Damon Lindelof Talks STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, the Editing Process, Why They Changed the Order of the First Two Scenes, TREK 3, and More
With J.J. Abrams Star Trek Into Darkness now playing around the world, we recently landed an exclusive phone interview with Damon Lindelof. During the interview, the Into Darkness screenwriter/producer talked about making the sequel, the length of the first cut, deleted scenes, how the beginning of the film changed during the editing process, whether an extended cut of Into Darkness will be on the Blu-ray, when a third film could possibly get made, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Question: What have the last few days been like for you? This is a hardcore press junket.
DAMON LINDELOF: First off, when you’re a writer and you’re a producer, traditionally the junkets are really focused on the beautiful people and nobody wants to talk to you. But I think when you get involved in this type of sci-fi legend, whether it’d be the Star Trek universe or the Prometheus universe, or the Ridley Scott/Alien universe etc. Certainly, lots of people have lots of questions and some of those – it’s not all puffy as you would imagine, you find yourselves kind of making full-throated defenses of story choices that you made. I should be used to that by now but it makes it no less intense. I think junketing, in and of itself, is a kind of marathon effort and I promised myself I would never be one of those people who complained about “Oh man, lots of people are interested in our movie and now I gotta talk about it.” I love it, I love talking about it. That said, it can be tiring. When you really have to talk about it, it’s not just like, “Tell us some funny stories from set.” Oh no, it’s not that at all! It’s like, “Tell us more about these torpedoes.”
Yeah, that’s what happens with Trek fans. They’re diehard.
LINDELOF: And look, I don’t think it’s hubris for me to say I’m a Trek fan. So, I don’t treat Trek fans as somebody who’s separate than I am. The only thing that separates them is, I’m one of the people responsible for the story in this movie and they’re not. But we’re all Trek fans. I can hang.
I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve seen all the shows, I’ve seen all the movies, but ultimately I just want a 2-hour movie that takes me to another time and place – something that entertains me. And the problem is, I think, that sometimes diehard fans expect so much that they’re never happy no matter what they get.
LINDELOF: There’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of quality to making any of these things because the fandom is so protective of it and you can’t please all the people all the time. But I think it’s a little bit of a cop-out for me to say, “Hey look, there’s no pleasing anybody so go fuck yourself!” We actually do want to try to please everyone. Bob Worthy, who is quite the Star Trek fan that I will ever be, has not only seen all the television shows and films but has also read all the novels. He would be mortified to hear that we ignored something that was incredibly important to canon. The conversations – and yet, sometimes shouty matches that we get into over this stuff – is very intense and it’s all in services of fandom. If the fandom isn’t aware of that, I totally get it. That’s the price to be paid but we care intensely.
What was the length of the first cut of the movie?
LINDELOF: The first cut that I saw – J.J.’s first cut – was just under 2.5 hours.
Was that including everything or was that a borderline director’s cut?
LINDELOF: With J.J. there’s no difference between in-assembly and a director’s cut because while we were shooting the movie, Maryann and Mary Jo – the two editors – were already cutting sequences together. So, by the time that first cut comes in you can’t – you and I may have a different language in terms of what a director’s cut is. In some cases a director’s cut can actually be a theatrical release. This was just the first cut of the movie that represented everything that he had shot in the order in which it was scripted, and that’s what it was.
What I found about the movie and after talking to the actors is, the movie moves extremely fast. You’re really on a roller coaster for two hours. All the actors mentioned that they don’t remember scenes being cut but scenes felt a little bit shorter, like everything was to the bare bones. Were there a lot of deleted scenes? Was I wrong with what I learned talking to the actors?
LINDELOF: I don’t think you’re wrong. I would have to go back and look at the script again and think very long and hard as to whether or not there is a scene that we shot in the movie that isn’t completely cut. It was more the extensions of scenes – a lot of exposition was cut from the movie. Everything that we locked, we locked in the spirit of story priority and pacing. There’s a scene where Carol explains why she had the British accent, there is a scene where Spock and Kirk are talking to each other about Spock having written the reports, but they are the heads and tails of scenes that already exist in the cut. There’s nothing even close to like the Klingon prison camp in the first movie – that’s like a sequence that we lost.
Have you guys talked about doing an “extended cut” for the Blu-ray or do you think all these extra bits of scenes will be put on as a “deleted scenes” section?
LINDELOF: I imagine that it would probably be the latter. In my opinion, the audience has seen the best version of the movie, that every effort that we had to sort of incorporate those other things – but I’ll be honest with you, when we first started talking about Star Trek in general, the first movie but this as a franchise, I think all of us were kind of feeling like, “These movies shouldn’t be much longer than two hours.” I for one, at the time just sort of had an aversion to, “Does the Pirates of the Caribbean movie really need to be like 2 hours 25 miniutes long? I will do that for The Dark Knight because of what it is but I’m not sure that a Star Trek movie wants to be that.” And not to say that it couldn’t be, it’s just that there’s a certain degree of pretension that goes along with saying, “I want you to see a 2 hour 15 min. long summer movie.” We put it upon ourselves to try to get that 2 hour mark just because we felt that, that would be the most satisfying version of it. Whether or not we succeeded is anyone’s guess, but I would say that the shorter the movie got, the better it became in our eyes as producers.
I’ve heard movie fans in theaters talk about, “I don’t want to see that. It’s 2.5 hours.” A lot of casual moviegoers, two hours is their limit.
LINDELOF: Totally. And that being said, when The Avengers came out – I don’t know what the run time of The Avengers was but I know it was longer than two hours – I would’ve watched that movie for another half an hour. But all other things being equal, we feel like we’re releasing the best version of Into Darkness.
When I saw the prologue, months ago, the movie started a little differently than it actually starts now. Unless I’m mistaken about this, didn’t it start with London and then go to the planet?
What was the inspiration for switching that around?
LINDELOF: I think there were two things going on. First off, as scripted, the movie does start with London and then goes to Nibiru. At the time that we did the IMAX opener, we’d already started talking about starting with Nibiru and then going to London just because it felt more engaging, energetic opening to have Kirk running out of that temple. But more importantly, we wanted to have the IMAX prologue end with some degree of a cliffhanger that was directly married to our crew, and so the options were that we could end on Benedict saying, “I can save your daughter.” Or we could end on Kirk saying to Bones, “What would you do?” and Bones saying, “He’d let you die.” And then cutting those, Spock and the volcano about to get wiped out in a wave of lava. It was cooked, kind of a no-brainer to end it with Spock about to get wiped out by a wave of lava – it just felt better. But when you actually look at the movie and say, “What’s the best moment to basically cut to the Star Trek title card?” It made a lot more sense to start with Nibiru.
Am I the first one to ask you about this?
At least I got something in there. I can imagine after days of press, it’s a little different. You talked a little bit about Trek 3 in other interviews. There was a little bit of a gap between the first film and the sequel. Assuming that the sequel is a big hit, do you think we’ll get a third Trek movie sooner, since J.J.’s going to be busy with some other franchise?
LINDELOF: Let me answer that question by saying, the first conversations that I’ve had about what it would be like to mount Trek 3 What are the logistics of it? What is J.J.’s availability? When does Paramount want the movie for? What would the story be? What are Bob and Alex up to? What is Bad Robot’s producorial function gonna be as it relates to Star Wars? All of those conversations have literally started over the last two days, as we’re junketing. It’s not a dodge, it’s just the God honest truth to say to you, “I do not know.” I think that nobody wants four years to pass before the next Star Trek comes out especially if this movie is successful. But there is a lot to figure out, in terms of who is going to be making that movie. And as you might imagine, it’s a very tricky conversation.
For more on Star Trek Into Darkness, here’s all our previous coverage.