Interview: ‘Star Trek: DS9’ Showrunner Ira Steven Behr Talks The Show, The ‘What We Left Behind’ Doc, & Ferengi!
Last weekend, ‘Destination Star Trek‘, Europe’s largest Star Trek convention, materialised at the NEC in Birmingham, and we had the opportunity to chat with a number of guests. The first person we sat down with was Ira Steven Behr, former showrunner of ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’. He was there with the documentary ‘What We Left Behind‘, which takes a look at how the show went from a family outcast to a Star Trek mainstay, and one of the most beloved of the entire Trek series.
Along with discussing the history of the show in the doc, Ira sat down with a group of DS9’s original writers to break the story for a theoretical eighth season. One of the things that emerged from that was a new ship design called the ‘USS Emmett Till’. They actually went as far as animating it, which you can see in the doc, but here is a teaser pic for you.
The starship was designed by concept illustrator John Eaves, known for his work on many of the Star Trek series’ and feature films, with the team announcing that a physical collectable model of the ship is already in the works in partnership with Eaglemoss’ Star Trek Official Starship Collection.
Geektown: How are you enjoying Destination Star Trek so far?
Ira: I’m enjoying it. This is a different year obviously. We have this film, this doc, that we’re going to be showing. The doc looms large in my thoughts now. The convention is secondary to the doc. But it’s always good to see my buddies, all the actors, and all the people here.
Geektown: You’ve shown versions of it before, haven’t you?
Ira: We’ve shown basically the same film last Friday night in Los Angeles and Sunday in New York. Then we’re going to show it here. Then, after that, we’ll tinker a little bit with some technical issues, hopefully, we’ll get more HD into the film. We’ll definitely more HD. It’s how much more is the question. We have approximately five and a half minutes now. We know, at the very least, if the worst happens, we could get another 6 minutes in, but that still would leave almost 10 minutes of non-HD. The thought is we’ll like to put it all into HD… Then we’ll have to go into debt, but so be it.
Geektown: What inspired you to make the documentary in the first place?
Ira: What inspired me was, I went to my first convention in 13 years back in 2012. Dave Zappone, who had done all these other Star Trek documentaries, Chaos on the Bridge, The Captains, Spock, came up to me and said, “Hey listen, Bill Shatner is not going to do another Star Trek documentary.” He did three in a row. They interviewed me and him, so that’s how I knew Dave.
He said, “Bill’s not going to do another one, and we want to do a Deep Space 9 doc. How would you like to be Bill Shatner, and interview all the actors, and do this doc?” I never thought of doing a doc. I was just in a good mood because I was seeing people I hadn’t seen. Avery Brooks, I hadn’t seen in 13 years. We had this big reunion, hugs, and all this stuff. I was feeling really, really positive. I just said yes without thinking.
Geektown: Were you surprised by the amount of support it got from the Indiegogo?
Ira: Well, let’s put it this way. When they told me they were going to go, we had already been working on the doc for a couple of years. It was going to be an hour long doc at the time. They said, “We need money for the animation and for music. We’re going to raise a 150,000.” I said, “Can we do that in 30 days?” They said, “Well, we think so.” I said, “I don’t want to do it if we’re not going to make the goal because it’s just too embarrassing.” They said, “No, no, no. We’re going to make a 150 in 30 days.” Then in 29 hours, we made like 159,000. It’s like, “You guys seriously underestimated the potential here.” It was like, “Oh my God, this is a feature film now. This is serious business. This is like a full-time job. This is not something I’d do on the weekends. Holy,” you know. So, yes, it was quite surprising, and very fulfilling that the fans came through in that way.
Geektown: Did you get everybody you wanted to get for the doc?
Well, we did not get Avery [Brooks – aka Benjamin Sisko]. He’s in the doc though. You’d never know that he wasn’t in the doc because we have plenty of interviews, archival interviews, but I would liked to have sat down with Avery. Even though it’s thanks to Avery that the doc is the way it is, because he’s the one who got me to think of other ways to make this doc interesting besides just people just talking, but he never agreed to sit down.
Geektown: When you were making the show, did you have ones that got away? Stories or episodes that you had an idea for but never managed to make it work?
Ira: Well, there’s some that got made that I wish hadn’t gotten made. I always wanted to do Waiting for Godot, or Godot, as the English say, with Odo and Quark. I had this whole thing planned out. There was going to be like an hour of television of them waiting. I really mean it. I had it worked out but never had the guts to do it. The closest we ever came was The Ascent, which is a nice episode, but nowhere near what I had planned. Ron always wanted to do a musical. I know that, but we did Vic Fontaine, which got us enough negative feedback at the time because singing on Deep Space 9. Bad enough we did Ferengi shows. That was part of the fan outrage that the show was going off in directions that Star Trek should not go out in. Those are the one that… The Godot show really never got to do, and Ron’s musical extravaganza.
Geektown: I would have loved to see both of those. They both seem like great ideas. What was your favourite or least favourite episode to work on?
Ira: Well, the one we never should have done, and the one that Robert Wolfe kept on saying, even as we were doing it, “Let’s pull the plug on this. This is not going to work,” was Let He Who Is Without Sin, because by the very nature of the show … and I got to say, Rick Berman, I don’t want to put it all on Rick, but there was no way we were going to do a really sexy show about Risa.
It had to be really sexy, and there had to be a real sense of things being done, and people leaving lives, and experiencing pleasures. There was no way. You couldn’t even have sexy bathing suits, really. So why the hell were we doing this dumb show about someone who is upset about Risa when Risa seemed so unassuming and so tame. I mean, as we were writing it, Robert said, “We should dump it.” I just didn’t have the guts to dump it. I wish I had dumped it.
Geektown: Well, if you were making that show today, you could get with it now.
Ira: Oh yeah, we could do that show. Absolutely. It’s a totally valid episode, but just not for the time.
Geektown: What was your funniest or craziest experience you were witness to or worked on as part of the show?
Ira: Well, there were a lot of funny things, most of which I can’t talk about [laughs]. I think, probably one of the fun moments that we had was René Echevarria was co-writing the motion ride at the Hilton Hotel in Vegas. He had never been on a motion ride. He kept saying, “How do I write this? What’s it like being out on a motion ride?” He was just complaining days, and days, and days.
One morning, some Wednesday morning, we came in to have our story break. We barely had sat down, and René was talking something about the motion ride. I said, “Okay, we’re going to Disneyland. We’re going to go on Star Tours, and René’s going to sit on Star Tours and know what it’s like to be on a motion ride. He will now shut up, and then we can get back to work.” I took the entire staff down to Disneyland. We went on Star Tours, and also Indiana Jones because they begged me, which had just opened at the time. Then we went back to the office.
Geektown: Awesome! What’s the character you wish you could have used more on the show?
Well, without a doubt, the thing I wish we could have used more of was Section 31. We came into that late in the game, and I mean, if we had had an eighth season.
Geektown: That would have been cool. If you could do a crossover with Deep Space 9 and another Star Trek show, would you?
Ira: No interest. The only thing I would say is, I actually thought the character of Will Riker … Who was the other Riker?
Geektown: Tom Riker?
Ira: Yes, Tom Riker! Tom Riker, who appeared on Deep Space 9. I thought that character… we could have had fun with that character on DS9. At that time, unfortunately for Jonathan Frakes who really liked doing it, that was the moment where I said, “We have to cut ties with the past, for sure.” As much as I liked that character, I said, “We can’t bring him back. Sorry.”
The guys kept saying, “We can use him.” We could never have used him enough in order to really get the good storyline going, continuing. That was a problem, to be honest, but that’s the character I would have liked to have driven.
Geektown: Yeah, interesting choice. You were quite involved with the development of the Ferengi. Where did that idea come from and the expansion of them?
Ira: Well, when Michael told me that there was going to be a Ferengi character on Deep Space 9, I said, “Major mistake.” I did not like the Ferengi. I wrote a Ferengi in Captain’s Holiday, that Max played. I thought the Ferengi were not a good race of character. I thought, “What the hell are they doing on Deep Space 9?” I was not thrilled, but then what I realised quickly was that the Ferengi are us.
The Ferengi are the only human beings on the show with the exception maybe of O’Brien, who was a human being. They were 20th-century beings. They were still in the game. They still cared. They still had aspirations. They were in the act of becoming. They were not the superior Nietzsche and Roddenberry humans, so I quite liked them. Also because one of the things I hated about TNG, in my mind, was that it was a little too serious and a little too self-satisfied. The whole franchise seemed a little too self-satisfied with itself.
The Ferengis were a chance for humour. Now humour is dangerous on a show that isn’t geared [to it]. We never had really, with the exception maybe of René Auberjonois, we never really had directors who knew how to shoot comedy. It was a tough thing to keep. Rick Berman always would read the Ferengi scripts and go, “Ira, this script is really funny and really clever. Once it gets on the stage, it’s not going to be as good as it is on the page.”
I think in some ways he was right. We weren’t a show geared for it, but the Ferengis were just too good, and too important to the franchise as it turned out, not to use. They told us truths about ourselves. Also, Nog who was a Ferengi, had a storyline and had a character growth better than any other character in any other series. So, good on the Ferengi.
Geektown: You ended up writing the Rules of Acquisition book as well, didn’t you?
Well, they told me if I didn’t do it, they would hire someone else. It’s like, “Okay, okay.” I still remember the date where I came up with the idea for the Nagus and the Rules of Acquisition. I remember sitting in my office, having to figure out these stupid Ferengis and this episode, and looking up and finding the term Nagus, and going, “That’s a good name. I’m going to use that.” It’s like there’s a set of rules, and what are the rules? “Rules of greed?… That’s terrible…” I just was going through different words. “Rules of Acquisition, of course! That’s it.”
Geektown: Do you have a favourite one, if you can remember any of them?
Ira: Well, yeah. The only rule you really have to know is rule 285, which is “No good deed goes unpunished.”
‘What We Left Behind’ is available to pre-order now.