I’m not a Star Trek enthusiast, but when I worked with Gene Rodenberry on “Genesis 2″ I gained a lot of respect for him and for his philosophy. I was working for Warner Brothers Music and I was asked by the TV division to help Gene find someone to write the music for his new pilot, a proposed series. I was impressed with how open to suggestions he was to composers I was able to offer him for his pilot…even new untried and inexperienced ones. I wasn’t surprised when I saw his bohemian and hopeful form of television making. During the 1960’s Star Trek was the only show that featured minorities in authoritative, significant roles. From the African American, Uhura to the Russian who symbolized that although at the time the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. were involved in a very tepid cold war that one day they would be able to get over their differences and coexistent in friendship and cooperation. As an Authoritative African American, I could identify with that.
A couple of weeks ago I told this touching story to my friend and my co-writer of, “Guide To Advanced Blogging”, Sebastian Prooth who directed me to read his recent tribute to the late Star Trek Producer Michael Piller.. After I was so enthusiastic about the first chapter that he posted of Piller’s unpublished book, to my surprise I opened up my email to find another excerpt, “Roddenberry’s Box.”
I was informed and inspired by Gene’s original vision of an idyllic and hopeful future.
I can understand why Paramount and CBS wanted to suppress the sovereignty of Gene’s future that Michael Piller took as his responsibility to relay to us.
Sebastian, was deeply disappointed when CBS made him take the first chapter down. After a little investigating, I discovered that CBS and Paramount don’t own the rights, in fact all they own is the Star Trek material contained in the book. The actual text of the book is the property of Michael Piller, now his estate!!
I’ve been trying to reach Sebastian every other hour since I found out to tell him the good news…but I’ve been unable to.
I took it upon myself to post the second chapter right here, right now on my blog so all of you can read it and have a wonderful weekend taking a look inside of, “Rodenberry’s Box” from Michael Piller …
Copyright 2007. Artie Wayne.
To reach Sebastian Prooth go to http://www.sebrt.com
To know more about Advanced Blogging with Proven Results http://www.guidetoadvancedblogging.com
Back to Artie Wayne on the Web http://artiewayne.wordpress.com
Now here’s the next chapter Michael Piller’s unpublished book…
When I surf the net or read letters to the editor in some genre magazine, I often come across complaints from fans who say that Star Trek really needs to get “some new writing blood in there”. They’re absolutely right.
In fact, recruiting new talent was one of my priorities when I was producing the television shows. I scheduled pitches from free-lance writers every day and required my staff writers to do the same. Hearing new voices and fresh ideas, in my opinion, kept the franchise vital. The Star Trek series were the only television shows in town that encouraged amateur submissions of speculative teleplays (if they were accompanied by legal releases that protected the studio from lawsuits). Thousands were submitted. Every one was read. I looked at every synopsis and analysis myself. Ninety-nine out a hundred were not what we were looking for. But that last one made the search worthwhile. We discovered several writers through the process.
A writing assignment for a Star Trek movie would certainly attract all sorts of good writers with credentials in feature films. Why then wouldn’t the studio and Rick Berman seek out “new blood” to write the next Star Trek movie instead of giving it to another old television warhorse like me?
The answer can be found in Roddenberry’s Box.
I happen to like the box. A lot of writers don’t. In fact, I think it’s fair to say, most writers who have worked on Star Trek over the years would like to throw the box away. It may surprise you to learn that when I took over as head writer, the entire writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation was so frustrated and angry with Gene Roddenberry they were counting the days before their contracts expired (and indeed every one of them left at season’s end.) He wouldn’t let them out of the box and they were suffocating..
My first time in Roddenberry’s Box was during the very first episode I worked on as head writer. We were already in production of season three, four shows were finished, twenty-two still to do. There were no scripts and no stories to shoot the following week. Desperate, I bought a spec script that had been sent in from an amateur writer named Ron Moore who was about to enlist in the U.S. Navy. It was a rough teleplay called “The Bonding” and would require a lot of reworking but I liked the idea. A female Starfleet officer is killed in an accident and her child, overcome with grief, bonds with a holographic recreation of his mother rather than accept her death.
I sent a short description of the story to Rick and Gene. Minutes later, I was called to an urgent meeting in Gene’s office. “This doesn’t work” he said. “In the Twenty-Fourth Century, no one grieves. Death is accepted as part of life.”
As I shared the dilemma with the other staff writers, they took a bit of pleasure from my loss of virginity, all of them having already been badly bruised by rejections from Gene. Roddenberry was adamant that Twenty-Fourth Century man would evolve past the petty emotional turmoil that gets in the way of our happiness today. Well, as any writer will tell you, ‘emotional turmoil’, petty and otherwise, is at the core of any good drama. It creates conflict between characters. But Gene didn’t want conflict between our characters. “All the problems of mankind have been solved,” he said. “Earth is a paradise.”
Now, go write drama.
His demands seemed impossible at first glance. Even self-destructive.
And yet, I couldn’t escape one huge reality. Star Trek worked. Or it had for thirty years. Gene must be doing something right.
I accepted it as a challenge. Okay, I told the writers, I’m here to execute Roddenberry’s vision of the future, not mine. Let’s stop fighting what we can’t change. These are his rules. How do we do this story without breaking those rules?
A day later, I asked for another meeting with Gene and Rick. And here’s how I re-pitched the story:
“When the boy’s mother dies, he doesn’t grieve. He acts like he’s been taught to act — to accept death as a part of life. He buries whatever pain he may be feeling under this Twenty-Fourth Century layer of advanced civilization. The alien race responsible for the accidental death of his mother tries to correct their error by providing a replacement version of her. The boy wants to believe his mother isn’t dead, but our Captain knows she isn’t real and must convince the boy to reject the illusion. In order to do so, the boy must cut through everything he’s been taught about death and get to his true emotions. He must learn to grieve.”
The new approach respected Roddenberry’s rules and by doing so, became a more complex story. He gave his blessing. And I began to learn how Roddenberry’s Box forced us as writers to come up with new and interesting ways to tell stories instead of falling back into easier, familiar devices.
The rules of behavior in Roddenberry’s universe have filled books. There are more books dedicated to the personal histories of Star Trek characters as well as detailed cultural histories of the alien races of the Twenty-Fourth Century. And even more books written about Star Trek’s science and technology. Gene and his colleagues over the years have created a tapestry that is not easy for new writers to penetrate. My experience has been that our most successful new writers grew up as dedicated fans and already know the Star Trek world inside and out. With the notable exceptions of Ira Steven Behr, Jeri Taylor and Joe Menosky, three writers in a decade, I rarely had luck hiring experienced writers who could come in and understand the franchise.
I can’t speak for the studio or for Rick but I can guess why they wouldn’t take a chance on a brand new writer on a major motion picture.
There was a writers’ rebellion of sorts on my last year as head writer at Star Trek, four years after Roddenberry’s death. Some of the writers at Voyager went to Rick to say they wouldn’t return if I came back. It was nothing personal, Rick told me. We were all friends. But my rules were holding them back. My creative demands were suffocating them. They wanted to be free to do the things I wouldn’t let them do as writers.
I had completed a cycle. Somehow, I’d become the alien replacement for Roddenberry. It had become Piller’s Box.
It was time to leave. I opened the box and let them, and myself, out.
And now, three years later, here I was about to climb back in again.
-Excerpt from Michael Piller’s “Fade in: From Idea to Final Draft, The Writing of Star Trek Insurrection”-