Damon Lindelof Talks STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Easter Eggs, Timeline & Much More
Co-writer Damon Lindelof talks in detail about J.J. Abrams' anticipated Star Trek sequel, discussing the film's Easter eggs, setting it on Earth, how much time has passed since the first movie and a whole lot more.
Speaking with Collider, Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Damon Lindelof discusses J.J. Abrams' highly anticipated sequel. He reveals that the film takes place about six months after its predecessor, which was released in 2009. "Without any insular knowledge of star dates, my understanding is that it’s roughly six months since the end of the first movie to the Nibiru mission of the new movie." He also talks in detail about filming on the bridge of the Enterprise. "I think it was a much more immersive experience, because before you could be on the bridge of the enterprise, but once you went to where the turbo lift was you were back in the real world so there’s a couple of grips standing there with lights. So the illusion gets shattered. But for the new movie you could walk onto the soundstage at Sony and there were four different ways to access the set, and you could walk for a minute and a half or two minute before you actually got to the bridge. And there’s all these tributaries where you could shoot off and we had to change out certain parts of it once they were shot out. So it was almost like a constantly transforming algorithm, the inside of the ship, so you could actually get lost on it and not know which way you were headed. So it was just, I think for the actors certainly, the idea of being much more in your environment without needing to break that illusion was probably much more useful for them and certainly directorially for J.J. [Abrams] in terms of his options. But I think that as cheesy as this sounds, it’s true, the audience has a reasonable expectation for the sequel that it’s going to feel bigger and what does that word mean per se? Does that mean that there are bigger stakes? Does it mean that you spent more money on it? Does it mean that the bad guy is twice as nasty? Who knows? It means a lot of different things. But what J.J. was very passionate about- and it’s a big deal because to not shoot on the Paramount stages is a big break from tradition, but they just couldn’t accommodate this idea, which was that the Enterprise is a massive ship. And you don’t really have a sense of scale when the Enterprise through space or it’s in the orbit of a planet. How can we get a sense of how big that ship really is? And there were two answers. The first is from the outside in relation to things that are planetary and the other answer was from the inside. Seeing how many decks there are and being able to look up and a big part of that was connecting the sets, so I’m really glad that he did it.
"Either Bob [Orci], Alex [Kurtzman] or I was on the set for certainly the first month because there a lot of writing that’s still happening once you’ve got the movie out of the blocks. Everyone’s very excited about the script and you kind of do nothing for a while and it just sits there and then you go into production and everyone starts reading it again and now it’s alive with the actors. And then things start happening in scenes where you’re like, “Oh wow, that would be something nice to carry forward”, or “That would be much more impactful if it was the payoff to something that happened earlier.” Producorially there’s not really much you need to do, but as a writer I think it we all needed to be present. And the great thing about the bridge stuff is as frustrating as it is to shoot stuff out of sequence or out of chronology, you’re shooting all the stuff on the bridge throughout the entire movie so it’s like fast forwarding and always stopping when you get to a bridge scene, and suddenly you’re like, “Oh my god, so much happened between the last bridge scene and that scene. That scene the guys in a new costume and he’s got a huge gash.” It’s kind of funny in a way, but you get a whole sense of the entire movie is, just by having that experience."
Lindelof also had this to say about the differences between writing the two movies. "It’s different on every movie no matter what you do and I think that J.J., Bob and myself, we’re all TV writers at heart, so the majority of the writing process happens in- on a TV show, we’re referred to as the writers room where all of you are basically sitting and hashing out character stuff and story stuff, and actual story structure. That’s all happening in group think, but then when it comes to the actual writing of the script or the writing of materials, whether it’s the outline or the scene, you’re spinning off and going and doing that stuff. So the continuity of the movie, it started with J.J., Alex, Bob, myself and even Bryan Burk, J.J. and Bryan are not credited writers but we’re all producers on the movie, the creative vision of the movie. We all talk about what are the big picture story ideas that we want to reflect in the movie? What is the story that we’re telling this time? What’s happening with the characters, what’s happening in the story, what if any thematic feel are we going for here? Let’s get all our ducks in a row on that stuff and you have those meetings and then you go off and riff off of them and then you come back and say, “O.K. we’re now pitching the following storyline.” Then you pull some things out, make some things better, rubberstamp some things, and then you go off and repeat the process. When you go off its different permutations every time because Alex was directing People Like Us for a certain part of the period I just described to you, that was Orci and I doing the majority of that heavy lifting, then I would get distracted and Orci and Kurtzman would fill in the blank, then Bob would go off and then Alex and I would work together, and sometimes only just one of us would be working and so we generated the first draft of the script. So literally I could not point to the script that we shot and say, “Oh, Bob wrote this scene, I wrote this scene or Alex wrote this scene, or I remember when the three of us wrote this scene.” By the time the movie gets shot every single person has weighed in on it multiple times and we reach a consensus. Alex, Bob and I are getting screenwriting credit but obviously all of it is in service of J.J.’s vision as director. He doesn’t take a writing credit, but he’s one of the primary storytellers in there too. And I don’t think anybody is really precious about the idea. Very often we get into disagreements about what should happen in a scene. Always respectfully, it’s not like there are blue states and red states. I think we’re all sort of aligned in terms of what it is we’re going for. The thing we talk most about in terms of what is our allegiance to the original Trek? What is our level of fandom? You have Orci on one end of the pole where he’s read the novelizations in addition to seeing all of Voyager, DS9, Enterprise, all of the movies; everything."
"The majority of the Easter eggs are already embedded before we go into production," says Lindelof concerning potential Easter eggs. "I think that there are a couple things that along the way where you find an opportunity. But I think the fans want to feel that that stuff had a lot of thought behind it and that we’re not being casual about referencing the original series or the Trek-verse. And you have to do your homework especially because we started a new timeline. You have to be very responsible about the sequencing of things because it’s not we can do whatever we want now. Our timeline can’t really abberrate before the first movie where Nero basically destroyed the Kelvin. So Kirk’s birth actually becomes the splitting point for the new universe and anything proceeding it in terms of Trek history you can’t really violate and you have to get a sense of- in Star Trek the original series they’re on the five year mission, they’re already on it. Our crew is not necessarily caught up to where Kirk and Bones and Spock were, not even Chekov yet, when we first met them in the original series. So if you’re going to do something you’ve got to do your homework."
Concerning the use of comedy and a darker tone, Lindelof reiterates that, despite having a darker tone than the first movie, Into Darkness isn't exactly a "dark movie." "We’ve been talking about this a lot and I think that certainly the marketing materials and the title of the movie are selling this idea of a darker Trek, but hopefully especially for the people who have seen the first nine minutes- a totally dark Trek is not Trek. And I think that one of the things that the best iterations of Trek, whether it was episodes show or the movies that were highly successful, is that they were able to find a blend of those two things where the stakes were monumentally life or death but there were still moments of great humor. Did we want to do The Voyage Home? That is largely a comedic, fish out of water movie. No pun intended, a whale out of water movie. With strong comedy elements, but the stakes were saving the future, but the mechanics of the movies was that there was a lot of funny. No, we wanted to do a very serious movie. But when you look at the first movie you go, O.K. the opening of the movie is that Kirk’s father dies and then the next sequence of events is basically a run up to Vulcan being destroyed and the fundamental aftermath of Vulcan being destroyed. All of that stuff seems pretty dark to me and so I don’t feel like the first movie was necessarily light and frothy and I don’t feel that this movie abberates significantly from the first movie in terms of its own level of self-importance. It’s still Trek. I think that the ways that the characters relate to each other, even in times of immense stress can be humorous because several of them, particularly Bones, use humor as a coping mechanism for dealing with those immense stresses. There were multiple times where we thought of something funny for someone to say and we were like that’s just not going to play in this moment. And then the actor would say let me try it and see if I can sell it. And we’re in the editing process now, so some of those jokes will live and some of them will die and some of them will be available on the Blu-ray and DVD. Finding the balance has been important for us. I don’t think anybody wants to see a dour Star Trek movie."
He also confirms that, despite nods to the sequel featuring IDW's current Star Trek comic book line and the upcoming video game, we shouldn't expect any nods to the comics or game in the movie. "I think that the nods will probably becoming more in the spirit of, if you read the comics or you play the videogames, the nods will come from that direction versus the movie towards those things. If you play the game or read the comic books you will understand what role they have in connecting to the new movie versus the movie is going to be winking and if you played the game you’re the only one who got that line, because that kind of stuff has the risk of alienating the people who haven’t gone for the plus version."
Concerning any potential rewrites after Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as the villainous John Harrison, Lindelof stated that it wasn't different from how rewrites usually occur after a casting. "Well, it changed in terms of anytime you cast any actor, even though you think that Kirk is a fixed thing and you’re not going to change him at all, when we cast Chris we rewrote the part to basically match up with what we viewed Chris was doing. Because these parts are not off the rack suits where you put them on and they fit like a glove. You make the suit and then the actor puts it on and then you say, “I’ve got to now tailor this thing so it fits them perfectly.” So Benedict was no different. The kind of actor that he is, which is spectacular, necessitated a certain shift in just the way that the character was going to sound, you know? Our own inner ear for that character we were like, “O.K. we wrote this character John Harrison and this is what he said and this is what he did, but now we’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch playing him so let’s rewrite the movie with that in mind.” And that didn’t mean that John Harrison did anything differently, or it didn’t change the story in anyway, but it did change the words coming out of his mouth."
"While we were making the first movie, there were certainly conversations about what a potential sequel would be and how closely tied to the first movie that it would be," he says when asked if a sequel was being plotted when the first Star Trek was being developed. "For example, the idea of saying let’s just tie the second movie entirely to the destruction of Vulcan because that’s a big deal and many tributaries of story could flow out of that. Should we do that? Or should this in many ways feel like The Dark Knight where you need not have seen Batman Begins at all in order to understand the circumstances in which The Dark Knight opens. The Dark Knight opens much in the same way that Tim Burton’s Batman opens which is Batman is living in Gotham and he is an established figure there and he is beating up bad guys. This is an introduction to a new bad guy who is creating all sorts of problems for Batman. So if you’ve seen Batman Begins there are really no references back to it other than Rachel, and she’s been recast, so you understand that Maggie Gyllenhaal, or Rachel and Bruce have a relationship, but you may not have seen the first movie. In fact, maybe it helps you to attach to Bruce and Rachel’s relationship more if you haven’t seen the first movie, but in the third movie, Dark Knight Rises you have to have seen Batman Begins in order to make any sense of it whatsoever. I think the conversation that we were having is, we’re going to have to pay for what we did in the first movie because it’s a big deal. Do we want to pay for it now, or do we want to pay for it later? That was the first creative conversations that we had related to a potential sequel. Then the movie came out and it did well and Paramount wanted to make another one so we started to get excited about some of the ideas that we had and started developing them further."
Lindelof also discusses how much time the film takes place on Earth. "I don’t want to get into percentages of how much takes place on Earth and how much takes place off Earth, suffice to say I think one of the things we felt a lot of people didn’t know about Star Trek was that they didn’t think that Star Trek was the future. You take something like Star Wars; Star Wars is not the future. It’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and Luke Skywalker is not a human being and isn’t from the planet Earth. The idea in Star Trek, they are. They’re in the 23rd century and these people are from Earth. The Earth needed to play more of a role in these movies, especially in the sense of giving the audience a degree of relatability. I think that in the same way that New York City becomes this anchor point for people in the Marvel movies; that’s Spidey’s stomping ground, that was the stomping ground for Tony Stark, that was the stomping ground for The Avengers, it’s New York. We wanted to do the same thing with Earth in the Star Trek movies."
He then discusses bringing Alice Eve's Carol Marcus into the story. "There was not a lot of debate. It was an idea that, of all the ideas that we had about the sequel and the movie, having Carol in the second movie was something that we all agreed was a good idea. The follow up question is how are we going to use her? What role is she going to play? Is she going to be a love interest for Kirk or something else? And what would that something else be? We have so many phenomenal characters and actors to service in this movie that it feels, on the surface, like it’s an embarrassment of riches, but in the actual execution of making a two hour and ten minute long movie, or however long this movie ends up being, you want to give the audience- you want to satiate their appetite for Bones, and Chekov, and Uhura, and Scotty, and Kirk, and Spock; so you’ve got all those guys to service and Pike from the first movie and obviously [Bruce] Greenwood is back for this one. The idea of introducing any new character, in addition to servicing Benedict, is going to take away from the screen time or storylines that are being connected to those other guys. So we had to look at Carol as, as opposed to she’s a new character that we want you to pay attention to, how can she interact with all those other guys in a way that doesn’t take away from them, but enhances them?"
Finally, Lindelof talks about any mistakes that they made in writing the first Trek and tried to avoid in the sequel. "It’s a great question, but one of the things I’ve learned is there’s no lesson to be learned. You have to resign yourself to the fact that mistakes are going to be made at any time in the creative process and it’s a little bit of “An Appointment in Sammara” in that the more you go out of your way to not make a mistake you discover a whole new mistake. At the end of the day, right or wrong, you have to go with your gut on this is the movie that I would want to see. And like you said a fair amount of anxiety is taken off the table for me personally because of the collaboration. Because of writing with Bob and Alex, bouncing ideas off of Burk and most importantly the buck stops with J.J., he’s going to have to direct this movie. So if there’s something that all five of us are really psyched about, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be great, but it gives us confidence. The things that we were psyched about in the first movie, other people ended up being psyched about. There’s not much in the first movie that didn’t work, or that we regretted when push came to shove."
To read even more from Collider's interview with Lindelof, in which he also discusses character interactions and the "red shirt death" from the first movie, click the source link below.
Star Trek Into Darkness stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Alice Eve and Anton Yelchin. The film is set to hit theaters May 17th, 2013.
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