Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Walter Koenig (Writer/Producer of InAlienable)

Walter Koenig doesn't shy away from a challenge. Writing scripts is a tough gig. Getting movies produced, especially indie fare; not so easy. Writer-producer Koenig, however, waged -- and won -- a near-decade-long battle to bring InAlienable to the screen. A sci-fi thriller and legal drama, InAlienable follows the plight of a guilt-ridden scientist, Dr. Norris (Richard Hatch), who gives birth to an alien-human hybrid child, a child that then becomes the focal point of a legal case over whether it's a living entity with rights or an abomination that must be destroyed. Koenig -- beloved by millions of fans worldwide for his portrayal of Chekov in the original-cast Star Trek series and features -- co-stars in the film as Dr. Norris's bitter boss, Shilling, while other familiar genre names include Gary Graham, Marina Sirtis, Alan Ruck, Erick Avari, Richard Herd, and Courtney Peldon.

InAlienable is out now on DVD from Anchor Bay, and ScreenStar recently caught up with Koenig for an interview. During our exclusive conversation, Koenig talked about InAlienable, expressed his satisfaction with the recent Star Trek reboot movie, and filled us in on his upcoming projects.

Where did the idea for InAlienable come from?

I wanted to examine the intensity of familial bonding. That was one thing. I also wanted to explore the concept of civil and human rights. But the actual event that sat me down at the computer was when two friends of mine who didn't know each other joined me to watch the New York Yankees play in the World Series back in 2001. My friend Tony Franke had been in the original film of the Blob (1958) and Sky Conway had always been a big fan of the movie. Inspired by Tony's stories, Sky confessed to always wanting to shoot a film about a meteor landing with an alien presence aboard. I holed myself up in my room and took it from there.

How long a process was it getting from script to set, then finished film to online release and DVD? And how pleased are you that it's finally available for everyone/anyone to see?

I wrote it over a period of about four months. It took another eight years to find a situation where we could acquire the financing but not lose control of the project. It was another 18 months to secure the right DVD distribution deal. I think there was some exceedingly good work in this movie and I'm glad we can share it with the public.

You've got a Who's Who of fan favorites in the cast. Take us through how the key players and some of the actors who made cameos ended up joining you in the film.

Richard Hatch was one of the first people who we thought of for the lead role. That notwithstanding, we approached three others to feel out their interest. When they hesitated, we decided to offer it to Richard. I think it was a spectacular choice. He really is quite brilliant. As to the other folks in the picture, they were all our first choices and they all enthusiastically consented to come aboard. The decision to hire was equally divided between Robert Dyke, our director, Sky Conway, the principal producer, and myself.

You gave yourself a nice role, too. Did you write it for yourself, knowing you'd want to play Shilling? Or did you write the script and then realize that Shilling was the character best suited for you?

Actually, I wrote the lead role for myself. At the time I deluded myself into believing that the audience would buy me as a romantic interest. As the years went by and I was forced to reevaluate the wisdom of this decision, I realized I was living out the Gloria Swanson role in Sunset Boulevard (1950).

We see you, your wife (Judy Levitt), your son (Andrew Koenig) and your daughter (Danielle Koenig) in the movie. What other Koenig family members or close friends are in there that we should be on the lookout for?

Our pet orangutan is in the picture, as well as old drunken Uncle Uriah.

The production clearly had a very limited budget. What were the pros and cons of having such tight purse strings and if you'd had another $2 million at your disposal, what might you have done differently?

The pros are that we couldn't have filmed this story at all without the financing we had. The cons are that most independent movies could benefit from additional backing. In some cases, we had to use the same sets for scenes that were clearly meant to be shot at different locations. In other cases it was a matter of time. For example, if we had two more days worth of financing, set-ups that were a bit rushed would not have had to have been (rushed).

At the end of the day, how close to what you envisioned for InAlienable is the final product, and what would you like audiences to take away from watching it?

The final product comes pretty darn close to what I envisioned. Certainly, I couldn't have been more pleased with the performances throughout. As I said, though, if we had just a little more time some of the shortcuts we were forced to take would not have been necessary. I'd like people to embrace the idea that love and loyalty are qualities to be cherished. That at our best human beings can be glorious creatures. That we can be blown away by a story without being blown up by special-effect explosions.

Switching to other topics, you were obviously well aware of the Star Trek spin-off and prequel television shows over the years, but did you ever imagine they'd actually go and remake the original Star Trek?

Yes, I did. I had been saying since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air that the next incarnation would be a return to the original Star Trek with younger actors playing Kirk, Spock, et al. I just thought it would be another series, not a motion picture.

What did you make of the Star Trek reboot movie?

I thought it was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

How strange was it to see another actor portraying Chekov? And what kinds of conversations did you have with Anton Yelchin either during the shoot or at the premiere?

I was surprised that I could watch the film without proprietary feelings. I didn't imagine that I could be so detached from my own history with the Star Trek franchise and enjoy it so unconditionally. The first thing Anton said to me at the celebration following the screening was "I got my own Chekov doll!" How ingenuous is that?

You've always usually got something in the hopper. So what else are you working on these days?

I've conceived a story about the real origins of vampires. It's very different, I think, from what has been done before. I'm working on the script now. However, it's a long process and by the time I'm satisfied with the results I'll probably have to wait for the next cycle when vampire stories are popular again. A novel I wrote, Buck Alice and the Actor-Robot, has been adapted into an audio drama for 45 actors. I directed the ensemble. The work was produced by Jerry Robbins and the Colonial Radio Theatre of the Air, and will be released this summer at major bookstore chains. Among the actors were Jerry Robbins, Deniz Cordell, Amy Stack, Jerry Rudisell, Judson Pierce, Jonathan Zugre, my wife, Judy Levitt, and myself. It will be available at the same time through Amazon on the Internet. In the fall, Sirius XM will be running the show in 30-minute installments.