DC Fontana: Making The Trek Again

A comics interview article by: Tim Lasiuta
D.C. Fontana needs no introduction to long time fans of Star Trek. Few writers in the industry can claim writing credit on a single franchise extending back 4 decades as she can. Contributing to the Star Trek original series with freelance scripts for “Charlie X," "Tomorrow is Yesterday," and "This Side of Paradise" while working as production secretary to Gene Roddenberry, she moved to story editor for the second half of the first season and all of the second season. She then became a successful freelance writer working on other shows and later with Gene Roddenberry on most of his projects. Planet Earth, the Questor Tapes, Star Trek , Star Trek Next Generation, DS9, and Earth: Final Conflict were all touched by Ms. Fontana in some aspect.

Her creative talents also led to writing credits on (among others) Lancer, Babylon 5, He-Man, Bonanza, Lonesome Dove, Logan's Run, High Chaparral, Ben Casey, Streets of San Francisco, Dallas, the Waltons, Lonesome Dove and Beast Wars. She has written one Star Trek novel and adapted The Questor Tapes script into a novel and co-written (with Derek Chester) three Star Trek themed interactive games. She served as story editor on the Fantastic Journey and Logan's Run TV series and as associate producer on Star Trek Animated and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Year Four: The Enterprise Experiment continues her tradition of excellence. We recently caught up with her and discussed her newest project and career.

Tim Lasiuta: The arrival of Star Trek, Year Four, is a welcome addition to the IDW Star Trek product line. For original ST fans, even more so with your penning of Experiment. What led to your writing a new Star Trek Adventure?

DC Fontana: Technically, this is not my first “new” Star Trek adventure. My co-writer, Derek Chester, and I had already written three Star Trek interactive games (Bridge Commander, Legacy and Tactical Assault), and Experiment is more of an extension of that earlier work.

TL: What is the story behind Experiment? What can readers expect?

DCF:Star Trek: The Enterprise Experiment is a sequel to the “Enterprise Incident" (Star Trek Original Series), which I also wrote, that takes Kirk and Spock into open space experimenting with the stolen Romulan cloaking technology. Of course, things don’t go as planned and the Romulans make an appearance, demanding revenge. Lots more will go on, but I want readers to find out by reading the comic books. With my familiarity with the characters, this 5-issue series will flow exactly like a fourth season of the original series would have. Actually, if there would have been a fourth season, this could easily have been one of the episodes.

TL: The art on the series is outstanding. Gordon Purcell has a long history of at chores on the franchise. How do you think his art contributes to your nostalgia drenched story line?

DCF: Neither Derek nor I had input on the artist for the series. IDW gave us Mr. Purcell, and I am very pleased with the art for the book. He managed to capture the likenesses of the characters very well.

TL: Working with Roddenberry on the classic series as his secretary, and later writer and story editor, must have been an interesting experience. On Experiment, you share writing chores with Derek Chester. Did you find that collaboration a satisfying venture?

DCF: Given that I have written with Derek before, yes. We are able to work very well together. As for working with Gene, I had known him since the "Lieutenant" TV series and worked for him on the original series and wrote eight scripts and two stories for the first series. I worked with him on "Next Generation" as well as on the animated series that has recently been released on DVD.

TL: Your contributions to the franchise extend back to the mid-60's writing "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "Friday's Child" and one of my personal favorites, "Journey To Babel", writing Next Gen and the Animated Star Trek episodes, and contributing to numerous TV series from the 70's to the 90's. How did your writing skills for TV adapt to the comic medium?

DCF: Writing a TV episode shares many similarities with a comic book. One big positive is that we don't need makeup and our aliens appear only on paper! Both are highly visual mediums, yet in a standard comic book, you have 22 pages instead of 60 for an episode script. As a result, we had to use more visual cues which Gordon picked up on, and be more precise with our dialogging. One thing we purposefully avoided was 'talking heads', which can easily interrupt story flow. We are very pleased with the results and look forward to fan reaction.

TL: You have written episodes of Star Trek for the first series, for the recently released animated series, Next Gen, DS9, the Star Trek: Bridge Commander, Legacy and Tactical Assault interactive games, and now comic books. You have crossed almost all the media for Star Trek now. Can we expect more illustrated Star Trek or perhaps even a Trek novel?

DCF: Last August, my earlier Star Trek novel, "Vulcan's Glory," was re-released, so I have already written a Star Trek novel. Having said that, Derek and I plan a novel pitch at Simon & Schuster that features the cast of the original series. More illustrated Star Trek? Only IDW and fan reaction can say.

TL: As a young professional, in the 1960's, what kind of atmosphere surrounded the Star Trek production offices and studios? What events stand out that influence you to this day?

DCF: I had worked as secretary for Gene's associate producer on the "Lieutenant" while writing scripts for various TV shows. When he started developing Star Trek, I became Gene's secretary. We shot two pilots, (The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before) and finally had a show. The whole cast was very friendly and professional, to this day I enjoy watching Bill (Shatner) in Boston Legal. Our shoots were long, but mostly we worked five days a week. As writers, though, our days were always a little longer, the cast needed their pages for the next day! The longest lasting influence for me was that while I worked as Story Editor for half of the first season and all of the second season, I did not for the third. I realized that I had greater freedom to create as freelance writer.

TL: When Star Trek returned to TV in the Next Generation, the pilot episode, "Encounter at Farpoint" was outstanding. The Q certainly added another dimension to the series, and turned it into a must see. What kind of input did you have in the initial episode?

DCF: Thank you, we worked hard on Farpoint and Next Generation. I wrote the first draft of Farpoint but Gene did the final draft. Q was all Roddenberry.

TL: As a writer, what stands out in your career?

DCF: In terms of Star Trek, Journey To Babel has always been one of my favorites. The Beau, which I co-wrote with my brother, Richard, for The Waltons is another high mark as well for me. Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton) had just had a stroke in real life, so we wrote it into the show. It was very interesting; she could sing, but only say yes and no. Rick and I wrote the script with all of her dialog in “yes”s and “no”s. It was challenging, but it turned out very beautifully. When something pulls together well, it's always rewarding.

TL: Any advice for writers who want to tackle TV scripting?

DCF: I can only speak for what has worked with me. Firstly, know your show's background. Understand the characters and environments so your script reflects the established history. Secondly, think outside the box. Write what hasn't been done yet. Lastly, write to the best of your ability. If you aren't satisfied with it, re-write.

TL: Thanks for your time Ms. Fontana, this has been a privilege.

DCF: You're welcome.

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