I’ve been friends with Ben Everhart for over a decade, when we were both part of a small online screenwriting group. Back in September 2018, he sent me a copy of his script for The Creator, which I thought was fantastic.
The screenplay focuses on the story about how the unlikely collaboration between Gene Roddenberry and Lucille Ball produced the multi-billion-dollar Star Trek franchise.
Recently, The Creator was recognized as the Grand Prize Winner Of 2020 DTLA Film Festival’s Screenplay Contest and this week, will be produced as a taped-to-live table read, debuting on Wednesday, Oct. 21st, 7:00 pm PST on the Festival’s Facebook Page.
Ben took some time to talk about the script, it’s origins, and the live event.
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FOG!: Ben, we’ve been friends for several years and I was fortunate to read this over two years ago. What was the genesis of the screenplay The Creator?
Ben Everhart: Way back in 2014, I went to SDCC and attended a Star Trek panel. I think it was called 50 Years of Trek or something. Vic Mignogna from Star Trek: Continues was there and a few others I can’t recall.
One of the panelists mentioned that Lucille Ball was the financier of the original show. I recall him saying “Star Trek wouldn’t exist without her.” I knew Desilu produced the show — but didn’t realize Lucy’s involvement was that significant. At the time I thought, ‘huh, I wonder if there’s a movie in that?’ But didn’t do much with it beyond a quick Wikipedia scan.
Fast-forward a couple of years and Liz Hannah’s incredible script for The Post was on The Black List. I started to wonder if it was possible to do a movie like The Post but about Star Trek, which sounded like the perfect movie to me. That’s when I started research and outlining — a very lengthy process. I started drafting the script in 2017 but it’s gone through many iterations since, even up to recent days. I even did a small pass on it two weeks ago to punch some things up for the table read. And I can guarantee I’ll be doing another pass in another two weeks, depending on audience reactions.
What kind of research did you do? Did you conduct any interviews? Has anyone connected to Roddenberry read the screenplay yet?
I did a ton of reading, watched as many documentaries as I could find, and watched interviews on YouTube. Star Trek is fifty years old but it’s still a living, breathing thing for a lot of people — and I include myself in that. When I started this, I knew I had a responsibility to get it right. Even when things had to be dramatized, it was important to respect the spirit of the truth because without that, it wasn’t worth doing.
There are some movies in the historical/biopic genre that can play fast and loose with the truth because historians are the only ones around to call them on it. But there are millions of Star Trek fans and they’ll know. I couldn’t cheat to make the story cleaner. Early on, I decided to embrace that complexity and let it be messy truth because that is exactly what Gene Roddenberry would’ve done.
As far as the Roddenberry estate and the folks at Roddenberry Entertainment, no they haven’t read it yet, at least as far as I know. (I do know earlier drafts got passed around town but I don’t know who has read it.) At some point, I’m hopeful that I’ll at least be able to meet with them. But right now I’m focused on making sure the table read is as great as it can be and then absorbing the audience feedback before proceeding.
Not a lot of people realize that Lucille Ball through Desilu produced the series. How instrumental was Ball in Star Trek‘s success?
When Lucille Ball assumed sole ownership of Desilu after divorcing Desi Arnaz, she became the first female head of a major Hollywood production company. She needed to produce new shows to keep the business afloat except it was the mid-1960s and most of the major showrunners were reluctant to work for a woman.
That’s when Gene Roddenberry started pitching his crazy idea for a complicated sci-fi show geared to adults. Remember, this is an era when most TV was Lassie and Leave it to Beaver. It was a big, crazy risk to gamble on a show like Star Trek. Lucy wasn’t a fan of science-fiction but she did give the greenlight on Roddenberry’s idea, largely I believe because no one else would. For me, that was the lynchpin that binds these two characters together: they were both at a point in their lives where they were equally desperate. That bound them together, their fates became entwined, which is always a fascinating thing to explore dramatically.
This is all a way of saying that what that SDCC panelist said back in 2014 is true: Star Trek wouldn’t exist without Lucy.
Your screenplay won the grand prize at the DTLA Film Festival, which showcases independent film in Los Angeles, and this Wednesday, Oct. 21st, 7:00 pm PST on the DTLA Film Festival Facebook page there will be a Table Read directed by Colleen Davie Janes and features over thirty cast members. Have you observed any rehearsals? What has the experience been like hearing your screenplay come to life?
I haven’t been part of the rehearsal process but I have a great deal of faith and respect for Colleen. She’s passionate about the project and dedicated to getting it right. She’s been working on this non-stop since I first met her and the rest of the team at the DTLAFF. Everyone involved has been extremely supportive and encouraging throughout the process. I know my script is in great hands but I’ll actually be watching for the first time along with everyone else.
Since winning the grand prize, have you had any interest from anyone to purchase the script?
Nothing that I can share right now but I am entirely focused on the table read and doing whatever I can to make sure it’s a success. It will be interesting to see what the reactions are once it’s out there.
Are there any particular screenwriters, films or filmmakers that have been a personal inspiration for you?
. I love movies, all kinds of movies, and there are a ton of writers and filmmakers across genres who inspire me. But when it comes to “The Creator,” I had a specific set of scripts that I returned to over and over. In addition to The Post, I looked at The Social Network, the Mad Men pilot, The Founder, Saving Mr. Banks, and Hail, Caesar. Moneyball was also a big inspiration because it’s a movie people love even if they don’t like baseball.
When I started writing, I said to myself that this should be a Star Trek movie you can take your mom to. I’m a huge Star Trek fan but there are people out there who don’t get it. I wrote the script as an answer to people who ask, “Why do you like this show so much?”
I love this show because it’s great — but it’s also important. Hopefully, The Creator helps remind people why.
Obviously this is a labor of love. What initiated your interest in Star Trek?
I used to watch the show with my Dad when I was a kid, even when I was very little. I vividly remember being in nursery school having a book from the animated series that had a 7-inch record inside it, a radio play of the story. There was an away team to a dinosaur planet. I wore that record out. By the time I was 9 or 10, I was such a big fan that my Mom took me to my first ‘Star Trek’ convention, which was in New York City, I think. Nichelle Nichols was there. I went to a dozen or so more as I grew up, as Next Gen started airing. I’ve seen every member of the original crew speak except for James Doohan and many members of the Next Gen cast.
When it comes to TOS, my all-time favorite episode is “Arena.”
I know, I know. People make fun of the Kirk/Gorn fight. But as a kid, I was really blown away when Kirk refuses to take the kill shot, even after figuring out how to make his own gun. I also really love “Amok Time,” of course. “The Menagerie” two-parter is still gripping TV. And I love “City on the Edge of Forever” because of the emotional resonance the great Harlan Ellison brought to the show. I also love some of the random ones. Hearing Tarantino wanted to make his Star Trek movie a riff on “A Piece of the Action” makes me giddy because that’s one of the greatest ideas of all time. I also have a soft spot for “Day of the Dove” because it culminates in a fight with the Klingons on the Enterprise itself.
As far as the movies go, Wrath of Khan is a film I consider among the greatest of all time. Not just of science fiction. Of all cinema. It’s truly a masterpiece.
With the country still dealing with COVID, how have you spent your quarantine?
My wife and I have a 15-month old baby so the Covid quarantine has been especially intense for us.
But he’s such a great kid and makes us laugh everyday. That helps us keep the craziness of the outside world at bay. I don’t get to read and watch as many movies and TV shows as I used to. But we’re still doing pretty well, cutting into our sleep time. We just binged Cobra Kai, which we absolutely love. We’ve also been watching every single MCU movie and TV show in universe chronology, which has been a HUGE project. It was my wife’s idea. We started back in March, in the second week of quarantine and we’re still going. (I read somewhere that the Netflix MCU shows alone are 161 hours of TV or something like that.) Right now, we’re in Luke Cage Season 2 and I think after that we go to Ant-Man and Wasp. It’s really wild to experience the Marvel Universe this way.
I’ve also been watching a ton of horror movies — and I still watch episodes of Star Trek. (Watched “Conscience of the King” the other night.)
Tickets for the virtual table read for The Creator, which takes place
this Wednesday, October 21 at 10:00 PM EDT can be purchased HERE.