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How we sold a Trek story
This is the transcript of the August 20, 1990 Real-Time
Conference (RTC) with Dennis Bailey and Lisa White, who co-wrote
the episode "Tin Man" for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Dennis
and Lisa talk about how they sold their script and offer tips on
how non-staff writers might be able to follow in their footsteps.
This transcript is copyright (C) 1990 the GEnie Science Fiction
Round Table. The transcript may not be copied, quoted, printed,
excerpted, or uploaded to any other bulletin board or computer
information service without the prior expressed permission of the
SFRT Managing Sysop.
This transcript has been edited so that the flow of the
conversation is more logical and concise. Some comments may have
been moved. Comments not relevant to the discussion have been
-- Stephen C. Smith [SFRT]
[[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10]
<[Stephen] SFRT> First of all, allow me to thank Dennis and Lisa
for spending their evening with us. Dennis and Lisa, start by
telling us a little bit about your writing background.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Well, Lisa has been a journalist for
eight years. Dennis began writing and selling sf stories about
fifteen years ago, but not steadily. Isn't that exciting?
Neither of us had written for television before "Tin Man", but
Dave Bischoff had done some animation.
<[Stephen] SFRT> "Tin Man" started out as an adaptation of one of
Dennis' stories, correct?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Yeah. Dennis and Dave wrote a short
story, "Tin Woodman", which was published in Amazing Stories,
December 1976. Later they novelized it. The novel was published
by Doublday in hardcover, and Ace in paperback in the late
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Was it a Trek story?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> No, but it was set aboard a ship
something like the Enterprise. The people on the ship were much
less pleasant than on TNG.
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> How much rewrite was done, and was it
satisfying in the end?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Very little rewriting was done on the
script. TNG bought it from us on January 31st, and began
shooting it on February 7th. We were very happy with the result.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > How did you manage to
put the proposal/pitch in front of the production team/story
editor, and were they familiar with the material already?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> They weren't familiar with the
material. We wrote "Tin Man" as a spec script and submitted it
through an agent.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> When did your agent submit it?
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > West-coast (tv/film)
agent, or your regular east-coast literary agent?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> It was a west coast agent, affiliated
with our east coast rep. The script was submitted in mid
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Is 4 months a typical wait or was that to do
with timing of your submission?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> We don't know for sure, but four to
five months seems to be average for agented submissions to TNG.
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> What type of input did you guys have thru the
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> We're sorry, we were present during
one afternoon's shooting. But a free-lance writer has no rights
to input during production.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Do you plan to (or have you tried to) do
more teleplay/screenplay work, and if so, do you have reason to
think ST:TNG is still an "open" market?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Yeah, TNG is as open as it's ever
been. We've done further work for TNG, but don't yet know what
will become of the 2nd script.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > Who's the story editor
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> We're not sure. Ron Moore has been
promoted to Executive Script Consultant, but we don't know the
current story editor.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> I suppose that's more or less the spot
Melinda Snodgrass held. Thanks.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Could you tell us a bit about how it came to
pass that you had to combine your names? I know it had to do with
a WGA ruling.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Well, we were _told_ that since none
of us were WGA members, the WGA would have to issue waivers for
the script to be bought.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Only two waivers were issued. We
were willing to combine names, so we did.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Hmmm...I've co-written a script with 2 others,
one is a WGA member, and we're waiting to hear about it. I mean,
our agent submitted it and we're waiting (hence the Alka Aeltzer)
.. is there a prohibition against 3 writers?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> There isn't really... Good luck. How
long has it been out there?
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Hmm. I don't remember any waiver problem
when I sold "Lifebomb" to TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. But I _did_
join the WGA shortly after, so maybe that covered it. (Searching
around for my Basic Agreement...)
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Well, our agent sent it over about 10 days ago,
August 15 or so. We're more than happy to join WGA if it's sold!
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Tina, you have to have sold a script
to join WGA.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> ]Tina > You may not be so glad when you
see the amount of the initiation fee.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Mike, it's cheaper in WGA East, as
you and I know.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > Actually, I didn't know
there was a difference. But East is $1500 or more now, I
understand. $1000 when I joined.
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Excuse me, WGA has rights over TNG scripts??
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Paramount is signatory to the WGA
basic agreement. I don't believe that there's a reason first-run
syndication would be exempt.
<[Stephen] SFRT> Dennis and Lisa, I understand that you two
studied many STTNG episodes very closely and found a "formula"
for each episode. Certain plot developments happen at certain
points. Could you elaborate?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> That's slightly exaggerated. We
watched two years of the show closely. We didn't find any
formula. But we were well acquainted with the "rules" and format
of the show. There are a lot of things you just don't do on TNG.
We figured to dodge a lot of the bullets that free-lancers have
to face to get something accepted there. Once you watch the show
closely it becomes clear just how different it is in many ways
from the 1st series. It is and isn't a disadvantage to know a lot
about the whole ST universe. I don't know what one can use from
the first series ... certainly not too many references to places
<[Stephen] SFRT> A sense of history, but not constrained by it?
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Seems you really can't make any reference to
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Occasionally we felt that we wanted
certain scenes to be reminiscent of the "feel" of TOS, but that
had to be carefully underplayed.
<[Ginger] V.BOOTH> Are any of these "rules" and format published,
or did you have to study the show and intuit all of them?
(Partly answered so far...)
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> There's a writers guide which has a
few specifics but as with any TV show it pays to analyze by
carefully watching what types of plots, characters, timing,
locations, etc. etc. are used on said TV show. The other answer
is that a lot of the TNG rules are not written down. The fact
that you _can't_ have a lot of character conflict, traditional
villains. The production tradeoffs between how many sets you
can use and opticals you can afford on a given week. That kind
<[Ginger] V.BOOTH> It might be interesting if you wrote some of
these "rules" down and submitted them to TNG staff...?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> The people who work for the show and
with it have a sense of what is and isn't allowed. There's too
much gray area to be more specific.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > Is there a later bible
than the March, 1987 writers/directors guide, and if so, do you
know how available the current version is to working writers?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Yes there is..latest bible is 3rd
season edition. Available through Lincoln Enterprises and
probably through a request forwarded by an agent.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> What's Lincoln Enterprises? The ST
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Sort of. It's a souvenir company run
by Majel R.
<[Stephen] SFRT> Lincoln Enterprises is the TREK souvenir outfit
run by the Roddenberrys', and here comes the address and phone
number . . .
P.O. Box 691370
Los Angeles CA 90069
Call and ask for a catalog. They'll mail one out for free.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Okay, thanks. I'll have to put Russ on it
and see if we can get a copy through channels.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Stephen, you get a kickback from
Majel for this?
<[Stephen] SFRT> Nope. But it's the best place to get authentic
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Though overpriced <g>.
<[Stephen] SFRT> I've seen worse. :-)
<[Rich] R.GARRETT> I'm working up the courage to create a TNG
script, and I wanted to ask a couple of questions. I was
wondering, what steps did you take to present and sell the
script? Was the "bible" a necessity? How did you go about
finding an agent? What kind of fees did the process entail? And
what about the Writer's Guild, what problems occurred with them?
[I am assuming that you weren't members at the time.]
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Rich > We stomp new writers into the
dirt. We haze them unmercifully. <g>
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> We used an agent who Dave had
contacted through our East Coast rep. There are no legitimate
fees connected with a submission. The bible is useful, but
watching the show till your eyes fall out (and taping and
rewatching it) is better still. The WGA doesn't present problems
as such -- you have to meet the Guild's standards as a
professional by getting a signatory to buy something you wrote --
to qualify to join. Guilds and unionism are strong in this
industry for good reasons.
<[Rich] R.GARRETT> So the process would be hampered by being a
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Not neccessarily. If you check out
the October Starlog (#159), you'll get a feel for how Michael
Piller views spec submissions. TNG is really pretty open to this
kind of submission. If there's a problem, it's the number of
spec submissions the show receives each year. About a thousand.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Rich > You _can't_ join until you sell a
script to a signatory. You _must_ join to sell a second script.
And if you sell scripts to a non-signatory production company,
yuo can endanger your chances of ever playing with the
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Mike, is that true? I thought that
non-members dealing with non-signatories was one thing, members
dealing with them another..
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > I said "can" because it
depends on the status of the production company -- if it's one
that WGA thinks _ought_ to be a signatory (because of a corporate
parent, for instance you can find yourself on the wrong side of a
war you didn't know was underway. But you're right in that they
are very hard on members who scab.
<[Stephen] SFRT> For novice screenwriters, I'd like to suggest an
excellent tradeback you should buy -- THE COMPLETE BOOK OF
SCRIPTWRITING, by our own J. Michael Straczynski. Retail is
$10.95, published by Writers Digest Books but available in many
bookstores. Excellent reference for format, and do's and don'ts.
His suggested TV script format matches the STTNG script format
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Speaking of references to TOS--How much veto
power does Paramount exercise over contents of scripts? (K-Mac
asked/answered my writer's guide question, Thanks)
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> I'm not sure what you mean.
Paramount produces TNG. Their control over content is total. Or
do you mean how much control do people at Paramount outside the
TNG producers exercise? We can't answer that.
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Well, they say TNG gets a pretty free rein.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Absolutely. But our experience is
that the people making this show -- Roddenberry, Berman and
Piller -- are doing things the way they want.
<[Rich] R.GARRETT> You mentioned some dos and don'ts, I was
curious about what some of those points were, in your opinion.
And keeping with that, I was wondering if they are going to
have an overriding "theme" for a season, and scripts that don't
fit will not be accepted? Like Season 4 dealing with the Borg?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> A few basic ones: 1) don't submit
scripts using characters and places from TOS. 2) Don't submit
spec scripts for two and three part episodes. To do something
like that is a major decision by the staff. 3) Don't submit spec
scripts turning on major life-changes among the continuing cast
(Data becoming human, Tasha dying, etc.) 4) We'd guess that spec
scripts requiring a particular actor's availability (Delancie,
Morgan Shepard, et. al.) are a bad idea.
<[Rich] R.GARRETT> Oh, just an interjection. You said not
involving "places" from TOS? What if they make sense? I mean,
not just writing it in for "old times sake"? [And then I'm
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Rich, generally if a place makes
sense in the context of the hour, it doesn't need any connection
to the previous series. Using a place from TOS usually implies
that it has some attributes which are best understood by
reference to TOS (the Guardian, for instance). Bad idea. 5)
Orient the story to the main characters. Bringing on a story
mostly concerned with a guest character you introduce may not
...<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> make it. We were fortunate and
"Tin Man" also involved major interaction for 3 main characters.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Do you have any idea about how many scripts
have already been bought for this season?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Tina, they've bought quite a few.
But don't worry too much. I know of scripts they've bought and
then shelved (sigh) - Dennis.
<[Stephen] SFRT> I've heard that 16 of 26 have been bought for
Season Four. But like D&L said, they can be shelved or postponed
to another season.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> It's in that general range. Changes
all the time, of course.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Actually, I think they had something
like 26 scripts in development when they bought "Tin Man". Only
thing was, "Tin Man" was immediately filmable. Some of the
others took longer to completely develop.
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Ok--You mentioned a script #2. . . Any hints???
<wink, wink, nudge, nudge>
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Yeah. It takes place in the 24th
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Good start...
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> And probably won't be filmed this
year if at all :-(
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> Aw, shucks!
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Look out for script # 3. Watch this
<[Dreamstone] C.NELSON> Who's the main character?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> We can't talk about it. Sorry.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> How strong is the presumption that every
regular cast member must play a role in a script? ("Everybody's
gotta have lines...") And is the no-Vulcans edict still in
effect? [I have a follow-up...]
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Well, a script where there's balance
between a number of the characters makes them happy, but there's
no rule. If you watch the show regularly you see episode after
episode take a strong focus on one or two of the characters. I
don't know of any "Vulcan edict", but what we said about
references to TOS covers this to some extent.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> (The Vulcan edict appears in the original
bible, rule 9 -- "No stories about warfare with Klingons or
Romulans, and no stories with Vulcans.")
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Vulcans aren't a major focus on this
series. They use supporting Vulcan characters some. They did an
episode centered on Mark Lenard's character, which was excellent.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Finally, is there a discernable bias in-
house toward either planet stories or ship stories? (In the old
days, ship stories were cheaper.)
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> In the new days, ship stories (or
"bottle shows") are still cheaper. Yeah, "Tin Man" was probably
an easier sell because it was a seven-day shoot, with only one
major new set.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> ( L & D > I had noticed some narrowing of
focus (with better characterization as a result) this past
season. In the first two seasons, it seemed like every script was
crowded with bodies.)
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> It's good to have most of the
regulars "pop in" for a scene or two, whatever you do. It
certainly makes the actors who play them happier and more secure.
And it helps to remember that there's a web of relationships
between seven or eight people on this show, rather than a closed
triad like some other show which comes to mind...
<[Ginger] V.BOOTH> Could you give some other examples of scripts
which were and weren't spec?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Again, the Starlog #159 has an
interview in which Executive Producer Michael Piller talks about
the genesis of a lot of the 3rd season shows. Some episodes
which were spec or based on spec material would include "The
Bonding," "Hollow Pursuits" and (I think) "The Offspring."
<[Aaron] A.GOLUB> "The Bonding" was Ron Moore's, correct?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Yes, a beautiful show, too. Ron is a
wonderful writer, and has some wonderful shows coming up this
year, we think.
<[Ginger] V.BOOTH> Any examples of non-spec?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Anything with Michael Piller's name
on it was in-house <g>.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Isn't it unusual that yours didn't get much
rewriting (other than of course that it was perfection)? (By the
way, it really was a wonderful show.)
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Our modesty didn't bear up well under
the things we were told about "Tin Man" the week they filmed it.
But at least part of the reason it was well-received was
certainly because it solved a production schedule problem for
them. It gave them an extra week to work on some other scripts.
On the other hand, "Tin Man" fit well into their format without
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Seriously, do you think the light touch in
editing was a time factor? Had they told you that it was a
"maybe" for the season earlier than January?
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> No. They called us (our agent,
really) on January the 31st out of nowhere, and said they wanted
to buy it. We considered shopping the script around for a
better price, but "L.A. Law" indicated that the opticals would be
a problem for them . . .
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > In truth, every time
I've been close to putting some time in on a spec script, I've
been put off by some new horror story from someone who worked
for or with the show as a writer. You may be the first I've
talked to that's had more good than bad in their experience,
though I've hardly talked to everyone.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Tina > Well, some of the problems reached
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Mike, go ahead and do the spec
script. The least you get out of it is your own Hollywood war
story to shop around the bars<g>.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > True enough. Though I
have a few stories already. I sold three scripts and three
stories to TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> Mike: can you elaborate?
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Tina > No, I'm afraid I can't. Behind
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> I understand.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Another point, Mike, and an
interested question: what percentage of the grievance-level
problems were 1st season, 2nd, 3rd, etc.?
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > Mostly first. Lisa and
Dennis > Things seemed to smooth out while Melinda was there,
though that may be more my perception than reality.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> I've (Dennis now) encountered some
frustration in later work for the show - but this seems to me to
be the kind of difficulty that you find on _any_ show. The
atmosphere I've encountered working with these people has been
open and exciting and a lot of fun. I think the leadership there
is very strong now, and I expect that the fourth year is going to
be the _best_ year yet of this show.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> The key question seems to be the degree
and quality of Roddenberry's involvement with the scripts. I'm
glad you had a good experience. There isn't a show anywhere that
makes all of its writers happy.
<[Tina] T.VOZICK> There were a lot of departures at the end of
the season ... do they seem to have things in hand? How involved
does Roddenberry's office get? I've heard the novelists tales of
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> In the six months that we've been
involved with TNG, we haven't had the opportunity to meet Gene
Roddenberry, so we can't say.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Lisa and Dennis > Knock on wood. <g>
Tina > There's no comparison between the general level of
meddling and tinkering in TV vs. publishing.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Dennis: Gene is a childhood hero of
mine. I'd very much like to meet him.
<[WGA-East] MIKE.K-MAC> Dennis > Understood. For me, too -- or I
wouldn't be contemplating an ST script. But too many bar stories
have tarnished it somewhat.
<[Lisa and Den] D.BAILEY10> Thanks everyone for all your kind
words. I have enjoyed this time and appreciated the interesting
questions that everyone had.
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