Regular visitors to this site know that Star Trek co-writer and executive producer Roberto Orci isn’t just another A-List Hollywood writer, but is also a geeky sci-fi fan like rest of us. To find out just how big a geek he is Bob was kind enough to take some time out and talk Trek in an exclusive interview with TrekMovie.com. In the first part (of two) of our interview the screenwriter talks about his history as a Trek fan, his views of all the Trek series as well as his favorite books and episodes. He also discusses his insights into what has made the franchise endure and how that is influencing the approach to re-invigorating the franchise.
TrekMovie.com: Do you consider yourself a ‘Trekkie?’
Roberto Orci: Yes. I think you can probably put me and [producer] Damon [Lindelof] into that category.
TrekMovie.com: When did it all start for you?
Roberto Orci: When I was a child, with my uncle who could tell what Original Series episode it was just by one tiny moment in the show. He got me into Trek and I really got into it through watching The Next Generation. I had seen the movies, but the TV experience of Star Trek is the originator and Next Generation was going back to that. To this day I still feel that The Next Generation is the best television show from my lifetime.
TrekMovie.com: What was it about Trek that that attracted you?
Roberto Orci: First of all I am a sci-fi fan and there has never been anything on TV that has made sci-fi as relatable and respectable as The Next Generation. The humanity of the situation was never lost in the technobabble. The sci-fi and the character was always intertwined brilliantly and it is an example of how to approach all genre. All genre needs to have as big a character component as it has a genre component; be it sci-fi, be it fantasy, whatever.
TrekMovie.com: You got into the show as a teenager, did you Trek fandom extend beyond just watching the TV series? Did you collect or join fan clubs and that sort of thing?
Roberto Orci: I have every toy. I have an Enterprise phone. I have every phaser that has ever come out. I never joined any clubs, but I did go to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country wearing a Star Trek shirt like a true geek. Christmas in particular with my uncle is for Trek. I don’t think a Christmas has gone by, to this day, that we didn’t give each other Star Trek stuff.
TrekMovie.com: What did you give him last year?
Roberto Orci: I gave him a DVD set of all the movies and, of course, a copy of the script
TrekMovie.com: Seriously? So he is one of the tiny handful of people who have actually have the whole script?
Roberto Orci: Well he actually helped. A lot of my part of the script is stuff I actually ran by him.
TrekMovie.com: So have you seen it all, every episode of every series and every movie?
Roberto Orci: Yep, well actually not all I haven’t seen all of the Animated Series yet.
TrekMovie.com: But TNG is still your favorite?
Roberto Orci: Yes
TNG – Orci’s first and still favorite Trek
TrekMovie.com: Do you like them all, do you have a second favorite?
Roberto Orci: I like them all, I guess The Original Series is my second favorite.
TrekMovie.com: You have talked about what you liked about TNG, let’s quickly go through the others. Can you give a quick thought on each?
[on Star Trek: The Original Series]
For it’s time it made sci-fi part of television pop culture. And it was part of the civil rights movement. It was part of women’s rights. It was part of normalizing relations with the Soviet Union. It was part the ideal of a Federation/Superpower doing what is best for all life. In the 60s that was an amazing thing. It couldn’t have been more forward thinking
[on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine]
With Deep Space Nine I loved that it was exploring the slightly darker side of Star Trek. It showed the cracks in the utopia which was interesting to me. It was pushing the envelope of what Star Trek originally meant.
[on Star Trek: Voyager]
Voyager I loved because it was a singular experience of being separated from utopia. It sort of played a counter point by saying ‘oh you love everything about Star Trek, what if we separate you by a zillion light years.’ And obviously I loved the idea of the first female captain. It showed that all Star Trek had that kernel of progressiveness. What they were attempting was more complicated and as such was more fraught with potential pitfalls that were difficult to navigate for any crew behind the scenes. Still inherent in it is still the love of Star Trek. A good moment on the worst Star Trek to me is better than the worst moment on any other show.
[on Star Trek: Enterprise]
I loved the idea of the danger of the first explorations into space. In a way we are very much partners with Enterprise in spirit because it is was a prequel and because it is attempting to explain the origins of Star Trek. You cannot deny that they were the first to try it. Execution aside we understand the appeal and the value of trying to show how we got to what Star Trek was. Star Trek II was about dropping some of the look and feel of what was done before and making it much more naval and like a submarine and Enterprise clearly was attempting to tap into that. In so doing, they were attempting to relate it as much as they could to our contemporary defenses and submarine captains…and that’s a cool idea.
TrekMovie.com: You mentioned Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, would you say that is your favorite of the films?
Roberto Orci: I would say yes. In general for all of us I would say Star Trek II is one of my favorites and one of Damon’s favorites. For Alex [Kurtzman] and J.J [Abrams], who are fans but not as much crazy Trekkers as us, Star Trek II is an example of the best elements of Star Trek. Star Trek II is a major touch point.
Star Trek II – an influence to the new team
TrekMovie.com: In another interview you mentioned Trek books. So have you read many of them?
Roberto Orci: Tons of them. I have them all in my room.
TrekMovie.com: Is that because Paramount sent you all of them?
Roberto Orci: No no no, these are things I have read for pleasure. Some of them I have read many times, never imagining I would be a part of it. When I found myself being paid to re-read those books – you don’t get luckier than that. That is a blessing.
TrekMovie.com: So what are a couple of your favorites?
Roberto Orci: My favorite one is "Prime Directive" and I would say "Spock’s World" is my other favorite. I saw your interview with Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens and I think they are great. I have read "Prime Directive" three or four times and I think it is one of the best Star Trek stories ever…period. Here is an interesting tidbit. In casting we have to give sides out to actors [scenes from scripts]. But since we are being so secretive we don’t want to give real scenes from the movie so a lot of the scenes we have been using are from their books.
TrekMovie.com: Of course the books are not officially part of Star Trek canon, but as fans of the books are you guys going to grab any elements and give them little mentions in the film…essentially canonizing them?
Roberto Orci: We are actually still pouring through and we are going to do stuff like that for sure. Because it would be an homage to my and Damon’s view of Star Trek.
TrekMovie.com: Getting back to the shows – what are some of your favorite Trek episodes?
Roberto Orci: I love the one with the Romulans attacking the enterprise – "Balance of Terror." I love "Yesterday’s Enterprise." Also "Best of Both Worlds" where Picard becomes Locutus, but there are so many that it is hard to zero in. Those are certainly ones we have all referred to collectively.
New Film makers look to "Balance of Terror" and "Yesterday’s Enteprise"
TrekMovie.com: So as you guys are working are you regularly throwing in DVDs from the shows as part of your process?
Roberto Orci: Totally, are you kidding? Especially now that we are getting our crew up and running they are asking questions as well. And so we do refer to previous episodes as a kind of baseline and then see if anything needs to be augmented or is it ok as it is. Every single one of our offices has tons of Star Trek material and it is constantly being reviewed by us and by our consultants and our production designer, etc, etc.
TrekMovie.com: Trek is over 40 years old now and its been 20 years since you got into it. People are still talking about Trek when they aren’t talking about many other shows from the last 4 decades. What is it about Trek that makes it endure?
Roberto Orci: Well number one I think the characterizations of The Original Series became what we call internally ‘Shakespeare Characters.’ Spock and Kirk and Bones are Shakespearian in that they are so archetypal in their relationships. One of things we have approached Kirk and Spock with is like Lennon and McCartney whose background is also very archetypal. They have managed to become characters who are more than the sum of the actors, more than the sum of the writing, they are pop culture icons. We have read doctoral theses and dissertations on Star Trek and what it means. One of the common things we have read is that Star Trek was not just a TV show, but it was a commentary of our society at the time. Because it was disguised by science fiction you got to get a way with things like the first interracial kiss and a Russian you love and all kinds of societal boundary breaking conventions. But because they came through such a clever and entertaining show it was digestible to a mass audience. The fact that it still has a foot hold in popular culture means that it was ahead of its time.
TrekMovie.com: Back in the 80s and early 90s Star Trek was pretty big. The movies were hits and it was even on the cover of Time Magazine. Do you think Star Trek can be big again? Do you think it could be Star Wars big?
Roberto Orci: I do. Let’s not forget that Star Trek predates Star Wars. Sci-fi being palatable to a mass audience has to be credited to Star Trek. It laid the foundation to some degree for Star Wars. I think it can be big again. Trek is like Star Wars with its archetypal and Joseph Campbell-type characters. It started as sci-fi and got reduced to a human relationship and Star Trek was the first to do that. Star Trek can be as relevant and as archetypal today as Star Wars and as Star Trek was originally. Obviously that is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves, but we would not be going forward with this if we did not believe it could be as relevant and as cool.
TrekMovie.com: So you really think that, in terms of mass appeal, Trek could be as big as Star Wars or your recent Transformers film?
Roberto Orci: Transformers is a great example because it was a franchise that was existing and had a strong fan base, but that was a niche market let’s say. Because of that our approach was to re-invigorate it. We don’t think that there is anything inherently flawed at all with the soul that Star Trek has laid down. And we feel that if we can tap back into that soul, then it can actually be those things. Not only do we want to please the fans, and we are confident that we will have a movie that fans see in a certain way where their knowledge of canon is not wasted and is part of their enjoyment of the movie, but simultaneously the story has been developed so that it is also an introduction for someone who is not a fan or even someone who knows nothing about Trek or think’s it is dead. We think that it can be that because we think that the bones of the house are right and all it needs is some redecorating.
TrekMovie.com: What is that soul of Star Trek that you guys are trying to get at?
Roberto Orci: I think for all of us it is firstly the relationships. And that doesn’t mean everybody gets along. I agree with what J.J. has said: "it is about unbelievably impossible situations being forced upon a group of people who have to look beyond their differences to face the impossible." In a way everyone life has that sort of element to it. We all get through our difficult times with a little help from our friends. It is also what [Leonard] Nimoy said: ‘It is about different people facing the same direction in the face of events they cannot control." That was extremely relevant in the cold war and the sixties and it is as relevant now.
Part 2 of the TrekMovie.com interview with Roberto Orci (focusing on the new film)