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“Breaking Rules” — Speccing And Sharing Star Trek: Terran

Click Here For Part I – Presenting Star Trek: Terran

Click Here For Part II – “Why Star Trek?”: The State of an Enduring Franchise

We’ve already explored the reasons why Trek should come back on TV. But working on Star Trek: Terran was also about something beyond the beloved franchise.
From speccing an original pilot script based on an existing property, to publicly sharing it online, here’s a writer’s perspective on the experience.

Speccing a Franchise

One of the basic rules of writing specs is to never write a script around something you don’t own the rights to.
Shocker: I don’t own the rights to Star Trek.
In fact, as we saw yesterday, corporate ownership of the franchise is convoluted (at best), with CBS and Paramount both in the middle of the space pie. Given how “mainstream” the rebooted universe is, it would be pretty strange to get a new Star Trek TV show that is set in the original, prime universe. Yet, it’s CBS that is doing the TV side of things, and they have nothing to do with that version. There’s also been many articles written on theoretical Trek shows, from a Worf-centric spin-off to Bryan Singer’s 30th-century series.

All in all, it seemed very unlikely that Star Trek would come back to television anytime soon. So I said: the hell with it.
I decided to write my own proof of concept of what a new Trek show could be.
Going in, I knew speccing a copyrighted universe would be suicidal on a development level. It’s not as if the show is ever gonna get made.
As I’ve previously said, the primary reason was to offer an original take on the franchise. But beyond, this was about something beyond the script itself. I’m not trying to pitch something to make it happen, I’m pitching it for what it represents. Hope for a new series, and also a comment about something else…

Download the pilot script (.PDF)

Sharing the Craft

With Terran, I wanted to do something different. It is, after all, an experiment. Not just about Star Trek, but about script sharing.
Distributing an original pilot script online may raise a few eyebrows. However, when was the last time anyone was excited about a script? (Never.)
Granted, I don’t think that many people will care about my script specifically, although this is more about the other side of that coin.

I want to show to all my faithful readers and aspiring TV writers out there that it’s okay to share your work.
Television is a collaborative medium. We’re not writing novels, we’re making episodic scripts. And we should be learning from each other.

Sadly, besides produced scripts being traded in the shadows of Internet, there’s almost no TV writer, aspiring or pro, willing to openly share their work.
And I have to say: it’s weird.
I’m not talking about sharing projects currently in development/production or making the rounds. What I’m referring to is all the other stuff. The failed pitches, the finished projects, the canceled ventures.
This isn’t a question of getting/wanting validation from the outside. It’s obvious most writers already have a group, or an entourage whose opinion they care about. It’s about sharing the craft. The experience of TV writing.
That’s one of the reasons why I put Terran out there. Like any spec, it’s an ongoing work in progress, and I do welcome any feedback I get. Yet, I don’t expect it to be made (copyright issues notwithstanding). I put it out, in part, to share the process (good and bad).

When it comes to TV writing, there’s one example that comes to mind of someone actually “sharing his craft”: the awesome Javi Grillo-Marxuach.
Through his Squarespace site, he has been offering plenty of material, ranging from TV pitch documents, to pilots and episodic scripts. Talk about a resource.

Which makes you wonder: why isn’t anyone else doing it?

A Fear of Theft

There’s a lot to say about the rampant fear that some writers have about someone stealing their brilliant ideas, especially when it comes to specs.
For one thing, it’s unwarranted.
You should absolutely register your work at the Writers’ Guild, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid about it.

Ultimately, what risks are you taking by sharing your work, scripts and pitches alike (especially if you’re a pro)? (Again, I’m not talking about projects in development/production or ones you don’t want online for similar reasons.)
If you answered “someone may steal my super sweet lines”, I’m sorry to say that syntax technology has reached the masses.
More importantly, if someone cares so much about your writing that they’re willing to copy parts of your style, what does that say about your talent?
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” may sound trite, but here it’s pretty much the truth.
Even thinking that someone is desperate enough to plagiarize your work is, well, a bit presumptuous to begin with. It’s doubtful someone will bother.

The same exact thing can be applied to spec scripts, both original pilots and based on existing shows. In fact, you should be less scared about sharing your work and “theft” if you’re an aspiring writer. Trust me, the writing staff of The Walking Dead isn’t going to steal your cool idea.
Why? If your idea is that amazing, then chances are pretty freaking high that the staff (the one that talks, thinks, breathes this show 24/7), has come up with a variation of said idea/script multiple times. And that’s before you even thought of it. Spoiler alert: they won’t need to be aware of your spec to do the brilliant idea.

As for original specs, well that’s part of why I posted Terran. To disprove the myths about everybody ripping you off. If anything, you’ll get constructive feedback from people reading the script. Speaking of, I want to thank all the people that have been interest in reading the script. Clearly, you guys have great taste.

Educational Purposes Only

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

– John Dewey

Perhaps another reason why people are reticent to share their work is because of the type of projects that would be online. Seeing as you can’t put scripts in development or in production, you’d end up with a lot of what some may consider creative “failures” (I don’t — they’re merely unrealized opportunities). For examples, pitches that didn’t really advance past a certain stage. Among other writings, that’s exactly what you’ll find on Javi’s (and John August’s) site(s).

On some level, sharing unproduced scripts is giving fans more of what they want. Both writers have unique writing styles, and it’s great to read what they do.
It’s also about sharing experience and knowledge. When you’re speccing an existing show, you’ll be reverse-engineering the process of breaking the story.
The same can be applied to reading other writers’ projects, regardless of where the projects ended up.
Every writer has a different approach to the craft, and it’s always a learning experience to read someone else’s work. Even “failed pitches” are not actually failures. “Those who cannot remember the past…”

Writing can be a personal affair, but TV is communal. It’s teamwork. We’re all in this together.

I wish writers were more willing to openly share their work, especially when it comes to television.
It’s high time we started learning from each other’s craft. Why not become a team writer yourself?

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