I figured I'd kick off my blog with a piece that I wrote not long ago, for my Facebook page. It's still fairly timely and it seems like a good way for me to get into the groove here. Future installments will be all-new material, as time permits--though I may repurpose some stuff, when it's appropriate. (For example, I've got this great story about me and George Takei...)
It’s been said that it’s not always a good idea to meet your heroes in person, because more often than not, they end up disappointing you. Maybe they’re having a bad day which has put them in a foul mood, and you end up catching them at their worst. Maybe they’re too shy or standoffish to give you the kind of reaction you’d want. Or maybe it turns out that, despite their impressive work and accomplishments, they’re just not very nice people.
Not long ago, I met one of my own heroes: Novelist, screenwriter, and director Nicholas Meyer.
Writer/Director Nicholas Meyer
He was in NYC to do a book signing at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side, for his memoir, The View From The Bridge, in which he recounts his journey to Hollywood and his experiences writing the novel and screenplay for The Seven Percent Solution, which led to his directorial debut, the time-travel caper Time After Time, which in turn led to his most popular film, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, which he directed and co-wrote (without receiving a writing credit).
Meyer would go on to direct the groundbreaking nuclear holocaust TV movie, The Day After, and would return to the Star Trek universe for the fourth film (as a co-writer) and the sixth (which he co-wrote and directed). He has a number of other films to his credit, as well. Of course, my interest in his work lies primarily with his contributions to the Star Trek canon.
Let me say right off the bat: Star Trek II is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s definitely in my top two. I’ve loved it from the first time I saw it, back in the summer of 1982 when I was about to turn 13. I’ve watched it so many times over the years, I’ve lost count. There was a time when I could recite all of the dialogue verbatim, from start to finish. (No, I’m not particularly PROUD of that fact, but it illustrates just how much of an impact the film had on me.) I liked Star Trek: The Motion Picture a whole lot. It’s what first sparked my interest in the original television series. But Star Trek II grabbed my imagination in a profound way and has never let me go.
(Incidentally, if you have Star Trek II and Star Trek VI on DVD, you simply MUST listen to Mr. Meyer’s director’s commentaries. They are compelling, informative, and thoroughly entertaining—among the best DVD commentaries I’ve ever heard.)
Meyer directs William Shatner in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982.
So it was a no-brainer, when I learned that Mr. Meyer would be in town to sign copies of his memoir, that I would attend this in-store event. Hell, I’d already bought the book and read a large chunk of it.
Mr. Meyer started off with a reading. He surmised that everyone in the audience figured that he’d read about his work on Star Trek, so he threw us a curve ball: He read the chapter about working on The Day After instead. I didn’t mind—I have vivid memories of watching that film with my brother, and some of the imagery from it is still burned into my brain. And he read the chapter with great flourish and dramatic skill—if an audiobook is produced, no one but Nicholas Meyer should record it.
After the reading, he opened the floor to questions. There were a couple of pretty “out there” Trekkie nutjobs in the audience who asked him ridiculous questions that delved into arcane Star Trek minutiae. And he’s the absolute wrong person to ask that kind of stuff, because, as he’s long acknowledged, he’s mostly unaware of the ins and outs of Star Trek, having never been a real fan and having watched only the first movie and a handful of episodes—with that happening only because he got the gig directing ST II. One of the nutjobs kept asking Mr. Meyer about his work on the Star WARS films. The other guy started rattling off a list of all the original TV episodes that have probably been affected—or rendered null and void—by the creation of an alternate timeline in the new Star Trek movie. I watched as Mr. Meyer’s eyes glazed over before he finally—and politely—cut the guy off and explained that he really didn’t understand what he was talking about.
After a while, the Barnes & Noble employee tasked with managing the event, a young lady, started wrapping up the Q&As, even though a number of people still had their hands raised. Mr. Meyer asked her why. The young lady looked at her watch and murmured something about the schedule. “What time is the store open till?” Mr. Meyer asked. “For a while longer,” she replied. (The store was actually going to be open for another three hours.) “Well, let’s keep this going a while,” Mr. Meyer told her. “People still have questions. I came a long way to be here tonight.” Now, how cool is that?
Aside from the nutjobs, the questions were fairly intelligent and Mr. Meyer’s answers were detailed, informative, and often very funny. The guy has wonderful stories to tell, from dealing with brain-dead Hollywood execs to spending three days with Laurence Olivier, one of his own heroes, on the set of The Seven Percent Solution.
I summoned up the nerve to raise my own hand. When called upon, I told Mr. Meyer how much of a pleasure it was to meet him. I then told him about my own recent showbiz experience: The fact that I had an option deal on the table for my very first screenplay. But, I explained to him, I came to the realization that the producers with whom I was dealing were… well, they were boneheads, and I couldn’t stand the thought of me being bound to them for the next couple of years. So I walked away from the deal, and probably ended my screenwriting career. I asked Mr. Meyer if he was ever in a similar situation, and if he was, what did he do—or what WOULD he do in that kind of situation?
First, he told me that this was NOT the end of my screenwriting career. Then, he said that if you can’t enter into a deal feeling good about it, and feeling good about the people that you’d be working with, then it’s probably not a good idea to commit to it. He told me that Hollywood has some of the nicest, most trustworthy, most loyal, most generous people working there—but of course, that doesn’t apply to EVERYONE in the business. There’s some really bad behavior—same as in every other industry. And while you can’t expect to always work with those great folks, and you may sometimes find yourself involved with not-so-wonderful people and making certain deals out of necessity, you shouldn’t enter into it feeling bad about it. So he told me I probably did the right thing by walking away. I kind of knew that already, but it felt really good to hear someone like Nicholas Meyer put any lingering doubts I might have had to final rest.
Later, as I walked up to the signing table and had Mr. Meyer sign my book, I said to him, “It really is an honor to meet you. Your work means so much to me. I want you to know that The Wrath Of Khan is the reason for my lifelong love of Star Trek.” He smiled warmly.
I went on: “I grew up to write some of the Star Trek comic books and a few short Star Trek novels.” His eyes lit up at that. He seemed to be impressed. I continued: “And when I was writing them, you were there with me. You couldn’t possibly know that of course, but I felt like you were there, sitting on my shoulder, guiding me and inspiring me the whole way.”
At that point, and I have to stress that I am in no way exaggerating here, Mr. Meyer became very emotional. He got choked up. His eyes started to tear up and his voice broke as he said, “Thank you.” He was really, truly touched by what I had told him. It was extraordinary. I couldn’t have been the first person to say something like that to him, could I? Regardless, he was moved.
And then, damn it all, MY eyes started to tear up! I managed to tell him again how happy I was to have met him, and I concluded with, “I really look forward to seeing what you do next.”
Mr. Meyer quickly regained his composure and replied with a chuckle, “Yeah, me too!” And with that, I took my autographed book and moved on.
On this occasion, it was very good to have met one of my heroes.