Fact-Checking Inside Star Trek: The Real Story

Discussion in 'Star Trek - Original Series' started by Harvey, Jun 7, 2013.

  1. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2007
    Location:
    Outer Graceland
    Harvey, thank you for the shout out on your blog. That was kind. I SO want this guy's book to be well done. Especially if it really was years in the making. It is sort of maddening, as in, Dude, if you're gonna spend YEARS in the researching, get the easier things right, like Amos n Andy coming before Lucy. All that is wikipediable (new word?); but maybe if you think you're right, you just don't bother to look? It sure casts doubt on all the details we aren't able to cross check as readers. Well. Let's end on a positive that most of the typos are gone.

    Best wishes on your continuing, fun blog.
     
  2. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Amen.

    I tried watching the Access Hollywood interview with Cushman and John D.F. Black and had to turn it off because the interviewer was fawning so much and saying Cushman had "proved" his contention that Star Trek was a hit, when that's questionable at best. Ugh.
     
  3. Hober Mallow

    Hober Mallow Commodore Commodore

    Can't say I blame them. TNG bought, what... two or three scripts submitted through the process during the show's entire run? More often they'd invite people to come in an pitch ideas, but even then I imagine most pitch sessions with outside writers yielded nothing.
     
  4. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2003
    Location:
    The Bay Area
    Unless a blog chose to use AP Style, which uses quotes all around.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2013
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Just a reminder, though, that SpHeRe was speaking hypothetically. As stated above, and as I know from personal experience, the open submission policy continued throughout the run of Voyager and only came to an end with the start of Enterprise.

    As I recall, only one spec script submission in a thousand earned a writer an invitation to pitch, and only about one pitch in ten thousand was bought (keeping in mind that each writer would make multiple pitches per session and often get multiple sessions). But that wasn't really atypical. They turned down as many pitches from established professional freelancers as from unagented newbies like myself who came in through the open submission process. I recall that when I flew out to pitch to DS9, I was seated next to Daniel Keys Moran, who'd previously sold "Hard Time" to DS9 (and didn't like what they'd done with it, though I disagree) and who'd been through several more pitches since without selling anything to the show.

    I don't think the open submission policy was shut down because of insufficient fecundity, but rather for more bureaucratic reasons. Most studios avoid open submissions because of the fear of nuisance plagiarism lawsuits. Trek had aspiring pitchers sign an "I promise not to sue if some future episode vaguely resembles my ideas" waiver, but that was probably considered a tenuous safeguard and it was safer to go back to the old agents-only approach. And I think the process entailed a lot of work on the part of the producers and the script coordinator, and the people in charge of ENT didn't want to do it anymore.
     
  6. SpHeRe31459

    SpHeRe31459 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2013
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    Yep the legal reasons were what they gave when they shut it down at the beginning of ENT.
     
  7. trevanian

    trevanian Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2004
    I thought the open door policy garnered a lot of useable material for TNG. A couple days before I pitched, they bought what became SILICON AVATAR from somebody with a spec they liked. One of the amnesia shows came from a spec from a friend's Arizona mailman. I kinda think Echevaria came from the slush pile too (is he the one who did the data's daughter show that was rewritten by Snodgrass?)

    I think if you go back through the CFQ coverage on the series you'll see a lot of 'story by' credits that came from folks who have no other writing credits, or damn few anyway.
     
  8. SpHeRe31459

    SpHeRe31459 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2013
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    Yes to both.
     
  9. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    Almost every review I've read has embraced the "hit" thesis without question, which has been disappointing. I will definitely address this in greater detail on my blog at some point; I've been slowly gathering articles from the period that mention or discuss the show's ratings for this, and already shared some of the archival stuff I found in the Roddenberry collection on this board.

    Next month I should have some time to read these two books, which look like they explain a lot of the things Cushman suggests in his author's note were too hard to understand about the ratings (which, really, should immediately give one pause when you consider one of his central "revelations" is his thesis about the ratings).

    Plynch makes a good point, that cannot be emphasized enough. I don't think anyone has come to this book wanting it to fail. Believe me, I wish the book had been an unqualified success (good reviews, after all, sell books, which I get a piece of through affiliate links).
     
  10. Sir Rhosis

    Sir Rhosis Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2001
    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    I pitched telephonically to DS9 in 1995 (flying there was rather prohibitive, based on my finances at the time:)). And to slightly correct (based on memory) -- Echevaria gave an interview in those days in which he said his girlfriend's agent submitted his first script to TNG, so not quite the slush pile.

    Sir Rhosis
     
  11. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2007
    Location:
    Outer Graceland
    As we veer farther off topic, but for the sake of discourse (literally I guess), Christopher or others, can you elaborate on what "pitching" was like? And would you have gotten story credit and had a script written by the writers' room? Or were you hoping to sell a script too?
     
  12. trevanian

    trevanian Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2004
    I just googled trevanian and TNG and pitching and was surprised I couldn't find too many references, and none of them were all that complete. I was certain I had gone on at length at least 4 or 5 times online on different forums about the TNG pitch ...

    I'll try writing it up again, then maybe PM you because I think I'll write it LONG this time, just so there is a complete record. It's pretty funny too, in between being tragic.
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Maybe these?

     
  14. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    Well, if you do write a longer version, trevanian, I'd love to read it.
     
  15. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    I'm not really a good source, since I was pretty terrible at it. The ideal is to come in with a fairly large number of ideas that can be quickly summarized, just a couple of sentences catchy enough (one hopes) to create more interest and spark a discussion about where it could be taken. But I came up with these detailed story outlines and took forever to get through them. And the detail worked against me, because there were a lot of points where my interpretation differed from how the producers saw things, or where they were turned off of a potentially good idea because it included an element they didn't like.

    The closest I ever came was on my last pitch, a phone pitch to Michael Taylor when he was a junior member of the Voyager staff. I pitched an idea about the ship coming across an alien archive that contained, essentially, sentient replicas of great historical figures from across the galaxy, including Surak, and Tuvok had a crisis of faith when he discovered how different the real Surak had been from what he'd been taught. I got bogged down in the technicalities of how the replication worked, and that almost blew it for me until I said "Okay, let's forget that part, we can change it." I got far enough that Taylor said he'd bring it up in the writers' room, but I never heard back.

    Anyway, I hated the pitching process. I'm too insecure... I can handle rejections in print, but it's agonizing to put an idea out there face-to-face and get it shot down verbally. But the thing about Hollywood pitches is, they have to be oral, either in person or over the phone. Because if a film or TV production asks you to write something down for them, that's effectively a binding contract and they have to pay you for what you write.

    So it was after that third awkward pitch that I decided screenwriting just wasn't for me. Still, my first pitch, where I actually flew out to LA and pitched to Robert Hewitt Wolfe, was invaluable to me. Robert had been a protege of Michael Piller and picked up his focus on character above all, and he passed that along to me when I pitched. I spun these elaborately detailed plots and he kept asking, "How does it affect the characters? What's the character impact?" It was a very important lesson in writing, and I took it to heart.

    Of course, then I went and developed a bunch of character-centric outlines for my VGR phone pitch, only to be told, "These are too character-focused -- the network wants more high-concept plot-driven stuff." D'oh!

    I also made the mistake of pitching some Kes-centric ideas during the late third season -- i.e., at a time when they were taking submissions for fourth-season scripts. Joe Menosky gave various reasons to turn them down, but in retrospect I think he was trying to avoid revealing that Kes wouldn't be coming back. (One of my pitches had Kes going through a sort of adolescence that kicked her powers into high gear, and Menosky told me they were developing a similar story already. I guess he was talking about "The Gift.")


    The former scenario would've been more likely for a first-time seller, but the latter was certainly the hoped-for outcome, since it would've paid a lot better and been a stronger credit for the ol' CV.
     
  16. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2003
    Location:
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    Sounds like a pitch isn't much different than a sound byte or even a film teaser. And, because of the lack of detail, the idea you're trying to put across might be totally different from the idea the one hearing the pitch is getting.
     
  17. trevanian

    trevanian Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2004
    Thanks, MAURICE, that post covers the most important pitch of the lot.

    Like CHRISTOPHER, I had very detailed pitches for most of my ideas. Only a couple existed as less-than-a-page premises; most were also in story form at 3 to 6 pages, with three in various stages of completion as teleplays (those in addition to the three specs I submitted, one of which was just not good, one of which was pretty damn great and the one that got me into pitch, which read as VERY cheap on paper and indulged my 'trek needs to be darker' proclivities.)

    Based on the interest levels, I'd say having the one-liner that really elicits interest is absolutely the way to go. If you have to set it up to any degree, that's taking time away from your other pitches and probably causing attention to wander. Also, the one-liner approach lets you see if they 'get' it. I had a shortie premise about a planet where it is like what Earth may soon be like, with a barrier of crap in orbit that is too dangerous to traverse. Right off, the reply was, great, but how is that a people story? Well, that was a good critique, because SPACE GARBAGE was absolutely just a premise, one that didn't have a personal angle like the one Piller would've demanded. (I figured having gimmicks that could sell was as good as the ones that I could do as full teleplays, which sounds good on paper, but didn't work for me.)

    I had a comedy-adventure one that would have cost a fortune, DILITHIUM FEVER, where for some reason they couldn't regenerate the crystals and had to go down and actually MINE for them and get into trouble with humanoid locals (Riker tries to pass for law enforcement from another provence and is asked for his identification and gets into a 'we don't have to show you our badges' thing, but more importantly, Worf, who hates water, overcomes his issues and ends the episode heartily embracing white-water rafting. That was another which was barely thought out past a couple of hooks.

    THE HOLLOW MEN was one I really liked. They were in one of these 'man this sucks' situations where the ship is orbiting a world on the verge of self-annihilation, like the nukes are going to fly any moment now, and they are forbidden to interfere. They have one of the holodeck inventors aboard, who is interested in how they seem to get more out of the holodeck than seems possible, given Moriarty and such, but we see this person has an agenda, and uses the 'holo matter can get off the holodeck and move around' thing to loose a group of holo-men Data created as a 'happy birthday' program for Picard to take action to prevent the armageddon on the planet. I'd have to take the outline out to remember how it all works, but I do remember it ends with a group of these EasterIslandStatue-looking holo-men singing happy birthday to Picard (this was the one aspect of all these pitches Taylor liked, the b-day part, but she wasn't going to buy it without having something else to go with it.)

    Yeah, maybe I will write this out at length. My wife has been bugging me to do a visual effects and cinematography and writing and trek related blog for a long while now, so maybe this is a way to kickstart that whole process. If I do, I'll post a script except from CROSSES TO BEAR, because the Picard/Guinan scene (if it lives up to 23 year-old memories) is pretty damn THERE.
     
  18. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    I submitted some spec scripts to TNG, but I didn't go through the open submissions policy. I got an agent (actually, she had been Ronald D. Moore's first agent) and submitted that way. I did three spec scripts, one of which I really really liked titled "None So Noble", which I thought had it all: at the core it was about Worf coming to terms with the fact that his idealized version of Klingon honor had little in common with what Klingons actually practiced, and eventually coming to realize that just because other people don't live up to their ideals doesn't make the ideals bad. So I had the "how does it affect the characters" thing down. The plot involved Klingon subject planets deciding they'd had enough of living under the thumb of the Empire and threatening to stop building ships, producing food, etc., and asking for Federation help. I can't know why it didn't get me a pitch session (maybe the first reader just didn't like it), but I do know my timing sucked, because it was submitted around the time "Sins of the Father" was in the pipeline and they went a very different direction with the Klingons. Oh well.

    On the other hand, my agent asked me to submit some story concepts and she took those to the show. I got a memo back from Eric Stillwell with some feedback on which ideas they might find interesting (I'll dig it out of my files and scan it), but what I remember most about the memo was that one of the story ideas featured an Andorian guest character and Eric wrote that, "one of our producers doesn't like aliens with antennae" or words to that effect.

    I met with my agent in L.A. in 1990 (the same week I interviewed Ronald D. Moore for the TNG magazine) and did a few verbal pitches to her for stories I might submit. One was for a show called "Skin Deep", which was a Riker-Troi episode with a really cool twist, and she said "That one", but I never wrote it because real life interfered. Oh well.
     
  19. Sir Rhosis

    Sir Rhosis Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2001
    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    My pitch experiences (well, the first one) mirrors Christopher's almost exactly. I came in (telephonically) with 7-10 page outlines, the first couple of which took me about five or six minutes each to pitch. Echevarria, very kindly, asked me to "cut to the chase" and in fact, he pitched one of my ideas back at me to show the succinctness he wished. I had maybe three full outlines (one of which involved Kira and a fellow member of her cell that was shot down because it was sorta like one in the works already). Another involved a faction of the prophets who splintered and (for lack of a better word) worshipped Jake as the true prophet. "No Jesus stories," I was told.

    I honestly can't remember too many of them, and since I worked on a Brother word processor in those days and the machine is long dead, I have disks which I cannot access, so who knows what all I pitched.

    As I never cared much for VOYAGER, I never attempted to pitch to that program.

    Sir Rhosis

    EDIT TO ADD: I wasn't really insecure or nervous pitching. Nine years in the Marines probably toughened me to that degree. After Boot Camp, I could stand up to anyone, so to speak.
     
  20. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2007
    Location:
    Outer Graceland
    Thanks. Very interesting.

    If anybody meets the guardian of forever and goes back in time and restarts this forum, I for one vote for using real names. Many of you are very interesting people and it is kinda weird to have this veil of pseudonyms here. Be well!
     

Share This Page