A generation ago a young upstart director had the temerity to shake things up in the Trek franchise, and result was the classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, beginning a decade long relationship for Nicholas Meyer. This summer Meyer will recount his years with Trek in a new memoir, and TrekMovie has an exclusive excerpt, along with more Meyer summer 2009 news.
Meyer’s Star Trek
In the 1996 Official Star Trek 30 Years Collector’s Magazine, the editors listed the 100 most influential people to the success of Star Trek. Rightly on the list was director Nicholas Meyer who is described as bringing "unconventional" style to Star Trek with a philosophy of "design for the future with an eye to the past." Meyer wrote (without credit) and directed Star Trek II, co-wrote Star Trek IV, and co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI, all considered to by many to be the best of the classic crew films. And although Meyer is always happy to talk about Star Trek, be it at lecture halls or on DVD commentaries (the new Blu Ray discs includes not only a new commentary track but a very moving tribute by Meyer to Ricardo Montalban), fans have never had a definite telling of his experiences with Star Trek. That changes this August when Viking Press publishes "The View From The Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood" by Meyer,
which can be pre-ordered now from Amazon.
Viking Press describes the book Thusly
An enormously entertaining account of his involvement with the Star Trek films: STII: The Wrath of Khan, STIV: The Voyage Home, and STVI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as his illustrious career in the movie business. The man best known for bringing together Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud in The Seven Per-Cent Solution had ironically never been interested in Star Trek until he was brought on board to save the film series. Meyer shares how he created the script for The Wrath of Khan, the most revered Star Trek film of all, in twelve days — only to have William Shatner proclaim he hated it. He reveals the death threats he received when word got out that Spock would be killed, and finally answers the long-pondered question of whether Khan’s chiseled chest is truly that of Ricardo Montalban. Meyer’s reminiscences on everyone from Gene Roddenberry to Laurence Olivier will appeal not only to the countless legions of Trekkies, but to anyone fascinated by the inner
workings of Hollywood.
Excerpt of "The View From The Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood"
Star Trek II – Shooting part ii
Interestingly Kirk and Khan (how did their names both happen to start with the same letter?) never get to play a scene together in the film. Did I notice this would be the case? I can’t say I did—nor did anyone else ever comment on or worry about it during the shooting, though Bill Shatner remembers a long discussion about the need to have a physical fight scene between the two men that he says was eventually scrapped for budgetary reasons. I can’t say I miss it. Kirk and Khan do have a “phone” conversation of sorts of the type now common on iChat, and it was interesting to compare their styles and to learn how I could contribute to Shatner’s performance.
On Star Trek VI, Christopher Plummer told me that he could tell that Shatner would be a star when he watched him subbing for him in Henry V one night at Stratford, Ontario. “He did everything different from me,” Plummer recalled, “and that’s when I knew . . .”
And if there was one thing Shatner knew, it was Captain Kirk. But the Kirk of Star Trek II was a bit different from the character of the TV series and the first film; he was aging, he was off his game, he was depressed (Captain Kirk depressed? This really was going to be different), and now he was in the fight of his life, up against a superintelligent opponent whose only weakness was his obsessive hatred of Kirk. Khan has given him a minute to surrender the details of Project Genesis. Kirk, forced to put on reading glasses beneath the contemptuous glare of his implacable foe on the forward viewing screen, plays a desperate gambit and stalls until finally turning to Khan and telling him, “Here it comes,” before he proceeds to hammer Khan’s hijacked vessel with torpedoes.
The first time Shatner delivered “Here it comes,” his sneer dripped off the lens. “Bill,” says I, “this guy is some kind of über genius. You telegraph like that, he’s gonna raise his shields in a second. Let’s try it again.”
The second take was similarly heavyhanded but, as it happened, no good for sound. (A stratagem I had contrived beforehand.) The third take, I think the focus was soft—and so on. Eventually Shatner became bored and when he got bored he got good. He dropped the attitudes he was prone to strike and instead became Kirk, with no trimmings. It was a good trick to stumble on and it happened early enough in the shoot that I was able to make good use of it throughout. (The only difficulty was ensuring that Shatner, who got better with every take, did not have to appear in a two-shot with someone who was at his best on take one and thereafter deteriorated.) When all’s said and done, however, a director can only do so much; Shatner’s triumph in the movie is his own, the product of his own intuition and his gift.
Montalban knew he was not a good judge of his own work (“I don’t know what I’m doing out there . . .”), but many actors are convinced they are. And this despite the fact that so far from being objective, actors frequently pick the wrong roles in which to appear, let alone the wrong takes. Shatner was no exception. He would come up after the shot and say softly, “Take three was best for me.” I would always nod and make a note of it, regardless of whether it was the take I wound up selecting. Similarly, if an actor wants another take and I have time, enough daylight, and I’m not blowing up a bridge behind him, I will always give it to him. Why should an actor have to go through the movie feeling his best work is getting away from him, even if he’s mistaken? There’s always the possibility that (a) it will get better or (b) he’ll feel he’s not been cheated or (c) it may not be better, but it may give you an idea for something you hadn’t thought of that will be better.
William Wyler, Stanley Kubrick, and Warren Beatty are known for doing scores of takes, John Huston and Clint Eastwood for doing very few. Which is correct? Can you tell the difference watching their films?
Nimoy had long since figured out how to play Spock. “I never played Spock as a man with no emotions,” he explained to me early on. “On the contrary, I always played him as a man of deep passions who was continually struggling to keep them in check.”
I didn’t need to say a word.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from THE VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE by Nicholas Meyer.
Copyright © 2009 by Nicholas Meyer
"The View From The Bridge – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood" by Nicholas Meyer is due out in mid August. It can be pre-ordered now at Amazon.com. In August TrekMovie will have an author interview and early review of the memoir.
Meyer Book Tour
This autumn, Meyer will tour to support the book at these locations:
- August 25 at 7:00 PM Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)
- August 27 a 7:00 PM Book Soup (Los Angeles, CA)
- September 2, 7:00 PM Borders Northridge (Northridge, CA)
- September 10, 7:30 PM Warwick’s (San Diego, CA)
- September 14,7PM Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA)
- September 15, 7PM Barnes & Noble, East 86th St. NYC (New York, NY)
Book Soup offers those not attending the signing event a chance to get a signed edition of the book. Details are at booksoup.com.
MORE MEYER NEWS
University of Iowa Meyer Collection Star Trek Exhibit
Nicholas Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the library there houses an amazing collection of his papers. From now until July 1st, the library is having a special exhibit curated by Greg Prickman called "Where Many Have Gone Before: Relaunching Star Trek." The free exhibit includes items such as the first Star Trek fanzine from 1967, Spockanalia, early fan club material, and highlights from Nicholas Meyer’s work on the Star Trek movies: a script, storyboards, and correspondence from Star Trek II, Meyer’s reactions to the first draft of the Star Trek III script, an early version of the Star Trek IV script, and concept art from Star Trek VI.
TrekFest Tenuto Presentation on Meyer
Speaking of Iowa, next week (June 26-27) is the annual TrekFest in Riverside, Iowa which is about 20 minutes from the University of Iowa, and TrekMovie’s own me (John) will be presenting rare Star Trek photos from the The Papers of Nicholas Meyer Collection before introducing stars Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei on June 27th.