Director Adam Nimoy chatted with us about working on the Deep Space Nine documentary What We Left Behind, his directorial career, his documentary For the Love of Spock, and possibly bringing back Spock Prime in a future Trek production.
Nimoy’s Involvement in the Documentary
TrekMovie: Adam, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to chat. We interviewed Ira Steven Behr at Star Trek Las Vegas, so we’ve been following this story for a little while. We’re very happy to hear about the documentary, and your involvement particularly.
Adam Nimoy: I’m so grateful to be involved, actually. I’m coming in late in the game, obviously. They’ve been working on this documentary for some time…almost four years. The documentary was put on the back burner for a while because the producers, 455 Films, and David Zappone, specifically, were the people I had approached with my father to make the For the Love of Spock documentary. Dave immediately wanted to get on board with that, and it was a timely situation. We wanted to do it quickly and the Deep Space Nine documentary kind of got pushed aside for a while. Now that we’ve completed the Spock doc and it’s been out there for a while, Dave refocused his attention to the DS9 doc and asked me if I wanted to get involved.
TM: How was coming into the Deep Space Nine documentary after a significant amount of work had been done on it? As a director, how do you approach that and what do you, personally, bring to it?
AN: At first, I was really reticent to get involved because so much had been accomplished and produced. There were a number of interviews that had been shot, along with roundtable discussions, and camera crews were at the conventions where the DS9 cast was appearing. A lot of that had been done already, so I wasn’t sure what I could add to it. The interesting thing was that, as I was traveling around the world promoting For the Love of Spock, I ended up at a number of conventions, and the DS9 cast was there, and it was mind-blowing to me that the cast would receive an incredible response from the fans. I didn’t realize that there was this huge renaissance of attention for DS9. It has really come to the forefront of all of the Star Trek shows, so it reignited my interest in the show and I began rewatching it, specifically episodes I had not seen when they originally aired, and I got hooked myself as a fan, and became more interested in it. Dave felt that they needed some direction and guidance as to how to shape the film. He also wanted to inject some new energy into it as they had been kicking it around for so long. I think they just needed an outside view of what the film could be about, along with new energy to complete the film. That’s why he offered it to me, and after thinking about it for a while and rewatching some episodes, I decided this was another great opportunity.
TM: When did you officially come on board?
AN: November/December of last year, which was really when we were wrapping up promoting For the Love of Spock on the film festival circuit. I had more time then to think about what my next project would be, and originally I thought it was going to be something related to NASA and the Mars mission because that’s of great interest to me. It’s in the same genre, obviously, and there are a lot of Star Trek fans, en masse, looking at me, so it seemed to make sense. However, the more I looked at what the DS9 doc had, and with Dave being intent on finishing it, that’s when I made the decision to jump on board.
Premise of the Documentary
TM: Touching on the premise of the documentary, Ira had told us that it was really about exploring the lasting legacy of DS9 and what made it so special to the fans. Specifically, what was the magic element? Is that still the central premise of the documentary?
AN: That has not really changed. The writer’s room pitch for the first episode of season eight of the show is a really interesting element that we’re adding to the film that is unusual, and I think will be exciting to the fans who were hungry for more. After 173 episodes, people still want more DS9, which is not unusual as fans felt the same way about TOS, which only produced 79 episodes. We’re sticking to the original vision for the documentary, but with some modifications. These things evolve over time, and the fact of the matter is DS9 evolved dramatically through seven seasons for a number of reasons, and we’re going to be looking at that, as well as what the show was about, how it changed, a focus on the characters and how they evolved over time. Then we’re going to try and take a look at what’s happened over the past 17 years since the show stopped airing. A lot of the perception of the show has changed. Accessibility to the show has changed in terms of being able to rewatch the series. We’re going to look at the show to see what are the elements that have appealed so much to fans in retrospect, and what has happened over the past 17-20 years in pop culture, and on the planet, to cause people to reassess DS9, and bring it out as one of the jewels in the crown of the Star Trek franchise. There’s just this immense popularity, due in no small part to the fact that a number of the original cast members are still out there, are still attending conventions, are still together, and there’s a lot of camaraderie and love that they’ve extended to the Star Trek family that I’ve observed from attending conventions. So while the documentary is evolving, much like the show did, we are staying true to that original concept of “What made this show so special?”
Nimoy’s View of DS9
TM: I’d like to hear your thoughts about what made the show so special to you.
AN: I like the fact that they were pushing the envelope of Star Trek. There was this whole big issue of, is it or is it not really Star Trek? Would Gene Roddenberry approve? There also were a lot of constraints put on the show regarding what occurs in the Star Trek universe. I happened to be around when the show was getting off the ground, then starting my directing career on TNG and David Carson was my mentor for quite some time because he was an excellent director, and I really liked the episodes he delivered. I liked the way he worked at his craft and he was willing to take me on as a protege. I was standing around for several days watching him direct DS9, so it was a very exciting moment for me. While I went off to do other things and never directed an episode of DS9, which is the bittersweet irony because I’ve become a fan of the show, and now I get to direct this documentary. A lot of it is the fact that they were pushing the envelope of what Star Trek was, while still being Star Trek. There was excellent storytelling. They were still dealing with themes about the human condition, as did TOS. It wasn’t a ship traveling around the galaxy, and it is not all Starfleet. There’s a lot of character conflict in DS9 that we didn’t see in TNG, because you have these characters running and on the station who are Bajorans, Changelings, or a number of other races. You have the Cardassian occupation, the Klingons as both enemies and allies, and the Dominion War. There’s so much going on that’s new and unusual. The serialization of the show was so interesting to me, as it keeps the story going. Various themes and topics they dealt with were very unusual for Star Trek. I think for me, personally, the most alluring aspect of the show were the characters. It had an incredibly outstanding ensemble cast doing excellent work that is straight out of the Star Trek tradition of what was going on with TOS. The allure for me is the drama, the conflict, and the character arcs. It’s compelling to watch these characters, and I think that’s the number one element that really hooked me.
DS9’s Relationship with the Studio
TM: Returning to the meat of the documentary, are you going to explore the relationship the creative staff of DS9…Ira and Michael Piller before him as showrunner…had with the studio? Perhaps some of the politics behind the show, or does it fall outside of the scope?
AN: We don’t know. We want to include that, and it’s certainly in the outline. We have to deal with that because there were a lot of outside forces that shaped the destiny of the show. There were a number of factors. The fact that the show was going to be on for seven years…they knew that. The show was trying to find its voice within the family of Star Trek…what was Deep Space Nine? That was something that evolved and they had to try and figure out. The show aired while TNG was still on, so there was some comparison there. The show was running when Voyager came on the scene when UPN was launched. Ira taking over as showrunner when Michael and Rick Berman went off to do Voyager. The show kind of got squeezed in between TNG and VOY. So, the studio’s attitude towards the show is definitely a factor that we want to consider. We have to talk about all of these factors because they were all important elements that shaped DS9. We want to cover as much as we can, particularly in those formative years, of what this show was about, and how it came about. How much of it. How detailed we go, that’s going to be dictated by the running time of our movie and whether we have everything in there. It’s about prioritizing all of these issues. These are the same issues we dealt with on For the Love of Spock. We tried to include a lot of things that simply didn’t fit thematically into what we were trying to say in the documentary. You have to have some point of view, and some things are going to get left out.
Absence of Avery Brooks
TM: While the main cast and recurring characters are involved with the documentary, Ira told us last summer that he couldn’t get Avery Brooks. How difficult is it not having the series’ lead doing recent interviews? Are you going to use archival footage from the past?
AN: Certainly there are archival interviews that he has done, but we would still want to get his permission to use them. We are still reaching out to Avery, but as Ira told me … Avery did not want to be involved with another “talking heads” documentary about the show, which is something that we agree with. We are trying to find new ways to tell the story of Deep Space Nine without relying so heavily on talking heads interviews. We have more muscle now to tell the story, so it’s a challenge. We are still interested in reaching out to Avery, and finding out if he’d be willing to participate in any way. We’re not done exploring that avenue, but if need be we’re going to have to find archival interviews and supporting material from him to add to the film.
Indigogo Stretch Goals Add Additional Content to the Film
TM: Regarding the Indigogo campaign, there has been a brilliant response. The initial goal was surpassed within 24 hours, the $350,000 stretch goal has been surpassed, and it’s inching toward the $450,000 stretch goal where more content can be added. Can you elaborate on what you want to add with the additional funds?
AN: Because of the incredible response we’ve received from the fans in terms of the Indigogo campaign, the increased financing allows us to do more with the film. First and foremost, the film will be longer, and we’re looking to make it a 90-minute full-length feature like For the Love of Spock. The financing gives us more money to license more clips of the show, which we have to get from CBS. We had to do the same for For the Love of Spock to license clips from TOS and the feature films. Even though CBS helps us and gives us the family rate because we have limited resources, this will help us expand the amount of clips. We will also be able to hire a composer and an orchestra to do a similar type of score work that we did for For the Love of Spock. There’s also more that we’re currently doing, and we’re shortly going to make an announcement regarding the additional elements we can include if we continue hitting our stretch goals for the Indigogo campaign. We still have about ten days left, and people can go to the campaign page to find out what they can contribute. If the campaign continues, there is more that we’re exploring doing with CBS, and we will be announcing what we can do in the very near future. The film has expanded exponentially with the incredible response from the fans.
Nimoy’s Directorial Career and Babylon 5
TM: In prepping for this interview, I was reviewing your directorial credits and have seen that you directed episodes of NYPD Blue, Sliders, Ally McBeal, Party of Five, and Gilmore Girls. However, the one show that stuck out to me was Babylon 5, which was a similar show when it comes to its use of serialization, and arc-based storytelling on a grand scale, complex characters, and things that we hadn’t seen before from science fiction on television.
AN: You just said it all. It was so interesting to be in the B5 camp as they were working with a similar construct in terms of serialization, and the continuing story arcs of characters…which was why it was so much fun to work on that show. It had a different feel to it. It had a different vibe, and I was really lucky to do it. I was reticent at first, actually, to do B5 because it was science fiction and so close to Star Trek at a time when I was trying to really branch out and do more. Sliders was like dipping my toe in it, and I really enjoyed Sliders. It was really fun to work on that show, especially because of the cast. I was worried that B5 would be a detour for me, or a lateral move. I had a conversation with my dad about it and whether I should do it, and my dad said to me, “Do you have anything else booked?” I said, “Really, no. There’s nothing else. There may have been some other things that weren’t that interesting to me.” So he said “then you should just do it because you could learn something from that show, or you’re going to meet someone there who’s going to help you and bring more strength to your craft as a director. Don’t turn it down just because you think you’re back in the sci-fi camp and you’re going to be pigeonholed, or you think that you’re betraying Star Trek by making a lateral move. That’s not a good reason not to do it. If you don’t have another job that’s preferable or a better career move for you, then you should hands-down take the job.” I’m glad I did it because there were some incredible things that happened to me on B5. One was working with Brad Dourif, who was a guest star on one of the episodes. The guy’s amazing! It’s amazing I got to work with him. And the cast of Babylon 5! I mean, Bill Mumy [Lennier]…I’ve always been a fan of him. And Mira Furlan [Delenn], Bruce Boxleitner [Captain Sheridan], and Claudia Christian [Commander Ivanova]…it was such a good cast. They were as determined as the players on Star Trek to deliver excellent work, so I was very fortunate. I also worked with a production designer who showed me he could make anything out of anything. The way that he could reconfigure the sets to give us what we needed on the episodes we were working on was mind-boggling to me. I really learned a lot, and I’m really lucky I had those opportunities on B5.
TM: And you were given the honor of directing the third season finale, “Z’Ha’Dum,” one of my favorite episodes.
AN: Yeah! With Melissa Gilbert [Anna Sheridan], so it was mind-blowing and a really good experience. They were very welcoming to me. There were a lot of challenges. I took the work seriously, and I grew as my dad predicted. It was a very enriching experience and I’m very lucky to have had it.
Reflecting on For the Love of Spock
TM: If I could pivot to For the Love of Spock, the one thing I’ve been blown away by is that I have a lot of friends who aren’t Star Trek fans who have watched the documentary, and they’ve been tremendously moved by it. The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans, and critics alike, have loved it. You’re still being asked to screen it. Are you surprised by the impact that it’s had?
AN: Am I surprised? Yeah. The fact is there’s a lot of interest in Spock to begin with, so we had hoped that those people would be interested in seeing a documentary about Spock. I think overjoyed is a better word than surprised that people have received the documentary so well. It’s not uniformly…there has been some critiques here and there, but overwhelmingly it appears that people are happy and satisfied by the point of view that we expressed in the documentary. I’m just so pleased that people are happy with the documentary, frankly. It’s a nerve-wracking thing to try and tell the story that you want to tell in a tasteful and sensitive way. We were juggling three elements. It’s Spock-centric, and it was always intended to be so, but then we wanted to add in these elements after my father passed away because he and I were working on this documentary together. After he passed away, it became clear that we needed to include the life and legacy of Leonard Nimoy, the artist and his career as well. And then, as we got deeper and deeper into it, it became more clear to the filmmakers and the producers before I even came on board that I needed to tell my own perspective. My own story. My own relationship to Spock and my father. That would make the documentary more unique than having any other filmmaker making this documentary. Only I could really tell that element of the story. So we had three elements to juggle, and I wanted to make sure that my dad and Spock were at the forefront, and that my story took a back seat became a bittersweet addendum to all of that. I also had a lot of help to find the balance between these elements. A lot of people gave us feedback. I had great colleagues working with me, namely Dave Zappone and the other producers at 455 Films. We had a great editorial staff, Janice Hampton and Luke Snailham, to give us feedback. We also had a lot of people in the industry looking at the film to give us feedback, and we heard them and made changes when there was a consensus about how to make it a better film, and to make sure that we were setting the right tone and balance. A lot of careful consideration went into the film, and I’m just so pleased that the fans have been so generous in their support and are so happy with the end product. I’m just so pleased and overjoyed, frankly, and that’s the emotional response I’ve been feeling since we released the film in September.
TM: To me, and a lot of other fans and non-fans alike who have watched it, the most poignant aspect of the film was you talking about your relationship with your father, and telling the story of his life. While it was originally intended to be Spock-centric, it was more of a human story. A story about a father and son. I think it really came off as incredibly touching. Many people, including myself, could personally relate to it. It was a very well-done job by yourself and the rest of the team on the documentary. It was so much better than I expected it to be, mainly because it explored avenues that I did not anticipate.
AN: Thank you, I really appreciate that. A lot of people have told me that it resonates with them on a personal level. We wanted to tell the story. I was willing to tell the story, but it was really an issue of how much do we tell. I think we found the right balance. We didn’t want to be reality television. It wasn’t a tell-all. It wasn’t mommy dearest. I wanted to be as honest as I could be, and yet still be reverential and loving towards my father because we were so lucky that we ended up in a good place, thank God, in the last years of his life. I really appreciate your feedback on that, sincerely.
Bringing Back Spock
TM: Regarding your father, recent films have demonstrated the ability to bring back characters whose actors have either aged, or passed away, if it suits the story. With Star Trek: Discovery taking place during the era of the first TOS pilot, where Spock was serving under Captain Pike on the Enterprise, along with a fourth film potentially on the horizon from J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot, would you be open to something similar being done with the Spock character?
AN: Yeah I think it’s an interesting idea. I loved what they did in Rogue One. I thought it was pretty clever, and I was blown away by it, frankly. All of the stuff that Peter Cushing was doing was mind-boggling to me. I’m a sucker for that stuff. I think it should certainly be explored, but I’m not the final arbiter as to whether it’s going to happen, but I think it’s a great idea, personally. There are more parties involved than just me as to whether it’s going to happen. On a personal level, I think it would be cool.
TM: Regarding your directorial career, you had said that after For the Love of Spock you wanted to move away from Star Trek. You mentioned the NASA documentary. Do you see yourself being involved in Star Trek beyond What We Left Behind? Would you return to your bailiwick of directing television, or even something greater?
AN: That’s a very good question. I don’t have a ready answer. I don’t really know. I’ve really enjoyed this process and What We Left Behind was a very special project that lured me in, but I want to be doing something else as well. Working with NASA on something is still an idea. It’s really hard to say. I’m not sure. I haven’t been in the television industry for a long time. I’m also doing more writing now and hope to publish a book sometime this year, and create my own stuff. There are so many other interests that I have. I can’t tell you today where I’m going to be. Things will evolve and time will tell. I had no idea I’d be doing the Deep Space Nine documentary if you had asked me when we were releasing For the Love of Spock. I don’t mind working in Star Trek. I love the franchise. I love the family. I love the people who are so involved with Star Trek. I feel like a member of the family, and I really enjoy that extended family kind of thing. On the same token, much like what happened to me when I moved away from TNG with my directing career…I have other interests and I’d like to pursue them. There’s no set answer, and I’m open to anything at this point.
TM: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Adam. It’s been a pleasure. Best of luck with What We Left Behind.