INTERN LYNDA FOLEY:
Being an Intern Is Like Being an Ocampa
by Michelle Erica Green
Lynda Foley doesn't even try to pretend not to be a fan. She's got collectibles, she goes to conventions, she even hangs out with fan clubs on the net.
In fact, one of the biggest hurdles she faced in getting an internship on Star Trek Voyager was convincing the producers that she wasn't a goofy Trekkie. She got off to an inauspicious start after attending a writing seminar held by Horizon Conventions...dressed as a Klingon.
"I was the only costumed person in the room, and, of course, not taken seriously as a result," Foley laughs now. A witty, vivacious mother of two who had spent several years at home raising her sons, she decided after an earthquake that it was time to do something else with her life. "I always loved Star Trek," says the suburban Los Angeles resident. "I was interested in submitting a script." But at that first meeting, she had no real thoughts of getting a job on the Paramount lot.
Despite her colorful attire, Foley made a favorable impression on pre-production coordinator Lolita Fatjo, whom she later encountered again on a Trek cruise for fans. Fatjo mentioned that the internship was targeted at minority groups - "if you're handicapped, if you're over 40, if you're a designated minority, they wanted to make it clear that they were recruiting anyone who didn't fit into the typical 'I'm a white male under 40'" profile. As a woman returning to the work force, Foley says, she was outside the "typical mold" for a Hollywood hopeful.
Foley explains that there are two types of internships on Star Trek. The one she applied for is through the Writers' Guild, lasts six weeks, and is one of the few paid internships in Hollywood - while the other is through the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, lasts eight weeks, and is based purely on merit. "Many of those have been white males," Foley observes of the latter interns, "and they've actually been the more successful, I believe," largely because so many entertainment decisions are made by their peers. Foley credits former executive producer Michael Piller, who also instituted Star Trek's unprecedented open script submission policy, with recognizing that there was a great imbalance of representation, and setting up the internship program. "It was his baby," she says. "He really did make changes. He left a legacy."
At the time, Foley was told that she had to write a spec script for the internship, though now one only needs to submit a writing sample from a current drama. "You cannot write a Moonlighting, which some people would say is comedy, and you can't write Hill Street Blues, it must be current so that they know you have the ability to grasp all the intricacies of a drama," she explains, then details the intricacies of beginning the process. "You must send applications for Voyager through [executive producer] Jeri Taylor's office, and for DS9 through [executive producer] Ira Behr's office. For Voyager, you would call Jeri's assistant, Sandra Sena [213-956-4744] and she'll send out a letter explaining the requirements. For DS9, it used to be Robbyn Slocomb, who works for Ira, but I believe they've put all their internships on hold since they don't know what's happening with next season."
Foley chose to submit to Voyager in part because it was a newer show and she had heard her chances of being accepted were greater, and in part because she had met executive producer Taylor on a set visit arranged by Fatjo, who gave Foley "very good advice" about her scripts. Her submission package included a writing sample, a resumé, and "a really intense, heartfelt letter about why I should be selected."
Foley downplayed her many years in fandom: "I had learned early on that professional writers tolerated the fans - they love to speak to them, that's why they're at the conventions, but when it comes to fandom and writers, it puts them off a little." Instead she emphasized her experience: that she could bring insights which kids out of college might lack, and stressed the fact that being mature made her understand the importance of discretion. "That was the strongest point I made, that they could trust me," she adds.
A journalism and communications major at U.S.C., Foley had originally wanted to become a writer, but found it difficult to make a living at it. She became what she terms a "journalistic prostitute" - working in public relations, putting the right spin on things. "I did well at it, but it did not sit well with my morality," she notes. She worked for several years in the corporate world, giving presentations and writing speeches. "I really liked being in crisis situations - and when you work on a TV show, every day is a crisis situation!" she says cheerfully of adapting to her new career.
Good thing, because four months after she sent in the application, she was given notice that Taylor and her staff wanted Foley to begin an internship...in two weeks. After a panicked search for childcare, she headed for Paramount. "The first day, you cannot be prepared for, because you find out it's totally sink or swim," she warns. "There is no introduction, no meeting where they tell you what [they] expect from the interns. You walk in there, they put you in an office and say, 'We'll call you when we need you. Goodbye.'" Foley, like a true fan, read every Voyager script from beginning to end while she was waiting.
"They had a number of stories they were working on, but they didn't break a story till the end of my first week," Foley recalls. The second-season episode "Lifesigns" was being filmed when she arrived, while the first production meeting she attended was for "Deadlock." Foley ultimately worked on "Innocence," "The Thaw," "Resolutions," "Sacred Ground," "False Profits," "Basics," and "Flashback."
Her first production meeting was a revelation. "I had no idea, just as a lay person, the amount of detail and energy and work that goes into a TV show until I attended," Foley says with real awe. "It was intimidating. Twenty to twenty-five people, you've got the executive producers and the teleplay writer. You have the heads of all the departments. You have [Michael] Westmore from makeup, you have someone from set dressing and someone from props and someone in regard to extras, and you have your line producers. They've all had a copy of the script, and they sit down, and you go through the script page by page and comment on every page for each department."
Foley characterizes a typical meeting: "OK, from the prop master, 'It says everybody has phaser - let's just give two people phasers.' Budgeting is considered. If it calls for eight explosions, they go, 'No, we don't need eight explosions, let's just go with two and a fire.' It all has to do with bottom line. If [the director] says they need twelve extras, it's, 'No - you can have one speaking person and two extras.' Things like that, every page, they go through. The hairstylist is there if somebody's hair is supposed to be mussed, and then the costumer, if somebody's uniform is supposed to be torn. They talk about sound effects, they talk about opticals, they talk about everything on that page. And then the executive producers make the decisions."
Actors rarely attend production meetings unless they're planning to direct upcoming episodes. "They will end up sitting at the back of the room taking notes - with the intern, which is always fun!" chuckles Foley, who sat with Robert Duncan McNeill and Robert Picardo during her tenure at Paramount. "It was incredible. I really thought, you go there, you put it together, you pay some people, and it gets done. I had no idea."
The story meetings, where plots for the show are determined, involve far fewer people. Writers pitch stories to one or two staff members, who need the approval of the entire writing group and the co-executive producers before the script can proceed. After a pitch is approved, the staff has a meeting with the writer to brainstorm and talk about needed changes.
"They'll say, 'We like your story, but we want it to go in [another] direction - [like], instead of using Kes, we want to use Harry - so write the story again.' The end result is a ten-page draft for which the writer is paid - this is "selling a story" in the business, though it is rare for a non-staff member who pitches a story to actually pen the teleplay. "Somebody on staff is assigned to write the script, unless the person who pitched it has worked for them before, like Naren Shankar," explains Foley. "For the most part, the teleplays are written by the staff."
The credits are very specific under the rules of the Writers' Guild of America. Interns never get a credit, but they receive weekly reports acknowledging their work on a particular TV show. There is a 'Story By' credit, for a writer who submitted the ten-page story but didn't write the teleplay, shared with a 'Teleplay By' credit for whoever wrote the script. The producers can also buy a premise from a pitch session, for which the person who pitched is paid, but not credited. Then there are episodes which are 'Written By' one writer, meaning that the same person wrote the ten-page story and the teleplay. Thus, someone on staff can get full writing credit for a script with a premise pitched by someone not on the staff.
When Foley was interning, the script for "Deadlock," written by Brannon Braga, was going through final drafts. But Braga, one of the writers of Star Trek: First Contact, was called away to work on the movie, so Jeri Taylor did much of what Foley calls "the cleanup work." The name of the teleplay writer does not change under such circumstances. Foley says, "There were rewrites done on it by Lisa [Klink], by Ken Biller...it really is a community effort. Someone does the most work, it's almost like someone organizes it, but each script is a community effort."
Foley adds that the really hard work of writing for television is producing a viable script, not coming up with a germ of an idea. "A lot more work than people realize goes into taking a story and turning it into a script," she emphasizes, explaining that one of her main jobs as an intern was "breaking the story," in a meeting where the staff brainstorms from the ten-page story, while the intern writes up an outline on the board as they make decisions. "The first story I broke was "Resolutions" - it was a much, much better story as a result of the story break. The original was a little meandering. And that's what the break is all about: paring away all the extra and getting down to a drama, making it fit tightly."
At the start of a story break meeting, everyone present is handed a proposed break, which looks a lot like an outline. "Resolutions," in which Janeway and Chakotay were stranded on a planet together while Tuvok took command of Voyager, was conceived of and written by Jeri Taylor. Taylor proposed a teaser involving Janeway's Lord Burleigh hologram, which then segued into a scene between Janeway and B'Elanna that Foley describes as "a very nice relationship moment." But it became quickly apparent that the opening was too long.
"We realized that it couldn't be done - it would need to be a two-parter, and they would never approve that, so we basically erased everything we had done, and started over. Suggestions were made right and left, and I made a few too - this was exciting because they didn't just dismiss me as an intern."
The intern's primary job, however, is to outline on the board the story as it unfolds. The former intern explains, "The way it goes is, it will say, 'TEASER - PLANET. We see two stasis chambers. There's a beep, Janeway and Chakotay are revived, the Doctor lets them know that they're stuck on the planet forever.' That's all the break is. Every scene, and the people who are in each scene. Teaser, Scene One, what happens. Scene Two, what happens. Then Act One, Scene One, what happens. Scene Two, what happens. Just one sentence about what happens and who the characters are."
It took a few days to finish the break for "Resolutions" because there was a lot of discussion about the shipboard plot. Recalls Foley, "There were some very interesting moments when they were considering a mutiny on the ship, and there are certain things in Star Trek that they don't want to deal with. One is mutiny. [Another is] cannibalism. They've just said, let's stay away from that." Originally, Tuvok ended up going to the brig while Tom Paris took command, but that story was changed by the time the teleplay was written.
Once the story skeleton is written during the break process, the intern dictates it to the secretary, who types it up for the person who is assigned to write the teleplay. The first draft must be approved by the executive producers. Then a number of additional drafts are produced, marked by different-color page inserts as the executive producers make corrections or changes come up at production meetings. For "Resolutions," Foley remembers one particular change: originally the story had called for "some kind of a goat animal," but they decided to use a monkey because it was much easier to deal with in terms of the production.
"Things like this happen all the time, where something just has to change in the script. In 'Deadlock' they had just torn apart the ship, there were these two ships and they have this stated even though ironically that's the one that survives, but they had had explosions and fires and all this stuff going on, and in the production meeting it wasn't so much money, but it turned out that you cannot have an explosion behind the actors because there's no room in the set to put an explosive device. It had to be to the left or the right. And I had never known that there were only certain places on the set that you could blow things up.
How much say do interns get into the creative process? Can they suggest ideas, or are they not supposed to speak until spoken to? "Well, yes, I was told that!" laughs Foley, adding that she was never told so by anyone of authority - other interns suggested that if she knew what was good for her, she would be tactful. "But two things became apparent over time," she adds. "Because I was not fresh out of college, I was not cowed or in awe of the people, even though I had great respect for them. Second of all, I did have good knowledge - I had been a fan a long time." So although she took teasing about her years as a Trekker, the writers also used her as a resource to avoid duplicating the original series and The Next Generation.
Foley agrees that mistakes are made, but thinks audiences are too quick to blame the writers when an episode's ending seems rushed or drags on too long. "You never know what actually happened on the set, or what happened, budget-wise," she points out. "Maybe the end was filmed first, and [they] were supposed to have some scenes explaining it, but they ran out of time, or that actor was no longer available. It happens, and all they can do is sort of shrug."
They actors usually don't see the script until the production draft, circulated to everyone who will attend the production meeting, which comes at a point when they are unlikely to wield substantial influence. Foley was a bit disgusted to discover that some of the actors only read the pages on which their characters appeared. "You can't get the nuances unless you read the entire script!" she complains. "I really thought they'd sit down and say, 'Let's read the story and take it as a story,' and that didn't happen."
While both actors and writers watch the "dailies" - the clips of film shot during a day of filming - many never have time to watch the finished episodes. "This was one of my pet peeves - I understand it, but I don't condone it," Foley gripes. Thus, some of the fan's complaints about character inconsistencies or nitpicks may fall on deaf ears: the people who create the show aren't seeing an integrated whole in the same way as the audience does. "There's this idea that only the nitpickers are going to notice [if] this character has changed, so there's this attitude that that doesn't matter. And to me, it did matter."
"Star Trek isn't run like Gene Roddenberry's projected universe is run - there are real people with real problems, and they don't run around preaching [Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations]" she says with a touch of wistfulness. "I thought there was going to be this family of these people who were all imbued with Trek...and it was just another production.
Still, Foley admits, "It's a nice feeling to know that you're part of Star Trek." However, it can also kill the magic. Watching episodes, "I'm sitting here looking at things going, 'I wonder if they filmed this first, because it seems a little out of whack here. I wonder which scenes were done because it's not cohesive.'" She has trouble surrendering to the narrative if she knows too much about what happened during the filming - for instance, having heard that actress Jeri Ryan fainted from the tight Borg costume during the filming of "Scorpion Part II" this year, Foley spent much of the episode trying to figure out during which scene it happened.
"You know too much and you're not lost in the story - it's sort of sad, but I wouldn't give it up for anything," she says quickly. A bigger frustration for this longtime Trekker was the degree to which the show's writers seemed to feel that working there was just a job rather than a privilege; she found the producers' disdain for fans and casual attitude towards nitpicks and criticism reflective of a lack of passion on their part.
"One of the scary thing about being around X Files [writers] is that they live and breathe the show," she notes. "I'm sort of glad I didn't go work over there, because I can see how easily it is to be caught up in it! I would say that they have about equal fervor to their fans. Those people at X Files are bonkers!" Why does it scare her? "There's an excitement to that, but the Star Trek people at least make a point of having a life," she observes. "And as much as the internship taught me about writing, it really made me realize that I had my priorities, and my priority was my family - it didn't entice me enough to make me throw everything away and say, 'Damn, I want to be part of this.'"
Among the people who impressed her were Deep Space Nine producer Ron Moore, "who really seems to have a lot of passion," and Voyager executive producer Jeri Taylor, whom Foley thinks inherited a "thankless" job taking over the disappointingly-rated Voyager when Michael Piller left. She thinks Taylor's impending retirement - in all likelihood during the run of the series - cast a pall over her tenure as executive producer. "It's not fun being a woman in Hollywood - it's almost like all the old stereotypes, you have to try harder, you have to walk that fine line between being one of the boys but not being too masculine, you have to sometimes hook on to a male mentor or male associate so that your stuff will be listened to," Foley states. She hopes that the increasing number of women's support groups and the mentoring within production staffs will change the status quo.
For Foley, the most valuable things she gained from the internship were friendships, which she says she wouldn't give up even for a credit onscreen. "I'm not talking about celebrities or producers - I'm talking about fans, and extras, and assistants and non-Trek people," she says quickly. "I don't want to give people the wrong idea about the internship - some people think it's a giant schmooze-fest, and they apply and they could care less about the writing aspect."
Other writers are often shocked to hear Foley declare her lack of ambition. "They say, 'Well, then, [the internship] was wasted on you, because I would have taken it and I would have turned it into a job,'" says Foley in frustration, pointing out that that's sort of like suggesting being a stay-at-home mom is a waste of a college education. "I did my work - I earned it," she points out. And she did get some unprecedented perks. "I was the first intern ever invited to go on location, and that was really special, to stand out in the rain for six hours with Kate Mulgrew!"
How much did she interact with the Voyager actors regularly? "You learn, [Robert] Beltran and Ethan Phillips are the kidders, they're the goof-offs. Garrett and Robbie both seemed very intense about what they were doing and always had their little crib notes to remember things." Foley never spoke to Mulgrew until her last day, though she enjoyed watching her work when she could get to the set. "I was in such awe of her - I never bothered her till that last day, I had to tell her. She just embodied to me the spirit of Voyager. All that talk about me being mature? It went out the window when it came to her!"
The most important thing she gained from the internship was personal. "I learned was that you cannot tell anyone they are too old, too fannish, too whatever the politically incorrect term is, to be a writer! And they will tell you that - 'You know, being older, it's tough,' or 'Being a woman, it's tough' - it doesn't matter. If you want to do it, you can do it." Though she is no longer working at Star Trek, Foley has several successful pitches making the rounds and intends to keep working--on her own terms.