It’s a miracle that Deep Space Nine got to do what it did with the Star Trek franchise for seven seasons. But what if the series had continued on in the wake of the Dominion War? Part of the incoming extensive documentary What We Left Behind wants to give you a hint — and we’ve got an exclusive look at it in action.
After spending years in production across various crowdfunded campaigns, What We Left Behind — now the brainchild of former DS9 showrunner and executive producer Ira Steven Behr, who came aboard alongside David Zappone to co-direct when original director Adam Nimoy stepped down — is just weeks away from its theatrical debut.
The 130-minute documentary has grown vastly from its roots since it was first crowdfunded in 2017. It’s more than doubled its original intended runtime to include more insight from cast and crew, and to add 20 minutes’ worth of incredible HD remasterings of original scenes from the show—likely the only way we’ll get to see Deep Space Nine in high-definition for the foreseeable future.
But as well as nostalgically looking back at one of the most subversive (and tumultuous) chapters of Star Trek’s long history, What We Left Behind also imagines what could have been if Deep Space Nine had run for an eighth season — combining behind-the-scenes footage of Behr reuniting the show’s writers room to hash out a story, alongside animated storyboards depicting what the crew of Deep Space Nine would’ve gotten up to in the wake of Captain Sisko’s spiritual ascendance.
The Defiant would need a new Captain, at the very least, and you can see just who would’ve taken command in an exclusive clip from the documentary!
To celebrate What We Left Behind’s release, io9 recently spoke to Behr over the phone about the legacy of Deep Space Nine and his time working on bringing the documentary to completion—check out some of what he had to say below.
io9: It’s been a very long process to bring What We Left Behind to fruition. How does it feel now that you’re so close to it being out there, and people actually being able to see it?
Ira Steven Behr: Yeah, well, that’s a simple question with a complicated answer. That kind of breaks off into many little streams. It feels good, you know? I feel a bit of a disconnect, which I’ve always felt with whatever I’ve done. The doing of it, and then it goes out and it becomes something else, and you don’t possess it anymore.
It’s no longer yours, really. And then, it’s like, “Oh yeah, they’re reacting to that thing, which is the same thing we were just doing.” On a certain level, it’s not, because it’s like being on the bus or off the bus. And, you know, we’ve been on that bus for a very long time.
So, it’s a strange feeling. But, obviously, I’m happy to see it come to fruition. I mean, we’re still kind of working on special features for another week or so—two weeks, whatever it will be—but yeah. Time for people to see it. The fans have been incredibly generous, and incredibly patient.
io9: You were just talking about this disconnect from having finished the documentary—what was it like coming back into that creative process of exploring what you would have done if this show continued, all this time after it came to an end?
Behr: Well, that was one of the easiest things about this whole process. We—everyone—had a wonderful day. I mean, true, we hadn’t been in the same room with each other for a long, long, long, long time, but I’ve worked with all those guys since the show went off the air, and you know, I was working with Ron [Moore, legendary screenwriter and producer with credits across The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager] at the time, in the offices we were working in, and it was great.
I knew I had no doubt when I had the idea of doing that it was going to work. I knew what you’ve got from the room. My only concern was, you know, everyone remembering where we left off. Which is why the only thing I had them read was the Wikipedia page, or whatever the hell they had to look at just to remember where everyone wound up. And we had so much footage that didn’t make it in, of the forgetfulness of where people were and how things happened and who was where, and “Wait, what? They were on this ship, is this it?”
io9: You’ve touched on the fact that this has been a very long process in the making and last year, part of what made that process longer was the decision to switch to using fully remastered, high-definition clips in the documentary. Can you tell me about the moment you came to that decision you were going do the complete remaster?
Behr: Well, it’s funny, because I think I’m sitting in the seat right where I was when I told the guys. I was sitting right here. So, I’m sitting right where I laid that little revelation on the team — to their shock, horror, and surprise! You know — look, a lot of this journey had to do with me accepting the fact that I was on the journey, and that took a long time. I’d never done a documentary before, I never thought of doing a documentary before.
I hadn’t thought of Deep Space Nine as a thing for a very long time. I mean, DS9, to me, was all about—at this point—the people. Jeff Combs and Wolfie [Robert Hewitt Wolfe, fellow DS9 writer], and the people who I was friends with. Nana [Visitor, who played Kira Nerys]. Armin [Shimmerman, who played Quark]. It was people. The show was not something that was in my life.
So, it took me a long time. The guys here, Dave [Zappone, What We Left Behind’s co-director] and the guys told me from the very beginning, “it’s a doc, the point of view has to be yours.” And I kept saying “no, no, no.” All through the years—I’m just here because [the cast] will talk to me in different ways than they’ll talk to someone else. It’s not my point of view. Anyway, it took a long time. Even when we did the writer’s room, that was still one hour long.
That was still way before we decided it was going to be a feature, and we did the Indiegogo campaign. So, I don’t even know what I was thinking at the time. How were we going to fit that for seven hours, or six hours, in that room—how that was going to fit into a one hour doc? I didn’t have a clue! And I figured someone else would figure it out, not me! So then, we’re finally, you know—when I literally had to take control of the doc—which everyone had been waiting for...I started looking at it in a different way.
We talked about five minutes of HD, and 15 minutes of standard def, and that’s all we could afford. And that’s it, that was the received wisdom for years. That’s what it was going to be, and it’s going to be great to have that five minutes. And then as the film came together, just like when I’m working on a show and I realised that the process of actually completing the film was coming to an end — [I realised] that’s going to be the film. That’s what we were going to live with, that’s what it’s going to be like, forever. And is it good enough? Because of the things I’ve been telling people throughout my career is “good is never good enough, good is not good enough.”
It was August, and we were literally, at that point, winding down. We were going to show the film at the beginning of October to the backers, and suddenly, it just hit me, the night before. Just like, “What the hell am I doing?” Fifteen minutes.
The fans are not going to be happy. They’re going to look at those five minutes, then they’re going to look at those 15 minutes and they’re going to be pissed. And rightly so! So, at that point, it’s like... “This is the time, it’s way too late in the deal to do this, it’s now or never. And backs against the wall, boom, we’re going to do it.”
They’re like “We can’t! We can’t. Time-wise we can’t do it, money-wise we can’t.” I’m like, “I totally understand that, but we’re doing it anyway.” So we did. And thank god.
io9: Well, from the little we’ve seen of it so far, it looks a) incredible, and b) like it was very much worth the wait!
Behr: I think the goal was to show Deep Space Nine to the public in HD, what it could look like? If we wanted the dream which we’ve all been dreaming, the shared dream that so many of us had had. If that was the point of the doc — which, I don’t think it is, by the way, obviously! — but if that was the point of the doc, it’s a home run. Because the show looks fabulous.
And one of the great moments that I will never forget is coming to an editing bay, and there’s Jonathan West, the DP of the last five seasons of the show. He’s watching as the film has been upgraded, he’s doing colour correction. And I walked into that room, and Jonathan is sitting there looking up at a monitor—and literally, his mouth was hanging open like a 10-year-old boy. Trust me, I’m not over selling this—he was the happiest boy in all of Puppet Land. He was just thrilled to be seeing it, and he said this: “Even back then, I knew how good this show could look.”
And obviously, it did look like that back then, and the DVDs aren’t something to be proud of, but it has looked spectacular, and to see his jaw drop in seeing it...that’s the kind of thing that stays with you.
io9: Do you hope a reaction to this documentary might be able to convince CBS if it’s worth trying that process? I know it’s been a challenging process to rebuild the show for a hi-definition release. But is that something, having gone through it yourself for this documentary, that you still hope could be a possibility somewhere down the line?
Behr: Well, I understand the need for hope as you go through life. I do! But, you know, I think my goal was in this instant, to show how good the film could look, how good Deep Space Nine looks in HD. That, we achieved.
The joke is, you know, we have 200 rolls of film, I think, in order to get all the shots we needed. And the reels of film come in these boxes, right? So, if you ask for one reel of film, there’s like 10 reels of film that box. And [CBS] didn’t bother pulling [individual reels] — it’s too much of a production, they just send you the whole box. So we downloaded everything.
We have...I don’t know how many hours, of HD footage of Deep Space Nine. Now, most of it is outtakes that weren’t used, but it’s fantastic and we could sit there for hours and just look at Deep Space Nine in HD. We’d need to add the special effects and blah, blah, blah—but it’s still fantastic. I wish there was a way to share that. And until there is—I don’t know.
I have no control over CBS. I think they’ve been burned on [past] shows, most likely, but...I made a pledge years ago not to watch Deep Space Nine until it was restored to HD. And I have not—with the exception of watching the pilot when Michael Piller passed away, I had not seen a complete episode of Deep Space Nine other than that since when the show went off the air. I’m going to hold out, until they’re mastered.
io9: I definitely know a few people who would happily watch random HD takes of DS9 for hours on end, myself included!
Behr: It’s lots of fun. To be honest, it’s lots of fun. You know...all of that lighting, the costumes—I don’t have to tell you, you’ll see. You’ll see. It’s pretty cool.
What We Left Behind makes its one-day-only theatrical debut through Fathom Events on May 13. And you can check back soon for more with Behr.