Mike SussmanBy Caillan Davenport
Posted at May 12, 2003 - 10:25 AM GMT
Mike Sussman's association with Star Trek extends back to Voyager's second season, when he created the story for the Tuvok-centric "Meld". After successfully selling the stories for "The Haunting of Deck 12" and "Unimatrix Zero" in season six, Sussman joined the Voyager staff for the show's seventh and final season.
After the end of the USS Voyager's trek through the Delta Quadrant, Sussman jumped aboard Enterprise to script the NX-01's first missions of exploration. Together with his writing partner Phyllis Strong, Sussman has penned ten episodes of Enterprise, including "Dead Stop", "Future Tense", "Regeneration", and "Bounty", scheduled to air this Wednesday night.
Mike Sussman recently agreed to answer questions from TrekToday readers on his work as a Star Trek writer. His responses to a selection of the questions submitted can be found below:
Eliza: I liked the fact that Ethan had a bad transporter experience in "Strange New World", with all those sticks and rocks stuck in his body. In the episode he survives, but were there any plans to actually have him die from the transporter mishap?
Mike Sussman: In an early draft, Novakovich did die after sniffing the alien pollen (I guess that means he would've been pushing up the hallucinogenic daisies). It was felt at the time that the death of a crewmember would require time to show Archer and the crew dealing with the loss, and there wasn't time for such a scene. Personally, I always liked how Kirk shrugged off casualty reports like they were yesterday's sports scores.
Monty: I rate "Detained" as one of the best of season one and am keen to see more "issue shows" on Enterprise. I'd be interested if you agree with me that this type of allegorical storytelling is a key strength of Trek, and should be done more on the show?
Mike Sussman: I'm glad you liked "Detained", but in all honesty, I'm not a huge fan of allegorical stories, in Star Trek or anywhere else. I'm more in the camp of Sam Goldwyn: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." :)
Event-Horizon: Hi, I really loved "Dead Stop", it's one of my favourite episodes ever and I think most people agree with me. When you wrote it, did you had any idea that the Repair Station would become as interesting as it did? And do you know of any efforts to try and explore that in the future?
Mike Sussman: Thanks, "Dead Stop" was a lot of fun to work on. From the beginning, we were trying to make the station a character in its own right. Roxann Dawson did a great HAL 9000 impression, too. As to whether we'll see the repair station again... I imagine it's replicating a pair of nacelles so it can chase down Archer and get its compensation. He did skip out without paying...
Vinci: In the episode "Future Tense", the crew alluded to the disappearance of Zephram Cochrane. This was a nice addition to the storyline and helped to link this series with TOS. How did the idea of adding this dialogue develop and are their plans to add more information about Cochrane in future episodes?
Mike Sussman: I have to give full credit to Phyllis for coming up with the Zephram Cochrane link — it was a great idea. Maybe someday we'll hear more about Zephram, I don't know. I'd love to see the character again, if there was some way to do it without stepping all over "Metamorphosis".
DavidAGoodman: I heard your original concept for "Future Tense" was that the ship from the future was the U.S.S. Defiant from "Tholian Web". Is that true?
Mike Sussman: Mr. Goodman, what a thrill. I'm such a big fan of your Futurama episode. What have you been up to since...?
The original idea for "Future Tense" was a sequel of sorts to "The Tholian Web". We'd learn that after the Defiant disappeared into the "spatial interphase", it emerged in the 22nd Century. Archer would eventually discover that the Tholians from his era had somehow weakened the fabric of space/time, hoping to trap a ship from the future. The Tholians would then try to reverse engineer the ship and get all sorts of cool futuristic technology. And of course it would fall upon Archer to retrieve the Defiant and destroy it to prevent this from happening.
As much as I would've loved to see Archer and the gang wandering the decks of a Constitution Class starship (and possibly running into a ghostly James Kirk in his silver bee-keeper suit), the story had some problems, not the least of which would be the expense of recreating the Defiant. And since DS9 pretty much did the same thing in "Trials and Tribble-ations" (a great episode, Mr. Goodman, if you haven't seen it) it probably wouldn't have been as cool as I thought at the time.
S. Davis: Out of all the episodes you've written for Voyager and Enterprise, which would you say is your favourite? Which one(s) didn't turn out as well as you hoped?
Mike Sussman: "The Swarm" and "Prophecy" didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. The latter felt like a missed opportunity to learn something new about Kirk-era Klingons. I think Phyllis and I did our best work in "Dead Stop" and "Author, Author".
Cyrano_Jones: Hi Mike! Which character(s) do you most like to write for? I'm a fan of the "little people" like Hoshi and Mayweather, but they don't seem to get as much screen times as the other characters - are they difficult characters to write for?
Mike Sussman: I enjoy writing for all of our characters (with the possible exception of the Brit that sits to the right of Archer... I forget his name). Actually, Reed is probably the most natural for me to write for, since he can be a little snide at times... as I am in my personal life.
Hoshi and Mayweather are a pleasure to write for when they're away from the Bridge. One of my favourite moments this past year was Hoshi's reminiscing about the "jello creature" that Travis tricked her into communicating with. I thought Linda did a really great job with that scene.
Cyrus: In an interview with Star Trek Communicator magazine you admitted that all this cloaking technology we see in Enterprise (specially from the Romulans) is contradictory with TOS. Is there any plans to address this somehow in the show?
Mike Sussman: Well... I don't know if I used the word "contradictory". ;) At the time of that article, we had yet to see any Romulans on Enterprise. To my knowledge, there are no plans to address the cloaking issue on the show.
In the first season, we encountered a few invisible "stealth vessels", which was a bit of a cheat, but one that I thought worked brilliantly since it allowed us to run into invisible enemies without getting into whether they were "really" cloaked, or just transparent to sensors. Then at the end of the season, the crew suddenly started talking about cloaking devices, a term we'd never heard before, and it's been "cloaking this" and "cloaking that" ever since. *sigh* It was the end of the first season and everyone was exhausted... that's the only excuse I can offer!
Shaun Whiteaker: First of all, I would like to thank you and Phyllis Strong for giving us "Future Tense" and "Dead Stop" - two of my favourites! Now, on to my question: What made you guys want to tackle the Borg again? I always saw the over-reliance on the Borg (a TNG creation) by Voyager's staff as one of that series' major downfalls. I hope you guys can pull it off. I don't want to see Enterprise go backwards, I want to see all of the potential fulfilled! Good luck, sir!
Mike Sussman: Are we doing a Borg show? I've got to start reading the script status reports.
Scott: How did you come up with the story for the Tellarite bounty hunter and do you plan on using the Tellarites again in the series?
Mike Sussman: Phyllis, Chris Black and I have dropped in references to the Tellarites in a bunch of episodes: "Carbon Creek", "Civilization", "Dead Stop", etc. The hunter in "Bounty" was originally a non-descript alien, but making him a familiar species helped jump-start the episode. I hope we'll see the Tellarites again soon... maybe even pay a visit to their homeworld of Tellaria. ;-)
Destructor: My question is probably one being asked by a lot of fans: Do you feel that the creators of the show acknowledge the general fan feeling that "something is missing" from Enterprise. I'm not trying to slam the show, I really enjoy it, but it does seem to lack a certain "edge". Do you feel this is noticed, and if so, what are the writers trying to do to correct this?
Mike Sussman: All right, Goodman, I know it's you. Are you trying to get me fired? You want my office, don't you...
Well, Destructor, I think Rick and Brannon have been very forthcoming about the changes they're planning for next season. Wait until you see "The Expanse". They've thrown the ball over the metaphorical fence, and next season, the writers are going to have go after it. The script was a page-turner... in some ways, it's almost a new pilot. I can't wait to see the finished episode.
Jeanette: We have seen a recurrence of the Andorians, Tholians and pretty soon the Tellarites — is there any other alien from the TOS series or later series that you want to delve in and base a story round?
Mike Sussman: I wouldn't mind seeing some green-skinned Orion slave girls (oww, Phyllis just kicked me).
Angelos: Gary Graham's character Soval has a dynamic, electrifying energy when he interacts with Archer. This conflict between the two is very interesting, and I enjoy it when Soval and Archer "...go at it...". We know so little about his background, and were only given a glimpse of it in the episode of "Cease Fire". Will his character be developed more in coming episodes to give us some insight into his motivations?
Mike Sussman: In the season finale, we'll learn that Soval is really Henry Archer in disguise, which explains their love/hate relationship. Whoops, I guess I should've said "spoilers ahead". My bad.
I imagine we'll see Soval again and hopefully learn more about him.
Cobey "AlphaMan" Jones (Part I): I have two questions if you will indulge me. All the previous Star Trek captains have had their "niche". Kirk was the swashbuckler, Picard was the diplomat, Sisko the seemed to represent the grey area in between right and wrong, and Janeway was the mother figure.... What do you feel is Archer's "niche"?
Mike Sussman: Archer's the "New Kid in the Quadrant".
Cobey "AlphaMan" Jones (Part II): And finally, do you feel that Enterprise can strike a balance between a "rock 'em/sock 'em" action adventure science fiction show and a cerebral/allegorical tool that challenges the audience to re-evaluate their own personal truths?
Mike Sussman: Sure.
Cobey "AlphaMan" Jones (Part III): Why or why not?
Mike Sussman: You already got two questions, don’t get greedy. :P
Michael Yorkshire: Mike, thanks for the great stories. We appreciate such things during such turbulent times. I was curious, given this whole Bring Back Kirk thing going on ... is such an idea an inviting/inspiring plot device to you? Or would you see it as something kind of contrived? If the latter, would you be able to negotiate a balance? (I'm a writer, too ... and curious about other peoples' creative processes)
Mike Sussman: Personally, I'd love to see William Shatner on the show. If he expressed an interest, I'm sure we'd figure out a way to bring him back.
Dave Creek: After 600+ Trek episodes, it's difficult to come up with new story possibilities. Would Enterprise consider accepting unsolicited story pitches from members of the writers' organization, the Science Fiction Writers of America? This would give you access to a constant flow of fresh ideas. And taking such submissions from pro writers would be more efficient and more likely to result in usable ideas than the previous open submissions policy for TNG, DS9, and Voyager.
Mike Sussman: We continue to take pitches from established SF authors. I recently spoke with Margaret Clark at Pocket Books, and she put me in touch with several Trek authors, many of whom have since pitched to the show, including Judy and Gar Reeves-Stevens. They had some interesting ideas; I hope they'll want to come back.
As someone who spent years trying to sell stories to Star Trek, I can tell you that pitching is often a frustrating, depressing process. Even if the producers like an idea, it can take many months before a story is finally bought. Established authors usually have more financially rewarding ways to pass the time.
Joseph Di Lella: Is there truly a chance for freelancers to sell a story to Enterprise? Last year, your staff only bought one outside pitch. Thanks.
Mike Sussman: There's absolutely a chance. I'm told season three will have more of an emphasis on weird, high-concept, science fiction ideas. Those were generally the kind of stories I sold as a freelancer, so I think the odds may be improving.
Twilight: Mr. Sussman, when writing an episode and thus dialogue for a character, are there certain written conventions that every Enterprise writer must follow in order to preserve a certain continuity between episodes? (i.e. T'Pol's dialogue and vocabulary remains relatively consistent, etc.).
Mike Sussman: There isn't really a science behind it. It all comes down to whether we think a particular line of dialogue sounds like something Archer or T'Pol would say. Rick and Brannon are, of course, the final arbiters (as it should be, since they created the characters).
Allen S.: How much, on average, does a script vary from the original draft the writer submits to what eventually appears onscreen? And how much input does a writer have into the visualization (ie. special effects) of the story?
Mike Sussman: The dialogue often changes quite a bit from the first draft. It usually takes a pass or two to find the characters' proper attitudes and their voices.
We don't have a lot of input into the visuals, aside from a general description of what we'd like to see in the scene. The writers are free to add an optical if it helps tell the story. In "Author, Author", Phyllis and I suggested the final shot of the multiple EMHs slaving away in that dilithium mine, which seemed like a nice thematic image to end the show on.
Niall T. Johnson: What was your most challenging obstacle in breaking into professional screenwriting? What caused you the most grief?
Mike Sussman: I was usually my own biggest obstacle. Like many people trying to break in, I spent too much time worrying about having an agent and knowing the right people, and not enough time writing. If you have the material, everything else should fall into place.
Anne: Will we get more Malcolm body exposure?
Mike Sussman: If you're interested in some "candid" real-time images of our Armory Officer, check out DominicsTrailerCam.com.
Many thanks to Mike Sussman for taking part, and to all those who submitted questions!
Caillan Davenport is one of the TrekToday editors.