The busiest writing duo in Hollywood is set to part ways - with the news that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are splitting, amicably, in order to pursue individual projects as feature film directors. Founders of the K/O Paper Products production house, Orci and Kurtzman have been instrumental in writing and developing a number of fan-favorite big and small screen projects including: Transformers, Fringe, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (as well as the planned Venom spin-off movie), Alias, and Sleepy Hollow, among many others.
Still, one of their most celebrated (and divisive) efforts was the 2009 soft "reboot" of the Star Trek film series, in collaboration with director J.J. Abrams. While die-hard fans remain mixed on certain aspects of the relaunch, especially the depiction of a familiar villain in 2013's sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, there's no doubt that Orci and Kurtzman were essential in reinvigorating the brand and making Star Trek "cool" outside of the Trekkie community. Once Abrams signed-on for directing duty in the Star Wars Galaxy Far, Far Away, Paramount Pictures was forced to begin the search for a new Star Trek 3 helmer and now, thanks to a new report, we're getting word that Orci could be a frontrunner for the job.
At first many (albeit not all) Star Trek fans were holding out hope that Abrams would return to the director's chair for Part 3 but as time wore on, and the filmmaker started to get increasingly immersed in Star Wars, it became obvious that Paramount Pictures would need to find a replacement. Plenty of names have been batted around, most recently Attack the Block's Joe Cornish; yet, in their announcement of the Orci/Kurtzman split, Variety asserts that Orci is a frontrunner to direct Star Trek 3.
According to the report, Abrams' Bad Robot (along with David Ellison’s Skydance Productions) are pushing for Orci to be given the job - but Paramount Pictures remains unconvinced. Despite Orci's solid track record in writing and producing, Paramount's reluctance is understandable - since Star Trek 3 would mark Orci's directorial debut. The writer is no stranger to movie production and has been on set for many of the films he's produced and/or penned but the studio has a lot riding on the Star Trek brand. After Star Trek Into Darkness underperformed at the domestic box office, Paramount needs the follow-up to recapture the cross-demographic appeal of the 2009 reboot.
Ultimately, Star Trek Into Darkness earned more at the global box office than its predecessor but the studio would, without a doubt, like to see the next installment drive ticket sales (and profits) higher while also adding momentum for potential cross-medium projects (like an oft-rumored spin-off TV series). Even though Orci has established himself as a gifted storyteller - that's a lot of pressure for a freshman director. It's the same reason that Spider-Man series fans were surprised to hear that Kurtzman would direct the upcoming Venom solo movie - even after he'd already cut his directing teeth on 2012's People Like Us.
Traditionally, franchise blockbuster movies have been helmed by established filmmakers with a long-running list of high profile hits but studios have, recently, softened to this idea - placing creative, but largely untested, directors in charge of hundred-million dollar budgets (while surrounding them with a seasoned crew of experts to fill areas of inexperience). Among others examples, Jon M. Chu was put in charge of the live-action G.I. Joe movies, after several successful entries in the dance movie genre, and Gareth Edwards was hired to develop the Godzilla reboot, following his celebrated indie effort Monsters. As a result, the idea that Orci could helm Star Trek, after being an architect in several major (and highly profitable) franchises, doesn't seem entirely far-fetched.
Sure, not every writer can direct (nor can every director write) but Hollywood is full of filmmakers that excel at both. In the past, writers have been expected to earn their stripes with indie fair to earn their way into the directorial big leagues - but what happens when an aspiring director is already among the industry's most successful storytellers? In most cases, a studio would still test a would-be director's mettle with a low-profile project - but what if that same writer was previously instrumental in reinvigorating a franchise that is now desperately in need of a director? With no confirmed helmer, a planned 2016 release for Star Trek 3, and three screenwriters (including Orci but not Kurtzman) working away on the script, Paramount might ultimately decide that Orci, who enjoys a close working relationship with the film's producers (especially Abrams), might not be quite as risky as the studio's heads first thought.
After all, Orci knows the inner workings of this new Star Trek series and he's familiar with the cast and crew, making the option of bringing in an entirely new helmer - even one with significant hands-on directorial experience - a bit risky as well (although in different ways). What Paramount will ultimately choose to do is, as far as we know, unclear - but it's certainly interesting to see Orci's name in the running.
Note: We reached out to Orci for a response to the news and, unsurprisingly, the filmmaker said that he could not offer an official comment at this time.
Regardless, fans of Kurtzman and Orci shouldn't fret too much about the announcement that the pair will separate their efforts going forward - as they'll still be working together, as producers, on a number of future TV efforts. Where the two writers go from here will be interesting to see, and while it's unclear exactly how they'll be splitting-up currently in development script work, with movies like Venom (and possibly Star Trek 3) as potential directorial vehicles, Kurtzman and Orci are still on the rise in Hollywood's ranks.
Star Trek 3 is currently aiming for a 2016 release date.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for any future updates on Star Trek 3, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.