Star Trek filmmaker on UI: ‘This is the place that shaped me’

Writer, director, and producer Nicholas Meyer, 68BA, is pictured at the University of Iowa Main Library’s current exhibit, “50 Years of Star Trek.”

Before it was the director’s chair in Hollywood, it was the seats of Iowa City’s movie theaters.

As a University of Iowa student, Nicholas Meyer wrote film reviews for the Daily Iowan, publishing some 400 columns before he graduated in 1968. He was a regular at the Varsity and Englert theaters, and he lived above the old Iowa Theatre downtown, where movie scores seeped into his apartment late at night.

“Literally, the loud parts of the movie, I’d hear them again and again and again,” Meyer said.

Meyer, an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, director, and producer, was back in Iowa City for a talk May 20 at Shambaugh Auditorium. Meyer’s lecture was held in conjunction with the UI Main Library’s new exhibition, “50 Years of Star Trek,” which includes scripts, production memos, and photos from Meyer’s work on the Star Trek films.

Nicholas Meyer on set with Leonard Nimoy during the shooting of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The photo is archived in the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections as part of a collection donated by Nicholas Meyer.

Meyer, 71, directed and co-wrote what many consider to be the best film of the series, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He also co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He recently rejoined the Star Trek universe, currently serving as a consulting producer and writer on a new CBS series that’s in the works and scheduled to launch in 2017.

Ahead of his UI lecture, Meyer—who received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1976—sat down with Iowa Alumni Magazine to chat about his days on campus and his recent work.

Before arriving at the UI, Meyer said he wasn’t a happy teenager growing up in New York. His mother was fighting cancer, his grades were subpar, and he didn’t have many friends. A college counselor recommended Iowa, one of the few places where he could pursue all three of his passions: film, theater, and writing. His father protested, saying the Midwest was filled with corn, not culture, but Meyer discovered otherwise.

“It’s the first place in my life where I was happy. I arrived here and people didn’t know what a screw-up I was,” Meyer laughed.

It was in Iowa City’s movie theaters and the pages of the Daily Iowan that Meyer honed his film and writing sensibilities.

“I don’t know if it was good for anybody who read the DI, but what was good about it from my point of view is I got to learn about myself and film and what I thought,” Meyer said. “I had this sort of bully pulpit from which I could experiment and argue and form opinions.

“This is the place that shaped me; I’m a creature of this place. … For better or worse, I was invented here.”

Meyer would go on to write the The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a Sherlock Holmes tale that was a New York Times bestseller for 40 weeks in 1974-75 and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.

While he’s best known for his work in the Star Trek series, Meyer said as a kid he was more interested in the symphony than science fiction. Sure he read Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but his love of a good story spanned all genres.

Today, 25 years after he directed the series’ sixth film, he’s back in the writers’ room for Star Trek. While fan expectations weren’t on his radar when making the original films, he said they’re palpable now.

“(The show’s creators) are much more aware of the fan base now because of the Internet and the way people watch TV now—they tweet or blog or do things while they’re watching,” Meyer said.

One of Meyer’s passion projects in recent years was the digital restoration of The African Queen, the 1951 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, for DVD and Blu-Ray. All told, Meyer said it was a six-year project, including the arduous task of restoring the Technicolor footage. Meyer also co-directed a documentary on the classic movie, which was packaged with the re-release.

More recently, he’s been immersed in a television project called Medici: The Masters of Florence, which is currently shooting in Italy and stars Dustin Hoffman. He’s also written for a TV series called Crossing Lines, the mini-series Houdini, and is working on a new TV series titled Freud: The Secret Casebook, which imagines Sigmund Freud as a criminal profiler.

All these years after leaving Iowa City, Meyer is still most at home in a theater. He recently attended a screening of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution in Los Angeles, where he spoke afterward to the theater crowd. He hadn’t seen the movie in years, and was glad to get a chance to see it once again on the big screen.

“It was just so amazing to see the nuances in performance and set design and photography that are lost if you try to watch it on your smartphone or computer,” he said. “It’s just not the same.

“It’s a group experience. Your individual identity is subsumed by a bunch of strangers, though you’re not strangers for the duration of whatever it is—a movie, an opera, a ballet. You’re simultaneously having a collective and intensely individual experience.”

—Josh O’Leary, Iowa Alumni Magazine


Watch the video from Meyer’s talk at the University of Iowa here:

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  1. Barry Kemp
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Great to see and hear Nick still so active! Inspiring.

  2. Cathie Chandler Fane
    Posted June 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear Nicholas, I am a ghost from the past. I have often wanted to get in touch with you but never knew how.
    I’m always telling people how I knew you and your many accolades.
    For the main part of my life I have been a housewife which left me plenty of time to do theater. I’ve directed but acted as Bea in View from the bridge, directed Death Trap, two of the high points.
    I also started a Children’s Theater. The area was so provincial, on opening night I had to drag one of the kids away from his gaming at Walmart and another from his job at Cluck in a duck.
    Larry and I are members of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. ‘
    We were pleased to learn we were Patriots recently after 25 years in the association.
    We were as always proud of our association.
    And that is it in a nutshell.
    We enjoyed your interview on nuclear winter,
    We also saw the production. Excellent. Almost every month I think of that and that I knew you.
    May the Good Lord bless and keep you ’til whenever we meet again.
    Cathie Fane

  3. Mary Louise Smith
    Posted June 27, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting — excellent presentation! Always good to hear the wit and wisdom of Nick Meyer. I graduated in theater 1969 & was there to read those film reviews.

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