When on September 8, 1966, the NBC network broadcast "The Man Trap" by George Clayton Johnson, the premiere episode of a new series called Star Trek, one thing was certain — television would never be the same.
And neither would I.
I was 11 years old that night, and that was, I think, the pivotal moment when I began the series of decisions that led to my becoming a writer-producer in television, and now a director. But I was hardly alone in being warped and altered (and, I believe, significantly improved) by Star Trek. In 40 years, that number has grown by many millions.
I want to share with you some of my journey from that evening to this one, and those of two other remarkable men — Michael Reaves and James Cawley. James, of course, is the professional Elvis impersonator who worked as a costumer on Star Trek: The Next Generation under the legendary William Ware Theiss, the man who designed the innovative costumes on the original Trek. Because Theiss was a department head, he was copied on all the interoffice paperwork on Star Trek, and thus had the blueprints of the original sets — which he gave to James.
Of such moments, history is made.
James started rebuilding all the Star Trek sets: the bridge, sickbay, transporter room, those distinctive corridors. He teamed up with local director Jack Marshall and special-effects whiz Doug Drexler (then working on Enterprise) and together the three of them produced three marvelously entertaining new Star Trek episodes, each more ambitious than the one before it, starring Cawley as James T. Kirk, with dozens of fans and industry pros lending a hand. Debuting on the Internet, Star Trek New Voyages drew worldwide press and an audience of millions around the globe.
I first learned about it when I was on a Star Trek panel with Walter Koenig, at a local science-fiction convention. Walter had played Chekov on the original Star Trek and the subsequent movies and was about to star in a New Voyages episode written by famed Trek writer and story editor D.C. Fontana. I went online, checked out the previous two episodes, and was hooked.
More than that: I remembered a terrific Sulu story my friend Michael Reaves had pitched to Star Trek Phase II, a series Paramount spent a year developing from 1976-77. With the success of Star Wars, Paramount decided to make Trek movies instead, and thus Michael's story never got made (or even written, in fact).
At the time, we were both ambitious young writers fresh out of the Clarion Writers Workshop, and both protégés of Trek writer (and science-fiction great) Theodore Sturgeon. Now it was 30 years later, and Michael and I had both enjoyed success as writers in television, selling hundreds of scripts to shows including Star Trek: TNG and Deep Space Nine. I'd always loved George Takei's work and wanted to work with him ever since I'd interviewed him while researching my book The Twilight Zone Companion. This seemed the perfect opportunity. I asked Michael if he'd like to write the script with me. Fortunately, he said yes, and James Cawley said yes, and — most importantly — the endlessly kind and talented George Takei said yes.
I was eager to direct, and James was good enough to give me my shot (interestingly enough, no one ever asked along the way if I knew how to direct…). With the considerable help of the spectacular Elaine Zicree as Executive Producer and acting coach (and essentially co-director), our marvelously resourceful producer Tasha Hardy, my partners in the Magic Time Company, Bill Wallen and John Howard, not to mention the skills and elbow grease of hundreds of other kind souls from all over the world (read the credits closely, please — every one of them deserves it), we spent the last two years creating "World Enough and Time."
I would be remiss if I failed to sing the praises of our wondrous cast — the previously mentioned George Takei and James Cawley, Jeff Quinn, John Kelley, John Lim, Lia Johnson, Charles Root, Andy Bray, Julienne Irons, Ron Boyd, the original Star Trek's Grace Lee Whitney and Majel Barrett Rodenberry — and most especially, the luminous Christina Moses as Alana Sulu (hire her, you showrunners and directors!). There are 700 effects shots in the episode created by the phenomenal DAVE School of Special Effects, headed up by some of the most talented (and award-winning) special-effects geniuses in the world (aided by other top-flight FX wizards), but that's not the point of the story. You'll see.
Years ago, I heard Harlan Ellison (who wrote "City on the Edge of Forever," my favorite Star Trek episode) tell the story of a fellow writer who'd come boasting to him that he'd just ripped off the plot of a movie and sold it to the producers of Star Trek, who hadn't recognized it as pilfered material. Harlan said, "You not only cheated them, you cheated yourself, because you had the opportunity to create something fresh and fine that no one had ever seen before, and you wasted it." Throughout my career, I've held that lesson close to my heart and endeavored to write as truthfully and well and originally as I can. Thankfully, I've had collaborators like Michael to aid me in that most-rewarding pursuit.
Winston Engle, our erstwhile coproducer, coined a motto for our episode — No Studio, No Network, No Problem. It makes the process sound easy, which it wasn't, but still it's largely true. We created wonders on a shoestring, shot in ramshackle buildings in the woods, warehouses in the boonies — nine days in upstate New York, two in the Valley north of L.A., one in Florida with the effects team. No building was soundproofed (or air-conditioned, for that matter), but we made the future live and breathe, sent our eyes and ears and souls out to the deepest reaches of space.
Some months before shooting "World Enough and Time," Doug Drexler, Ralph Miller and I joined George Takei for lunch at Universal. Ralph and Doug were enthusing about how much fun it was to be doing Star Trek (and it certainly was, and is), but I said to George, "That's not why I'm doing it. Every time I'm at bat, my goal is to change the history of television." It's a lesson I learned from Ted Sturgeon, and Dorothy Fontana, and David Gerrold, and Gene Roddenberry, and George Clayton Johnson, and Harlan Ellison.
It will be up to you to determine how well we've done.
You can watch the entire "World Enough and Time" episode here.
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