Science of Star Trek - Interview with Andre Bormanis
By StarTrek.com Staff - September 20, 2010
Andre Bormanis represents a Star Trek success story made up of equal parts talent, timing, luck, persistence and… science. Bormanis started out as a science consultant for TNG, continued to climb the writer-producer ladder at TNG and then DS9, Voyager and Enterprise, and most recently served as a writer-producer on the fantasy series Legend of the Seeker. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Bormanis for an exclusive interview in which he recounted how he hooked up with Star Trek, discussed his contributions to the assorted Trek shows on which he worked, looked back at the recently canceled Legend of the Seeker, and hinted at a major new project that’s soon to move forward.
Trek provided your "in" to the entertainment industry. How big a fan were you of the franchise? And, for the newcomers out there, take us through how you first hooked up with TNG.
I grew up watching The Original Series, in reruns. I probably watched every episode a dozen times when I was a kid. Even today, when I come across an episode on TV, I’ll watch for a few minutes – or more. So I was very familiar with The Original Series and naturally started watching TNG when it premiered. I also had ambitions to write and took several screenwriting classes at Arizona State. I managed to land an agent in Los Angeles based on a TNG spec script I’d written, and she was trying to get me in to pitch for the show when she found out they were looking for a new science consultant. They wanted someone who had both a science background and some writing experience, as well as someone who was familiar with the Trek world. Turned out I was a pretty good fit.
How natural a progression was it to jump from science consultant to writer, story editor and producer?
It felt very natural. As science consultant, I had to read every draft of every script of every episode of TNG, DS9 and Voyager that we produced. That in and of itself was a very good education, seeing the stories and scripts unfold step by step, learning the rhythms of the shows, the voices of the characters and so on. I had the opportunity to start pitching story ideas about a year after I started, and eventually they bought a couple for Voyager. They (later) asked me if I was interested in writing a script for season three of Voyager, and of course I said yes (the script was “Fair Trade”). They thought I did a good job with it, and had me do a few more. So by the time I was brought on staff as a full-time writer for Enterprise, I felt well prepared.
On Star Trek, how important to the powers that be was getting the science "right," or as right as it could be -- after all they hired to you to be science consultant? And how often did someone have to say, "We can only worry about that so much, as story or character must take precedence?"
It was very important to the writers and producers to ensure that our fictional, far future Trek universe was scientifically credible. The basics – the physical nature of stars, planets, and nebulae, the distances between stars in the Milky Way, the interstellar medium – all of those things were represented as accurately as possible, along with the proper terminology. We never made the mistake of using the term “parsec” as a unit of time! But of course our shows took place hundreds of years in the future, and new science will be discovered in the future. So when it came to warp drive, exotic spatial phenomenon, parallel universes, and other “far-out” ideas, we were able to stretch the limits. But I always tried to make sure the characters used credible scientific language and reasoning when they encountered fictitious phenomena.
Which one or two Trek episodes are you most proud to have your name on?
I was very proud of the script Brannon Braga and I wrote for Seven of Nine in the final season of Voyager, “Human Error.” It was a metaphor for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and we got some truly moving responses from the fans. And I was very happy with the first script I wrote for Enterprise, “Silent Enemy.” We took a bit of a risk by never revealing the motivations of the aliens who attacked us, but that was my favorite aspect of the story. I think our earliest encounters with alien life forms will leave us utterly baffled.
Season two of Legend of the Seeker is about to come out on DVD. A lot of people loved LotS. How close to your heart was the experience, and how proud were you of the show?
Seeker was a lot of fun. I got to reunite with some of my old Star Trek friends as well as work with a number of other talented writers. Learning to think in terms of fantasy rather than science fiction took some getting used to, but I really ended up enjoying it. We shot the show in New Zealand, which was a new kind of challenge for me, because every other show I’ve worked on was done in Los Angeles. When you can’t interact with the director and actors as your script is being shot, certain nuances and intentions are sometimes missed.
Had it continued, what stories were you eager to tell in season three?
There was a very high caliber of writing on the show, starting with Ken Biller and Stephen Tolkin, and if we’d gotten a third season, we would have explored some of the ideas in the third of the Terry Goodkind novels the show was based on. Personally, I would’ve wanted to focus on how Richard dealt with his new-found wizard powers, and how that affected his relationship with Kahlan.
LotS fans took a page from the Trek playbook in trying to mount a Save LotS campaign. How amazed were you by that and how close did you guys come to actually finding a new home for the show?
We were all very touched by that. There was certainly some talk for a few weeks that we might be able to continue the show, and I’m sure the “Save LotS” campaign had a lot to do with that. Alas, the powers that be decided in the end it was time to pull the plug.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve been shopping a pilot I wrote last year, and getting some pretty good responses from studios and production companies on it, but it hasn’t sold yet. And I started working on a new project for a major studio last month, but it hasn’t been announced publicly, and until it is, I’m afraid I can’t talk about it. But it’s very exciting.
Last question: What were the most valuable lessons from your Trek work, that you've taken to your subsequent projects?
The importance of finding the heart of the story -- and by that I mean the emotional stakes for the characters in the story. I love coming up with high-concept science fiction ideas, but if there’s no emotional component, if it isn’t about anything other than solving some clever puzzle, it won’t move people. And it isn’t very rewarding to tell a story that doesn’t move people.
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