Monday, 9 January 2017

Ian and the Okudas

When you take even the most fleeting of glances into the background of Star Trek there are always a few names which rise to prominence; among those has to be the pairing of Mike and Denise Okuda.

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Key contributors to the franchise for nearly 30 years, the Okudas have been involved with everything from The Final Frontier in 1989 through The Next Generation and its four movies as well as Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. While they might not be involved with the '09 reboot, the pair have kept busy in Trekdom working on the remastered The Next Generation blu-rays and most recently the revised Encyclopedia and the Roddenberry Vault.

Mike and Denise were kind enough recently, while out promoting their latest ventures in Star Trek,  to take some time to answer our questions helmed by Ian Kimmins...

Do you think your work on the encyclopedia will ever be finished? With Discovery and Star Trek 4 on the way will we more likely see regular updates? Perhaps in 2020?

MIKE: That’s a good question. Obviously, we’d like for Star Trek and the Encyclopedia to keep going, but in the case of the Encyclopedia, it entirely depends on how well the latest edition sells. The publishing industry has changed a lot since the last edition of the Encyclopedia, so we’re just happy that they stepped up to the plate and we got to do this one.

DENISE: Books like the Encyclopedia are a huge leap of faith for a publisher, and HarperDesign really stepped up to the plate with this one. So the answer is, “We’d love to see it continue, but we really don’t know.”

When compiling the Encyclopedia which bits do you find the most interesting? What do you see as the biggest improvement/changes since the last edition? Was there something that had to be totally overhauled?

MIKE: The biggest single change, other than the added material, was the merging of the text of the 1997 edition with the 1999 supplement. In doing the merge, we discovered that a lot of entries had to be changed because material in the supplement caused the emphasis of the original entry to be changed. Of course, this process continued, to an even greater degree, with the new coverage added in the 2016 edition.

DENISE: I think that’s one of the things I found the most interesting. It’s fun to see all the various data-points for a character, established across many episodes, come together into a coherent whole. I love it when this shows the richness of a character that we’ve come to love, and how this can reveal a character’s overall story arc.

The Vault TNG?
-Wow just brilliant! Could the success of this be a catalyst for you to head off to see what gems are lying hidden from the movies or with next year's anniversary-

DENISE: That’s hard to say. The Roddenberry Vault was in some ways such an incredible stroke of luck, that Gene had held onto all that film, and for Majel, then later Rod, to preserve it all for literally decades. 

MIKE: It was such an unusual set of circumstances that led to the Roddenberry Vault. I don’t think that anyone was really aware that all this cool stuff from the original series was just sitting in storage.. We really haven’t looked into the films or the other series, so we really don’t have an answer.
You've had a busy few years with your work on The Original Series and The Next Generation blu-rays culminating with this year's release of the Star Trek Encyclopedia and The Roddenberry Vault. Having worked within the universe and being fans, how gratifying was it to revisit these especially coming to the 50th anniversary?

MIKE: Both the Roddenberry Vault and the new edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia are our celebration of Star Trek. In the case of the Roddenberry Vault, it really was a dream come true, to get to see moments in time from the original series, which is really our favorite.

DENISE: The Vault is full of wonderful snippets, film that we had thought was lost forever. You get a sense of the actors’ working process, as when we see Leonard Nimoy working out his performance of Spock. With glimpses of the production crew, we have what we call the “fly on the wall effect,” a sense of what it must have been like to be on the soundstages when Star Trek was in production, all those years ago.
MIKE: We have a number of lines of dialog that didn’t make it into the final episodes, and in some cases, even partial deleted scenes and a couple of alternate endings. In a couple of cases, we found film of scenes in which the dialog was pretty much the same, but in which the actors’ deliveries were surprisingly different. I just love these. They’re an unexpected window giving us new insight into these episodes that we love so much.

Where you aware that there was "lost" footage still in existence or was it as big a surprise to you as it was us?

DENISE: We had always hoped that this footage would someday surface. For years, we asked friends, collectors, and studio people if they knew about any such material. And for years, there was nothing. But still, I kept hoping.

MIKE: I had pretty much given up when one day Rod Roddenberry contacted us. We went to an undisclosed film storage facility and we had to sign nondisclosure agreements. Then they showed us into a room with rows and rows of film cans and boxes on shelves. We looked at some of the labels, and we began to suspect.

DENISE: Then they showed us some of the footage, and our jaws dropped. As far as we
were concerned, this was the Holy Grail. Of course, at that point the challenge, from a filmmaking point of view, was to find a means to present the new footage.

MIKE: That’s where our friend, Roger Lay, Jr. came into the picture. Roger is an accomplished filmmaker whose work includes all of the amazing behind-the-scenes documentaries in the new Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-ray remastered sets. He crafted a series of all-new documentaries to explore twelve featured episodes, as well as the overall series, showcasing the new footage. As longtime Star Trek fans, we’re delighted at some of the new areas he’s exploring in these pieces.

Did your work on The Original Series remasters have an influence on your approach to The Vault? Was it a driving force to get The Vault released?

DENISE: When CBS remastered The Original Series in HD, we all were delighted at how much excitement it generated in the fan community. I think that in some corners of fandom there was a tendency to think of the original series as that “old show,” maybe no longer of interest.

MIKE: Those beautiful new HD transfers revealed so much detail and richness and beauty that had always been part of the film, but had been lost in the old standard-def transfers. So working on The Original Series remastering project with David Rossi and the good folks at CBS gave us a renewed appreciation for the original Star Trek. Actually, the original series was always our favorite, but because we had reason to go back and study it so closely, it just renewed our love for it, which did indeed carry over onto the Roddenberry Vault.

With the release of this new footage is the journey with The Original Series complete? Is there possibly anything new it can give us for the next fifty years?

MIKE: Who knows? Who would have predicted that The Roddenberry Vault would ever become a reality? Certainly not us. So we’re looking forward to being surprised as much as anyone.

As the authors of the Encyclopedia would you consider this new footage canon? Or how do you balance it?

DENISE: We don’t really use the term “canon” in the way that it’s generally used in fandom, that is, to describe story elements with which future writers, producers, and directors must remain consistent. The reason for this, of course, is even though our writers generally have great respect for Trek’s backstory, you never know when the next story or script will require something to be tweaked or “discovered” for dramatic reasons. And as storytellers and filmmakers, that’s their prerogative.

MIKE: When we wrote the Star Trek Encyclopedia, for the most part we tried to stay fairly strictly with material from finished, aired episodes and movies. It was our hope that the book would serve as a reference to fans and writers for the source material, the episodes and movies themselves. The newly-discovered material in The Roddenberry Vault was extremely cool, but in the majority of cases there wasn’t enough film to properly re-create an entire scene with wide shots and closeups and all the elements that you need. This is one of the reasons we didn't attempt to cut together extended versions of the episodes. So while your mileage may vary, we don’t generally consider the new Roddenberry Vault footage to be officially part of the episodes.

Finally what does 2017 hold for yourselves? 

M: We have some things coming up that we can’t talk about yet. There are also a couple of non-Star Trek television and film projects for which we’re doing graphics. There’s some small NASA-related projects, including one that’s almost finished. Those are always fun.

DENISE: The thing is, we’ve been on a crazy busy schedule for the past few years. Between The Next Generation remastered, the Star Trek Encyclopedia, Sully, and the Roddenberry Vault, we’ve been working seven days a week for longer than we’d care to admit, so we hope we get a little time to decompress.

MIKE: But we’re also looking forward to the next thing. Going boldly.

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