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Copyright © 1996-2002 Steve Krutzler and TrekWeb.com. All Rights Reserved.
Interview: Screenwriter John Logan Talks Writing NEMESIS, Trimming the Film and Dueling Starships!

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Posted: 00:01:35 on December 02 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features

Written by Steve Krutzler

This article contains spoilers, including discussion of the conclusion of the film. For your convenience, this portion has been placed at the end and will only be visible when highlighted with your mouse.

Writing your own STAR TREK movie is probably every fan’s dream. When hot Hollywood screenwriter John Logan, fresh off an Academy Award nomination for penning GLADIATOR, was presented with the opportunity to scribe the latest big-screen NEXT GEN epic, it was an indulgence he couldn’t refuse.

“It was incredibly interesting, being a STAR TREK fan as long as I can remember,” Logan told TrekWeb recently at the New York press screening for STAR TREK NEMESIS. “My introduction to TREK was literally Captain Kirk on his first voyage, not even syndication, the first run when I was a kid—and I completely fell in love with it and I’ve remained sort of unapologetically a STAR TREK fan all my life. Then the opportunity to work on this came about when I met the great Brent Spiner and I had sort of a minute’s hesitation thinking, ‘is this mixing business with pleasure?’ I’m very professional about my work but I have such affection for these characters in the story, how am I going to be able to be objective about it? So I had some hesitations.”

All doubts about becoming involved in the project quickly disappeared, but Logan says he still worried that becoming a part of the franchise would dampen its allure.

“Certainly from the minute Rick [Berman], Brent and I started working on the story, and when I met Rick and said ‘well this is what I want to do,’ it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” the writer gushes. “I did have a certain amount of fear that once you see how the magician does the trick, you’re not going to like the trick anymore. So I thought once I see that the Enterprise isn’t actually a spaceship, it’s actually a set that you can walk around the plywood back, is it going to affect the way I feel about it for the rest of my life? Nothing could be further from the truth.”

John Logan with one of his creations, a Reman Joining the ranks of STAR TREK is like being invited inside an exclusive club. Most of the people who work on the franchise—writers, producers, special effects technicians—have been in place since THE NEXT GENERATION became a phenomenon ten years ago. John says joining the club turned out to be every bit as rewarding as he anticipated.

“Rick and Brent told me really early on that what you have to understand about STAR TREK is it’s really a family, and I said, ‘oh yeah I’ve heard that a million times, every movie’s a family’,” he says. “But it is so true, these people care so deeply about it and 15 years of their lives have been committed to working on this and building such affection and such tenderness about it, that it was amazing to be a part of this world for a little while. So if anything I come out of the NEMESIS experience having more respect—I know the Enterprise is in fact not a space ship now, but it doesn’t matter because the spirit of all the people working on it is what makes it a space ship.”

But writing a STAR TREK movie is more than just a gig, bringing with it an enormous amount of expectations and responsibilities not present for a standard screenwriting job. Logan’s position as fan uniquely qualified him to take on this formidable task.

“I take it very personally, very deeply because my intention all the way along was to write a movie for the fans,” Logan told TrekWeb. “I think that’s why they hired me, because I’m a fan, I have a responsiveness to fans and what they want and how they respond to things. If the fans reject this movie then I will feel awful; I will feel like I failed at my job. If the fans like the movie and the general audience doesn’t, I don’t care because I’ve done my job. I was trying to write a movie for the fans, predicting how they might respond to certain things. We make radical choices in NEMESIS and certainly we push the envelope on certain things and that was our intention from the very beginning but, being a fan, I know I respond to the same things that any human being responds to when they are being told a story. They want to be challenged, they want to be provoked, they want to be entertained, they want to feel sweep and grandeur. Whether it’s GLADIATOR or LINCOLN or ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, it’s all the same thing.”

Faced with having to write a franchise movie, Logan approached the STAR TREK universe with intense reverence, something that made the writing process difficult at times.

“The uniqueness of NEMESIS for me was, because it was such an important part of my story growing up as a human being, I felt I had to be very protective of it more than I would be about other things,” he says. “At times that was very difficult because I wanted to write parts for everyone. I wanted to write a really good Crusher arc or a really good Worf arc. So the first cut of the movie was like two hours and fifty minutes because it had all this stuff in it! The process of honing it down into the NEMESIS that we have was really a sort of educational process for me as well. I’m incredibly proud of the movie and I can only hope the fans will be proud as well.”

The NEMESIS that exists now clocks in at a little less than two hours and trimming it down to this length meant cutting scores of potentially rewarding scenes. But Logan says he approves of every cut and told us that the final film is better for it.

“I totally supported the cuts because I saw the first cut of the movie as big a fan as I am I was like ‘Oh god, end this movie. I’m sick of talk, talk, talk—Picard shut up!’ So I totally supported the cuts that were made,” he says. “Rick kept me very involved about every line that was being cut or discussed. Stuart [Baird] was great in terms of feedback. I totally stand behind the movie that’s out there. There were things that I liked a lot that I thought added color or flourish or texture to the major theme but in the largest way I’m delighted.”

Some scenes in particular were hard to lose because despite their long-windedness, they enriched the script with foreshadowing and enhanced the movie’s themes of mortality and change. One such scene was between Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner in the first act of the movie.

“There were some scenes that I liked very much that I supported cutting,” Logan said. “Picard and Data had a scene right after the wedding that was a really good scene, sort of setting up character [arcs], that we were right to lose. Beverly Crusher had two really nice scenes about her moving on to become the head of Starfleet Medical and a farewell with Picard that I was sort of sorry to see lose. But I was there and I said ‘yes, cut them.’”

Picard, Data, Geordi on the bridge Logan says these deletions were essential to maintaining a more effective pace in the final film, but he think a director’s cut with many of these scenes for DVD is certainly in order.

“Yes, absolutely, I would love that. For the fans, god yes they would love that stuff,” he exclaims excitedly. “I think that would be great but cuts were made for artistic purposes in terms of ‘what’s the best possible way to tell this story?’ The best possible way to tell the story was with some drive and momentum and I’m the first one to say that as much as I liked certain elements, certain textures, when the textures start taking away from the story and the momentum of the story, it’s bad drama. So what we have now is really cracking good drama. Another 50 minutes of footage? As a fan I think it’d be cool to watch that stuff, but the NEMESIS that we have is the NEMESIS I stand behind and am very proud of.”

NEMESIS focuses squarely on Picard and Data and Logan regrets that more of the TNG characters couldn’t have had stronger parts, but he says he felt he had to write for those characters he really cherished as a fan.

“I think every STAR TREK fan has their favorite characters,” he says. “My sister is the world’s biggest Worf fan; she kept calling saying, ‘Worf’s going to be really big in this, right?’ and I’m like “uh, huh…’ The characters I always responded to were Picard, Data and Deanna, I just loved those characters. I loved all the characters but those were the characters that really excited me. So I was in the unenviable position of writing a movie that focused on those characters. If it were my sister writing it, it would be like Worf, Worf, more Worf.”

The camaraderie among the TNG cast plays centrally in the first act of the film, which is injected with quite a bit of humor as a precursor to the seriousness to come. Unlike recent TREK films, Logan’s jokes are situational, rather than one-line gags.

“I can’t do one-liners, I’m not very funny,” the writer admits. “The humor sort of grew out of the characters and I ripped off great moments from NEXT GEN humor that I liked and I thought ‘ooh, I can do a little variation of that.’ It was interesting because we knew that once Picard and Shinzon became embroiled, the movie gets very grim and very serious and it needs to be because it’s dealing with very serious, dark issues. So we thought we really have to frontload the first part with some yuks, with some levity, so we really know why this family loves each other and why we should care when they all break up. So there was a conscious effort to try to keep things light, like the jeep chase. If there’s any humor that comes through well, I give credit to the actors because they’re an amazingly talented group of people.”

Data and B4 Writing for Data in NEMESIS was specifically tailored to reflect on a central theme in the movie: doppelganger or doubling. The film introduces us to a prototype android.

“B4 was always part of the story because we were trying to, in typical Aristotelian fashion, make all the plots relate to a central theme,” Logan explains. “So the idea of Picard and Data both responding to a simulacrum, an image of themselves, was always part of the movie.”

Picard’s nemesis in the film is the younger clone of himself, Shinzon, played by Tom Hardy. Logan says he came up with the villain’s name as a small way to pay tribute to STAR TREK’s creator Gene Roddenberry.

“Shinzon is an old Chinese name. All of the Romulan/Reman names are Chinese. It’s my way of honoring Gene Roddenberry because to him the Romulans were the Chinese communists. When I went to find names I went to of all my LAST SAMURAI Japanese research and it wasn’t right so I went to Chinese stuff. It’s an actual name and I have no idea what it means.”

Logan wasn’t the only new face on the block for the tenth TREK outing. Director Stuart Baird’s complete lack of familiarity with the STAR TREK universe made for an interesting shoot, as many of the actors have acknowledged. But Logan says Baird was no nemesis.

“I think the zeitgeist of NEMESIS, if you will, is new; new writer, never been in this world before; new director, doesn’t even know the world; new cinematographer, new production team, who could try to do something provocative with the movie,” he explains. “So I fully supported the idea of getting a director who had never seen an episode of STAR TREK, but would come in and say ‘what is the best drama here?’, knowing that Rick Berman has quality control and is intimately involved in every aspect—he’s there for the rehearsal of every shot and he’s intimately involved. So Rick provides such quality control that I was never concerned about the movie not becoming a TREK movie. I thought to bring a director in who has an experience with the world beyond TREK, just like me as a writer having experience beyond TREK, I thought was very brave and very smart. And working with Stuart was incredibly fun because he knows nothing about STAR TREK, I know everything about STAR TREK, the battles we had were great. Very healthy, very productive, I enjoyed it immensely, the give and take.”

Battles may have been waged off screen but nothing compares to the third act of NEMESIS, which explodes with a lengthy and complex space battle between the Enterprise and the Reman vessel Scimitar. We asked Logan about the unique sequence, which involves an enormous amount of visual effects work, twisting and turning its way to an unexpected conclusion.

“The battles were for me one of the most entertaining things to write because it allowed me to sit in the captain’s chair and make the Enterprise do all the things I’ve always wanted to see,” Logan said. “From the very beginning, one of the things I said to Rick was, ‘I want to write a war movie. I want the entire third act to be a battle with these two ships blasting each other to pieces, the entire third act. Yes, there’ll be dialogue scenes, there’ll be character development, but essentially it’s one long running battle.’ I think that’s important to TREK, that when the emotional stakes of the characters become large enough they manifest themselves in two ships pounding each other to pieces. So by that point I think we’d earned it with Shinzon and Picard to have this immense battle that just goes on and on and on and you think it’s over and it goes on for another ten minutes in a new sort of iteration. So that was always very planned from the beginning, a monstrously big battle that you could literally divide up with scenes.”

The Enterprise-E in battle

The battle was so big that some of it had to be cut out in the script phase due to budgetary constraints.

“There was stuff cut in the script phase that we couldn’t afford, but the big things I wanted—the ships colliding, the ship rolling over firing lateral phasers, emergency warp—all of those made it in.”

The following section contains spoilers for the conclusion of the film, which while revealed some time ago may not be known to all readers. For this reason, you must highlight the area below to read this portion of the interview. Please exercise appropriate discretion when reading or posting comments.

In a vein similar to STAR TREK II, the final battle can only be won with sacrifice. In NEMESIS, the sacrifice of Data takes on somewhat of a unique twist, but Logan says writing the death of this beloved character wasn’t easy and wasn’t undertaken lightly.

“It was awful, it was VERY difficult. Because I have such affection for Data as a character—he’s one of my favs—and I knew I was getting to the point of having to write it,” he recalls. “You’ve got 120 pages leading up to it and you always know it’s there in the back of your mind but you know you’re going to get to the day you turn on the computer and have to write the words and it was surprisingly emotional when I had to do it. I talked to Brent about it, right after we decided to kill Data we had this dinner and I said ‘let’s really talk about this, how do you feel about it, are you sure you want to do this? I know how I feel about it as the fan, but let’s be responsible and think about it’, and he did and Rick, Brent and I all were aware and took it really seriously. It was not done in terms of ‘how cool this would be,’ it was taken very seriously and that all played into actually writing the words. “

Despite this event, there is a glimmer of hope for the character at the end of NEMESIS. The B4 survives.

“The thought that the B4 might give the audience some whisper of hope in terms of the soul of Data—if one believes in the soul of androids—continuing on, just sort of evolved during of the whole process,” Logan says of the final moments of the film.

For now, Logan is busily balancing multiple block busters. THE LAST SAMURAI is in production and he’s finishing up the script for his Abraham Lincoln biopic. He’s also in the story phase on the sequel to 2000’s GLADIATOR.

”It’s in the story phase, I’m meeting with Ridley and talking about what it should be and sort of flushing it out,” he says, noting that director Ridley Scott’s involvement is not definite at this point. “It’s early days, trying to pick out a story. It does have something to do with the first one and I’m not calling it a sequel, I’m calling it, I can’t even tell you because it’s top secret! If I said anything, Ridley would come running through this door and strangle me. It’s going very well, it’s going to be very exciting.”

STAR TREK NEMESIS was a picture Logan says he had to be involved with throughout the entire production process: “With STAR TREK, you couldn’t get me away from the set because if any word changes it has to be mine because I’m so invested.” It’s this passion for the franchise and its characters that shines through in the movie and even amongst the hubbub of working with Hollywood’s elite, John Logan is a fan at heart.

“That first fly-by shot of the Enterprise,” he says before lowering his voice and mimicking a low, booming sound effect. “I’ve never seen the Enterprise look so good!”

© 2002 TrekWeb.com. All Rights Reserved.


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