Fringe: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
I’ve now spoken to screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman enough that I can tell their voices apart without even having to refer to my notes of who said what. Between Fringe and Transformers and Star Trek, I’ve seen them not only at press junkets but events in between as well. Now it’s time to talk about the second season of Fringe, with a few hints about Trek 2 as well.
Crave Online: What else is coming up in season two besides this parallel universe that you introduced in the finale?
Roberto Orci: Josh is going to really take charge.
Alex Kurtzman: Peter’s character last year was very much about finding himself kind of blackmailed into the position he was in of having to be his father’s caretaker. He was always faced with the possibility of running. That was what was interesting to us, was that he was a character who could bail on everyone else at any second. I think a lot of what happened towards the end of last season and what we see at the beginning of this season is leading to his commitment to say, “I’m the guy. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it my way. I’m taking charge now. If you want me to help in the Fringe division, then you have to go through me to figure out how we’re going to get to cases.” That’s going to be I think a very different way of approach for the character.
Crave Online: How involved will you and J.J. Abrams be this season?
Roberto Orci: We’re sort of divvying up so we’ll kind of oversee one, J.J.’ll oversee one and we’re all together once or twice a month planning what the next big steps are. Then we have an amazing staff that divvies up the episodes. We get together on the phone and improve the stories so we’re all in there. Jeff and Joel are the ones who are physically on site handling all the horrible things that we’re protected from, in addition to doing what we’re doing with us. But we’re all in there creatively.
Crave Online: Are you masters of multitasking?
Roberto Orci: Well, we are. That’s part of why we all like doing shows together is because we make it easier for each other to be involved than it would be if any one of us were involved alone. So sometimes J.J. can see them when we can’t but then we can get together with J.J. The more people are in the know, the more everyone can continue to be creative. That’s part of the flexibility of having safety in numbers.
Alex Kurtzman: And I think we’ve learned a lot from television. Television really teaches you the discipline.
Roberto Orci: How to multitask.
Alex Kurtzman: Having to work on many things at once because you’re breaking story while writing a script while shooting an episode while posting another one.
Roberto Orci: There’s plenty to do.
Alex Kurtzman: The key is you have to keep your quality level high and that’s why you have other people around you to make sure that you are keeping your quality level high.
Crave Online: How do you two divide up your time?
Roberto Orci: Crisis, we just split up as they come. In terms of writing we do together and we spend a certain amount of our day writing. Then on the various projects that we’re developing, there’s one or the other who becomes responsible for it and we try to be together at both but when we have to divide it, he develops half of our slate and I develop half of our slate with our team.
Crave Online: Who’s on point with Fringe?
Roberto Orci: Well, on that it’s both of us. Any time, although when we’re writing it, we write it together. On Fringe, it’s me.
Crave Online: Has an element of Fringe surprised you that wasn’t obvious when you started?
Roberto Orci: Actually, the idea of the parallel universe thing was something that Jeff Pinkner and the staff came up with together once we had the pilot already shot. So while we had an inkling of we wanted some singular answer that explained what was causing the fringe, it was actually Jeff Pinkner and the staff that actually came up with that, pitched that to us. So here we are talking about what the second season’s going to be and it was the team that we assembled that came up with it.
Crave Online: Do you have to wait for word from Leonard Nimoy that he’s available or willing before you do a William Bell script?
Roberto Orci: We do like two in advance at a time. We’ll go, “Hey, you up for two more?” Buy one get one free kind of thing.
Crave Online: What are your thoughts on parallel universes?
Alex Kurtzman: I think they exist.
Roberto Orci: It’s the latest thinking on it, you know. Anything that can happen does happen. That’s what Mr. Data said in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It seems to resolve a lot of the paradoxes that exist but who knows. It’s an old idea by now. It’s not a new idea.
Crave Online: How many conversations have you had about who Mrs. Bishop could be?
Roberto Orci: We’ve had a few but that definitely seems like a big target that you want to make sure you build up to correctly.
Crave Online: Is there any internal discussion about making sure the alternate reality of Lost’s plane not crashing isn’t too similar to your alternate reality?
Roberto Orci: You’re talking about Lost? I don’t know anything about what goes on over there. I tell them never to tell me anything because I don’t want to steal any of their ideas. I haven’t even seen the show in two years. To me that’s a whole other world.
Crave Online: Isn’t there a danger of accidental overlap if you don’t talk?
Roberto Orci: Maybe. Someone will tell me about it. I’m not going to go out there. Enough people watch Lost that I hope they’ll tell me if we’re doing something too similar.
Crave Online: Do you still have a research team bringing you stuff?
Roberto Orci: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s partly why we made the technical consultants staff writers, so that they could be both in house staff writers and our in house research team.
Crave Online: Do you take their material and make it funny and dramatic, or do they have the capacity.
Roberto Orci: They’re writing their first script so we’re about to find out.
Crave Online: How much of Walter is improvised and how much is written? Do you put in the script when Walter goes off?
Roberto Orci: Absolutely. You say, “In the background, Walter is inspecting whatever thing is catching his eye. You’re not even sure what he’s doing yet until you get over there.” It’s still very written, but John’s improvs are like underlines and exclamation points on the scene. One line can change a scene. It can do so much to everything that came before. So it’s both still really written. Obviously, you can’t make some of that stuff up for God’s sakes. It takes a team of people, but he really knows his character and he can get in an out of character almost without the script.
Crave Online: Does the cow exist in the parallel world?
Roberto Orci: Uh, yes.
Crave Online: Does it have reverse spots?
Roberto Orci: Good idea.
Crave Online: Did you hear about the passing of John Hughes?
Alex Kurtzman: Yes, we did. We just heard.
Crave Online: Was he an influence on you?
Alex Kurtzman: Oh my God, a huge influence. It was incredibly heartbreaking.
Roberto Orci: He still comes up in meetings.
Alex Kurtzman: He does all the time.
Roberto Orci: Every month.
Alex Kurtzman: John Hughes, we got John Hughes at exactly the right time. We were 12 years old when Breakfast Club and 16 Candles and Ferris Bueller came out.
Roberto Orci: He made movies for us.
Alex Kurtzman: The thing about John Hughes that really distinguished him from any other filmmaker was that he always respected kids. His movies were told from the point of view of kids and it was odd because no other filmmaker out there seemed to understand kids as well as he did.
Roberto Orci: He didn’t talk down to them.
Alex Kurtzman: He never talked down to them. Even when he was being funny and even when his movies were parodies, they were never parodies of kids. The fact that he was able to speak to us that way was unique. It’s incredible sad. It’s really sad.
Crave Online: How much discussion of Star Trek 2 involves classic missions from the series?
Roberto Orci: Everything’s on the table.
Alex Kurtzman: We have to comb through everything and make sure that we leave no stone unturned because that was the approach that I think … the fan response we were looking for in the first movie. And you know, there’s a lot of expectation obviously on the sequel.
Roberto Orci: But we haven’t hit the ground running yet.
Crave Online: How careful do you have to be not to overdo it?
Alex Kurtzman: Well, it’s a balance. The approach for us on the first movie was how do we please fans and how do we please people who have no relationship to Trek. That’s a question we have to keep asking ourselves constantly. That’s a very tricky formula because it’s hard.
Crave Online: Have you had any second to think about a third Transformers?
Roberto Orci: No.
Alex Kurtzman: No.
Crave Online: Are you considering doing a third Transformers? I thought you weren’t.
Alex Kurtzman: I don’t think we’re going to.
Roberto Orci: We’re not.
Alex Kurtzman: Unless there’s something you have to tell me now.
Crave Online: Transformers 2 was such a hit but how do you feel about it artistically?
Roberto Orci: You know, on any movie we never feel like we’re done. Even Michael will tell you he wishes he had another two weeks in the editing room to cut it down. You know, without grading it on a curve, as we’ve said, we knew we were going to be in for a tough haul with the strike, with three months to prep it, with them prepping it up from an outline, dealing with US Auto, the Pentagon, two studios, Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg. We’re lucky just to survive it and to get it on the screen, so that’s its own victory. There’s more we would do to it. We’re never done.
Crave Online: So why don’t you want to try a third?
Roberto Orci: I don’t know, I think that’s what’s best for the franchise. Just get some fresh blood in there. Michael, from the very beginning, we agreed with him that we wanted to make sure that each movie was just its own movie. So we didn’t come into this with like a trilogy in mind. It’s not like we’re leaving midway through our concerto. We’ve done two of them. They were each supposed to be their own movie and let’s see. May the best idea win. We want to make sure we make room for the best idea.
Crave Online: Do you expect to stay on Star Trek for more than 2 or 3 films?
Roberto Orci: Expect is a dirty word I think. It would be nice but again we gotta take it one movie at a time. Thinking about Star Trek 2 being out two years from now, it’s so hard to say in three years, “Yeah, sign me up for 3.”
Crave Online: Do you have a 2012 film also?
Roberto Orci: We did at one time but Roland Emmerich wrote his and got it set up during the strike because it was a spec so he was legally able to write it, so he beat us to the punch and we had to dump it. Because it’s a spec, because no one’s paying it. If no one’s paying you, you can be writing your own thing. So he finished it up and wrote a script during the strike.
Crave Online: So there’s only going to be one 2012 film.
Roberto Orci: Yeah.
Crave Online: At this point, are there things you see or read that still inspire you?
Roberto Orci: Absolutely, but mainly nonfiction. There’s always stuff coming out that reinterprets what we already think we know and that’s part of what Fringe is about. Reinterpreting what you think you know. You think you learned that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree. Maybe he didn’t. Columbus discovered America? Not exactly. Growing up is a process of seeing that the lessons you learned that you thought you already knew are not exactly what you think. So I love reading biographies, new history, seeing documents that are declassified now, science. All that kind of stuff.