We’re back today with the second half of our EXCLUSIVE interview with Star Trek 3 writers Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, where we discuss writing with director Roberto Orci, the involvement of producer J.J. Abrams, listening to fan feedback, and more!
TREKCORE: You mentioned all the different kinds of things Star Trek does well – and after Into Darkness used so many of the iconic Wrath of Khan moments, to varying degrees of success – we have to say that the biggest question people are asking is if you looking at a standalone story for the next film, or if are you trying to tread closer to an existing Trek plot.
J.D. Payne: Well… we’re trying to make the best Star Trek movie we can. That’s probably the easiest way to answer that one. The first two films did really, really well, and they really brought Star Trek to a much larger audience. It sort of expanded the tent a little bit out into pop culture, and put it out into the public consciousness a little more than it might have been with the previous incarnations.
The first two have now set us up to be out on the ‘five-year mission,’ to go out and have the coolest adventures we can come up with.
TREKCORE: When you went in to pitch to Bad Robot, did you have to tailor your story idea to any particular expectations of points to follow up from the first films? Were there any must-have things that HAD to be in there?
Patrick McKay: The 2009 film is very much an origin story, and Into Darkness is very much the “Okay, we’ve got the team together, but they’re still young, let’s have them face a really formidable threat” sequel – and that movie ends with them going off on the five-year mission out in space, so that points to where the next one would go.
We’re very much thinking about a movie that would stand alongside the first two, in a general sense, but more specifically, I would say that in working with our wonderful co-writer Roberto Orci, it began very much as a conversation. “Well, what would you guys like to see in the movie?” “Is there an area we all want to explore?” Nothing was off the table – all along, it’s been about the coolest, best movie we can write. There’s no sort of requirement saying we have to do this or that, I think it’s very much been a blank canvas.
J.D. Payne: What we keep on coming back to is the basic credo of Star Trek, that opening prologue you hear at the beginning of each Original Series episode. That’s our mantra for what we’re trying to accomplish here.
TREKCORE: Speaking of Bob Orci, now that your co-writer is also set to direct the sequel, has that changed the overall story development process?
J.D. Payne: It doesn’t change things as much as things are enhanced by it. We have a process that we’ve developed over the seventeen years we’ve worked together. We have this yarn we’re spinning back and forth, and we walk around outside with people thinking we’re crazy as we’re going down the street, brainstorming a mile a minute.
We make it work verbally, and then once we’ve got the pitch down to be able to tell each other the full story, one of us will take a stab at writing a part of it, and the other will write another part. We end up with a treatment that hits critical mass, and once that’s at a point that feels right, we go to the page and then a lot of things in that treatment get reworked.
That’s just the process we developed working with the two of us – and adding in Bob to make three of us felt totally natural. Bob couldn’t be more of a gentleman, or any more awesome with how collaborative he is. There’s really no sense of a hierarchy, and what really best serves the story is the idea that ends up winning the day. We’ll toss around all kinds of things and have a lot of fun.
Patrick McKay: It’s very much like having one more leg to stand on – a collaborator who brings an enormous amount of experience, talent, and ideas, all things that he can teach us. It’s been a very natural collaboration. As far as the directing aspect of it goes, here’s what’s great: when you’re writing a script – whether it’s a story J.D. and I are working on together, or as in this case, collaborating with Bob – there’s always the possibility that down the road, a director will come on board and have different instincts about the film.
The fact that it’s going to be Bob is just great, and it means we can be emboldened to really embrace the ideas we’re all passionate about, because that’s going to be the movie, hopefully.
TREKCORE: Could you give us an idea about J.J. Abrams’ involvement with the film, since he’s so heavily tied to Star Wars: Episode VII over the next year?
Patrick McKay: Oh, sure. Bad Robot, J.J., and his team are really at the heart of this movie’s development. They are the guiding light by which we all do our work.
J.J.’s been a key part of helping us spin this tale from the beginning, and if there are people who think that we’ve lost him to Star Wars this time around, that’s not the truth as far as we see it.
TREKCORE: Back in February, J.D., you talked about an expected script development timeline – now that filming is set to begin next spring, how are things progressing? When do you expect the screenplay to be completed?
J.D. Payne: Well, the answer is always “As quickly as possible!” (laughs) We’re pushing things forward and feeling really good about how things are coming out. Once the three of us have gone through it, we’ll then take it to the producers and of course, the studio. That’s all part of the creative process with this big team that’s making the movie together. We can’t say that it will be done on some specific date…
Patrick McKay: It’s an ongoing, fluid process – but the train is moving, fear not!
TREKCORE: Obviously, there won’t be anything official on this for several months, but we’ve had people tell us that the title Star Trek 3 should be reserved for The Search for Spock – could you share any kind of working title that you might be using?
Patrick McKay: Well, we’d love to… (laughs) Look, we have several – but the way these things work is that you build a list and kick around ideas to see what sticks, and sooner or later, a consensus is built… and we’re just too far away from that right now. If we were to tell you any of the ideas we’ve been thinking about, well, we’d just be giving it too much of the spotlight.
TREKCORE: Both of the previous films had official comic ‘prequel’ stories leading up to each release – and Bob Orci has been credited as a ‘story consultant’ on the ongoing monthly comic series. Do you expect to have a hand in crafting a similar comic tie-in for Trek 3?
J.D. Payne: We love the Star Trek universe and hopefully, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, this will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
TREKCORE: Have you paid much attention to the fan reactions online to the previous two films as you shape your script? A lot of discussion has revolved around some of the more controversial elements of the new timeline, like how Kirk was promoted right up from the Academy being captain of the Enterprise in the first movie.
Patrick McKay: Let me ask, did that bother you? Do you agree with those sentiments?
TREKCORE: Well, it’s a bit questionable to have Kirk go from what is essentially a college student to being the in charge of this massive operation aboard a starship. That’s a bit of a leap.
J.D. Payne: In some ways. It’s interesting – Star Trek often reflects the cultural milieu in which it’s being created, which is one of the reasons it’s such an enduring franchise and can speak so freshly to each generation.
Some cultural historians define Millennials, speaking in terms of archetypes, as part of a rising ‘hero’ generation. Millennials are often very willing to dive into complex crises and take them on even without lots of experience. They’re got a sort of brash kind of confidence, so, generationally, you could look at the first film as simply reflecting the culture and characteristics of the rising generation.
TREKCORE: Do you use any of the online fan feedback to sort of guide yourself through the waters, so to speak?
Patrick McKay: Well, look – there’s always some sort of conversation about any kind of creative pursuit. The writer, or director, or painter, or whatever is going to create what they create, and then there are going to be responses to that.
One thing that J.D. and I talk about a lot when it comes to the online world of instant critical response to something that may have taken five years and untold man-hours to produce is most helpful when it’s in the “Yes, and…” category. To explain a little bit more about what I mean — in collaborating, all the time J.D. and I write something, the other guy reads it, and maybe he doesn’t like it – even if you loved it and thought it was maybe the best thing in the world.
But what we’ve found is that the worst way to respond is just “No.” That sort of ends the creative process right there. But if you can respond with a “Yes, and…”, saying, “Yes, these things I like, and I think this other part should go like this,” then those are the most helpful kinds of constructive feedback.
The more considered fan responses become the things that we would probably listen to the most. As for those kind of nay-saying kind of comments like “This isn’t MY Star Trek!”… you know, I think that’s a real minority.
TREKCORE: It does seem that with nearly every entertainment product, there is always some vocal minority broadcasting the thing’s perceived flaws louder than everyone else, especially online; out of ninety people who might enjoy something, there’s always ten other guys yelling over the rest – whether it’s about Trek or some other film or television show. It’s not always easy to see the more calm, critical discussions between the shouting matches.
J.D. Payne: Yeah, and that’s really pretty indicative of our cultural conversation right now. You see – and not to wade into politics – but with the way communication is changing, it makes it more difficult for people to actually have a real civil conversation. That’s what’s we’re about.
We take in all the information around us that we can, we read what fans are saying, we think about our own instincts, we go back to the Original Series, we talk with Bob, we talk with J.J., we talk with everyone else involved with the project… you put it all into one big soup and serve the best meal you can.
TREKCORE: Finally – 2016 is a big year for the franchise, and that’s surely weighing a bit on the development for the film. Are you guys trying to include a sort of “50th Anniversary spirit” in your story? With some of the other big anniversaries, there were a number of crossover events between the television shows, that kind of thing, to draw attention to the milestones.
Patrick McKay: Well, look at Skyfall – that was an anniversary movie, like a 50th anniversary movie, and it was of course very successful and very well liked. I didn’t know anybody who didn’t really enjoy it, and what was cool about that movie is that it felt like the ‘ultimate’ James Bond film.
While it wasn’t necessarily overly-reliant on references to previous Bond movies, I think it ties into what you were asking earlier about if Trek 3 is going to be a standalone tale. I think the idea of doing an ‘ultimate’ Star Trek movie for the anniversary year is a really nice ambition to have, but…
J.D. Payne: (laughs) We’re really not trying to talk ourselves up too much here!
Patrick McKay: That’s why I said ‘ambition!’ (laughs) It’s going to be the best Trek movie we can think of.
We’re the guys who are the fans that will be waiting in line for the midnight showing – although we’re into our thirties now, so we’ll probably be at the matinee showing the next day instead! But as we walk into this playground and see all the opportunities and characters available to our imaginations, we’re really asking ourselves “What’s the Star Trek movie that we’d be most excited about?”
Hopefully, it’s going to be one that will get a lot of other people excited about it too.
Our thanks go out to Patrick and J.D. for taking the time to speak with us – and
we look forward to checking in with them again as ‘Star Trek 3’ draws nearer.
It’s your turn now, readers! Let’s hear what you think about these Trek newcomers after hearing about them in their own words? Do you have any burning questions we didn’t address? Sound off in the comments below!
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