Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are being called the ‘boys of Summer’ for their involvement in this season’s Star Trek, The Proposal, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which opens tomorrow. TrekMovie check in with the pair to talk bout their Transformers follow-up (and to get a little update on what’s next for Star Trek).
INTERVIEW: ROBERTO ORCI & ALEX KURTZMAN ON TRANSFORMERS (AND TREK TOO)
TrekMovie.com: You guys initially resisted doing a sequel for Transformers, what changed your mind?
Alex Kurtzman: We never want to do a movie just because the movie that came before it was successful. We only want to do a movie when we feel we have a story to tell and I think we invest so much of ourselves in the film making process, from the beginning to the end, that we have to love it on every level, in order to do that. We didn’t immediately see what the sequel idea was. We took some time to think about our favorite sequels, and why we love them. Some of the movies that came up were Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, Aliens, Terminator 2, Wrath of Khan of course, and when we started looking at the common denominators, all the movies stood on their own, apart from the first one. You didn’t have to see any of the first movies, to see how good the sequels were. And number two, there was some very intense emotional trial that the main character goes through in those movies, be it: Superman gives up his powers for love, Kirk losing Spock, "Luke, I am your father", Ripley being driven by motherhood in Aliens…until we had that key emotional idea that we felt we could hang the movie on, we didn’t want to do it. And when found it, we knew we would have the confidence to build on it.
TrekMovie.com: You threw out some names of a lot of big movies. There is a kind of a meme that second entries for genre and comic book movies are often the better movies, did you feel that pressure to one up yourselves?
Alex Kurtzman: Definitely. But you have to one up it in story, and not just in spectacle. We rely on Michael [Bay] for the spectacle. We know he will push the technology even further than the first and be a genius at that. But for us it was: what is the truly emotional trial we can put Sam through.
Bob and Alex wanted Transformers 2 to have an emotional key like other sequels
Roberto Orci: In additional to all of that was working with Ehren Kruger, who was so excited to come in and brought a fresh energy, that it got exciting again and got our creative juices flowing.
TrekMovie.com: How did working with a third writer work with your process?
Roberto Orci: We have done it before, we wrote Mission 3 with JJ [Abrams] and obviously with TV, you are always collaborating. We always use musical analogies and while it is usually me and Alex on guitar and drums, when we write with someone else it is guitar, drums and a keyboard, it doesn’t change what we are doing.
TrekMovie: What did Ehren bring to the sequel
Alex Kurtzman: Ehren is a fantastic writer on his own and has made ten movies. We knew that we would have to dig deeper into the Transformers mythology in this one and there would be an expectation, certainly from fans, that we would know more about the robots. And Ehren had been pouring through Transformers lore and had culled the right ideas and so we took the big emotional idea that we had and a lot of the plotting that Ehren had and found a way to marry them.
TrekMovie.com: Speaking about that mythology, the first film felt like it was about a war amongst alien robots playing out on Earth. This time there are links to ancient Egypt and more. Is there an attempt to make this more about us Earthlings, with the mythology tied to our history?
Roberto Orci: Yes. That was always part of the G1 (Transformers Generation 1) idea, that Transformers had crash-landed here in prehistoric time. We didn’t exactly stick to that, but there is a rich history of they’ve been here a long time and they are somehow wrapped up in our ancient history.
Alex Kurtzman: We are trying to stay true to the spirit of a story that delves into the idea of going beneath the surface of both the history of the Transformers and our own race. The thing Optimus Prime is always talking about is how similar our races are, and the idea is that there is a reason for that.
Transformers 2 ties the mythology to ancient Earth history
TrekMovie.com: For these movies, there seems to be a big amount of fan interest in what Transformers make it in and which ones don’t. How do you make that cut?
Alex Kurtzman: It is a mix actually. Our side of it is that we end up putting in Transformers that fit into the story. Certainly there some that we wanted in the first that we couldn’t put in, that we ended up getting in the second. The decision is about how we can do it organically. There is also a mandate from both Hasbro and the car companies to put certain robots in. What we say to them is ‘great, if we can find a way to do that in a way that makes sense, then let’s do it.’ And Michael certainly is very specific about the kind of cars he likes to put on screen and how he wants to use them.
TrekMovie.com: You guys are also creating a lot more of your own new Transformers for this one. Is it more fun for you to branch out and create your own characters instead of just using the original characters?
Roberto Orci: Not particularly.
Alex Kurtzman: I think weirdly we always find a way to love who ever we are writing about. Certainly, it was not hard to find ways to love Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. So we feel a lot of ownership over the direction of those characters already. So we don’t make a huge distinction between them and the new ones, but that said, Optimus has a voice that was distinct and pre-established that we did not want to veer away from.
Roberto Orci: Michael also pushed us to do new things. He feels he wants to surprise people.
TrekMovie.com: The Fallen is a character from the Transformer mythos. How does The Fallen play into this film?
Alex Kurtzman: I think we always saw The Fallen as a Lucifer story. He was an angel who fell and turned against the others, and that is how we reflected him in the movie.
TrekMovie.com: In the first film the human characters are much more in the forefront than they were in the 80s cartoons. But in this one you promised more robots. So are the human characters moving to the background? How do you keep the right mix to keep it a human story?
Roberto Orci: There is less human characters in this one, but those that are there are still important. Sam Witwicky and Mikaela are still the key part of it, but it is a more balanced thing because we don’t have as many human stories than we did in the first one because it was predicated on it being a mystery, with various people reacting to the secret of the Transformers. Now we know who they are from the beginning, so the robots are a bigger part of the story.
Alex Kurtzman: Even though they are robots in disguise, you can’t hide them from the audience, because they have seen it. It is still very much Sam Witwicky’s story and our reason for doing it has to do with that, but there is more to it.
Transformers 2, still Sam and Mikeala’s story
TrekMovie.com: Well getting to that, in the first film, I felt that only Bumblebee and Optimus Prime felt fleshed out as characters, for the robots. Is there an attempt in this one, as much as you can in a summer movie about giant robots, do robot character development?
Roberto Orci: Yes, as a function of there being more time with and we didn’t have to convince the studio that you can have scenes with Transformers without any humans in them.
TrekMovie.com: Looking back at the first film, there was a lot of broad humor, like the robot peeing lubricant. I note this time you guys have Rainn Wilson from The Office playing a part. Does this film have a more high-brow kind of humor in it?
Roberto Orci: It is the most sophisticated low-brow humor there is.
TrekMovie.com: The first Transformers had lots of little bits of continuity in it tied to Transformers history. Is there more or less of that in the second?
Roberto Orci: I think this one goes much deeper going back into Transformers continuity, again going back into how Transformers may have had minglings with human history before.
TrekMovie: How is your approach towards the source material with Transformers different than with Star Trek?
Roberto Orci: Well there had never been a live-action Transformers movie. So that simple fact meant more inventing had to go on to create the kind of movie the first one had to be, to create that paradigm. Whereas you have seen Kirk and Spock, including six movies. You’ve seen a lot of that stuff. You approach it differently because there is a more of a continuity reference guide for Star Trek. And yet, because of that you are more shackled by it, because everyone knows exactly what it is, and everyone knows what the canon is, whereas that was not as clearly defined or as reverentially held up in Transformers.
Revenge of the Fallen – goes deeper into Transformers lore
TrekMovie: You guys, especially you Bob, are very clued into the fan community with Trek and Transformers…
Roberto Orci: Alex is too, he gets daily reports, he just doesn’t like to read the negative stuff [laughs]
TrekMovie: Is there anything you can point to in Transformers 2 that is a result of that feedback?
Roberto Orci: Sure, specific suggestions from fans early on…”why can’t we have any scenes with Transformers, without humans in them?" Check. A lot of people felt that Optimus Prime didn’t show off a lot of his fighting, we cover that. Soundwave didn’t make it in to the first one, kids wouldn’t even know what a boombox is, but we found a way for the second movie. Some fans felt that Optimus Prime’s voice was too casual, we heard it loud and clear, so this time he is much more true to his eloquence. The list goes on and on.
TrekMovie: So in the end, what is the biggest difference between the first and second films?
Roberto Orci: Obviously the theme is different. The first one was about stepping into adulthood by getting your first car and how that leads to sexuality and freedom. This one is more about being away from home, with Sam going away to college, while the Transformers are away from their home, and what are the responsibilities as you leave your nest. Cosmetically, this one is bigger. I think it is more tightly plotted, just as a result of getting better at it and understanding the universe better, and it benefits from the lessons of the first movie, both from fan interactions, and our own interactions of seeing what we thought worked and what different.
TrekMovie: Switching back to Star Trek, can you give us an update on the Star Trek: Something Something sequel?
Roberto Orci: We are reading all the posts on TrekMovie–so many smart posts! Fans are truly being heard. We are purposefully taking a moment of Zen to just breathe, watch the old episodes again, and read some of the novels and fan fiction we never got to.
TrekMovie: What did you guys learn from writing the sequel to Transformers that can apply to the Star Trek sequel?
Roberto Orci: Nothing. They are totally different franchises with different rules.
Alex and Bob at the Transformers 2 premiere in Hollywood yesterday – taking a break to reflect before starting Star Trek sequel
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens wide tomorrow June 24th. Here is the trailer.