” and that’s when Simon kinda said, “Well, it should be Star Trek Beyond,” and it was his idea and it kinda came from all our conversations and then we looked at each other and like, “Oh! That sounds like the title of this film.”

Where are you in the editing process right now?

Lin: I’m in the middle of it. Yeah. We have a good cut already. I mean, it’s six weeks and I’m having a great time. Again, you know, I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I don’t really have to do anything I don’t want to. I don’t have to work with people that I don’t want to, so whether this works or not, I mean, it’s on me. The accountability is on me. I love the crew that came together. Everyone’s working really hard and it’s because everyone loves what they’re doing. We’re six weeks in right now and it’s a tight schedule, especially when you’re doing outer space and stuff, but what I already love is that a lot of the stuff we talked about…I mean, I can’t believe it’s only been, you know, like 10 months, but everything that we talked about, the cast has been incredible and kinda of bringing that to life.


Was it tempting as a Star Trek nerd to load in all the cameos that you could think of?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: [Laughs]There are a lot of talks and a lot of — I got a lot of calls with offers of people wanting to come in…

Oh, volunteering to be in it?

Lin: Yeah, but it was one of those things that I just didn’t — i appreciated it but it would’ve taken away from the film.

Did you design this movie with 3D in mind?

Lin: They always come to me — even the Fast movies — saying can we do 3D, and I just felt like there was this kind of…you’re just trying to milk people for more money, and so I resisted. I was like, “No. No way.” In this case, I felt like, especially with space and the depth, I think you get a different experience going 3D, so it’s definitely been kind of designed into it, and I feel like in the nature in how some of these shots are constructed, I would want to see it in 3D, you know? But it will definitely be a bit of a different experience in watching this movie 2D. So that was definitely taken into account. I don’t think I would have agreed to 3D if it was just, again, to like milk people for more money. I just don’t think that’s right.

What’s the status of the Spock-Uhura relationship

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Lin: I think what we’re doing is appropriate to the two-and-a-half years sense, and they’re definitely…I feel like, especially coming on…it’s a continuation in a way and I don’t want, again, to just ignore things and act as if they don’t exist. So there’s definitely an acknowledgment and their relationship is consistent, I feel, to what was built before.

Are you already thinking about possibly directing more Star Trek movies?

Lin: I’ll never say never, but I’ve had a great time. I, also, I’m getting older and there’s a lot of stuff I wanna do. I didn’t plan on doing this, and so…but I also feel like that’s the right way to enter something is to not be strategic and like, “Oh, this’ll be good for me or this.” Just because I love it and when I met Simon and Doug I realized I wanna work with these people. I met the cast, I’m like, “I wanna be a part of this.” Again, coming from the indie world, that’s the best way to make a movie, and anything less it’s just painful. So, I’ve been very lucky to kinda have that journey and I’m not looking for anything else…I feel fortunate to be a part of this, but I am itching. I have a lot of things I wanna do and I’m not getting any younger.


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Image via Paramount Pictures

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Image via Paramount Pictures


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