Last time, we began a fascinating discussion with PAUL JENKINS, who will be the new co-writer of Axanar. Although ALEC PETERS has already written complete drafts of the two 15-minute short fan films allowed thorough his legal settlement with CBS and Paramount, and at least ten major iterations of the full 90-minute script exist, Alec has asked Paul to come on board to help polish and finalize all three long and short scripts.
Paul himself is a very impressive writer and film producer in his own right. He is credited as one of the main reasons that Marvel Comics escaped Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the 1990s when he helped to create the “Marvel Knights” series of titles. He has written a wide range of both Marvel and DC comics characters, winning an Eisner Award and five Wizard Fan Awards. His work on Wolverine: Origin was even turned into a blockbuster feature film.
Paul has written and creative directed numerous titles for the video gaming industry, and he’s worked on projects with many of the major motion picture studios. Paul currently lives in Georgia and chairs an advisory committee to educate the Georgia General Assembly on the evolution of digital and interactive technologies. He’s also been tasked by Georgia’s governor to help cultivate and nurture the growing film development industry in the state.
And now Paul will be lending his impressive talents to Axanar.
In the first part of our interview, we learned how Paul first got involved in the project, and how the announcement of his involvement almost immediately caught the attention of Axanar detractors who contacted him with very negative and angry messages. (Seriously, guys?)
But Paul is taking it all in stride. Having been a prolific comic book writer for more than two decades, this isn’t Paul’s first rodeo. As far as he is concerned, the lawsuit has been settled, and now the job ahead is to make the next two Axanar episodes as good as they can be.
And now, back to our great interview…
JONATHAN: So now that you’re on board the project and there’s already completed drafts of both 15-minute scripts, what exactly will you be doing as co-writer?
PAUL: Let me tell you my process. I watched Prelude to Axanar, I read the full 90-minute screenplay, and I read the two 15-minute episodes. I’ve already sent Alec the first rewrites of one of the two 15-minute episodes. So I’ve actually done the iterative parts. I’ve been though with him note by note, on a long session, as to where I think the script needs some help, what I think it needs to do, what the overall impression of the script is and where I think it should be moved to, and some specifics, as well.
I believe that my input was done with, hopefully, a modicum of expertise in storytelling and a fresh eye that isn’t living inside the project, that hasn’t been through the iterative process that can sometimes be very exhausting. The worst thing in the world can be to go through development hell.
JONATHAN: Yeah, there’s certainly been a lot of that on Axanar! So is Alec just handing over the script to you with full creative freedom and saying, “Here, Paul, go fix everything…”?
PAUL: No. I said to Alec since day one, “I don’t need your creative freedom…because you’re a producer and you’re trying to make a project, and it has to be what you’ve already done, and so on. There’s already a vision for this project. What I would ask you for is a little bit of creative trust. You wouldn’t be asking me to be involved with this project and to help write it and to help build it out if you didn’t know what its background was and have some trust.”
And then the first thing I did was to demonstrate, hopefully, why I could be trusted by going through the script with him and saying, “I think this, I think that, how about this…?” and just sort of going through the whole process of where I think it could be helped and where it could be moved to and what the focuses should be.
This is what I used to do for Marvel, for example. When I worked for them, they were in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They were going out of business. And the last resort, sometimes, of a creative corporation is to say, “Okay, tellya what. Let’s let the creatives do their thing.” And of course, that initiative—which was “Marvel Knights”—kind of rebuilt their company.
JONATHAN: So how much of your help does the script need? Is it just a little “nip and tuck” or are you doing major surgery?
PAUL: Listen, I really like what Alec has done. I read the full script, and the sense of action is great. All of those parts worked. So my participation is not some “surgery” where I just basically write and change things to drastically smash stuff up. It’s not that.
I liked the action of it. There are plenty of scenes where battlecruisers are fighting, there’s tension, and there’ stuff happening. That stuff works. I liked the sense that this battle was going on and people were moving these pieces and that stuff was happening. What I felt it lacked was that it didn’t feel like this was being done by people; it’s just a series of things that happen.
This is what I pitched to Alec, and this is why I got involved: “Alec, if you’ll permit me, the thing that I want to spend my time on is populating those core events with people. I think it’s a series of events, but I need to be able to care very much about those series of events. I need to feel the weight of Garth’s decisions because I need to see that Garth is affected by them. I need to see that he cares for his crew. I need to see personal anecdotes and stuff like that.”
It has to be meaningful and populated by people and not icons. So my primary focus is that…making sure that there’s that adherence to character. I felt that if I could bring that to it, then a lot of the rest of it would fall into place. There’s not a lot of structural changes I need to make to the action sequences.
So really, what I brought to it was a real focus on character—amongst every character, not just Garth but Alexander and Travis, Kharn, and all these other people. And I did that by pitching Alec and saying, “This is what I’d like to do. How do you feel about it?” And to his credit, he said, “Yes, that’s what I think it needs.”
PAUL: I’m hopeful to take the best part of it and build on it. Because “better” is so subjective, right? People speak in absolutes. “Better.” Well, you can’t speak in absolutes because it doesn’t work that way. It’s subjective.
Instead, I ask the question: “What can we do to improve it?” And so I think you look at it with a broad base, and say that I really think that the characterization and some of the structure could be helped. And so I try to do that with a bit of humility, and I go to Alec and I pitch it to him. And I say, “Look, man, here’s what I think you’ve done—and I mean this genuinely—I think making this project and bringing it to the point that it’s at is really great. I’m sorry that you’ve been through eleven iterations, frankly, because that’s too much. It really is. It’s development hell. Let me come in with this iteration—and here’s the pitch before I write anything —this is where I’m going; these are the specifics, these are the generalities…and then, here’s the version that I’m doing. And I hope that you understand that most of it is all about character. And so far, that’s working out pretty well.
JONATHAN: I sounds like you’re very committed to this project…
PAUL: I love the idea that Axanar existed. There’s a little part of me—because I’ve always been the father figure to the bastard children of literature, whether it be comics or games or whatever—there’s a part of me that says that because CBS sued Alec, and now the settlement lets him make a fan film after all…I just feel a little bit like, “Aw, man! All he was doing was making something.” And I try to encourage that in Georgia; I’m really trying to get people to be more professional. But to really go get stuff made—and Alec went and did that, and I think everyone should admire him for that because he worked really hard to make this thing happen.
And so I’m hopeful I can help. “I’ll give you some support then, man; I’ll give you some help. And all I ask is a little bit of trust.” And so far, he’s been very trusting of me. It’s worked out great.