The Trek world has been abuzz since the announcement that Bob Orci will officially take over the director’s seat for the next Star Trek film. TrekMovie sat down with Mike and Denise Okuda in an exclusive interview covering Trek’s past, present, and future. The Okudas have been involved with Trek in one way or another as early as The Motion Picture with Mike having worked on every live action Star Trek production since The Voyage Home, along with the current project of remastering Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD for Blu-ray. Suffice to say that this pair has a unique perspective on where Trek has been and where it is (or should be) going. Hit the jump for more.
Interview with Mike and Denise Okuda
TrekMovie.com: What do you think of Bob Orci being named director of the next film?
Mike Okuda: We are cautiously optimistic. Orci is not only a skilled storyteller, but he obviously has a deep fondness for Star Trek. We’re excited to see what he does.
Denise Okuda: Besides, we love Alias, on which Bob Orci served as producer and executive producer. We used to watch Alias all the time in the Enterprise art department!
TM: There has been a lot of buzz about Netflix and Trek in the last week. Do you have anything to add? Have you heard anything, and regardless what do you think of the idea of Trek on Netflix (or other non-broadcast net like Hulu or Amazon)?
Mike: We haven’t heard anything. The Netflix rumor, sadly, appears to be just a rumor. However, we’re fascinated with all of the new methods of distribution and production that have been emerging. We’d love for a new Star Trek series find such a home. Nevertheless, the decision to proceed with a Star Trek series (or any other production) is always a complicated one that must take into account a surprising number of factors that might not be immediately obvious. A new Star Trek series would be a huge financial commitment and a large financial risk, no matter how successful the show has been in the past. At the end of the day, the studio will proceed with a new Trek series only if and when it makes sense for it at that particular time.
TM: Do you think Star Trek works better as a TV series or as a feature film franchise, both throughout Trek’s run since 1966 and in the near-future?
Denise: As much as we love the spectacle and scale of the Trek movies, we think that Star Trek works better as a television series. Weekly episodes lend themselves to far greater variety in storytelling and have the potential for much more depth in characters.
Mike: There’s something magical and intimate about friends coming to your house every week to take us on adventures. Those friends become part of our family, and part of our lives.
TM: If you were in charge of the franchise, what would you do?
Denise: So many things. Mainly, we’d love to see Star Trek return to its roots. To us, it’s not so much about specific characters or ships, as it is about Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a better tomorrow. That’s a world in which we have learned to live together, in which we enjoy the benefits of science and technology, not only to improve our lives, but to improve our understanding of the universe.
Mike: To us, Star Trek is about the firm belief that if we are smart and ethical, if we are hard-working and compassionate, then amazing adventures await us among the stars.
TM: Do you feel that fandom has embraced the reboot?
Mike: Trek fandom is incredibly diverse. Many fans have embraced the new films, which is understandable. Some remain skeptical, which is understandable, too. Remember when ST:TNG was new, how long it took some fans to accept the idea of Star Trek without Kirk and Spock. And how long it took some old-timers to accept the new fans whose first love was Picard and company.
Denise: The point is that the new films have done a wonderful job of making Star Trek cool again, of bringing new fans into the fold. And not surprisingly, a fair number of new fans who have discovered Star Trek through the new films have gone on to discover the rest of Gene Roddenberry’s universe.
TM: You have both been heavily involved in the graphics and design elements of Star Trek. How has Trek’s look and feel evolved throughout the lifetime of the series, and you think the current (JJ-verse) design elements build on those from Trek history or stand alone and define their own, new style?
Mike: One of the most important challenges that Abrams’ production team faced was how to give their new Enterprise a distinctively fresh look while maintaining a sense of design continuity to what’s come before. This is much easier said than done. We call it “keeping it exactly the same, but making it completely different.” While there are certainly things we would have done differently, we think that Scott Chambliss and his team did a wonderful job of putting a new spin on the Trek universe.
Denise: By the way, Mike actually did contribute a fair number of background graphic elements to the 2009 film. We got several calls from different departments asking for previously-established graphic elements. Mostly symbols and alien languages. Some alien stuff that Mike had designed for Star Trek: Enterprise ended up being visible in the bar scene, if you look quickly. Oh, and we also contributed several pages of background chatter and tech dialog for intercom and “walla” sound effects in several scenes. I couldn’t hear it in the film, but we’ve been told that it’s there!
TM: Are there any indications that you will be involved in the next film?
Mike: We’d love to be involved in the next film, but we don’t think we’ll be asked. In fairness, Bad Robot already has a proven team in place which is obviously capable of excellent work.
The Okuda Legacy
The Okudas have had a distinct influence on the look and feel of Trek throughout its long history. Mike Okuda worked as Scenic Art Supervisor in every live-action Trek TV series and movie since Star Trek IV and excepting the JJ-verse movies (the latter of which he did contribute to in other ways). His influence has been so pervasive that his ship console designs, dubbed Okudagrams, are iconic in Trek. Mike’s wife Denise was Scenic Artist for the entire run of DS9 and Enterprise and served as Computer & Video Supervisor for the entire run of Voyager as well as contributing to Trek films Generations and Nemesis. Fun fact: Denise made an uncredited appearance as an Enterprise crew member in TMP.
The pair have been deeply involved in the life of Star Trek and have shaped the way it looks and feels on the screen, big and small. They have also authored a number of reference books (Star Trek Chronology, the Star Trek Encyclopedia, the Star Trek Sticker Book). Their latest project is consulting with CBS as they remaster all seven seasons of The Next Generation.