Marc Scott Zicree Chat at Scifi.con 2.0 on November 02, 1997

Moderator: OK, we're now moderated.

RealJohnOrdover: Hi all

Moderator: The panel is Writing SF for TV.

RealJohnOrdover: We're staring off a panel on writing SF for television

* LenWein is here...I hope. *

RealJohnOrdover: I wrote, with my pal David Mack, the DS9 episode STARSHIP DOWN

RealJohnOrdover: that was on in fourth season, and we've sold story treatments and done other

MarcZicree: Hi Everyone

RealJohnOrdover: work and hope to pitch Xena soon

Moderator: Marc, please tell us a bit about yourself.

Moderator: To ask a question of our panelists, type "/msg Moderator" followed by your question.

MarcZicree: I'm the author of the Twilight Zone companion, I've sold over 90 scripts. Other credits include Twilight Zone, Beaty and the Beast, STTNG, and I'm currently a producer on Sliders

Moderator: OK, and let's also welcom Len Wein. Len, can you hear us?

LenWein: sure can. I think.

Moderator: OK, Len, can you tell the folks a bit about yourself?

RealJohnOrdover: I can here you

RealJohnOrdover: hear you

Moderator: <Shannen> to <Moderator>: Marc, how important is fan opinion to the scripts you write? I mean, last season, Fox seemed to totally ignore Sliders core audience...

LenWein: Sure. I've been in comics for almost thirty years. I've created Swamp Thing, Wolverine, the New X-Men, the Human Target, and a bunch of others. I've been editror-in-chief at both Marvel and Disney Comics, and a senior editor at DC. Lately, I've mostly been writing TV animation, ost recently ReBoot, Beast Wars, Pocket Dragon Adventures, and will be working on the animated RoboCop and Startship Troopers for the '98 season.

MarcZicree: Fan opinion is very important to us. I personally think that last saeson, particularly the end was dreaful. and we're working hard to rectify that...

MarcZicree: The characters weren't acting with compassion toward each other and makeing mistakes that were turning off the fans and the general audience

MarcZicree: Fortunately, now that we're on the SFC, the edict that comes from above has been to make the show smarter and better/.

Moderator: <Julie> to <Moderator>: What's it like to pitch either a story plot for an episode or a pilot for a TV show?

LenWein: .

RealJohnOrdover: Which is a change from other networks, where they want shows to be stupider and worse. At least as far as I can tell

RealJohnOrdover: It's a lot like putting children in a guillotine. You have to be ready for them to hate and kill your babies.

RealJohnOrdover: and to get comments like "this is one of the best TV show ideas I've ever read, but we're not doing things like this now."

MarcZicree: Julie, it's cvery fun. The most important thing, expecially with pitching a series, is to know the series -- to know what stories they've done and haven't done. Look for a way to take the characters to places they haeven't gone. For instance, the story that I just sold to DS9, entitled Cold and Distant Stars deals with the world of SF writiers in 1950's New York. This is a time and a subject that I love and that they had never touched on before.

RealJohnOrdover: I'ts a great story

RealJohnOrdover: blew me away

MarcZicree: what I try and do is do my best work and hope that everyone else on the show will rise to that level.

MarcZicree: Thanks John!

RealJohnOrdover: I'd also add:

RealJohnOrdover: Don't pitch sequels to episodes (for the most part)

RealJohnOrdover: Pitch CHEAP if you're a newby

RealJohnOrdover: a -great- story with standing sets will help you break in

MarcZicree: Agreed. The thing to do is just do stories that are like the episodes, but just different and original enough -- a combination of their show and your own passions.

RealJohnOrdover: but a -great- story (like Marc's) is what they are looking for

Moderator: <Swooop> to <Moderator>: John..>What do you mean by pitch CHEAP?

RealJohnOrdover: what they want from you is an idea they couldn't have thought of themselves.

MarcZicree: On Sliders, the episode I'm writing now, we're hoping to utilize sets from TimeCop that was just cancelled. If we can do that it will save lots of money.

RealJohnOrdover: I mean, pitch standing sets and minimal SFX

MarcZicree: The interesting thing about that story is taht I pitched it over a year ago and I didn';t think it would seel because it was such an odd idea...

RealJohnOrdover: one of the unproduced pitches of ours they liked as DS9 was set ENTIRELY in Quark's bar, with no SFX

RealJohnOrdover: just characters moving in and out, and a big bar fight

Moderator: <regan> to <Moderator>: Do you find it difficult taking into account the show's budget when writing for a show?


MarcZicree: it's important to take that into account, because if they can't afford ot make it, they won't buy it. On the other hand, knowing effects and their potential is very important.

RealJohnOrdover: No, not really.

RealJohnOrdover: What I've found is, once a producer really gets into your idea, they'll spend more $$ on it.

MarcZicree: This past show originally had FX requirements 4x what the budget was. By sitting down with the FX people, we got it down to an acceptable level.

LenWein: Writing for animation is much like writing for comics in that we don't have to worry about budget really since all the effects work and such will be drawn, but on ReBoot, we had to be careful about adding new characters, since that was where all the expense came in, desinging a new character from all angles and feeding it to the computers.

RealJohnOrdover: STARSHIP DOWN went from standing sets with no SFX to a battle with two starships in a gas giant, once they got into it.

MarcZicree: In the episode I'm writing now for Sliders, I hope to have a sequence set opn a zeppelin, and I have to convince them we can afford it. I hope I win.

Moderator: <SFWeekly> to <Moderator>: All of my TV writer friends always say you have to be based in LA if you want to be in the business. What do you all think?

MarcZicree: If you want a career as a writer of series tv, then yes. If you want a career as a screen writer, then no

LenWein: Abolutely. I know of a writer who moved oout of LA but was technically closer in terms of the ride time it would take to get to any studio,. He still found it hard to get work, because everyone now thought of him as "out-of-town."

RealJohnOrdover: Working from NY has seriously cramped my style. Not willing to make the jump to LA yet though.

Moderator: <Skulker> to <Moderator>: I would like to hear more about the processes involved in going from idea to finished product. Could you give me a "behind the scenes" scoop? How would I as an amateur script or comic writer lay out my ideas and get a finished product.

LenWein: Are you talking about self-producing or working for an established company? There's a big difference.

RealJohnOrdover: The Star Trek shows are one of the few on TV that take submissions from non-shows

RealJohnOrdover: non-pros, I mean

MarcZicree: what this all speaks to (LA) is one level of commitment to succeeding as a write r for TV. What Len and John are both touching on is the more familiar you are with that show, the better your chances.

MarcZicree: It's just like educating yourself in any trade -- you have to out in the time ansd sweat

RealJohnOrdover: Call the paramount swtichboard and ask for the Star Trek pitch package hotline number

Moderator: <Ten> to <Moderator>: How much does a story change from pitch to production?

RealJohnOrdover: Sometimes not at all, sometimes a heck of a lot, mostly somewhere in the middle

MarcZicree: A lot. Basically if someone's a freelancer and pitches something to us on Sliders, we'll jujst like the kernel of it. We'll meet with them and lay it out so we all like it. Then we'll do the outline and it will be acontinuing process of refinement

MarcZicree: we don't go to script until the outline is fairly well nailed down

MarcZicree: Ususually it doesn't change much in terms of plot, just character voice

LenWein: anywhree from not at all to completely. I once pitched a Batman Animated story that involved the Penguin stealing a "Maltese Falcon"-like statue. The premise went through all the usual channels, and was bought. The Story Editor told me they loved the story and wanted me to do it exactly as pitched, with one slight change: they wanted me to drop the statue and have the Penguin steal an Airwolf-like stealth helicopter instead. No big change at all according to them.

RealJohnOrdover: "Could you change the prison camp to a summer camp? Marketing says prison camps are depressing."

Moderator: <Calpurnius> to <Moderator>: What's the most important difference a writer has to realize going from a published medium to a visual one?

MarcZicree: That it's visual.... ;-)

RealJohnOrdover: The afformentioned budget

RealJohnOrdover: and that things have to MOVE

MarcZicree: The most important thng is to realize how much visuals get across your point. Sometimes if you envision it as a silent movie that can help you.

RealJohnOrdover: characters should at least be walking or something

LenWein: that in the visual medium, the pictures MOVE. And you can usually only get into the characters' heads through action and inference.

MarcZicree: agreed, john -=- no long telephone calls...

MarcZicree: you lose the internal monologue

RealJohnOrdover: 'cause you can't use shorthand -- ie, you can't say "he made ten calls before he hit pay dirt."

RealJohnOrdover: and the real trick is to make sure no characters explain things to each other that they both already know.:)

MarcZicree: it's a good idea to watch television and make a list of things that drive you crazy then not do that when you write

RealJohnOrdover: I thought that was a problem on early sliders, since both the lead and the scientist were both highly trained in dimensional physics

* MarcZicree laughs. I tell yuou something -- when I got hired on Sliders, 8 weeks ago, I'd only seen the pilot. Since then I've watched a lot of episodes *

MarcZicree: I like the huimor of the early episodes, but they often didn't pay off the show they set up.

Moderator: <SFWeekly> to <Moderator>: How much money would you typically get for a TV script that was accepted? How does it compare to short story writing, novels, etc.?

MarcZicree: Compares really well...

RealJohnOrdover: You'll net around 50,000 by the time residuals run out. Novels pay less or more, depending on how well they sell. Short stories pay almost notbing

MarcZicree: For one hour script, you'll get anywhere form $15-30,000, not including residuals

LenWein: The money is infinitely better, but so are the stress levels. I usually only write short prose fiction these days to keep that muscle flexed.

MarcZicree: it's easy to get over $100,000 a year in tv.

RealJohnOrdover: Two scripts a year is a middle-class income.:)

LenWein: BTW, unrealated to anything, who is the FALSEJohnOrder?

RealJohnOrdover: I crashed off the system, but my name stayed. :)

Moderator: <Warlok> to <Moderator>: How can you get your ideas to a studio other than following producers into the restroom and shoving your scripts under the stall door?

MarcZicree: Basically, anywhere you can go to meet anyone who works on any show, any movie, get into conversations with people, get mentors, be inventive, and make sure that your writing is good.

LenWein: It's not easy. Most shows won't even talk to a writer who isn't represented by an agent.

RealJohnOrdover: I started by publishing books by Executive Producers.:)

RealJohnOrdover: and by writing lots of short stories.

RealJohnOrdover: and sellling 'em to mags.

RealJohnOrdover: from Amazing to Penthouse

Moderator: <shred> to <Moderator>: Is the job of the writer different on an animated series? Can you be "on the set" for rewrites, rehearsals?

LenWein: Not usually. By the time the actual animation begins, the dialogue has already been recorded.

LenWein: .

Moderator: <Swooop> to <Moderator>: When going to pitch a series or a episode script, what advice would you give the interviewee?

MarcZicree: Unless you have TV credits, it's very unlikely to be given the opportunity to pitch a tv series, so first you need a career as a TV writer...

RealJohnOrdover: have a lot of stuff ready. Be prepared to have your favorite idea rejected

MarcZicree: Before you pitch, try to run your work by professional writers and listen to what they have to say.

LenWein: Look presentable. Know your material. And don't presume to tell the people you're meeting with what's wrong with their series. You wouldn't believe the number of "fans" who try to do that.

MarcZicree: very important - if they say no, don't argue, go onto the next one.

RealJohnOrdover: have a lot of ideas. Try and come up with something on the way over in the car -- that's often the one that sells. Don't be afraid to pitch something crazy

MarcZicree: Agreed about the crazy thing...

MarcZicree: I found that what works for me is to really look at what story they hadn't done that they needed to do to plug their own mythology. When I sold TNG First Contact, I realized they'd never done a story where the Prime Directive turns off.

LenWein: Truth to tell, you'll never really know what's going to sell. There's a "rule" that says if you work out two really great ideas and come up with a third as you're driving over, just to fill out the number of ideas you pitch, it's that last one they'll go with every time.

Moderator: <MeGiDD0> to <Moderator>: what about introducing NEw characters? what is your take on that?

MarcZicree: One of my own personal rules is that I try not to pitch stories that I personally hate, even if they might sell.

MarcZicree: As a result, when I do sell a story it's usually one that I love.

MarcZicree: Don't ever introduce a new character if you intend it to be a series regular

RealJohnOrdover: That's a great rule, in part because the enthusiams of your pitch counts too.

RealJohnOrdover: Marc, except for antagonists? I'd say you can certainly come up with "bad guys" that are one-shots.:)

MarcZicree: Also, to add to that John, if you really come well prepared with enthusiasm and good work, even if you don't sell to them, they might hire you later or put you on staff.

LenWein: I wouldn't try introudcing new characters at the start. The series is about the regular characters, remember, and you're not proving yourself to the Story Editor if you're pitching a character they've never seen before. First, prove you can write their characters.

MarcZicree: Sure - one-shot bad guys are fine. Just not like Worf's cousin vcomes on board forever...

MarcZicree: which isn't to say that you can't have individuals you create for that particular episode -- every series has guest stars

RealJohnOrdover: I have had more than a dozen VGR pitches rejected because they were already doing that story. And they were, too. Sometimes I'd get the script the day before my pitch.:)

RealJohnOrdover: Jeri laughed the last time, because they were doing ALL FIVE. She said John, you've just got to think a little faster.:)

MarcZicree: sometimes that can tell the people on the show that you're really on track with their show -- that can be a positive mark, not a negative

MarcZicree: John, you've got to get out more... ;-)

RealJohnOrdover: Yup. Got that right. The most annoying thing, though, is when they tell you "that's a great story, but we're already using that gimmick. Your story is a lot better, though. Oh, well."

RealJohnOrdover: :)

LenWein: Benn there. Had that happen to me. All too many times. :)

Moderator: <salt> to <Moderator>: how do you feel when those who control the final product make changes to the pieces you write?

MarcZicree: just continue on and don't look back...

LenWein: It comes with the territory. If you're not willing to accept the changes, stay with prose fiction.

MarcZicree: You make it a point to get on staff so they don't mess with you (hopefully)

RealJohnOrdover: Sometimes I like 'em, sometimes I don't. Starship Down they kept the best parts of what we wrote, added and changed to fit their story arcs

MarcZicree: the first battle I always fight when I get on a show is that no one will rewrite me...

MarcZicree: I've only lost that on one script

RealJohnOrdover: Personally, I insist on total creative control of how I spend the money they pay me.:)

MarcZicree: LOL, John!

Moderator: <Swooop> to <Moderator>: There are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of books out there to help the writer in his or her quest to create their script. WHich do you individually like? Any software prefs? Script City sells used to sell (I think they still do) like a dozen or two differn't scriptwriting software packages. Or do you just do them on your WP?

LenWein: I work with Final Draft 4.0, and a matrix Marv Wolfman put together for me on Microsoft Word.

MarcZicree: Books: the only one I've really used is "How to write a screenplay in 21 days" just to give a framework and deadlines

MarcZicree: I prefer to take writing classes from professional writers who have credits in the area I'm trying to break into

LenWein: Yeah, I've also used the "21 days" book. The author is someone named King, I believe.

RealJohnOrdover: I just got myself a writing partner with an NYU film school degree.:)

MarcZicree: Vicki King

MarcZicree: poor guy (John)

RealJohnOrdover: LOL

MarcZicree: software: I used to use Wordstar 4, but Sliders has forced me to use Movie Master. But there's no standardized program throught the industry

RealJohnOrdover: He's also a copyeditor, so our script work is perfectly neat on the page. He designed MSWORD templates for us.

MarcZicree: neatness counts

RealJohnOrdover: Oddly for NYU, he's only intersted in movies that blow things up.:)

MarcZicree: that's a guy thing

LenWein: Neatness and ORIGINALITY count. ;-)

RealJohnOrdover: Yes, it does, although I've had the odd argument of insisting we don't cut great dialogue so the pages will lie perfectly...:)

MarcZicree: it's so much fun when you come up with an idea that you know they've never thought of before, particularly when they buy it...

RealJohnOrdover: it's always particularly nice when they buy it.:)

MarcZicree: indeed...

LenWein: You betchum, Red Ryder.

MarcZicree: LOL!

Moderator: We're going to have to wrap-up soon. Any final questions for our panelists?

Moderator: <Presbyte> to <Moderator>: Someday, you'll be able to buy a movie production kit in a box. Toy versions of this are already on sale. Will that signal movement of the audience away from what we now call video/film, or will this herald the golden age of the writer?

RealJohnOrdover: You should all move to LA and live out of your cars.:)

LenWein: I'm always afraid of winding up living in a van down by the river.

MarcZicree: I think that anytime the technology allows people greater access to the art form, it's a good thing. The extension of the independent film is directly the result of that, so I welcome it.

MarcZicree: Len -don't be afraid, it's very nice, actually.

RealJohnOrdover: Anyone who wants to chat more about this or about Star Trek novels can e-mail me at

LenWein: I think that writers will always be important to the creative process. We've been the storytellers since Man first squatted around a fire in a cave.

MarcZicree: you bet, Len

RealJohnOrdover: I agree

LenWein: The LA River?

RealJohnOrdover: Humans need stories. Heck, Marc, how about a Sliders episode set on a nightmare world -- one without fiction?:)

Moderator: Len, can you give us an update on the status of Reboot in the US?

RealJohnOrdover: LOL

LenWein: What's the conflict? ;-)

RealJohnOrdover: REBOOT is a GREAT show

MarcZicree: the important thing in writing is to look around you for stories. They're not looking for someone who belnds in ,they're looking for someone who sticks out (in a good way)

LenWein: Thanks, John.

LenWein: Since BATMAN: TAS, it's the series I'm most proud of being involved in.

RealJohnOrdover: I like to pitch three blends and then three wacko ideas.:)

RealJohnOrdover: blends so they know you get the show, wacko to sell something.

MarcZicree: yes, John.

MarcZicree: I also like to aim really high, to shake things up.

MarcZicree: The project I have now called Magic Time is a modern day fantasy. I wrote the pilot. I sold it as a series of novels which will soon be turning back into a tv series

RealJohnOrdover: Right! Gotta swing for the fences. That way you're at least a little more sure they aren't doing that already.:)

LenWein: We still don't have an outlet for the third season of ReBoot here in the US, to the best of my knowledge, though I know they're working hard to find one. The first 8 episodes have aired in Canada and the UK, though.

RealJohnOrdover: Marc, which publisher? May I ask?

MarcZicree: John: Harper Collins

RealJohnOrdover: Cool.

MarcZicree: yeah, I agree

MarcZicree: The first book I'm writing Barbara Hambly

LenWein: Marc, loved the ad that ran in the trades a few weeks back.

Moderator: Thank you all for taking the time to speak with us!

RealJohnOrdover: For potential Trek novelists, I always say "stay away from continuity hooks and sequels -- pitch me something I couldnt' have thought of.")

MarcZicree: Yeah, it was a full page add in Variety for Magic time and it had an illustrationm from one of the creatures from one of the designerrs for the new star wars movie

LenWein: Neat.

Moderator: Our next panel is "How to become a successful SF Artist"

MarcZicree: If anyone wants to contact me regarding sliders,

LenWein: Well, I've got deadlines, gang. Gotta run. It's been fun.

MarcZicree: my e-mail is

LenWein: My e-mail, for anyone who cares, is: Wein

LenWein: Works@aol. com.

Moderator: Panel With Vincent DiFate, Janny Wurts and Don Maitz

LenWein: Bye all.

RealJohnOrdover: Bye All!

MarcZicree: bye everyone, thank you!

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