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As he slips back and forth among the personas of director, actor, and character, Frakes hums quietly to himself. He's relaxed and self-assured, a fact noted by all around him. "Jonathan is having a good time," comments actress Marina Sirtis, who is seated at a study console on the library set. "He's doing exactly what he's always wanted to do, and he's happy." At this moment, Sirtis, too, is doing something that makes her happy. Costumed as Counselor Deanna Troi, she is scheduled to perform with Frakes in the very first scene to be filmed.
Frakes watches calmly while the technicians around him finish their duties. He consults for a moment with Director of Photography Matt Leonetti, then with Sirtis, and finally asks for a rehearsal. A moment later, satisfied with every detail, Frakes settles into all three personas at once. From his seat at a study console, the apparition of William T. Riker directs the filmmakers into action -- "Let's try one."
The camera rolls and just minutes later Frakes, working only as director now, calmly calls, "Cut. Print that." He smiles again. The first footage for Star Trek Insurrection is, as they say, "in the can." And it only took thirty-seven minutes.
Give or take a couple of years.
In Hollywood, success inspires sequels. And with a box-office take of approximately $150 million worldwide, Star Trek: First Contact had earned a sequel. That much went without saying. What remained to be said was what the story would be, and who would be chosen to write the screenplay.
The most likely candidate for that job initially appeared to be the team responsible for the first two films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. "Ron and Brannon are terrific to work with," affirms Producer Rick Berman, "and they're both extremely talented writers. The studio tends to feel that when teams work well together, they should keep working together, so we all certainly thought that calling on Ron and Brannon would be a good idea, at first."
But Moore and Braga hadn't exactly been sitting still since First Contact. The writing duo already was busy writing a high-profile feature for the studio, the upcoming sequel to Paramount's 1996 blockbuster, Mission: Impossible -- and that was in their spare time. They still had their "day jobs" as well, with Moore serving as co-executive producer on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Braga held the same title on its sister show, Star Trek: Voyager. And soon they would assume even larger responsibilities on those series, with Moore becoming deeply involved in plotting DS9's final year in first-run syndication and Braga taking the reins of Voyager following Executive Producer Jeri Taylor's departure at the end of that show's fourth season.
So Berman turned to Michael Pillar, a writer whose talents he trusted implicitly -- and, in fact, the man who had been a mentor to both Moore and Braga when, as young scribes, they'd first joined the writing staff of The Next Generation. Pillar had worked with Berman for nine years, co-creating both Deep Space Nine and Voyager with him. Asking Filler to write the ninth Star Trek film, says Berman, was, "a logical step for me."
The producer took that step in February 1997. "Rick asked, 'How would you feel about writing the next Star Trek movie?'" Filler recalls. "And I said, 'I hope you didn't think that I would say no!'"
Although Filler was quite happy to accept the offer, he admits that he had one condition. As much as he admired First Contact -- a film that, ironically, had been inspired by his scripts for TNG's two-part classic, "The Best of Both Worlds" -- he found it a bit "dark" for his tastes. "I felt that I needed to write something that would make people feel good," he says. "In fact, the strength of Star Trek depends on making people feel good about the future. Over the last ten years, the American public has turned to darker and darker science fiction. But I think the fans love the parameters that Gene Roddenberry set for us, the 'box' that he put us in. It's an intellectual challenge, but we have to stay in that box. I like to push right up against the edges every chance I get, but I've always felt, and continue to feel, that we should and can stay within the boundaries that made Star Trek popular in the first place."
For Rick Berman, who, as Roddenberry's successor, is more familiar with that box than anyone, that wasn't a problem, although ultimately, he notes, Insurrection didn't end up as "light" as Pillar initially envisioned. "In many scenes, the tone of this movie is a lot darker than that of First Contact," Berman points out. "In that film, we had very obvious, clear-cut villains: the Borg, and the Borg queen. But here we deal with a major crisis in Picard's life, a turning point for him, and with the huge sacrifice that he's willing to make in order to stand up for something that he believes in -- but which nobody else seems to believe in. That gave the story some dark moments, particularly at the initial stages."
Those initial story stages went through many bizarre twists and turns, some of them very dark, as Berman mentions, and some of them evoking broad humor. "We had ideas galore during the initial stages of writing," he recalls. "Some of those ideas touched on themes from The Prisoner of Zenda and from Heart of Darkness."
"Rick had an idea about remaking a classic story into a Star Trek movie," recalls Filler. Not long after, while he was thinking of other directions for the script, Filler had an epiphany. "I literally got the idea for this film one morning as I was putting on my Rogaine," Filler declares with a smile. "Not that I need it, of course."
It wasn't the Rogaine itself that inspired him, of course, but what the Rogaine represented. Like many baby boomers -- and, indeed, all persons who reach a certain point in their lives -- Piller had recently begun bumping his head against the cold, hard reality of middle age. As a television writer and producer, he'd been hearing that the things of interest to his generation weren't necessarily of interest to the next, at least not according to those in a position to make such judgments.
"Network executives are interested only in the demographic group between eighteen and thirty-five," Piller says, "because the advertisers are interested only in young people." With that in mind, he notes, "it becomes easy to understand how those of us 'getting on in years' are doing weird things -- like working out at the gym, having plastic surgery, using Rogaine -- doing everything we can to stay young. Or," he adds with a chuckle, "to appear to stay young."
Piller's inspiration combined this fervor for eternal youth with Berman's concept of employing a classic story. He pitched an idea about a search for the Fountain of Youth that would utilize the structure of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In a nutshell, the pitch concerned Captain Jean-Luc Picard being assigned by Starfleet to track down Duffy, a former classmate of his from Starfleet Academy who now was attacking Romulan ships in a distant region of space. In keeping with Conrad's novel, the crew of the Enterprise would go through changes as they traveled up the metaphorical river in pursuit of Duffy. They would begin to feel different, eventually realizing that they were growing younger. And when they finally find Duffy -- Piller's substitute for Conrad's character, Kurtz -- Picard would find that his old friend looked exactly the same as he had at the Academy. Keeping in mind his desire to make a film that would make people feel good, Piller jokingly referred to the concept as his "Heart of Lightness."
Berman liked the story, so Piller sat down to fill in the gaps in the basic premise, adding characters such as Duffy's ex-wife, for whom Picard had a yen. Piller saw the Fountain of Youth as a region that the Romulans had discovered inside the Neutral Zone. Unbeknownst to Picard, the Federation had negotiated a treaty with the Romulans in order to share the benefits of the region, which could also offset the effects of a terrible plague spreading through the Federation. The only problem was that a species that lived right in the middle of this region would need to be transplanted. It was this species that Duffy was defending by firing on Romulan, and eventually Federation, ships.
When Berman read the story, he pointed out some problems. He wasn't sure about some of the Fountain of Youth aspects, which, he noted, had the possibility of seeming "quite hokey and fantasy-like if not treated properly." He also thought the story was too political on too many levels. There was the political conflict between the Federation and the Romulans, and the more personal political conflict between Picard, who had turned into the man of reason that we know today, and Duffy, whose attitudes matched those of the academy-era Picard. That's when Berman contributed an important suggestion: "What if Duffy were Data?"
Piller loved the idea. It upped the dramatic level considerably, since Picard would be chasing after someone in whom the entire audience had an emotional investment. "Suddenly it was Picard versus Data, maybe Picard even killing Data in order to subdue him," recalls Piller. It was a darker direction than he'd planned to follow, but he found himself embracing the idea, despite the fact that, since there was no longer a mature human friend to make younger, the Fountain of Youth theme now seemed irrelevant. Since there no longer was a point in making Picard or the rest of the crew grow younger, the Fountain of Youth idea was dropped. "Now we really were doing Heart of Darkness," says Piller.
"So we wrote a story about Data," he continues. "It was still political, a story about stealing a world for medical reasons, but it had nothing to do with the Fountain of Youth. Picard went after Data, battled Data, and killed Data about halfway through the movie. Then he found out that he'd killed his friend for the wrong reasons, because of this unholy alliance between the Romulans and the Federation. It was powerful drama, with great action sequences." And, Piller notes, it solved the problem of, "how do you out-Borg the Borg? How do you create a villain or adversary that will be their equal? The answer to that ultimately is, don't try. Make a different kind of movie."
Berman and Piller distributed the story to various Paramount executives, only to get mixed reviews. While some people at the studio loved it, others didn't like it at all. As Berman had previously worried, the naysayers felt the story was too "political" and that it was wrong for the Federation to be aligned with "the heavies." Perhaps it should be a group of outlaw Federation heads of state instead, someone suggested. (Ironically, a later complaint was made, prior to the final version, that an outlaw cadre "wasn't a strong enough adversarial threat, and it really ought to be the highest levels of the Federation that are involved," says Piller with a grin.)
But more disheartening than the studio's reaction was the letter sent to Rick Berman by actor Patrick Stewart, who plays Picard. Stewart had reviewed the story while on location filming the television movie, Moby Dick. "There was no question," says Piller. "Patrick really didn't like it."
Stewart is open about his feelings regarding this early version of the story. "I said three things," says the actor, who is, for the first time, serving as a producer on a Star Trek film, "One was, I thought that Picard's involvement in the action line of First Contact had been very successful, and I wanted to continue that. My feeling was that the captain should be in the thick of things," Stewart states emphatically. "You've got to have the captain in jeopardy.
"Then I talked about perhaps trying to find a lighter tone for this film," he continues. "I wanted to see our heroes having fun.
"And the last thing I suggested was that we should develop a romantic storyline that went a little further than the one that I had with Alfre Woodard in the last film." Stewart admits to being slightly disappointed with how that romance had developed. "That was a fairly competitive relationship, which ultimately became respectful and fond towards the end -- but it was just too late."
Pillar was dismayed by Stewart's comments. He had a long relationship with the actor and respected Stewart's viewpoint. Could he be completely offtrack in his approach?
Again, Rick Berman stepped in and said the right thing at the right time. "It shows how he has become a great producer," Piller observes with utmost sincerity. "Because at the verge of my saying, 'I don't know how I'm going to do this project if Patrick needs it to go one way and I need it to go another,' Rick said, 'No, you're both saying the same thing in different words.'"
Piller admits he was skeptical, but Berman was insistent. "Rick said, 'You wait and see. When we talk to Patrick and really get down to the issues, the things that you want and the things that he wants are not that different.'" Piller pauses to reflect. "Now Rick is a man that I deeply trust, so I decided to stick it out," he says. "And it came to pass that the conflict that I had with Patrick really is what saved this project and did give me what I wanted in the first place."
Berman and Piller sat down again to rethink the story and figure out a way to "save the parts we really liked," says Filler. "And I remembered that one of the things Patrick had said was, 'I want to do something that's fun, something that's different and light.' And, hell, that was where I came in in the first place. So I brought up the Fountain of Youth to Rick again."
Although Berman previously had expressed reservations about that aspect of the story, he agreed to mention it to Stewart. "Rick talked to Patrick on the phone in Australia," Filler says, "and Patrick said, 'Yes! The Fountain of Youth! That's on everybody's mind! We were just talking about it the other day!'"
A new version of the story, restoring the Fountain of Youth to the plot, was written, incorporating a lot more fun and action. Filler liked the story better, and so did Stewart. "We got into a room together and started talking about possibilities, and it was clear at that point that we were certainly back on the same wavelength," observes Piller. "So Rick's whole point about staying with it turned out to be both prophetic and very valuable advice."
But Piller was still far from having a final script. The storyline relating to Data would be retained, but modified, so that the conflict between him and Picard would occur early in the movie and quickly be resolved. Other elements would come and go. The Mariners, a group of ragtag dropouts from the Federation who would rally to Picard's side when the captain is in desperate straits, disappeared, as did the early concept that the inhabitants of the planet were all children, albeit very ancient ones. The Romulans were dropped and replaced by a new race called the Son'a, "because nobody liked the idea of using the Romulans, ever," comments Piller.
At this point, he notes, "We were still trying to figure out how to mix and match from the various drafts of the story." Alterations to one detail dictated alterations to others. For example, the age of the Son'a had a specific correlation to the age of the Ba'ku. When the characters who evolved into the Ba'ku were described as a bunch of eight-year-olds, the Son'a, who were to have covered their faces with makeup or masks for much of the film, were ultimately revealed as thirty-five-year-olds. "It would have been really ironic to discover that the people whom we expect to be terribly ugly are really very normal looking young adults," Piller comments. But that idea was thrown out after he realized that the Ba'ku themselves had to be older so that Picard's arc for the film could develop.
"It was necessary for Picard to be emotionally attached to the people of this planet," Piller explains. "But no matter what I did, I could not believe that he would be attached to these children. In the first place, he doesn't relate well to children, as anyone who watches the series knows."
Another problem had to do with Picard's romance. Duffy had become Data, so Duffy's ex-wife had disappeared, but the spirit of both lived on in the form of a female officer who had been a classmate of Picard's at the academy. "She came aboard to help Picard find Data," says Piller. "However although she was aware of the conspiracy going on, she hid it from Picard. As they grew younger, they rekindled their love affair. Ultimately, after Picard discovered the truth, he convinced her to join the fight against the Federation."
This worked on one level, but not in terms of Picard's involvement with the Ba'ku. "I realized that Picard's emotional attachment had to be to a woman on the planet," recounts Piller. "It couldn't be with some woman from the Federation. So even though we liked the idea of the Ba'ku being children, we knew that we must make Picard fall in love with them, in order for the audience to fall in love with them too. He had to fall in love with a Ba'ku woman."
Now at last the road was paved to take Picard on a true voyage of the soul, something that Piller had wanted all along. "When we see him in the beginning," he says, "Picard's life is cluttered. He's lost the basic quality of life that he signed up for, but he's doing his job as best he can. Then, when he goes through his change, due to the effect that this planet has on him, and the connection he has with the people on this planet, he can see the quality of life that he's lost. And by the end of the movie, he is a changed man who is no longer willing to settle for something that he's not happy with. It opens his eyes, and he's going to make changes both in his life and in the way the Federation operates. And he's going to make sure that life slows down a little bit, that the quality of his life is improved."
Copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Posted June 27, 2001
This book is a must have for any fan. It allows you to read and in some cases see just what it takes to get the phemon known as Star Trek on to the big screen. Behind the scenes are just as important as what happens in front of the cameraWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.