‘Star Trek’ scribes have a partnership that has lived long and prospered
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I have a cover story in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar section today on the screen-writing tandem that has become the go-to team for Hollywood popcorn movies, among them this summer’s ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ and ‘Star Trek.’ There’s an excerpt from the story below. (A random tidbit that cut during the editing process, by the way: A scene was filmed for the new ‘Trek’ that showed an armored Klingon (the armor has the skull ridges of the latter-day Klingons) but that scene will only be on the DVD of the film, not the theatrical release.)
On a leafy hillside on the Universal Studios lot, childhood friends Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman share not just a bungalow but a single desk that sits beneath large letters that spell out ‘C-O-F-F-E-E’ -- vintage neon salvaged from an old diner. There, sitting face to face and finishing each other’s sentences, the screenwriters crank out tales of the fantastic for Hollywood, including two of this summer’s biggest popcorn films, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ and ‘Star Trek,’ as well as Fox’s eerie hit series ‘Fringe.'The two met in their senior year at Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, the Santa Monica private school that lists Amy Pascal, Michael Bay, Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow among its alumni, and their great bonding moment was their mutual passion for ‘sex, lies, and videotape,’ the 1989 Steven Soderbergh film that became a signature moment in American independent film. There were, however, no giant robots or photon torpedoes in that Soderbergh script.'We came from a place of passion for independent films and imagined ourselves writing films like that, but now, for better or worse, we have developed a reputation as guys who write ‘big’ movies,’ Kurtzman said. ‘And I’d really like ‘good’ to also be an adjective that’s used. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. You really can do both.’
Perhaps, but the critics haven’t always been kind to their movies, which include ‘Mission: Impossible III,’ ‘Transformers,’ ‘The Island’ and ‘The Legend of Zorro.’ But in a town where screenwriters are often viewed as interchangeable parts, they have become a brand name and have even expanded into the role of producers, a rarity for scribes. Their specialty is science fiction that is brainy but crowd pleasing, and they’ve become trusted wordsmiths for Steven Spielberg, Bay, D.J. Caruso and, most notably, J.J. Abrams, director of the latest installment of ‘Star Trek’ and key figure on ‘Fringe’ (as well as shows such as ‘Lost,’ ‘Alias’ and ‘Felicity.’)'What I admire about them is their work ethic,’ said Caruso, who worked with the pair on 2008’s ‘Eagle Eye.’ ‘They burn the midnight oil and support your vision full force. Alex is intelligent and intense and Bob can make any intense situation ridiculously funny. What’s unusually cool about them is that they have maintained the producer-writer power that they earned in television and carried that over into the feature film area, and that is extremely rare.'The pair are candid about their desire to prove themselves with less frothy fare in the future -- they’d like to reconnect with their old indie spirit. Asked what they have to prove to the world, they looked at each other. Kurtzman nodded to his old friend: ‘You go first.’ ‘We’d like to write something that takes place on Earth but only with human beings. No robots, no aliens, no spaceships, no explosions,’ Orci said. ‘We’d like to prove all that time we spent learning about characters actually allows us to write something sustained solely through character.'Kurtzman grinned. ‘Yeah, I was going to say the same thing.'Kurtzman and Orci, both 35, met in a film studies class and seized on the idea of becoming screenwriters with a focus that seems to take place only with kids coming of age near the spotlight in Southern California...
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