Starting in late 2017, buzz began for a Star Trek movie in development based on a pitch from Quentin Tarantino. Paramount was excited about the idea and Trek vets from Patrick Stewart to William Shatner were expressing their hopes to be part of it. But by early 2020, the idea seemed to be losing steam as Tarantino indicated he likely wouldn’t be signing on to direct it, leaving it another unproduced—yet fascinating—Star Trek project.
Only a few details on the film have come out, but screenwriter Mark. L. Smith, who wrote the script with Tarantino, revealed a lot more in a podcast released earlier this year that had escaped our attention—until now.
Gangsters and time travel
It was a bit of a surprise when The Revenant screenwriter Mark. L Smith was tapped to pen the screenplay for Tarantino’s Trek pitch. He wasn’t known for science fiction and had never worked with Tarantino, who tends to write his own movies himself. As a guest on an April episode of the Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast, Smith explained how it all came together, and in so doing also confirmed a rumored plot connection to classic Star Trek:
It was through J.J. Abrams, through Bad Robot. I’ve done a few things with them. And so they always bring me stuff… But Tarantino, he wanted to do this. And so we all gathered in a room and we talked about the ways in. After that, they just called me and said, “Hey, are you up for it? Do you want to go? Quentin wants to hook up.” And I said, “Yeah.” And that was the first day I met Quentin, in the room and he’s reading a scene that he wrote and it was this awesome cool gangster scene, and he’s acting it out and back and forth. I told him, I was so mad I didn’t record it on my phone. It would be so valuable. It was amazing. Then just we started working. I would go hang out at his house one night and we would watch old gangster films. We were there for hours… We were just kicking back watching gangster films, laughing at the bad dialogue, but talking about how it would bleed into what we wanted to do.
This comment about a gangster connection appears to confirm that Tarantino’s idea is tied to the classic Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action,” which featured the USS Enterprise visiting a planet of aliens who had formed their society around Chicago gangsters.
Smith had previously confirmed that Kirk would be in the film, but during the podcast he indicated that it would include additional familiar characters but the movie would not necessarily connect with the Star Trek universe.
Kirk’s in it, we’ve got him. All the characters are there. It would be those guys. I guess you would look at it like all the episodes of the show didn’t really connect. So this would be almost its own episode. A very cool episode. There’s a little time travel stuff going on. There’s all this other… it’s really wild.
There’s still a chance
Quentin Tarantino has said for years that he plans to direct only ten films; after the release of his ninth film in 2019 (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), he said he was “steering away” from the Star Trek project. Since that time, Paramount has moved on with a Star Trek movie planned for Summer 2023 to be directed by WandaVision’s Matt Shakman, based on a script co-written by Captain Marvel‘s Geneva Robertson-Dworet. Paramount and J.J. Abrams have also commissioned a script from Discovery writer Kalinda Vazquez.
But Smith has not given up hope for his Star Trek movie and says it all comes down to Tarantino, revealing a loophole for his ten-movie limit:
I give it a ten percent chance if ever gets made. It’s one of those things that’s so tricky for him to do, but if he really wants to. He’s got this set limit he puts on. He’ll tell me, “Well, I can say it’s not an original, so it won’t count against my ten.” I would love for to happen. My god, I would be thrilled for it to happen… Fingers crossed that he will get so bored that he’s going to do it.
Having Quentin Tarantino make an R-rated Star Trek movie that may not exactly fit in with the rest of the movies may seem like an unusual choice for Paramount, and Smith agreed, but he pointed out that Tarantino is a unique filmmaker that can make the studio open to doing something different:
Guys like Quentin can do stuff that the rest of us can’t. So they are going to trust him because they know what they’re going to get is going to be something that’s going to be talked about for years. And it was. The script, it is so Tarantino, and it’s hard-R [rated] and it’s violent. It’s got all these great elements. And I guess Paramount has done different things and kind of veered back on Star Trek. They probably feel like Tarantino is worth being able to veer off path and always come back.
Tarantino’s unique take, and handling the sci-fi
The Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast is focused on the craft of writing, and at another point in the pod Smith talked about writing dialogue that avoids too much exposition and used his collaboration with Tarantino as an example:
So [Quentin] and I are working on [Star Trek] together and he’s writing this dialogue scene that I’ve written. And when he writes it, it’s like, “Oh, my god!” I thought I didn’t want to be straightforward with anything, so I’m kind of flowing over here. And then he does this thing, which is now five pages longer than my scene was, and he’s going all out over here and he’s touching on stuff that’s way over here, and then he comes back over. And it was just beautiful. It was just so wonderful and so funny. Again, you are talking about somebody that just sees stuff not like normal humans. And I say that with reverence. He’s really good at not just being straightforward with anything. That to me is it. You want to take your time. Don’t rush to feed information. Don’t just deliver information through exposition. You want to have conversations and just let the stuff come out in conversation.
Smith also revealed that Tarantino was in charge of the sci-fi elements:
I’ve always kind of stayed away from sci-fi. I don’t love writing technology. I’ve always found if I bring it into story, I use it as a cheat. I want people to have to deal with their own emotions and their own conflicts and their own stuff and I don’t want to have to be able to use technology to get in and out of stuff. I know other great writers smarter than me can use it well. Like even on Star Trek, whenever I told Quentin, I’m not a Star Trek guy, I’m not a big sci-fi guy. I know the characters and I like the relationships and I know about it. But he goes, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of all the big sci-fi stuff and everything.” So you kind of just find what you know and write what you know.
For now, Tarantino’s Star Trek can be filed with other unproduced Star Trek projects, as it seems unlikely Paramount would move forward without him agreeing to direct. But there does seem to be a chance it can be made, even with Tarantino’s self-imposed ten-movie limit. And doing a movie that may not fit with the other Star Trek films being developed by Paramount can still work. Warner Bros. has had success with this approach for their DC movies, like Joker. After Paramount gets the franchise going again in 2023, it’s possible for one-off stand-alone movies to be part of the mix.
Check out bulletproofscreenwriting.tv for the full interview.
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