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Simon Pegg Steps Up As Co-Writer

For Star Trek Beyond, Star Trek co-star Simon Pegg was asked to step up and become a co-writer on this film while in the middle of filming Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Bryan Burke, who was the producer on that movie and on the previous two Star Treks, and Star Wars as well, we were talking about — he was saying they were thinking of Blue Sky-ing the screenplay and going in a different direction. We just talked about it a lot on set, and then he pulled me aside one day and just said, “Do you want to write it?” Co-writer sort of thing. And I just said, “Okay?” thinking it wouldn’t be difficult. No, I didn’t. I knew it would be difficult, but for some reason I just sort of said, “Yes,” and that was it.”

Roberto Orci was originally set to write and direct this movie, and is still credited as a screenwriter on the film. But Orci’s involvement ended before Pegg came on board as a writer and the actor claims that neither him nor his co-writer Doug Jung ever read Orci’s version of the script, instead deciding on starting anew on page one.

“In January we all met. I never read Bob’s script, and neither did Doug. We met in a hotel in London with Justin, and we started to hash out ideas. I went to LA, and we started out in a room at Bad Robot, it’s just got white boards around the room, just blank white boards — which was a terrifying thing to see. And then we just filled them and went through so many iterations and story ideas. Eventually, we began to hone in on what we have now.”

But the process was very different than normal as they were basically completely re-writing a film while in pre-production.

“It was a very accelerated, intense process — and a difficult one, because it’s very difficult to write a film in preproduction, because every idea you have they want to build or design, and it might not be a good idea,” explained Pegg. “Sometimes you don’t have the time to go, “Wait a minute, that’s not a good idea. Don’t build that.” So every idea we had had to be kind of good. [Laughs] So it’s not easy. And then we finally got to begin shooting with a full script but knowing that every single scene was kind of up for grabs in terms of finessing the dialogue and certain character aspects. As long as we had all the sets, the shape of it, everything the production needed to go into shooting, then once we had the schedule prioritizing certain scenes and going back to them.”

Pegg also says they consulted with the cast while developing the story, something that isn’t usual in this process.

“We sent an email out to the cast whenever we got here saying, ‘Look. Look at your character. If you have any feelings or any kind of impulses, you know them better than we do. Let us know.’ And that’s been really helpful.”

Simon and Doug also consulted with hardcore fans in naming items new to Star Trek canon.

“We actually went out to the Memory Alpha guys, the two founders of the Memory Alpha wiki and asked them to name something for us. There’s a specific thing in the screenplay that we wanted to get a name for, and so I just wrote out an email that said, “Hey guys, there’s this thing, and I can’t tell you what it’s for, but there’s this item,” and three hours later I got a full etymological breakdown of the word and the history of the thing. So they’re going to be thanked in the credits for that.”

Pegg was described by his co-stars as being very active as a co-writer on set inbetween scenes, providing motives, ideas and new line suggestions.

“Whenever he’s not in front of the camera, he’s right behind it, right next to Justin and Doug,” said Saldana. “They are talking about the following scenes. They are talking about the scenes they just shot. They are talking about whatever observations any character, any of us, made about their character for the following scenes. And it’s just flowing out of him. … He’s such a loyal, unconditional fan of the series, it’s just like watching a kid play with sand.”

Pine compared the collaborative filming environment to Wet Hot American Summer:

“It’s super fun, it’s like…You know I did Wet Hot and it kind of had a similar vibe to Wet Hot where it’s like you’re in this soup of creativity and you have to figure out the scenes. So it’s like if one person has a great idea then you go with that, if the script that’s written is great then we go with that. If Karl [Urban] has a great easter egg he wants to throw in from the original series we’re like, “Oh that’s fucking great!” If I wanna do like a side gag or something, you just kind of –There’s a lot of trust I think, there’s a lot of trust to Simon, Simon has a lot of trust in us, and Justin as well, that we know where the characters are, what in the dynamics work, and what might be fun to do. I guess it evens the playing field and everybody has the room to play.”

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A Story With More Humanity And Humor

Zoe Saldana says there is even more humanity in this script than there was in Abrams’ previous films, and more humor than the first film. One of the biggest complaints about Into Darkness was that it lacked the humor and humanity of the first Abrams film.

When I asked Simon Pegg about the film’s comedy, he was very quick to remind me that Beyond was not written as a comedy, but his intention was to make it fun:

“I think when my name was linked to it, people were like, “Oh, no, it’s going to be a comedy.” That’s not what we want to do, but both Doug and myself and the whole cast and Justin are very keen for the film to be fun. You know, the jeopardy to be real, the tension to be nail-biting, but not to have to feel like — and, you know, the second one is called Into Darkness, so I’m not necessarily leveling this criticism at that film, obviously; I’m in it. But there seems to be this weird thing these days about, if you gritty something up, suddenly, it’s okay for us to like it as grownups. It’s like justifying — like I said before, like what is essentially something that’s aimed at children, but if you suddenly fill it with darkness and blood, it’s okay for grownups. We don’t feel guilty about liking it. But fuck that, you know what I mean? We can like anything we like. I feel like Star Trek was always very bright and very optimistic. There are some fabulous comic touches in the original series, when you watch some of the interplay between Kirk, Bones and Spock particularly, there’s some lovely stuff. So we want this film to have a sense of fun and levity which never impacts on the tension and never takes anything away from the bad guy. I mean, Galaxy Quest is a great example of a really funny sci-fi film, where you have all the threat in that film — same with the zombies in Shaun of the Dead — they’re completely serious, and you have comedy happening. We’re not making Galaxy Quest here by any means, but it’s possible to have a lightness and a comic touch and characters who are very human and still maintain a kind of genuine threat and for it to feel real and not flippant. But I kind of balk slightly at this darkness thing, because it just feels… own it, you know?”

On the other hand, Chris Pine says he pushed for more humor in this sequel.

“These films always take place during big moments of high drama, but what happens the day before the high drama? So I think there’s a lot of humor to be mined in that.” … “I’m always the big cheerleader for the humor, I just wanna throw our tonal comic flavor into things so having Simon Pegg who’s an advocate of that. There’s a lot more fluidity in this one, and I think that comes from having done it now three times but also just because you have someone like Simon around as part of the team.”

As for an example of the humor, Pine points to the opening of the film:

“One of my favorite parts of the film is the opening where you get a sense of what it’s like, because you have question like, do they eat on the ship? Do they play ping-pong, hang out? What are the down times like when they’re not fighting Klingons and stuff? I love having that reality, but without that that very Marvel trope of being too self-aware. I think what we do really well is that we give it that kind of 80s big blockbuster wink of “we’re having a great time” but we never sink into that postmodern 21st century trope of really nudging the audience and ‘Look at what we’re doing’, which I’m exhausted by. The earnestness is still there, which I think is refreshing.”

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The Most Action-Packed Star Trek Movie

While the cast and crew promised less “darkness” and more “fun” and “humanity,” they also promise that Fast & Furious director Justin Lin has created the most action-fueled film of the franchise.

“Justin obviously coming from the Fast series and just knows how to handle action extremely well/ This is a more action-packed film than the previous ones,” claimed Chris Pine. “I would say ¾ of the film are –once the setup is stablished, ¾ of the film is just non-stop action beat after action beat. I wouldn’t wanna scare anybody, I don’t think it’s kind of senseless blowing shit up for blowing shit up’s sake, but I think it has a real drive to it and I think that Justin’s aware of not wanting to dumb the audience down that way. I’ve spoken a lot to him and everybody knows him for his Fast movies but he started out in grad school making small budget films and he has a really keen sense of how to move the camera and why he’s moving the camera. There’s a reason behind everything, so I think there’s a good kind of dramatic and character push in the arc to all this action.

Saldana admits there is “a lot of action, but it’s also witty action.”  For filmmaker Justin Lin, action is character. The Fast & Furious franchise director told us that the film’s inciting incident is the fuse and how the characters react is the core of the film:

“Action to me is no fun if it’s not built around character. And that has to come from the very original impetus of why this movie exists. All the action pieces are set off of that incident and all how our characters react to it. So, for me it’s exciting because it’s organic. It’s not artificial. It’s not something that I do an action because people want to see action. It’s because this journey, whatever happens, whatever causes this to happen, whatever our characters do to try to counter it somehow organically creates that.”

And we weren’t told much specifically about the film’s action set pieces but Pine teased us with the following:

“I can’t tell you about the big action scene, other than there is one action beat in this that I don’t think anyone has ever seen before that Justin was incredibly stoked about. I think it was the first thing that –I think it was the first thing that he pitched to the studio and J.J. that got them excited. It closes half the film and it’s gonna be pretty fun, I don’t know how much more I can take.”

Lin later told us that this set piece is the sequence we see in the trailers with the Enterprise being attacked by thousands of small ships.

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Not A Reinvention, But A New Collaboration

This sequel features a combination of creatives who were involved in the last two JJ Abrams-directed Star Trek movies and a bunch of creatives that filmmaker Justin Lin brought on from the Fast and the Furious franchise.

“It just feels different since there’s a new creative team behind it,” said Chris Pine. “New production designer, new costume designer, Justin obviously. So it’s that which is different, not that it’s a reinvention the third time around. I think is remarkably different because of Simon behind the wheel of the writing component of it, and Justin obviously coming from the Fast series and just knows how to handle action extremely well. This is a more action-packed film than the previous ones. And also we have the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary next year, so that kind of has weighed on this iteration of it. I think for sure there’s a real sense of wanting to –creatively speaking, with the design and with the writing- to pay homage to the 60s flavor of the series.” … “We’ve always tried to do it futuristic yet retro, but this one seems ever more retro.”

Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon and costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays both worked with Justin on the last four Fast movies. There are also a couple new faces, like production designer Thomas E. Sanders, who was nominated for Oscars on Saving Private Ryan and Dracula. He once worked with Abrams on Mission: Impossible III, but had not worked on any of the Star Trek or Fast & Furious films.

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Watching Filming

The scene we watched them shoot might come very late in the film, so I’m not sure how much I should tell you. The clapboard said it was scene 129 and it involved most of the crew looking through an alien ship they found on the planet. The crew had been scattered and this scene is the first point they are all able to regroup. Spock is injured and Bones is trying to take care of him.

“Give me a plan Spock, I don’t have one, no ship, no crew.”  Spock assures Kirk that they will figure it out, telling him “We will do what we have always done, we will find hope in the impossible.” Kirk admits he isn’t smart enough to figure it out on his own. A bloodied Bones comes in to help with what he believes to be an old protoplaser “from the blasted dark ages”, which he hopes will stop Spock’s internal hemorrhaging. Spock quotes Shakespeare: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” The scene could easily be from a television episode, and from what I gather, this story has the makings of a stand-alone episode of the original series.

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