Writing the Script for 359
***SPOILERS AHEAD (WATCH THE FILM FIRST!) ***
For me, writing is always the easiest part. Once I have an idea in my head, it kind of writes itself. As I said in the previous entry, I knew I wanted a story set in the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 359. Over the years, we've learned that some people (like Benjamin and Jake Sisko and Captain Liam Shaw) lived through the battle and escaped. We've also learned that some people were assimilated (Star Trek: Voyager introduces us to several of them). On the surface, this seems odd. What we know of the battle from "The Best of Both Worlds" is that, once the fleet was disabled/destroyed, the cube took off for Earth.
My thought has always been that the cube left a sphere behind to do some mop-up assimilation work while the cube continued to Sector 001. I never had any doubt that I wanted my characters to end up among this unfortunate group. (I've been accused of writing really dark Star Trek stories...)
So, I had a firm idea of what I wanted from the start. Which isn't to say that the script didn't go through some iterations...
The initial script for "359" was completed over the course of a couple of months. My folder full-o'-script versions shows that the first draft was started on May 22, 2020...about two months after I had to cancel plans to shoot "Moonlight Serenade" because of the Covid lockdown. The basic concept and characters were in place from the start. The first complete draft is dated July 5, 2020.
Because this is a story where everyone is sitting still, I knew that all of the "action" would come from dialog and the tension arising from the interplay between the characters. (I wasn't planning on any exterior shots whatsoever originally...that didn't change until principal photography was already done!) I think this inability to lean on action sequences actually served the story well in the long run.
The characters would have to be quite a mix to carry the story. I wanted a mix of ranks, ages, experience, and motivations. So, I had a commander (Zahn) who would feel like needed to take control of the group to create a sense of order; a lieutenant (Webber) who was competent and level-headed; an inexperienced ensign (Boyd) who was also good at her job but was on the edge of panic throughout; and a non-commissioned officer (Chief Frazier) who was older than the rest and felt that his experience made him the logical leader of the group.
I also introduced a character that observant Voyager fans might recognize by name: Margaret Bergen. She was one of the many personalities that Seven of Nine experiences in the Season 5 episode, "Infinite Regress." She says she's the mother of one of the officers on the Melbourne at Wolf 359 (Gregory), and it's revealed she was assimilated aboard a transport near the battle. A message from Ms. Bergen was always planned as the break into Act III of the story.
Looking back at that version, about 75-80% of the story and dialog are pretty much as they play out in the final production. The biggest difference is the dynamic between the rest of the group and Chief Frazier. This was something I remembered...but I didn't remember the extent of it! Originally, when Frazier gets back from setting the distress beacon, his argument with Zahn reaches a boiling point and is never diffused.
Even Ensign Boyd, who is meant to be the sweetest, most relatable character in the story, turned on Frazier in a pretty vicious way when his signal is lost.
The story stayed that way for a surprisingly long time. Like I said, I let the production lie dormant for a while, going back to the script from time to time to tweak it now and then. It wasn't until I was actually ramping up for production a year later (July, 2021) that I rethought the Frazier situation and gave him his redemption arc. I didn't want people to actually want any of my characters to be killed...so I diffused the situation with humor before Bergen's message comes through.
I like the final version a lot better.
The final script came it at 21 pages. The general rule of thumb is 1 minute per page. The Paramount runtime limit is 15 minutes...but I know I write LONG descriptions, so I figured I was fine. In the end, I only ended up cutting two lines of dialog--and that was because they were redundant, not because of runtime. I only came in 47 seconds over. I count that as a win.
As I said, even the final draft doesn't call for any exterior shots. Everything was planned as LCARS screens. The decision to do exterior FX came much later.
The FINAL final draft is dated 9/18/2021. Filming began 9/19/2021. So, yeah...lots of tweaks.
Next up: casting the film!