For many sci-fi geeks, the name of Gene Roddenberry will always be synonymous with Star Trek and visions of the future. When the creator of the classic science fiction series passed away, his son took it upon himself to carry on his father's legacy. But it wasn't a mantle that he would readily assume. And as he explained to me in the following interview, it would take almost a decade for Rod Roddenberry to discover how important his father's creation would be to scores of "Trekkies."
His acceptance of the significance of Trek would culminate in his role in the Roddenberry Foundation, and the creation of a new documentary exploring fandom in "Trek Nation."
Roddenberry spoke with me about his new documentary; the current state of Star Trek; his opinion of the J.J. Abrams films; and what the Roddenberry Foundation is doing to continue promoting his father's vision of the future:
(The following is the full unedited transcript of the interview that ran in REDEYE on August 9, 2013.)
Geek To Me: Can you describe the moment you decided that Star Trek was something you really wanted to explore and get to know on a personal level?
Rod Roddenberry: Sure, I’ll give you two answers for that, sort of. When my father passed away, when I was 17 - and you may have heard this before, I’ve said it a billion times before - I didn’t know Star Trek. I didn’t care about Star Trek. It was really at his memorial service where I heard stories from people, and I heard letters that people had written to my father saying “Star Trek touch my life, changed my life.” I didn’t know that. I didn’t want Star Trek. I didn’t care. I liked “Dukes of Hazzard”, I was entertained by “Knight Rider.” I didn’t know something could go beyond that. So, that was when my interest was highly peaked.
It wasn’t really until I saw - and there’s no exact moment but - I watched the documentary “Trekkies”, I think back in 2000-2001. Which showed the extreme sides of fandom, which said look at all these whack-jobs wearing costumes. And I was really turned off by that. “Trekkies 2” did a much better job, in my opinion, representing the fans.
Anyhow, the fans I’d met at that point, a majority of them, if not 99% of them, were down-to-earth normal people who had a passion for Star Trek and its vision of the future. Them wearing costumes on the weekend were no different than guys putting on leather chaps and vests, and long hair, and getting on their Harleys. Or people who go to sports events and paint their faces. So I was really disappointed in that. And I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do a documentary that showed the positive side of fans.
Remember, that was 2001, my father passed away in ‘91, I had spent those years talking to fans and finding out what it was about Star Trek all over the world and learning that these people were really inspired. And being sort of blown away.
I guess in short - that really wasn’t short was it? - I guess in long (laughs), that was really when I decided to do it. Now, Trek Nation evolved, in many different ways from that point onward. And I can go into that, but-
Geek To Me: Feel free if you’d like.
Rod Roddenberry: Sure, um. I met a very talented producer by the name of Scott Colthorp who really got the ball in motion. I spoke to him about this, and he wanted to sort of bring in the Gene Roddenberry angle, and I was really focused on fans. I was so inspired by the fans’ stories I’d heard, and how Star Trek inspired them, I wanted to show them in a positive light. And he really pushed for this father/son angle. And at that time I didn’t really connect with that, so I sort of fought that for a while.
As the years went on, I began to see the story. I began to see what he was talking about. However we didn’t put a script together, and we had an idea of what we wanted to do, and so we just started shooting interviews. So, I don’t wanna say “mistake” but the mistake we made was that when we would interview someone, I would sit down with them, or they would be interviewed, and it would be a conversation. We didn’t have the same five or ten questions, necessarily, to ask them.
You know having those questions allows us to thread and link a story together as we would go. The topics were generally the same, but that really made it difficult in the editing process. And many, many times during the editing process I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. That it was such a personal journey. And so we into some personal issues, of my father‘s love. Did he love me? Did he love the fans more? And these sorts of things. Which were tangents, and they didn’t really play well with the people we showed the early versions of the documentary. Sorry, I’m going way off…