I wrote for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Yet that wasn’t my first sci-fi space ride. Before taking an up close tour of Captain Sisko’s station, I wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation. As both a fan and writer, those formative screenwriting credits thrill me. Here are 5 important reasons why I followed up my TNG script sale with my DS9 episode, Prophet Motive.
As Star Trek Fan, I’m a Trekker or Trekkie
Writing for a series you’ve no affinity for or don’t enjoy watching is certainly doable, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Ya gotta go do what you really love.
Becoming a TV writer usually means you like TV – a lot. It also means you usually watch TV – a lot. I guess there are always exceptions to the rule, but it’s basically how it goes. Screenwriters love watching, discussing and analyzing TV and movies – they swim around freely in our creative blood.
For me, classic Star Trek functioned as dynamic introduction to both quality television drama and sci-fi/space opera. Only Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone has had more lasting impact on my creative energies and sensibilities.
But whereas the twisted sci-fi, fantasy fables Serling crafted could be disturbing or even downright depressing, Trek remained hopeful. It always reminded us our future could be bright. It showed how our human culture would still be vibrant and prosperous centuries from today. Watching Next Generation, then later writing for it, cemented my admiration and respect for Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.
I’d Already Written For Star Trek: The Next Generation
My dual dream of writing for TV, and Star Trek in particular, had been satisfied with production of my TNG episode, ‘Homeward’, guest starring Paul Sorvino as Nikolai Rozhenko, Human brother to the adopted Klingon Worf.
In ways, it felt like a really hard part was over, but Next Generation was over too. The spin-off show which proved Star Trek could go on without Kirk’s original crew warped into motion pictures. And though it was incredibly satisfying to see as a fan, as a writer, it was bittersweet.
No worries – the Bajoran Wormhole beckoned…
Deep Space Nine continued the high quality science fiction, space opera which Roddenberry launched in the 1960’s on NBC and Next Generation had extended into 1990’s in syndication.
I Was Trying To Get A Hollywood Agent
Being based in the NYC area meant each time I had a pitch meeting with Paramount’s LA Star Trek offices, I flew out or had a phone conference. Getting a Hollywood agent is important for writing gigs. Nailing another high profile writing credit sure helps.
My TNG sale attracted agents, but no signing deal. After selling my script to DS9, I had talks with one of the biggest agencies around, William Morris, but I still attended school in the northeast, so a move was prohibitive.
Selling to TNG without an agent beat the odds. After selling a script to DS9 a year and a half later, most felt I’d soundly destroyed the odds. I recall one of the script coordinators telling me that at its height, Trek received several thousand spec scripts per year. Of those submissions, I think a half dozen was purchased or produced as episodes.
After Selling, You Could Submit Unlimited Scripts
Captain Kirk loved to violate Starfleet’s infamous Prime Directive with his cowboy diplomacy, but writers can’t be so rebellious.
Trek’s producers enforced a strict rule about unagented teleplay submissions: Each writer – or a writing team – could submit two scripts without a WGA (Writers Guild of America) registered agent. It was called the cap, and once you sent off two, the cap went firmly on. Going forward, you’d need an agent if you wanted them to read any more of your material.
Since I still worked and wrote scripts without WGA representation, writing for DS9, a show I loved dearly, was a prime way to go in landing myself a literary agent.
Deep Space Nine Completely Revitalized Star Trek
Next Generation transported Star Trek 80 years into the future – it showed us what our future built on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise adventures could mean to our fictional Federation.
Where Next Gen boasts an ultra organized vibe, said to be ‘Starfleet Clean’, Deep Space Nine, not so much. But therein lies its charm. One never knew what to expect from an alien constructed station. It delighted as unusual and unpredictable, but never uninteresting.
Deep Space Nine functioned as, among many additional explorations, examination of a world being accepted into the United Federation of Planets. Bajor’s strategic significance was immediately evident in DS9’s pilot, Emmissary, upon discovery of a stable Wormhole connecting the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants.
DS9, cleverly reworked a familiar set-up or formula which both fans and creatives had become accustomed to, even a little worn out by seeing season after season. Twenty six years had passed from launch of Kirk’s Enterprise. Sisko taking command of DS9 marked a real turning point in Trek’s expanding narrative universe.
It was said, for the time, DS9 station sets were the biggest, and probably the most lavish, in all of Hollywood. I interviewed actress Nana Visitor, who played Major Kira. She told me spending hours in those expansive sets played into how realistic it communicated to all of them. If the actors felt they truly lived and worked in space, it definitely set a convincing tone for Trekkers.
The creative jaunts launched on a classic Trek canvas, and expanded with Deep Space Nine, which creator Gene Roddenberry birthed has proven limitless. Exploration, scientific research, philosophy, sociological examination, alien/extraterrestrial interaction, psychology, political analysis, medical/healthcare – etc. Sci-Fi promotes a bottomless reservoir for fictional speculation, with Star Trek doing it more optimistically, more exciting, and arguably more popular than nearly all similar entertainment franchises.