Exclusive Interview: Roberto Orci On All The Latest With Star Trek (and more)

There has been a lot of big news regarding the new Star Trek movie over the last few weeks, so TrekMovie decided to check in with co-writer and exec producer Roberto Orci to get his take on recent events, including answering some of the questions and comments that are on fan’s minds. See below for part 1 of TrekMovie’s exclusive new interview with Orci. [minor spoilers]


TrekMovie: Last month was a pretty big month, starting with Entertainment Weekly and then the trailer and previews, how does it feel now to have so much out in the open after such a long period of secrecy?

Roberto Orci: Kind of awkward for me and Alex [Kurtzman], because we were so used to being secretive about it. Even though it was an official trailer we almost panicked, like ‘oh my god its out there now!’ We are like abused dogs who are now living in a nice home, we weren’t used to it.

TrekMovie: You were used to just giving your name and WGA serial number?

Roberto Orci: Exactly [laughs]. We were used to saying we had only seen four lights instead of three lights.

TrekMovie: Nice reference…A lot of what has happened in the last month seems to be geared towards getting the rest of the world aware of what the Trekkies and the geek world have known. What is the feeling now, amongst the ‘Supreme Court’, about how things have played out, in the mainstream media?

Roberto Orci: I think we are all very encouraged and grateful, that it seemed to get a pretty good reception. And people who didn’t know Star Trek really took note of it and it seemed to actually create just the right impression that this was going to be something fresh.

TrekMovie: As JJ [Abrams] has been going around, especially in foreign countries where Trek hasn’t played as well, he has been saying things that have got the notice of Star Trek fans. Things like "I’m not a Star Trek fan" and "this movie is not made for Star Trek fans" and that kind of stuff. Some Star Trek fans have reacted wondering if this movie really isn’t for us. Is that a fair criticism?

Roberto Orci: I can see how if you are a fan, you can go ‘uh oh.’ I think it is just reflecting, what he has said himself, that he didn’t think he was going to direct this movie, and when he says he wasn’t a fan, of course he was aware of Star Trek and had scene it and admired it, along with Twilight Zone and some of the other shows that he really likes. But I don’t think he ever imagined himself taking over a year of his life and devoting it to Star Trek and that is what he means. I think quotes reflect how much he surprised himself in how much he came to love it even more. And he went through that process without knowing it as well as all of us crazy fans, and from a much more general audience point of view, like everyone else. That is what he means by ‘not for the fans’, he thinks it is going to appeal to more than just the fans and I certainly don’t think he means to exclude them. Too many die-hards worked on this movie for it to not be for fans.

We can liken almost anything to something that happened on The Next Generation, because The Next Generation covered almost every story that there is. As fans – when JJ is out there saying things that prickled our pointy ears, we just think of him like Riker in the episode ["A Matter of Honor"] which he had to go be the first officer on board a Klingon ship in an exchange program. On that ship when someone talks back to you, you would have to beat them down or you lose the respect of your crew, which is protocol, whereas on a Federation ship that would be a crime. So we have to give JJ a little bit of leeway, when he is traveling the galaxy over there where they don’t know Trek, to say the things that need to be said in order to get people onto our side.     

TrekMovie: Everything that has come out over the last month has answered a lot of questions, but also raised new ones. The first of which came up recently, related to Captain Robau, who was revealed on the new Intel site [boldlygo.intel.com]. Can you talk about who he is and what his background is, like his being from Cuba.

Roberto Orci: As you know, the [USS] Kelvin is named after, not only the same scientist with the temperature scale named after him, but also JJ’s grandfather. And the captain of that ship, Richard Robau, is named after my uncle, who was born in Cuba. One of the things we talked about early on, was where was Uhura born? Does Sulu have to be Japanese? And it occurred to us that, in the future, the borders that exist now won’t exist then. So you can be born somewhere, and raised somewhere else, and live somewhere else, and even sometimes off Earth. So I always imagined that Capt Robau was born in Cuba, but then grew up in the Middle-East.

Richard Robau (Faran Tahir)

TrekMovie: With regards to that Intel website. You and your team are providing the content for that website?

Roberto Orci: Yes.

TrekMovie: So should we consider that website canon? For example, all that you just described is not actually in the movie correct?

Roberto Orci: Right. I guess until it is in a movie or a show, technically right, isn’t that correct? I would have to check with the rest of the Supreme Court, but I would think that anything that is considered a promotional website is not canon.

TrekMovie: Well the bigger issue is more [Star Trek movie prequel comic] "Star Trek: Countdown" and whether or not that is considered canon. That is not a promotional thing, that is a…. thing thing. Your name, JJ’s name is on it and Alex’s name is on it. So canon or not canon?

Roberto Orci: I don’t think that is for me to decide. As you know I considered some of the books, in my mind, to be of character canon. And some of them in between the movies to possibly be even possible candidates for canon, until some other movie comes along and makes those impossible. That is my personal view, but I am not going to declare whether comics are canon.

TrekMovie: There is a difference between a regular comic and a comic with your guys names on it. To extend the canon metaphor, you are like a writer of the gospels, so does it apply when you are writing other stuff, like comics? Who makes that decision?

Roberto Orci: I don’t know, I think it will be a majority vote.

TrekMovie: Well I can run poll, but I was looking for something more official. Trek fans like rules and I think would like to be told, yes it is or no it isn’t as opposed to leaving it up to themselves, because then it is actually ‘fanon’ and not ‘canon.’

Roberto Orci: Why don’t we say for now, that this current court has not taken up that case and it can yet rule.

TrekMovie: Speaking of "Countdown", does the series take place before or after Star Trek Nemesis?

Roberto Orci: After.

TrekMovie: On the Enterprise being built in Iowa — It is amazing that in January after the first trailer, where the ship was being built was the hottest topic. It seem after the second trailer, it still is the hottest topic. Are you surprised this is such a big deal to fans?

Roberto Orci: No, not at all. From the minute we pulled that fan photo of the Enterprise being built in a ship yard – we showed that to JJ as a way to get him excited and to show him how grounded Star Trek could be, literally [laughs]. And he really locked onto that image. We showed with the caveat that if we went down that road, there would be some strong fan reaction, but that we thought we could justify it, but we knew if from second one.

TrekMovie: And do you have any internal reasoning why the ship is being built in Riverside Iowa instead of San Francisco.

Roberto Orci: Yes.

Fan image (left) inspired ‘grounded’ Enterprise construction

TrekMovie: Is the cop in the trailer a robot or a guy in the mask?

Roberto Orci: In my mind, there is a person under there. But there is nothing in the movie that says one way or another. But in reading some of Roddenberry’s thoughts and dissertations about Star Trek, there was always a hesitance to deny the human spirit and deny the human side of it. There is a small part of me that thinks an android cop would be against Roddenberry’s instincts. However, Mr. Data is clearly a central canon figure, so you can argue it either way. I don’t think there is anything in the movie that commits it one way or the other. It is in the eye of the beholder.

TrekMovie: Regarding the alien security officer on the Kelvin, Alnschloss K’Bentayr, is that character in any way related to Arex from The Animated Series?

Roberto Orci: Not in our minds, but possibly in the designer’s. You would have to ask the designer.

TrekMovie: Is the character make-up and puppetry, or CGI?

Roberto Orci: A little bit of both, mostly make-up and puppetry. That particular alien was actually was sitting on the set. JJ wanted to as much real stuff as possible, which is not typical for this type of movie in this day and age.

TrekMovie: This brings up one of the more ironic critiques. You guys finally have the budget and resources to create truly alien aliens. Some fans think we should not see any new aliens that we did not see in The Original Series, and some even think that it is Star Trek tradition to do latex-on-forehead aliens and that Trek aliens should be anthropomorphic. That having Star Wars kinds of aliens, breaks with Trek tradition.

Roberto Orci: For the first question, I use the same argument that some use to justify Khan recognition of Chekov [in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan], which is: if you just went to a lower deck in that first season, you might have seen Chekov. So the idea that can’t see a new alien by merely turning the camera some other way on a ship that you might have seen before – I think it is fair to see a new alien. As for the second point, we actually had this conversation where one of the fun alien aliens we read about, I think it was in "Prime Directive," was this octopus creature, that was clearly not anthropomorphic at all. We talked about doing something like that, some stranger creatures, and I think we pushed it a little bit. I don’t think any of them go too far off the realm, but that was something on our minds. I don’t think there has to be a tradition of keeping them anthropomorphic, but I don’t think we strayed too far from that.  

Alnschloss K’Bentayr of the USS Kelvin

TrekMovie: In my four scene preview review, I noted that we see four scenes with  Kirk on an arc, kind of like going from ‘Jerk to Kirk.’ But we only saw two scenes with Spock. Both of which he was in his ‘not holding it together’ mode. This is a function of what we saw, but I hope that is not all we get for Spock. Can you settle my mind on that? Will we be seeing serene and logical Spock as well?

Roberto Orci: I can settle you mind very easily, absolutely. It is both of their movie…There was some worry early on that it was going to be too Spock-centric and we would totally ignore Kirk, as you pointed out we have four Spocks! There is not going to be any dearth of Spock, nor any dearth of classic Spock. Clearly some of the things you are going to see in the trailer are some of the more extreme moments in the movie. Moments that have to be earned by the story, and you are right to be concerned if they are not earned by the story, but plenty of Spock.

TrekMovie: So are you guys being proactively provocative? Like how you got on the cover of the Drudge Report, with the headline "Spock Goes Wild!" Was that kind of the plan, to pick the crazy Spock moments so people will go ‘hey this is different’?

Roberto Orci: I don’t think we anticipated it would go to that degree. We don’t assume that a general audience is going to find that particularly proactive or inconsistent, but apparently, as you pointed out, there are a lot more closet Trekkers out there. So I think there is an element of that. There is an element of wanting to make you feel something that you that you didn’t expect. Seeing a different side of it and not exactly being able to peg it, like ‘oh I didn’t think this was going to be a sci-fi movie, it starts with a Corvette’ or with the ship being built on the ground. It is grounded it to today and to us. So certainly in a trailer you want to pick some of the more proactive moments.

TrekMovie: JJ and yourself and others have talked about how this Star Trek was going to be ‘real.’ And JJ keeps bringing up Galaxy Quest and saying ‘we are not doing a parody’ and ‘we are not doing Galaxy Quest, this is going to be real.’ So I was expecting, when I went to the preview, that I was going to see something in the style of the recent Batman and Bond franchises and how they have done their ‘refreshes.’ A very serious take on Star Trek. So I was a bit surprised, and I wasn’t the only reviewer to note this, that there was so much humor, including slapstick humor. Do you feel that you are running the risk, when your goal is to be serious, that with so much humor the film may be perceived as parody?

Roberto Orci: I don’t think it will be perceived as parody, I am not worried about that at all. I think there is a difference between the word ‘real’ and ‘serious.’ I think it can feel real in a way it has never felt before, and have the humor still be consistent with that. Humor was always a part of Star Trek, and so we had to make sure it  was represented somehow. But I don’t think real and serious are the same thing.

TrekMovie: Is the humor part of an appeal to a larger audience and possibly a younger audience?

Roberto Orci: I don’t think so. The humor in it is trying to be character-specific. We are not trying to do what we accused of doing on Transformers, by some of the hardcore fans. And the humor does not go to those places. I think the humor is much more based on who the characters are.

TrekMovie: Kirk never pees on anyone?

Roberto Orci: That is correct. [laughs]

Star Trek humor, character-specific

TrekMovie: Switching  gears…Fringe wrapped up the first half of the season. Things tended towards more mythology and serialization towards the last few episodes, is that where the show is headed or was it just the last few episodes?

Roberto Orci: We are still trying the exact right balance. We have extreme mythology episodes and there are some that are going to be stand-alone. I think for the fact that were were going down for a while, we wanted to give people are reason to come back.

TrekMovie: The last episode had a Star Wars reference, but there haven’t been any Trek references, are you going to drop any Trek in there?

Roberto Orci: I think is our duty to, don’t you think?

TrekMovie: I would imagine so. Is the Enterprise being built by Massive Dynamics?

Roberto Orci: [laughs] Well after Massive Dynamics is taken over by the state in the semi-utopian communist 23rd century, maybe some of its R&D went into it.

TrekMovie: You guys got pretty Star Trek in the last episode  ["Safe"], with an actual transporter, which can apparently also do time travel. The show has been about ‘fringe’ science, but that is pretty serious science fiction. Is that an anomaly or are you going to go deeper into heavy sci-fi? 

Roberto Orci: You know, one step forward, two steps back. We are finding it.

Fringe adds transporter to its ‘fringe science’

TrekMovie: With all the talk about the Superman franchise, have they come to you and Alex yet?

Roberto Orci: Superman the sequel? No.

TrekMovie: Do you know if your brother-in-law is going to be in it? [Editor’s note: Brandon Routh is married to Bob’s sister]

Roberto Orci: I would imagine so. How are you going to find a better Superman?

TrekMovie: What are you working on now besides Fringe?

Roberto Orci: We are writing Cowboys and Aliens with Damon Lindelof. We got a great draft from Fergus and Ostby, who wrote Iron Man, and now we are into the second draft and trying to put it together.

TrekMovie: Speaking for Damon, so are you guys ever going to write an episode for Lost? I am surprised after working with JJ and Damon that you haven’t got around to that.

Roberto Orci: Who has time?

TrekMovie: JJ has been talking a little bit about sequels to Star Trek. You previously said that Paramount wanted to lock you down for that. So have they locked the lock yet?

Roberto Orci: No we are still talking about it. It is so hard to talk about it before you even finish the first movie. We consider it bad luck to get locked down before finish everything on your plate.

TrekMovie: But could you imagine going into development on that before the film is released in May?

Roberto Orci: Sure. Absolutely we could imagine that.

TrekMovie: Speaking of the Star Trek film being finished. How close to finished is it? Isn’t mid December the target to finish it?

Roberto Orci: We are still in the sound mix. That is still the target, but we may go over a bit to get the sound down together. The sound is really hard on this one because you want it to be cutting edge and it is complicated. It is not just Central Park with cars driving by.

TrekMovie: Have you had a full screening of an almost complete version, from beginning to end?

Roberto Orci: No, I saw an early version of it without almost any effects, but still the whole movie. But then I have been seeing sequences here and there but I have been trying to save the experience for myself as much as I can actually and try to see it in its final form, before I see it too many times. 

The wait is not over yet for Orci to see the whole Star Trek movie in it’s final form


More Orci
Coming up later this week we will have part 2 of this interview, where we dive deep into the the canon and science of the new Star Trek movie.

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