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"The script still wasn't in any kind of shape, so we had to start rewriting and shooting all at the same time. It was a hell of a way to make a picture."
– Robert Wise, Director, on the incessant script rewrites during principal photography (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, p. 102)
"We didn't know what these things were, Bob Wise was a lovely man, but he didn't know, either."
– Barry Diller, President Paramount Pictures, on their lack of understanding and subsequent underestimation of the technical sophistication and associated costs of contemporary visual effects production. (The Keys to the Kingdom, 2000, Chapter 6)

Robert Wise (10 September 191414 September 2005; age 91) was the director and acting executive producer of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He received his sole Saturn Award nomination as Best Director for this film.


Wise was brought in by studio CEOs Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg on the production in early March 1978 after the television project Star Trek: Phase II was upgraded to a full blown theatrical movie production. He replaced Director Robert Collins, whom the studio did not trust with handling a big budget production, by that time set at US$15 million dollars, since Collins had no experience yet with big theatrical productions. On the occasion of his contracting, Wise stipulated that he was to have executive producer powers as well, which the studio eagerly granted by giving him, as it turned out, near-carte blanche latitude, in the process curtailing those of Gene Roddenberry. Wise's unwillingness to share producer credit with "that kid in jeans", caused hitherto Phase II Producer Robert Goodwin (who was thirty at the time) to leave the production in disgust. As it turned out, Wise was only to officially receive a director's credit, and not one as producer, which was reserved for Roddenberry only, even though his influence diminished considerably after Wise, essentially taking over as the primary production overseer, came aboard. Most of the, non-script related, production decisions made after March, were Wise's and not Roddenberry's. (Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, pp. 75-76) He related to James T. Kirk performer William Shatner for his memoirs how he was brought aboard,

"I got a call from Mike Eisner about making this Star Trek movie, and I said, "Well, I'm not really a Trekkie, and I never got hooked on the series at all, but I will come down and talk about it." So then I went in and talked with Eisner and with Jeffrey Katzenberg, and I finally said, "Yes, I'm interested, but before I make the final decision, and before we get started, I'd think I'd better see some of the episodes." I really wasn't up on this stuff at all. They'd said, "Sure", set me up in a screening room, and over the next couple of weeks, I watched about ten episodes. I liked them, thought they were all pretty good, and a couple of them were really exceptional. So I went back and talked with Michael and Jeffrey one more time, and at that point, things really started falling into place. I'd made The Andromeda Strain, I'd made The Day the Earth Stood Still, what better way was there to continue forward than with the crew of the Enterprise? And when I first came into the film, I was told by Michael and Jeffrey that they were out to make a "top-notch picture", and that our budget stood at somewhere between fifteen and eighteen million dollars. They didn't exactly expect we'd be able to actually spend that much, but before they locked down a number, they wanted to leave us some freedom in term of creative ideas. The look of the film, the feel, the costumes, the sets, they wanted us to start thinking about all of those things."

As serendipity would have it, Wise's decision to do the film was very much expedited by his wife Millicent and her father who were Trekkies and who were thrilled that their husband and son-in-law would be actively involved with Star Trek. They played even a more important role as far as Star Trek lore was concerned, since they were instrumental in a momentous production decision, as Wise further explained,

"At the same time, while I didn't know much about Star Trek, my wife, Millicent, and her father were absolutely devoted to the show, so when I brought the script, and they saw that Spock wasn't in it at all, they both practically yelled, "Hey, what's this? You can't POSSIBLY do Star Trek without Spock! It just won't work, because he and Captain Kirk have such a thing going." The next time I went into the studio, I said to Michael and Jeffrey, "I'm ready to commit to this picture, BUT you just can't do it without Spock. He's so identified with the series that I think there would be a real hole in the film without him." They agreed with me almost immediately, and they told me they'd been thinking the same way. So, we sort of all decided to take a shot at bringing Leonard on board." [1] (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 87-88)

Leonard Nimoy had up to that point in time refused to reprise his role as Spock, officially for the reason that he did not wanted to commit to the rigors of a weekly show, as Phase II was originally intended to be. However, there was an unofficial reason as well; Nimoy had since the end of the Original Series been involved in a conflict with the studio over residual amenities of the use of his likeness on merchandise, for which neither he, nor his co-stars, ever received any financial compensation. Up to that point the studio had steadfastly refused to give in, but now, on Wise's insistence, the studio caved and the conflict which had dragged for a decade was resolved within a week. (Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, p. 77) Millicent was rewarded for her input with a cameo as one of the Enterprise crewmembers, gathered for the briefing scene on the recreation deck of the refit-USS Enterprise, were she appeared alongside a multitude of other Star Trek fans. Wise's only child, son Rob Wise, also served on his father's movie as assistant cameramen, as was his nephew, Doug Wise, as assistant director. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 79)

Aside from his family members, Wise, when he came aboard, brought in several key staffers with whom he had regularly worked previously, most notably on The Andromeda Strain, and whom he trusted implicitly. These staffers included, Director of Photography Richard H. Kline, Costumer Robert Fletcher, Production Designer Harold Michelson, and Production Illustrator Maurice Zuberano. He had also closely worked with and befriended Special Effects Director Douglas Trumbull on The Andromeda Strain and was instrumental in somewhat smoothing over the severely strained relationship between Paramount Pictures and Trumbull, which turned out to be of signature importance later on in the production. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 80, et al.)

While Wise encountered no serious problems with his directing chores for the principal photography with the principal cast, even though Roddenberry's incessant script rewrites proved frustrating and contributed considerably to filming running three months over the allotted time schedule – a situation Wise ultimately dealt with, when he deftly arranged for Roddenberry's creative script input to end definitively in October 1978 (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 107-110) – he did encounter serious setbacks in post-production when editing the movie into the final feature. This was due to the debacle with visual effects company Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A) who had virtually no effects shots completed by the end of February 1979. Wise recalled, still somewhat in horror, "We had a huge crush on our special effects [note: as visual effects were still called at the time]. We had almost finished shooting when I realized that we hadn't yet received any footage from our effects house, Abel and Associates, so I said I have to see at LEAST some test footage. When it came in, I knew immediately that we had a big problem. The stuff was not good. They'd had months to play with this stuff, and the results were of poor quality. They just weren't good enough for all the money we'd poured in– close to five million dollars [sic: Wise was in error in his recollection, referring to a July 1978 Roddenberry memo; the damage was actually substantially larger]. So now we were all panicking that we wouldn't be able to make our Christmas release date, but we lucked out. We got Doug Trumbull, and we also got John Dykstra and his outfit, two of the best effects houses helping out, these effects guys had to work around the clock seven days a week to get this stuff done. They really pulled us out of a hole." (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1994, pp. 119-120) The new effects companies brought in, Future General Corporation and Apogee, Inc., had to scramble to produce the effects shots in order to meet the fixed release date of 6 December 1979. Trumbull was still working on his last effects shot one week before the premiere, whereas Wise himself was therefore only able to complete the editing one day before the premiere. As a consequence, the movie did not quite turn out the way Wise had envisioned and overall he was a little disappointed with the end result, "I just think that I hadn't had a chance to get all of the final work I wanted to do into it – particularly the special effects and even the mix of the music and sound effects. I had to rush so much to get it back to Washington for that premiere that I hadn't had a chance to refine all if that." A noticeable sequence Wise had to leave out was the in Star Trek lore famed "Memory Wall Sequence"; while principal photography was finished for the sequence, there simply was not enough time left to complete the accompanying visual effects. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, p. 17)

Despite his penchant for perfection, Robert Wise was renowned for being an incredibly patient, level-headed, and unflappable director, and he exhibited these traits throughout the production of The Motion Picture, despite the frustration he felt over the delays caused by Roddenberry's incessant rewrites. Cast and crew actually organized a pool with bets placed on the date Wise would loose his temper for the first time. He never did and the pool organizers returned everyone's money. (Star Trek - Where No One Has Gone Before, p. 70) What the betters were not privy to however, was the one occasion Wise did lose his temper, in a big way. When he inspected the effects shots, or rather lack thereof, at RA&A on 20 February 1979, the otherwise levelheaded Wise reportedly lost it on that fateful day and erupted in a full-blown rage, having afterwards tersely stated in the January 1980 issue of Playboy magazine, "We have not been in touch. The air might be a little blue if we had." (p. 144), though he himself had downplayed it a bit a short time later, "It's true that I finally exploded when I saw Abel's showcase. I was annoyed. I didn't scream or yell at him, but I was obviously quite upset. I stalked out of the projection room. After over a year on the film, to come to that point and see us going no place, it became very apparent that we were never going to get anyplace". Then studio liaison Richard Yuricich has added, "I was present in the screening room, but you know, I honestly don't remember exactly what was screened. I just of tuned out and forgot about the whole thing. I can tell you that it was a screening with Robert Wise, Gene Roddenberry and Robert Abel. Wise told you that he blew his cool? Well, he's not lying to you. I can't remember what he said, but I do know that Mr. Wise shouldn't take all the credit for blowing his cool, Mr. Roddenberry was also there." RA&A's dismayed founder, Abel, subsequently threatened to sue Paramount over the perceived injuries sustained by Wise. Jeffrey Katzenberg, further confirming the incident, was hardly perturbed, "That much is true, Abel has said he's going to sue us because of [Wise's] statements. And I say, let him. Problems with special effects have caused various scenes to be reshot, driving up the cost considerably higher." Without much further ado however, the litigation was settled out of court a few months later, amicably according to Katzenberg. (Reader magazine, 23 November 1979, p. 7; Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 348-350).

In 2001, over twenty years after directing Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wise oversaw the production of the DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition). He was enticed to do so when David C. Fein and Michael Matessino, when they were working on the 1994 commemorative documentary The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon for Wise's own production company Robert Wise Productions, approached Wise with the suggestion to do a director's edition of The Motion picture. Wise was at first unwilling to do so, but "In 1997, he finally said, "STAR TREK really was an unfinished film." Shortly after making some initial inquiries, he asked us to go into the studio to work out the deal to make the project happen, and also to work with him to finally complete the movie.", as Matesinno elaborated. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, p. 25) Wise was one of the former production staffers who provided the audio commentary for the release and for which they received a Video Premiere Award nomination.

Career outside Star Trek[]

Born as the son of a meat packer and the youngest of three brothers, Robert Wise became a movie buff visiting the Saturday dime matinées throughout his youth. Yet, he developed a professional interest in journalism and started studies in this field after graduating from high school in 1929, when he enrolled at Indiana's Franklin College to study journalism. However, the business of his father Earl suffered severely in the Depression Era, and young Robert had to cease his studies due to lack of funds. His accountant brother David (who later handled Robert's business affairs), arranged for his sibling a job at RKO Pictures in 1933 as a messenger and "gofer" (industry contraction idiom for "go fer this and go fer that"). These humble beginnings notwithstanding, it allowed Wise to learn the movie business from the bottom up. Wise has never left the motion picture industry. Years later, Robert returned the favor by giving his brother's son, Doug Wise, his first break in the motion picture industry on The Motion Picture. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 77, 79)

Wise began his career in earnest as an uncredited sound effects editor at RKO Pictures, working on the musicals The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Top Hat (1935, with Leonard Mudie and Lucille Ball) and the dramas Of Human Bondage (1934) and The Informer (1935). He moved on to become an editor for RKO, earning his first Academy Award nomination for his editing work on the classic 1941 RKO picture Citizen Kane for director/producer Orson Welles. The following year, he edited Welles' The Magnificent Andersons (with Gil Perkins), on which he also served as an assistant director, shooting additional scenes for the film. Other films edited by Wise include the 1939 adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the 1940 romantic comedy My Favorite Wife, and 1941's All That Money Can Buy (with Jeff Corey).

Wise's first film as director was the RKO was the 1944 horror film The Curse of the Cat People. Subsequent films he directed for RKO include The Body Snatcher (1945) and the classic film noirs Born to Kill (1947, with Lawrence Tierney and Elisha Cook) and The Set-Up (1949, with Hal Baylor and Phillip Pine). He then moved on to direct films for Twentieth Century Fox and later various other studios.

As he himself had indicated, Wise was not quite a stranger to science fiction when he came aboard Star Trek, having previously directed the classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still and 1971's The Andromeda Strain. Both films were referenced on Star Trek: Enterprise: scenes from the former film were seen in the episodes "The Catwalk" and "Cogenitor", while the latter was mentioned in "Observer Effect". The Day the Earth Stood Still featured Lawrence Dobkin in the cast, while Kermit Murdock, Bart La Rue, Michael Pataki, Garry Walberg, and Walker Edmiston appeared in The Andromeda Strain. The Day the Earth Stood Still included matte paintings by Matthew Yuricich, who later served as matte artist on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Andromeda Strain was photographed by Richard H. Kline, who was also director of photography on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At one point, Robert Wise recorded a DVD audio commentary for The Day the Earth Stood Still with Nicholas Meyer.

Wise won two Academy Awards for his work as director and producer on two classic musicals, one for West Side Story (1961, shared with Jerome Robbins) and another for The Sound of Music (1965). The first starred DS9 guest actor Richard Beymer. The latter film co-starred actor Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) and DS9 guest star Darleen Carr, who dubbed some of the children in their singing numbers. Wise was nominated for two additional Academy Awards for directing I Want to Live! (1958), which featured Theodore Bikel and a screenplay by Don M. Mankiewicz, and for producing The Sand Pebbles (1966), which he also directed. This film featured Jon Lormer and Gil Perkins in the cast, and (just as Star Trek: The Motion Picture) a musical score by Jerry Goldsmith.

He went on to direct DS9 actor René Auberjonois in the 1975 disaster film, The Hindenburg. The film also featured Alan Oppenheimer and Vic Perrin. He also directed the films This Could Be the Night and Until They Sail, both released in 1957 and both starring TNG guest star Jean Simmons. The latter also featured Charles Drake, Tige Andrews and Don Eitner. His many other films include Executive Suite (1954, with Hamilton Camp), Helen of Troy (1956, with Torin Thatcher, Robert Brown, and Marc Lawrence), the acclaimed Someone Up There Likes Me (1956, with Stanley Adams and William Boyett), the Clark Gable film Run Silent Run Deep (1958, with Ken Lynch), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959, with Bill Zuckert), the 1963 horror classic The Haunting, Star! (1968, with Ian Abercrombie and Alan Oppenheimer), and Audrey Rose (1977, with Norman Lloyd). His last project was the TV movie A Storm in Summer (2000), which also marked his first and only direction in television.

In his later years, late 1980s, early 1990s, Wise founded his own production company, Robert Wise Productions, with the specific intent to keep creative control over the release of home media formats, specifically DVDs, of his body of work. This has resulted in several "special edition" DVD releases of among others The Sound of Music (credited under the name "A Robert Wise Production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's"), The Sand Pebbles, Star!, and others. It was this company that was primarily responsible for the production and release of the director's edition of The Motion picture.

Robert Wise was married twice. On 25 May 1942, he married Patricia Doyle and the couple had one child, son Robert Allen, who was the one serving with his father on The Motion Picture. Patricia passed away on 22 September 1975 from the effects of cancer. Two years later, on 29 January 1977, Wise married the above-mentioned Millicent Franklin, becoming step-father of a married daughter; Wise remained married to Millicent until his death. [1] Wise died of heart failure four years after completion of The Director's Edition and only just four days after his 91st birthday and was survived by his wife and son.

Star Trek award nominations[]

For his work on the Star Trek franchise, Robert Wise received the following award nominations:

Saturn Award[]

Wise was nominated as Director for the following Saturn Award in the category Best Director

  • 1980 for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, sole nominee

Hugo Award[]

Wise was nominated as Director for the following Saturn Award in the category Best Dramatic Presentation

DVD Exclusive Award[]

Wise was nominated for the following DVD Exclusive Award (at the time called Video Premiere Award) in the category Best Audio Commentary,

Star Trek interviews[]

Further reading[]


  1. Robert Wise again related this story seven years later to Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, but the editors in transcribing the interview turned his father-in-law into a daughter. Wise did not have a (natural) daughter but only a single son, Robert Allen Wise. On the other hand, Wise related the same story in a contemporary account, published in the reference book Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (p. 55), in which he stated that it were his wife, her daughter and son-in-law who were the Trekkies. Nevertheless, wife Millicent has remained the one constant in every version.

External links[]

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