This week Library Computer takes a look at a number of ‘making of’ books for specific Star Trek episodes, including a review of the latest one about making the classic TNG episode "Yesterday’s Enterprise." We also have an interview with the author Eric Stillwell (who co-wrote the story for the episode) where he discusses both the episode and his time working on the TNG staff.
PREVIOUS STAR TREK EPISODE MAKING OF BOOKS
There have been many behind the scenes books for the various Star Trek TV series and films, and they will be the subject of future columns. This column looks at the three (and soon to be four) books dedicated to specific TV episodes, each written by people involved in the writing of the episode.
"The Trouble With Tribbles"
The first episode specific episode book was the 1973 edition of “Trouble with Tribbles: The Complete Story of One of Star Trek‘s Most Popular Episodes” by David Gerrold. As with most of these kinds of books, Gerrold discusses how the story started and what changes took place over the various drafts of the scripts. The book is written in the same lyrical style as the episode, with humorous pencil art, and includes valuable historical photos from the making of the episode. Despite its humor, the book is also educational, teaching about the process of authoring a teleplay.
“Trouble with Tribbles” making-of is available used at Amazon
"City on the Edge of Forever"
The next book is Harlan Ellison’s 1996 "The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode." Ironically, this making of book about what is arguably the best episode of Star Trek is the worst of the behind the scenes Trek tomes. Ellison is obviously a talented writer of fiction, yet his acerbic style in this book detracts from an otherwise interesting story of how the episode evolved. The book includes Ellison’s original teleplay, but instead of letting fans decide for themselves which version of “TCOTEOF” is best, Ellison’s style instructs readers on what to think and feel and how the original is better. However, if you like the salacious “E!” documentaries, you may enjoy this book, which is otherwise a real disappointment.
"The City on the Edge of Forever" making-of is available at Amazon
NEW "YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE" BOOK
The latest entry for episode-specific books is "The Making of Yesterday’s Enterprise" by Eric Stillwell, and it is much better than Ellison’s. The author provides a fascinating account of how the episode evolved from the initial idea (a story about Sarek going back in time to take the place of Surak) and also gives insights into the everyday machinations of working on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In addition to creating the story (with Trent Christopher Ganino) for "Yesterday’s Enterprise," Stillwell was a production assistant and script coordinator for TNG working primarily for showrunner Michael Piller. The book actually doesn’t focus on Stillwell’s own contribution and in fact he gives much credit for the episode to all the various writers, especially Piller and Ron Moore. Instead, Stillwell writes more as a witness to Trek history on how a classic TNG episode came to be, from conception through to production, airing and the response.
Like with Gerrold’s "Tribbles" book, Stillwell also educates the reader with details and insights into the workings of Hollywood and specifically the production of Star Trek. Especially interesting is how credit for an episode on television is decided and its implications. Other details include how the episode’s narrative changed over time. For example, in the original drafts, the romance was between Tasha Yar and Data and not Tasha and Lt. Castillo of the Enterprise C. And it was Data (and not Guinan) who realizes Tasha’s true fate in the original timeline. However, Piller felt Data/Tasha story was weak and ‘too convenient’ and didn’t fit with Data’s character as an android.
The book includes memos between writers, behind-the-scenes photos (taken by Stillwell), various drafts of script ideas as well as the entire filming script. The reader is also treated to on-set stories such as the time Rick Berman got upset over Ganino talking to Whoopi Goldberg (even though it was Goldberg who initiated the conversation to ask about a line in the script).
Beyond the ‘making of’ you also get reactions to the episode from both the fans and critics. There is also interesting information on Paramount’s (failed) campaign to get the episode nominated for Emmys (even going as far as re-arranging reruns to concur with Emmy voting). And Stillwell shows a lot of class with a chapter tribute to the late Michael Piller whose contributions to Star Trek are legion.
For those wishing to learn about the process of how a television episode moves from idea to completed narrative, or for those who enjoy reading about "what could have beens" with Star Trek narratives, this is a great book.
"The Making of Yesterday’s Enterprise" is available now at Amazon
Q&A WITH ERIC STILLWELL
TrekMovie.com: Did working on the show affect your fandom?
Eric Stillwell: Working on Star Trek changed my fan experiences in ways both good and bad. It was very exciting to be working on early days of The Next Generation, but I quickly discovered that I needed to distance myself from being identified as a “fan,” because there were so many people who worked on the show and at the studio who had serious misconceptions about Star Trek fans. The whole Star Trek phenomenon was a mystery to so many people in the industry….On the other hand, I was also living a dream come true for any Star Trek fan. How many people can say they’ve had a chance to work side by side with some of their personal idols, like Gene Roddenberry!
TrekMovie.com: What was it like working for Michael Piller? And also working for Rick Berman?
Eric Stillwell: Working for Michael Piller was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with one of the best writer/producers I’ve ever encountered in Hollywood. Michael was a very serious, disciplined writer. Sometimes he could be difficult to work with when he was singularly focused on a project or when he was writing a script. But Michael was a perfectionist whose storytelling always came first. His stories and scripts always had to be the best they could be. And he expected the same from his writing staff and freelance writers. There was many a writer who left Michael’s office with a bruised ego. But with Michael, it was never personal. He didn’t have time to let egos stand in the way of product. It was all about producing the best possible stories and scripts. And I think he succeeded more times than not. I still credit Michael for saving the Star Trek franchise when we came on board as the head writer of TNG during the third season of the series. I think the work speaks for itself. Working for Rick Berman was a more tenuous experience for me. I’m afraid my memories of Berman are more negative than positive. I’ll just leave it at that.
TrekMovie.com: Were there changes to the "Yesterday’s Enterprise" story that bothered you as the script was given to other writers?
Eric Stillwell: I have to honestly say that I don’t recall any changes to the story that bothered me. In fact, I really feel that Ron Moore made some wonderful changes that actually improved the story – as did Michael Piller. All of the writing staff added tremendously to the teleplay. Unlike some writers in Hollywood, I’ve always appreciated the collaborative nature of television writing – often referred to derisively as “script writing by committee.” But if that’s something that bothers you, then I would suggest that writing for television isn’t really a good career choice.
TrekMovie.com: "Yesterday’s Enterprise" is considered by many to be the best TNG episode. What is it about the episode that resonates with fans?
Eric Stillwell: “City on the Edge of Forever” and “Mirror, Mirror” were the inspirations for “Yesterday’s Enterprise” – and the episode was written by genuine fans of the original series. Trent and I were both die-hard TOS fans. And certainly Ron Moore was a huge TOS fan. I think the final episode reflects the elements of the original series which have made that series and the entire franchise a phenomenon for more than 40 years. It’s hard to put a finger on one particular element that makes the episode resonate with the fans, but having watched the episode again recently, I think it still holds up after nearly 20 years! In some ways, the lessons learned in our war-torn alternate universe are more powerful today than they were in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, humanity still hasn’t learned the lessons that Star Trek has been offering since the 1960s.
NEXT UP, MAKING OF "SAREK"
The next ‘making of a Trek episode’ book (to be published later this year) is Peter Beagle’s "Writing Sarek" based on the Next Generation episode and Alzheimer allegory, "Sarek." Beagle developed the story and wrote the teleplay (based on the story by Marc Cushman and Jake Jacobs). According to the publisher’s website “this book, which will contain a complete "behind the scenes" history of the writing of the episode (all the way back to Marc Cushman’s first pitch to Gene Roddenberry!), plus Peter’s notated original teleplay and additional analysis and commentary.”
Preorder "Writing Sarek" at ConlanPress.
OTHER BOOK NEWS
By Rob Lyons
Three veterans of Star Trek fiction have been nominated by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers for their 2008 Scribe Awards, according to a post at their blog.Keith R.A. DeCandido received three nominations; one in the Best Young Adult Original category for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Deathless", another in the Best Speculative Original category for last fall’s Next Generation novel "Q&A", and a third in the Best Speculative Adapted category for his novelization of "Resident Evil: Extinction". Greg Cox was also nominated in this category for "52: The Novel". Alan Dean Foster, who developed the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and novelized the episodes of the animated Star Trek series, will be honored with the Grandmaster Award. The winners will be announced at the San Diego Comic Con this July.
Trek books at NYC Comic Con
Editors and Writers from Pocket Books will sit down at the New York Comic Con for a Star Trek Books panel from 12:30 to 1:00 PM on Saturday, April 19. A special limited edition sampler of several upcoming novels, including "Kobayashi Maru", "Greater Than the Sum", and the Destiny Trilogy will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The event takes place at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan. More information can be found at their website.
COMING NEXT WEEK
For next week’s Library Computer, Rob Lyons takes a look at "Night of the Wolves", the second novel in the Deep Space Nine prequel series Terok Nor