To Boldy Go ... 'Star Trek' Executive Producer Bryan Burk
Executive Producer Bryan Burk has already watched over as the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 crash landed on a strange island in Lost and then followed five twentysomething New Yorkers attempting to survive a gigantic rampaging alien monster in Cloverfield. But on May 8th, he will boldly go where only a few have gone before with Star Trek.Directed by creative mastermind J.J. Abrams, the highly anticipated film is dipping iconic characters Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, 'Bones' McCoy, and company into the fountain of youth in order to allow a much younger U.S.S. Enterprise crew explore the final frontier. Except for the ruthless Romulans returning to wreak some havoc, plot details have been pretty scarce and while Burk intends to keep it that way, he took the time to discuss powering up the Star Trek franchise's warp drive for both faithful and casual viewers. Newsarama: Bryan, were you a Star Trek junkie growing up?
Bryan Burk: I was not a big Trekkie. In fact, J.J. references me when talking about the extreme of people into Star Trek. Writer/Executive Producer Bob Orci knows it absurdly well and is a hardcore Trekker as he calls it. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where I had never seen an original episode of the series. I had always found it inaccessible. For myself, I always felt “Who are these people standing around a bridge and what the hell are they talking about?” My real introduction to Star Trek was the first motion picture and as a Star Wars fan, suddenly there was another big ship and movie. There was all this grandeur and excitement, but then I still didn’t know who these people were again. Everyone in the audience was cheering and I felt left out of it. I never saw Next Generation or any of the others. I still didn’t have all that love of the characters for the Wrath of Khan, but I was completely moved by the story. I ended up being really intrigued about the world of Star Trek because I had so many friends who were fans of it. One of the things we tried to do was not only make the movie accessible to those Star Trek enthusiasts, but how do we reach me and everyone else not familiar with that world. Right from the beginning, the idea was how do we appeal to a much wider audience? NRAMA: The words reboot, reinvent, and re-imagining have been bandied around to describe this Star Trek movie. How did you approach the material? BB: The thing about these franchises is you want to be faithful to the canon and just like how on Lost there is a rulebook and you can’t break those rules, Star Trek has its own canon which you have to stick to. You have to figure out how to be faithful, but also give yourself enough leeway to be able to create and expand on it. From the initial pitch when we sat down, there was a very definitive idea of what this film should be, how to do it, and how we can make sure it appeals to old and new fans. We would have conversations about the story and Orci would be like “No, you can’t do that.” NRAMA: There are some interesting casting choices for this movie, particularly with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. What did these guys bring to the table? BB: It’s funny but we cast Zach right out of the gate. We obviously have a lot of friends who work on Heroes and his name had come up immediately. I remember his audition and as an actor, he was spectacular. As a bonus, there were moments you thought you were watching a young Leonard Nimoy. We went through a lot of people because the idea was to never imitate any of their predecessors. If they happened to look a little like them, that was great. Obviously, Zach looks a lot like Nimoy and there are moments Karl Urban was channeling DeForest Kelley, but finding someone to play Kirk was a challenge. William Shatner has been in so many things we love so the question was who is Kirk? Who is this character he created? When you start talking about him, he’s someone who is strong willed, a little cocky, charming, and driven. J.J. and I were at a casting session and coincidentally, Zach was visiting us the same day Chris came in. He was really charming, had a swagger to him, but was funny and laid back. He was perfect and so great that we immediately asked Zach if he would step in and read with Chris. The two of them read and it was like “Oh my God! There they are! There are Kirk and Spock!” Chris, who definitely does not look like Shatner, embodies the characteristics of Kirk. It’s amazing how the cast took on these roles without feeling the need to imitate anyone. NRAMA: Looking at his track record with Felicity, Alias, Fringe, and Lost, it’s hard to imagine a J.J. Abrams projects without some complex and complicated relationships. How does that apply to Star Trek? BB: Well, that’s what got him interested in this movie. It’s one thing to do a movie, but it’s another to figure out who these people are that are thrown into this situation and how they come together. What’s it like for a half-Earthling/half-Vulcan? How do Kirk and Spock, who have completely different backgrounds, come together to begin this five year journey? NRAMA: There’s always been an unspoken bond between Kirk and Spock yet in the first trailer, it appears they aren’t quite there yet. BB: Well, as with all great relationships, they tend to start a little rocky. Han Solo wasn’t friends with anyone when they started on their journey. NRAMA: Khan was the quintessential Star Trek villain so what makes Nero a worthy adversary in this film? BB: I’m trying not to give away too many plot points but he’s very well rounded. He’s justified in his actions. There’s a rationale to his desires and motivations. NRAMA: Even though it worked for Cloverfield, how do all these top secret tactics serve a film such as Star Trek? BB: To be honest, you don’t want all the plot details to get out there. As Damon Lindelof will say, his mother is one of those people who will read a book and immediately flip to the end. There are certain people like that. However, we’re not. I love trailers but what is better if there is a great movie you know nothing about. You have no preconceived notions and it can turn out to be the best movie ever because you aren’t expecting it. Obviously, we have our trailers, are doing publicity, and all the things to get you excited. We don’t just want to get people in theatres; we want people to come out and enjoy it. Part of that is leaving enough off screen until you get there. NRAMA: Star Trek has a distinct soundtrack. Who is handling the music score? BB: That part was a no brainer. Michael Giacchino [Lost, The Incredibles, Ratatouille] is coming onboard to do the score. The idea was always to embrace what came before and add to it like every other composer in the series. I think Michael did it with a big epic score, but it’s not like anything he’s ever done before. NRAMA: With all its incarnations, what has been so endearing about the Star Trek franchise? BB: Gene Roddenberry’s original intention was to create this positive place in the future. At least on Earth, it’s not so dreary or segregated, and the politics have all gone away. Earthlings are out to help the rest of the universe instead of wasting time trying to help themselves. There is still death and destruction, but the good news is it’s not stemming from Earth. NRAMA: Is it too early to be talking sequels? BB: We always think beyond and what we can do bigger, better, and more emotional next time. NRAMA: Does that mean everyone has signed on for more? BB: Well, I signed on [laughter]. The answer is yes, we all want to work on the next one together because we couldn’t have had a better experience. NRAMA: Bryan, you are always busy! What else is on your plate? BB: We have a couple more movies coming out this year. The future of a Cloverfield sequel is definitely still alive and well. We have a lot of irons in the fire for multi genre projects too.