Director Scott Colthorp and narrator Eugene W. Roddenberry Jr. are set to finally debut their documentary “Trek Nation” on the Science cable channel Nov. 30. But getting from there to here was a path that took years — and more than once almost seemed dead in its tracks.
“Trek Nation” is a celebration of the Gene Roddenberry philosophy, his life, fandom and the journey of Gene’s son to discover it. The two-hour documentary will feature many big names in Star Trek including J.J. Abrams, Nichelle Nichols, Ronald D. Moore and even Rick Berman. It will also include Stan Lee, George Lucas, Seth MacFarlane and more.
Airlock Alpha has covered the project from its very beginning, a beginning that occurred in April 2003 when Roddenberry declared it was time to create an answer to the not-so-popular documentary “Trekkies.”
“One of the ideas behind the documentary is to explore how far Star Trek has gone, how many cultures it’s touched, how many boundaries it’s pierced,” Roddenberry told Airlock Alpha at the time. “Finding out day after day about different counties, different kinds of people who have found this idea, and that it’s permeated in so many places — it says something.”
Although there was some talk about bringing in big names like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to be interviewed by Roddenberry, even at the beginning, Colthorp and his crew knew that this would be focused on the fans, and in a way that was respectful and celebratory of their contributions.
“You like Star Trek? That’s nerdy, that’s dumb,” Roddenberry said at the time of reactions some fans get. “When you look at the people who were inspired by Star Trek, look at where they are now, look at what it’s done for them … it’s done a lot more than what any politician has, and more than what some parents have. It’s not the best thing in the world, but I’m so amazed that a TV show has inspired to many people in a powerful way, that it’s changed their life for the better.”
Although the focus of the documentary seemed to change a few times over the years, the work would eventually get back to what Colthorp had envisioned initially. At least that’s what he shared with Airlock Alpha in 2003. Final editing, however, was handled by New Animal Productions.
“I think Rod tells a good story about his father’s funeral,” Colthorp said. “It sort of dawned on him. It was, ‘Oh my God!’ He wanted to search for his father and the legacy he left behind. Probably if there was a central theme, it would be that as Rod discovers his father’s legacy, he discovers how influential Star Trek was on people.”
Roddenberry also made it clear from the beginning that he would provide an accurate portrait of his father — good and bad. And he fulfilled that promise in the final cut set to air on Science.
“I know he did drugs, I know that he had affairs,” Roddenberry said of his father. “But the fact that he was flawed makes me love him more. My father proved that anyone can do this, anyone can accomplish what he did. There are so many talented fans out there. They need to be inspired to write or become an actor, and realize that Hollywood is not as intimidating as people think.”
On July 26, 2005, I had a chance to make my small contribution to the documentary. I had run into Rod by accident the week before at Kennedy Space Center awaiting the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery, the first launch since the tragic Columbia disaster in 2003. That launch got scrubbed, but Rod returned the following week with all his camera equipment, but without his cameraman who had to return to California.
Since I was hanging out with Rod most of the day anyway, I was drafted into framing the shot of Rod watching the launch of Discovery, returning America back into space. It didn’t take a lot of skill, but it was fun seeing that make the final cut of the documentary.
Discovery is also the name of the company that owns Science, a distribution deal for “Trek Nation” that was announced during San Diego Comic-Con this past year. Soon after that announcement, Trevor Roth — the chief operations officer for Roddenberry Entertainment — explained to Airlock Alpha why it took more than eight years to get it done.
“If it wasn’t such a personal story to us, and if we didn’t want to get it so right, it probably would’ve been to audiences a long time ago,” Roth said last July. “We believe at the end of the day, it will be well worth it, that all the pieces have fallen into place.”
Fans will have their chance to find out if Roddenberry got it right when “Trek Nation” premieres Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. ET on Science. For a preview of the documentary, click here.