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When I was on the writing staff of Star Trek: Voyager, one of my duties was to take pitches every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. So, how did writers get in to pitch for Voyager?

At the time, all the Trek shows had an open script submission policy, which meant anyone could send in an episode they wrote, whether they were represented by an agent or not. Someone on the Voyager staff would read all these scripts, looking for two things: a good story idea or a good writer. If they liked the story idea, the producers might buy it. If the story didn’t work but the writing was good, they’d call the writer in to pitch other ideas.

However, many non-professional writers had no experience in pitching. They consequently made some basic mistakes.

One of the most common mistakes was going into too much detail about the story. As someone on the receiving end, I always appreciated a short initial pitch, consisting of a log line and a few more sentences giving me the concept of the story and which characters it featured. If I was intrigued by that, I could always ask the writer for more detail. The advice I always give new writers about pitching is to pretend you saw the episode last night and are telling a friend about it today. Hit the highlights; what makes this episode interesting?

One reason for passing on a pitch was that the story just didn’t feel like our show. And, yes, I know how annoyingly vague that sounds. But if the story was too dark or violent, or was about an alien society more than our characters, it would get a pass. Most importantly, a story pitch couldn’t involve our characters behaving in ways they simply wouldn’t. Writers needed to do their research. We didn’t expect them to have seen every episode of Voyager, but to have watched enough to get a feel for the characters and overall tone of the show.

There was also budget to consider. A story that took place in many different locations on an alien planet was simply too expensive to produce. Big space battles also had a hefty price tag. The most prized type of story was an interesting “bottle show;” that is, one which could be shot on our standing sets, without too many guest stars or special effects. Those episodes were money savers.

Another common reason to pass on a story was if it was too close to a story we already had in development. This is the “best” reason you can hear for someone passing on your idea. It means you’re in sync with the producers and on the right track.

Pitching to any show is not for the thin-skinned. No matter how much experience you have, most of your stories won’t sell. Most of the ideas the Voyager staff writers pitched to each other got shot down. It’s a mark of professionalism to gracefully take “no” for an answer. One of the worst things writers did in pitch meetings was to argue with me about an idea I had passed on, hoping to convince me to change my mind. This never works, and will hurt your chances of ever being invited in to pitch again. Before Voyager, I pitched to Deep Space Nine four times before selling them a story. Being invited back means the producers are impressed with you and want to hear more of your ideas.

If the person you’re pitching to starts to play around with your story idea and posing “what ifs,” don’t fight it. This is a very good sign. It means the producer sees potential in your idea and wants to help shape it to fit into the show. I heard pitches from some writers who refused to consider changing a thing about their idea. If the basic concept was strong enough, the story might still sell, but the producers will be wary of working with that writer again. In addition to selling your ideas, the purpose of a pitch meeting is to establish relationships with the people you’re pitching to, so that they’ll look forward to seeing you again.

So, what if the producers loved your idea? Most often, we would buy the basic concept from the writer, then write the script ourselves. It’s just faster that way and television shows have unrelenting deadlines. But, if the writer had a great writing sample, and had consistently pitched good ideas, they might get the opportunity to write a first draft of the script. Which would then be polished up by the staff. Again – deadlines. And once the staff bought a story, they could basically do whatever they wanted with it, such as seeding small ideas from the story over the course of a season, rather than using the full story in its originally intended state.

A modern Star Trek writers room: the writing staff of Star Trek: Picard‘s first season

Unfortunately, the current Trek shows don’t read scripts or take pitches from non-professional writers anymore. Neither does any other show on television. You can blame that on lawsuits. Remember when I said we’d sometimes pass on pitches because they were too close to a story we already had in development? When the similar episode aired, a few writers decided that Trek producers had stolen their idea and sued the studio. The truth was, the producers went out of their way to avoid even the appearance of stealing ideas. If a pitch was like a story we already had, we would sometimes buy it just to head off misunderstandings. Professional writers know that similar story ideas can occur to different people without either one of them taking it from the other. Especially when they’re working from the same source material.

It really is a shame that the door has closed on script submissions, since many Trek writers got their start that way. Now, they only take pitches from writers who come to them through an agent. Still, the best way to get your foot in the door is to write a great sample script, then get it into the hands of as many people as you can.

7 thoughts on “How to Pitch Stories for Star Trek

  1. What if I have an idea, I don’t know how it would be classified. . . Not a series, not an episode of any current series, not a movie idea. . . I guess, I have an idea for a concept that I think would make for the birth of opportunity to tie some series and timelines that cannot be resolved, together as well as an opportunity to expand the Star Trek universe. And, what if in the pitch or attached to it the submitter was to relinquish any rights or expectations of the submitted content? Then could I get an intern to at least skim the pitch? Maybe, possibly mention it in passing at the next staff meeting or something? lol.

    I just have an idea for a possible concept that would be fun to explore. I don’t have any pre-written script or have it mentally casted in my head or anything. Again, not even a particular series in mind. So I don’t need any credit or anything like that. . . Ideas can be moulded and added to. Call it a group project if you will.

  2. This shoots down my hope as a fan to submit a fully plausible connection between the current Strange New Worlds version of the Enterprise being so much larger than Kirks TOS ship. Basically, canon is canon and no matter how much others try to say the ship is the same, Terry Matalas blew that out of the water with the NCC-1975 New Jersey version of the Connie class being shown.

    By introducing that one element (NCC-1975) my whole story to fully explain how current (canon) Pike ship got so big then down to Kirks smaller Connie then back to larger size in The Motion Picture using similar strut design is fully explained. Pikes story remains the same and canon is brought ‘Full Circle’ – what I would title the 2-part finale of SNW and does the unthinkable as Terry Matalas did for Picard – and bridge a unfinished story in to a fully and easy to understand 2-parter finale for SNW that organically leads in to TOS.

    Example would be showing as last 10min of SNW finale could be Kirk (Paul Wesley) and other SNW regulars who are now part of Kirks Enterprise start off with a few seconds of the first Kirk-led episode – word-for-word – then fade in to another episode from TOS for a 10-20sec clip.

    Then in to another etc until 3 years had gone by (maybe 3-4min in real time), and then maybe some live action of the Animated Series episodes (one or two special characters should not break a budget) until finally Kirks 5-year mission is over and he is reassigned until The Motion Picture. Perfect send off to Kirk too and the canon timeline has now addressed major holes for all future Trek to fall back on. If you can re-imagine Pike as in ‘If Memory Serves’ then you can do the same with Kirk

    Number One – when Pike is replaced as Captain, Una goes on to lead Starfleet Academy, which fulfills the Boimler poster shown in Lower Decks.

    There are a few other small stories I have come up with the fill in some blanks, such as Robert April as a 18yo watching Jonathan Archer at 100yo giving a speech at Starfleet Academy, and he was inspired by the NX-01 refit (Doug Drexler design). This inspiration led April to join Starfleet and help design the new Constitution Class ships. Make is a 10-15min short or a flashback scene. Age wise it lines up and April is said to of helped design the Connie class – now you can show the inspiration.

    The other idea is how the AI leftover fragment from the Section 31 lead ship made its way to Starfleet HQ, and ultimately led to Pikes accident.

    These make up most of my plausible thoughts and as I said earlier – I am not a pro or have an agent so none of this will ever make it to screen, muchless CBS.

    J.R.

  3. I’m afraid that if your idea involves the Trek universe, it would have to come from an agent and go through Paramount Studios, even if you intend to surrender all rights to the idea. The production company that currently makes Trek shows probably gets idea pitches all the time. Sorry.

  4. Thank you for your kind words Lisa. It is ok – I can fully understand why they have to do it that way. Look at the problem Discovery had with the storyline of Season 1 with the Tardigrades. A person who had written some comics used a Tardigrade and ended up suing CBS over Discovery using it. So yeah I have no doubt why CBS has to be careful.

    Unless I can get an agent to pitch my ideas above (plus a few more) then I am happy knowing you and your site are a means to allow me to share it and if nobody takes the ball and runs with it then at least I tried. As for an agent, that takes money I do not have.

    Greed is not my motivation. #1 is to get canon ‘filled in’ with realistic (and easy to create) bridges, #2 if possible would be maybe a mention of thanks in credits for story idea, and in my dreamworld #3 would be maybe help navigate thru the process to become a legit (credit-worthy) participant.

    Thank you again for your kind words Lisa,

    Jonathan F. Richards

  5. A (long) while back I had an idea which I pitched directly to Rick Berman. Unfortunately, the idea would have steered the series in a different direction that was already planned but not yet released. Rick wrote me the most wonderful rejection letter ever composed in which he nevertheless said my pitch was “too cool for words”. I recently went to my high school reunion and reconnected with an old Trek buddy and by the end lightening had struck again. How to find that agent?

  6. Hi Lisa, does the same guidelines hold true for a Star Trek graphic novel pitch as it does for series/movies pitches?

  7. my name is Elleston spence and I’ve been watching STAR TREK since 1972 it was the year that I immegrated from Jamaica to Canada.. to see a show where everyone of different species living together as friends..was assumed.. so I watched every time that I could.. I have a idea for a spin off from VOYAGUR ..character..7 OF 9..THE DOCTOR..CAPTAIN JANEWAY.. NELIX.. AND some more characters.. it’s a family story.

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