The story about 2 nuns in Idaho or What happened with ST:TNG’s Rascals

Star Trek: TNG - RascalsFriend and media tie-in novelist Keith DeCandido writes a biting yet entertaining STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION rewatch over at Tor.com.  I say ‘biting’ because let’s face it:  The series is painfully dated. I can’t even watch an episode from the first few years, it’s so stilted (and yet, Deep Space 9 remains one of my all time favorite series – SF or otherwise).  Yesterday, I got an email from Keith entitled, “Hope You Forgive Me.”   Turns out, his latest target was the episode “Rascals” based off the spec script that I co-wrote with my dad, Ward Botsford (Original Title: “Maker of Dreams”).  Keith hated the episode and before you can even begin to nod your head in agreement…

So do I.  Other than the children and, yes, the Ferengi, the episode barely resembles what we had submitted.  ”Maker of Dreams” was a darker story — an exploration of Picard’s attitudes toward children (deriving from an horrific event on the Stargazer) with a side of Guinan re-uniting with a fellow outcast from her devastated homeland.

Oh, and there was NO TRANSPORTER accident in our version, either.  None.  Nada.  Zip.

Screenwriter John August was recently interviewed about the radical changes between his version of DARK SHADOWS and the Johnny Depp comedy released this past year.  When asked how much of his work was represented in the final cut, August said,

“Not a lot.  Dark Shadows, when it came to me, it was before Twilight had come out and before True Blood.  They said, ‘Let’s make a big gothic, vampire drama.’  I pitched that and I wrote a Godfather-like saga of the Collins family and Barnabas was at the center of it all.  I was really happy with it and it looked like it was going to happen,” August continued. “Other movies came first, other things happened first. Twilight and True Blood came out and, suddenly, vampires were everywhere. I understood the instinct of, ‘Let’s not make it a drama, let’s make it a comedy,’ but that wasn’t the movie I set out to write. It was frustrating, but that’s the nature of screenwriting. You’re building a movie that may not end up shooting.”

Between my days as a VP of Family Programming and my life as a screenwriting professor, I’ve read a few scripts.  Make that a few THOUSAND, at the very least.

I’ve read great scripts.  I’ve read bad ones.   I’ve read poorly executed scripts where the core idea was terrific, but would need a ton of work.  I’ve also read scripts that were so perfect, so ready for camera, that it would be criminal to touch one word for fear that the heart of the story would be wrecked.

And yet, story revisions are the name of the game.  Networks and studios have notes.  Producers get caught up in a concept, but miss the forest for the trees.  Re-writers apply whatever changes are requested because really, what other choice do they have?

There’s an old joke in Hollywood:  A spec script focusing on two nuns in Idaho gets passed around a studio.   Everyone reads it.  It’s good, maybe not great, but it ain’t bad either.  The core story line is honest, filled with profound moments, and the theme resonates.  Huge potential, just maybe not quite “there” yet.The studio (or network or television series writer’s room) is running thin on material.  They need a good script.   So they buy this one.  Sure, it might need some tweaks.  That’s what rewrites are for, right?   But then everyone involved decides the script needs their two cents.   Between all the different opinions, those two cents add up and oftentimes, the original story, the HEART of the story, gets lost.  More often than not, the story transforms from being about 2 nuns in Idaho to … and I kid you not… 2 cops in New York City.

Which is exactly what happened with the spec script my dad and I wrote.   What was meant to have genuine heart became a joke and while Starlog Magazine listed it as the TWELFTH BEST EPISODE of the series, I openly cringed when I watched the episode’s premiere.  Repeatedly.

But hey, it was Star Trek.  I started writing Trek stories at six years of age when I was old enough to use my dad’s typewriter so as much as it might frustrate the crap out of me, there’s no denying that I appreciate being an itty bitty part of the franchise’s history.    Okay, we didn’t get to tell the story we wanted to tell, but neither did those two nuns, and you can forget a dark, gothic Dark Shadows ever happening.

Except in your imagination.  Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”    In my imagination,  Riker becomes a kid, not Picard.  Jean-Luc is stuck in a turbolift onboard the Stargazer with six children suffering from fatal wounds, and Guinan learns a valuable lesson in embracing the past while moving ahead.

Which is exactly what I’ve done.  ”Ahead Warp Two… Engage.”