Star Trek spec scripts—anybody submit?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by Lukas Kendall, Jul 4, 2022.

  1. Lukas Kendall

    Lukas Kendall Ensign Red Shirt

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    Star Trek was famous for being one the rare television shows—maybe the only one—that accepted fan submissions. This was back in the Michael Piller days, when Piller saw the difficulty in writing for Star Trek’s unique format and the value in accepting spec scripts to discover new stories and writers. And actually, I believe, they produced quite a bit from new writers.

    Back in 1990-91, as a 16-17-year-old, I tried my hand at submitting scripts—and I failed! But it was an educational experience.

    I recently found my rejection letters from the show and posted them to my blog, if anybody is curious: https://www.lukaskendall.com/post/st-tng-eric-stillwell-letters

    I also wrote about my experience and efforts: https://www.lukaskendall.com/post/my-star-trek-the-next-generation-spec-scripts

    I’d love to hear about others’ experiences—especially people who actually succeeded! (Congrats if you got to “live the dream”!)

    Lukas
     
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  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I submitted a TNG spec script in 1992, and an episode with a similar premise aired a week and a half later, so I knew then that they wouldn't buy my script. (It was "Quality of Life," and it even had a beat in common, a joke from Geordi making Data suspect that a cybernetic entity might actually be sentient.)

    I later submitted a DS9 spec script and wrote a Voyager one, but my DS9 script got me an invitation to pitch to DS9, which led to an opportunity to pitch to VGR, so I never needed to submit the VGR script. They very rarely bought the actual spec script someone submitted; the scripts were more just auditions for potential new writers, which is what they were really shopping for. So they'd ask you to come in (or schedule a phone pitch) and toss out a bunch of ideas to them. Maybe one in a hundred was original enough, interesting enough, and filmable enough that they'd actually pursue it, so they wanted a lot of people coming in to pitch a lot of ideas.

    I flew out to LA for my DS9 pitch, and though I waited in Ron Moore's outer office, I ended up pitching to Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who's still an occasional online correspondent of mine, though that didn't really begin until later, on the old Andromeda fan boards. I did a pretty terrible job of pitching, since I had these whole lengthy plot summaries printed out to read, when what they really wanted was quick, punchy ideas boiled down to one paragraph or sentence. I also was too focused on plot mechanics. Robert kept asking me, what's the character hook? How does this reveal or develop our main characters? I didn't sell anything, but I learned an invaluable lesson from that.

    Except then I developed very character-driven ideas for my first VGR pitch (which was over the phone since I didn't want to fly out again), and it turned out they wanted high-concept plot-driven ideas instead, big surprise. At least I got to talk to Joe Menosky on the phone and tell him how much I loved "Darmok." (One of my pitches was a Kes-centric story that, in retrospect, must have been rejected because they were already writing Kes out. It had some coincidental similarities to "The Gift," as it happened.)

    I did a second pitch the following year, and I tried hard to come up with pitches involving characters other than Seven and the Doctor, since I knew they'd be the most popular characters and I wanted to offer something different. Still, most of the ideas I had were Seven or Doctor stories after all, because they had the most potential for growth and conflict, with the other characters all having worked through their major arcs by then. However, when I pitched to Michael Taylor, he liked a Tuvok-centric idea of mine enough that he agreed to bring it up in the writers' room. (I still did a terrible job pitching, giving too much detail and including an aspect he didn't like, which almost cost me the pitch. But I managed to boil it down to the essence that caught his interest.)

    Still, I never heard back, and it became clear I didn't get in. By that point, I'd decided I was just no good at pitching and didn't really want to work in Hollywood anyway. (Although I did get to visit Vasquez Rocks while I was out in LA.)

    I've mentioned the two instances of coincidental similarity between one of my specs/pitches and something they were already doing. There were a couple of other instances. One of my DS9 pitches was along similar lines to "Empok Nor," which came along a season or so later. I never suspected them of stealing it, because such coincidences happen all the time anyway, as I'd already discovered. And I'm sure plenty of pitchers had the same idea of telling a bottle episode on a duplicate of DS9 so they could save money on sets. The other instance, amusingly, was that one of my VGR pitches to Joe Menosky happened to resemble a non-Trek movie spec script he'd written, and he wondered where I'd gotten the idea. Ironically, it was a reworking of my DS9 spec script!
     
  3. Lukas Kendall

    Lukas Kendall Ensign Red Shirt

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    Interesting, thank you! Happy you had those experiences!
     
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  4. Eddie Roth

    Eddie Roth Commodore Commodore

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    I always dreamed about it, but I was keenly aware at the time (I was around 16,17 then) that I didn't know enough about screenwriting yet (especially formal aspects) to successfully submit. But it inspired me to learn these things, and that finally sparked my lifelong interest in filmmaking and writing. Eventually I did end up making films with some success at festivals at least. And I did get a TNG story of mine published in a German fanzine anyway. :)
     
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  5. FederationHistorian

    FederationHistorian Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Feb 6, 2020
    No. Its not that I cannot write a spec script. I am quite capable of putting in the effort and meeting the page requirement of 90 – 110 pages, having written fictional Star Trek stories before. And I am not lacking in any ideas; I actually have plenty of them. But as am not trained as a screenwriter and have never really had a strong desire to break into the industry, I don’t think it will happen. Plus, TPTB supposedly don’t accept scripts from fans anymore. And learning how even big name in the industry being refused – that how we got The Orville, because they rejected Seth MacFarlane’s initial Star Trek pitch - means I’m choosing to steer clear of it. The odds are pretty much against me.

    If I was asked to write one, I could definitely do it. But I’m not waiting for that to happen.

    I do wish those that do submit success.
     
  6. Kor

    Kor Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I was just a kid in those days, but my school-assigned pen pal was in college and claimed that he was submitting one. I don't know what ever came of it.

    Kor
     
  7. Sakonna

    Sakonna Commodore Commodore

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    I submitted one to DS9 that I wrote with a friend. I've been trying to remember details, but I've mostly forgotten it. I do recall it was a Kira and Bareil story (early in season 3, "Life Support" aired shortly thereafter) and involved the orbs -- we had so much fun writing the orb visions, that's why that detail sticks in my mind.

    The guest character was a female Cardassian, I remember when "Destiny" aired thinking that my friend and I weren't the only ones hoping for more cool Cardassian women.

    I also tried to write one in TNG season 6, but didn't complete it. But it did involve the Borg developing emotions -- this was before "Descent." So at least my imagination was kind of in the right place!

    I'm sure they were both terrible, but I definitely had fun doing it. :bolian:
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2022
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    IIRC, my DS9 spec script brought back Tracy Scoggins's Cardassian scientist character from "Destiny."
     
  9. Lord Garth

    Lord Garth Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Had I been an adult, I would've submitted a spec script.
     
  10. Farscape One

    Farscape One Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Same here. I always thought it would be awesome to have my name in the credits... that I would help create a piece of the world I loved so much.
     
  11. James Swallow

    James Swallow Writer Captain

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    Throughout the early to mid-90s, I wrote and submitted a bunch of fully written, unagented spec scripts for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager – all of which got shot down along the way! – but I doggedly continued to work on improving my craft over the next couple of years, including attending writer’s workshops taught by script coordinator Lolita Fatjo and writers Brannon Braga, Ron Moore and Eric Stilwell. At the time, I was also writing articles for the official magazine Star Trek Monthly, and taking the opportunity to talk to writers on the shows and learn as much as I could from them.

    Eventually, I impressed Lolita enough that she gave me the opportunity to make a pitch to Joe Menofsky on Voyager – first over the phone and later in person at Paramount. Pitching stories involves coming up with “premises”, essentially short concepts for a story that can be developed into a full script by a staff writer. It’s an exhaustive process that pushes you very hard creatively, and along the way I learned a lot from the experience.

    Early on, Joe and I worked on developing a story idea (which as I recall revolved around on a plot element involving the ship’s bio-neural gel-packs) – but we never did find a way to make it work. However, that opened the door for me to pitch to Joe’s colleague Bryan Fuller, and after a couple of sessions I sold Bryan a story premise that was taken up by Jeri Taylor and turned into the season four episode “One”. It was like winning the lottery, and it remains to this day one of my proudest moments!

    Making a sale gave me permission to become a regular ‘pitcher’ to Voyager, and I eventually sold a second story premise to Bryan, which was picked up by Brannon Braga to become the sixth season episode “Memorial”. Getting another sale was a very important milestone for me, personally and professionally, because I wanted to prove I wasn’t just a ‘one hit wonder’...

    Over the entire run of Voyager I pitched something like 70 different story ideas, sometimes calling from the UK on the phone in my apartment’s tiny kitchen, or in person in the Star Trek offices when I was working in Los Angeles – so my hit rate was just under 3%, which gives you an idea of how hard it was to get on target!

    My two sales to Voyager granted me the opportunity to come in and pitch for Enterprise when that started shooting, and over the first few seasons I pitched stories to several people on the show, including Maria Jacquemetton, Fred Dekker, Mike Sussman, Phyllis Strong, Andre Bormanis and David Goodman. David and I developed a few good ideas, but again we never quite hit the mark – and this was around the time my writing career was starting to take off in the UK, so after getting no traction on Enterprise, I chose to concentrate on that and I drifted away from pitching.

    Of course, a good writer never throws anything away, and years later I repurposed some of the story ideas that didn’t make the cut in other places, including my Star Trek prose fiction!
     
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  12. Trekker09

    Trekker09 Captain Captain

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    Congrats on your success with writing for Voyager, very impressive – “One” has always been a favorite for me, a poignant and compelling story. Interesting that both that and “Memorial” involve hallucinations. Maybe you've heard of James Trombetta --I knew him a little, long time ago-- who wrote episodes for both Voyager and DS9.
     
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  13. 1001001

    1001001 Do You Really Wanna Taste It? Moderator

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    One and Memorial are both among my favorite episodes of VOY.

    Congrats and well done!

    :beer:
     
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  14. Turd Ferguson

    Turd Ferguson Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I was 17 or maybe 18 (1997-1998) and my senior year of high school they had us do a senior project which involved doing the project and giving a ten minute presentation in front of five or six teachers. I chose to write a spec script for Voyager.

    Looking back, the story was a pure fanwank disaster, but it did net me a rejection letter :lol:

    I believe the story had something to do with Voyager discovering the Tribbles originated in the Delta Quadrant, the Borg assimilating Janeway and leading an assault on the Alpha Quadrant that Captain Sisko and the Defiant were to repel... then revealing the whole thing was a time loop and after Q snapped everything back, it was actually, like, the 27th century :lol:

    Looking back, I'm surprised I didn't get laughed off the podium for my presentation. Oh well, hopefully I gave Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Joe Menosky and co. a good chuckle at my expense :lol:
     
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