Interview by Rae Hanson for RamblingsofaTVWhore.com
When Lisa Klink approached us about being adopted, I jumped on the chance to interview her. Not only am I a huge fan of Lisa’s TV credits (Star Trek: Voyager, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Roswell to name a few), I’ve also been enjoying her blog since she started it last June. And, in fact, I had actually met her on the picket lines during the first fan day back in November. It was an honor to meet her and an even bigger honor to interview her for this project.
Before I go any further, I have to apologize for taking so long to get this interview posted. Lisa was kind enough to talk to me back in the beginning of February and I feel bad that it’s taken this long to share what she had to say. We were just finishing up our interview as the Guild was preparing to vote on ending the strike. I didn’t want the interview to get lost amidst that news and then life, as it often does, interfered. But we’re finally getting it posted and I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Lisa as much as I did.
As a writer who works primarily in television in the genres of sci-fi and action, Lisa’s many credits include Flash Gordon, Painkiller Jane, Missing, Roswell, The Fearing Mind, Martial Law, Earth: Final Conflict, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In addition to television, Lisa’s also written a feature film, comics, CD-ROM games, and even a themed attraction. Since Lisa has a great summary of how she got started in the business on her website along with the story of her very first produced episode, I decided to skip those questions and get right to the nitty-gritty…
Was telling stories something you did when you were younger? Were you always interested in writing or something you realized later best fit your desire to tell stories?
I’ve always loved stories, both reading and telling them. When I was a kid, my friends and I would make up plays. In high school and college, I wrote for the school newspapers, and considered going into journalism. I also wrote plays in college, and had one performed in a one-act festival. But when I moved out to Hollywood, I didn’t have enough confidence in my writing skills to pursue that as a career, at least at first. I thought I wanted to direct, until I worked for a director for a while and realized it wasn’t for me. I think two things steered me back toward writing. First, I read scripts for the director, and frankly, read a lot of crap, which reassured me that maybe I was good enough after all. Secondly, I tried writing for TV, which seems to suit me better than screenplays. Once I wrote my first TV spec, a Star Trek: Next Generation, I felt I’d found my niche.
In addition to your TV work, you’ve also written a feature and for comics, a CD-ROM game, and a theme park attraction. Are these all challenging and rewarding in different ways or is there one you definitely prefer to the others?
Writing for television, for me, is the right balance of freedom and limitations. There’s an established world and characters, and there are budget and production considerations, which provide a nice-sized empty box to fill with story. I find screenplays a little intimidating because there are no boundaries. I tend to second-guess every decision: is this the right story, the right characters, etc. – which makes it tough for me to finish a screenplay to my satisfaction. At the same time, I do enjoy challenging myself. I like trying new formats. I very much enjoyed writing the Batman comics, and am working on a new graphic novel now.
I used to work at Universal Studios and I like going to theme parks way more than any thirty-something should and yet for some reason it’s never even occurred to me that someone obviously had to be writing those scripts. What exactly goes into writing for a ride? Is it almost like writing a short TV episode? Do you help shape what happens before the ride is even built or do you just get a breakdown of what will happen on the ride and have to write around that?
Working on the “Borg Invasion” project was a lot of fun. I worked with the designers of the attraction to find out what was technologically possible and how to best take advantage of that. There’s a mechanism in the audience’s seats which simulates the injection of Borg nanoprobes, and we actually had a debate on how badly we could freak people out without giving someone a heart attack. There were other unusual challenges, like how to work the 3-D glasses the audience had to wear into the story. Once we had the premise and basic storyline worked out, I wrote the script, then revised it several times for both creative and production reasons.
Are there other types of writing projects you’d like to try?
One thing I’ve always wanted to try is adapting a novel. I think it would be an interesting challenge to break one down to its essential parts, then put those pieces back together in a different format.
The majority of your work is sci-fi and action. Is there something in particular about those two that appeals to you? Has it been a conscious decision to stick with them throughout the years or is that just where the jobs have been?
I love sci-fi and action, as a writer and as a viewer. That being said, the reason I started with a Star Trek spec is that they were the only show in town which would accept an unsolicited script. That’s where I got my first job, which classified me in the TV world as a sci-fi writer, which has led to more sci-fi jobs. I’ve made some effort to expand my options. I wrote specs for The Practice, CSI and House, and I’ve gotten interviews for staff positions on “mainstream” dramas, but haven’t been hired. Ideally, I’d like to be able to write for several different genres, including sci-fi, if for no other reason than to have more job opportunities.
Star Trek has such a loyal (and huge!) fan following. What is it like being a part of that franchise?
It’s been amazing and overwhelming to be part of Trek, especially since it was my first job. We all knew that our work would be under a huge amount of fan scrutiny. The show, and everyone associated with it, got a lot of press, so I was interviewed by magazines before I’d really accomplished much. I learned to be a little cautious about telling people what I did for a living, because sometimes when someone would hear the word Trek, I’d be stuck talking with them about it (and listening to their story ideas) for the next hour. The toughest thing about writing for “the franchise” was the fact that so many stories had already been told in that universe. It was really difficult to come up with something original. Of course, there were perks. There was a big 30th anniversary celebration, which included a TV special and some real live astronauts who’d been inspired by the original series. Meeting someone who’d actually been in space was pretty damn cool. Trek also brought other opportunities: the Borg Invasion project, obviously, and also the chance to write Batman. One of the editors at DC comics had seen my work on “Voyager” and invited me to write an issue or two. Overall, a fantastic place to start my career.
Since Star Trek is a series that gained popularity long after its initial run, it seems like a great example of how important DVD residuals can be to writers and an appropriate time to move on to a couple of questions about the current strike. Can you talk a bit about why the issues on the table are important to you?
One of the best things about working for Trek is its long, long ancillary life. It’s always running on some station somewhere in the world, and the residuals just keep coming – which has been a godsend during those times I’m not working. Every writer, no matter how talented and successful, will have downtimes. They’re unpredictable and you never know how long they’ll last. Without residuals, it would be extremely difficult to be a full-time writer, especially with the spec work we all have to do to stay in the game. That’s one reason the WGA has been fighting so hard on this issue. The other reason is basic fairness. If the studios are continuing to make money on something I wrote, it seems reasonable for me to get some small share of it. The internet complicates the residuals picture, because the studios are making episodes available to download, and rerunning them on TV less – which, under our old contract, would dramatically decrease our residual payments. Under the contract we’re currently voting on, we’ll also get residuals for downloads and streaming. Whether that equals what we’ve been getting from TV-only reruns remains to be seen.
As a writer who has openly discussed the strike on your blog, have you felt any added responsibility to be careful exactly what you say in that forum and in expressing your views of how things are going?
I haven’t felt too self-conscious about posting about the strike because I genuinely supported it. If I’d disagreed with our leadership, it would have been a stickier moral question, because the last thing I’d want to do is support the AMPTP’s divide and conquer strategy.
Besides the obvious of getting paid to write, is there something that you’ve realized you’ve missed during the strike?
The thing I always miss when I’m not working is the writers’ room. I love the creative energy that comes from a group of talented people attacking a story.
In a recent blog post, you talked about the strike forcing writers to think outside the network/studio box and to catch up with the opportunities on the internet. Do you think this is an arena that writers will continue to explore once the strike is over?
I do think that writers will continue to explore the internet – which was already happening before the strike, but may have been accelerated by it. There was a lot of talk on the picket lines about when we’ll see the first breakout hit show on the ‘net. Sites like AskANinja are plenty successful, but I think we’re still waiting to see if conventional, scripted drama or comedy can come from the web.
Speaking of the strike being over, with the rumors of the end being in sight, will it be easy to fall back into work or will it take a little time to get over the “US vs THEM” mentality? I’m sure it’s easier for me to hope the strikes ends tomorrow than it will be for everyone who has to actually deal with the aftermath of it.
Unfortunately, there’s always an “us vs. them” mentality between writers and studios. That’s partly why the strike happened in the first place. But I suspect we’ll all get back to “business as usual” pretty quickly, because the “bad guys” from the strike – the studio heads and AMPTP – won’t actually have to face any of us. Writers deal with development executives, who really had nothing to do with the contract negotiations, and may not be any more fond of their bosses than we are.
This is a related question and mostly something I’ve been curious about now that things are looking more optimistic. The Strike of ’88 ended near enough to when production would have begun again that it couldn’t have been much different (logistically anyway) than normal procedures for starting a new season. That’s not the case here, though. If the strike ended tomorrow, even with the time it would take for the writers to return to work and break/pound out new episodes, would it even be possible to be back in production quickly enough for us to see any new episodes before next fall?
For TV shows, it would probably take at least six weeks to crank out any new episodes. It’s certainly possible to produce more episodes for this TV season. The question I’ve heard discussed is: should we bother to produce three or four more episodes for this season, which may not be real satisfying for the audience, or just wait until next season? Of course, the schedule has become increasingly flexible as some shows (especially on cable) premiere in January, or over the summer.
Here’s a less complicated question though not necessarily one less complicated to answer, what do you think will be some of the long-term effects of the strike on the industry?
To continue the thought from that last question: I’m hoping this strike may push the networks to become even more flexible in their development, pilot and premiere schedules. Their current system, of hearing pitches in the fall, producing pilots in January and premiering them in the fall, is silly and counterproductive. It forces them to compete for the same talent in pilot season, and against each other’s programming in the fall. As a writer who pitches every fall, in competition with every other writer in television, I’d really prefer a year-round development schedule.
As an avid TV fan, I’ve really hated the absence of my favorite shows due to the strike and the AMPTP’s general lack of respect for people I’ve come to admire over the years. But I think there’s also been some positive side effects as well (for instance, the writer/fan interactions via the internet and on the picket lines). I hope it’s shown the writers that we all really do know where our shows begin and end. What is something positive (for you) that’s come from the strike?
For me, the positive aspect of the strike has been the time spent with other writers, both meeting new people and getting reacquainted with old friends and colleagues. I certainly hope to maintain those relationships. I also hope that the writers as a group can maintain some of the unity and confidence I think we’ve gained from this experience. It’s really easy for writers to feel isolated and marginalized in Hollywood. The strike forced us to overcome that, and I hope it lasts.
One last question, what’s something people would be surprised to learn about your lifestyle in Hollywood and your life as a working writer?
People sometimes ask if I know any movie stars, which I don’t. I don’t spend my evenings at premieres and Hollywood parties. Most of the time, I’d rather stay home and watch TV.