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Eugene Roddenberry interview

Date of publishing: 23rd January 2007

Eugene Roddenberry interview Eugene Roddenberry was born in the television mecca of Los Angeles, California to Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett Roddenberry. Eugene's parents made a conscious effort to keep their son out of the limelight and he was able to have a relatively normal yet priveledged childhood without the glare of Hollywood. He attended John Thomas Dye Elementary School in Los Angeles and then went to Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, California. During his formative years, Eugene's interests were more social than academic. However, he soon understood the importance of education and was able to increase his marks as he progressed in his schooling. He eventually enrolled at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His college career was interrupted towards his final semester because Eugene couldn't resist the pull of the family business and was offered the opportunity to work on a new series, "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict", to be shot in Toronto, Canada. He jumped at the chance to learn about the entertainment industry and to develop his creative juices with some of the most successful producers in the industry. "Earth: Final Conflict" is essentially his first serious foray into the entertainment industry and qualifies as his both worst and most exciting job. In 1987, Eugene was given his first official job as a production assistant on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" by no other than his father. He continued to work as a production assistant over the course of five summers and a school semester on the set of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine".

Gilles Nuytens: Being the son of Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett I guess your childhood and youth must have been very interesting. Can you share some of your memories of your dad with us? What inspired you to follow in his footsteps?
Eugene Roddenberry: Some memories of my dad, well, first of all having Majel Barrett-Roddenberry and Gene Roddenberry as my mom and dad as a child is not different than anyone else so to speak. My father was daddy and my mom was mommy, you know? It was fairly average. Now perhaps I was spoiled and very fortunate in that area but you know mommy cooked dinner and daddy went to work and it was pretty typical. Now as they got older and I became a teenager you know around 11, 12, 13 that’s when my father became busy with The Next Generation. At that time we actually kind of grew apart. The father-son relationship grew apart. I became a rebellious teenager and he became consumed with work. We did not communicate as well as we did in the past and fought. He became more of an authority figure. So let me jump back to a memory that I have of my father when I was very young. My father and I used to do something called bumming. This was when I was from 5 – 8 years of age. We would get into his Cadillac and he would drive to the Santa Monica Pier but on the freeway he would put the car into second gear and I could barely see over the dashboard. The RPMs would shoot up and the car would vibrate. He said we will go in speedster and I would go oh daddy we’re going so fast. This was speedster. That was our word that we used. He probably wouldn’t go faster than 55 or 65 but it felt like we were jetting down the freeway. Then we would get to the Pier and we would play some arcade games or knock over the milk jugs with the ball. He would win me a doll. We would play the games that were on the pier and it was a lot of fun. Then we would have a late lunch and he would drive me home. We would pull into the garage of the house and he would close the garage behind the car and leave the headlights on and he would turn off the car and he would look over me and say, I am Gene Pupu Roddenberry. I would look back at him and say I am Rod Pupu Roddenberry. This was the sort of ceremonious way of ending our afternoon of bumming. We would both walk into the garage with grins on our faces and hiding it from my mom who of course knew what was going on. But this was our father-son bonding time. Jumping ahead to a teenager he was the authority figure and I was the rebellious teenager. He said yes, I said no. We didn’t hate each other. Of course we loved each other but that innocence; that father-son relationship was definitely kind of lost in that time period. It really wasn’t until after he passed away when I was 17 years old that I started to wonder who my dad was. I was never an adult I never had adult conversations with my father as a teenager. I never spoke to him about philosophy, history, science or politics in Hollywood and all the nonsense that goes on. Those are things that I would love to have discussed with him. Just pick his brain and bounce my ideas off him. What an amazing opportunity that would have been. I have had the opportunity to learn about him through not only his work, but also through the fans that know him and his work. That’s been an amazing opportunity. It has allowed me to really get to know who my father was. I became inspired to follow in his footsteps but it was really after he passed away. It was at his memorial service. A gentleman got on stage and spoke of a letter that had been sent to my father in the early 80s. It was about a quadriplegic gentleman who couldn’t move. In the letter the gentleman said that he was born a quadriplegic and his parents did the best they could to take care of him. They had fought and struggled just to pay the bills and give him a better life. After a while they had to put him in a nursing home where he lived his life as a prisoner in his own body and eventually gave up. He lost all hope and tried to kill himself. He actually tried to kill himself numerous times. Due to his condition he couldn’t do it. Then he said in 1966 a show called Star Trek came on the air. It presented a future in which even if he were never able to walk again he would still be an accepted member of society and not a bedridden outcast. You know the way that we tend to treat handicap people today shows we don’t know how to behave. I can only speak for myself and sometimes I don’t know how to behave. Does one just act normal or work extra hard to do things. Sometimes they get offended or upset by the way people behave towards them. Anyway I couldn’t believe that my father had touched a life in this way. Excuse me I jumped ahead. Let me go back. The show Star Trek came on the air and spoke of the future. The letter continues to credit my father for giving him hope he said I am now 49 years old, I’m married and have 3 kids and that is what affected me so much. I couldn’t believe that a TV show that my father created had touched a life in this way. You know he really gave someone the opportunity to live through his message of a hopeful future and united humanity. That is what inspired me to follow in my father’s footsteps.

Gilles Nuytens: As a kid, did you watch Star Trek? Did you like it? Was science fiction present in your daily life?
Eugene Roddenberry: I did not watch Star Trek as a kid. It wasn’t my kind of show. I liked Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky and Hutch, and Knight Rider. I did like sci-fi. I loved Star Wars but I wasn’t into intellectual thought provoking science fiction. I was into entertainment, plain entertainment. I did like science fiction, there was more Star Wars in my life as a young child than there was Star Trek.

Gilles Nuytens: Majel Barrett is nicknamed the First Lady of Star Trek and is for sure one of the main ladies of science fiction. So what is she really like?
Eugene Roddenberry: That’s a very good question. I will tell you what she is really like. If you have ever watched Next Generation and seen the character Lwaxana Troi that character was not developed and then they hired my mother to play it. They hired my mother and basically let her come up with her own character of flamboyant you know mother to Deanna Troi. And yes, Lwaxana is over the top and my mother is to a lesser degree just as over the top. Of course she is a wonderful lady with a huge heart. She speaks her mind no matter what the situation and you know she won’t let you get away with shit. Pardon my language but she is very direct and she is not going to play games with you. That is what I love about her besides from being my mother of course. She is a truly wonderful lady. We don’t always see eye-to-eye and we do have our communication issues but we love each other very much and we work around them to the best of our ability.

Gilles Nuytens: In times like ours, in times of senseless wars and violence do you feel Gene Roddenberry’s ideal equation of the future of humanity, of human kind is still valid? Would such a future be possible?
Eugene Roddenberry: I’m of the belief that and you’ve heard this from my father, that we are a very young species. I don’t know if we’re in our adolescence or in our infancy but either way we have a lot to learn and we’re going to make mistakes, some of them grave, grave, grave mistakes. I wish we wouldn’t, I wish we didn’t and I wish we could all just agree. Can’t we just all get along? But that’s not how it is right now. I do think things are getting better, not getting worse like many other people think. I see the good in so many people around me. I see the ability. I see the desire to not just tolerate but to accept differences. You know so many people say tolerate. Tolerate the people around you. Tolerate different religions. Tolerate different ideas. What tolerate means is to just let it sit next to you even though it annoys you. Ignore it. Just let it sit there. What you need to do is accept new ideas and different ideas. By accepting it doesn’t mean that you believe in them. It just means that you accept them for who they are. If someone believes in the opposite thing as me that is something that I am willing to accept, that there may be an opposite idea to mine. I can grow as a person, as an individual from hearing what that opposite idea is. Anyway we do have a long way to go and I don’t condone it, but sad and terrible things are going to happen. What I am going to do to make a difference is not do those bad things, is to accept people and talk to people about my feelings and my thoughts and be willing to listen to theirs. That is the most important thing, not to just listen but to hear what others say and incorporate it into my own belief system, my own daily belief system. I think we will have a Star Trek future. I don’t know if it will be the 23rd century, the 22nd, or the 24th but I think we will have a Star Trek future because you know eventually we will all realize that the killing and wars are senseless. It is much easier to put our differences aside and work together for the greater good. Not get rid of our differences. We can embrace those but not to wear them on our shoulder on a daily basis. We need to look at our commonalities above and beyond our differences and that’s what needs to be celebrated everyday.

Gilles Nuytens: In September we will celebrate our 40th anniversary of the beginning of Star Trek. The series was created long before I was born and no one could have foreseen the impact it would have on modern culture and TV. From your point of view what’s the main achievement of Star Trek?
Eugene Roddenberry: The main achievement of Star Trek as I said in a previous question but its kind of created a central theme, a central idea of unity that people from all walks of life, from all cultures, all religions have agreed with. I mean the fact that, we as a species can get along and will have a future together, is actually amazing. That is one of the main things that inspired me to do what I do everyday. Star Trek is not just entertainment. It is a philosophy about the future. It’s a philosophy about humanity and it presents a future that looks good. So many things present a future that looks bad. Star Trek presents a future that I want now and I know a lot of other Star Trek fans want it now too. We are willing to work for it. We are open minded enough to work in that direction and so every little bit counts. Every person that you talk to without preaching to them but just every person that you talk to with kindness and acceptance will carry that on to the next person. Even if it’s just a little bit, we can spread it. We can spread goodness like a disease, what a good disease. We can create it all over this world and it will spread like wildfire.

Gilles Nuytens: Of all the series and its universe created by Gene Roddenberry what’s your favorite and why?
Eugene Roddenberry: Well I have to tell you I am a Next Generation fan. It was of my generation. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the original series. I was just brought up with The Next Generation. However I see the reason why Star Trek appealed to so many people when I watch the original series, appeal to so many intelligent people I should say as well. Yeah, Next Generation is just my series. I loved it. I don’t know why. The writing is better as well as the stories and when I say better I am referring to Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise and of course that is only my opinion. There are many differences and different ideas out there and different people think different shows are better. But I like The Next Generation. When I was a kid I used to come home from school and my father would have the VHS tapes, the raw tapes of each episode and every Thursday I would watch The Next Generation at home. I was actually a legitimate fan of The Next Generation you know before I started this quest to find out who my father was. It’s almost independent of who my father was. Even at that time I didn’t make the connection as to him creating this show. It was just a show my father worked on that was pretty good.

Gilles Nuytens: You are a producer and writer. In which of these two activities do you find yourself more comfortable, any preference?
Eugene Roddenberry: You know I am not very good at either right now. I am not much of a producer. I haven’t done too much. I am not that experienced. And you know I spend some time writing and I haven’t been writing for a while. When I find a story that I am into then I really enjoy the writing process and that happens rarely for me. Of course I don’t sit down and try that often but when I do try and when I do have a story that I love, my imagination is going like a million miles now and I love it. I guess if I had to answer that question I would say writing but just for the record I write very little and I produce very little. I am a scuba diver and an explorer. I think I like the hands-on approach a little bit more but we will see what the future holds.

Gilles Nuytens: You have inherited from your parents the love for science fiction and in fact you have devoted yourself almost exclusively to science fiction if I am not wrong.
Eugene Roddenberry: You are not wrong.

Gilles Nuytens: Have you ever thought about trying other genres?
Eugene Roddenberry: Well I have thought about it in the sense of I have wondered and you know I am not into cop shows and I don’t know anything about being a cop and I don’t know where to begin. I see the lawyer shows. I see the doctor shows. I don’t think I could do any of those. I don’t know what I would write about. Now here is the contradiction in what I just said. Star Trek isn’t about science fiction. It was never intended to be about science fiction. Star Trek is about people and that’s when you have good drama, when you have people and social issues that the audience can relate to. So the contradiction there says that I could write for any genre and if by genre, maybe I took genre wrong. I could write any sort of science fiction or any sort of non-science fiction show. And as long as I write about people it would be good. Then maybe I should say I don’t have an interest in writing about cops, lawyers or doctors. And if you think genres, movies I just haven’t explored but the science fiction sounds good right now and the documentary I am working on Trek Nation. I don’t think I am going to make too many documentaries. We will see.

Gilles Nuytens: You interceded with Paramount in New Voyages’ behalf. What was your personal opinion about the work that the guys did for New Voyages?
Eugene Roddenberry: Well I will tell you what I never interceded with Paramount. These guys were doing great without me. When I found out, I actually got a script. This was a second one In Harm’s Way I got the script and I normally don’t read scripts that are written by fans. There is a policy in Hollywood. It’s sort of a liability thing. It’s kind of nonsense. A close friend of mine told me to read it and I did and I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was the closest thing to the original series since the original series. I contacted them and told them I want to be a part of it. They thought I was in close with Paramount and you know little did they know my family’s had this love-hate relationship with Paramount for almost 40 years. I do not hate Paramount. I love Paramount and I look forward to working with them. But there has just been a lot of politics if you can imagine. I did not help them with Paramount at all. They did that on their own and their work stood on it’s own. I think they did an amazing job. Just to bottom line it the episode, New Voyages, the episode In Harm’s Way I believe is the closest thing to true Star Trek since the original series and I mean it’s the closest thing to the original series since the original series.

Gilles Nuytens: If I asked you to choose one of the following characters, which one would you choose and why: Kirk, Picard, Dylan Hunt and the main character of Earth: Final Conflict?
Eugene Roddenberry: I am not sure if I understand the question if I asked you to choose one of the following characters like which would be my favorite. You know that's a real tough one. You know I am a Next Generation fan. I mean believe it or not I am a Picard fan even though there is a bit of an age gap between us. It’s just someone with integrity that I trust, someone who is in control of the ship, someone who trusts the people around him to do their job, someone who I think would trust me to do the job that I would take on. I hope to be as mature, trusting and have that kind of integrity when I am his age. In fact when I am, I hope to have that right now let alone his age. And we are referring to Picard’s age not Patrick Stewart’s.

Gilles Nuytens: Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled after its Fourth season. In the end it’s been only an attempt to narrate the events that occurred before the original series and it’s been very much criticized by fans. What's your opinion of Star Trek: Enterprise?
Eugene Roddenberry: I’ve always felt that Star Trek should just lay low for a while. They’ve done enough with Deep Space Nine and Voyager. When they came up with Enterprise I thought you know what, I will give it a shot, I love Scott Bakula. That was probably the reason why I was willing to give it a chance because of Scott Bakula. I watched all of the first season and I thought it was pretty good. I watched 2 episodes of the second season and I lost interest, you know I really just lost interest. I felt like it really wasn’t an ensemble cast. These other characters were just kind of there. The other characters on the bridge didn’t really seem to have parts and you didn’t get to know about them and you didn’t care about them. At least that's what happened up to the beginning of the second season. I am sure it developed beyond that. I heard when Manny Coto came aboard, he really turned the show around and brought it back to the original theory. He made sure the episodes were about something not just references to the original series but they were actually about something. That is truly Star Trek when you are talking about social issues. I have not watched anything beyond the first two episodes of the second season. I didn’t even watch the last episode of the series because I didn’t want to ruin it. So one of these days I will sit down and I will push myself to watch the Second Season and I am sure by that time I will enjoy the 3rd and 4th.

Gilles Nuytens: Paramount has recently announced its intention to release Star Trek 11, a new incarnation of the original series with new actors. What's your opinion of that? Do you have any news you can share with us?
Eugene Roddenberry: Well this goes back to one of my earlier answers. I still feel that Star Trek should rest for 5 or 10 years. However, the fact that they are doing it with JJ Abrams a real Star Trek fan and someone who’s proven to Hollywood that he can do good stuff, I am less concerned. I think he is extremely talented and I think he will do the right thing for Star Trek. Now I don't know him personally and I believe he will take it seriously. He doesn’t want to screw up Star Trek. He doesn’t want to piss off the fans. He is a fan. I just want to make sure that he has full control to choose his team and the people he listens to and is not pressured by the corporate suits who say it needs to have big chits in action. So I look forward to meeting him and finding out what kind of guy he is more than what kind of producer, writer or director he is. I have no control or say over what he does or anything Paramount does for that matter and at this point I kind of don't want to. This Star Trek is their baby. My father sold it to them in the ‘80s. I would love to be involved. I would love to participate. I would love to contribute. I would love to share constructive criticism and my opinion. If they are willing to let me do that I am more than willing to involve myself in the project. But for right now its JJ Abrams’s baby. I don't know any details although I have spoken to his agent and there is a lot of talk in Hollywood but they said we will get together and we will all talk one day. So we will see if what happens.

Gilles Nuytens: Is what about your current projects?
Eugene Roddenberry: Well I think I told you little bit about my current project did I not? My current project and it’s been my project for about 5 years has been a documentary called Trek Nation which sort of began as the antithesis, the opposite of the documentary Trekkies where it was the exploration of the positive effects of Star Trek on the world and the people that it’s affected in a positive way. You know it’s inspired people to see beyond their limitations whether it’s a physical handicap or simply someone who doesn’t believe that they can achieve something greater, it’s inspired them to say hey I can do it, I am an amazing person, we are an amazing species we can do great things. Anyway that's where it began and evolved into a son searching for his father and who his father is, who his father was. Obviously I am the son searching for my father because my father passed away when I was 17 and you know I would say from the ages of 1 to 10 I knew him as daddy. You know we had a good father-son relationship but the minute I became a teenager and the minute he began working on Next Generation we were at odds. I became a rebellious teenager and he became the authority figure and then at 17 he passed away. I never got to know my father as an adult. I never got to know the Great Bird of the Galaxy. I never even got to know Gene Roddenberry I mean I got to know daddy and the authority figure. I want to sit down with him you now and ask him about philosophy and religion and politics and sex and all these amazing topics that I have heard people speak about in reference to him or I have read his works or I have seen his shows and I am fascinated and have lot of questions. Trek Nation has involved into that documentary and it’s really been an uphill process. I am partnered with a gentleman by the name of Scott Colthorp a really good friend of mine. He has been based on the East Coast I am on the West so the filming process was every 3 to 6 months. One of us would fly out to the other and shoot for about 5 to 10 days and then disappear. The editing process started about a year ago and that's been difficult because we have over 200 hours of footage. That is including B-role and family, home movies and all sorts of stuff and it’s just been an immense undertaking. I have to say that Scott Colthorp has been the one who has really jumped in and driven this home as far as editing goes. He has been the one that's been editing. I’ve sat on the sidelines so to speak with occasional commentary and hopefully pushing in a certain direction but the vision is Scott’s and it’s really turning out to be something fantastic. I would say we are still 3 months away from a solid cut and 6 months away from anything sort of public any sort of announcements or deals being signed. As far as the other projects, there is a million little things that I want to do. I want to do the Star Trek dive club basically just a scuba diving club, people who get together maybe once a year to travel to a destination to go scuba diving. One of my ideas was to contact the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and dive off the coast there because over the past 40 years, almost 40 years there must be 50 years wreckage, you know rocket wreckage in the waters there. I think it would be kind of cool to dive down and come across a rocket engine or a rocket body or something like that. I think it would be really neat. That is something that I haven’t really pushed too much. But if you know of anyone who is interested please let me know. I need someone just to sort of run the website and run the club. Well there is a lot of little projects. You know just go to www.roddenberry.com and sign up for the newsletter and we are announcing all sorts of little projects here and there. These are all I say they are small but these are all stepping stones to larger and larger things.

Gilles Nuytens: Are there any plans for the 40th Star Trek anniversary you can talk about?
Eugene Roddenberry: No unfortunately there is nothing secret, nothing big that I know about as far as the 40th anniversary goes nothing that you don't already know. Creation Entertainment is doing a number of conventions I believe one in Chicago and one in Sacramento on what is it September 12th or September 6th the day of Star Trek’s release, the original series was released. They are also doing their annual Las Vegas Science Fiction Convention, this year it should be amazing. It should be huge and I recommend everyone attend it will be fantastic. As far as Paramount stepping up and doing some sort of 40th tribute, 40th event I can imagine they would do something but I imagine its going to be maybe a gala or a dinner or something like that at Paramount just for the people that have been involved in this show. But that's just a guess. I am hoping they will do that just to pay tribute to the people who have worked on the show. Otherwise we were going to have Trek Nation out and kind of call it as 40th anniversary tribute to fandom you know it’s just sort of a thank you from the Roddenberrys to the fans. We are not going to have the project done in time. It will still be a tribute to the fans. That is why I am doing Trek Nation because I’ve been inspired by fandom and fandom has been inspired by Star Trek. It was really the fans that taught me what Star Trek was.

My best to you, and everyone in the club, come to www.roddenberry.com and say hi. I wish you the best. I wish you a great future and I hope to see you soon.

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