EXCLUSIVE: Producer Ralph Winter On How ‘Star Trek V’ Almost Killed The Franchise

Following the screening of Star Trek III over the weekend TrekMovie had a short (and very frank) chat with Ralph Winter, who worked on five of the Star Trek films and he gave his assessment as to why Star Trek IV was so successful and why Star Trek V was a failure.

Winter on success of Star Trek II and IV and failure of Star Trek V

Ralph Winter was both a participant and witness to Trek history, as he rose through the ranks at Paramount during the original series era of Star Trek films in the 80s, eventually becoming producer for Star Trek VI in 1991. He has since gone on to have a successful career as a producer in Hollywood, including producing all four X-Men movies.

After the Star Trek III Q&A over the weekend (see previous story) I had a few extra minutes with Ralph Winter and asked him which of the five Trek films he worked on was his favorite, and this launched into an interesting contrast between Star Trek II & IV vs. Star Trek V.

Ralph Winter on success of Star Trek II and Star Trek IV:

Winter: Star Trek II was a favorite. Nick [Meyer] was fun to work with and I loved Time After Time, so it was my first movie to get really involved with, so it was a lot of fun. But on Star Trek IV we were firing on all cylinders. We got to go on location. The script was a little more light-hearted, Star Trek III was a really heavy story. I just think [director] Leonard [Nimoy] learned a lot, he was firing on all cylinders. We finished a little early. We saw the film a few days after we wrapped and we were all poking each other going “this is pretty good, this is going to work”. We came in under budget. All the stars aligned for Star Trek IV.

Original crew in “Star Trek IV” – a film Winter sees as the most successful

Ralph Winter on failure of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:

Winter: We had fun and felt good about IV, that wasn’t the case on V. I think on V we were smoking our own press releases. We made the mistake of searching for god. That is what the first movie did. What did we think we were going to find? What did we expect? We were focused and we wrote a good script. Larry Luckinbill (Sybok) was terrific. There were a lot of good things about it. I think we were, not delusional, but we almost killed the franchise.

And, unfortunately I almost killed the franchise in terms of the visual effects. We felt like we got taken advantage of by ILM and so we shopped to go to other places. We found a guy in New York, Bran Ferren, who had a pretty good approach to doing the effects, but ultimately they were horrible. And the combination of a story that was not working, it just wasn’t commercial, the effects were terrible – we almost killed the franchise, it almost died.

Nimoy, Luckinbill, Kelley and Shatner look at ‘god’ in “Star Trek V” – Winter thinks bad story and effects almost doomed franchise

William Shatner has stated that some of the problems with Star Trek V were due to Paramount not provided the film an appropriate budget. I asked Winter if he felt that the film was short-changed by the studio:

Winter: I don’t agree that Paramount short-changed the movie. They didn’t give [Shatner] as much money for the story that he wanted to tell, but remember Star Trek II was done for $12 Million, and III was done for just under $16 Million, and IV came in a million under budget at $21 Million – I have a letter at home from the president of the studio that shows that. And I think we did the fifth movie at around or just under $30 Million, so it was more. But what he wanted to do was a big grander thing. But I don’t think more money would have made the movie better.

‘Rock Man’ test for “Star Trek V” sequence cut for budget – Winter says more money wouldn’t have helped

Of course the franchise didn’t die. Winter and Star Trek came back in 1991 with the successful TOS era finale, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Following the poor financial and critical performance of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in 1989 Paramount went into a debate on how to proceed with the franchise. Harve Bennett, producer of Star Trek II, III, IV and V decided the best route would be to do an academy film prequel, and he even co-wrote a “Star Trek: Starfleet Academy” script with Star Trek V scribe David Loughery. However, Paramount felt that they wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary with just one more film with the original crew. Bennett dug in his heels and eventually left when Paramount wouldn’t go his way, which allowed Ralph Winter to rise to full producer on Star Trek VI. You can see Winter talk more about this, including how Bennett wanted Winter to join him in his protest walk-out, during our Star Trek III Q&A (click

Final moment of “Star Trek VI” – Winter returned to produce the original crew’s successful finale

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Bahaha ROFL

Such a noble display of humility, and self-awareness :D

Your distinctiveness will be added to our own….

There are positive aspects to Trek V, but yeah. More money wouldn’t have improved the negatives. It was what it was. For good or ill, it has its place in Trek lore. I can still enjoy watching it every now and then.

When I saw the poster for ST:V — a Movie Theater Seat with a Seat-Belt — I came to understand that was to keep the audience from walking out on the film.

How did ILM take advantage of them? Do tell. I like Trek V. Is it perfect? God, no (no pun intended), it could have used another rewrite. It could also have used a studio that got behind the movie better than it did. TOS movies always got the shaft, and it got worse after TNG came out. Ironically, they got TNG in and they did the same damned thing to them. Up until recently, I began to wonder if Paramount didn’t deserve Trek

I thought I would wait for the V showing to post this but ….

I’ve said this when the movie came out and Shatner had been complaining about the budget and that is if he truly believed in this project, he would have used his own salary to finish the film. Its been almost 20 years since V came out but I do recall that the salary he and Nimoy earned was over a 1/3 of the budget. Why? They earned it from the success of IV and Nimoy supposedly has a favored nations clause in his contract that states whatever Shatner gets paid, he gets the same. Factor in the $250K or so for the rest a piece, plus $3M or so that Kelley demanded and you have already 1/2 the budget spent before you even had a frame of film.

When the V screening comes out, I hope someone points this out but I don’t know Koenig would be in the know about such things dealing with salary, then again, he might.

I’ve got more to say but will wait for the V posting…to be continued…

4. ILM was not hired, from what I recall, because their top tier people were working on other films and their price was the same for people who were less ….whats the word…capable? experienced? desirable?

Trek V was an appallingly bad film in every possible way. Thank God that Trek VI was one of the best in the franchise. If VI had tanked, we may never have seen any more, or any series after TNG.

Why did they feel like they were being taken advantage of by ILM??? Tell me more!!………

This may sound like blasphemy, but I think Star Trek V is actually one that’s closest in tone to TOS. I’m not talking classics like City or Balance of Terror, but I’m talking about the really goofy, high-minded-ideas contrasted with cheeseball style like Spock’s Brain or The Apple. I also get a kick out of the movie, because it has Shatner’s goofy-heart in the script, something that never quite came across on the show. It doesn’t quite work, but it’s fun to watch. I mean “What does GOD need with a Starship?!” I just gold. Hell, I like it better than Insurrection.

the ILM stuff is interesting

Love Ralph. A great guy, a professional, and a straight shooter. I think he’s a little contradictory though regarding his comments about the budget on Trek V. If the studio had given Shatner another 5 or 10 million, he probably would have just burned through it and the movie would have essentially been more or less the same. However, if the studio had thrown more money specifically at the visual effects budget and thus avoided the employment of the heinous Bran Ferren & Associates, the film would be remembered today as an average and modestly entertaining entry in the series instead of having the rep as worst Trek ever (and even then, its still more watchable than Insurrection).

Well, aside from money, there was also time. V was rushed. They had problems, they wanted more time, they didn’t get it. They tried to piece together a less rotten ending, and it didn’t work. I love the scenes in Trek V when Shatner is trying to get through his dialogue at a faster than usual rate. You can tell he’s trying to make up time. Check the brig scene, and I am sure there are others

As I recall, ILM offered Shatner their third stringers, as the first and second strings were working on Batman and Ghostbusters 2. Or at least I think it was Batman. I know the other one was Ghostbusters 2. So they opted for Bran Ferren, who in fact turned out to be worse than ILM’s C team. Far, far worse.

It was Indiana Jones and Ghostbusters 2.

Thank you, Tom. That’s exactly right.

Bran Ferren should be ashamed of himself, lol , that beautiful enterprise paint job – gone, look’s like he opted for wite-out, and had he ever heard of motion control..

My 2 1/2 year old son loves Trek V, still not sure why. He loves seeing Kirk on the mountain at the beginning. Still, when watching the movie, I always blurt out, ummm, shouldn’t the Enterprise be moving? Even a more than a little bit?

Star Trek V has great Kirk/Spock/McCoy moments. Although the plot was a bit thin, the script it self was very close to TOS in spirit. The Bonfire scenes are classic, the brig scene is charming and the Kirk “I need my fears” scene is an excellent. Regardless of the obvious flaws (pace, plot, dull ending) the movie still has its moments. For me, it is a much better movie than JJ’s film.

I was in a Paramount office during this time, when one day the LA Times printed a quote from Leonard saying he could make Trek VI for 30 Million. I told the person I was with, and he immediately picked up the phone and called Ralph Winter, telling him what I had just mentioned. It was VERY exciting to be a part of that in the moment, and I thank Ralph and the entire crew for making VI happen.

Wow, and thank YOu for helping make Trek VI happen. Good movie.

Re the “almost killing:” I hope (assume) he means the film portion of the franchise?

I’m sure he was. Amazing to think they panicked the way they did. All 4 prior Trek movies made money–a lot of money. Yes, even Trek 1. When they finally fall below par, and they knew damned well why, they didn’t want to make anymore. C’mon, all they had to do was get the right people in the right jobs and it would have worked for a few more than they ultimately did.

I hate the whole Spocks brother angle. What a poor story.

Star Trek 5 had some wonderful moments but thank god they made Star Trek 6, a special film for me.

For my money, it is not so much a terrible movie as just a movie that aimed high but missed the mark. I could forgive the weak special effects; it’s not really an effects-driven movie. I do agree with Ran that the Kirk/Spock/McCoy moments were great (even with the groaner of a “marsh melon” joke), and which were more present here than in any of the other TOS movies. Also, Laurence Luckenbill is great as Sybok, debatably better than the rest of the movie. In a movie where so many of the performances seemed phoned-in, he brought the charisma needed to make you believe that people would follow him anywhere.

I think Winter is toeing a very professional line in not throwing Shatner under the bus for Trek V. He casts a line in that direction regarding the budget issues, but we all know the movie was destined to stink either way.

Trek V was loathsome in every respect.

So is ST ’09 the “Academy” film Bennett wanted to do?

@ 27..

Probably… The supreme court has been known to copy a lot of old idea’s.

JJ ABRAMS: Alias copies mission impossible

Bob Orci : Fringe copies X-Files

oh…. and

Damon Lindelof : LOST copies Twin Peaks

I remember liking Trek V when it came out, at least somewhat, as I was not the biggest fan of the goofy, comedic Star Trek IV. But over time, my feelings for both movies have moved in opposite directions. Now I like Trek IV more and more and can hardly stand to watch Trek V.

I do agree Trek V has the big three relationship that is closest to TOS, unfortunately that comes in a story and production values almost as bad as anything from the Fred Freiberger era of TOS.

So the Mr. Shatner lost out to Ghostbusters II for ILM’s elite team? Oh well, in a contest between the two movies, I’d have to say Ghostbusters II is actually the worse movie, so Mr. Shatner can have that little bit of vindication.

Star Trek V was awful, and it is nice to see the producer come straight out and admit fault. Redemption was only one movie away, as Star Trek VI is damn near the tops of my list of favorite movies ever.

9 naa not blasphemy….STV captured the trios’ relationship the best and that the naysayers can never take away from it.

I love how people criticize JJ’s Trek (and the characterization’s of Kirk and Spock therein), but defend the drivel of Star Trek V, which is clearly the worst two hours of Trek ever produced (out of 700-plus).

Spock runs into his half brother and suddenly is more loyal to him than Kirk and the Enterprise crew? Absolute crap.

So glad to hear Winter say that more money would have not made it a good film. I find it hilarious to see people acting like the addition of rock monsters would have somehow made it a good movie. Funny stuff.

27… “Academy Years” actually sounds a little more plausible than ST 2009… at least Mr. Bennett didn’t make Kirk a Captain a few days after graduating from the Academy. That movie would have ended with Kirk and Spock going their separate ways in their own careers, with only the audience knowing they’d meet again on the Enterprise. That’s really how ST 2009 should have ended, too.

Cadet to Captain in a week or so? Ugh.

28. jas_montreal – June 30, 2010

except for the aliens part.

29. jas_montreal – June 30, 2010

Except Lost was a HIT.

What are your feelings on Trek V, Bob?


J.J.’s Trek is pure entertainment. At the heart of Star Trek V, at least, is the attempt at something more.

Also on salaries, #5: You really think Kelley made $3 million? The *only* movie he was paid $1 million was Star Trek VI; every time before that he made less, and he was always paid less than Shatner and Nimoy even during the tv series. The man was a gentleman who didn’t gripe.

The problem with Star Trek V is that Shatner and Nimoy wanted the SAME PAY and they BOTH wanted too much money! So, even though Shatner directed and got more pay — Nimoy got the same, contractually. Then, the others wanted more money too!

THAT’S why they couldn’t AFFORD ILM on Star Trek V. ILM did test shots from what I understand — so, from accounts I have read that got swept under the rug it was a matter of dollars and cents.

The whole thing — with regard to budget — collapsed under it’s own weight and greed and avarice!

If Shat and Nimoy had taken a pay cut or just stayed at Star Trek IV’s pay rate, maybe they would’ve had the money for Shatner’s big ending and better effects overall.

If anyone doubts me, why do you think Harve Bennett wanted to do Starfleet Academy?

Because of the greed of the original cast! Starfleet Academy was both a negotiating tool and a method of continuing the film series without the original cast.

What’s unclear from the accounts I have read is SA managed to knock some sense into the cast and realize that they were going to be replaced if they didn’t lose just a little of the ego.

Shatner even alludes to the cast wanting to get paid more with each film on the commentary for Star Trek V — referring to how their “self worth” increased with each film. “Self worth” = greed. LMAO!!!

From all accounts I’ve read over the years, Ralph Winter’s explanation why they went with Bran Ferren for the effects on Star Trek V is rubbish…and just sweeping the true reasons under the rug.

I love the original cast as much as anyone, but they are real people with real foibles…and greed is one of those.

Unfortunately, that’s what killed Star Trek V — from all the things I have read over the years!

So…there ya go…

Ironic, with Trek IV, they were on top of the world, and then with just one disappointing movie, Paramount wants to pull the plug altogether. Never did like that.

Still better than Nemesis, Insurrection and argueably better than Generations

Not saying much though

The De Kelly scene with his father was one of the more poingant acts of the movie franchise

The 25% of folks who are rating V at 7 or higher: What are YOU guys smoking??? LOL!

The cue A Busy Man has to be the best cue in all of Trek. Totally encompasses everything Trek is all about. I also love the scene in the observation room lounge. I love the opening with J’Onn and Sybok in the desert. Great opening. Lots of good bits throughout.

@ 43

Goldsmith’s score is excellent. Long overdue for an expended release.

I’ve got my fingers crossed it’s going to be the Star Trek CD we get next summer, a la Trek 2 and 3.

I can’t help it. I still love ST5.

#16 —

It was ILM that ruined the “beautiful paint job” on the Enterprise model when they did the FX for Star Trek II. I recall Ken Ralston (?) saying in Cinefex Magazine that they put dullcote on the paint job that Magicam created when they built the miniature for Star Trek: The Motion Picture because ILM used a bluescreen and Doug Trumbull shot the model against a BLACK screen.

Trumbull shot against black to avoid spill light and reflections on the model created by the pearlescent finish of the original paint job. He specifically did NOT want to shoot the miniature against a BLUE screen! He wanted to preserve the finish of the model. Doug Trumbull loved the craftsmanship and beauty of the ST:TMP Enterprise!

Rather than retool their system at ILM and shoot the model against black, they retooled the MODEL instead by dulling down the finish and shooting against blue screen to pull mattes off the model.

The result is…well, as good as the FX in Wrath of Khan are…you can tell they paint job of ST:TMP is GONE! It looks gray and flat. And I just told you why.

We can all agree the FX of ST:V are terrible and blame Ferren for that, but we can’t blame him for what was done to the Enterprise miniature.

That’s all ILM.

All the crap about only ILM’s third-tier team being available for TFF is meaningless … trek usually only ever got the second or third tier group. Dennis Muren and Richard Edlund never worked on Trek, that is why Ralston did so many of them.

ILM really DID screw them over on the money end to some degree, and even getting coproducer credit (for tax purposes) on IV.

TMP, TWOK and TFF are the only trek films I really like (in spite of their problems), while the others are movies I wanted to like (in spite of their problems) and just couldn’t. TMP is a huge misfire with some great moments, TWOK is actually a good movie that is a little too cheap, and TFF, despite some absurdities, definitely has its heart in the right place, and really always feels to me like a widescreen TOS episode.

It’s funny, Gerry Anderson did things with puppets and models all on wires that look as good today as they did in the 60s and 70s, but Bran Ferren at the end of the 80s was trying to split the difference between live models and opticals in a way that makes no sense.
(He knew about motion control, but was purposely not using it for time and money).
I know the producers talked with him before offering him the job, but did anyone look at any of his footage? That was a big risk to take on blind faith. (and FX that suffer similar scaling issues that plague JJ Trek)

ST V has some of the best character and relationship moments in the whole of TOS, but it’s wrapped in an unevenly executed story that doesn’t all come together.

47, I think they are talking about the re-repainting … the model was loaned out to Universal Studios’ trek ride show and got messed up, so Ferren had to have people repaint it again. And I believe ILM re-re-repainted it for TUC when they redid all the wiring (some of which got cut while TFF got made.) There are just a couple points on the underside of engineering that are still Trumbull original paint (done by Paul Olsen olsenart.com or olsenarts.com I believe, actually), I think.