Running from 1993 to 1999, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is often considered to be the outlier of the entire franchise.
In fact, that's pretty much how Ira Steven Behr - one of the series' key writers and executive producer from 1995 to the end - considers it. Dealing with more human and grounded stories than, say, the original series, Voyager or The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine wasn't afraid to boldly go where Star Trek hadn't gone before.
What We Left Behind is an upcoming documentary film on the series that features in-depth interviews with the cast and writers, the producers and directors, and the fans of the series themselves. Directed by Adam Nimoy - who previously directed For The Love Of Spock (and two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation) - and narrated by Ira Steven Behr, the documentary is currently fundraising on Indiegogo and has already surpassed its original funding goal.
We spoke to Ira and Adam from Los Angeles about the documentary itself, their recollections of the series itself and what Deep Space Nine meant to them.
The idea for the documentary sounds really good, but I'm wondering why CBS or Paramount hasn't gotten involved with it on a deeper level.
The people we're dealing with in CBS - the licensing division - aren't really focused on creating these types of projects themselves. They're working with us on licensing and we've got access to their materials, we're going to be up-ressing - as they call it - a lot of their clips and so on, so they're really cooperative and helpful.
Creating these projects at the funding level we need isn't really their business. We could have shopped this project around town to the usual entertainment investors and institutions, but frankly, for us, it's much stricter to go to the fans and the response has been great, it's been overwhelming. We're at something like 230% and we've still got two weeks to go. It helps us to give us the artistic freedom we need to make this.
On that point, I'm thinking having that kind of freedom allows you to dig into some of the problems you had on set and so on.
Ira Steven Behr:
The last doc that was done - Chaos On The Bridge - the whole point of that doc was a kind of cold and calculated look at, y'know, the chaos that was going on production-wise and creatively with The Next Generation. That's been kind of done. That's the reason that doc exists, y'know, behind-the-scenes jockeying for position and that whole schmooze.
It's really just... I've been gone for twelve years, I haven't done a convention, I'm friends with those who have been with me on Deep Space Nine, but publicly, I was pretty much under the radar and when I was brought back for the twentieth anniversary and did the interviews for Chaos, I started to ask some questions about the show and where the show is and David Zappone (producer on Chaos On The Bridge) said, why don't we do one? Bill's not gonna do another one, you should do one. So it came from that, I guess.
With something like this, that you were so deeply involved with back then, is it possible be for you to objective about it all? Adam, I know you're coming from it as a director, but with you Ira, can you be objective with it all?
Back in the day, the biggest critics of Deep Space Nine were in the writer's room. I don't think anyone has a clearer vision of the show's strengths and weaknesses than we do. I mean, if anything, these guys need to keep me from... I always keep saying, I wanted to talk to people who hated the show 'cos I want them to have their day! So, yeah, I'm not deeply concerned about that.
Adam, how did you come to be involved?
The producing partner I had, David Zappone, on For The Love Of Spock had been working with Ira on the Deep Space Nine documentary and they'd been pulling material for it, and when we came in, that sort of took a back seat. As I was travelling around for the Spock documentary, I was becoming much more aware of the fervor for Deep Space Nine. The crowd reaction was always amazing at conventions for it and so I got back into watching the show and really fell in love with it.
David (Zappone) asked me if I wanted to come on board and bring some new energy to complete the project so I was honoured, really. I'd been meeting cast members and rediscovering the show and it's a terrific show, it's really a part of the tradition of Star Trek. I don't know if I'll be doing more Star Trek stuff, but I'm really happy to be a part of this.
Ira, I've always wanted to ask this - because it's something I've thought about for years and years - was the whole Bajor / Cardassia occupation inspired by Northern Ireland? I mean, I watched the show and that was always my reading of it, the same way Klingons were sort of inspired in part by the Soviet Union and so on.
Well, I'm not going to lie to you, I have been told by many different people many different things about what that struggle represents. It's amazing how people read into things. Obviously, this was in the '90s, so there was the Middle Eastern conflict, Lebanon was a big hot topic, tons of things, the Northern Ireland thing came up too, so I would say it's not based on any of them and it's based on all of them.
Someone came up to me and asked - with all seriousness - if the Ferengis were based on the Chinese! She was Chinese and she said it reminded her of her family! That was an interesting one. But the Ferengis were 24th century humans, maybe the last recognisable humans, so yeah, everyone thinks they're represented by them.
You mention there that Ferengis were the last humans, one of the aspects about Deep Space Nine was that it was a much more grounded and human story. There was conflict, there was real emotions and real stakes. Coming off the back of The Next Generation, which was very much the opposite, that must have been a relief for you.
I left The Next Generation after one season and vowed never to do Trek again. I will say that I do believe Deep Space Nine is an outlier in the franchise and it'll always be an outlier. I'm not sure there'll be another show like it in the franchise, simply because I don't think they'll do another space station. Star Trek, in the public's mind, is about travelling through space. We're an outlier for that.
Another reason is Star Trek Prime - as I like to call it - is about well-adjusted people, superior people, who are faced with complex issues and have to find ways to resolve them. Deep Space Nine is all about very flawed people whose major struggles is within themselves and finding the strength within themselves to deal with complex problems. That is a huge difference.
I'm not sure that will be repeated. Certainly at the time when the show was being done, there was a lot of buyer's remorse that they even attempted it, which I thought was the best thing that ever happened to the show because it was like, OK, we'll concentrate on Voyager and you guys go off and do your thing and that really gave us the freedom to run and jump and play.
Adam, one of your first directing gigs was on The Next Generation. Did you ever cross paths with Deep Space Nine on a professional level when it was on TV?
I was there when they were shooting the pilot, I saw a lot of David Carson's work because he was my mentor - by orders of Rick Berman. I'd been observing for an entire season of The Next Generation before he'd even think of giving me a directing assignment.
Back then, the feeling was that I needed to get out of the Star Trek camp and I had other interests and other opportunities that presented themselves to me, so out of 175-odd episodes, I'd never gotten a directing assignment on Deep Space Nine which, quite frankly, I kind of lament now from rediscovering the show. It's a sweet irony now that I'm involved with Ira directing this documentary, so it's my way of getting involved with an incredible series.
What was your initial impressions, from watching it with David Carson?
Oh, there was a lot of excitement at that point in time. A lot of time had gone into casting, there was a huge ensemble cast, Herman Zimmerman (production designer on a number of the Star Trek films) was involved with creating the space station. It was a very heady moment, it was a big deal because there was so much success with The Next Generation. There was a lot of anticipation for it and the thing was that they'd proved critics wrong with The Next Generation because it was such a huge hit. So yeah, high expectations. I was very excited to just be even an observer.
I wanna say that, at the time, The Next Generation was perceived as having lifted Star Trek out of the science-fiction ghetto and making it a mainstream hit and I'm very proud to say that (laughing) Deep Space Nine took Star Trek back into the ghetto and back into a culty, you really have to care about the show to get behind it and really focus on it to get what's going on, kinda show.
That's actually one of the reasons, in my mind, what made Deep Space Nine so interesting - the fact that it had story arcs and it wasn't just a monster-of-the-week or a planet-of-the-week kind of thing. There was a story that followed the whole through. Did you have to fight for that, considering how syndication and it being shown out of order wouldn't really work for it? Did you meet any resistance on that front?
Adam and I were just discussing this very thing yesterday. The easy answer is, when I look back at seven years of Deep Space Nine - and I was there from before the beginning to the very end - every single thing had to be fought for. Constantly fought for and fought for again and that's probably my biggest memory of the show.
Y'know, serialisation was something that we were able to do over the radar for most of the seasons. It was only towards the end where we went the whole hog and made it a serialised show. This was the '90s, this was not the way TV was done - especially our television - and it wasn't what Star Trek was about it. It was about boldly going somewhere, dealing with someone's shit, and then going on and dealing with someone else's shit. OK, what happened last week is, y'know, Bonanza television, no continuity, every episode is self-contained and that's fine.
That wasn't something that I was interested at that point and, I guess, the thing is, and Adam said it - people forget the anticipation for Deep Space Nine and I'm talking about the people involved with. Everyone got cold feet almost immediately.
There were mixed responses during the first season, some of them valid, some whatever, but the fact is is that - in my mind - Mike and Rick (Michael Piller and Rick Berman, two of the main executive producers involved with the entire franchise) had come up with this thing to be different and that was good.
Different's hard, different can be scary and different is not immediately met with, y'know, applause and pats on the back. But it was fucking valid to do that. I felt, I raised that flag and I never put down that flag. It doesn't matter to me. It didn't matter to me, I wasn't caring about how many people about watch it. Obviously, ego-wise, you want people to love it - but that's got nothing to do with actually doing it. This is meant to be a different Star Trek series, let us make a different Star Trek series.
Adam, you're trying to catch seven years of stories and struggles. Coming to this, you've got to have some criteria about what you can leave in and leave out.
My ideas are all on index cards in the office next door! We do have a plan, you gotta have a plan otherwise you're trying to find your way. We have an idea of what the shape is and we know what we're probably gonna bypass and Ira and I - even though we're fundraising - we're shaping it, it's a balancing act, we've a finite amount of time and resources.
We're in the process of deciding about what our priorities are, what is the theme of our film, what is it about, so the pieces we've got will be much easier to distinguish as to whether they're in or out. I'm actually gonna present to Ira in an hour! The team, Dave Zappone, we've been coming up with a roadmap based on discussions with Ira because we've got a fast schedule, we want to turn this thing out quickly so that we make a lot of the conventions this year and the science-fiction film festivals as well.
It's a very hard deadline, but we want to know where we're at before we even start cutting. It was the same with For The Love Of Spock, you start to see what's dragging, we don't need this, we need more of this, less of that - but there's so much great material, we're not lacking. The stories are awesome, the cast is incredible, the production value is beautiful. The issue is how we can do justice to it all in two hours.
If you had to introduce Deep Space Nine to somebody, what episode would you tell them to watch?
One of my favourites is Far Beyond The Stars - but, y'know, you've got to know they are to understand and get that episode. That's absolutely of the best television ever made, but you've got to know who the history to appreciate what's going on.
It's like you said, they're not standalone episodes. I could tell you episodes that I am fond of, but I can't go there. I'm also fond of episodes that were failures because our failures always came from ambition, y'know? Your reach exceeding your grasp and stuff.
My mantra in the writer's room was always charge to the sound of the guns. Never back down, go to the toughest, let's try to make it work, let's always challenge ourselves and - let's face it - we were doing the show for ourselves as much as for the fans because nobody spends more of their lives back then, we were doing fifty weeks with the writers for seven years.
I lived and breathed Deep Space Nine. My wife, my kids when they were young, Daddy was always thinking about this goddamn show! My agent would beg me to leave! After three seasons, they told me to quit and get the hell out. I was like, I have to know how it ends. That was always it with this show, I had to know how it ends.
The show ran for seven seasons - could you have gone for eight or nine, or even ten?
I don't think anyone of us was ready to throw in the towel.
From day one, we were told it was gonna be seven years so you gear yourselves up for it. At the start of the seventh season, I said to the writers that it's no regrets. Anything you wanna do. If I wanna have a goddamn holographic Vegas lounge singer on Deep Space Nine, we're gonna do it. (laughs)
We're gonna have a ten-episode arc, that was a battle, they wanted less, we wanted more. But yeah, I think the show ended pretty much when it did. It's a well-known story that Avery was a little concerned that his character was dying and he wanted to make sure that he was coming back to Jake, because he was a single Dad and it was important to him, so we did make adjustments that kinda implies he was coming back. But, I thought, y'know, Star Trek captains are gods to the fans, so I thought I'd make a Star Trek captain a god. That made total sense to me. Avery would say he was part-god and part-Dad.
Give me one good story of Colm Meaney on set.
(Laugh) OK. I love all the actors. I love Colm. But there was an episode, it's tough y'know 'cos memory's not strong. It was a Section 31 episode, I remember that much, and all I remember was Bashir and O'Brien thought they were gonna die again and they get into this discussion that I'd written about how Bashir saying to O'Brien that he loved his wife, but he liked Bashir more.
It was one of the few times I got called down to the set because Colm was pissed off, he didn't want to do it - neither one of them wanted to do it - and we got into this whole thing about the difference about friendship and love. That's my Colm story. He felt he wanted to be true to Keiko (O'Brien's wife), but at the end of the day, they played it and it was great.
Did you have a lot of arguments with Colm?
Oh no, no. Very few times did I have arguments with actors. Directors, a lot. Actors, not so much.
They were all pros, if they had a problem, we could work it out or explain that someone's gotta have a vision. Little things became major discussions, but they all worked out.
The other thing I wanna say about Meaney was that before I left The Next Generation - that third season when he was around, but not a major player - I was like, one of the few reasons I'd even consider coming back was if he could really focus on O'Brien'cos he was a human even among a lot of stock characters. I could see that, not just 'cos he was a fantastic actor, but because his character was an enlisted man. So even back then, when I was really done and looking to get off the bus as soon as I could, that character and his acting stood out.
That episode, Hard Time, was incredible. He always seemed to be put through the ringer on Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation.
That's one of the best of the entire series, definitely. He really was his own man, y'know. He was there, he came in, he did his work, after seven years - sure, he was pissed about liking Bashir better than his wife. But, yeah, that was the joke in the writer's room.
Every year, we had an episode where we tortured O'Brien because we knew he was fantastic. We gave him an unsolveable problem and let him hang by his thumbs for forty-five minutes. He's not the guy who's just going to fly through life and come up with the decision.
He's got to grapple with his problems, which is a great metaphor for the whole series. You didn't negotiate, y'know? Picard was always negotiating other people's problems. In Deep Space Nine, you had to grapple with your own problems and find a solution and decide whether you've been tainted on that.
You say that a lot of the show was struggle and strife and, y'know, battles. Are you bitter about any of it, or, y'know, any regrets?
I'd have to be the biggest asshole on the planet if I was bitter about Deep Space Nine.
This is life. Nothing's perfect. Nothing goes exactly the way you want it to go. OK, tell your story walking. It was an incredible seven years, I don't go all Cloud Cuckoo Land about it 'cos my wife will tell me - very strongly - to an involved observer, that I was tormented by a lot of it! But, crazily, it was a good place to be and the show was worth fighting for.
That is no easy to find in this world, especially in television. It was worth the fighting. It was worth losing. It was worth winning. The whole thing was worth it.