After ten minutes in the company of Damon Lindelof, I looked down at my sheet of paper, and realised I’d only got through two questions. Depending on your viewpoint on the man, he’s the scourge of the Internet, the genius behind Lost, the person to pin all the bits you liked/disliked about Prometheus on, or wholly misrepresented by fandom on the lookout for a scapegoat.
Chatting to him and producer Bryan Burk about Star Trek Into Darkness, what become clear was the enthusiasm pumping through his veins, for his work and for working on a Star Trek film. So whilst I may not have got through many questions, there’s little doubt that he answers whatever you ask him. Here’s how the chat went…
Please note: there are very mild spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness here, regarding what happens to Kirk in the very early part of the movie.
Can we start by talking about Chris Pine, as he’s not being chatted about much with regards to the film so far. Spock gets laughs, Karl Urban’s metaphors were off the planet. But for me it feels like the heart of this was Chris Pine’s Kirk. From where I’m sat, he seems the most conflicted and tricky character of the lot to get. Can you talk about how you captured him, as he feels very distinct from William Shatner here.
Damon: Yeah. First off, I really appreciate you having said all that. I feel like when I watch this movie, Chris went above and beyond. He gives a spectacular performance, and shows a lot of different shades.
But it’s generous as well, isn’t it?
Damon: Yeah. It is. And for us, it’s so easy to label Kirk as cocky, impetuous and never wrong, and this movie became an exploration and a challenge of all those ideas. Traditionally, the mentor character in a movie will guide and train their protege. We thought it’d be interesting if the first real scene in this movie is Kirk’s mentor telling him I made a mistake in the first movie, thinking you were ready for this. You aren’t ready for this. And for the audience to be with Kirk in that moment, and go, I don’t really understand what it is that he did wrong. And for Kirk to be a little confused.
Ultimately, the story we wanted to tell is a story about humility. About being able to take responsibility for things, and for the lives of his crew. Even though it feels as though Kirk is doing everything right, finding quiet moments for him to question his judgement. To get to all of this was in service of a scene where he is completely humbled. That idea, it would have been very hard to imagine Shatner ever wanting to do that, because his Kirk was much more of a do-no-wrong kind of brilliant, heroic type.
The hero character in cinema, it’s very popular to have the reluctant hero. Kirk isn’t that. He’s not reluctant. He wants to be the hero. But when Pike tells him you’re not ready for the chair yet, that’s also true.
This movie is really the exploration of him becoming a man in a lot of ways.
I don’t know if you’re seen Iron Man 3…
Damon: I haven’t.
Well, it’s subverting things. You’ve got Christopher Nolan fusing blockbuster cinema with edgy darkness. But you’re taking a different route. You chose to tell a relatively straightforward story. In the press notes, JJ Abrams describes the sheer number of story meetings you had on this film. So how did the story process work on this? You came out of the first Star Trek knowing roughly what you wanted to do. But how did it map out from there? And how quickly did it fall into place?
Damon: It started in the same place as the first film, with five of us in a room. We all have television backgrounds and that idea of groupthink, particularly as it pertains to a movie as ambitious as this one… each one of us have things we want to explore, and then you find out where the common vernacular is. Ultimately, we had one of those conversations.
Right around the time the first movie was coming out, I still had two seasons of Lost to do. JJ was about to start writing Super 8. Bryan is essentially running Bad Robot and they, conservatively, were making six or seven television pilots. Bob [Orci] and Alex [Kurtzman] have their own empire. So we were like, we’re not even going to talk about this again for a year.
We reconvened again in the summer of 2010 really not having done anything on Trek at all. We were pregnant with a number of ideas, and the process started very organically in terms of what’s Kirk’s arc going to be? What do we owe from the first movie in terms of the destruction of Vulcan? How does that create a different Starfleet? And can that be our story? That this is now the debt that has to be paid as a result of the story choice we made in the first one, to destroy Vulcan. That would change things dramatically.
What if we were living in a world where 9/11 never happened? Would the US have invaded Iraq? What would have happened in Afghanistan? How would the world be different?
Bryan: The other thing he tapped into, and I’m the non-writer of the group, is our television experience. Normally, when people develop movie scripts, they’ll do the outline for a little while, but writers are always chomping at the bit to start writing. But then the script takes longer, everyone gives their notes… it’s a different process in television because it’s so fast, and the outline is king in television.
The boys, everyone’s used to the idea of working out outlines, which is not an enjoyable experience for writers. For a year, they just worked on outlines, and talked through it over and over. So when they actually wrote the script, it took around a month…
Damon: First draft, yeah. But we were writing off of a 50-page outline.
Bryan: And so that story process, when we all get together, it’s the history of us all, the shortcut of working together, and knowing that all of these ideas can be thrown out or brought back, and nobody is precious about anything. Because it’s all in service to the film. We know we’ll eventually get there, but let’s just keep ploughing ahead with ideas…
And with that, our limited time was up! Damon and Bryan, thank you very much…
Star Trek Into Darkness is out on the 9th May in the UK.
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