Mark A. Altman is hosting a virtual screening this Saturday at 5 PM of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with his Inglorious Treksperts cohost Daren Dochterman, on CYA.Live (in association with Paramount Pictures). Altman, a writer/producer for shows like The Librarians and Castle, has produced numerous podcasts with producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Stargate) and is also the author of the bestselling two-volume oral histories, The Fifty-Year Mission, about the history of Star Trek. He is also a writer/producer of the beloved romantic comedy Free Enterprise starring William Shatner and Eric McCormack, and is currently the showrunner of The CW’s hit sci-fi series, Pandora, which returns to the network next year for its second season.
TrekMovie took the upcoming screening as an opportunity to check in with Altman and talk Wrath of Khan, Trek podcasting and more.
This virtual screening is a new type of thing, can you give a brief idea of what the experience is going to be like, and how interactive it will be for the fans??
The virtual watch party phenomena is fascinating. In the last year, it really seems to have gained traction, but with the current quarantine, it’s really taking off where you’re hearing about these watch parties virtually every week. After all, everyone is hungry to be entertained and embrace a little distraction by connecting with other people in the midst of this horrible pandemic.
When Daren and I were approached by Paramount about hosting this screening, I immediately embraced it, as it seemed a great way to connect with fans and share our passion for all things Trek and talk about a film we all love which has meant so much to us over the last few decades. It’s funny because I have very fond memories of a midnight screening that a bunch of friends and I attended of Wrath of Khan in the mid-’90s that, in part, inspired my first film, Free Enterprise. There was nothing virtual about that one. In fact, my good friend and director of Free Enterprise, Rob Burnett, was so inebriated at that screening, we almost got thrown out of the theater which proved the fodder for a scene in the movie. I don’t suppose that will happen this Saturday, however. After all, it’s only 5 o’clock.
Subsequently, I’ve been fortunate enough to moderate a few screenings of the film, including one with the film’s delightful producer Bob Sallin at the American Cinematheque and another with Nick Meyer at the Aero, but this will definitely be unique. The proprietary CYA software really allows us to emulate the feeling of a live event by giving people a chance to interact with us before, during, and after the film so it’s very different than an audio commentary in that sense. And we’re very interested in hearing people’s personal connections to this film after the movie is over.
Hopefully, we’ll put the party in watch party as we share fun facts as well as personal stories about the film.
You have literally written the books on Star Trek, do you agree with the general consensus that Star Trek II is the best of the film franchise?
Yes and no. I’ve always felt that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most cinematic of the Star Trek films with a brilliant visual style and scope evocative of 2001: A Space Odyssey that truly felt like a motion picture, rather than an episode of the TV show writ large, but there’s no question that Star Trek II is the most enjoyable and watchable of the Trek movies. And that comes from the performances and the writing. What Nick Meyer did in his 12-day writing marathon in taking everything that was good about the previous script iterations, discarding the bad—and there was a lot of bad in those drafts from Jack Sowards, Have Bennet and Sam Peeples—and distilling into something very special is nothing short of miraculous. He was exactly what Star Trek needed when it needed it most. A literate, thoughtful, scholarly filmmaker who didn’t look down on the franchise and brought something new to Star Trek while also respecting its lineage. By tapping into his passion for Moby Dick, Dickens, and Shakespeare as well as Horatio Hornblower, he understood what Trek was at its essence and was able to craft a remarkable film.
The making of Wrath of Khan has a storied history. Are there any lesser known stories about it you feel most fans don’t know, but should?
I do, but I plan to share a lot of them on Saturday. Also, for fans of the movie, I strongly encourage them to listen to some of our recent interviews on our Inglorious Treksperts podcast with producer Bob Sallin, director Nicholas Meyer, and unit publicist Eddie Egan, who have some remarkable stories about the making of the film.
Your popular podcast Inglorious Treksperts is approaching its 100th episode. It may be hard to pick, but who have been some of your favorite guests?
That’s a good question. When we started this podcast on a lark back in 2018, I never expected to still be doing this, but somehow it just keeps growing and growing. I’m amazed at how successful it’s become and continue to grow and how loyal our listeners are. Like Michael Correlone, I keep trying to get out, but they pull me back in. A few times I talked about bringing a new co-host in to do the show with Daren, but every time I do, I get talked out of it.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but my personal favorite story is probably Rafe Needleman, the author of The Official Star Trek Trivia Book from 1979. He sort of became an affectionate running joke on the show and one day he was in the car in San Francisco and heard the show. He contacted me and flew in to do the podcast and it was just magical. We finally met the Organian Trivia Master. That said, I thought Michael Dorn was a delight, Nana was great, I could’ve interviewed Tom Parry — the executive on The Motion Picture at Paramount — for hours, and it was a treat to have Erin Gray down as well.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton. Another great story was we had Jeffrey Combs on the show and two weeks later we were casting an episode of Pandora and I called Jeffrey and said, how would you like to come to Europe and shoot an episode, and he said “sounds great” and about a month after being on the podcast, he was shooting an episode of our CW series. Brannon Braga was also a terrific guest and I really loved Anson Mount as well. And, of course, David Loughery talking about The Academy Years and Star Trek V.
It’s funny because we spend a lot of time booking guests for the show, but some of our most popular episodes are just when we sit around bullshitting about Star Trek and favorite episodes. I was also really proud of the episode we did on D.C. Fontana’s passing, which is the only time I used old interview recordings I did with her, but it really worked and was a fitting tribute to a television legend.
Ultimately, I think the success of the podcast is due to the fact that it’s a podcast that celebrates what we love about Star Trek. There’s so much negativity out there that we really focus on what we love about the franchise and try and avoid what we don’t. We’ll leave that for other people to disparage. Life’s too short and making TV is too hard so we look at the show as a celebration and not a roast.
Do you have a white whale of a guest, someone you really want to get on the pod?
God, yes. I really, really, really want Quentin Tarantino to come on and talk about Gene Roddenberry’s Pretty Maids All in a Row more than anything. Or at least Ira Steven Behr, but I think he’s still mad at me from twenty years ago for some reason which I don’t understand because there’s no bigger fan of DS9 than me. We’re planning on having the great Jonathan Frakes, who I adore, on the show when we can work out schedules, and I’d really love to get Rick Berman for an episode or six. And, of course, Bill Shatner. Although we’d have to find a way into that discussion that isn’t the same as the last zillion interviews he’s done. And there’s some guy named Anthony Pascale who I think would be great one day as well.
Even as an eponymous “Trekspert” do you still get surprised with some of what your guests have told you about the history of Star Trek? Any examples?
So many examples. In fact, when the paperback edition of The Fifty Year Mission came out, I begged the publisher to let us expand it as I had so much great, new material from the podcast but they didn’t want to, which was very frustrating and shortsighted, I thought. That said, it happens all the time. Bob Sallin shared a ton of stuff I didn’t know about Star Trek II and we spent a year celebrating the 40th of Star Trek: The Motion Picture which was replete with new nuggets. In particular, the Tom Parry interview was great, and his story about Barry Manilow almost being cast in Airplane in the Robert Hays role was priceless.
The Star Trek film franchise has been in a holding pattern in the last four years. Do you have any thoughts on Noah Hawley being the latest writer/director tapped to offer up his take on Star Trek?
Hawley’s an immensely talented filmmaker. I welcome anyone who has a passion for the franchise who can make it go boldly again. I hope it bears fruit. I was disappointed the Tarantino Trek didn’t come to fruition. And I’ll be very interested to watch the new Captain Pike series on CBS All Access when it debuts in 2021. [EDITOR’s NOTE: CBS has not yet officially announced a Pike series, but have strongly hinted at it.]
Is there someone you would like to see handed the keys to the Star Trek movies?
I’d like to see someone who’s truly passionate about Star Trek take the reins. It’s a very special franchise and there’s an alchemy to it that can easily be misunderstood. Ultimately, Star Trek is more relevant than ever and its optimism and hope for the future is in short supply these days. It’s a franchise that extols the virtues of science and exploration and lambasts xenophobia and racism so its message needs to be amplified more than ever in our current environment. Star Trek has never been Game of Thrones and never will be which is fine because there’s already a Game of Thrones and it’s pretty great so let Star Trek be Star Trek.
I’d love to see Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan take a crack at Trek. They’re both huge fans and have written and produced two of the greatest television shows of all-time, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Also, Peter Ramsay, who did Across The Spider-Verse, would be great to oversee the Star Trek animated universe. He’s an immense talent.
Do you know if we can expect more Paramount Star Trek virtual screenings?
I hope so. If Star Trek II does well—and I understand pre-sales are already huge—I’d kill to do Star Trek V Live. At midnight. Preferably after having a few drinks. Or “Spock’s Brain.” That’d be a fun one too. Just not “Masks.”
Can you give us an update on what else you are focused on these days? Is the second season of Pandora still in the works?
My new book with Ed Gross about the history of the Bond movies came out in February called Nobody Does It Better and I think it’s great and the reviews have been sensational. The book is available in hardcover, digital and audiobook now and if you’re a Bond fan, you’ll love it.
As for Pandora, I was in Europe prepping the second season for a week and then this pandemic hit and I promptly got on a plane like Ilsa Lund and hightailed it the hell back here to quarantine, where I patiently await being able to go back into production. It’s our hope we’ll start shooting again this summer and I’m very excited about the new season. Thanks to the unexpected hiatus we had even more time to fine-tune the scripts, and we have some exciting new cast members, and it’s going to be a really great year and hopefully some more great stars as well. I know The CW is anxious for us to get back into production, as is my wife to get me out of the house.
Last question, will there be a Free Enterprise II?
I’m generally an optimist at heart, but you’re asking the wrong person. I know Rob remains hopeful this will still happen one day, but after the financing for the sequel collapsed one week before the beginning of principal photography five years ago, I’m way less sanguine and, quite honestly, less interested. I’m not even sure where I’d find the time between shooting Pandora, my other TV series that hasn’t been announced yet, and my next book.
The original film still means much to me both because of what it means to me personally, and many fans around the world have shared what it means to them. Fans who haven’t seen it should buy the fabulous Anchor Bay DVD. I’m much more hopeful they’ll be a Blu-Ray or 4K UHD version of the Special Edition one day than they’ll ever be a sequel under Rob’s and my supervision. But as Mr. Spock is fond of saying, there are always possibilities. Maybe we should record the script as a live podcast during quarantine instead.
The Wrath of Khan virtual screening on Saturday
Paramount is holding a “virtual screening” of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on April 25th with CYA.LIVE. Join hosts Mark A. Altman and Daren Dochterman for the event which will allow viewers to watch and interact via text and video with other fans. There will also be a Q&A after the film. The screening costs $1.99 and tickets can be purchased at CYA.LIVE.