Michael & Denise Okuda Star Trek Interview, December 8th, 2016

Star Trek 50 & Star Trek: The Original Series – The Roddenberry Vault

Interview by Mike Bax


Just in time for holiday gift giving, Star Trek: The Original Series – The Roddenberry Vault is released last week on Blu-ray is a thing of beauty. In honor of the show’s 50th Anniversary, the three-disc collector’s edition Blu-ray set from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Media Distribution gives fans unprecedented access to some incredible all-new never-before-seen footage from the production of Star Trek: The Original Series.

While shooting the original Star Trek, bits, and pieces of episodic footage wound up on the cutting room floor – preserved in film canisters by The Roddenberry Estate. Recognizing the value of the footage, CBS painstakingly cataloged, transferred, analyzed, and pieced together these Vault materials, which include alternate takes, deleted scenes, omitted dialogue, outtakes, and original visual FX elements.


The twelve episodes included in this release act as a representation of the series’ best episodes. They are also part of this release because the included unearthed footage relates to these twelve episodes. The footage Star Trek fans are going to get to see is broken down here:

Inside The Roddenberry Vault: Rod Roddenberry introduces viewers to the discovery of his father’s long-lost Star Trek film reels. With footage from each of the 12 episodes, this three-part special feature offers a guided exploration into the historical significance of the newly discovered material through new interviews with dozens of Star Trek alumni and historians.

Star Trek: Revisiting A Classic: offers a look back at the origins of the iconic series, including glimpses of life on the set with new interviews featuring guest stars, directors, and production personnel.

Strange New Worlds: Visualizing the Fantastic: dives into the creation of spaceships, transporters, and the classic Star Trek visuals. The in-depth feature combines newly found original visual effects elements photography along with interviews with effects masters and Star Trek veterans such as Industrial Light & Magic founding member Richard Edlund, Doug Drexler, Dan Curry and
Gary Hutzel.

Star Trek figures interviewed for these new documentaries include William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk); writers Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana, David Gerrold and John D.F. Black; director Ralph Senensky; casting director Joseph D’Agosta; visual effects artist Richard Edlund; and actors from the 12 featured episodes such as Clint Howard (“The Corbomite Maneuver”), BarBara Luna (“Mirror, Mirror”), Leslie Parrish (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”), Charlie Brill (“The Trouble with Tribbles”), Michael Forest (“Who Mourns for Adonais”), Bobby Clark (“Arena”) and Elinor Donahue (“Metamorphosis”). Plus, the collection features new interviews with an impressive array of some of Star Trek’s biggest fans including The Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Prady, The Simpsons writer/producer David Mirkin, Family Guy writer/producer David A. Goodman, NASA’s Bobak Ferdowsi, Bill Nye
(The Science Guy), and more.

Lastly, Swept Up: Snippets from the Cutting Room Floor gives fans access to even more fragments of unseen footage and omitted dialogue from the groundbreaking series.

Michael & Denise Okuda took 15 minutes to chat a bit about Star Trek turning 50, The Roddenberry Vault and the never-before-seen treasures it includes, along with their opinion on what keeps fans connected to the Trek franchise.

Mike (B): So tell me this – What is your earliest Star Trek memory?

Denise: We were pretty little when we first started watching the series. But I think that I was fascinated with the idea of being in a space ship and going to unknown destinations. Even as a child I thought that that was a really cool thing to be able to do.

Michael: My first memory is watching Star Trek on a black and white television in my parents living room. I too had grown up looking up to the astronauts and the space program as real life heroes. SO to see these characters on a show doing these amazing things in this really cool spaceship and discovering the wonders of the cosmos absolutely fired up my imagination.

Mike (B): Can you talk about how you two met?

Denise: We just met through mutual friends.

Mike (B): Yeah? So there wasn’t a bond of Star Trek immediately?

Denise: No, actually.

Michael: We actually first bonded over another television show. We were both fans of the science fiction show Max Headroom (The Max Headroom Show)

Mike (B): So how did you both wind up involved with the Star Trek franchise?

Michael: I had been a graphic designer in Hawaii. They say you have to know someone to get a job in Hollywood. I’m the exception that proves that you can simply send in a resume and if you happen to have what they are looking for at that particular moment, the door is going to open. My first work was as a graphic designer on the movie Star Trek 4, and I stayed with Paramount throughout the next several films and through four spin-off television series.

Denise: And I came in having contacts. So it is who you know in Hollywood. (laughs) And came in worked on Star Trek for many, many years on feature films and television series.

Mike (B): That’s awesome. What do you think is it about Star Trek that keeps fans fascinated with the series? The show is celebrating it’s 50th year. Do you have an opinion on what keeps bringing fans back and keeps them invested?

Denise: Well, I think that what brings them back and keeps them invested is that it is not only an entertainment (it’s fun), but also it’s Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, really that’s what you have to go back to. I think people are hungry for hope and a future where people treat each other with kindness along with a real excitement over exploration. I think those are primal things within human beings. That, combined with the chemistry of the characters (the casting for the show being just impeccable – sometimes you just get lucky like that), I think that’s the draw.

Michael: Star Trek was a series of fascinating adventures about a really interesting family of people. You wanted to think of them as your friends. You went with them every week to extraordinary places and saw wonderful things and experienced the wonders of the cosmos. And how much fun is that?

Denise: So here we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show, and we think that the Roddenberry Vault is amazing. The different footage, the alternate takes, the omitted dialog, you couldn’t come up with a better way of celebrating the 50th anniversary. We are really, really excited that it is finally out and that other people will be able to share in this excitement.

Mike (B): What components of the Roddenberry Vault got you both most excited? You’ve touched on a few things there, but Can you zero in on something that personally got you stoked about what you’d found in this unearthed footage?

Denise: The fact that we were seeing things that we were never meant to see. The fact that we were seeing alternate takes. That we were hearing omitted dialog. Michael and I have worked on Star Trek for a long time. We’ve worked on a couple of books. We know the subject matter pretty well. So to be able to hear new dialog was just amazing. This is stuff we were never supposed to see. So in totality, that is why we were so excited.

Michael: One of the things that just excited me was this: I’m a big fan of the people who did all of the original effects. if you look through this footage there are actually a fair number of shots of the Enterprise that were never in the episodes. They were never finished. So you get new angles on the Enterprise. To someone who just loved the design of that show, that’s just breathtaking – it’s fresh new Star Trek.

Mike (B): Because Star Trek has been put out in several formats over the years, there will be an element of trepidation from some buyers. “Why should I buy this package?” Maybe they will think it’s a re-purchase. I want to make it clear for the people who are maybe on the fence about buying it why they should own this new Roddenberry Vault.

Michael: Well, this set does have 12 of the best episodes of the show included. The heart of this package is a series of six new documentaries of all new material exploring the show, exploring individual episodes, exploring it’s origins, and revealing it through this interwoven footage that you haver never seen of Star Trek. So if you know the show, you will go “Oh My Gosh!”. If you don’t know the show, this is a wonderful way to learn about it and to delve more deeply into it than anybody has ever done.

Denise: Nothing with the original series has ever been done like this. This is new and fresh and unique. This is the Holy Grail – raw Star Trek footage for a Star Trek fan. And if you’ve only had a passing familiarity with the series, we give you context. We have documentaries that go into the background with not only the folks that worked on the original series but also with some of the actors. Also some of the behind the scenes people as well, along with contemporary fans of the series as well; Bill Prady, who was the co-exec and co-creator of the Big Bang Theory. I think there is something for everybody on this Blu-ray set.

Mike (B): You mentioned earlier your involvement putting the Star Trek Encylopedia together. Can you recall where you started on that project? The first few things to wrote and culled together for it?

Michael: The Star Trek Encyclopedia was a huge research project. The first thing you wind up doing is going back and rewatching the episodes.

Denise: And correcting script to air. We corrected the script to air and then we just started it like a research project like you might do for college. It’s a lot of work. We are very happy with it. The latest version is done and out and hopefully people can enjoy it. But then on top of that, we were working on the Roddenberry Vault. And this is even, I think, a new fresh and different look at the original series that you are not going to get anywhere else.

Mike (B): Now, if I was ever to take on something around Star Trek, I would consider both of you people I would go to fact check. So putting together something as in-depth as the encyclopedia and the Roddenberry Vault I’m curious who you then go to for fact checking?

Denise: We go back to the scripts. And we worked on the shows. But we always go back to the scripts.

Michael: The scripts and we go back to the aired episodes themselves. What was there. A lot of times research gets done and people write something and they reference themselves aver and over again. So we wanted to make sure we went to the source material. So when we were going through the Roddenberry Vault, on one hand, we know the material quite well. On the other hand, if we had any doubt, we went back and we checked the episodes.

Mike (B): Right on. I’m seeing some pretty wild stuff here in Canada. Now celebrating its 50th year, Star Trek seems to be even more omnipresent. I’ve got a 6 pack of Star Trek beer in my kitchen and a book of Star Trek Canadian postage stamps that I just picked up at the post office. It’s amazing what’s being released to commemorate the event. What are you seeing down in the States like this?

Michael: Yes. Those are beautiful, those stamps.

Mike (B): It’s amazing what’s being released to commemorate the anniversary event. What are you seeing down in the States like this? Anything esoteric that you are surprised by?

Michael: I know this is going to sound very boring, but we pretty have spent the last year pretty much locked up working on this project.

Denise: Right. The last couple of them, really. (laughs)

Michael: We’ve gone out a few times to Star Trek conventions, and that’s a lot of fun. But for the most part, we have led very boring lives lately. We’ve worked on the encyclopedia and lately, we’ve been cramming on the Roddenberry Vault.

Mike (B): Ok. That’s fair. And appreciated. You must run into some pretty passionate people towards the series in your travels. Is there a common myth about the original series that you see coming up in conversations / online repeatedly? Something you repeatedly debunk?

Michael: Star Trek fans are enormously discriminating consumers. They know the material at least as well as we do. And so a lot of times it’s very gratifying when you say to yourself “Is this worth the extra effort to put this clip in? Or to do something special?” You find that people really appreciate it because they love Star Trek as much as you do.

Denise: It’s actually very gratifying that Star Trek fans are so very kind. They thank you for doing whatever you’ve been doing. We actually very much enjoy hob-knobbing with other Star Trek fans at conventions. It’s kind of like this big family. I’m always happy to be in a room with people that share the hope and optimism that Mike and I do for the future.

Mike (B): I would love to know how you feel about the JJ Abrams reboot of the franchise? Do you feel like it’s hitting all of the markers from the original series?

Michael: Well the Abrams team had a very interesting challenge. On one hand, they needed to respect what had come before. On the other hand they very specifically had the assignment to freshen things up. And so by creating an alternate timeline they were able to say “Ok, all of that original stuff is still valid. It’s still there. but they bought themselves the freedom to do tell new stories. Would we have done things differently? Probably. But their mission was, in fact, to do things differently.

Mike (B): Right. Everyone has a prized piece of memorabilia be it sci-fi fans, comic book collectors or autograph collectors. Are you both wired that way? And if so, what is yours? I’m assuming it’s a Trek piece, but it doesn’t have to be.

Michael: For my birthday several years ago Denise got me a large framed print of one of the beautiful matte paintings in the original Star Trek series. Starbase 11 from the episode ‘Court Martial’. In fact, to make it sideways note here, we talked about that earlier, the artistry of the matte paintings, and their beauty. Anyways it’s hanging in our living room and I just love the artistry that the painter brought to it.

Mike (B): How abut yourself, Denise? Anything?

Denise: Well, neither Mike nor I are collectors. But we do have some nice things that were given to us by people that worked on the original series. John Dwyer, a Trek set decorator gave us some of those floppy discs from the show. They are just pieces of wood. He worked with Mike on Season One of The Next Generation. He gave Mike a whole bunch of those. We have a hand drawing that Matt Jefferies did of Zefram Cochrane’s house from my favourite episode which is Metamorphosis. And that hangs in our house.

Mike (B): Awesome. I’m stoked for the Vault. I haven’t looked at it yet. I just got it delivered today. So I’ve opened it and had a look at the packaging. But I’m going to dig into some of the special features tonight. I’m stoked to see some of this cutting room floor stuff guys. It sounds just amazing.

Michael: We are so excited about this. We know we are not the only Star Trek fans who were wishing over the years for more footage being out there. So to be the ones to explore it and curate it and to actually present it to fans is an incredible honour.

Denise: And this is why we did it. We did it because this is such cool stuff that we wanted to share it with other Star Trek fans, So we are really happy. We hope you enjoy.

Michael: Please check out the documentaries. Check out disc three. We have a feature called Snippets From the Cutting Room Floor. There are three new commentaries. Also, all of the episodes have isolated music tracks and you can enjoy the beautiful that they made for the original series.

Denise: We’re very excited that you are going to get to see it tonight.

Mike (B): So am I. It’s people like you, along with the Roddenberry estate that is helping to keep this franchise alive. So, my thanks. I love the genre. I’ve been a fan since I was a wee boy and I’m pushing fifty now. It’s amazing to see Star Trek continue.

Denise: It’s a wonderful thing to be connected to. We have been so very blessed. We can’t thank CBS and Paramount enough. I know it sounds cliché, but they really have been so supportive. They have been so tolerant of our excitement. You can imagine how we were when we found this stuff. We called Bill Bishop who is an executive director here in Los Angeles and we just said “Oh my God. Do you know what we’ve found?” He was very sweet and very tolerant. So this has been a passion project. It’s something we are really really happy is going to be out.

Mike (B): Let me ask you last thing quickly. Could you imagine your lives without Star Trek in it? If there was an alternate timeline or something where the series didn’t exist – what do you think you both would be doing?

Denise: Working for NASA.

Michael: In an ideal world, those people are making real Star Trek.


I did spend the evening digging my way through the Roddenberry Vault. True to their word, it really is everything Michael and Denise Okuda describe here. The 3 disc Blu-ray set is rife with fascinating footage never seen before, intertwined into a wonderful documentary broken into six segments that are full of quality interviews with cast members and creators.

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