Friday, May 7, 2010

Interview : Dave Rossi on the Proposed New Star Trek Animated Series Final Frontier

Star Trek Remastered producer Dave Rossi talks about Final Frontier, the proposed new Star Trek animated series from a few years ago and the story behind its development.

•1. What can you tell us about Final Frontier? (just a bit of background)

Final Frontier is a five-part animated Star Trek series meant for distribution over the web. At the time we began formulating the idea, "Clone Wars" was our real inspiration (the original shorts, not the modern CG series). We wanted to do something similar for Star Trek, using short-form animation. The three of us had worked together behind the scenes on Trek for years. We knew some of the right people to help move the idea forward, and so we decided to forge ahead.

•2. Whose idea was Final Frontier?

Two of us had previously worked together on another Trek project in the same format, telling stories from the TOS era and the U.S.S. Excalibur (this was before the reboot film was announced). That project fell apart for various reasons. Dave then decided the best choice after that was to move ahead into the future, and he got us all together to work on Final Frontier. The setting, storyline, and characters are a true collaboration, the result of many nights of sitting around our offices on the Paramount lot and picking apart each other's ideas.

•3. Can you talk us through what happened with CBS and why the show never made it to screen?

Final Frontier was born at a strange time for the franchise. CBS and Paramount had split up, and the rights to Star Trek were stuck in a strange limbo. CBS had TV rights, Paramount had film, and no one was quite sure where that left internet rights. was very excited about Final Frontier, but the money would have to come from CBS Interactive. Our initial pitch with them went well, and we were asked to draw up a budget. We met with several animation companies and got budgets for a few different approaches (including a CGI version). The process was slowed by CBS trying to figure out the rights issues, but it was looking hopeful. Then, at the end of 2007, CBS Interactive was restructured and the entire staff of was laid off all at once. With all of our connections gone and Paramount gearing up to focus almost exclusively on the upcoming film, the project was essentially dead.

•4. Why was the medium of animation chosen for this series?

We felt that animation would allow us to do things that were impossible in live action. We could visit planets and meet races that were truly alien, not just rubber faces on a soundstage, and do it all on a budget that made sense for web distribution. It would also appeal to a younger audience, who may never have seen any Star Trek before.

•5. Whose idea was it to set the show so far in the future (2528)?

From the very beginning of our talks on Final Frontier, we knew that the best thing to do was to move ahead and tell stories set in the future. One reason for this is that it freed us from having to worry about the enormously complicated history that's already been set up in the Star Trek universe. Working behind the scenes on "Enterprise," there were numerous times when the series felt like it was almost collapsing under the weight of Star Trek's established future, and we wanted to avoid that. That's minor, though. The main reason for the future setting is that we felt that Star Trek (and science fiction in general) needs to be constantly moving forward and showing its audience exciting new things.

•6. How did the background story for the show develop?

It has a lot to do with the state of the franchise at the time. "Enterprise" was slowly fading away, a lot of fans felt like Star Trek had lost its way, and the future was uncertain (the film hadn't been announced yet). The back story to Final Frontier was designed as an allegory to this idea. In it, Starfleet has lost its way and forgotten the ideals that it was originally based upon: optimism, exploration, and altruism. It's a fairly dark past, but this new captain and crew were going to turn it around. Star Trek has always been great at using metaphor to comment on current events, and this was an extension of that idea, using Final Frontier as a metaphor for the state of the franchise itself.

On a more focused level, another problem with working in a world as rich and detailed as Star Trek is that the universe is pretty much established. Even if we jump ahead into the future, our worlds and players are set. There's Klingons here, Romulans over here, and Borg way out there. We can add new races and planets as we go, but the major pieces are always the same. The Omega Event was devised as a way to mix that up. By cutting some sections of the quadrant off from warp travel, it allowed us to explore not just the frontier but also our own space, and see some of these established races in a new way.

We've gotten a lot of comments that the story is too dark, too "Battlestar Galactica." It's important to realize that these elements are simply background, and that the series itself would have been very positive, showing how Starfleet left that darkness behind and returned to a more positive worldview that we haven't seen since "Next Generation."

•7. What can you tell us about the characters in the series?

We started with our core three: Captain Chase, Commander Holden, and Lieutenant Donal. Chase is an idealist. He could be commanding a much more impressive ship, but he wanted Enterprise for the legacy of her name, a legacy that many have forgotten in this time period. After years surveying Omega fields, he's seen exactly what the disaster did to Federation space, and he's ready to move past it.

Commander Holden represents a more modern Starfleet, and he's the one who constantly has to rein his captain in. He's caught between his innate sense of following the rules and his burgeoning respect for his captain's ideals. The two often reach similar conclusions, but from opposite starting points.

Donal is our head of security. A short-form animated Star Trek has to be high on action in order to keep things moving and appeal to the widest audience. However, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek involves people stopping to talk from time to time about what's going on. Working under these constraints, we knew that Donal had to have a real voice. As these central three characters learned to work together and see things from each other's point of view, we would have seen the state of Starfleet change around them.

Outside of those three, we added a Protocol Officer. Based on a position in the Russian navy during Communist rule, Preston was a character whose job was to make sure Chase was doing things by the book. This gave us a chance to have Chase voice his opinions directly to the source. Mister Zero, our Chief Engineer, is the true alien, and gives us that outsider perspective we've seen from characters such as Data and Odo. Other characters such as Jax and Dr. Prowse were only loosely explored in the pilot, but would have grown as the series progressed.

•8. Why did you choose the Enterprise for this series?

The Enterprise is one of the most important pieces of Star Trek. Approaching an entirely new era, one that was designed to recall the glory days of the franchise, couldn't be done without that ship.

•9. Can you tell us a bit about the ship? (design, registry etc)

Our Enterprise is a much smaller ship than its predecessors, and is a reflection of its time. Whereas past Enterprises were flagships, this one is a heavy cruiser, designed to patrol the border. The legacy of its name has been mostly forgotten, but Chase is out to change that.

We never reached a final design on the ship, although we were headed in that direction. After meeting with Mike Okuda to talk about how to go about designing a new Enterprise, he suggested we change one of the three key pieces: the saucer, the nacelles, or the engineering section. We decided to alter the saucer, losing the graceful curves in favour of harder lines. There are a few variations of this design we liked, all available on the Final Frontier site, but we never settled on one.

The registry was never finalized. We knew that we didn't want to just add another letter to it, but hadn't decided if it should be NCC-1701. Most likely it would have had a completely new registry in order to illustrate how much things had changed. We were so focused on the nuts and bolts of getting this thing produced that details like this were put off until later.

•10. What was the inspiration for Final Frontier?

The three of us love Star Trek. We grew up on it, and the show was a big part of why we decided to get into the entertainment industry. Final Frontier was a chance to be creative in a world that we all love, and we were in a position where our chances of actually getting it made weren't too astronomical.

•11. Have you considered releasing Final Frontier as a fan film?

Maybe if we win the lottery. In order to do this right, it would require a very large team of people and a pretty sizable chunk of money that we would never be able to recoup. Though the budget is small compared to a feature film or live action TV series, it's still more money and manpower than we're capable of pulling together.

•12. Is there anything else you can tell us about Final Frontier?

We'd really like to thank the people who have helped us out on this project. Comic artist and writer Jeff Parker was responsible for translating our often incoherent ramblings into a focused art style that we loved from the moment we saw it. A large portion of our concept art after that was done for free by our good friend Bryce Parker at Pixar, who saw an article on Final Frontier in its early days and asked if he could help. Our storyboards are being done by an artist named Mei-Yi Chun, who read the script online and was inspired to help out. We've met a number of artists, writers, composers, and animators who all share a passion for Star Trek, people we would have never even known existed if it weren't for Final Frontier. It's truly amazing how technology brings people together, and it's a testament to the passion and creativity of Gene Roddenberry and all those who have followed him that Star Trek can still bring people together like this. If nothing else comes out of Final Frontier, it was amazing to be a part of this collaboration and dabble in this world, if only for a little while.


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