Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
With the tidbits of information that Kevin Smith has been revealing in interviews since having seen a working print of the next Star Trek film, I got to thinking about how film companies are able to keep secrecy around their productions and especially how J.J Abrams manages to prevent spoilers on his projects from being disseminated on the fan network.
J.J. Abrams is notorious for maintaining secrecy to the point where the speculation becomes a source of advertising, and viral marketing becomes an inexpensive way to generate publicity. He has expressed a high-minded rationale for his viewpoint: “Learning raw detail and experiencing that detail as it was intended are two totally different things. I would argue that not knowing those details in advance is a more refreshing way to live when it comes to entertainment.”
I wonder how many people out there actively seek out spoilers. I wonder if these are the same people who read a chapter of a book, and then jump to the last page to find out what happens. I imagine that these people would be few in number, because I think the majority of fans just want a glimpse of things that won’t ruin the enjoyment of experiencing the whole movie. People often complain when movie trailers reveal too much. Sometimes watching a two-minute trailer can ruin a movie, especially when all the good scenes or laughs are in the two minutes.
I’ve read about how some productions don’t give full scripts to all the actors except for the major stars. And how scripts are marked in such a way to allow film companies to track down the source of copies that get circulated. I’ve heard of digital script files with an embedded encryption code identifying the source. I guess this is necessary when writers are communicating across the Internet. Physical script copies have words strategically altered to identify the source as well. (I assume the altered words aren’t in the dialogue.)
I wonder what penalties can legally be applied to someone who breaks the secrecy. Has anyone ever been falsely charged for leaking information and gone to court to deny the accusation? I’ve signed some non-disclosure agreements myself, but I never thought it was appropriate to ask what would happen if I happened to blab about what I was being shown. I mean, I would think the people would have second thoughts about showing you anything if you asked that.
I’m a computer programmer, not a lawyer, but I would think that a person is liable even if he accidentally leaks some “important” information. I guess lawyers have a way of calculating damages based on past precedent as a result of leaked information.
Beyond the legal aspects, I suppose there’s an honor system in effect among filmmakers. The reported celebrities who visited the set include Michelle Monaghan, Ben Stiller, Harrison Ford, and Steven Spielberg! (Supposedly, Spielberg helped Abrams with an action scene while he was there.) If you blab about someone’s film, don’t expect that someone to ever share any confidences with you again.
David Gerrold, the writer who wrote the OS Tribble episode and who was initially involved with TNG, mentioned in an interview how he got to meet J.J. Abrams and how he got to be on the shooting set of the new Star Trek movie. Seems he was on the studio lot doing some interviews for some future Blu-ray disc special features. And he was with Chris Doohan, the son of the OS Scotty. Chris had a small cameo in the new Star Trek movie. J.J. Abrams happened to spot Chris and went over to say hello. Chris then introduced David to J.J. And then J.J. invited them to the set! David signed a non-disclosure agreement, attached a bright coloured band to his wrist, and got to see future in the making!
I’ll give you specific examples of what some major productions have done to maintain secrecy. On Spider-Man 2, scripts were personalized with a cast member’s name emblazoned on each page. Cast members were “urged” to shred pages they were done with. On X-Files: I want to Believe, Chris Carter went to extra lengths to maintain secrecy. Only key crew members were allowed to read the script, and they had to read the script in a room with video cameras trained on them. On Woody Allen movies, actors are only given script pages in which they have spoken lines. On J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Jennifer Morrison, who is portraying the pregnant Winona Kirk, experienced this. And many of these actors have often said that they had not known what the movie was about while shooting the movie!
I remember when the Star Trek: Generations script was leaked to the Internet. I read the script, not caring if it was real or not. (It was.) The script was actually good; however, the execution of the script lacked something which I can’t to this day put my finger on.
While filming on locations, movies are given made-up titles so as to not attract attention. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was known within the industry by the code-name, “Corporate Headquarters.” During filming, a local television news helicopter managed to get some aerial footage that was broadcast on television. Supposedly, there was heavily enforced security, but I guess that didn’t include anti-aircraft artillery.
Apparently for many productions, it’s not unusual for multiple endings to be shot with only the director and editor aware of the chosen ending on opening day. The altering of a movie based on preview screenings is a whole other issue.
With digital cameras being ubiquitous and on cell phones, I’m surprised there aren’t more photos of the Star Trek production circulating on the Internet. Concerning this point, Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, had this to say: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was great, it was wonderful. I just wanted to keep everything. Ã¢â‚¬ËœCan I please take my this home, and my that home?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I think I took one picture of myself in my trailer, in the mirror and then felt guilty and erased it in case they checked my cell phone.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Concerning the Star Trek script, Simon Pegg said, “(the script is) very hush-hush; when I read it, I read it with a security guard near me – it’s that secretive.” He also said that everyone has promised not to say anything. (He didn’t mention a non-disclosure agreement.) “JJ Wants (the Star Trek movie) to be a surprise, and people out there are so clever, if you get enough tidbits out of everybody, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to start piecing something of the plot together,” he explained. “If Anton gives something away, then Zach or Chris gives something away, then suddenly you start to see patterns, and so the blanket idea is to say nothing.”
Anton Yelchin, who is playing Chekov, has said that he only got to read the script a month before filming. He did read sides at his audition, but he didn’t mention if the sides were actual script pages that made it to the filming stage.
Karl Urban revealed, “[There is a] level of security and secrecy that we have all been forced to adopt. I mean, it’s really kind of paranoid crazy, but sort of justified. We’re not allowed to walk around in public in our costumes and we have to be herded around everywhere in these golf carts that are completely concealed and covered in black canvas. The security of it is immense. You feel your freedom is a big challenge.” Urban probably said these words after leaked photos of Zachary Quinto as Spock made it to the Internet. Security was increased after this, leading to the imposition of forbidding anyone from leaving the set for cigarette breaks. This led to the story of how Winona Ryder was irritated by this demand.
With the Star Trek movie still set for a May 2009 release, you have to wonder if J.J. Abrams will be able to prevent details from leaking out. Would advance spoilers affect the box-office take? I guess as long as the spoilers generate a positive buzz, we can remain optimistic about the future.