Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Marc Zicree, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Drive, focus and a desire to learn from those he admired led Marc Zicree on a journey that took him from animation to sci-fi and writing hundreds of hours of television for shows including STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, SLIDERS, BABYLON 5, HE-MAN and SMURFS. He’s also a TWILIGHT ZONE expert, writing The Twilight Zone Companion and is a bestselling novelist. He and his wife, Elaine, run The Table, a weekly gathering where they dedicate themselves to supporting and mentoring other industry professionals. He currently is writing, directing and producing the science fiction feature SPACE COMMAND starring Doug Jones, Armin Shimerman and Mira Furlan.

HOW AND WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I started reading science fiction when I was very, very small. The first favorite book I remember was Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein when I was seven. I heard Ray Bradbury speak at a library when I was ten and I think that might have really planted the seed because at that talk Ray said, “Ideally your life and your work and your art should all come from the same place.” So that was very important to me.

STAR TREK debuted when I was around ten and really was it for me. I got to go on the set and watch them shoot the final episode, “Turnabout Intruder.” Then I read The Making of Star Trek when I was thirteen. That was the first book on how TV shows were made. I think that’s where I really started to think I wanted to be a writer/producer working in television.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN ENTERAINMENT?

The first short story I sold was when I was 19. I went to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, which was the leading science fiction writing workshop in the country. It was put on at Michigan State University during the summer. Twenty-five students would live in the dorms and each week a famous science fiction writer would come and live with you.

We’d write like crazy and critique each other. It was a real pressure cooker. Two of the students from that year became major writers, Robert Crais, who became a mystery writer and Kim Stanley Robinson, who became a top science fiction writer.

The six science fiction writers brought in were Joe Haldeman, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight and Gene Wolfe. They were all very famous science fiction writers at that point.

Damon was editing an anthology and he said to us, “If you’ve got a story in your trunk that you brought with you, I’d like to read it.” So I had written a satire in the first English class I took at UCLA. That’s just when the President had given a talk at Disney World and I had this idea that if they swapped him out with the robot President they had there in the Hall of Presidents, Disney would be running the country. I was paid $50 for that short story.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB WRITING FOR TELEVISION?

Theodore Sturgeon, who was a very famous science fiction writer who had written for STAR TREK, taught an adult education class at UCLA and even though as an undergrad I was forbidden from taking adult education, I said well, screw that, I’m not going to miss this opportunity. He was one of my heroes. I took that class and he became one of my mentors and his teaching assistant was a young writer named Michael Reaves. Michael and I became friends.

Michael was writing animation and I had never really particularly wanted to write animation, but I wanted to get into television. Michael asked me if I’d like to write an animation script with him. He had already broken into television. He was writing all of the episodes of an animated series on NBC called SPACE STARS which starred Space Ghost and so I wrote an episode with him and it went well and then SMURFS was just starting up, so I wrote an episode of SMURFS with Michael. Then it was very clear I could write these on my own. So I started writing for SMURFS and HE-MAN and SUPER FRIENDS.

HOW DID YOU TRANSITION FROM ANIMATION TO LIVE ACTION?

I knew that I’d have to create a sample. An animation script would not serve me to get hired in live action, so I could earn enough in 3 months to make about $100,000 and that was enough for me to live on for a year. I told all my animation bosses that as of a certain date I would not be available to write on assignment, because I would be writing my live action spec. They said, fine, fine, fine. Of course that day came and they started offering me jobs and in two days I had to turn down $200,000 worth of work, which ruins your writing day.

I went to UCLA where they couldn’t reach me, because this was before cell phones and I would write all day and then call in for my messages. I wrote a spec live action feature called PIECE OF CAKE and that sold, although it never got made. Then that was a writing sample that NBC read. They liked it and hired me to write a pilot for a TV series based on Choose Your Own Adventure, which was a very successful series of books. They sent me to Thailand to research it and then we went to Thailand to shoot it and it aired. I was off and running, so then after that I got hired to story edit FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SHOW TO WORK ON?

I really liked writing SLIDERS because we were tasked with reinventing the show after Fox drove it into the ground and SYFY picked it up for a fourth season. It was very fun to take something that had a great concept and design a season where it would deliver on that concept. So I wrote an episode called “World Killer” that really demonstrated what I thought the show could be and it came out very, very well. I was really pleased with it.

Part 2, in which Marc Zicree shares advice on taking meetings, getting on a writing staff and how crowdfunding can allow you to take control of your career, is HERE. Squee!


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

LB: A Few Words from One of My TV Gods: Herbert F. Solow

by Larry Brody

One of the kindest, toughest, gentlest, strongest, sweetest human beings I’ve ever known is my friend Herb Solow, probably better known to most people reading this as:

In case you’re from another planet, this is Herb’s Star Trek title card!

Herb and I first met in the mid 1970s, and we’ve worked and hung out together for over 40 years. Best known as one of the key figures who brought ST:TOS to TV when he was head of production at ye olde Desilu Studios, Herb also ran MGM when it still was a studio to be reckoned with back in the ’60s, and he was also Executive in Charge of Production, Executive Producer, or just plain “Producer” on TV shows and feature films whose names are bound to ring some bells:

  • The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
  • Medical Center
  • Then Came Bronson
  • Mission: Impossible
  • Mannix
  • The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
  • Saving Grace
  • Brimstone & Treacle
  • Man from Atlantis
  • Killdozer
  • Elvis: That’s the Way It Is

And a zillion more that I don’t remember, although IMDB has a pretty fine list. Oh, while I’m at it I probably should mention his fine book – pretty damn controversial among Trekkies Trekkers – Inside Star Trek: the Real Story.

No one knows the ins and outs of showbiz politics as well as Herb, and very few people know as much as he does about development and production. Or, for that matter, about art. Herb’s the man who introduced me to the idea that you could and should live surrounded by beautiful things and gets the credit – or blame – for the crowd of antiques and art treasures I’ve been living amid ever since I saw his collection and started my own unending buying spree.

Why am I talking about all this? Primarily because I’ve just been reminded that, living treasure that he is, Herb can be found at the Emmy TV Legends where he’s featured in a 4 part video interview that’s so filled with helpful information that I insist ya’ll go visit.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to go too far. All you have to do is click on the video links below:

Hi Herb! All my best to Harrison and the rest of the fam!

Ah, TV, You Inspire Us All

Especially you, STAR TREK. What hath thou wrought?

captain's-chair-tvw.com

NSA Chief’s Former War Room was Modeled After the Starship Enterprise
by Adam Clark Estes

NSA director Keith Alexander might be the most famous spy in America right now. Everyone wants to know who’s really behind the agency’s widespread snooping. And now, a lengthy profile of Alexander in Foreign Policy invites even more intrigue. It also reveals some of the general’s weird ways.

The core questions raised about Alexander the “cowboy” in the FP story stem from revelations in Edward Snowden’s leak of confidential NSA documents earlier this summer. “Cowboy” doesn’t quite cut it, though. Alexander sounds a bit more eccentric than that:

When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprisefrom Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a “whoosh” sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather “captain’s chair” in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

“Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,” says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.

Read it all

Shake Hands with *Real* STAR TREK Tech

Ah, Gene Roddenberry, what hast thou created?

Just about everything cool, apparently.

Whoa:

Navigraphic Shows Us How Close We Are To Technology From Star Trek
by Amy Ratcliffe

star trek navigraphic

Even though we’ve made some significant leaps and bounds in technology since Star Trek first premiered, we’ve got a long way to go before we can travel through space like the Enterprise. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing medical tricorders, phasers, and transporters were real. musicMagpie has created an interactive Star Trek Navigraphic to explore the inventions of the series and also to examine how far away we are from achieving similar advances.

You can board three replicas of bridges from various Enterprises – each one was created using Paramount’s archive images and footage. You’ll learn about hyposprays, Geordi LaForge’s visor, and much more.

Read it all

Lucky LB, who got to work with Roddenberry, learn from Roddenberry, hang with Roddenberry. Hell, our Leader even got paid by Roddenberry!

And, yes, he teases us with a little about it HERE.

munchman: Best Science Fiction TV Show of All Time?

star_trek_vs_dr__who_by_summerset-d38sqgc
Created by ~Summerset for Wizard Magazine & Found on Deviant Art

For my money (of which I have very little), one of the two shows represented in this amazing drawing is the best sci-fi series ever. And the other is…um, well, erm…also the best sci-fi series ever.

Kirk and the Doctor! (Oh, and some other guyz too.)

If only….