||Uncharted Content from the Final Frontier - Since 1999
(Interview conducted via email from June 1999 to July 1999)
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How much interaction was there between Franz Joseph and Gene
Roddenberry? Did you ever interact with Gene? If so, what was he like?
Did he at any time mention that Star Trek
might be revived, either as a television series (a la
Star Trek: Phase II) or as a feature?
GR and FJ corresponded in letters and phone calls from 1973-1975. FJ met with
GR twice at GR's offices at Warner Brothers in January 1974 as part of the
Planet Earth project, and my mother and
I also met GR in his office prior to the April 1974 studio screening of
Planet Earth. At the time, GR was very
personable and cordial.
GR made no mention to FJ of a
Star Trek revival whatsoever in any form
(although the animated series was in production at the time). In fact, GR
told FJ that Star Trek was dead and that
FJ could draw anything he liked. At the time, GR was actively pursuing
other series ideas such as Questor,
Genesis II /
Planet Earth, and
Paul Newitt interviewed
your father in a June 1984 edition of
magazine. In the
interview Franz Joseph mentions that Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana may
have had some negative feelings toward Franz Joseph at some point. Do
you have any information on this?
D.C. Fontana had negative feelings toward FJ because he was an "outsider"
and not part of the original Star Trek
production team. (They were very close-knit and somewhat cliqueish.) I
personally overheard her making negative comments to an associate about
FJ at a 1976 Star Trek convention in
an L.A. hotel hallway after the Tech Manual
was published. Ms. Fontana's attitude was that FJ was making money at
GR's expense when FJ hadn't even been involved with the original series.
Ms. Fontana was very loyal to GR, so some of GR's negative feelings (see
below) may have contributed to hers.
GR had negative feelings toward FJ for several
reasons. (1) GR had wanted to publish and distribute the
through Lincoln Enterprises,
his wife's (Majel Barrett's) business. When GR would not give FJ straight
answers over who owned the rights to Star Trek
(or finalize marketing plans after nearly a year of discussions), FJ
went over GR's head and queried Paramount Pictures about said rights. At
that point, Paramount took over the negotiations, hooked FJ up with
Ballantine Books, and collected the resulting royalty payments instead of
GR. (See FJ Timeline
GR and FJ had a disagreement over assignment of rights regarding FJ's
prop design work for Planet Earth
disagreement was eventually resolved, but it must have left GR with the
feeling that FJ was difficult to deal with. (3) GR did not think that his
"credit line" was large enough in the Technical Manual
even though having any credit lines at all contradicted the whole
premise of the book (i.e., that the
universe was real and the
had been broadcast accidentally
Century Earth by the real starship
during the events of
"Tomorrow Is Yesterday"). (4) Once the contracts were signed for the
first Star Trek
movie and GR realized
he/Paramount did not have the rights to any of the original work presented
in the Tech Manual
, he went out of his way
to discredit FJ's work. (See more commentary under
I must comment here that at the time he first came
into contact with GR and Paramount, FJ was a 60-year-old retired aerospace
engineer who had NO idea of the complicated interior political workings of
Hollywood. After reading between the lines in FJ's work logs (See
), there is no
doubt in my mind that FJ accidentally stepped on some toes and injured
some feelings. All I can say here is that none
of it was intentional; FJ only meant well, and acted out of ignorance, not
I understand that Franz Joseph did some work for Roddenberry on
another television series, Planet Earth.
Do you know anything about that show and Franz Joseph's involvement?
I have all of FJ's correspondence with GR regarding
, as well as FJ's work-up
sketches and original, very detailed
of the props for
Based on FJ's work on the
and Tech Manual
which GR had seen prior to publication and was very impressed with, GR
contracted FJ to produce detailed drawings of the props for
. To get around the unions,
GR told FJ to title the initial drawings as "communicator," "tricorder," and
"medkit;" to label them as Star Trek
pre-production drawings; and to back-date
them (real honest, huh?) to 1970 (it was then 1974). Now that I think
about it, the back-dating GR requested would make them part of the work-up
for the first aborted Star Trek
series (circa 1972 -- see FJ Timeline
not the original series.
When FJ was about to deliver the finished drawings
and asked for final payment for the job, GR (through Norway Productions'
legal team) demanded that FJ sign away all his rights to the work. FJ
refused to sign until the assignment of rights was re-worded. (Apparently,
FJ did not care about the design rights as they applied to the fictional
movie/TV series, but saw possible real-life commercial and scientific
applications for the medkit in particular and was not willing to sign away
everything carte blanche.) The assignment of rights was eventually re-worded
to everyone's satisfaction, final payment was made, and the final drawings
delivered, but not in time to build the detailed props for the movie. As a
result, the props used in Planet Earth
were little more than blocks of wood spray-painted silver and put together
with hinges. I don't believe FJ received any onscreen credit, either,
although he (and my mother and myself) were invited to the studio premiere,
where GR was very pleasant and magnanimous to us. GR intended to have the
more detailed props built for subsequent movies, but
Planet Earth did so poorly that subsequent
movies never happened, and GR eventually sold his rights to the property.
Some commentary here: When FJ agreed to do the
Planet Earth project, GR told him
verbally he would have to sign a "standard studio release" for his work.
Nobody told FJ what the specifics of a "standard studio release" were.
GR made it sound like no big deal. Further, said "standard studio release"
was not sent to FJ until he had already completed the work. Thus, FJ was
completely blindsided at the end when the transfer to GR/Norway Productions
of all ownership rights was
both expected and demanded.
Maybe it is standard Hollywood practice for conceptual
artists to sign away all their design rights on a given movie project; I
honestly don't know. Because FJ came from a freelance commercial art and
industrial design background, where reproduction and other rights are
negotiated and paid for separately from the commissioned artwork itself,
it does not surprise me in the least that FJ refused to sign the paperwork
saying that he didn't own his own intellectual properties. (GR/Norway
Productions were paying for designs for movie props with some moving parts,
but not fully functional scientific instruments. FJ had designed fully
functional scientific instruments in order to make the controls on the
props more believable, and didn't feel GR/Norway should necessarily have
the rights to the working guts he had so laboriously thought out.) As a
result, FJ came across as being a difficult and tempermental person to
work with, when, if someone had just explained "standard studio release"
to him at the outset, he would have walked away from or renegotiated the
contract at the beginning, or not gone the extra mile on the designs to
make them real, before everyone was up against the wall on production
deadlines and tempers were running short.
Many Star Trek fans today treat the
original series in much the same way that Scotty felt in
Star Trek: The Next Generation's
"Relics" - obsolete, and not to be taken seriously. Why might this be?
Because, at 33 years old and counting, it's obviously very 1960s and
very dated, even though it tried hard to be futuristic at the time.
Because it was made in the Stone Age of special visual effects on a
shoestring budget. Because many of the current fans weren't even born
when the original series aired, and therefore can't get past the
dated look and primitive FX.
Also, I feel Paramount is failing to promote
the classic Star Trek series as avidly
as it used to. If you watched the media, Star Trek's
30th Anniversary seemed to be more about
Deep Space 9 and
Voyager than the original
Star Trek, especially the way Paramount
publicity was handling it. As a first-generation Trek
fan who grew up with the old series, this approach by Paramount just
plain felt wrong to me. It was classic Trek's
30th Anniversary, dammit, and DS9
and Voyager, still in their comparative
infancy, had nothing to do with it!
I'm not sure what, but I think something funky
happened with Star Trek's proprietary
rights when it transferred in the late 1960s from Desilu to Paramount.
Gene Roddenberry seems to have lost his proprietary rights (and rights
to residuals), but Paramount didn't seem to have full control, either.
Sometimes I wonder if that is why Paramount has always done more to
publicize the Star Trek properties
created since 1975 that it positively owns 100%.
Interview copyright 1999 by Greg Tyler and Franz Joseph Designs.
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