How did you get started in Hollywood?
I had the equivalent of getting struck by lightning while going over Niagra Falls in a barrel. In other words I was very, very lucky. The normal path to a career in Hollywood is — First you move to Hollywood. You write a lot of spec scripts, and you try to get a job in the industry that puts you in close proximity to a producer, director, etc. Many, many people started out working as an assistant or gopher at a studio.
My dear friend, George R.R. Martin, had been working in Hollywood for a number of years, and he encouraged me to write a spec television script because my strengths as a writer are dialogue, character development and structure (an ability to plot) and those are the key ingredients for screenwriting. He also warned me that you never, never, never, ever sell your spec script.
The spec is like a calling card. It introduces you to the producers and show runners. If they like your script they will ask you to come in and “pitch”. A pitch session is where you come up with three to five story ideas for a particular television show. You sit down in a room with some of the staff who write for that show, and you tell them the stories. Which brings up a vital point — in Hollywood you are rewarded for how well you talk not necessarily how well you write. Your script has gotten you in the door, but how you are “in a room” will determine if you get a writing assignment.
But back to my experience. I wrote a spec Star Trek: The Next Generation script called THE MEASURE OF A MAN, and George’s agent submitted it to the show. I was called out to Hollywood, and I arrived with five more ideas only to discover that my script had already been scheduled to shoot. After working on some rewrites with Maurice Hurley who ran the show during that period, I was hired on the staff.
Remember, this is not typical. Your best chance of success is to follow the steps outlined above.
How do you write?
I tend to treat writing as a job. Granted, it’s a very fun job, but you can’t wait for the muse to move you, or inspiration to strike. You have to go in every day, sit down at the keyboard and write.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are the easiest part of the process. Often I will see a character in an exciting or dangerous situation, and then I’ll go back to see how they got there. I can also be inspired by conversations with friends, a newspaper article and so forth. The genesis of the idea for EDGE OF REASON came out of spending happy hour at a local Mexican restaurant on Dec. 31st, 1999. I was sitting with a number of other writers and we were watching the New Year’s celebrations wend their way around the world. I was frustrated because I grew up reading science fiction, and I wanted my air car and my base on the Moon, and galactic empires, and I felt cheated. I remarked that it was amazing that at the dawn of the 21st century (Yes, I know it didn’t really start until January 1st, 2001) we had a society in which people put more credence in crystal power than doctors, thought aliens were abducting them, believed in guardian angels, allowed charlatans to contact dead relatives, in short put more credence in magic and superstition than in science and rationality.
Do you hate all religions?
No. If participating in a religion impels people to care for the poor, and gives them personal and emotional satisfaction then it’s none of my business what they believe. Just as it is none of their business that I don’t choose to believe. Secular humanists have ethics and morals too, they just don’t tie them to a deity. My view is that the Golden Rule works pretty well for most situations. When I become hostile to religion is when it forced or pushed on people, and it has absolutely no place in science or in politics.