Writing for Hollywood

No, even jet-lagged as I am, I’m not entertaining ideas about becoming a screenwriter. But I do want to blog a bit about one of television’s foremost screenwriters, Dorothy Fontana. (You’re more likely to recognize her under her gender-neutral professional name, D.C. Fontana.) I heard her speak at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention this past weekend in what was apparently a rare appearance.

Fontana started her career as the production secretary for the original Star Trek series in 1964, and rapidly moved to the position of story editor. She’s credited with writing much of the back story for Star Trek’s Spock character, and for introducing Deep Space Nine’s Jadzia Dax character. She’s written for Babylon 5, Dallas, Streets of San Francisco, and Kung Fu, and teaches screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

Fontana is anything but a flashy or dramatic person, and her plain-spoken accounts of scripts rejected, scripts rewritten, and projects gone astray made it very, very clear that for every script of hers that made it to filming a pile of others were ruined or jettisoned.

After watching some of the enormously entertaining Star Trek actors hamming it up onstage at the convention (Walter Koenig, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Kate Mulgrew, and Wil Wheaton), it was sobering to realize that their memorable roles began with writers scribbling away under the distinctly unglamorous circumstances Fontana describes.

Interestingly, several of the actors talked about their own writing experiences. Koenig said that, despairing of finding work after the initial Star Trek ended, he wrote a novel; Mulgrew, currently on Broadway in Iphigenia 2.0, is writing her memoirs; and Wheaton, an accomplished essayist and performer in the style of Garrison Keillor, was there promoting his latest book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. (We bought a copy of the limited edition chapbook from Monolith Press; I suspect you’ll have to follow Wheaton’s blog to find out when the official version becomes available.)

I came away wondering if it ever goes the other way ’round — with a screenwriter taking up acting…

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