Mark A. Altman (Newsletter Interview)
The Bring Back Kirk movement and its companion official source, the Bring Back Kirk Newsletter, are proud to present to you an interview with Mark A. Altman. Altman has had the honor of being called the "world's leading number one Trekspert" and he has also co-written the highly successful independent film, "Free Enterprise", starring William Shatner, along with his friend Robert Meyer Burnett. And, as we see, Mr. Altman is working on other projects also.
And now... Mark A. Altman's interview.
Bring Back Kirk: It's been a few months since we have spoken to you. Do you have any updates concerning your careers?
Mark A. Altman: I'm delighted to say that Mindfire Entertainment's next film, "The Specials," with Rob Lowe will be out in theaters this fall and I think that all the people that enjoyed "Free Enterprise" will love "The Specials" as well. It's a film about dysfunctional superheroes on a day when they're not fighting crime. We also have a few major sci-fi projects which we'll be announcing soon. As someone who's been a Trek fan my whole life, I'm definitely excited about the possibility of creating my own universe. And, as for Trek-related projects that interest me, I have to say I'm very much looking forward to Robert Hewitt Wolfe from Deep Space Nine's new series "Andromeda" based on the concept from Gene Roddenberry. Everything I've heard about that new TV show sounds like it'll really be exciting and evocative of Classic "Star Trek." I also think it's star, Kevin Sorbo, is a big Shatner fan which means his character should be something fun to watch. Also "Free Enterprise," which has been selling extraordinarily well on DVD and VHS, will be making its Cinemax/HBO premieres this summer to be followed by the Sci-Fi Channel next year and I understood both networks have some interesting plans.
BBK: When was the last time you spoke to William Shatner about returning as Kirk? In the past, you have indicated that he is very much willing and able to return, and the ball is in Paramount's court. Is that still the case? Have you ever spoken to him about the Bring Back Kirk campaign, and if so, what does he think about it?
Altman: We haven't spoken to Bill about BBK per se, but he has said on several occasions that he'd like to bring the character back and I think he's certainly been disappointed that Paramount has not embraced the idea of doing adaptations of his very popular Trek novels. It's a character he's very fond of and one he'd like to bring back to the big screen. There's also the possibility of a UPN miniseries, but, in a way, the passing of De Kelley has really taken some of the bloom off the rose of a Classic Trek reunion.
BBK: What do you think of William Shatner's books, which allows him to keep the character alive?
Altman: I think they're wonderful, although I think that it'd be best to create an original story for any new movie which might feature the return of Captain Kirk. The books are already out there to be enjoyed. Let's see some new adventure if we're going to bring Kirk back to the big screen.
BBK: One of the biggest strengths of Shatner's books is that they appeal to fans of all four series'. In addition to reuniting Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty, in great 24th century adventures, these books feature the best of the 24th century, especially Picard and the TNG crew on the Enterprise E. Popular characters from DS9 like Garak and Bashir appear, and Shatner has even managed to work characters from Voyager. Nothing in Star Trek on the air reaches out to so many fans like William Shatner's books. And because Shatner's books are so fan friendly, they represent some of the most successful Star Trek books of all time. THE RETURN, which is the type of story our campaign is looking for, is THE best-selling Trek fiction of all time. Do you think that Paramount should follow Shatner's lead and do a massive crossover movie? Many believe that Generations only failed because of the way they mistreated Kirk, and that a good crossover will bring Paramount some much needed revenue. If you were writing the next Trek feature, featuring members from all four series', which characters would you choose, and why?
Altman: Like anyone, I'd love to see a true Trek crossover which involves elements from all the important series. On the other hand, from a realistic point of view, I don't think the economics add up given what the lead cast members get paid. It's just cost prohibitive to involve Shatner, Nimoy, Stewart, Spiner, et al, not to mention it's tough to accommodate all the "star needs" in a narrative that's only two hours. I think as cool as it would be to see two Enterprise's and our all the crews in one movie, it's just not realistic given the limits of an $80 million or so budget. Once you pay the casts, there's about a a dollar ninety left over to make the movie. Also, I think there's a fear from the studio that these films have to appeal to as broad an audience as possible so once you involve some of the supporting characters, a.k.a. Garak, you create difficulties. Frankly, I think the most likely scenario is that they'll try and do a new crew and new cast set in the Star Trek universe with the possibilities of a few familiar faces returning. Maybe hedge they're bets by putting a "name" actor as the captain and trying to broaden the appeal of the franchise. We'll see. Star Trek is really at a crossroads now and it can go one of two ways. It can be resurrected or it can wither away. Obviously, I hope for the former. And, to be honest, I've heard about some plans for the future of the franchise which are very exciting...and unexpected, but that's all I can say. But they've been in the area of things that I've been talking about for a long, long time.
As for Generations, while indeed it was creatively lacking in my opinion, it was not a disaster at the box-office. Certainly I agree with the contention that it could have done a lot more business had the Kirk/Picard crossover been handled more deftly with a more satisfying resolution for the Kirk arc. But that's really water under the bridge at this point. BBK: When it comes to Trek books, there seems to be two sets of rules--general rules, and rules for Shatner. Shatner's books have been given some leeway which enabled him to bring back Kirk. Additionally, they pay close attention to current Trek continuity--even more so than the TV writers. Shatner's books could be inserted into the Trek universe quite easily. With all the success the Shatner books have achieved, and with the growth of the Bring Back Kirk campaign, why won't Rick Berman just make Shatner's books canon?
Altman: Frankly, this doesn't really bother me. I think the animated series should be canon too, but I don't lose sleep over it. The novels are the novels. They're entertaining diversions, but it's not the same without Shatner on screen doing what he does best so whether or not the books are considered official "canon," is rather insignificant in my book. The "Star Wars" books are all considered canon and I think that doesn't really mean anything one way or the other. My feeling has always been, if you didn't see it on screen, it ain't part of the true continuity. And now, even that's questionable given some of the writers apathy about maintaining Trek's continuity on some of the newer shows.
BBK: It seems that no matter what happens concerning the Bring Back Kirk issue, everyone has something to say about it. While the majority of fans are in favor, there are some that are against the idea. But the bottom line seems to be that no matter how you feel about Kirk, if he is in the next movie, people will show up. Why do you think that is true, and why haven't current Trek characters been able to stir up this kind of emotion in the fans?
Altman: I think because most Star Trek fans are passive viewers. They watch the shows, enjoy them, but don't get actively involved in a vocal way. I think with the impending 35th anniversary of the show, nostalgia cannot be overlooked, not to mention that we're sort of reaching a turning point in the affairs of the Federation where the cast really will be too old to reprise these characters. In fact, the death of De Kelley has to be perceived as a wake up call if there is to be some sort of reunion or return of the original cast. I absolutely agree with you that if Shatner was in the next film it would certainly help revive a degree of interest in the franchise by both the media and filmgoers. The fact is most people in the press don't know much about Trek and when they think of Star Trek they still think of Kirk first and foremost because that's what they grew up on and that's what they know because that's what's in the pop culture zeitgeist. Jim Belushi didn't parody Picard on SNL, it was Kirk, right.
BBK: Recently, Paramount licensed the characters of Spock and Q to Leonard Nimoy's company, ALIEN VOICES. Nimoy and John DeLancie were allowed to have Spock and Q engage in a fictional debate, in their characters, which sold as an audio book. Why can't William Shatner do the same thing with Kirk, and produce a Bring Back Kirk movie?
Altman: Oh come on guys, don't you think it's a little different. Some audio tape that six people are going to hear and the crown jewel of Paramount's franchise. Plus who's going to pay for it? We can circulate a collection plate. Hey, let's all pay for Bill to make a Star Trek movie? Not going to happen. Paramount needs to be convinced they are going to make money with a Star Trek movie with Captain Kirk...and, frankly, it's obvious they don't feel that way. Right now, they don't even think they can make money with a Next Generation movie anymore. So go figure.
BBK: Some people on the other side believe that William Shatner is too old to play Kirk. How do you respond to that? Do you believe that William Shatner has one more performance left in him?
Altman: That's bullshit. I say look at Sean Connery or Clint Eastwood. Would you pay to see Connery play Bond again? I would. Look at Eastwood in Unforgiven. You can't write Kirk like you did in the 60's anymore, but isn't more interesting to see this character dealing with the fact that he's not the same man he once was, but still having to do what he does at the end of the day? It goes back to what Rob and I have been saying from day one. Trek X needs to be "The Wild Bunch" in space which is a movie which dealt with characters who are out of place and out of time who have one last mission to accomplish. My feeling is you do that and it truly is over, but with a truly satisfying resolution of the Kirk/Spock character's arc so that when you send them riding into the sunset, you really feel you've bookended 35 years of Trek history.
BBK: What about a TV movie for UPN that brings back Kirk? Wouldn't this make the fans happy, and save Paramount on some money? Would William Shatner be interested in that?
Altman: I think this is feasible, but for some reason no one has really seriously entertained this possibility. It may be because people perceive the costs as being too prohibitive...and maybe it would be. But I think there's a way to accomplish it. It's something we talked with Bill about and maybe it will happen one day. I doubt it though because Paramount has pretty much ceded the Trek TV franchise to Berman and he's not rushing to do a miniseries with Captain Kirk, I'll tell you that. What scares me is this "Birth of the Federation" series which will probably play fast and loose with Trek continuity, particularly when it comes to the original series. And, if you're not going to shoot it in the style of the original, what's the point? We all know what it's going to look like, the last 15 years of Trek. I think "Phantom Menace" should be heeded as an important lesson, or "Twin Peaks" for that matter. Never go back, only be going forward. We want to see what lays out. No revisit old ground. Isn't that the mantra of Star Trek, "to boldly go, to explore strange new worlds." Why revisit old ones. I think the birth of the Federation should be sacrosanct. It's the groundwork that Gene Roddenberry laid over 30 years ago. If Berman wants to define the new mythology going forward, that's great. God bless him. Good luck. I'd love it if I could get excited about Star Trek again. I wish him well, but I have a real problem with him going back and rewriting Trek history. It's Orwellian, you know. As for Braga, I think he's a terrific writer and I'd like to see him do something more suited to his talents. I just can't see him writing about humans having first contact with the Romulans. That's not his bag. Maybe they should just being doing the Enterprise-G or something. Truly go back to basics. It's been awhile since we've seen the adventures of the starship Enterprise on the small screen. Maybe it's time to go back to that well too. People overlook the fact that the Enterprise itself may be the most popular character in the history of Star Trek; more than Picard, more than 7 of 9, more than even Kirk....just not for me.
BBK: In a prior interview with us, you mentioned that you had an idea for bringing back Kirk. You mentioned that it would predominantly take place in the 23rd century, and explain how the 24th century never knew what happened to Kirk after the opening scene in Generations. Do any characters from TNG, DS9, or Voy appear in your idea? Could it be adapted for a TV movie? How does William Shatner feel about your idea? Have you ever mentioned it to other TOS cast members?
Altman: Our idea is basically "The Wild Bunch" in space, and it's set on the dawn of the 24th century. It's a Kirk/Spock story and doesn't involve any of the rest of the cast nor any of the other casts -- although it would feature some original Trek characters you haven't seen in a long time (e.g., the Gorn). Shatner dug it, but I don't really see something ever happening with it. We're not naive about the realities; it's just one of those "wouldn't it be cool" discussions. I doubt it will ever get beyond that stage unless Pocket [Books] approaches us about doing a novel of it or a comic.
BBK: Ron D. Moore started out as a no-name writer who essentially walked into Paramount and sold a script. The rest was history. Have you ever pitched your idea to Paramount? If not, do you have any plans to do so? While you have never done a big budget feature, you do have a good film under your belt, which puts you ahead of Moore, and while they may not give you Trek 10, why not make the first Trek TV movie? And if there are any people running Trek that are in your way, is there anyway around them?
Altman: We haven't pitched it to Paramount nor do we plan on it. I have plenty of real movies that are going to get made that take up a lot of my time. I think it would be a waste of my time to try and get Paramount to let two guys who made a critically acclaimed indie romantic comedy take over their $2 billion dollar Trek franchise. To quote Leonard Nimoy, they have our numbers. If they're interested, they know where to find us. We'll definitely take their call. I can promise you that.
BBK: Recently, Robert [Meyer Burnett] mentioned that the two of you went to Paris for a Trek convention and traveled with Aron Eisenberg (DS9's Nog) and Max Grodenchik (DS9's Rom). Robert mentioned you had a great time. Have you ever discussed Kirk's return with these or other Trek actors? From the actor's point of view, how do they feel about Kirk's return?
Altman: Not really. I think most of our conversations were more along the lines of "where's the bar?" and the like. We've certainly talked about working with Bill, which is a question we usually get from a lot of people, but we never really talk about the future of Trek in a very substantive way since I think most of us agree there isn't much of one for the franchise at this point. I will tell you this, that the French are very interesting in the way they view Trek. They're not huge fans of the original. It actually seems like DS9 is the most popular show, and I think it's because they relate to the themes of the show, having been in an occupied country themselves -- and that's not meant as a joke. They're much more philosophical about things there and I think look for a lot more subtext than we do here. Unfortunately, there ain't a helluva lot of subtext to most contemporary Trek, now is there?
BBK: What do you think of this new idea for the fifth Trek series? Assuming there were more Kirk-friendly people running the franchise, couldn't it be used as a vehicle for bringing back Kirk?
Altman: I think this idea is AWFUL. AWFUL. I think I mentioned in my last interview that I think the problems are prequels are a dodgy proposition to begin with, and the idea of co-opting the original Trek mythology in the service of the new series is a mistake. Trek is about boldly going, not revisiting the past. There are some people who seem to think that this new TV show will somehow return to the roots of the original series and feature Captain April. I think that's naive. The fact is that the people running Trek today don't have any respect for the original or its philosophical underpinnings, so why would they care about being true to that mythology? It's going to be that "First Contact" history of the Federation; you know, the past that said Zefram Cochrane was a drunk, a loon who stumbled onto warp drive. I don't care about that kind of storytelling. I don't care about a prequel series that doesn't have the mis en scene of the original, production design redolent of "The Cage", etc., and above all, doesn't respect the established continuity of the original Trek series. I think this should be sacrosanct and is the territory created by Roddenberry and [Gene] Coon. If you're going to revisit it, it should be by people who respect and understand what this is about. I'm all in favor of the new Trek team creating NEW Trek. Whether that's in the 24th century or the 25th or the 29th, go ahead. This is your franchise now. But please, leave what we care about alone. To try and tell us that this is what led up to the original Star Trek is unacceptable from people who have no respect for what that series was about and what it means to the people who care about it. [Rick] Berman and company did a great job with The Next Generation. Why they're so afraid of plumbing that territory; the idea of a new Enterprise, mystifies me. They keep saying they want to take the franchise in a new direction. Well, I think the farther we get away from what worked in Trek, the less interested people seem to be. My feeling is that they should get Trek on track or bury it at this point. Meanwhile, let's get someone else in there to do something with Shatner for a UPN miniseries or a lower-budgeted feature film. Hell, I've always loved Rob Burnett's idea about doing a low budget, R-rated Deep Space Nine film, down and dirty. But to quote Billy Joel, that's just a fantasy, not a real thing.
BBK: Recently, Brannon Braga acknowledged the Bring Back Kirk campaign when he cited some of his excuses for not listening to the fans over various issues like Excelsior. Is that a sign that Paramount is noticing the campaign? If not, what more can be done? Do you have any suggestions for the future?
Altman: No. It's a sign that it's being lumped in with all the other campaigns which, like the Bring Back Vedek Bareil, Bring Back Sulu, Bring Back Marina's cleavage, Bring Back Colonel Green or whatever. Paramount's not noticing the campaign. Some of the people involved with Trek do monitor what the fans are saying and they know about these campaigns, but they're going to follow their own muse. I think they've always felt that the fans comprise a very small part of the overall audience for Trek, so they've never really concerned themselves with what the fans thought. I really think concern for the fans sort of died with Gene. Whether that's a good or bad thing, I'm not sure. You can't be beholden to your core audience, but you should respect them and listen to what they say. It's a double edged sword.
It was a pleasure speaking with you and I wish you the best with the BBK campaign. I certainly would be happy if you succeeded. Seeing Bill suit up as Kirk one more time in a kick-ass Trek movie would be fantastic. Let's face it, it's almost 20 years since The Wrath Of Khan, and it's about time someone made another really good Trek film. I'll certainly be one of the first in line to see it.