Richard Arnold: The Interview, part 1 of 5

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Timothy W. Lynch

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Sep 9, 1991, 9:15:17 PM9/9/91
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This is part 1 of the interview with Richard Arnold, dealing with mostly
general questions and topics; who he is, what he does, etc. Those not caring
should skip this article now.

Tim Lynch

TL: Well, first, I guess, some general stuff...how'd you end up here? How did
you get this job?

RA: [laughs] Read the Official Fan Club Magazine, issue #79. Basically, it
began in the mid-70s, when I got to know Susan Sackett. I'd already met Gene
at several conventions, but I was just another fan to Gene at that time. She
started to rely on both my knowledge of Star Trek and my constant
availability, or at least...I _made_ myself available. This was about the
time that Paramount was trying to figure out what to do with Star Trek;
whether to do a feature, to do a new series, which was Barry Diller's dream--

TL: Definitely mid-70s, then.

RA: Yeah. He wanted to become the fourth network, and that didn't happen
here, so he went to 20th [Century Fox] and it did. And at that time, they
needed photographic material, they needed somebody who could remember
information that wasn't in what at that time was really the _only_ one source
of information apart from _The Making of Star Trek_, which didn't have a
lexicon of any kind, and that was the Concordance--which, about that time,
also came out in hardback. So, I had it all sort of in the top of my head.
It started out as just phone calls--and because I was becoming friends with
him, I was coming by the studio a lot--I was living _literally_ across the
street on Plymouth, so I was two minutes away after a phone call. And that
came in handy when they started writing scripts for this new series, which is
eventually where it went, and _that_ took a year or two...

TL: Right.

RA: Because there were a lot of false starts and stops, which must have been
incredibly frustrating for everybody. But, when it got around to finally
pitching projects, that was when I became more needed, for--again, for
photographic slides, for my knowledge of elements, dialogue, etcetera. And
then, again, things kinda shelved for a while after they decided they weren't
going to make the series, and they had the sets built and they had fifteen
scripts...I mean it was _literally_ ready to go, and they pulled the plug.
And then, thank God, "Star Wars" came out, and Paramount, then--

TL: Took a second look.

RA: I mean, Charles Bludorn [sp?, then head of P'mount] said, "That could've
been US! Where were all of you?", right? So, they then turned the series,
which was already basically stopped, into the motion picture. They took the
best of the scripts, redressed the sets--unfortunately; you should have seen
it before they did, it looked much more like the original series--and then
brought everybody, including Leonard, back in, because Leonard--

TL: He originally wasn't going to...

RA: Yeah. And Walter Koenig, you know, the Great "It's not gonna happen,
it's not gonna happen"--he's the Star Trek Worrier, he's the one who's always
the doubting Thomas in the group--he, right up to the point of going to
Washington, DC, December 6th of 1979, thought that it was all going to get
stopped. He just didn't believe it was really gonna happen until they
actually sat down in the theater and watched it. I mean, by then, of course,
he really knew, but...he was the one who kept saying "they're gonna drop this
halfway through, they're not gonna finish it"...because the money was just
going out the window. It was $25 million, roughly, to make the film, plus
they had to write off the $17 million in development up to that point,
including $5 million to Robert [garble] and associates...I mean, all these
problems that they had...writing off the attempted 9 million dollar feature,
writing off the attempted series, and the specials, and the _miniseries_...and
all these things, all that development money, all those people who got paid
off, all the scripts that got bought...everything got written off, and I'm
sure a heck of a lot other against that budget, so it ended up being terribly
inflated. And, because they spent so much, the studio was pretty determined
that that was the _last_ film. And I thought that that would be the end of my
involvement; and when I got to be an extra in the rec deck, which was a
thank-you from Gene for all my involvement up to that point...I thought that
was an incredibly generous thing to do...'cause I hadn't been paid, I was just
volunteering...and, that was to me the icing on the cake. I didn't see how it
could get any better than that. I thought that was it.

TL: Well, yeah, I can see that...

RA: And then...nothing happened for a while. The film made $176 million
domestic, which even IV didn't touch--that was only 109. And then, they
started talking about other films. Gene was brought back onto the lot in
early '81--he'd had offices over on La Cienega--and it started up,
false-started, stopped, and then they brought in Harve Bennett. Because Gene,
after all the difficulties with the first movie--they took away creative
control and gave it to Robert Wise, which hurt Gene a lot, but he never got
public about it...they were going to do the same thing again, he could see it
coming...and he decided that he would rather be a consultant than produce
another one, because it had been a strain on him the first time around...all
of that frustration, if you can imagine--several years to get a film out, and
then have it really not be _his_ vision, but somebody else's--Robert Wise's
Andromeda Strain-sterility-in-space meets Star Trek, basically, is what it
was. The costumes were changed, the sets were changed--again, as I said, if
you could've seen the sets before they were redressed, it was not all pastel
grays and light blues and so on, with a lot of aluminum and metal--it wasn't
so _clunky_, it had the kind of homey atmosphere that the original series
had--which, as you can see, Gene definitely got back into that with the new
series, when control came back to him--right back to those pajama-type
universe, and the _comfortable_ feel of the ship. Robert Wise, you have to
give him credit, made a beautiful film, but he did not...er...he did not give
us a family in space, so much as just sort of a mission--and we watched them
watch the viewscreen for too much of it. However, Gene got his chance to kind
of recut it a little bit more to his image, and that was the Special Edition,
that, I think, has been decided is a _little_ better, because there's more
people in it.

TL: Fewer cloud scenes.

RA: Anyway, I started becoming involved, again as a volunteer, during Star
Trek II, *very* little, because as Executive Consultant, he basically was
concerned about the script--but when questions did come up and were being
deferred to him about the color of this, the title of that, you know, how can
we locate such-and-such, or do you know how we can reach So-and-so, that
started to come to me a little, again not much...as it had in the first film,
certainly. More with the third. More with the fourth, definitely--even
though Harve and I, at times, did not get along terribly well...and again,
that's because, in this industry, you look at somebody like me and say "he's an
outsider, he's a _fan_, he's a _consumer_," right, and there's a lot of
distrust and a lot of "you shouldn't be here". Harve once described me to my
face as being "a kid who accidentally got into the candy store," so, I know
that certainly he was never comfortable, really--although, at times, he was
almost fatherly. At times, he was very generous, very _grateful_, very "I
really really appreciate all the help that you're giving us." But at other
times, I was interfering, I was _invading_, I was on the sets and I had
absolutely no business being there, and at other times, you know, "can you go
over to the set and...", whatever, so it was a weird situation there.
That--it got both better and worse, as time went on, so that by Star Trek V, I
was having to be _very_ cautious, but by _then_, I was already employed by the
studio. Because through all these years of volunteer work, more and more
people on the lot were finding out that "oh, there's somebody over in Gene's
office that can probably answer those questions." Because there was really
nobody here to do it. Keith Sharee, I will give him credit--now he wrote
_Gulliver's Fugitives_, right--Keith Sharee, I will give credit for really
getting me involved in Merchandising and Licensing, because up 'til then, they
had thirty images to represent Star Trek, and that's it. Black-and-white and
color, and that's all they had, was thirty--and you saw those over and over
and over in the merchandise...backwards most of the time...upside down
occasionally. In TV syndication, it was Michael Novall [sp?] who got me very
involved over there--this was in the early '80s, mid '80s. With home video,
it was Tim Clott and Sandra Hornay [sp?] who got me very involved in that end
of it, and the more that I was working in those other areas, the more that I
seemed to have to be here, until it got to be almost forty hours a week--and I
_had_ a real job, I was working forty hours a week already. And it became a
strain on the job that was paying the bills--and my boss at work told me,
"You're going to have to make a decision." And I talked to Gene about it, and
he talked to the studio about it--each of the four divisions said--

[interruption]

Anyway, the studio executives all agreed that absolutely I was needed here,
and none of them wanted to pay me. And, I went over to one of our legal
people, here, his name...[laughs]...his _real_ name is Teddy Zee, z-e-e.
That's really his name! Elizabeth Zee is his wife, she's our project
attorney. And he said, "You know, I don't mean to say this in a, you know,
hurtful way, but you've given away the milk for so long that nobody wants to
buy the cow." And that was absolutely true, so I didn't know what to do. I
was getting consulting fees, I was getting royalties from the calendars I was
designing, Pocket Books, but I didn't have a steady income. And that's
when...I was getting enough of an income that I knew I could live on it as a
_consultant_, which up until then I hadn't been, I'd just been a sort of
"friend of the office," if you will, so that I had a long talk with my boss at
work, and I said "look, I'm going to give you a 30-day notice, and I'll be
more than happy to train whoever you need to replace me, but it's becoming
more important to me to be working on this than it is here, and I'm starting
to make enough there as a consultant that I'll be able to live on it." Which
ended up being a mistake, because for the next ten months, even though I had
money coming in, it took six months to get anything from Pocket Books, which
meant every six months...you know, I was _dying_ towards the end of it, and
then the next check would come in, and of course it's never what you expect.
You know, your agent takes out so much...the usual. And, it finally got down
to "I've got to start working full time again, Gene, or...you know, this job's
gonna cost me a fortune!" And I was very much in debt at that point, and Gene
_did not_ want me to leave. And he went to Frank Mancuso, and said "this is
ridiculous. You know--they're all using him, in fact they're _abusing_ him at
times to get projects done, and nobody's paying him." So Frank Mancuso set it
up. He established the Star Trek Office, with its entire staff--me--and
everybody was notified on the studio lot of the creation of the position,
and...it was amazing. Suddenly, people had places to send calls and mail. I
got mail that was _six years_ old, that had been sitting around that nobody
knew what to do with, you know, since the first movie had come out. They did
not know what to do with this mail. So I was sending off--that was the first
thing I had to do, was get through all that mail...and what was great fun was
hearing back from people saying, "well, I wrote that when I was in high
school, and I'm now married with two kids, whatever, but I'm still a fan," and
so on--it's amazing how many people got the letters six years later that we
sent out, because most people have moved in that time. And then, of course,
immediately after being hired--Star Trek IV, the twentieth anniversary, and
the development of the new series!

TL: Everything just took off.

RA: It was perfect timing. If they didn't really think they needed me for
sure then, boy, did they discover they did, after that. Because the
projects--the release of the original 79 episodes, and then the movies, and
than all of the special packaging that's come up, and now the new series is
on tape overseas, and of course it's starting here as well--Paramount's going
to be releasing it this fall, as well as Pioneer on laserdisc--that's a
question we get all the time--TV syndication going absolutely bananas all
around the world with the new series, and repackaging of the original as
well...a feature, of course, with VI--that will get heavier towards the end of
this year, right now it's still pretty light, mostly dealing with the
press--certainly merchandising, my God, the amount--there's almost a hundred
licensees, currently, and that's everything from trading cards to masks and
costumes, to pewter items and china or porcelain, print, etc.

TL: Pillows, chess sets...

RA: Oh, the chess set--Franklin's great. We only need two more pieces and
our set's complete...'cause we get the distribution slowly here as well, we
don't get everything at once either. And it doesn't look as though it's going
to slow down. There is every possibility of Star Trek: the Next Generation
features following our sixth season, which looks very very likely right now,
the show is just _so_ successful--far more than the studio ever _dreamed_, I
think. Even though there's been a big shakeup in management here, the one
thing that keeps being made clear is that everyone's quite aware that this is
their strongest product, or "property", if you will. And, for the four
divisions that really are the major income of the studio--Home video,
merchandising and licensing, TV, and feature--it's a major component of each
one of those. It's the biggest one for merchandising, it's one of the biggest
if not the biggest for home video, it's certainly the biggest one that
Paramount owns all rights for TV syndication, and features--it's the most
successful series the studio has ever had. So, yes, there's definitely going
to be a need for a while, yet. In fact, there's now two of us--Guy Vardeman
and myself, although he's been over on the set playing a lot lately, because
he's been standing in for Wil Wheaton. But that was part of the agreement
when Gene had him hired, was that he would be available to continue his work
as a stand-in, and as an extra on the show, because that's his first interest.
And certainly once the first few months of this madness for the 25th
anniversary ended, and we got through all of the heaviest projects--the 25th
anniversary coffee-table book, which is still in the approval process, but it
_will_ be coming out, and--you can see that I'm covering a lot of questions
that people keep asking.

TL: Yeah, probably.

RA: And the upcoming specials--the development of some of the contests, and
so on--once we got through all of that, and the majority of the mail that was
coming in--and we're very much caught up right now--then that became no
problem. And certainly, once he's finished with this episode--well, there's
"The Unification" as well, so he hasn't been over here as much lately, but
believe me, I need him over here badly, 'cause the phones have been the
biggest problem.

[phone interruption]

TL: Well, maybe we'd better move on...

RA: I'm sorry, I tend to give longer answers than anyone needs, but that's
best for the press, because they then cut out what they don't need and
hopefully get exactly what they do need.

TL: Okay...a couple of other general questions...

RA: Fire away.

TL: Well, according to the credits, at least, you're "Research Consultant".

RA: Absolutely.

TL: That's...sort of an amorphous title.

RA: Actually, it's the most accurate.

TL: What exactly does a Research Consultant _do_?

RA: Okay, the writers on this show, when they have questions, they can come
to me...now to Guy as well, Mike Okuda, Rick Sternbach, [muffled]--there's
several people who can answer their questions. I am probably most versed in
original series "lore", if you will, and I'm very strong on Next-Generation
"lore", as is Guy. Mike is really the tech person. Lorraine is the _science_
person, even more so than Rick Sternbach. Rick's is space science, Lorraine's
is planetary science, if you will...earthbound science. And all of us always
try to keep in mind some of Gene's original thoughts, like you shouldn't make
anything too close to magic, let's not have easy solutions for anything, time
travel is a cheat, you know, these are all the things that he's basically said
over the years. So, the reason that I think we've become trusted--

[phone interruption]

RA: I was saying about research...Gene trusted us enough to just let the
questions come straight here. And...it's a matter of--it's informational
only. That's all it is. When somebody from, let's say a licensee has a
question about something, we'll tell them the correct spelling, we'll tell
them the correct way to use a word or a term or whatever, but we don't say
"you can or can't" anything. Now, I know that's...we've been accused of being
very heavy-handed. Gene is the one who makes final determination of anything
like that. And I know that that's been a leading problem with a lot
of...employees of licensees, or "workers for hire", if you will, for
licensees, that they think that those of us who deal with that put our stamps
of approval or disapproval on something, which none of us do. None of us can.
We give our input--that's what we're paid to do. So Research Consultant is
*not* a vulture hanging over people's shoulders, which is the way a lot of us
have been described. We do get very...emotional at times, if you will, in
dealing with these people, but we can't tell them anything. We can...we
can...help them, but we can't _make_ them. And that's where, then, it all
ends up downstairs. So...I know that's the crux of a lot of the issues.

TL: Yeah. I've got a few specifics about that which we'll get to.

RA: We should probably get into those quick. Go ahead.
--
Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
BITNET: tlynch@citjuliet
INTERNET: tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP: ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.ca...@hamlet.caltech.edu
"With the first link, a chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first
thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."
--
Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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