Last month, just as things seemed to be heating up for the development of Star Trek 4, it was reported that re-negotiations with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth had stalled. Preliminary deals had been made with both, but those deals had been struck before 2016’s Star Trek Beyond underperformed.
Now in 2018, under new leadership, Paramount has reevaluated Star Trek with more modest ambitions in terms of box office and therefore a more modest budget to match. The problem is, the deals in place for Pine and Hemsworth don’t match the cost-cutting mood, and as of the report last month, the actors were holding the studio to the original deals. Last week Pine said he still wants to do the movie and is waiting by the phone, but it wasn’t clear if he had budged from his negotiating position.
That original report said that Paramount was continuing to move forward, regardless of the impasses. This may have been posturing on the part of the studio, but assuming the that the Chrises don’t eventually come to accept the pay cut, Paramount has a difficult decision to make. We see that the studio has a number of different options on how to handle moving forward, but each comes with trade-offs and risks.
1. Cut a deal on the back end
A “back-end” deal is quite common in Hollywood, allowing part of a salary to be paid up front and apart from a portion of box office returns. By giving Pine and Hemsworth a bigger back end cut of the movie, as was suggested by filmmaker Kevin Smith, Paramount can hold to the new more modest budget. This seems like an ideal solution, but may have already been offered and rejected by the actors if they didn’t want to take on the risk of not knowing their return. In addition, by giving out more of the returns, Paramount and its financial partners are cutting into their own profits. The studio currently needs all the money it can get, and their financial partners may not be willing to take the cut in returns.
2. Increase the budget and pay them
It seems simple to just say, “pay them what they want,” especially for fans who love and value the franchise. However, it’s not so easy in the cold reality of Hollywood show business. Paramount would have to come up with more money, which again isn’t easy for a studio that’s just starting to turn itself around after a couple of bad years. They could look for additional investment partners, but that may be difficult since the last movie underperformed. And any financial partners already signed on (like Skydance) would have to agree to a new budget and new partners, which could impact their return.
3. Pay them within the existing budget
This option means that they pay the originally negotiated salaries without increasing the budget. If they do this it will require cuts in other areas of the production. It is unlikely that savings would be found by cutting into the salaries of the rest of the cast, as they too are now in-demand actors. Things that are more likely subject to the chopping block would include scenes with large set pieces, scenes with heavy visual effects, and so forth. Changes of this nature would require script rewrites–potentially some fairly large ones–to match the new budget. These changes could result in delaying the film.
4. Pay Pine, recast Hemsworth
Since it was first announced in the summer of 2016, it has been clear that Chris Hemsworth’s George Kirk will play a central role in Star Trek 4. Hemworth’s brief opening scene in the 2009 Star Trek movie garnered the actor a lot of buzz and has been a fan-favorite moment, plus Paramount is trying to leverage his subsequent rise to stardom as Thor in the Marvel movies. So dropping Hemsworth to use the money to pay Chris Pine, and then recasting George Kirk with a lesser-known actor helps things stay in budget, but would lose the Marvel star power. If they go this route one has to ask: without the big name attached, what’s the point of bringing back Kirk’s father? The Kelvin-universe Jim Kirk had finally started to get out from under his father’s shadow in Beyond, so dipping back into his daddy issues with a random actor seems like a step backward and is unlikely to hook an audience.
5. Pay Hemsworth, recast Pine
This option seems unlikely, but it would mean that Paramount wants to use Hemsworth so badly as a box office lure that they decide to drop Chris Pine and recast Jim Kirk. Through three films, Pine has become the face of Captain Kirk in the 21st century, especially to the mainstream media. Finding another Kirk, which won’t be easy, means abandoning all of that brand awareness, as well as potentially alienating the fans. This idea was something soundly rejected as a compromise by Kevin Smith on his recent podcast, where he noted that if you are going to recast one of the two Chrises, it can’t be Pine. There is also a risk here of alienating the rest of the cast, who have become a tight-knit group.
6. Pay Pine, remove father character
If the decision is made to keep Pine and lose Hemsworth, Paramount and Bad Robot may conclude it makes sense to drop the George Kirk character entirely, as there is no point without Hemsworth. But, as noted before, it seems that bringing back Kirk’s father is central to the movie as written. This almost certainly would require a major rewrite of the script, possibly even requiring them to start over, which would end up delaying the movie further. There is also the practical issue that Star Trek 4 screenwriters JD Payne and Patrick McKay have signed on as showrunners for the new Amazon Lord of the Rings series and may not be available for major rewrites, adding a new screenwriter search to producer J.J. Abrams’ to-do list.
7. Recast both Chrises
To really save money, Paramount could drop both Chrises and recast James T. and George Kirk. This has the advantage of saving the script and keeping the budget low, but it removes all their star power. This would still have all the risks mentioned above for recasting each individual, including losing a lead actor who has come to be identified as Captain Kirk in the 21st century. Such a move would likely mean recalibrating the budget and box office expectations to something even more moderate, which could risk the involvement of the currently signed-up financial partners.
8. Wait for the Tarantino project
If the negotiations with the Chrises on Star Trek 4 remain at an impasse, and Paramount doesn’t like any of their options, the studio can cut their losses and shelve the film indefinitely while they wait until the Tarantino Trek project shapes up. Karl Urban himself has recently suggested he is okay with this option. While Paramount would take a small loss on resources spent to date on Star Trek 4 development, the big downside here is a big gap in time between Trek films, which has other repercussions for Paramount and the franchise. However, this isn’t totally unheard of, and Paramount has waited that long between franchise movies before. The most obvious example is Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) and Mission: Impossible III (2006), which had a 6-year gap. And of course, this assumes that if needed, Paramount and Chris Pine can agree to a deal for the Tarantino Trek film.
9. Start over
As noted above, all of these options come with various risks and downsides for Paramount. It may be that there is no solution that satisfies all parties and includes a return to the Kelvin universe with the full cast. This still leaves Paramount with a couple of ways to move forward.
Think of this option as a bit like what Fox did with The Wolverine in 2013, following three successful films in the X-Men movie franchise. It’s still loosely connected, but in general, it’s a chance to refocus and change the trajectory of the franchise. A spinoff focusing on one main Kelvin-universe character would mean fewer stars to pay. Going this route will require a brand new script, which takes time to write, and then pre-production would get going again. However, this could end up with a fairly quick turnaround once a script is rushed out. Another plus would be that much of the existing sets, costumes, props, etc. should still be usable. It may also be easier to finance with some known quantities for the franchise involved. Which actor and character to chose for the spinoff is a hard choice, and in theory, it could even be Pine’s Kirk. A more likely choice would be Zachary Quinto’s Spock, and John Cho has already started joking about Sulu: A Star Trek Story.
Now we come to a pretty drastic option. The studio leadership may decide that it just isn’t worth it to continue along with the same version of the Trek property, so they drop everything: actors, the existing style (designs, sets, etc.), the whole shebang and regroup. It’s likely if they went this route that Paramount and Bad Robot would quickly put feelers out for new talent to develop an entirely new iteration of Star Trek on the silver screen. This is akin to how Spider-Man 4 was in development with Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi in 2010, but after a number of setbacks, Sony decided to pull the plug and start over, and very quickly they rebooted the franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, which was in theaters by 2012. While there are many intriguing possibilities, starting over completely involves introducing new actors, possibly new characters and perhaps a new setting. That increases the cost to marketing and creates additional risks in terms of potential box office without familiar draws, which makes financing harder.
While Star Trek 4 appears to be at a standstill for now, the rest of the film industry is not.
Since Star Trek 4 scribes Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne are about to be very busy developing the massive multi-year Lord of The Rings series for Amazon and would almost certainly not be available for developing a new script or a major rewrite, they may not even be available for minor changes that result from some of the above scenarios. This means new writers would need to be brought in and brought up to speed, potentially creating delays for even small changes. It’s possible that producer J.J. Abrams would again reach out to Scotty actor and Beyond co-writer Simon Pegg, who could hit the ground running.
Chris Hemsworth has signed up for a new Russo Brothers movie called Dhaka which keeps him busy until March 2019. Had the Chrises come to an agreement, filming was expected to start on Star Trek 4 in early 2019. Hemsworth’s scenes could potentially be pushed back to the end of production on the Trek film without creating an overall delay in the project.
S.J. Clarkson, currently slated as the director for Star Trek 4, is reportedly on the short list of possibilities to direct the next James Bond film, which is in pre-production now and would start filming in early 2019. If the Chrises do work out a deal, this would be another potential conflict and may result in a last-minute search for a new director.
A final consideration is the calendar. Previously, Paramount has had a perfect place for Star Trek 4 on their summer 2020 slate. A few weeks ago, though, Paramount made some changes in their schedule and now Top Gun: Maverick, which was originally scheduled for July 12, 2019, will be released on June 26, 2020. That puts a hole in Paramount’s summer 2019 calendar, but it’s far too late to fill that with Trek. There’s no reason that Paramount can’t have two tentpoles in summer 2020– they have done so before. 2009 saw both Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen hit the big screen.
What option would you choose?
Playing armchair Paramount exec is a time-honored tradition with Trek fans. Do you have a favorite from the above choices or possibly a different option? Sound off below with how you would resolve the Great Chris Crisis of 2018.
Keep up with all the news on Star Trek 4 and upcoming Trek films at TrekMovie.com.