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Guest Bloggers: Paula Block and Terry Erdmann

Guest Bloggers: Paula Block and Terry Erdmann

Blog, the final frontier.

Before we get into this, an admission: We’re blog virgins. We’ve done a lot of writing, together and alone, including books, magazine articles, trivia games, do-it-yourself animation, term papers… but we’ve never actually blogged. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; it’s just…

You put your ego on the line when you blog. Suppose you post yours and no one wants to read it? What if you get no hits on your site? It’s a big, cruel, lonely Internet out there and we have such fragile egos.

Thus, to ease into this brave new world, we’re going to do this in pseudo-Q&A style. Think of it as a literary ménage a trois. We’re all in this together. You ask the questions. We’ll offer bloggy answers. To make it easier for you, we’ve even supplied your questions.

Q. (You): Let’s start with the obvious: What is Star Trek The Original Series 365?

A. (Paula): It’s a heavily illustrated, full-color, 744-page hardcover book, due to appear in your local bookstore sometime between mid-August and the 44th anniversary of The Original Series (September 8, for the two or three of you that don’t know). The official publicity release from Abrams Books describes it like this:

Star Trek The Original Series 365 is the definitive, authorized guide to Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking television program that first aired from 1966 through 1969 and went on to become a cultural phenomenon. A visual celebration of the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise, the book covers the entire series in unprecedented detail, combining in-depth commentary, behind-the-scenes histories, and interviews with writers, cast, and crew, with synopses for each of the series’ 79 episodes.”

Q. (You): That sounds impressive. Are there really “unprecedented details” that no fan has seen or heard before? After all, Star Trek is nearly 44 years old.

A. (Terry): Our assignment was to find some! Talk about pressure! We counted on Paula’s familiarity with everything Star Trek as the baseline for what was “unprecedented” (or at least “very rare”). She’s been looking at Star Trek images for four-plus decades, initially as a fan, and later as a “pro.” Most readers are aware that she worked in the consumer products department at Paramount Pictures, and later CBS, for nearly two decades as director of Star Trek publishing.

Q. (You): I didn’t know that.

A. (Terry): I’m pretending that you already looked her up on so that I don’t lose my train of thought. Anyway, in addition to reviewing licensed Star Trek manuscripts, Paula also established the Star Trek Consumer Products photo library.

A. (Paula): Those would be the images that the department keeps on file for companies that make Star Trek products. If you’ve ever wondered where a manufacturer gets a picture of Kirk to plaster on a t-shirt, or a model manufacturer gets references to sculpt a model of the Defiant, that’s where they get them.

A. (Terry): So Paula is very familiar with what exists in terms of the studio’s cache of Star Trek imagery. And yet, while we were working on this book, she found surprising images that even she hadn’t seen before, or that she felt hadn’t been seen by the public in many, many years.

Q. (You): What about Terry’s background—how much of an expert is he?

A. (Paula): Terry wasn’t the diehard fan that I was before he was assigned the job of unit publicist for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in 1988. But he became one fast, especially during the seven years he spent on the set of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gathering information so we could write the DS9 companion book. And then he was on the set of Star Trek: Insurrection almost every day that it was in production, taking notes so we could write that companion book. Since getting hooked, he’s repeatedly watched every hour of Star Trek ever produced. So while he didn’t start out a Trekker like Paula, he’s worn the mantle proudly for over twenty years.

Q. (You): How did the book assignment come up?

A. (Terry): Abrams Books publishes a line of beautiful, lavishly illustrated coffee table books that cover extremely eclectic topics: Star Wars, punk music, Andy Warhol, the universe, golf courses around the world, etc. If there are enough fabulous pictures on a subject to fill 365 two-page spreads, they’ve done it, or probably will do it. So after they licensed the rights to do a TOS book, they asked the studio for suggestions as to who could write it and gather the photography. The studio immediately suggested Paula. When she realized what a monumental project it was going to be, she drafted me to help her. It helps to live in the same house!

Q. (You): Why monumental? Doesn’t the studio have all of the photography?

A. (Paula): Odd as it may sound, no. You have to remember that TOS was filmed during the pre-digital era. When a film or TV series was in production, countless rolls of still photography were shot. After a show ended, a few printed photos were put into storage, and the rest went missing. There was very little in the way of licensed merchandise back then, so once a show and the need to publicize it ended, most of the photography was tossed into dumpsters. At one point, our supply of TOS episodic photography was so depleted that my department went to the expense of striking new prints of all 79 episode film reels, so we could cut apart individual film frames and transform them into slides! That’s the first place I looked for material for this book. That clip project made it possible for us to pick the exact frames needed from any given episode.

Q (You): What are some of your favorite episodic images in the book?

A. (Paula): That’s too hard! I love “the boot shot” from “Wink of an Eye,” which represents a watershed moment in Sixties television. We also chose a number of “effects” shots—people being zapped by phasers, and oracles, and space probes—because we felt readers might enjoy an up-close and personal look at the “state of the art” way the postproduction crew had to hand-illustrate beams of energy onto live-action film footage. They’re very cool; I’m not sure if they’ve ever appeared in print. They’re wonderfully primitive!

A. (Terry): Visual effects circa 1966-1969! What once appeared convincing rushing past the eye at multiple frames per second looks, when captured in a single photographic frame, like the work of a child with luminescent finger paints.

Q. (You): Did the studio have blue-screen shots, behind-the-scenes shots, bloopers?

A. (Paula): Very little. Which is why we set out on a kind of Trek scavenger hunt. We contacted photo agencies that might have retained photography from the show, museums that have original props, and businesses that had allowed Trek to film on location at their facilities. We trolled eBay and the Internet. We talked to friends who worked on later incarnations of Trek and to our friends in fandom. Then we talked to friends of friends and to complete strangers.

A. (Terry): We were on the phone for hours a day for months, asking about things we weren’t sure existed. And we didn’t have much to offer people for their contributions—only a sincere “thank you” in print, and a copy of the book—but we asked anyway.

Q. (You): Any luck?

A. (Paula): Lots! Some wonderful people out there who love Trek as much as we do were willing to open their hearts and scrapbooks. Without them, Star Trek 365 would not have been possible. For instance, Devra Langsam, a member of the con committee for the very first Trek convention in 1972, found a cache of slides taken at that con. Gerald Gurian, a collector from Michigan, allowed us to photograph some of the series’ props he’s accumulated over the years.

A. (Terry): I interviewed Tanya Lemani (the belly dancer from “Wolf in the Fold”) for the book and she sent us a great shot of herself in costume. Paula managed to track down Bruce Hyde—Kevin Riley from “The Naked Time”— who now teaches acting at a university. He provided an amazing behind-the-scenes shot from his episode. Richard Jefferies, brother to Trek’s art director Matt Jefferies, allowed us to reproduce some of Matt’s sketches and gave us a photo of Matt at work that’s never been published.

Q. (You): What else?

A. (Paula): Ah, for that you’ll have to read the book! We’re hoping that the photos and captions will have the same effect on readers as they had on us. After all these years and incarnations of Trek, it’s easy to feel a little jaded. “It’s all ancient history.  It’s just a TV show. Get a life.” But finding this stuff—and looking at it with fresh eyes—was a blast. It was incredibly hard to pull it all together and I don’t think we saw a movie in all of 2009…

A. (Terry): We saw the Star Trek movie.

A. (Paula): Yeah, we did. We took an afternoon off.  And then we came home and went back to work on the book, and the contrast— wow. The movie was great, but we were actually working with the stuff that inspired everything that’s followed. I mean, Dorothy Fontana agreed to write the forward to our book. Do you know how amazing that is? My hero for 44 years! Star Trek 365 totally reawakened our interest in this universe that Gene Roddenberry established.

A. (Terry): We hope it does the same for you!