Star Trek director, UI alum Nicholas Meyer speaks about career

1968 University of Iowa alum Nicholas Meyer, director of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,’ and ‘The Day After,’ spoke at the UI’s Main library about working in the film industry, the stories behind his famous works, and how to tell a good story.


Nicholas Meyer at the UI Main Library on Oct. 13, 2022. Contributed.

Meg Doster, Amplify Editor

Over a hundred eager visitors, students and fans alike, crammed themselves into the University of Iowa’s Shambaugh Auditorium to hear from one of the university’s most notable alumni.

Writer Nicholas Meyer returned to Iowa City on Oct. 13 at the UI’s Main Library to speak about the influences in his career, his time at The Daily Iowan, and how art can be used in social change.

Meyer, best known for his work directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, has returned to Iowa City and the UI several times since his graduation in 1968, the last visit being in 2019.

Meyer said his advice for aspiring filmmakers and writers was to have a unique story to tell.

“You don’t want to be the second guy who invented calculus,” Meyer said. “First guy who said ‘a woman’s lips or like a rose’ was a genius. The second guy who said it was an idiot.”

Meyer credits his success on the stories he read as a child, like Sherlock Holmes and the Captain Hornblower novels. He has since written for the Star Trek franchise as well as a best-selling Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which he also wrote the screenplay for when it was adapted into a movie.

“I think that I’m a Sherlock Holmes purist. I started reading novels with my dad,” Meyer said. “I think that childhood experiences…with art is the most of the stuff that really gets imprinted on you.” 

Meyer studied at the UI from 1964 to 1968, and during that time he said the Vietnam war protests made him involved in social change. His anti-war political beliefs would eventually lead him to write the dystopian TV movie, The Day After, about life during nuclear winter. The movie debuted on ABC in 1983 and is one of the most-viewed broadcasts of all time, at 100 million people in the US.

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“Nuclear bombs [are] an unusable weapon,” Meyer said. “You can’t use it. So I don’t understand why we keep making them.”

Meyer said that when he was a student at the UI, people were protesting more outside of class than they were in class, and that current students who want social change can learn a thing or two from his time, and also protests happening around the world.

“We’re not out in the streets,” Meyer said. “Look at the people in Iran now. Women are burning their headscarves and getting killed for it. That’s the only way change happens, is at the point of a bayonet.”

Meyer said when he took on the directorial role for Wrath of Khan, he hadn’t seen the original 1960s TV show. He credits the character and plot consistencies that were present in the final version of the film to the actors on set who gave feedback and worked with him.

“When they started showing me the episodes, they showed me the first movie. I didn’t either like or understand,” Meyer said.  “Why does that always look like they’re in a Holiday Inn? Why doesn’t it look like they’re on a submarine?”

At the end of the speech, Meyer announced that copies of the storyboard for Wrath of Khan would be donated to the UI’s Special Collections where visitors can see them. 

“It’s always gratifying for me to be back here,” Meyer said. “This was the first place I was happy, and so I hope that in my heart.”