Published Dec 12, 2021
Behind the Scenes of Star Trek: Insurrection
Look back at one of the TNG crew's cinematic adventures
By Maria Jose and John Tenuto
This article was originally published on February 2, 2017.
In early 1197, story development and preproduction began on what would eventually become Star Trek: Insurrection. A few months after Star Trek: First Contact became a box office hit, producer Rick Berman approached Michael Piller, whose contributions to Star Trek cannot be exaggerated, to write the film. Piller had been the producer/show-runner for The Next Generationand his leadership helped humanize and deepen the show and its characters during the third season and after. Additionally, Piller’s innovative policy of allowing script submissions from anyone with talent, even if not represented by an agent, opened the doors for many great TNG episodes and also helped begin the careers of many of today’s best TV writers. Piller was the co-creator of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Insurrection would be his first movie script.
We recently acquired many of the production memos and notes from the film while conducting research on the making of Insurrection. The materials reveal how and why stories change from their original conceptualizations, including having to find solutions to limitations of time, budget, and special effects technology. These are some of the fun, interesting “what ifs” and “could have beens” from these production materials.
- Piller’s first treatment, entitled "Star Trek: Stardust," was completed May 9, 1997. It was a much more serious drama based on the themes of the 1902 novella by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. The early drafts of the script involved Picard going after an old friend named Hugh Duffy, who is claiming that the Federation is in collusion with the Romulans to destroy a world in order to gain its precious ‘sarium krellide’ ore.
- Early story ideas included some favorite TNG characters from the television era. The first story treatment has Picard eventually standing before the Federation Council to answer for his defiant actions. It appears all is hopeless and Picard may lose his command until Boothby begins applauding Picard’s impassioned speech about his actions, inspiring a wave of support. Interestingly, the film would not resolve whether Picard was sanctioned or not, leaving that answer for the sequel. Reginald Barclay also had an extensive role in the early versions of the story, but memos indicated a concern that perhaps it was too large of role, not leaving enough to do for the regular characters of Geordi, Beverly, and Deanna.
- A planned action scene was to be a chase between Picard and the Son’a on anti-grav scooters that he brought with him from the Enterprise to help with the evacuation. There is a concern in the production material that the sequence needs to be innovative to avoid comparisons to the Endor speeder bike chase scenes of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
- One of the original themes of the film was that Data was going to argue in favor of moving the Ba’ku because he wanted his friends to live as long as he did. Picard and Data discuss this, with Picard, explaining that it doesn’t matter if people live twice as long if they do so living without “the values we hold most dear.” One of the reason this idea was abandoned was because it was thought that Data had already established that the moral path was opposing the plan to move the Ba’ku at the start of the film.
- The invisibility suits that were seen at the start of the finished movie, used by the joint Son’a/Federation research teams along with Data, were going to play a bigger role in the action of the film. The third draft of the script has Picard using the invisibility suits to subdue Son’a agents.
- The design of the Ba’ku culture has academic origins. Michael Piller consulted with an anthropologist about what a culture of long-lived people would likely look and act like during 1997. The comments would inform much of the eventual design of the Ba’ku. The anthropologist suggested that a long-lived culture would be rural dwellers who had vocations and not 9-5 jobs, and that they physically would be tall and thin. They would live in smaller groups. Many of these ideas were adopted by designers.
- Another original idea was to have the Ba’ku have no hair near their ears. This idea was abandoned for very practical reasons. According to a March 11, 1998 memo, the additional cost of shaving the hair on all of the extras would add $94,200 to the budget. Additionally, there was the concern that the extras and actors who played the Ba’ku would have trouble finding work again until their hair returned.
- Through collaboration and innovation, through artistry and creativity, the production team resolved challenges and limitations to produce what has been called the most “Roddenberry-esque” of the Star Trek films in terms of its social themes. For those who enjoyed this discussion of the secrets of Star Trek: Insurrection, and for fans of the much-missed Michael Piller, the late writer’s family has published his long-awaited book Fade In: The Making of Star Trek: Insurrection – A Textbook on Screenwriting from within the Star Trek Universe, which explores in detail the preproduction of the film from a writer’s perspective. StarTrek.com spoke with Piller's widow, Sandra Piller, about the book in an interview.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.