Treknobabble #1: Cost of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Reaches 1% of NASA Budget!

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Hey everyone, it’s time to introduce another brand new feature here on Film Junk, and I think you’re going to like it. We’ve convinced our good friend Reed Farrington, Star Trek fan extraordinaire, to write a semi-regular column of his own focusing on (you guessed it) all things Trek. It is my hope that as the year progresses, Film Junk will become a popular destination for Trekkies and Trekkers to discuss the upcoming film, and Reed will be at the helm, making it so. He won’t always be writing about the new movie though, and he promises us that his next column is going to be something a little more personal. (Hopefully not too personal.) In the meantime, if you’d like to get in touch with Reed to suggest topics for this column, you can reach him at reedfarrington@gmail.com. And now on to Treknobabble #1…

With my attention grabbing headline, I thought I would take a look at how the latest Star Trek movie budget is being spent. Now depending on your views concerning the worthwhileness of the space program and the costs of making movies nowadays, you might be flabbergasted into either thinking that maybe we should stop making movies about going out into space and spend our money on actually going out into space, or that finally, a Star Trek movie is getting the budget it needs to be a blockbuster.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a mole working as an assistant to the producers Abrams and Lindelof, so I can’t really tell you where all the money is going. And I won’t be getting into too many specifics, since much of the movie is secret and I really don’t know how much things cost nowadays. In the past, when it came to making Star Trek sequels, there were always several things that were considered. So maybe we can make some educated guesses as to how the money is being spent.

First of all, let’s consider the actors. The original series actors would always ask for more money, and the studio would always give in to their demands, because it was pretty much accepted that you couldn’t recast the main characters. It is somewhat amusing to think that Shatner could ask for 5 million and get it for portraying Kirk, but when portraying a character like TJ Hooker, Shatner would probably settle for considerably less. For this latest movie, I would be surprised if any single actor is making 5 million, but maybe I’m behind the times. I would assume the primary characters are being paid less than the original actors would be, but there does seem to be a rather large cast, so maybe the casting budget would add up to a considerable sum.

Sequels could use standing sets like the Enterprise bridge, corridors, etc. And the main uniforms. And props like phasers. And ship models. Even recycled film shots! (Like the Enterprise leaving drydock from The Motion Picture and recycled for use in Wrath of Khan.) But many things were redesigned in sequels, so the savings were lessened. For this latest movie, I would hazard to guess that everything in this movie has been created from scratch. Maybe we can use Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s (STTMP) 40 million plus budget as a guideline for how much it would cost to build everything from scratch. However, this is an unfair guideline, because the costs of the aborted second television series, and aborted television movies, were amortized into STTMP’s budget! STTMP was unfairly criticized for its bloated budget.

Alien make-ups must be factored into a budget. I haven’t heard about any elaborate make-ups for this latest movie.

Location shooting is generally considered to be more expensive than shooting on sets, but for science-fiction films like Star Trek, location shooting if possible could be cheaper. For example, time travelling back to current day San Francisco saved money for The Voyage Home. I haven’t heard about any huge sets being built for this latest movie.

Visual effects were always the first things to be excised when trying to keep costs down. Near the beginning of The Final Frontier, Shatner had envisioned a shot from space zooming into him climbing the Yosemite peaks. Eventually, a similar idea would be done zooming into Picard’s eye for First Contact. (Or was that out of Picard’s eye?) And I think this type of shot has been done in countless other movies by now. You would think that decent effects nowadays wouldn’t be so expensive.

Um, how much money have we accounted for so far? Oh… my… God! (Picture my hands at the sides of my face with a Shatnerian expression.) Are you wondering where all the money is being spent?

Since there is no Star Trek television series in production, anything designed for the movie can’t really be reused. The uniforms designed for Star Trek: Generations ended up being used in the Next Generation television series.

Frankly, I’m a bit worried that Star Trek may end up putting Paramount Studios into bankruptcy like Heaven’s Gate did for United Artists. I’m thinking J.J.Abrams doesn’t have a reputation for spending money frivolously or for being a perfectionist. In a recent interview, he stated that he didn’t want to use a lot of green screen, so maybe a lot of money is going into sets and set decoration. Personally, I think digitized image replacement is rather convincing nowadays, so I don’t know why he’s criticized green screen.

I think the accountants had formulas for calculating how much money a Star Trek movie would make. Based on the money made by The Motion Picture, and the general agreement that it was an awful movie, I think there was a feeling that there were a certain number of Trekkies that would go see any film with the words Star Trek in the title. (But if one examines the box-office of the Star Trek sequels, one would have to conclude that formulas based on logic cannot reliably predict the amount of money that a Star Trek film will make.) And from estimates of how much a Star Trek movie would make, one could calculate a budget so as to “guarantee” a profit.

So I’m somewhat confused as to how Paramount allowed the budget to approach $160 million, which is the latest figure that I’ve read. (Supposedly, and understandedly, Paramount isn’t too happy. Still, the proposed budget of $120 million seems too high to me.) Thus my concern for the future of Paramount. Even with all the talk about Abrams having a loyal cult following (witness the opening weekend success of Cloverfield), I think someone’s being optimistic about J.J.Abram’s Star Trek attracting more than the Trekkies. But I suppose Star Trek is all about optimism and hope. — Reed

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  • http://henrikseehuusen.com Henrik

    “The uniforms designed for Star Trek: Generations ended up being used in the Next Generation television series.”

    That makes no sense to me. Do you mean Deep Space 9?

    Talk about starting off dry! This is like mindmelting with Spock (and not during the dramatic parts). I appreciate your dedication though, Reed. If you can get through this topic, I’m sure all the interesting stuff will be a breeze for you!

  • Reed Farrington

    Yeah, Henrik, Jay thought I should be more personal, too.

    As for the uniforms, you’re right about the DS9 uniforms “inheriting” the movie design, I think. I knew when I wrote that line that I should have done more research. But didn’t TNG adopt the movie uniforms gradually? I know something had a mixture of old and new uniforms for a while.

    I’m not much of a nitpicker because I don’t remember details very well.

    I think my next column will be more personal.

  • http://henrikseehuusen.com Henrik

    Generations was released in 1994, the same year that TNG ended its run, and DS9 started not long after that.

    I think TNG may have inherited some repainted stuff (costumes, props, sets etc.) from the original cast films.

  • http://destroyallfilms.com Rusty James

    DS9 and TNG overlapped for about a year.

    Reed Farrington, I’d like to see a column from you ranking the series in order of preference. With a detailed description of the strengths and weaknessess of each series and why you ranked them the way you did. Include the animated series.

    That plan assumes that you’re familiar with the later series like Enterprise and Voyager. Personally I’m not familiar with those so much. I’m more of a Johnny Come-Early fan myself.

    Another idea, rewatch a favorite episode (or least favorite) and write about why it made such a big impression upon you.

    Or compare and contrast Original and TNG. It’s interesting that mainstream culture considers TNG the best Star Trek but most fans (like myself) think Original is best.

    As you can tell I’ve got big hopes for this exciting new endevour.

  • Reed Farrington

    Rusty, thx for your suggestions.

    Your suggestions would seem to appeal to most people, so I should probably take your advice since I think Sean and Jay would like people just getting into Star Trek to be entertained by Treknobabble.

    Sean and Jay seem to think J.J.Abrams involvement with the upcoming movie will attract newbies to Star Trek. I disagree. (So if anyone out there is a newbie, make a comment and prove me wrong.)

    Personally, I was going to use Treknobabble to write about esoteric Star Trek knowledge and tie it into the upcoming movie.

    I guess I’ll be gradually letting people know my opinions, and how much I know about Star Trek.

    As a tidbit, I have seen every single television episode of all the Star Trek series (including the animated series), and I have seen every Star Trek movie except for Wrath of Khan. (I’m kidding. I have seen Wrath of Khan. I just didn’t want to make it seem like I was bragging.) Unfortunately, I have not read every Star Trek book published, but I’m working on it. (And yes, I need to get a life.)

    BTW, I agree with your comment about mainstream culture considering TNG to be the best. And I also think the Original is the best.

  • http://destroyallfilms.com Rusty James

    @”I have seen every single television episode of all the Star Trek series (including the animated series)”

    Then I’d love to hear how you rank them. Also you should review “The Return” by Willie Shatner, the greatest Star Trek story ever!

  • Nuno

    This article made for an interesting read, Reed. I look forward to your next entry.

    I noticed you failed to include catering as a factor that may be inflating the new Trek’s budget. I hear that Nimoy demands Kobe beef for every meal. That shit’s expensive!

  • paulie

    grate stuff I havnt conisdered my self afull fledged trekkie in years, I went to a hand full of conventions in highschool and collected some memorabilia.never really did get into ds9 or voyager to much. cant wait for the new movie its about time star trek gets a big budget film……..

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  • Cain

    Interesting, very interesting.

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