Interview Date: 09/23/2011
Run Date: 10/17/2011
William Shatner may have turned 80 earlier this year, but he’s not going to let a little thing like getting older stop him from continuing to work… or to subsequently promote that work, for that matter. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to get on the phone with the Shatman in conjunction with the DVD release of his documentary “The Captains,” which hits shelves on Oct. 18, but our conversation also gave him the opportunity to mention both his new book (Shatner Rules) and his new CD (Seeking Major Tom), both of which emerged earlier in the month. Eschewing the well-trod “Trek” questions, we instead focused on some of his more obscure works that have hit DVD in recent months, getting mixed results. But, hey, we still talked to Captain Kirk, so it’s all good.
William Shatner: Will!
WS: Very good. How are you?
BE: I am well. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
WS: It’s mine. (A momentary pause) So. “The Captains.” The DVD. It’s exciting for us.
BE: I should think. Now, “The Captains” is not your first documentary, correct?
WS: No, I directed another documentary right before that, one called “Gonzo Ballet.”
BE: So what inspired you to take this route toward documentary filmmaking? Had you been a fan of the genre?
"(‘The Captains’) was premiered both at Comic-Con and in New York, and I watched a thousand people react to that film on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. With the setting sun in the west and the skyline of New York in the east, it was a dramatic premiere which everyone seemed to enjoy."WS: Yeah. I’ve loved documentaries ever since I was able to look at film. It’s an exciting area to work in, and I hadn’t realized…in “Gonzo Ballet,” which was my first documentary, I just put several cameras on the making of a ballet that was choreographed to songs that I had written, and then I made some philosophical points in narration, and that comprised an hour of the making of a ballet. And it was very successful. It won awards in documentary film festivals, and it was fun to do. Then I had this idea, which I was able to sell, of going to all these captains, but I needed…it was a lot of transportation involved, and the transportation bill would’ve cost more than the money we had to make the documentary. So we enlisted a Canadian airplane manufacturer, Bombardier, and they helped us, so we were off and running. And the stuff I got and discovered proved to be extremely intriguing, because it turns out I discovered it about myself as well, and it became the arc by which the documentary works.
BE: Yeah, it’s funny: a lot of the reviews were somewhat dismissive, saying that the documentary was more about you than the other captains, but…that stands to reason. After all, you’re the one who’s actually taking the journey.
WS: Right. I…don’t know why they would be dismissive when that was the whole idea. (Hesitates) I’m sorry they were dismissive. I think the film’s really very good. And very entertaining.
BE: As do I, although I admit that, as a “Star Trek” fan, it’s sometimes hard for me to step outside and be a critic about something like “The Captains,” since I’m kind of getting out while I’m watching it.
WS: Well, I hope you enjoyed it.
BE: I certainly did.
WS: You know, it was premiered both at Comic-Con and in New York, and I watched a thousand people react to that film on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. With the setting sun in the west and the skyline of New York in the east, it was a dramatic premiere which everyone seemed to enjoy.
BE: Do you have a favorite moment amongst your fellow captains that we may not have caught? A small moment, perhaps?
WS: Well, the moments that are meaningful are mostly up on the screen. I thought the stuff with Avery Brooks was great fun. Being able to reach somebody through music was unusual.
BE: Did you feel like you finally got a chance to see the world through Chris Pine’s eyes as the new Kirk?
WS: (Laughs) You know, it’s funny. I thought it would be great fun to put a table and chairs on Melrose Avenue and arm-wrestle him, and it seemed to break the ice, with him really being a good interview.
BE: You clearly enjoyed your time in the director’s chair, as I understand you’ve moved on to another documentary…or by this point, perhaps you’ve already finished it.
WS: I’m done now, and it’s called “Fan Addicts.” It’s all about why fans go to conventions.
BE: Watching your interactions with fans in “The Captains,” particularly when one of them excitedly said, “Oh, my God, I was this close,” actually reminded me of myself when I met you at the TCA tour last year.
WS: Oh, yeah?
BE: Yeah, I’d only had the chance to ask you a few questions before you clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for your time,” but what I took from the experience was not, “Oh, man, I had more questions to ask,” but, rather, “Holy crap, Captain Kirk just touched me!”
WS: Really? Well, that just earned you another clap on the shoulder. (Laughs) In fact, a pat on the back might even be in order!
WS: By the way, “The Captains” is available at Best Buy and on Amazon.com, which is really quite a coup. To be in Best Buy. And we’re happy with that. And it’ll be distributed worldwide as the year goes on. So it has a life. (Laughs)
BE: Since “Shit My Dad Says” was cancelled, you don’t appear to have slowed down for a second, but do you still have regrets that you didn’t have a chance at a Season 2?
WS: I would like to have tried to make it a hit, yeah. It’s unfortunate. It was in the top 20 many times, and I think it was in the top 25 all the time. But that’s water under the bridge. I’ll tell you what’s happening, though. In addition to the DVD coming out on the 18th, on the 4th of October there’s a book called Shatner Rules that’s debuting. And on October 11th, a week later, my record Seeking Major Tom comes out.
BE: I’ve heard the cover of “Iron Man.”
WS: Oh, have you? Well, I hope you take the opportunity to hear it all. It’s monumental. Some of the greatest musicians alive today are on it. Twenty-some musicians. There’s never been a conglomeration of musicians like this that I know of.
BE: I was wondering about that, as far as how the musicians were selected. Are you deep into music to the point where you knew all these artists, or did people bring them to you.
WS: No, I got a lot of help. (Laughs) I got a lot of help from Cleopatra Records, which turns out to be a wonderful record label. They’re terrific, and they have all sorts of entertaining promotional ideas. So there’s this book and this record, and then I’m going to tour Canada. Six cities in Canada with a one-man show, starting in Vancouver on October 19th and ending up in Montreal on November 5th, I believe.
BE: So you’re literally not letting the grass grow under your feet.
WS: No. There’s some green stuff, but I’m not sure it’s grass. (Laughs)
BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of things you’ve done over the years that have been released on DVD relatively recently. For instance, “The Explosive Generation” is now available.
BE: Yep. I was wondering if you had any particular recollections from doing that film.
WS: Nah. I don’t. Not really, anyway. There were some young actors there who became popular, I remember that. If I had the information in front of me, I’d be able to tell you. Can you tell me who the actors were?
"I was asked to make sure that I included myself when I sold (‘The Captains’), and I thought, ‘Well, in the act of interviewing these people, I’ll contribute some stories, and in effect I’ll be interviewing myself.’ So that was agreed upon. So I fulfilled that, in addition to having a brainstorm about my attitude and how it had changed over the years. I thought that was really interesting."BE: Sure. You had Billy Gray, Patty McCormack…
WS: Right. She was “The Bad Seed,” wasn’t she?
BE: She was.
WS: There were several who were popular at one time. I don’t know what they’re doing now, though. It was the first of the teenage movie films that used the school as a backdrop, and it was…a picture of its time. It reflected the culture of the time.
BE: And gave the world Beau Bridges.
WS: There you go. (Laughs)
BE: They also released “Visiting Hours” on DVD as well.
WS: Which one was “Visiting Hours”?
BE: It was set in a hospital where a bunch of murders were taking place. I think you did it circa the same time as “T.J. Hooker.”
WS: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. A fun movie. I enjoyed doing it.
BE: I’d guess you just enjoyed the opportunity to be doing something outside of science fiction.
WS: Right. Well, you know, I actually was out of science fiction at that time.
BE: Well, true. But it was between “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Wrath of Khan.” Oh, by the way, Shout Factory – the company that reissued “Visiting Hours” – has also put out “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Big Bad Mama.”
WS: No kidding. Well, “Kingdom of the Spiders” became a cult favorite. And “Big Bad Mama” was up there, too, come to think of it, because of Roger Corman.
BE: There’s also a DVD called “Trek Stars Go West” that featured you in an episode of a series called “Outlaw.”
WS: My goodness…
BE: It stars you and Cloris Leachman.
WS: Oh, my God. (Pauses) I have no recollection of that whatsoever. (Laughs)
BE: The DVD also features your film “White Comanche.”
WS: Oh, well, that was fun to make. It was in Spain that we did that. I rode a lot of horses.
BE: And played two characters.
WS: Yeah! But the horses were great fun. What I remember about that one was that…it was twins, so they needed two horses that looked alike for close-ups and two that looked alike for long distances. And they called the horse they were using for close-ups El Tranquilo, “The Tranquil One.” He was very nice, he minded, he never got upset with the clapboards or the cameras or the lights. And the one they used in long distances was called El Nervioso, “The Nervous One,” because he was all uppity and anxious. And…I think it was a six-week shooting schedule, but at the end of the six weeks, El Tranquilo had transmuted into El Nervioso. (Laughs) By that time, he’d gotten real nervous about everybody and all the sounds of the clapboard and everything. And El Nervioso, I’d worked on him so that he became El Tranquilo. So they switched places during the course of filming! (Laughs)
BE: Is there any project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
WS: (Pauses) Oh, I don’t know. Y’know, it disturbs me, for example, that you read reviews…I don’t read reviews, but you read reviews of “The Captains” that were dismissive. I thought “The Captains” was a real insightful film that looks into actors’ lives and what they give up for it, and that I as part of the group of actors…I was asked to make sure that I included myself when I sold it, and I thought, “Well, in the act of interviewing these people, I’ll contribute some stories, and in effect I’ll be interviewing myself.” So that was agreed upon. So I fulfilled that, in addition to having a brainstorm about my attitude and how it had changed over the years. I thought that was really interesting. And to hear that someone was dismissive of it leads me into your question. If they were dismissive of “The Captains,” that makes me think that it’s not getting enough love.
BE: To close, I know that you indicated that the experience of doing the film kind of brought you full circle to appreciate the importance of “Star Trek” in your life and career. Does it surprise you that it took you this long to come to those terms?
WS: No, I knew from the very beginning – or at least when it made me popular – what a profound effect it had, but to bring yourself to understand it again, to have another insight, is helpful about everything, whether it’s the love you have for the people around you or your work or…eating an apple. (Laughs) As long as you live in the moment and appreciate it, that’s really what makes you happy.
BE: So there was never a moment when you found yourself of a mind to write a book called I Am Not Kirk, a la your co-star (Leonard Nimoy, whose first autobiography was entitled I Am Not Spock)?
WS: Nope. Never had that. (Laughs) Well, it was good to talk to you. You take care.