(written from a Production point of view)
McKay's parents were Trekkies, and grew up watching Star Trek: The Original Series, the films, and the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. "Then," he elaborated, "I was becoming a teenager and – as many teens do, you reject whatever your parents like – so I went through a few years where I was like, "You know, I don't even LIKE Star Trek!" But I very much came back to it in a big way as I got older." 
McKay and Payne went to junior high and high school together, where they first collaborated on directing a play Payne wrote for a school festival. McKay described himself as "very much a film buff, into Scorsese and other cool, edgy filmmakers, and was sort of making my own little backyard silly movies [while] J.D. was always writing short stories and novels and with a very Twilight Zone sort of sci-fi style." 
Before being assigned to Star Trek 3, McKay and Payne scripted several unproduced projects, including an adaptation of the graphic novel Boilerplate and the toyline Micronauts for Bad Robot. They also scripted the Biblical epic Goliath and a film adaptation of the Spike TV series Deadliest Warrior.