The cast of Star Trek Beyond and the filmmakers held a press conference last week to discuss the new film and Nerd Report was there. Simon Pegg did double duty playing Scotty and cowriting the script with Doug Jung. Justin Lin took over as director, directing cast members Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Karl Urban and the late Anton Yelchin. Here are some highlights of the press conference .
Q: How did you honor the 50 years of Star Trek and make a movie new fans could enjoy?
Simon Pegg: It was a question of combining an existing mythology and embracing that mythology wholeheartedly, and also making sure that nobody felt shut out. so if you were coming to Star Trek for the first time, you didn’t feel like you weren’t in on some kind of joke or something. Not a joke. It’s very serious. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, really. If you fall on either side of it, you risk alienating a large portion of your audience. We were always aware of the fact we were walking across a gigantic precipice.
Q: What was the decision to use Sabotage by Beastie Boys?
Simon Pegg: We just love the idea of them foiling a technologically terrifying threat with something very analog and old, VHF. It was like radio. The initial idea was that they fired an old radio into the middle of the swarm. It took many shapes as we wrote it. We realized since there’s obviously no sound in space, we had to abide by physics some of the time. We like the idea that Jaylah has discovered this old ship that had an archive of music. She discovered rap music and liked it. She says she likes the beats and shouting. I like that they all have the idea together about what it can do. Sabotage was a song we used in ’09. It was part of Kirk’s childhood. All these things link back to his past and his dad. The motorbike, the song, it’s all kind of him letting go of these things and moving on as a man as well. So it’s important for Kirk’s character as well. It’s just a kick-ass song. If anything’s gonna blow up a swarm of spaceships, it’s gonna be the Beastie Boys, come on.
Q: Was there initial thought that Leonard Nimoy might have appeared, and how did you decide how to include him after his death?
Simon Pegg: When did Leonard die, Zach? Was it during the writing process?
Zachary Quinto: Yeah, he died on February 27th. I think if Leonard was well enough to be a part of this film, I’m sure he would’ve been and I know that there were early conversations with him about that possibility. True to his incredible self, he knew himself well enough to know that that wouldn’t be possible at a certain point. And then I think it became important to all of us to figure a way to honor his legacy and I thought Simon and Doug did a beautiful job of incorporating it into the narrative of the film. We all carried him with us through this production for sure and it was definitely a different kind of feeling to make this movie without him, for me in particular. But I think he was very much a part of it in spirit and certainly in the film now, and will be a part of anything we do moving forward for sure.
Simon Pegg: We wanted to make him part of Spock’s arc, Zach’s Spock’s arc as well, not just as a reference to Spock Prime or what we did eventually of course, which was to dedicate the film to him. We wanted his passing to be something which inspired our Spock to move on as well, so it became an integral part of the story.
Q: Was it Justin’s idea to blow up the Enterprise?
Simon Pegg: I hated the idea at first. I swear, we had rows about it. I was shouting about it. “We can’t do that. You can’t destroy the Enterprise.” My problem was if you think it’s something new, then we’ve seen it before. It happened in Search for Spock. It happened in Generations but Justin was very, very determined and as we spoke about, I realized what he was doing brilliantly was he was not only taking out a main character, but he was removing the physical connective tissue between the crew to see what happens when you take away the thing that physically bonds them together. If you take away that thing that necessitates their being a unit, do they dissipate or do they come back together? That was the genius of that thing. You take it away very violently and dramatically, and then you wait and see if they all come back together to be this family which is essentially what they are. And of course, they do. And I realized I backed down immediately and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” I do occasionally do that. Not always. But in this instance, I realized it was a brilliant idea, but yeah, initially I was opposed to it.
Q: As co-writers, were there ever any points of contention in the co-writing where Doug won?
Doug Jung: There’s no good way to answer that question. No, I don’t think there was anything that we had fights over or tried to get in. It was difficult. I had never cowritten anything before and it kinda helps when your partner’s right more than you. So that was always good. So no, we had a really productive couple weeks where Simon and I were off in Simon’s place in London where it was this kind of magical time I think where we just got to shut out all the pressure that was going on around us and the huge machine that was starting to get geared up. We just were able to sit down. I think those were the moments that I remember we were just laughing and really enjoying the idea of we were writing 20 page Spock/McCoy scenes. We were just like, “We’re writing a Star Trek movie. This is amazing.”
Simon Pegg: We’d watch episodes in the evening.
Doug Jung: That was your idea. “If we do good today, we can go watch some.”
Simon Pegg: But we’d take our notepads down and we were writing down the names of Red Shirts and little details that we could feed in so the universe had continuity.
Doug Jung: I remember when we finally wrote the final voiceover, “Space…” we actually went back and were like, “I think we left a part out.”
Simon Pegg: I think it was “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” It was such a greta pairing, if only because we were always on the same page. Doug has an incredible awareness of structure and overview which is so vital when you’re trying to track a story like this. We had disagreements. I totally was like, “No, you can’t destroy the Enterprise at the beginning.” But when I realized the genius of taking away that thing that bonds them to see if they remain together, I realized that it wasn’t a gimmick. It wasn’t like let’s just do something spectacular. It was let’s do something really incredibly thoughtful that will drive the story. So yeah, we always had disagreements. Some of them were a bit shouty, mainly from me. JJ talked me down from at least three ledges and here we are. I’m so proud of it. I couldn’t hope for a better team than these guys.
Q: What was the dynamic with Justin compared to J.J.?
Zachary Quinto: I mean, Justin has a very different energy about him. I’d say he’s a little more internalized just as a person. He’s a little quieter but he’s no less confident. He’s incredibly gifted as a visual storyteller and I think he’s very sensitive to character dynamics as well. He brings a balance of both of those extremes and he came in on an already moving train in a lot of ways. He didn’t have a lot of time to prep for this film. I think all of us were incredibly impressed by his sense of leadership and vision. I think also it was really great to have Simon in a position of creative influence on this film because he was a tremendous conduit for us early on before we kind of forged our own relationships with Justin. But all in all, he was a really welcome addition. I would say very different from J.J. but also really exciting and really unique in his own ways. And reflective of this experience which was different and new for us to be away from the past and the configuration of the last two films. We all had a great time working together. We really enjoyed him and seeing what he was able to create in the final product is really exciting for all of us.
Q: Was it challenging when the previous director is one of the producers?
Justin Lin: It’s been a pleasure. JJ has been nothing but gracious and generous. I feel like I couldn’t ask for a better experience. The one thing that was a fact was that going from idea to production in six months, that was the challenge. But having a group of people that really are trying to be respectful and try to build things the right way, I feel very fortunate. To have the support as we were building it, it was never easy but filmmaking is not supposed to be easy. We were just in London. I remember just looking at Simon. The four of us were in this room in Soho with nothing. At the end of January, we were like, “We’re going to be shooting in June with a whole crew waiting.” To really have a group of people to try to do it right, I feel like it’s very rare but at the same time I’m very thankful.
Q: The costumes are tight.
Simon Pegg: Tight around where?
Q: Did you have any difficulties?
Simon Pegg: I think the pants were loser, right?
Chris Pine: Yeah, the pants were fantastic this time. So much movement. A lot of space in the hips which I appreciated. I don’t know how to answer your question but I’m going to make up my own question and answer that. This is like the retro super future version of Star Trek so it’s looking way ahead into what Star Trek can become and also having very specific nods to the past. It was very small things throughout the three iterations of the film so far. There have been a lot of discussions about colors of yellow for instance for Kirk’s shirt and the cut of the shirt. This one is a specific nod to the original series. It’s not the kind of bright fantastic yellow of the first and the second. It’s this lovely Kirkian mustard green.
Karl Urban: Sanja did an extraordinary job, our costume designer. One of the things that I was most proud of is the fact that on the previous two films we got to do with J.J., for whatever reason, I don’t know what the reason, but the women in Starfleet uniforms in Star Trek Beyond all had ranks on the uniforms which I think is a fantastic thing. A fan pointed it out to me and I was shocked that it wasn’t the case. One of the first things I did when I got to Vancouver was go and talk to Sanja about that. She goes, “Oh yeah, don’t you worry. Women will have ranks.” I think she did a great job. Also bringing a bit of a ‘60s throwback to the costumes but then also making them slightly new. I had massive envy for Chris Pine’s survival suit.
Chris Pine: You get that just wonderful shade of blue, Karl. It makes you look lovely.
Q: How far do you see the franchise going? Any thoughts of a spinoff or next generation?
Simon Pegg: Well, I hope it goes on for another 50 years. We’ll keep going as long as we can until we’re old and inappropriate. Actually, the thing is about the new timeline is that Picard, Janeway, all those guys, they don’t exist. I’m kidding! I’m kidding! Man, would I be in trouble. Yeah, I hope it goes on. There’s a new CBS series starting. The galaxy, let alone the universe is a boundless place. There’s so many adventures to be had. As long as we have this idea that you know what, we might not just all kill ourselves and die in a big fire, we might actually become slightly more enlightened, slightly more tolerant beings and go off into space, that is a lovely idea I think secretly, the vast majority of us want to achieve.
Zoe Saldana: You just said something about the next generation. Are you calling us old? We just got here.
Q: I’m such a fan I’m thinking all the way into the future.
Zoe Saldana: No, no, here’s cooler. It’s good to be present.
Q: Star Trek was always a social commentary of its time. Now that we’ve evolved so far in the past 50 years, what can the social commentary of Star Trek be now?
Zachary Quinto: I think the message is the same as it was when it began. It’s just that we have more room to explore and express it than they did at the time. It’s shocking to me how divisive our culture has become. I feel like Star Trek maintains a position of inclusivity and unity that is as resonant today as it was in the late ‘60s. This film in particular explores that idea, one side of that being about the unity and inclusivity and the other about breaking that apart. I think that’s in a way really reflective of the society we live in today. It’s troubling to me on such deep levels that we’ve gotten to this point of unwillingness to see varied points of view or feelings or opinions or perspectives. And I think that Star Trek remains in a landscape of popular culture entertainment something that is a beacon of inclusivity and progressive thinking. I think it just takes on different forms now than it did 50 years ago.
Simon Pegg: I think it’s become more so even since we shot it, the message of this, the social commentary in this iteration of Star Trek is we’re better together. That’s what it’s about. It’s about collectivism. And in this era of Brexit and talking about building walls in certain places, now more than ever we should be thinking about the value of collectivism, about cooperation and unity. That can be and is our strength. The more fractured we become, the less secure we all feel. The villain in Star Trek, we could’ve called him Brexit. That’s quite a science-fiction name.
John Cho: In the Star Trek setup, you’re going into space and seeing so many different kinds of species, it does become comically apparent when you look around the planet Earth that we live on that we do have so much more in common than we don’t. So the little things that seem to divide us here in our present time seem even more exaggerated, exaggeratedly small after seeing an episode of Star Trek.
Simon Pegg: We’ve all got one head, you know what I mean? Let’s live together?
Q: Do you have a favorite Anton Yelchin moment you can share?
Justin Lin: I think it’s still very raw. I’m still processing. I actually went back. I think there was a group of us who were still finishing the film. We had a few weeks to go and we went back and I went through all the footage again. The one thing that when I was going through it, the interaction with Anton for me, it just is so clear that when he shows up every day, he does it for the right reasons. We’re making movies. Sometimes you make movies and a lot of these petty, weird, stupid stuff happens. He just shows up with a smile on his face and just has ideas. I always just look forward to every day he’s on set, we’d huddle up and he’d throw 100 ideas even though maybe he’s just in the background. That’s just the way it should be. I know for a fact that it will live on with me and he will live on with me and I know with everybody that he’s worked with or he’s interacted with.
Q: Kirk was a father figure to Chekov. Chris, what made Anton special to you?
Chris Pine: He was a good guy. He was very sweet. He was very beautifully, authentically Anton. There was not much of a censor on the boy. I remember one of the first times I met him, nine years ago, he was 17. I invited him back to my trailer to play guitar because I knew he played guitar and he played guitar really, really well. And he said, “I can’t, man. I gotta go back to my trailer.” I was like, “Okay, why?” He was translating an esoteric Russian novel into English because that’s what he wanted to do. Eight, nine years later, I talked to him and he was still translating it. He was still reading a book on physics that this French philosopher had written. He would still try to get all of us to go to these, like, we were in Vancouver and he wanted to see some German neoexpressionist film. He would talk about it as if everyone has or should have seen it.
John Cho: I ended up going that night, I think.
Chris Pine: He was a great guy. He was just totally fearless and we try to grasp something that’s positive about him. He was such a good guy. I think it’s just the fearless creator that he was always working on stuff. He had music projects and photography projects. He was going to direct his first film this summer. He was just spectacularly interested in life in really a great way.
Q: What was it like doing so much of the movie on land?
Zoe Saldana: I like being on the ship. You don’t understand, we were in a quarry and dust everywhere and helicopters flying really low. I like being on the Enterprise. It’s clean.
Karl Urban: The spirit of exploration.
John Cho: On the upside, it was cooled to be paired off. Zoe, even though you were having a miserable time, I enjoyed spending time with you.
Zoe Saldana: You heard how much I was complaining but I was so happy that I was complaining with you.
John Cho: To get fractured off, typically you’re as characters relating on the bridge. Everyone’s relating to Kirk so there’s less talking to one another, so just getting that opportunity brought out some different colors and vibes so it was good.
Simon Pegg: Doug and I realized this a couple of times. Had Checkov ever spoken to Sulu at any point in the other two movies, directly to? We realized a couple of the characters hadn’t really interacted at all.
John Cho: It was a lot of panicking.
Q: Was there anything you shot that had to cut out?
Justin Lin: I don’t think so. Personally, I always think I’m pretty relentless, but working with JJ and Lindsey and everybody, the whole process was really cool. It felt like it was just alive all the time and we’re just going and going. For me, a lot of the stuff we enjoyed talking about the Krall backstory and also the marauders, the swarm soldiers and stuff. We actually had sequences of much more backstory but we never got to shoot those. It was a pretty tight schedule on this one. Basically everything we shot is pretty much on screen.