Fade In (unpublished)

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Fade In (unpublished)

Post  Yakima Canutt on Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:02 pm

Introduction

Eighteen years ago, William Goldman’s book Adventures In The Screen Trade taught me how to be a writer. Not how to write -- that came later with experience as a writer-producer in television. But I learned from Goldman what would be expected of me as a writer and how to set a standard for my work. His book inspired me to set off on my own adventures. This is the story of one.

Beginning in March 1997, I worked on the screenplay for Star Trek: Insurrection, collaborating with producer Rick Berman on the story and then writing the script myself. If you’ve never heard of Star Trek (you must lead a very isolated life) or couldn’t care less about science fiction, don’t worry. No knowledge of science is required. All you’ll need to follow this story is a curiosity about where movies come from. Most often, they come from screenplays. And screenplays come, more or less, from people like me – people who sit alone in dark rooms illuminated only by a computer screen talking endlessly to ourselves in the voices of strange people who live inside us – characters who want to be seen and heard. Writers are puppet masters. We are omnipotent. As long as we stay in our dark, little rooms. The moment we leave, we become mortal.

That’s when our material is sent to the producer and the director and the studio and the actors and the production designer and the costume designer and the unit manager (not to mention our wives, husbands, mothers and fathers)...
And that’s when the notes start coming in and the meetings are held and new ideas are tossed around and ‘what-ifs’ are explored... and our job is to listen and discuss and argue and collaborate and compromise and fret... and mostly, through it all, to maintain the creative vision that got all of these people interested in the first place.

Now that it’s all behind me, I can smile (finally) about what we went through... all the stories we threw away, the drafts that didn’t work. I invite you now to walk a couple years in my shoes. Look at the development process from the writer’s point of view. Second-guess me. If you’d been writing the script would you have made the same decisions I made? Would your movie be about the girl who broke our hero’s heart and the best friend he’s sent to kill, the rag-tag army of space mariners, the mysterious society of alien children, the treacherous Romulans, the mutes, the android squad, the holographic stand-up comedian, the lecherous three hundred year old munchkin, the masked race of Generation ‘X’ aliens...
...none of whom made my final draft.

But maybe they would have made yours. Maybe your script would have been entirely different from mine. Let’s find out.

With two notable exceptions, the development process of Star Trek: Insurrection wasn’t much different from the development process of any motion picture script. Exception number one: everyone knew from the start this picture would actually get made. Most scripts are written without that knowledge. This was to be the ninth installment of the franchise. It was not only scheduled for production before the script was written; it was scheduled for release before the script was written. December, 1998. So, from the moment I was hired, I heard the clock ticking.

Exception number two: I was the writer from start to finish. Many of the movies you see have been written by several writers even though their names may not appear on the screen. Writers are often brought in like tag-teams, the original writer followed by an “action” writer followed by a “character” writer followed by a “dialogue” writer and on and on. (In one major action movie last summer, after a half-dozen or so top-notch writers had worked on the screenplay, the producers brought in the entire staff of a popular television sitcom to make the dialogue funnier.) The difference here was my history with Star Trek as head writer for the television shows and a long working relationship with producer Rick Berman. Had it been any other circumstance, there’s no question in my mind that, before the final draft was completed, I most certainly would have been fired.

-- May 1999


SEPTEMBER 1997

FREE‐FALL

That fraction of a second between nightmare and waking. Except it isn’t a fraction of a second anymore, it’s been days, weeks and I’m still in a free-fall, trying to snatch bits and pieces of a script that are falling with me, desperately trying to assemble them in some coherent manner before I crash.
How could I have been so wrong? Where had my instinct failed me? How do I fix it? Is it even fixable? In three months, this movie will be going into pre-production and I don’t have a clue what to do.
There’s no point in trying to sleep. Once I wake up to pee in the middle of the night (the curse of middle-age), my mind goes back to work. I tell it not to. Whatever you do, don’t think about the script. But as I lay in the dark staring at the ceiling, my eyeballs move back and forth looking for the metaphorical daylight. There’s got to be a way to make this script work.
The guards on the overnight shift at the front gate are used to seeing me arrive at dawn. They greet me by name and ask how the script’s going - everyone on the lot knows I’m doing the next Star Trek movie - and I smile and say, fine and ask one of the guards about his new baby and I drive in under the famous Paramount arch and park in the first space in the empty producer’s parking lot. I know Rick Berman will walk by that space on the way to his office and will see that I was the first one in the lot. As though that’ll earn me an ‘A’ for effort if everything else fails.
I like being at the studio at dawn with the gardeners sprucing up the flower beds and watering the lawns. Walking alone along the brick courtyard, I feel like I’m walking with the ghosts of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the Marx Brothers and Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd and Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, all the famous stars who worked on this lot... and of course all the famous screenwriters who worked here like... like...
There are no famous screenwriters. It’s an oxymoron. I can’t even think of one this morning and I’m a writer. Oh sure, Billy Wilder made great movies here and of course Preston Sturges, but we remember them first as directors. Rod Serling, my boyhood hero -- he was a famous writer, wasn’t he... come on, only because we saw him as host of The Twilight Zone. Nobody remembers the screenwriter’s name unless his name is Neil Simon and that’s only because he wrote a few plays.
A guard rolls up on a bicycle at the front door to the Marlene Dietrich Building and unlocks the door for me. All the doors are routinely opened around seven but that’s still an hour away.
I walk into my office on the second floor and turn on the lights. The computer screen looks at me, waiting - well, are you coming? The first draft script is still on the desk where I left it last night. I pick it up to see if it feels any different this morning. It doesn’t. Maybe I should read it again. Maybe it’s better than I think. There’re a lot of good parts I might be able to salvage. Stop lying to yourself and turn on the computer.
I pull “The Paramount Story” out of my bookshelf and start looking for writers’ ghosts. Anything to delay writing. I find Ben Hecht and CharlesMacArthur, great writers of several movies from the thirties; definite ghost material. How about Frank Butler nominated for two Oscars in 1942 for Wake Island (with W.R. Burnett) and The Road to Morocco (with Don Hartman) finally winning in 1944 for Going My Way (with Frank Cavett; beating Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, writers of Double Indemnity, also a Paramount film). And Michael Wilson & Harry Brown (A Place In the Sun) and Ian McKellan Hunter (Roman Holiday) and A.B. Guthrie, Jr. (Shane) and John Michael Hayes (Rear Window) and George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
All of them were right here on this lot, perhaps in this very building, who knows, maybe even this office. Doing the very same thing I’m doing. Writing a script for a movie. Or trying to...
My first draft had been a disaster. After months of internal wrangling, we finally had a story that everyone was enthusiastic about. So why didn’t it turn out to be a good script? Easy answer -- the writer’s fault.
I turn on the computer and look at the blank screen, type the first two words of the second draft: “Fade In” and wonder what the hell I’m going to write...


MARCH 1997

THE
 ASSIGNMENT

Rick Berman wasn’t sure that I’d want the job. The first thing he said when he came into my office was, “Don’t say ‘no’ until I finish talking.” And when he finished talking about his hopes for the next Star Trek movie, he asked me if I would be interested in writing it, and I surprised him by saying ‘yes.’ It may seem odd that anyone would even consider passing on a chance to write a feature film, but Rick knew I’d been moving away from the Star Trek franchise for the last couple of years.
I had been in space with Rick for almost a decade. We first met at a lunch with Gene Roddenberry and Maurice Hurley, the head writer of The Next Generation during its first two seasons. Hurley was leaving the show and thought I might be a candidate to replace him. I wasn’t hired at that lunch (Rick and Gene had already hired another friend of mine, Michael Wagner), but I did agree to write a script for the coming season.
My agent was furious. Writing a free-lance script1 would look like I hadn’t been able to find a staff job. No show would ever hire me as a staff writer again, he said. But I really wanted to write a Star Trek script so I ignored my agent’s advice. Today, in his lovely new home, he’s happy I did.
As I was writing that first episode, Wagner and Roddenberry were not getting along and by the time my script was turned in, Michael had decided to resign. I got a call from Rick Berman. “We love your script,” he said. “You obviously know the show. Would you like to take over the writing staff?”
To this day, I don’t believe there’s anything particularly special about that script except for one scene that opened the door for me into the Star Trek universe. In the story (co-written by Wagner), a scientist has built his entire life around a stellar event that only occurs once every two hundred years and now, due to mysterious problems with the ship, it seems he is going to miss it. He expresses his bitter frustration to the youngest member of our crew, 16-year-old Wesley Crusher. Here’s the dialogue exchange that got me the job:

                       STUBBS
              I could live with failure. ...Well,
              maybe not.  But never even to try.
              To miss your one chance at bat.  Do
              you know baseball?

                       WESLEY
              My dad taught it to me when I was
little.

                       STUBBS
              Once, centuries ago, it was the
              beloved national pastime of the
Americas, Wesley.  Abandoned by
              a society that prized fast food
              and faster games.  Lost to
              impatience.  But I have seen the
              great players make the great plays.

WESLEY
Do you recreate them on a Holodeck?

                       STUBBS
              No, in here...
                   (his mind)
              With the knowledge of statistics...
              runs, hits and errors... times at
              bat... box scores.  Men like us
              do not need Holodecks, Wesley.  I
              have played seasons in my mind.
              It was my reward to myself.  For
              patience.  Knowing my turn would
              come.  Call your shot.  Point to a
              star.  One great blast and the
              crowd rises.  A brand new era in
              astro-physics.  Postponed one
              hundred and ninety-six years on
              account of rain.

As it turned out, Rick Berman shared my love for baseball and that speech hit him right between the eyes. And so a partnership was formed.
Over the next eight years, we would work on 244 hours of television together. We would create a new Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, together. And then a third Star Trek series, Voyager, with Jeri Taylor.
We’d worked so long together that we were starting to look like each other. But after eight years of writing Star Trek, I felt the need to stretch my creative legs. So, I accepted a role as Creative Consultant and walked away from the day-to-day operation of the two Star Trek shows.
There may have been another reason Rick thought I might turn down his offer. I had rejected an opportunity to write a script for the seventh Star Trek film -– the first one to star The Next Generation cast. Rick had been hired to produce the movie, his first. The studio wanted to prepare two separate scripts. The best script would be filmed.
From the studio’s point of view it made perfect business sense. Rick was a first-time feature producer, this was the studio’s most lucrative franchise -- why take a chance on one writer; why not have two scripts written and pick the best one? But from a writer’s standpoint, there’s something deeply discouraging about knowing that you’re writing against someone and that one of you is wasting his or her time.
Having guided the stories and the scripts for The Next Generation for five years, I found it very difficult to participate in a contest and turned the offer down, recommending Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, two young writers on my staff, for the job. As it turned out, they won the contest and wrote the movie, Star Trek Generations.
This time, the timing was right for me. It had been two years since Bill Dial and I had created the short-lived, but critically-acclaimed series Legend starring Richard Dean Anderson (“short-lived” is always followed by the words “but critically-acclaimed”). Since then, I’d written a feature script that Sydney Pollack had optioned, a cable movie script and a couple of television pilots. And oh yeah, none of them had been made. I was in a place known in this business as “Development Hell.” So, Rick’s invitation to write a Star Trek movie was like a visit from an old girl friend after you haven’t had a date for a year. I was awfully glad to see him.


RODDENBERRY’S
 BOX


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 betweencharacters. 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.
An epilogue.
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.


Last edited by Yakima Canutt on Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:10 pm; edited 2 times in total

Yakima Canutt

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Re: Fade In (unpublished)

Post  Yakima Canutt on Wed Jul 08, 2015 5:04 pm

WHAT’S
 IT 
ABOUT?


For this ninth installment of the series, Rick thought it would be interesting to find a classic story in public domain and adapt it to Star Trek. His first idea was “The Prisoner of Zenda,” the novel by Anthony Hope that had been filmed several times, most memorably in the 1937 version starring Coleman. It’s a 19th Century adventure story of two men who look alike -- a common man and a king, both played in the movie by Ronald Coleman. When the king is kidnapped, the common man is recruited to take his place on the throne.
Rick suggested that perhaps the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, is kidnapped and another man, cosmetically altered to look like him, takes his place as Captain. He felt that it would offer actor Patrick Stewart a unique opportunity to do a dual role. He asked me to watch the Coleman film.
As I did, I saw a big problem. The king’s role is tiny. It’s the commoner who’s the star. I felt the audience was coming to see Picard, a popular hero who’d been away from the screen for two years. How would they feel when he’s kidnapped in the opening scenes and the movie is turned over to another character who happens to be played by the same actor? If this had been a pitch for a two- part episode on the TV series, I would have jumped at it. But I felt the movie had to be about Picard. When Rick heard my concerns, he agreed.
We did, however, fall in love with Zenda’s villain played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. We told ourselves that an amoral rascal who’s loyal to no one but himself might be a character worth including in any new scenario.
And so we both started thinking again, trying to find a worthy subject.
Where do ideas come from? I’m asked all the time. The only suggestion I give to young writers is to listen to the universe. The ideas are all around you – in newspapers and magazines, television, stories people tell you and most often in your very own life experiences. Sooner or later, something will resonate.
When I wrote my very first screenplay, like most writers, I wasn’t paid for it, so I chose a subject (sex) that would make the script as commercial as possible. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To sell your work?
At the time, I was working for CBS Television as a censor (censors who want to be writers always write about sex). The project I was censoring was the mini-series Blind Ambition, the story of John Dean’s experiences in the Nixon White House. The writer was Stanley Greenberg who had written some of the finest shows in the history of television including The Missiles Of October and Pueblo. The corporate office in New York had ordered me to sanitize President Nixon’s language in the famous taped conversations by “bleeping” them from the soundtrack. I refused to do it because part of my job was to protect the historical integrity of the film. They sent my boss to do it anyway but Stanley and I became friends in the process.
One evening, as we were eating dinner with David Susskind, John and Mo Dean (she gave me a friendly kiss goodnight) and some of their friends, I asked Stanley if he would read my first script. He said, sure and asked me what it was about. I told him it was just something commercial, something that I thought would sell. And he said three words that changed my life.

“Shame on you.”

It was one of those times when you swallow your heart. He didn’t say it in a nasty way. In fact, it was the friendly throw-away manner that made it hurt so much. I don’t remember much of what else he said. Or what his comments were after he read the script. I’m sure they were kind. But I never wrote another script whose only goal was “to sell.” From that day on, I felt an obligation as a writer to add something to this life through my work. To express things I felt about our world and to explore the human condition no matter what kind of script I might be writing. More than any other reason, I credit this lesson for any success I’ve had as a writer.
As I approach a new project, my process always begins with the question: what is it about? Here’s one answer that might apply to a Star Trek movie...
I want it to be about the most horrible, treacherous aliens ever known to man who are about to destroy life as we know it, leading to the most spectacular thrill ride of an adventure with fantastic space battles and huge explosions and great special effects -- a white knuckle ride for the movie audience.
Yeah, but what’s it about?
I can write space battles with the best of them, but what makes that space battle interesting to me is: why are they fighting? What are the stakes? What does the hero lose if he loses? And what does he win if he wins? Why should we care?
I’m talking about the second level of story-telling. The level that examines what’s going on inside the characters – their moral and ethical dilemmas, their doubts, fears, inner conflicts, how they change as the story progresses. These are the things that make us, as members of an audience, get emotionally involved in a movie. I still remember how I felt when Bonnie and Clyde3 were killed. Man, I was in that car with them. The same thing happened most recently for me (and I’ll bet for you too) when I watched Saving Private Ryan4. It was quite late in the movie when it hit me that I was Private Ryan. That these brave men had sacrificed their lives to save me. And like Ryan, I found myself asking silently if I’d lived a life worthy of that sacrifice. That’s when the first sob escaped from my throat.
So when I start looking for ideas, I’m not worried about the plot yet. I’m asking myself what are the themes I want to explore in this script? What do I need to write about? Now, that may sound somewhat masturbatory because after all, I’m writing movies for an audience, not for my own pleasure.
But the simple truth of the matter is that I don’t know what you’ll like. No research or marketing study can tell me that. If it could, every movie would be a huge hit. Research tells us what you liked about the last movie you saw. It often leads filmmakers to repeat what has worked before. That’s why when a new film is successful, similar films are sure to follow. Since I don’t know how to please you, I can only try to please myself. But if it’s any comfort, I’m very difficult to please.
From the outset, Rick and I agreed it was time to throw a curveball. Every big league pitcher knows you can’t keep throwing your fastball if you want to be successful. The last movie had been a fastball and a good one, complete with great space monsters (the Borg) and a war to save the universe. It would be a mistake, we decided, to try in this movie to “out-Borg the Borg.” Instead, we agreed, this time around we should do something quirkier, lighter, more fun. The model Rick quoted most often was Star Trek: The Voyage Home5, the fourth and most successful film in the series -- a time-travel story in which Kirk and crew return to 20th century Earth to save an extinct species of whales. Not a single weapon was fired in that film; it was a comedy with social conscience. Times have changed and we knew there’d have to be weapons fired in the new movie. But Rick wanted a story closer in spirit to the whale movie and that was fine with me.
I don’t know about you but I’m weary of mean films. Bad guys don’t just get shot any more. They get shot and fall from buildings and crash through glass ceilings and get impaled on sharp objects before they die. I was worried there might be pressure from the studio to follow that trend in the next Star Trek movie (and was dead wrong, by the way).
I’ve always felt that Star Trek’s greatest secret is its
optimism. People watch Star Trek because it makes them feel hope for the future. Whoopi Goldberg who played Guinan on the TV series described it better than anyone else I know. She recalled what it meant to her as a child to see a black female officer on the bridge of the original Enterprise. “It meant there was a place in the future for me,” she said. I wanted this script to tap into that unique Star Trek power – to make people leaving the theater feel better than they had going in.
Now, remember what I said about listening to the universe, because when the idea came to me I wasn’t even trying to think of one. In fact, I was whining to myself one morning when it happened -- a typical screenwriter whine about the rejection of a script. I’d written a pilot for ABC about the impact on our lives from the first TV set on the block in the nineteen-fifties. A wonderful script.
Best work I’d ever done. It took them about an hour to reject it. The reason was simple: demographics. The networks and their advertisers only care about people 18 to 35 years old. Once you pass 35, they figure you’ve pretty well settled on Crest toothpaste and Coke and are not going to switch to Ultrabrite and Pepsi just because you see the latest commercial. Obviously, none of today’s 18 to 35 year olds were around in the fifties and conventional wisdom suggests they don’t give a damn about anything that happened before they were born. (I’ll save the arguments for another day.)
So I was in front of the bathroom mirror cursing to myself about the network’s youth obsession as I sprayed Rogaine on my bald spot when my mind made an unexpected jump to the Star Trek assignment. We’re obsessed with youth, I thought. Looking young, feeling young, selling to the young. When was the last time anybody did a fountain of youth story? I couldn’t remember. And I smiled.

Yakima Canutt

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Re: Fade In (unpublished)

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Jul 10, 2015 5:48 pm

April 1997

THE 
PITCH


I came back to Rick with a premise I called “Heart of Lightness.” I told him we’d be using a structure based on Heart of Darkness, but that the trip “up the river” would lead Picard and his crew on a very different kind of adventure.
“We open at Starfleet Academy in Picard’s youth,” I told him, “Establishing Picard as a curly-haired, high-spirited cadet. We give him a best friend, another cadet who is as close to Picard as any man has ever been and ever will be.
“Flash forward to the present day and find adult Picard being given a mission by Starfleet Command. His old friend is now a wanted man -- he’s been attacking ships in an unexplored region of space and no one knows why. Picard has to track him down and if necessary, kill him.

“The Enterprise sets off through this mysterious region and the crew begins to act in unusual ways. We don’t know why yet. After several curious incidents, they finally find the hiding place of Picard’s old friend. Picard transports down to the planet and discovers that he looks exactly the same as he did at the Academy! We ultimately learn that this is a fountain of youth and somebody is trying to steal it from the people who live there. Picard’s friend has been defending the natives on the planet.”
I waited a beat and tried to gauge his reaction. If he’d hated it, his mouth would have twisted into a frown by now. It wasn’t twisted at all. Not up. Not down. Even. He just looked at me and nodded. “I love it,” he said.


CHEAP 
CHICKEN 
& 
COTTAGE 
CHEESE


Rick and I settled back into our old collaborative rhythms. As we always had when we were creating a new television show, we met every day for lunch. I would usually order a cold chicken plate from the cafeteria which became known as “Mike’s Cheap Chicken,” because it was better than the more expensive chicken plate from the dining room. Rick would often have cottage cheese and fruit. He had a continuing struggle with his weight, the only sign I ever saw of the overwhelming stress from producing two TV series and a feature film simultaneously.
Our sessions would almost always start something like this:

Rick: Did you see the end of the game last night?
Mike: (nods) I was there.
Rick: Tommy and Eddie were so upset when they brought Worrell in
from the bullpen.
Mike: Yeah, me too.
Rick: Eddie said, “Dad, he always gives up a home run.”
Mike: It was hard to believe. The Dodgers aren’t going anywhere with this bullpen.
Rick: (eating a melon ball) You think we could use a girl for Picard in this movie? We haven’t had any romance for him in the other two films.
Mike: What if a girl came between the two guys back at the Academy? They both loved her, had a big fight over her and she married the other guy. She broke Picard’s heart.
Rick: Maybe she’s the one who comes to Picard and asks him to find her missing husband who’s gone off on a crazy search to find the fountain of youth...
Mike: And they start to fall in love again as they search for him.

I would write notes down as we continued to flesh out elements of the story. Then I would compose a brief memo going over the day’s work and send it off to him to consider overnight. We would discuss that memo as a starting point of the following day’s discussion.
Over the next few weeks, our romantic triangle evolved into a story about healing old wounds. At the beginning of the film, Picard could be shown to be a lonely man -- a man who really has no close friends. Picard would tell you it comes with the job. A Captain cannot afford close friends, not in the way, certainly, that he did as a young man at the Academy. But in truth, the distance Picard puts between himself and others, his discomfort with intimacy, might have begun with a young man’s broken heart.
I wasn’t just making this up out of thin air. I told Rick that I was drawing from an incident in high school in which I had lost both my best friend and my girlfriend in a romantic conflict. I always draw from my own life in my work. It helps me bring an honesty to the characters. Having lived through it, I could understand exactly what Picard might be feeling when this man and woman come back into his life. There would be regret, perhaps some guilt, many underlying emotions to resolve. I knew how to write this.

What might Picard learn from this story? Perhaps, we suggested, the importance of staying in touch with things he let go of a long time ago -- things that at the time might have seemed impetuous and immature, but really shaped who he is today. We forget as we grow up how wonderful it was to be mischievous, lazy and how to have fun. In our story, Picard would embrace these qualities again and become a better man as a result of the experience.
We started considering possible villains. The Romulans, an imperialistic, fascist race of aliens, had been long-standing enemies of the United Federation of Planets (the good guys) and had never been used in a movie before. Perhaps the story could be set against the threat of a new outbreak of war with the Romulans.
We also talked about the idea that someone in the Federation itself might be involved with the Romulans in a conspiracy to steal the fountain of youth. This was no small matter. As I’ve said, a fundamental part of Gene Roddenberry’s vision is that humanity has evolved as a species by the Twenty- Fourth Century. There might be a bad apple now and then but as a rule, the humans of the Federation were pure and good. Rick and I were very protective of Roddenberry’s vision. But we liked the idea of someone in Starfleet Command sending Picard on a mission without telling him the entire truth. It would provide a continuing subtext of tension and mystery. We spent days delineating a complex web of political intrigue that would support the conspiracy. Perhaps the Federation conspirators could be a cadre of old leaders (we called them the “alter kockers”) who were willing to betray their sacred trust in order to be young again.
We began to visualize a third act in our structure that would see Picard as Robin Hood and the crew as his merry men (and women) protecting this magical world.
On April 16th, as I was driving to work, I heard Nat King Cole singing the song “Stardust,” and I wrote Rick a note telling him, “If you can sing the lyrics of ‘Stardust’ to yourself, it’s a reverie, to borrow one of the lyrics, of a man thinking about the years gone by. It might be on the nose, but a working title for the script might be Stardust. We might find an interesting way to use the song in the story.” For the next several months, Stardust was our working title.


THE
 ACTORS


Patrick Stewart came in to hear our ideas earlier than we would have liked because we really hadn’t settled on anything yet. But Patrick was going to be in Australia to shoot Moby Dick for the next several months. We gave him a very brief description of the general themes of the story and he responded quite positively.
Patrick had clear personal goals for Jean-Luc Picard in the new movie. “The great all-rounders in cricket,” he said, “...like Don Bradman or Tom Gravney have a whole range of shots -- fast bowling, spin bowling – they can hit all around the field in any direction making it impossible for the defensemen to position themselves. I think of Picard as a Gravney. And Gravney’s most dominating, intimidating shot, rarely played, is the one straight back at the bowler and that’s what Picard should do in this next film.”

Uh huh. Rick and I nodded politely as though we understood. Rick finally spoke up and said, “Is this anything like a single up the middle in baseball?”

“Why, yes, I’m sure it must be.” said Patrick. And as we began to learn more about cricket, we understood that Patrick wanted his character to be a plain and simple hero in the next movie. In First Contact, Picard had been driven for vengeance. In Generations, Picard was full of self-doubts because his only family had been killed. Patrick did not want to be “haunted” in this next film. Keep it light and simple this time, he was saying. Hit it straight back at the bowler.
His wishes were not, on the surface anyway, at odds with my own feelings about Picard’s character although I didn’t mention them to Patrick at this meeting. I wanted to emphasize the quality of Picard that I felt made him unique among film heroes. I wanted to emphasize his mind. During the seven years of the television show, Picard had emerged as a man of great principle and moral integrity. He solved problems with his intellect and communication skills and would never fire weapons unless fired upon. This side of him had not been explored in the other two feature films.

The meeting with Patrick was very cordial and he seemed genuinely pleased that I’d been brought on board to write the script. On the other hand, actor Brent Spiner who plays the major co-starring role of Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, was not as comfortable with me. He was extremely polite about it but finally after discussing ideas for the film over lunch, he leaned forward and said, “I’m kind of worried that you don’t know how to write my character.” Sounds at first like an odd statement considering the fact that we’d worked together as writer and actor on The Next Generation for five years. But the truth is neither Brent nor Patrick knew me very well.

The demands of preparing the scripts for twenty-six episodes every season were so great that I rarely had time to visit the set and see them filming what I had written. I was always worried about the next week’s script as well as the next five or six stories in development. I was happy to let Rick be the one who took all the problem calls from the actors, the studio and the directors so that I could keep working without interruption. This arrangement allowed me to get all of the various script notes consolidated by Rick. It also, by the very nature of the process, kept me somewhat anonymous.

Brent could only judge my contribution to the series based on scripts he read that had my name on the title page as the writer. He said he’d never seen my name on any of the scripts that featured Data and he was absolutely right. But he didn’t know how much rewriting that head writers do without credit. This kind of rewriting is almost always necessary in television because free-lance writers generally don’t know the voices of the characters as well as the staff writers (as soon as they do, they’re hired on staff). And as the head writer, I was responsible for the final draft of every script. If I saw a way to improve Data’s character, for example, I’d do a rewrite, sometimes a major rewrite. I had written some of Data’s most memorable scenes, but Brent never knew it. I assured him that I was capable of doing justice to Data.

Again, I had very clear feelings about his character in the next movie but I didn’t bring them up at this first meeting because I hadn’t discussed them yet with Rick. Roddenberry had created Data as his Pinnochio -- the android’s greatest wish in life was to be human. During the television series, Data was always trying to discover what makes humans tick. But he was invented without the ability to feel human emotions, so his ability to understand humanity was limited to intellectual, computer-like analysis. That changed in his first feature film appearance in Generations. Data got an “emotion chip” in his positronic brain and suddenly he felt all the same feelings that humans feel. It was a good subplot and worked very well in the movie but I was worried about the long term consequences to the character. I feared The Rhoda Effect.

Not many of you 18 to 35 year olds will remember Rhoda Morgenstern, but she was a character played by Valerie Harper spun off from the legendary Mary Tyler Moore Show and the new show was rated in the top ten. Rhoda was endearingly lovelorn, always looking for the right man and could never find him. It was the source of her humor and all the empathy that we had for her as a character. And then in a famous episode, she consummated a long relationship by marrying her dream man, Joe. Rhoda’s wedding was one of the top rated television shows in history. Afterwards, the series died. It crashed in the ratings. By giving her what she always wanted, the writers had taken away her defining quality. Even a divorce couldn’t save the show and Rhoda was canceled.

With his new emotion chip, Data was dangerously close to getting what he’d always wanted. He was as close to being human as an android could be. I wanted to get Data back to Pinnochio if I could.

As Rick took off for a two week vacation in Italy at the end of the month, I was ready to sit down and broad-stroke a first draft treatment that would try to connect all the story threads we’d been talking about.

Yakima Canutt

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