Exclusive interview with Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In this interview he shares with us his thoughts about philosophy and meaning of Star Trek, working on TNG as a kid, the development of the franchise after his father passed away and upcomming eleventh movie, Star Trek fan series, his past and future projects, and about his project named Trek Nation, a documentary about Star Trek fans and his father.
The interview can also be downloaded as an mp3 audio file.
- Zipped file, mp3 audio, size - 5.34MB, total duration - 27:02 minutes (download link)
UFPCroatia: First of all, hi, thank you for your time and for agreeing to this interview.
So... Straight to the point. Kirk or Picard? :-)
Eugene Roddenberry: I have to say I am a Picard fan. I've always felt Picard was more of a Roddenberry character because he was more intelligent, he was more experienced, he was less, I have to say less youthful. I would trust Picard more than I would trust Kirk, because I think makes a calculated, experienced decisions. He listens to his crew and he'll make decision for the betterment of everyone around him. I think Kirk was a bit more emotional - yes, I think in the end he would make a right decision. But I think he was driven by passion more than intelligence. I'm at a point at my life, or at least my logic thinks that intelligence should prevail. Intelligence should combine passion, should combine thought, but it needs to be an intelligent decision that is in the best interest of everyone involved.
Did you watch Star Trek when you were young and growing up? If I am not mistaken, you were 13 (ish) when TNG was starting up. What was your opinion on the show then? Was it like "oh, dad's show is on TV again", or did you watch it enthusiastically every week?
There are couple of answers here. I never really knew what Star Trek was and I didn't care. When I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old I didn't watch Star Trek. I didn't care about it. I watched Starsky and Hutch, Knight Rider, Charlie's Angels... I watched sort of action shows like that. When I did turn 13, my father forced me to work on a set of The Next Generation. And I say forced me, because it was summer and all my friends were playing, I was 13 years old and I wanted to go play too. So he forced me to work on the show, and I didn't appreciate it at the time. It was only years later when I really started to appreciate it and understood opportunity that I had. I remember he would always tell me when I would complain "you know Rod, people would die for this job" and I kept saying to him "they don't have to die, I will give it to them." I was a young kid, I wanted to play, but he made me work on it.
I became a fan of The Next Generation pretty much that summer, because every Thursday my father would come home with the VHS tape and I would watch the episodes, so I was a real fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I didn't necessarily connect with its philosophy and still I didn't even connect with the importance of the role my father played. I knew he was a producer, I didn't really know what that was, I didn't see the depth, I didn't really read into the subtext of the shows. I just thought it was a really good show, and I'm sure on some level it did connect with me, there was an emotional and intellectual connection, but that really wasn’t on the forefront, I thought it was just a really good show. So when it came on TV I didn't really say "oh there is dad's show," I said "oh, OK, that's a cool episode, I'll watch that."
But after The Next Generation I really didn't watch any other shows, and I wouldn't really consider myself a Star Trek fan. It wasn't until my father passed away, that I became a fan of the philosophy, because that's when I finally opened my eyes and ears, and realized that Star Trek was more than just an entertainment. I've heard stories about how it really improved peoples' lives, gave them hope for the future, allowed them to not see things in their lives as obstacles, but see them as ways of growing, ways of learning, ways of advancing and overcoming. And I was so inspired when I would listen to fans and these people, I was so proud of my father. But sadly, this realization happened after he passed away, and of course continues today, because I'm extremely proud to be a Roddenberry and extremely proud of my father.
Do you feel the new series (post TOS, especially the last one or two) reflect your father's vision accurately?
I do think they, to a degree, reflect the idea of Star Trek, which is united humanity in future that works together for the greater good. I do also think that these last few series are also off track from the original series. I mean, in the original series you had united humanity and United Federation of Planets working together for a greater good. And in these later shows you kind of still had that, but you saw a lot of pettiness, a lot of war, a lot of disagreement, a lot of struggle... In the original series they would go to a different planet, and that planet would have all those things - genocide, war, racism... It never was on board of the Enterprise. Not so much. Whereas in later series like Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise you had racism, you had war, these things kind of happening to the characters. So I think that's one of the differences. However, each episode still dealt with an issue, each episode still had an ethical idea, ethical stamps on sex, racism and religion. So I still think it held on to that, it didn't just... it didn't became Star Wars necessarily. It still was about something. So I have to give Rick Berman a credit for keeping that aspect of it alive. Again, he is not Gene Roddenberry, I am not Gene Roddenberry, so yes, it is different from what my father did. Bud do I think they destroyed Star Trek? No, I don't. I sincerely don't.
The eleventh film is currently in development. Are you surprised that they're doing it so soon after the cancelation of Enterprise?
I kind of wanted Star Trek, in all of its form, to rest for 5 or 10 years. Maybe even longer. I think there's enough of it out there on TV, in the video stores, and you can download them online... I think there's enough out there to watch and rewatch. I kind of wanted, you know, a new group of writers and producers to come in, if they were to do it again 5 or 10 years from now, and kind of starts with the writing and the story, and do it all over. I'm hesitant to jump onboard of the bandwagon of the new movie. I think J. J. Abrams is a fantastic writer, I love what he does, he's a fan of Star Trek, so that's what I'm excited about. I think he gets it, and I think he'll stay true to the basic philosophy. However, I know there is a lot of politics, I know there is a lot of requirements when you are making a movie, I know he has to answer to a lot of people, so it's a tough thing to do. Again, I have nothing to do with the movie, I want it to be good, I believe it will be good, I haven't really seen the story or anything. I'm going to reserve any sort of judgment until I see it, but I have faith that J. J. Abrams, if left alone to his own devices, can represent the Star Trek name well.
By now (as far as I know) they haven't hired any of the previous production staff. Not even Okuda, Sternbach, Westmoore or Zimmerman. Is this necessarily a bad thing? (note: the interview was conducted before we got the news that John Evans joined the eleventh movie production team)
I'm not going to say if it's a good or a bad thing, I'm going to say that, if for some reason they wanted me to do next Star Trek movie, there are a group of people who I think get Star Trek, get Roddenberry, get the philosophy, they know what it is about, they know why it is such a great show, those are the people whom I would surround myself with, and listen to. And your lists of people are those people. And there is many, many more that I would consider bringing on too, because I trust them, but if I were doing it I would bring those people on.
How did you come up with the idea to make Trek Nation, a documentary about your father and Star Trek?
Well, I have to say, first thing that happened was, I was inspired by the documentary called Trekkies. And when I say inspired, I was inspired to do the opposite. Because I have met so many Star Trek fans that were, you know, they may have worn costumes, but they were intelligent, passionate individuals. They weren't the extreme fans that Trekkies did. Because Trekkies went out, and they found all the "cooks" and "wackos", people that others would consider cooks and wackos. I consider them extreme sides of fandom. But it went out and said, 'hey look at all those crazy Star Trek fans.' I disagreed with that, I said I've met those people, I've met thousands of other people, they're very passionate, but they are not very different from the guys who watch football and paint their faces. Or all those guys who own Harleys, and on the weekend dress up in the leather clothes and their long beards, and they go to bars... That's a costume as well. It's a funny looking costume, if you ask me. So Star Trek fans are passionate people who want to explore the world of Star Trek, imagine what would it be like. I can say for the Star Trek fans that do that, I know more fans that do things for charity, underprivileged children and handicapped people, more than any of those football and Harley Davidson people do. So I've got to give credit to Star Trek fans who take it to the extreme.
Now, I wanted to show the opposite side of... not the opposite, but the real side - that there are people who are "normal individuals", who simply enjoy costuming. And there are people from all walks of life - there are scientists, there are janitors, there are teachers, politicians, football players. Star Trek fans come from all walks of life. So that's what I wanted to show - how impactful Star Trek has been. And how it has given a positive message to these people, and how these people have taken more that more positive message and incorporated it into their lives. So, I had that idea, and then I found... I saw these commercials on TV, and they weren't about... they were about Star Trek, but they weren't telling the audience, they weren't saying 'hey, go watch Star Trek', they were talking about the philosophy of Star Trek, and how it gave hope for the future. I thought it was great; I ended up needing the individual who was making these commercials, and shared with him my ideas. He brought to the table; he was the one who said, 'this should be a story about a son searching to understand his father'. And at the time I didn't really see the value in that, because... Even though I've been always searching to understand more about my father, it was something I never really put together, as 'this is what story should be about', because I wanted to focus about how impressed I was by fandom.
Anyhow, as the years went by, this gentleman, Scott Colthorp, took the idea, and we kind of ran with it. He met me at the conventions, and we would interview people, and it kind of grew from there. It has taken a very, very, very long time to get where we are now, and that's just close to the ending, but still a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. But we're going to have a fantastic product, a fantastic film that is 'a son searching for who his father was', and learning about the good and bad, and everything about Star Trek, and my father. I know you guys will really like it. So, this Trek Nation documentary has had many, many, many contributors, and has gone through many stages, and has changed and gone in many different directions. The final product will be what we originally intended and it could not have been done without two people for sure. One is, of course, Scott Colthorp, and one is Trevor Roth - my business partner and one of my best friends. And has really been able to step back, and give this film a perspective, and contribute to it the way it should be done.
A few words about it for those who never heard about it?
Trek Nation has been going on about six years. I'd say three to four of those were probably been filming, and almost three were been editing. This is no different than the stories you hear in Hollywood. There has been a lot of disagreement, a lot of battles, probably four or five rough cuts that, in my opinion, were not about son searching for his father. We got hung up on 'who ruined Star Trek'. Something I never believed in, but one of the directions the film took was blaming Rick Berman for ruining Star Trek. I want to tell you now, I never once felt that Rick Berman ruined Star Trek, and never felt anything negative towards him. Rick Berman is simply not Gene Roddenberry. If I were in his shoes, I probably would have been blamed just as much as him, because I am not Gene Roddenberry. So I have to give Rick Berman credit for what he did do.
The trailer shows stars like Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Nana Visitor, Nichelle Nichols… It also mentions Matt Groening and – Dennis Rodman. I suppose he isn't really a fan, is he? :-) Any other interesting guest stars?
We actually did not get direct interviews with Patrick Stewart on this one, because he wanted to save his stories for a book he is doing, but we did use clips from another interview. And also Jonathan Frakes, Nana Visitor, and Nichelle Nichols... We got some good interviews from all of them, although we don't really use that much, because this documentary was really quite a challenge, because it's not about how great Star Trek is, it's not about how great Gene Roddenberry is. It's about son searching to understand who his father was. So, when you have celebrities on, it's just little bits and pieces of they liked about Star Trek, but that doesn't really move the story forward. That sets up my original idea of how Star Trek influenced so many kinds of people and how they saw something in Star Trek. So that's in there, but I wouldn't consider that the bulk of it. We have a lot of other interesting celebrities, and I'm going to keep that a secret for now.
Trek Nation has been shot on locations all around the world; you've surely met a lot of fans… What's the single most impressing thing you've seen?
Well, Star Trek did not really make it all round the world. We had some grandiose ideas of going into five different countries, and showing how Star Trek has impacted people there. Sadly, that didn't happen for budgetary reasons, and, to be honest, poor planning on our end. We did not start this documentary out as experienced documentarians, we started out as couple of people wanting to make a film about something, and kind of doing 'hit or miss' thing along the way. So, sadly, we didn't do that, but that's okay, we've still got a lot of great things. And also, to my point before, traveling around the world, talking to Star Trek fans, would have moved part of the story forward, but not the part of the story where it is a son searching to understand who his father was. We really got enough of that in the United States. Now, we can do more later on, we can go to other countries, no big deal. I actually did go to Germany and interviewed a number of people there. Sadly, a lot of that didn't make it into the film. Out of this documentary, that will be hour and a half long, or maybe hour and 40 minutes... we shot, we probably still have 300 hours of footage, so expect the DVD to have a lot of extra stuff on it.
I know that you didn't have any voice in developing the past series, but have you ever been interested in that? Writing an episode or two, something like that.
There's a psychology in this, part of it is a fear, part of it is setting my expectations too high… I always said that I really don't want to have anything to do with Star Trek because I don't want to put myself into my father's shadow, I don't want to try to live up to him. I more than respect him, I loved him, I loved the philosophy in Star Trek, it is my philosophy as well, I do believe in united future, I do believe we should put aside our differences for the greater good. But I want to do that within my own realm. I want to create my own project, my own series, my own ideas, and implement that philosophy into him. So no, I'm not interested in writing for Star Trek, or creating a new TV show, or having a strong voice in the movies. If they ask me to read the script for the movie, and give my opinion, I would be more than happy to do that. But if they look to me and say, 'hey, we want you to do this', I would rather point them to direction of someone else I feel could represent Gene Roddenberry, and Star Trek franchise well.
You are listed as a consulting producer on "New Voyages" fan series, what do you think of it, the people behind it and what was exactly your role on that project? Can we expect a cameo appearance?
Sadly, there is no cameo appearance; I apologize for that, not yet at least. A couple years ago when they were doing, I think the second episode, I read the script and I thought it was phenomenal script. I used the sentence, 'it is the closest thing to the original series since the original series', and I really felt it was. The script was extremely well written. And again, you have people working on the show that have traveled from all over the world, who have flown in on their own dime. No one is getting paid, no one is getting profit from this, and they are making this shows because they are passionate about them, and I think that's fantastic. And again, these are the people, James Cowley is one of the key people on it, but there are a lot of people involved who have contributed. He gets it, he knows what makes Star Trek great. It's not just an action show to him, it's about something, about humanity. And I am 100% behind him, everyone who works on that show, and every piece of fan fiction, Star Trek fan film that is out there. Because it's the fans who have kept it alive for the past 40 years. Now, I don't think to take anything away from the production, yes, Paramount has kept it alive, and everybody who have worked on the show have kept it alive. But it's the fans who view it, it's the fans who are passionate about it, and it's the fans who go to conventions. Those are the ones who have made it true success that it is.
So I support all of their endeavors, I hope one day soon Paramount and CBS will find a way that's acceptable to them, and allow fans to create Star Trek… online fan films. Set up a criteria, and rally encourage them to do this. And perhaps even, and this is what I would really like to happen, is have a Star Trek fan film festival once a year, or every two years, where you get together and people get to show this films, and get honored, and rated, and all that. Because it is… they need to encourage the creativity of the people out there. It is in the best interest of Paramount, CBS, to encourage this. And it is in the best interest of Star Trek. Because the fans love doing it. Everyone loves doing it.
As a consulting producer I didn't do that much. I read the script, I gave a few points to them, or at least a few ideas, but it was really their fan fiction. This was not Eugene Roddenberry's New Voyages, this was their New Voyages. So I stayed aside, if they asked anything, I gave them my input. But I really had very little with it. It was just a joy to be a part of it, to work with the people there.
How do you explain their popularity? It's a fan made series, but they are supported by so much Star Trek alumni - Takei, Koenig, Grace Lee Whitney, J. G. Hertzler, Denise Crosby... And not only actors, but former Trek production staff too. The series is really growing out of the fan series concept.
Yes, they are supported by this people, because this people get Star Trek also, and want to be a part of something that is well written and thought out. And again, James Cowley, and everyone who has contributed to that fan film gets Star Trek, and wants it to be a quality Star Trek production. They want it to be ethical, to deal with social issues, with humanity. And George, Walter, Grace, J.G., Denise… they all see that, and they say 'hey, if studios aren't getting it right, at least in their opinion, someone is got to, and they are going to get onboard with the first person who does. So it's not about special effects. That tells you even more that it's not about high production values and special effects. It's about story, and if you get the story right, people will want to be a part of it.
You were involved in "Earth: Final Conflict", while your mother was an executive producer of "Andromeda" and "EFC". Both shows were created by your father. How do you compare them to Star Trek?
Well, first of all, I want to be clear that neither of these shows were really created by my father. "Earth: Final Conflict" and "Andromeda" were loosely based on concepts of my fathers. So, these shows were vastly different from what my father wrote. How do they compare? I think the only real good show, the only real good part of this that compares to my father's... to Star Trek and Roddenberry philosophy is the first season of "Earth: Final Conflict". Now, admittedly, I didn't watch much of "Andromeda", and I know there are many elements of that... that had Roddenberry philosophy. I just didn't watch it so I simply don't know. But I can tell you that the first season, and only the first season of "Earth: Final Conflict" was a true Roddenberry show. And I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't seen that to go see it.
"Earth: Final Conflict" was the last TV show you have worked on. Are there any plans for a new project in the near future?
We all have ideas, like everyone in Hollywood I have a number of ideas... There is nothing solid planned, but I hope to one day, whether it is in one year, or five, or ten years, to create my own TV show, and you'll know more about that when it happens.
Googling and trying to prepare this interview I saw that you've created a "Trek fish," sort of a Jesus fish parody, if I can call it that way. How, why, when? :-)
Well, we all have ideas, every now and then we see something, and it just resonates with us... I'm not a religious person in any way, shape or form. And I always loved the Darwin fish. I always like neat ideas and combine Star Trek, and give a little Star Trek and Roddenberry spin. And this was one way. The design seemed to work perfectly. If you have seen it, it's kind of a Jesus fish with two nacelles, and it says "Trek" on it. And my catchphrase on it was, it's not about religion, it's not about evolution, it's about the future. So it's sort of like this, hey let's put our differences aside, I'm not saying we should forget about our history, but let's move forward instead of bickering about what's going on right now.
Any last word you would like to say to Star Trek fans in Croatia?
Yes, I want to come to Croatia. I want to come to Croatia and hang out with you guys. I'm always excited when people of different nations, of different religion, different experiences can all find a commonality. And whether it is a commonality in Star Trek, because it is a great TV show, or in Star Trek because it talks about the future where we are an united planet. That is something I believe in whole heartedly, and I love, and I want to be an ambassador of as much as possible. I want to go round the world and unite Star Trek fandom, and start to build this better future for all humanity.
On behalf of UFPCroatia team, thank you for this interview. We wish you, your family and all your future projects best of luck.