STAR TREK: WRATH OF KHAN director set to visit North Carolina
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — When Nicholas Meyer was 12 years old he began working on his first feature-length film, a 70-minute adaptation of “Around the World in 80 Days.” It would take him five years to complete, but the skills he gained making the movie lead him to direct such classic sci-fi films as “Time After Time” and “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan.”
Meyer is scheduled to visit Kannapolis this October for the 30th anniversary screening of “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” as part of the fourth annual Modern Film Fest. The festival runs Oct. 5-7, and Meyer’s film will show at 8 p.m. on Oct. 5. Following the film, there will be a Q&A session with Meyer.
Meyer traces his moviemaking skills back to that first film. He created his own adaptation after seeing the classic 1956 version of “Around the World in 80 Days,” featuring David Niven.
“I had a religious experience,” Meyer said. “I just thought this was the greatest thing that smacked me in the face.”
Meyer read a book about the creation of the movie and still has the book today. In it, there was a tongue-in-cheek section were the writer stated anybody could make a movie if they had $6 million, 13,000 people and eight different countries. Experience, the book said, is optional.
“The sarcasm was completely lost on me,” Meyer said with a laugh. “All I got out of it was, ‘You too can make a motion picture -- no previous experience necessary.’”
It took five years to make the movie. Meyer pulled double duty as director and playing the lead character, Phileas Fogg. He filmed different scenes out of sequence when he could and later edited it together.
“So I kept getting bigger and smaller throughout the picture,” Meyer said.
Meyer prepared for his professional filmmaking career by studying theater and film at the University of Iowa.
He would later move to Hollywood and sold several screenplays, but it was a Writers Guild strike in 1972 that boosted his career. During the strike he couldn’t write a screenplay, but his girlfriend at the time persuaded him to write the Sherlock Holmes novel he had been talking about. Meyer wrote “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” and the book landed on the bestsellers list.
“Suddenly I went from obscurity to a kind of minor notoriety,” he said. When producers came looking to develop the book into a movie, Meyer was able to bargain for a write to adapt his novel into the screenplay which was nominated for an Oscar.
“That sort of put me in solid with the community,” Meyer said.
He used that equity to land a directing job after he developed the screenplay “Time After Time,” which had H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper travel to the future, landing in 1979 San Francisco. Producers wanted to make Meyer’s screenplay and he pushed for the chance to direct the movie.
Meyer said one of the most important things he did was casting Malcolm McDowell in the role of H.G. Wells and Mary Steenburgen as his love interest, Amy.
“I could see that Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen had this enormous chemistry and it was there on the screen, you could see them falling in love and I thought, ‘Wow, what a good director I am,’” Meyer said with a laugh. “Of course I didn’t realize they really were falling in love.”
McDowell and Steenburgen later married.
Meyer followed up “Time After Time,” by directing “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan.” Meyer never watched the “Star Trek” TV show and came in fresh, working with executive producer Harve Bennett after being introduced by a mutual friend. Bennett was trying to keep a tight production on the movie, and Meyer had only 12 days to develop a shooting script.
“Because we only had 12 days and it was cobbled together from five earlier attempts to write a ‘Star Trek’ movie — they were all very different stories — we just picked things out of each one and I sort of knit them together and wrote the dialogue,” Meyer said.
For the most part, the movie was shot indoors. And some people may be surprised to realize the desert planet where movie watchers first see Khan was actually shot on a soundstage and not in a real desert.
“We had sculpted all of these dunes and dumped in tons of sand and airplane propellers to move it around,” Meyer said. “We all had to get bundled up like you wouldn’t believe.”
Viewed by many fans as the best movie in the Star Trek franchise, “Kahn” isn’t the only Trek credit on Meyer’s resume. He co-wrote “Star Trek: Voyage Home” and later directed “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country,” which was the last movie to feature the entire original “Star Trek” cast.
Meyer has taken his experiences from working in the Star Trek universe and recently wrote his memoir, “View from the Bridge.” He’ll have copies for sale during the screening at Modern Film Fest. And he is still writing screenplays, including “Journey of a Thousand Miles,” which is based on a memoir by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
He is also writing a movie for HBO with Oliver Stone based on Robert A. Caro’s book “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.”
Meyer has plenty of projects in the work, but for many he will be fondly remembered as the director who helmed “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” a movie that’s been celebrated by fans for 30 years now.
“We were just making the one movie. I didn’t think about franchise, I didn’t think about any of that stuff,” Meyer said. “I had no idea, and I don’t think anybody else did, that we were making some kind of memorable contribution.”