In late May of 2015, actor/screenwriter Simon Pegg was quoted saying something that both surprised and worried fans anticipating the upcoming sci-fi sequel, Star Trek Beyond. After having been working on the script for the blockbuster with co-writer Doug Jung for a few months at that point, Pegg revealed that they had only just turned in their first draft four weeks before production, and that they still needed to shave a whopping 45 pages off before it could be considered ready. It was a monumental task, especially with a set anniversary-adjacent release date looming, but in truth, that was only part of the pressure cooker pre-production phase that led to the creation of a spectacular Star Trek movie.
Late last month, in advance of Star Trek Beyond's arrival on home video, I had the pleasure of sitting down one-on-one with Doug Jung in Los Angeles' famed Griffith Observatory, and the primary subject of our conversation was the race he ran in tandem with Simon Pegg to complete the script for the film and have it ready in time to sync with the franchise's 50th anniversary. It was a creative endeavor that transpired for the writers over the course of just a few months, beginning in early 2015. And it's a great window into Hollywood's crazy, creative process.
The Crazy Pressure To Write The First Draft
Doug Jung and Simon Pegg weren't the original writers hired to pen the screenplay to what was originally referred to as just Star Trek 3, but instead didn't officially come aboard until late January 2015. Initially, the task of putting the sequel together had been given to reboot series writer Roberto Orci and the team of John D. Payne and Patrick McKay. Orci was looking to make his directorial debut with the blockbuster as well, but his version of the project seemingly went away when he parted ways with the production in December 2014.
As a result, Paramount Pictures and J.J. Abrams' production company Bad Robot gave the team of Doug Jung and Simon Pegg a clean slate to work from. While many screenwriters in Hollywood would surely envy this kind of creative opportunity on such a massive franchise film, the true enemy of the whole process reared its head early: time. As Jung described,
The clock on the production was constantly ticking, and while Jung and Pegg were continually working alongside director Justin Lin and the producers to crack the exact story that they wanted to tell, they also felt the pressure of every day going by putting them just a little bit further behind schedule. When I spoke with Simon Pegg at the Star Trek Beyond Los Angeles press day earlier this year, he described what it was like in very visual fashion:
It eventually got to the point where they had to stop just coming up with ideas and start making decisions. They had to get a draft done so that they could show the heads of the various and numerous production departments what needed to be made, built, and constructed. Given that they were making a movie set entirely on spaceships and space stations with literally 50 different kinds of new aliens, there were incredibly important deadlines that needed to be met.
With time dwindling, it was at this point that Doug Jung and Simon Pegg just needed to get away from everything. While they had managed to construct a detailed outline, and knew what they were doing, Star Trek Beyond only existed in that state. With just a matter of weeks available to them to get the first draft done, Jung traveled to England and while working from Pegg's home, they started putting their ideas in script form. Said Jung,
It was certainly the proper time to find motivation and be incredibly productive -- and it helped that Doug Jung and Simon Pegg were totally living and breathing Star Trek during that time. After long days of churning out pages and putting together what would be the first draft of Star Trek Beyond, how did they reward themselves? By watching an original Star Trek episode or one of the previous movies.
They managed to get the draft done in time, but this was still very far from the end of the process. While Doug Jung and Simon Pegg were high-fiving each other and were crazy happy that they actually managed to write the script they wanted to make, it wouldn't ultimately be the script that director Justin Lin would capture on camera. Their first go-round with Star Trek Beyond produced a crazy-long 170-page screenplay, and once again the writers found themselves in a position of serious pressure trying to cut it down.