Q&A: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

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It's right there in the company name: K/O. As in knockout boxoffice. The screenwriter-producer team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci got its start in the television world of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Alias" before typing out $1.4 billion in worldwide revenue with a quartet of feature scripts that included "Mission: Impossible III" and "Transformers."

With its new TV series "Fringe" running on Fox, K/O will follow with its first feature as producer, "Eagle Eye," opening Friday. The pair's next scripts are two of summer 2009's biggest spectacles, the "Transformers" sequel and a little film called "Star Trek." Oh, and they're each 35 years old. Live long and prosper, indeed.

Hollywood Reporter: Has your trajectory as writers and producers followed any kind of plan?

Roberto Orci: At the very least, it was always our intention of breaking into movies by first going through television, so that worked out.

Alex Kurtzman: Television taught us to look at the big picture because when you're working on television you're writing and having to consider production at the same time. That really impacted the way we approached producing "Eagle Eye," and I think that the studio found it refreshing to be able to communicate with writers as producers as well.

THR: What's most appealing about working on huge-budget, special effects-driven adventures?

Orci: Well, to use a surfer analogy, it's just the biggest wave you can find. It literally requires all your muscles, and it's a certain kind of sport.

Kurtzman: In a lot of ways, it lets you be a 12-year-old kid again and love the experience of sitting in the theater in the summer seeing big movies happen in front of you, but it's the added bonus of also being a grown-up who's partially responsible for it. That balance is exhilarating.

THR: On such properties as "Star Trek" and "Transformers," you have a lot of masters to please -- toy companies, marketing, the studio, rabid fans. What's the key to navigating those waters?

Kurtzman: Our writer hat taught us something early on, which is that there's never one version of a scene. Once you accept that and you commit to the idea of rewriting it, hearing other people's points of view isn't scary because trying it different ways can be exciting and it can reveal things to you that you wouldn't have necessarily thought of yourself.

Orci: The flip side is knowing what the soul of the project is for you and being disciplined about it. If you go off of that, then you're not leading the creative charge anymore. The more secure you are in what your central theory of the movie is, the more open you are to hearing everyone else's ideas and seeing how they fit into it.

Kurtzman: And weirdly, it makes them trust you more as writers if you allow the discussions to happen.

THR: You've worked with several powerful director-producers: Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams. What's the key to making those creative relationships work?

Orci: Number one, you can't B.S. your way through it. You gotta come in with a strong point of view and know your stuff. And act like a normal human being.

Kurtzman: It's tough, but the common denominator that all those people share is that at the end of the day they all got into this business because they love making movies, period. The key is to try and forget who you're talking to sometimes and just do the work.

Orci: The first time we met J.J., when we were meeting for "Alias," he said something that stuck with us and became kind of our motto, which is, "The show is always the boss."

THR: If you had to describe your role in each of those relationships in just a word or two, how would you describe it?

Orci: With Spielberg, I would say we're the sorcerer's apprentice.

Kurtzman: And with J.J., it's like the younger brothers: They're proud of him and love their relationship but are also very happy to try and steal the ball and make the shot.

Orci: Bay's a weird one -- like he's our teenager that we have to raise (laughs).

THR: The original idea for "Eagle Eye" came from Spielberg. Is there any extra pressure that comes with him saying, "Here's one of my little babies, will you take it and make a good movie?"

Kurtzman: No, no, no, none at all! When Steven Spielberg says, "I've had this idea for 10 years and I haven't quite figured out how to do it," you just think, "Oh, yeah, that'll be easy." It was horrifying!

Orci: Yeah, the only thing scarier for us than not having Spielberg ever call us again is having him calling every other day to find out how "Eagle Eye" is going.

Kurtzman: But he's just the greatest partner you could ever have when you're in the trenches because he loves to show up and do the work, he loves to be a part of every decision that's made, he sat with us in editing, he was on set a lot, he was hands-on every draft of the script and would call us randomly with ideas -- what else could you possibly ask for? It's the weirdest thing. He'll be directing movies and he'll be like, "I just had to call you to tell you I had this thought. ..." You're like, "But you're directing 'Munich'!"

THR: Where have you been finding the ideas you're working into "Fringe"?

Orci: The latest thing being published about physics, the latest stuff that the Defense Department is doing, the latest things that are being discovered by corporations that have more money to invest in certain things than governments -- that's what we're reading. Some of it trickles down through alternative media. Some of it's right on the front page of regular stuff. "Pentagon creates invisibility cloak" was reported by every major news provider a few weeks ago. That's the beauty of "Fringe." It's happening now, and it's right in front of your face. You just have to choose to see it.

Kurtzman: Absolutely anything seems possible these days. So many things that were dismissible as outlandish or over-the-top even five years ago are now headlines, so why can't we take the spirit of that and put it in a television show?

THR: Can you tell me anything about the scope and/or story line of the "Transformers" sequel?

Kurtzman: Not really. What we can tell you is that the first "Transformers" kind of scratched the surface in terms of mythology. And this one's opening up new doors.

We really resisted doing the sequel until we felt that we had an idea for it that was as significant as the first one and, in a way, reflected the sequels that we loved so much as kids, like "Superman 2" or "Aliens" or "Empire Strikes Back."

Orci: From the first, it has to be its own movie. It can't just be dining out on the success of the first one. The scale is certainly ... crazier.

THR: With "Transformers," your emotional through-line was "a boy and his car," and with "M:I-3" it was "Marriage: Impossible." What was your mantra for "Trek"?

Orci: For "Trek," it's how a family comes together. And then more specifically, the story of two brothers, Kirk and Spock. It's the first time Alex and I got to really write about our friendship, in a way. So that was a big inspiration for us -- the coming together of opposites in a partnership that takes you to places you can't even believe. I mean, that's us.

THR: Have you had any funky interactions with Trekkies since you got this job?

Orci: Only online. And not funky. You know: passionate, informed (laughs), emotional. Nothing that's made us uncomfortable. But someone on one of the chat boards mentioned that it looks like I was gaining a little weight and I should stay off the doughnuts. So that's the only thing that I've had to contend with. But you know, that's the price. ∂
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