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Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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Return to Tomorrow cover.jpg

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Author(s): Preston Neal Jones
Illustrator(s): Roger Stine
Publisher: Creature Feature Publishing
Editor(s): Lukas Kendall, Jeff Eldridge, Tim Grieving
Published: December 2014
Pages: 672
Reference(s): ISBN 9780983917540

Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a reference book from Creature Feature Publishing, written by Preston Neal Jones. The book is based on work carried out by Jones in 1979 for a planned special issue on Star Trek: The Motion Picture of the magazine Cinefantastique, and was released in December 2014, almost to the day coinciding with the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the movie.

Summary Edit

From the back cover
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) is one of the most beguiling and important science fiction films ever made. Its spectacular realization of Gene Roddenberry's inspirational future and humanistic storytelling are a cinematic achievement unlikely ever to be matched. At the same time, the film was a deeply troubled production that rolled without a completed script and saw a wholesale change in visual effect companies – barely making its release date.
In 1979, Preston Neal Jones was given unparalleled access to the cast and creators of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for what was intended to be a cover story for Cinefantastique magazine. Owing to the late completion of the film and ambitious scope of the manuscript, it was never published – until now.
This book is a priceless time capsule, a 672-page oral history in the words of sixty of the film's cast and creators, interviewed as the film was being prepared for release – and nobody had any idea if it would succeed or even be finished on time.
From the stars (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the entire cast) to the filmmakers (Gene Roddenberry, Robert Wise) to the brilliant visual effects artists, illustrators, model builders and technicians who realized the 23rd century on screen (costumes, sets, props, models, music, sound FX and more), no aspect of the film’s creation is overlooked.
Go behind the scenes of this pivotal sci-fi masterwork and hear the unvarnished, uncensored truth of how it was created.

Excerpts of copyrighted sources are included for review purposes only, without any intention of infringement.

Contents Edit

  • Foreword (2014), pp v-vi
  • Acknowledgment (1999), pp. vii-viii
  • Introduction (1999), pp. ix-xii
  • Interviewees, pp. xiii-xiv
  • Part One: Hailing Frequencies Open, pp. 1-134
Covers the pre-production time period
  • Part Two: Thrusters Ahead, pp. 135-318
Covers the production or principal photography time period
  • Part Three: Ready or Not, She Launches, pp. 319-592
Covers the post-production time period
  • Epilogue: Starfleet Commission Reactivated, pp. 593-649
Premiere and reception
  • Postscript: Thataway, pp. 650-663
Contemporary future expections for the movie franchise
  • Afterword (2014), pp. 664-665
  • Appendix: List of Contributors, pp. 666-669
  • About the Author, p. 671

Interviewees Edit

Background information Edit

note: all information from the three introductory book sections, unless otherwise annotated
  • Originally slated for an October 2014 release in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, the release of the book, printed in China as a trade paperback, was delayed by two months for customs technicality reasons, which however, had the happy side side-effect that the book was shipped out to costumers in the holidays season aside from coinciding with the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the movie. The book was only available through the official website and was initially not made available to on-line resellers. By the time the book was ready for distribution, it had already sold out and a second printing was ordered for February/March 2015. [1]
  • Over the decades, Jones had made three attempts to get his copy published as a book after it became clear that Cinefantastique would not. His first attempt at Pocket Books was a natural one, as that publisher had from the early 1980s become the sole licensed publisher of Star Trek related books and novels for decades to come. While personally liked by the then editor in charge, he did not think the studio would go for publishing such a "non-puffery" piece about the film, so he declined. [2] Subsequently, The book was advertised by Edward Gross' Image Publishing in 1991, but was not released at the time. Another publishing attempt was undertaken in 1999, but it too went unrealized. The "Acknowledgments" and "Introduction" sections included in the book were written for the latter occasion. For the organization of his book, Jones took a cue from a suggestion Gross made at the time to have the work released in three volumes, one concerning the pre-production, one concerning the production and the third one dealing with post-production.
  • Author Jones discussed the manuscript in conversation with Steve Roby in the mid-2000s (predating the 2014 publication):

"This work began in the summer of 1979 as a commission from Frederick S. Clarke, the editor of Cinefantastique magazine, to create a double-issue honoring the imminent Star Trek movie, similar to previous special issues covering Star Wars and Close Encounters. Given to understand by my Trek fan friends that they would wish to read as detailed an account as possible, I interviewed sixty participants in the creation of this film, from Roddenberry and his original cast to director Robert Wise, science advisor Isaac Asimov, composer Jerry Goldsmith, screenwriters, set designers, special effects technicians and on and on, up to and including the young Executive in Charge of Production, one Jeffrey Katzenberg. I edited this material like a montage of memories, as if all sixty people were holding a round-robin seminar about the making of the movie. Wherever possible, I let them tell the story in their own words. [...]

"Even given that it was impossible to complete this magnum opus in time for the film's opening in December of 1979 – as I'm sure your readers are well aware, the special effects teams were working on ST-TMP until literally a few days before its premiere – my editor still had cause to regret the great amount of time I took on this assignment. By the time I was finished, the picture was long gone from theaters, and the completed manuscript totaled some 1,800 pages – more than enough for three books, let alone one. Cinefantastique kept promising its readers that it would print Return to Tomorrow, but this never happened, for reasons known only to Fred, now sadly gone from the planet. My book was never designed to be a muck-raker, but it was an honest, straightforward account of the amazing series of crises and difficulties encountered by this particular big-studio production. One reason why I believe the book should finally be published is that it examines a major motion picture in more detail than any previous book of its kind. Now that a few relatively honest books on the Trek universe have been published in recent years, with no resulting collapse of Gulf and Western or its assets, my hope is that Return to Tomorrow can finally take its place among them." [3]

  • Jones was given full access to the stages and was free to interview whom he liked. In this it resembled the privilege Stephen Whitfield was given over a decade earlier for Star Trek: The Original Series, which resulted in the highly successful reference book The Making of Star Trek. Sensing an opportunity for a repeat performance, this was not lost on the Paramount Marketing and Licensing Department who fully endorsed the work and provided assistance where needed. For example, when Jones started his work first unit photography with the principal cast was already finished, but the department arranged for him to have access to them, DeForest Kelley being one of the first cast members Jones interviewed. However, unlike Whitfield, Jones had no access to the internal studio documentation, such as production memos and which had been a substantial part of Whitfield's writings, and all information was obtained through the indepth interviews.
  • At the start of his assignment Jones' stay at the studio was interrupted by a family tragedy when his mother passed away. In order to get the project underway his assignment was temporarily taken over by his colleague, Cinefantastique staff writer Kay Anderson, who conducted the interviews with George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Minor, Andrew Probert and Brick Price. Incidentally, it was Anderson who had to write the short "STAR TREK The Motion Picture"-article as a filler for the magazine after the movie had premiered, when the planned theme-issue steadfastly refused to come to fruition. The article, published in Vol. 9 #3/4, 1979, pp. 64-67, has remained the sole The Motion Picture-article of any substance published in the, otherwise Star Trek-friendly, publication.
  • Jones decided to deviate from the standard editing formats of presenting the interviews in either a Q&A format or editing the words into a prose format, which were otherwise the standards for not only Cinefantastique, but other periodicals as well. Instead, he choose to cut up the interviews in sections and arrange these in a production chronology order, without otherwise changing the words of the contributors by presenting them as transcribed and with each section captioned with the name of the interviewee. As such it became an interview article/book chronologically following the production from beginning to end. Considering the huge amount of copy he had gathered, it was a substantial editing effort and part of the reasons why Jones was not able to deliver the copy to coincide with the premiere of he movie.
  • As Jones entered the stage during the post-production phase of The Motion Picture, he had the opportunity to interview a slew of production staffers (several of them not even officially credited) who, being on the more technical side of a motion picture production, were habitually rarely, if at all, featured or interviewed on the aspects of their work, for The Motion Picture in particular, in other media.
  • While he awaited the decision of his boss Clarke after he had finished his editorial work, Jones made use of the opportunity to work in some editorial notes originating from Walter Koenig's book Chekov's Enterprise and Susan Sackett's book The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which were released in February and March 1980 respectively, as well as from the first two issues of Cinefex magazine which were also released in the same period. As not to detract from the words of cast and production staff, Jones had decided to limit his own input as much as possible, only inserting short, connecting editorial annotations, in order to give the reader some (temporal) context.
  • When the copy was finally prepared for a release as a book in 2014, far more hindsight behind-the-scenes information had become available on the production of the movie since its writing during 1979-1980. However, author Jones and editor Lukas Kendall made the conscious decision not to edit these new insights into the release, instead opting to leave the text as is. This had a practical reason as the text was already quite voluminous, but also an artistic one; adding this information would disrupt the flow and spirit of the time when the interviews were transcribed. Conspicuously missing for example, is the vehemence with which Harold Livingston and Gene Roddenberry were battling over script rewrites an re-rewrites, the way and manner Roddenberry was de facto maneuvered out of creative control over the production in October 1978, as well as the real reasons why performer Leonard Nimoy held out for so long before being resigned to reprise his role as Spock. As an officially endorsed publication, intended to be part of the official media circus surrounding the release of the movie, it should be noted that most interviewees were at the time still working for the studio, and were not quite free to be too critical in their wordings, as some of them were, Livingston in particular, years later in other publications. Noteworthy was that Mike Minor proffered the most outspoken criticism, but by the time he was interviewed, he had already left the production and was no longer under contract.
  • On the other hand, if the copy had been published in Cinefantastique at the time, it would, considering the massive volume of copy, have most assuredly been in an abridged (and, enforced by the studio, redacted) version, but has been now presented unabridged and as such has become the most comprehensive, unredacted contemporary account on the production of The Motion Picture (or on any other of the Star Trek films for that matter) published to date, especially if the wide range is considered of production contributors who have collaborated. As contributors were interviewed during or shortly after their involvement, a wealth of production detail, especially on the technical side, is included in the book while their memory was still fresh. Being only human, much of that detail had since then slipped from the memories of those interviewed much later.
  • As was usual with Cinefantastique reporters, Jones had a staff photographer with him on several occasions taking numerous behind-the-scenes photographs. However, the editors opted not to include these or any other artwork in the book, if only for the fact that the Cinefantastique archive was no longer in existence due to the selling off of its contents at a 2006 auction after the print magazine had folded, which actually was beneficial for the publication, as legalities surrounding copyright issues could now be avoided, allowing the unlicensed work to be published as a work of journalism.
  • The one exception was the cover art, originally done by Roger Stine for the abandoned Cinefantastique theme-issue, which was later acquired by former Star Trek production staffer Daren Dochterman at the above-mentioned auction. For this edition he made his property graciously available to the publishers of the book, aside from performing some additional editorial services in the form of fact checking. [4]

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