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The Trek Nation - Writing For Star Trek, Part V: Networking

Writing For Star Trek, Part V: Networking

By Joseph D. Di Lella
Posted at November 18, 2002 - 3:25 AM GMT

Let's forget about writing short stories, books and teleplays for a few minutes. Instead, let's concentrate on breaking into Hollywood the old fashioned way - by using common sense, and a little ingenuity.


Dr. Joe's Top Five Hints on How to Get Noticed in the Trek Universe

Step Four: Networking: Rubbing Elbows With VIP's....

Or Getting in Through the Backdoor

Anyone in the audience related to Gene Roddenberry? No Rodney, lower your hand. You name won't help us. Not that Rod Roddenberry is a bad fellow. But sometimes, the name alone, does not necessarily gain you respect.

A Big Name Doesn't Always Count

I met Gene's son two summers ago at the annual San Diego Comic Convention and he told a rather sad story about his plunge into the television scene. Rod asked the executive producers for a staff writing position on his mother's (Majel Barrett Roddenberry) show, Earth: Final Conflict. Although he said he had great ideas for the show, Rod was ostracized to the outer court yard of the writer dormitories. Though the young lad eventually received story credit for one episode, he shortly afterwards left the dorms... and the series.

You see, even important 'old family ties' do not necessarily give you time to gain experience or respect in the industry these days. In fact, Paramount, like most other major studios, want to keep ordinary people like YOU and ME outside their gates. Institutional segregation and intolerance for outsiders (unless you're related to today's big shots) is what it's called. Today, in the light of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack, a fan can't even take a studio tour of the lot. Still, there are fool- proof ways, simple strategies, of accessing the real powers behind Trek. They are...

Dr. Joe's Suggestions on How to Slip Through the Front Gates

  1. Legitimate Moves :applying for non-production/production/studio jobs

  2. Backdoor Moves: meeting VIP's through friends or at public settings

  3. Desperate Moves: cold calling writers, contacting production people

  4. Illegal Moves: posing as someone you're not to gain entrance

First Strategy: Legitimate Moves

Available Jobs?

Like you, I would love to land a staff writer job as easily as Eugene did on Earth: Final Conflict. Several years back, I could have had a lowly, six-week WGA internship position with that show, but decided against it. Why? For Andromeda, people write in Los Angeles, but production sets reside in Canada. I wanted to be where the action is, not stuck in an office with fresh out of college writers telling me to grab a coffee from Jack-In-the-Box.

Still, a writing internship is a good way to go for Trek. But one needs to be a college student, or have a darn good recommendation letter from a Berman, Speilberg or Landis to land it. Look to the Writer's Guild of America webpage for other internship possibilities in Sci Fi shows like Andromeda, Dead Zone, etc.

Also, look at, 'Communication Resource Center for Students' under the Houghton Mifflin webpage. Under 'Students,' look at the Mass Communication Resource Center. There you will find email addresses of various production companies and network people in NBC, CBS, etc., who will guide you to intern positions.

If an internship doesn't sound appealing, there are other options. If you're serious about finding your way through the front gate in the old- fashioned honest way, first look to the Paramount Studio Website (under the category, Employment) and you just might land a job with the major player in the television game. If you're a college student in the Los Angeles area, the odds shoot up dramatically. Paramount loves to use free talent (for college credit) in their ranks.

It is unlikely you'll find a job for a lead cameraman on the Enterprise set because those type of jobs are SAG (union). The man behind the camera today probably had a father in the same line. And his father before him had that job on the studio lot for decades. The best way to find your way to the Star Trek realm is through ancillary jobs, say, in the accounting office or secretary pool. Remember D. C. Fontana's story?

Starting From the Insider's Pole Position

Brannon Braga's story? Brannon didn't win over Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) at the weekend Pasadena Star Trek Grand Slam Convention. Brannon placed himself in contention to date the pretty Borg years earlier. He, like Jimmy Diggs, started as a WGA writing intern on of all shows, Star Trek: Next Generation. After his stint as intern, Braga became a story and writer contributor. After those well-paid, though unglamorous non-staff positions, Brannon worked his way through the dead bodies (when most of the writing staff left TNG in the second and third season) to earn story editor status by 1992-93 season. By 1993-94, he became TNG's co-producer.

It wasn't only Brannon's competent writing or adept social skills that pushed him up the Star Trek corporate ladder. Timing, sometimes, is the key ingredient to a person's success. After Gene became too ill to continue as an TNG's active exec. producer in the third season, Roddenberry turned over the job to Rick Berman. This was Braga's big break. Friends earlier, Berman took Brannon under his wing.

After TNG's seven year run, Braga was invited to co-write the movie, 'Generations.' Later, he teamed up with Rick to write Star Trek: Generations. Berman also brought Braga along to produce, Voyager. Today, the B & B team are executive producers and the creative force behind, Enterprise and the upcoming movie, 'Star Trek Nemesis.'

And to think, it all began for Brannon from the lowly WGA intern position.

Second Strategy: Backdoor Moves Speaking about 'Nemesis,' how do you imagine John Logan (the principle writer of the Oscar winning movie, Gladiator) came about writing the much anticipated new Trek feature? Do you believe he simply walked through Paramount Studio gates, told the security guard his name, and casually walked into Berman's office? Not likely. Not even a man with his current pedigree could get inside that way. It took help... from a Trek friend.

At the recent Pasadena 15th ST:TNG Anniversary Convention, Logan recalled his insider's move into the studio. John met Brent Spiner at a play (that Spiner stared in) in New York several years ago. Afterwards, the two talked backstage. Logan and Spiner kept in touch, becoming close friends.

Why did their conversation eventually turn to Trek? John, a Trekker from his youth (he wore a Captain Kirk costume during his Halloween, treat or treat days), loved Spiner's work on TNG. One day, Brent told John of his unsuccessful pitch meetings with Rick Berman and Patrick Stewart (Jean Luc Picard). Since the three wise Trek men had yet to hit on the big-time movie formula, our 'Mr. Data' asked John if he would like to join in on the collaborative efforts. It took four months, but Logan finally got the call to join Brent and Berman (Stewart bowed out due to other commitments) for a pitch conference. The rest will be history - starting December, 2002, at your neighborhood movie mall.

Third Strategy: Desperate Moves

If you think Logan's break unlikely, how about Ronald D. Moore's odd entry into Paramount? Ronald didn't have John Logan's Hollywood background; nor did he step off a campus, like a USC, with a B.A. in drama or screenplay writing. Moore left Cornell University with a B.S. degree in Political Science.

Still, the Cornell graduate wanted to try his luck in Los Angeles He moved to southern California and began writing for his newest, favorite television show, ST:TNG. Though he submitted a speculation script to the proper department, no one responded. Did that stop him? Not a chance. Moore found a different way to enter Berman's secure castle on Melrose Avenue.

From his telling of the big break, Moore's girlfriend knew a friend of the costume girl at the Star Trek. How did that help? In the old days, when tours were allowed on Paramount, fans could catch a glimpse of the show production areas. One day, Ron paid his $7.50 to take the tour. As the slowly moving, overcrowded tram pushed ahead past Soundstage 18, our over-eager writer hopped off. He found the friend of a friend, introduced himself and begged the woman to hand the spec script over to a sympathetic reader. Luckily for Ronald, Moore's partner in crime handed the script to the right person: Michael Piller.

Though Piller didn't buy the script, Michael loved the work. He contacted Moore to pen another teleplay. Moore's first sale became that second submission, called, 'The Bonding.' Ron was hired as a staff writer in TNG's third season. Moore eventually penned twenty six more TNG episodes, the last one, winning the Hugo Award for Excellence for the series finale, 'All Good Things . . .' Along with Rick and Brannon, Ronald eventually contributed, as the story writer, for 'Generations' and 'First Contact.'

For Mike Sussman, now senior staff writer for Enterprise, the story was similar. Mike left a neighboring state for his break in the Hollywood hills. The determined young man accepted a low-level job as a news runner for a local TV station. Riding his bike through the Paramount lot to pick up entertainment news stories may not sound like much, but it got him through security. By making acquaintances in the Star Trek offices, Mike's name was inked on the long pitch list. After a few sessions, he made his first two sales for Voyager, 'Haunting of Deck Twelve' and 'Unimatrix.' From bike to limo, all in the amount of two years.

Isn't it nice to see talented people like Moore and Sussman succeed? How about those who have the talent, but not the connections or smarts? How do these folks find their way to the sound stages? Please indulge me as I tell a personal story. I promise to show the connection after my story about a great man ... my pop.

Fourth Strategy: Illegal Moves

In the early 1940's, a young, handsome, street fighting lad made his way to America with his family of eight from Italy. After five years on the Jersey shores, the brash Italian joined the C.C.C.'s (Civilian Conservation Corps). Afterwards, he was set for another adventure, this time in the land of sunshine and oranges. No, not Florida, California. Why California? To search for the holy grail. The pot of gold. Stardom.

My pop found a roommate, rented an apartment, and worked his tail off as a landscape gardener for the good people of Westwood. This neighborhood is a stones throw from Hollywood. His clients loved him, and he them (don't ask.). He had the looks, the voice, the ego, the raging hormones. Regardless of his adept social skills and street smarts, his contacts never led him into the den of the movie business. That didn't bother him. Undaunted by this, he proceeded to find a way into the land of false hopes.

One day, my father walked up to the front gate of MGM Studios. The security guard placed his clip board down on the desk in the little booth and asked the young man's name. Pop flashed his press pass (which was self- made, not earned). The baffled man looked at the names allowed in, but didn't see me father's on the list. After a few convincing stories, the guard allowed my father on the studio grounds. Nirvana never felt better.

Well, my father spent several weeks on the studio grounds. As the one and only reporter for, The Italian Gazette, he interviewed actors like Gary Cooper ("High Noon"), directors and producers at MGA. All seemed wonderful, until a plain cloths police officer drove to my pop's apartment. The officer told my father that he'd be throw him in the county jail if he ever showed his face on the MGA lot again. Though a man full of dreams, pop heeded the request. The big screen test would have to wait.

Still that didn't stop him. He won a job with Ray Herbecks's Swing Band and played the Las Vegas Strip. As the master's of ceremony, singer, and bass player, he toured the clubs (Sahara, Bingo Club, etc.). Later, he built and owned his own little recording studio. Paul never got his big Hollywood job, but, nevertheless, entered the entertainment field on his own terms.

Tough Times of Yesteryear, Bold Measures of Today

Was my father's illegal entry into the Hollywood scene common practice for ambitious, would-be stars of the 1940's? Yes. It's also a done today. Ever hear of David Boreanaz? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Angel fame? His story isn't that dissimilar from my pop's.

In the early 1990's, David decided to enter Hollywood the same way. Why? His agent couldn't get his client's foot in the door. The soon to be heart-throb actor, bought an expensive suit, and strolled through the gates of a major studio (when the guard was busy speaking with someone else). After David's adventure on the lot (sniffing out the employment possibilities around the sound stages), he left the studio that day; making sure to say, "hello," to the same guard. The security officer assumed David was the son of a wealthy producer, and allowed him freedom on the grounds forever more.

After a few more days of stumbling around again, David found an ajar stage door to the closed set of NBC's hit comedy, Cheers. As David stood next to Cheers favorite customers, 'Norm' and 'Cliff,' the producer yelled at him - but it wasn't for Boreanaz to get out of the way. Co-executive producer, David Angell, asked the handsome lad to play background for the scene. After his first paying gig, David's agent got him the audition for Buffy.

What type of moves will you make to enter the Hollywood scene? Legit? Illegit? Backdoor or desperate? Of course, you don't need to take any risk at all. You can simply sit by your computer and write the next great Trek fiction or non-fiction book proposal or short story. But if you want to see your name on the Enterprise episode credits list one day, you'll need to get in the studio one way or another. Just don't call me to bail you out of jail (if you use an illegitimate strategy).

In the next article, Step Five: Reflection, we'll sum-up why you need to re evaluate your winning or losing efforts. Till then, good writing.

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Joseph D. Di Lella is a freelance writer and panelist at the San Diego Comic Con. He can be reached via this page at AllExperts.com.