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David Carson Revisits His Trek Days - Part 2

David Carson Revisits His Trek Days - Part 2

Yesterday, in part one of our interview with David Carson, he recounted how he connected with Star Trek: The Next Generation and commented on several of his TNG episodes, including “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Today, in the second half of our conversation, Carson shares his thoughts about directing several episodes of Deep Space Nine and the first TNG feature, Generations, and then he fills us in on what he’s doing today.

At what point did Rick Berman ask you to direct “Emissary,” the two-hour series opener?

Carson: I think everybody knew they were going to do this brand-new series and that it was going to be the first without Gene Roddenberry. So there was a certain amount anticipation or apprehension about it because it was very much the goal to do something that would not just carry the franchise forward, but would at the same time perhaps move the whole thing into places where none of the series had gone before. That sounds like the slogan for Star Trek, doesn’t it? To boldly go. And it was a few months before they moved ahead with it that Rick came up to me and said, “Would you like to do it?”

What mission, so to speak, were you given, in terms of what the two-hour had to accomplish?

Carson: Well, my first mission was to stay within budget. And then we had to make sure that “Emissary” was really, really good, that it satisfied the fans and, at the same time we had to make a sequel that was going to broaden the Star Trek universe. So, for example, there were a lot of things that Rick and Michael (Piller) put into the pilot. We had a captain who was very unsettled and unhappy with another captain, a captain he considered responsible for his wife’s death. And that was none other than Jean-Luc Picard. So you suddenly had some strife, some unhappiness, certain emotions that had really only been available, on TNG, on the holodeck, because of the discipline and the way that the Star Trek universe worked before then.

Also, where everyone worked was darker, not so bright as the bridges of TNG and TOS were. We were telling stories from somewhere static, which was our space station, rather than traveling all around the universe. People, creatures, were going to come to it, not the other way around. So we had to make a production that would allow us to make it as varied as possible in terms of style and atmosphere. All of it was designed to make it clear that we were going to a darker place with the series and that it was therefore going to different from TNG and TOS, yet hopefully adhere to the same principles.

What do you recall of your other DS9 episodes, “Dax,” “Move Along Home” and “The Alternate”?

Carson: I enjoyed doing “Dax.” That was good fun. As you probably know, Terry Farrell hadn’t been cast yet as Dax when we started the pilot, so “Dax” was a lot less pressured. I didn’t have all the responsibility of getting the pilot perfect and all of that kind of thing. I’m a little vague on “Move Along Home,” but I do remember that it wasn’t a very strong story. And I enjoyed “The Alternate.” It had a lot of different colors and interesting stuff in it.

Your next and last contribution to the franchise was Generations. Kirk died and then he died again, shot in the back by Soran (Malcolm McDowell). It was determined that didn’t work, and everyone gathered again to shoot a new Kirk death sequence. Take us through that situation.

Carson: Kirk was to be shot in the back. What was written and what was accepted by the studio and the producers was never acceptable as far as I was concerned. I mean, here’s this great icon. This Captain Kirk is an icon. He means a lot to people. So to have him die in an ignominious way, when you’re shooting in this incredible mountain area… I fought for that not to happen, but lost the battle. And when we were out on the set I remember that Bill and Patrick and I called the studio to say, “Please, can we not do this? Can we do something else? Let’s stay here. Let’s re-write it.” Because we didn’t feel it was going to work. They did it as well as they could, but frankly, shooting somebody in the back on a narrow ledge on a mountainside is not the most dramatic way for someone to die, especially when the baddie, Malcolm McDowell, also got shot. So it was like an antiquated gunfight, if you like.

We put the film together and brought it back to the studio. I remember asking Rick and the studio to come and see it. (Studio boss) Sherry Lansing came to the cutting room and looked at it. And everybody’s opinion was, “We’ll have to wait until we do a public test viewing.” So we did. We did a test viewing and the film got tremendously good scores… until the ending happened and then the scores just fell off the page. So it seemed that the test audience also agreed that our shooting Kirk in the back was really, totally anticlimactic and not the kind of thing that they wanted at all. So, very dramatically, that evening, after we came out of the theater, we were all called into Sherry Lansing’s office. She said, “You can’t change the date of the presentation of the movie, but we need to add a completely new ending. We want you to re-present it to us, then go and shoot it and have it in the movie by that time, so it can open properly.”

What then?

Carson: We all looked at each other. She said, “I don’t care how you do it, just go on and get it done, and then come back.” So we re-wrote the ending and did the ending that you see now in the film. And it was, of course, a huge undertaking because we were doing an action scene in virgin territory in the middle of a national park north of Las Vegas. It was immensely dramatic and because we decided to put it on a bridge, we had to have three helicopters putting the bridge into place and attaching it to these virgin rocks. It was just amazing. Fortunately for us, the Parks Department loved the idea that Star Trek was going to be done in the park.

So we shot for another two weeks, which cost a huge amount of money, and it was so disruptive of the final process. Dennis McCarthy, who wrote the score, wrote the score for the whole movie up to that point. He had 10 minutes to add and was waiting, waiting for us to finish editing it. However, I will say that the reshoots were very exciting. The crew loved doing it because it was such an action ending and much more fitting for Kirk. Captain Kirk’s death now meant something. Before, being shot in the back, it meant absolutely nothing. This time he really saved the day. So it was well worthwhile in the end, I think.

Why did you not do more Trek after Generations?

Carson: I was looking to do more films and to do things like the mini-series I did, The 10th Kingdom. I was very lucky with what I was being offered and I decided that it was going to be better for me to focus on those kinds of things, things that had a longer form. I did still go and do some episodic shows, particularly ones that were starting up, like Smallville. I enjoyed One Tree Hill. I liked being on the ground floor of shows, even if I hadn’t done the pilot. And as time went on, more and more I wanted to focus on the kinds of things I was doing in England before I came to the States, and those are subject that are dear to my heart, like the role of women in our society and around the world. So I’ve been very lucky to be able to take the time to go off and write, to go off and try to produce projects that I hope to direct. I have three films that are getting very close to being realized. I’ve been banging on the doors of producers and trying to get the money to get stuff made. It’s hard because you’re trying to push and to create, but it’s also immensely fulfilling. One of projects would be in Thailand, and it’s called The Pirate Fighter, which is the true story of a fascinating man who saved about 2,000 women and children from trafficking, sexual slavery and those sorts of things, from pirates in the Thai gulf after the Vietnam War. It’s a wonderful story and very, very relevant to today and indicative of the kind of work I want to do now.

To read part one of this interview, click here.