The Deep Dive: A Few Minutes with Michael and Denise Okuda to talk about the ‘Star Trek: Roddenberry Vault’ Set

Posted in Interviews, TV, TV On DVD by - December 15, 2016

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Since this is the internet, I’ll give you fair warning now about the levels of hyperbole that I’m about to throw down.

Quite simply Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault just might be the single greatest home entertainment release chronicling the historical and social importance of a show like Star Trek.  It allows for fresh perspective and a deep dive into the rich history of this beloved show and is quite simply a must own for anyone from the hardcore fan to even the casual appreciator.  This is TV history boiled down into an immensely entertaining form with behind the scenes documentaries and restored episodes to give it all that perfect feeling of why we loved Star Trek 50 years ago and why 500 years from now it will still sustain as a classic piece of pop culture that helped to form us culturally and socially for decades to come.

In celebration of this release I got the unique pleasure to sit down with veteran producers and super fans of Star Trek in all its forms to talk about what kicked all this off and why it is truly the single best gift to the fans that anyone could have ever put out into the universe.


 Dave Voigt: This is a deeper dive with The Roddenberry Vault then we’ve ever seen on any kind of Star Trek related material and I’m curious what the impetus that kicked all this off was and how long of a project was it for you both?

Michael Okuda: We’ve been working on this off and on for nine years.

DV: Wow

Denise Okuda: Yeah

Michael Okuda: For the first eight years it was a lot of cataloguing of material off and on and then for about the past year or so we’ve been at it seven days a week to get this completed, it was intense to say the least.  The ultimate origin of the project came from the fact that back in the day Gene Roddenberry really did hold on to a barrel of footage and never got rid of anything at all.  After Gene’s passing his son Rod held on to it all and a few years ago gave us a call saying “I don’t really know what’s in here, but I’ve got to believe that it’s useful and unique”…

Denise Okuda: We got the call to meet Rod at this undisclosed warehouse type location that was fairly unassuming.  We had to sign non disclosure agreements and then we went in and we just saw row after row after row of film canisters.  We started to open these up and there were various sizes of rolls of films and they took us in to see some of this footage and Mike and I our jaws just dropped.

We had just been shown the Holy Grail of Star Trek these were film clips that had been swept up from the cutting room floor and had been saved.  In the past we knew that there was some footage out there from scenes that didn’t make it into the aired episodes, so we knew that somewhere these scenes existed but we absolutely had no idea what was in store for us which was ultimately the start of this amazing and magical journey in making this set.

DV: I’m guessing this was more of a personal vault of Gene’s because I mean you have both been so steeped in the history of this show in so many ways I’m kind of amazed that you even had to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

Denise Okuda: Oh it’s pretty common when you sign on to any kind of project, we understood going in.  I mean we didn’t even tell our parents what we were doing! (Laughs)

But we do take this kind of work really serious because to us it is like being given this great honor.  We were honored and humbled to be chosen as the people to be brought in to go through all of this material.  Michael and I have worked on a lot of Star Trek productions and we’ve written several books and not to mention…we just love this stuff (laughs), it’s kind of in our DNA.  Like Michael said it was a lot of work, it took us three years just to catalog the footage and then just this past year with our producer who is also our filmmaker Roger Lay Jr in interviewing people from back in the 60’s who were there and worked on the show as well as folks who are big fans in today’s life like Bill Prady who is the co-creator of The Big Bang Theory who is a BIG Star Trek fan and he was gracious enough to come in and do interviews.  This is a collection of lost footage with omitted dialogue that is all interwoven in a documentary format to give it context.  We obviously don’t expect everyone to know this show as intimately as Michael and I do, so we went out with the goal of trying to make this footage as special as we could and we think we’ve succeeded in giving this material a unique life of its own.

DV: Michael; You had a line that really stood out for me on the disc that really stood out for me as you compared it to walking into the Raiders of the Lost Ark Vault and I’m curious how not just as fans but as professionals to really give this material structure?  I have to imagine that you could have easily gotten lost in these archives for weeks on end and been incredibly overwhelmed by it all.

Michael Okuda: Well you’re exactly right.  When we walked in there for the very first time we really were gasping with wonder and really wanted to use it all and dive into it all even though we really didn’t know what any of it was.  So we first had to start off by figuring out what kind of stuff was there.  Everyone there at the vault knew that the stuff was spectacular but no one really had a sense of it all as we were going through it, it was overwhelming in many ways.  What we ultimately ended up doing was working with the wonder filmmaker Roger Lay Jr who did all of these wonderful behind the scenes docs for Next Generation.  Roger who is a passionate Star Trek fan in his own right and just loves the movie making process came in and said why don’t we show it as a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of these episodes .  That way we really could show off the best of this footage, and when we show a clip it all has context and we see how it fits into the big picture.  We’re very proud of how it turned out.

Denise Okuda: Yeah when we were finally done going through all the footage, our mandate really was to determine “What do we have here?” Let’s whittle it down to what we think are the best and then lets concentrate our efforts on those episodes.  We ultimately came up with twelve episodes which was really hard but the reason we chose them is because they dealt with some of the great footage that we had.  Episodes like ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’, ‘Arena’, ‘Space Seed’, ‘This Side of Paradise’ and I can’t go through them all but for ‘City On The Edge of Forever’ which is just a favorite of so many people, we were lucky enough to find some wonderful omitted dialogue that we can’t wait for people to see.

Michael Okuda: If you’ve seen the episode, there is this pivotal scene where Edith Keeler stumbles down the stairs and Kirk realizes in that split second that she might have been killed, in the subsequent moments they exchange a romantic moment and then it cuts away.  We discovered that there was quite a bit more to the love scene which was very sweet and really powerful thematically as well and it worked so well but when we asked long time story editor Dorothy Fontana she said that it simply had to be cut for time.  It really was wonderful character stuff.

Denise Okuda: My personal favorite has to be ‘Metamorphosis’  which had some truly great outtakes and alternate scenes but we also we also went up and interviewed episode director Ralph Senesky who still at 93 years old now was very sharp and had some great stories to tell and we also interviewed actress Elinor Donahue who was in that episode.  On top of these documentaries and these people talking about their experiences on set, with these alternate takes and different footage along with the episodes and we really hope that the fans are just as happy with it as we are.

DV: The way you structured this whole thing really does give these episodes so much more emotional and social context that we as fans can often forgetting about while simply enjoying the adventure aspects of it all.

Denise Okuda: I think that you are absolutely correct and we really did set out to give the viewer context for it all.  One of the other things that I really find interesting and fun is something that we ultimately called ‘The Fly On The Wall’ because we are behind the camera and we are seeing the footage of what happens before the camera rolls and after they yell “cut’ the camera does still rolls.  Not only is it fun as a fan but it’s fun historically to see how they produced television 50 years ago.  The lights go off when they are on Bridge after they yell cut to keep the temperature down and it was just so neat to see little things like that which they dealt with on a daily basis.

DV: Are there any episodes you wish could have gotten in because I can imagine that this would be like having to choose some children over another since we are all so close to the material?

Denise Okuda: Oh it was VERY hard but we are completely at piece with the episodes that we landed on because we know all the material so well that we have no doubts that we really picked the best stuff overall to be included in this set.

DV: Was it best in terms of content?  Or was it a case of what was useable and watchable versus some that weren’t?

Michael Okuda: I’d say it was a mix of all of the above, but also we did find some very cool material that related to episodes that weren’t in the twelve that were chosen so if you look on Disc 3 we have a featurette called Swept Up: Snippets From The Cutting Room Floor where we had scenes, clips and snippets from other episodes that were really quite interesting along with some model photography for the Enterprise that was never used on the episodes.  We’ve got lighting tests and shots of the shuttlecraft, plus we have a clip from one episode where Nichelle Nichols sings a song “Beyond Antares” and in the episode we only get a couple of verses but when we went through all the footage they filmed a version of her singing the entire song that never made it into the episode, and all of that made it into Swept Up.

DV: This really does feel like the peak experience for the hardcore fans to be able to appreciate what these episodes meant then but what they mean now as well and I’m curious from your perspective if there is any deeper we can go or if for you as noted Star Trek experts that is this really is the cream of the crop, will there be a Vol 2 or a Vol 3 that could still be in the making?

Denise Okuda: I think that this really is it as far as the Roddenberry Vault because you’ve got to remember that these really are just snippets from the cutting room floor.  These are things that were swept away at the end of the day and probably should have been trashed but were instead saved so there just isn’t a lot of completed scenes.  Granted there are some, but it’ s mostly a minute or two here, or a couple of seconds there, or literally one or two lines of dialogue just lifted out of the film and out of those we highlighted what we thought was special.

Michael Okuda: And even if they were really short pieces we thought they were really pieces of magic that capture these glimpses into the Star Trek universe.

Denise Okuda: And it is so good to hear you say that you think this is special, because we really think so too.  We’ve been dealing with this for nine years and I cannot tell you how hard it has been to not get in front of an audience and just scream to the mountain tops about what we have been working on and tell people about what was coming.  That’s why Michael, Roger and I are just over the moon and excited about this finally coming out.  This is why we did, not just so we could enjoy it but so that all the fans really could share in this amazing experience.

DV: As we’ve all been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show, I really think that this Roddenberry Vault set is truly the cherry on top of the sundae and congratulations to you both.

Michael Okuda: Yeah we really think so too, thanks for saying that it means a lot.

Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault Blu-Ray set is now available at all major retailers and will make for the perfect gift under the tree for a fan of any age.

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This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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