Screenwriting duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are quickly becoming Sci-fi gurus. After a stint on Alias, they landed the job of bringing Transformers to the screen. Now they have its sequel, the Star Trek prequel, and the new TV series Fringe all going on this year. The duos watched Fox PR bring cows to the streets of San Diego during this summer’s Comic Con to promote the show’s oddball themes.
Alex Kurtzman: That’s certainly a really nice way of putting it. I think we just really like working together. It’s easy. We have an immediate language, an immediate understanding. We have all the same references. We grew up loving all the same things and so it’s easy. When you’re doing these kinds of shows which are challenging, you really want someone who just understands the language of it immediately.
Roberto Orci: Oh, we do one together and one apart. It’s like we’re dating without commitment. We see other people.
Crave Online: Does he have a mandate for a kick ass girl in every show?
Alex Kurtzman: I think we actually all gravitate towards women for some reason as protagonists of our shows. I couldn’t exactly tell you why. I think maybe because in a man’s world, especially in the world of a federal agency, you are pushing a lot harder, there is more of a struggle. That’s always interesting to us.
Crave Online: How many episodes will you be writing yourselves?
Roberto Orci: We’ll see. We did the first one after the pilot to sort of show out how to do it in an hour format. Now Pinkner and the staff, it’s going to be their turn.
Alex Kurtzman: It’s funny, we were not planning on being that involved day to day and what happened of course is that we totally fell in love with it and so it became impossible not to be. Jeff Pinkner runs the day to day and he’s doing an unbelievable job so we’re there just to kind of help him in whatever way we can.
Crave Online: How do you balance the standalone episodes and major story forwarding ones?
Alex Kurtzman: I don’t want to give away too many of the individual story plots but I think it was very important to all of us to make sure that each episode feels like a standalone. Yet you will know that there is a much bigger mythology that kind of runs across both the season and the series. So while a problem will be set up and a problem will be solved in each episode, there are larger mysteries that play out.
Crave Online: Does it have to be one or the other?
Roberto Orci: No, it can be both. For example, the pilot, there is an arrest, there’s justice, you catch somebody but clearly there can be more going on. That’s a great template for how if you want to see more in what the episode is, you will. But if you’re my father in law and you just want to see an arrest and you want to see justice, you’ll see that too.
Crave Online: After doing Transformers and Star Trek based on classic properties, did you have an itch to come up with something your own?
Alex Kurtzman: We always do. Doing things like Transformers are great for their own reasons but yeah, you always want to invent something original. We actually just did a movie called Eagle Eye that we’ve produced and that was an original. It was actually an original concept from Spielberg and we kind of developed it with him. It’s really gratifying to do that kind of thing.
Roberto Orci: It’s fantastic. It’s also you can’t blame anybody else. There’s no, "Well, he didn’t do this right on the pilot." Now if something is not appropriately set up or if the skeleton of the show is somehow off, it’s going to be our fault.
Crave Online: What was the idea to make cows a running theme?
Alex Kurtzman: Actually, the funny thing about the way that the cow came into the show is we were writing a scene and I had this instinct that something weird should happen in the scene. I was like, "We need some element in the scene." And Bob said, "What about a cow?" That’s how we work. One of us will raise a question and then one of us will start pitching out answers. Suddenly we had a cow that actually weirdly organically had a real fit in the show. That’s how the cow came about.
Crave Online: Do you think by episode 13 or 14, you’ll run out of cow stuff?
Alex Kurtzman: We might run out of cow stuff. We might. You’ve got to use the cow very specifically, very sparingly, although you can never have too much cow, can you?
Alex Kurtzman: I don’t know, I think people love cows. I think they’re just sort of fascinated by cows. Cows are a mystery.
Crave Online: We do slow down when we drive by farms.
Alex Kurtzman: We do. Yes, we do. We wonder what it would be like to graze.
Crave Online: Are any movies being pushed away to focus on this?
Alex Kurtzman: No, because there’s two of us, we found a really good balance. It’s one of the major benefits of having a partner. We find a way to do it all.
Crave Online: How weird is it to be at Comic Con and not talk about Star Trek and Transformers?
Alex Kurtzman: It’s weird actually. It’s very strange because all we want to do is talk about Star Trek but we can’t. And Transformers, we’re literally in the middle of shooting it. We finished writing it maybe a month and a half before. Literally we finished it and they started shooting it. I think maybe next year at Comic Con we’ll have more to say about Transformers because it’s going to be coming out right before Comic Con next year.
Crave Online: Michael Bay said he wrote some of Transformers 2 during the strike. When you got back were you surprised where the script had gone?
Roberto Orci: No, he just took our treatment and transferred it to screenplay format. He picked a few characters from Hasbro and wrote what kind of things he needed in production but he didn’t write a script.
Crave Online: Were you involved in choosing new characters?
Roberto Orci: We were involved up until the strike and then shortly thereafter. Of course, it’s a continuation of the first movie. It’s the characters that we selected from the first movie in addition to some of the ones we wanted to see that we couldn’t put in the first movie and some of them were even in our original drafts.
Crave Online: Was it fun to just pick through the catalog?
Alex Kurtzman: Actually, that’s weirdly deceptive because it’s really hard. It’s hard. The more robots you have, the harder it becomes.
Crave Online: Some died, so they were eliminated.
Alex Kurtzman: Some of them died but there are literally hundreds of transformers in both the mythology and the toys. Really what it’s about is figuring out who are the ones that are going to matter to the story? Who are the ones that are relevant to the story? The easiest thing in the world is to throw in all these robots but you don’t want to do that if you can’t make some kind of personal connection to them.
Crave Online: Is one of them a girl?
Roberto Orci: It’s possible.
Crave Online: Are the hackers gone?
Roberto Orci: They will not be returning. We love them. If they would have fit, [we'd have them back]. Our lead for the movie is Sam and Mikaela. They are now going off, this is two years later. We didn’t want to just bring characters back just to bring them back. They had to be organic to the story and they weren’t.
Alex Kurtzman: Sam’s going off the college and I can’t say too much about Mikaela but obviously, the end of the first movie set up that they finally got together so now the question is are they going to be able to stay together.
Crave Online: What was the decision to start two years later?
Alex Kurtzman: I think we just felt ultimately like any other way into the story felt like a cheat, that you needed to pick up where they left off and see what was happening with their lives now.
Alex Kurtzman: Well, you’ll have to see the movie and find out.
Crave Online: But it’s addressed?
Alex Kurtzman: Yes.
Crave Online: Were you able to have any bigger ideas since they’ve established that it works on screen?
Roberto Orci: Yeah, the first movie was very much structured as a mystery, such that the transformers are revealed at sort of the midpoint. This time, this is a different structure. It’s a different movie, it’s a different story. The transformers are there from minute one and that’s something that now we actually felt confident we could get away with because we saw that it could work and that you could have these sentient robots and you’re happy when they’re on screen.
Crave Online: My favorite scene is the backyard. Are there any great small funny moments in the sequel?
Roberto Orci: Absolutely. It’s still a continuation of these characters. Tonally it’s similar. If you like the first one, you’re still going to get that intimate story of who Sam is and what he’s doing but if you’re a sci-fi fan of it, because we can start the movie much more transformer-centric, it’s a more balanced story with higher stakes as many sequels tend to be.
Alex Kurtzman: I will tell you that a key to that was the parents. That was a really big part of it was the fact that he was hiding the robots from his parents. Those parents are just unbelievably great. They’re so funny and so I think you will be seeing the parents again.
Crave Online: When you write a Star Trek script, how awesome is it to see J.J. built the set?
Alex Kurtzman: It’s insane. It’s just insanity. The fact that somehow we’ve inherited that mantle is insane. It’s such a responsibility. We take it so seriously and between all of us, Bob and me and Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk and J.J., there are different degrees of fandom and different degrees of knowledge and different perspectives on what Trek is. It’s a really good mix of people because I think it will ultimately allow us to stay very true to canon and also bring something new.
Crave Online: Are you tempted to write in dramatic pauses for Kirk?
Alex Kurtzman: [Laughs] No, because the tricky part about it, and this is actually hard I think on all the actors, is the actors who played those parts in the original series and established those characters, are legendary. Everybody knows those actors and everybody knows those characters. So you have to be consistent with that if you are going to cast new people in those roles and yet, you have to bring something new to the mix. So the actors were walking this very tricky line of not giving a cartoony performance that’s really mimicking the original actors, and bringing their own thing to the table.
Crave Online: J.J. was marveling at how you established Kirk and Spock’s bond
Alex Kurtzman: It’s the most gratifying thing I think for us about the movie is watching that.
Crave Online: How did you conceive of it and how was it never explored before?
Alex Kurtzman: We did a lot of reading of the books. I think we consider the books canon to a large degree so it’s very important to us to stay consistent. But there is a bit of a hole and there’s actually different mythologies about their history so it’s a matter of staying consistent but also figuring out how you can play around a little bit anchored by the rules