Written by Denis Faye
Marc Scott Zicree always knew he was destined to helm the starship Enterprise. Sure, penning for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, as well as shows like Babylon 5 and Sliders, was a thrill for the veteran screenwriter, author, and die-hard sci-fi fanatic, but as is often the case, what he really wanted to do was direct. Unfortunately, whenever he made this request to a showrunner, he'd get the same, tired response: “Maybe next season.”
So Zicree asked himself, “What would Kirk do?” and promptly rewrote the rules. Contacting the popular fan-created Web site Star Trek: Phase II (http://www.startreknewvoyages.com/), he offered to direct one of their Paramount-sanctioned, Web-only, original-series episodes. He then landed a little investment capital and enlisted about half of Hollywood to help him, including fellow Star Trek scribe Michael Reaves to co-write and George Takei to reprise his role as Sulu.
Eighteen months and 700 effects shots later, the resulting show, “World Enough and Time,” looked and felt more like a Star Trek episode than some Star Trek episodes. More importantly, the tragic tale of sacrifice involving Sulu and his daughter showcased some serious writing chops. So much so that it has received a 2007 Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Award nomination for “Best Script.” As the first Internet-based show to ever receive this distinction, it will compete against the likes of Children of Men, V is for Vendetta, Pan's Labyrinth and Dr. Who.
Recently, the Writers Guild of America, West Web site talked to Zicree about his Webisode, the Internet in general, and maybe even a little about Star Trek.
Why did you decided to take the Web route?
Marc Scott Zicree (right) and George Takei watch George Cawley as Capt. James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Phase II.
I was invited to sit in on a Star Trek panel at a science fiction convention at UCLA a couple years ago. A number of people from the different incarnation of Star Trek were on the panel, including Walter Koenig, who played Chekov. This was when Star Trek: Enterprise was winding down. It wasn't a fan favorite, so someone in the audience asked the panel, “What is the future of Star Trek?” and Walter told this incredibly bizarre story.
I sat down with him after the convention, and he told me about a group of fans lead by a guy named James Cawley, whose day job is an Elvis impersonator. He's a huge Star Trek fan, and he got hold of the blue prints to the original sets, built full-size, accurate replicas of the sets and then started shooting episodes, starring himself as Kirk and putting them on the Internet. They started getting ratings bigger than Enterprise. At that point, he got the idea of asking Walter Koenig to star in the next one and asking Dorothy Fontana, who had written and story edited the original Star Trek, to write it. That night, I went online and watched it. Everything Enterprise lacked, this show had. It was energetic and smart and fun and well-written and really had a love of the show. So I had this idea that perhaps I could team with these people and build a production machine that could rival a network show.
What was the difference between writing a Web episode and a TV episode?
The main difference was that there were no notes. Michael and I wrote it and then I shot it. There was no one to mark it up. Normally studio executive notes are great and constructive, but still, there was something very freeing about just being able to write it and shoot it.
“World Enough and Time” seemed more introspective than most TV shows' scripts, particularly the conversations between Sulu's daughter, Alana, and the crew.
Michael and I talked about the structure as a sucker punch, because you expect a certain kind of show when you're watching the beginning of it, and then it turns and becomes something much deeper. That was deliberate. Normally, the structure you'd have is that you'd start with some character stuff and then you'd have a big action climax. In this case, we front-loaded it with the Romulan ship disintegrating and all that. That big action set piece in the beginning allowed us to take the time with the characters later.
The challenge was keeping the threat real, reminding us that the Enterprise is going to be destroyed, building the tension while we're playing the character scenes where the various characters are falling in love with Alana and the viewers do to. So there's a cost, stakes that feel real to us.
You're clearly a confirmed science fiction fan, but this episode wasn't about phasers and warp speed. It was about people.
We got to have all the toys, spaceship battles, spacesuits, sword fights, and all that daring-do, but that's not the purpose of it. It's the trappings. This is a story about family, love, and sacrifice.
But if those are the themes that interest you, why are you drawn to science fiction?
I'm drawn to science fiction because it allows us to step outside our day-to-day worlds and look at things from a different vantage point, and that can give you greater insight into our world and into our lives. So I like it as a parable and as a metaphor. Ray Bradbury says, “I'm in the parable business” about himself. And I think that's true of me too.
How is your creative process different when you're playing in someone else's sandbox, as opposed to building your own universe?
Aesthetically, there's really no difference. It's all autobiography in one way or another. The main difference is that when you're writing for someone else's show, whether it's Star Trek or Babylon 5 or Sliders, what you look at is, “What have they done? Now let's come up with something different. Let's come up with something that doesn't violate the show, but expands it.” And that's the trick.
What specifically draws you to Star Trek?
I first saw Star Trek when I was a kid. As a Christmas present, I even got a trip to the set. So I was on the set for the last episode ever shot. The first book about television I ever bought was called The Making of Star Trek. Reading that book was the first time I thought, “Maybe I can make a go of this. Maybe I can be a writer-producer in television.” It molded who I am.
Star Trek is a wonderful show. It's got great characters. When we were working on the episode, Michael and I watched all the original episodes and what you find is that all the characters are incredibly distinctive. A Spock line will not fit McCoy. A Kirk line will not fit Spock. A McCoy line will not fit the others. Scotty is very distinctive. Everyone has their own way of talking and their own outlook. It makes them very fun to write.
What does the Internet have to offer established writers?
When I was shooting the Star Trek episode, I wore a button that says, “I've seen the future.” It's from the 1939 World's Fair Futurama exhibit, where you'd see the world in 1965. And the moment I saw that there was a group of Star Trek fans making their own episodes and the Internet was allowing them to have millions of viewers, competing toe-to-toe with a network, I said, “Ah, okay, the world has just changed.”
Prior to the Internet, the only game in town was the networks. If you wanted to make a television show and you wanted to reach millions of viewers, you had to be on a network. Now that's no longer the case. If you just do quality work, you can get an audience, which is what we did. Millions of people have seen this episode around the world now. In fact, it's a larger network than an American television network because they just go out primarily to an American audience. The Internet gets a world audience, instantaneously.