Starring: Jamahl Epsicokhan (critic-turned-pitcher; narrator), Wade Steinberg (best buddy; travel manager), Joe Menosky (pitch inviter; co-executive producer), Ashley Miller (objective pitch adviser), Mike O'Halloran (tour guide), Bryan Fuller (pitchee; executive story editor), Tim Lynch (retired critic), Ted Liu (final test-pitch victim), Brannon Braga (incidental meeting guy; executive producer)
By Jamahl Epsicokhan
April 26, 2000
Thursday, January 6, 2000 — It starts with a routine e-mail check. I'm at work, and there in my inbox is an e-mail from Joe Menosky (co-executive producer at Voyager). We had talked over e-mail once before after season three, when he responded to my review of "Scorpion, Part I." He liked my writing style and was nice enough to send me an e-mail telling me as much. I hadn't heard from him since then, and now, suddenly, here's another e-mail from Joe. "If you want to try to turn your Trek interest to storytelling mode, now is a good chance," he said. I gave it some thought. Not much. Yes, I would like to do it, I wrote back. What's involved?
Basically, I had two options. (1) Pitch over the phone from the confines of my home or (2) fly out to L.A. and pitch in person, with the added bonus of a tour of the Voyager sets. Did I want to spend the money to fly out there, book a room, and rent a car? That was the question. Over the next few weeks, helped along by the offer to tour the sets, I answered that question with a "yes."
So how am I going to do this L.A. trip? I know nothing about the area. I've only heard a few secondhand accounts about L.A. Time to figure things out. Fortunately, Joe was helpful with some L.A. details.
Thursday, January 20 — I start work on my first story, which strikes me as a potentially interesting (if somewhat familiar) concept for Seven of Nine. Over the next few weeks I'll rework and readjust the story, throw some things out I don't like and even put some of those things back in. Details later on this story, called "Human Option."
Wednesday, February 2 — After e-mailing back and forth with Joe, we've set my pitch meeting for Friday, March 10 at 5 p.m. Production on Voyager's sixth season wraps somewhere near the end of March, and Joe says I should arrive a couple weeks before that. After the season wraps, the staff gets a brief hiatus and I need to arrive before that hiatus. Joe schedules my pitch with Bryan Fuller, who is the executive story editor, which means he takes pitches as part of his job. The other option was a meeting with Michael Taylor, but apparently he's not quite as patient with first-time pitchers, so Joe has set me up with the more easygoing Fuller.
Friday, February 4 — After some various e-mail discussion about my pitch, my long-time friend Wade Steinberg offers to tag along. He lives in Chicago right near O'Hare, and he also has travel connections through the major bank where he works in downtown Chicago. He's also very good at making travel arrangements, and after doing some research he finds himself elected by me as the official travel agent for our trip. He predicts we can do the trip for somewhere between $500 and $600 each. That estimate includes our flights, hotel stay, and rental car. This trip will be more fun with the two of us going. This will give us a chance to inflict plenty of mock violence on each other (among our favorite pastimes), which would certainly be much more fun than sitting around alone.
Saturday, February 12 — In tossing around ideas with my father at my parents' house, he mentions a society that decides they want to move their planet rather than traveling through space in ships, which to them is "too dangerous." I think that's a contradiction, but the idea of planet being moved in an engineering effort is a very interesting image. I like it a lot. Over the course of the next week I come up with a story about a society moving their planet at warp to avoid destruction by a supernova (and there's more to it). I envision it as a Tuvok-centered story and call it "Logical Resolution." (It will later be rethought and renamed "Momentum.")
Thursday, February 17 — After some finalization of pricing and timing, Wade buys the airline tickets and faxes me the itinerary at work. There's no turning back now. We're going to Los Angeles ... even if it turns out Joe Menosky is really someone providing false identity over e-mail and pulling an elaborate prank with very convincing details. But, nah, I'm not that paranoid ... am I?
Monday, February 28 — A few days after watching a travesty of holodeck silliness, I post my review of "Spirit Folk," awarding it one star, the season's worst to date. For anyone who questions my objectivity as a result of this little adventure out West, I will simply point to this review. I write and post the "Spirit Folk" review fully knowing that I will be pitching to Bryan Fuller, the guy who wrote the episode, in less than two weeks. To be honest, I'm hoping (and also predicting) he won't even see the review, but if he happens to see it and calls me on it during my pitch session, I'll stand by my position and tell him that's my take on the matter. (For balance's sake, I could always refer him to my infinitely-more-positive review of "Barge of the Dead," which he also wrote.) A real professional I would hope would not hold something like that against me, seeing as I kept within my standard practice of criticizing the show and not making pointless personal attacks. But if he does hold it against me, well that's my problem but not my issue. I'm simply being honest; that's all I'm out here for.
Saturday, March 4 — I've been in occasional contact with Ashley Miller over the years. For those of you who don't already know, Ashley was once an Internet Trek critic who did his reviews in the memorable "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" format. He opted to step away from reviewing a few years back. Anyway, he's gotten his writing career going nicely in recent months and has some insights that could be very useful to me for preparing my pitch. He has actual pitching experience, including to the Voyager folks.
Seriously, if anyone out there is going to pitch and wants to know how to do it, Ashley's your man (not that he'd necessarily be glad I told you that, but it's not like I listed his phone number or anything). The pitch is a spoken thing, so we hooked up for what turned out to be a 100-minute phone conversation. This gave me a great idea of how a pitch sounds. And it was fun shooting the shit. Ashley's a really smart guy, and he's very good at delivering ideas in a verbal format that catches your interest. And he's fun. He could pitch a story about a space monster eating Harry Kim that would sound exciting and believable. (Actually, that might be exciting and believable on Voyager after all.) The hard part for me will be duplicating those methods under pressure. I'm a fairly lousy speaker.
Aside from the verbal practice, Ashley gave me feedback on my stories (which at the time were just two). So thanks, Ash — you were a huge help. Lots of luck on Andromeda.
Monday, March 6 — After toying with several ideas and throwing them away, I've come up with my third story premise. I've called it "Prognostic." (It will later be re-titled "The Warning.") After thinking it through several times, though, I realize that what I've come up with would probably be a likely candidate for a one-star-rated technobabble disaster if I were to review it. Hopefully I can rework it into a sci-fi concept that's interesting and not absurd. (More on this later.)
Wednesday, March 8 — Last-minute verifications: I call Brannon Braga's office (number previously provided by Joe) to confirm the arrangements and figure out where I need to go to gain access to the studio on Friday. Apparently I just go to the gate where they have a drive-on for me arranged, at which point they send me to the right building. Okay, then. A few minutes later, Joe calls me back at home and we chat a bit about meeting on Friday. He explains that we might even be able to see some stuff being shot on the soundstage, though he warns me: "Nothing really exciting — just some turbolifts and shit." Heh.
Thursday, March 9 — Well, the big day is tomorrow. After taking half a day off from work, I pack my bags. I stop at Barnes & Noble to buy some street maps of L.A., because we're driving once we get there and we'll need to know where we're going. I make the two-hour drive to Wade's apartment in Chicago. When I get there, Wade's watching WWF Smackdown!, which is actually pretty entertaining if you understand and accept that wrestling is all showboating and no content. We look over the maps and discuss some ideas for the trip tomorrow, since we'll be getting into Los Angeles long before the meeting at Paramount.
Unexpectedly, Wade's roommate, Ted Liu, walks into the apartment. Ted is recently engaged and therefore doesn't return to this apartment very often, so seeing Ted show up is a bit of a surprise. Ted and I have talked some about my pitch before today, so now we spend a few hours catching up. I bounce my stories off Ted. He seems to like them, especially my "Momentum" story, which has the hook of, "It's a planet ... moving at warp!" (By the way, Ted is my former college roommate and a fellow Trek watcher, so we're friends and know each other pretty well. Wade met Ted through me. But I digress.) At some point during this chatting, Wade goes to bed.
But after droning on into the night with all sorts of catch-up-on-life sort of discussions, I tell Ted that I gotta go to sleep. It's 1:30 and I need to be up by 6:00.