An Interview with Franz Joseph

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Interviews by Fans
Title: An Interview with Franz Joseph
Interviewer: Paul Newitt
Interviewee: Franz Joseph Schnaubelt
Date(s): October 1982
Medium: print, online
Fandom(s): Star Trek: TOS
External Links: page one; WebCite; page two; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

An Interview with Franz Joseph was in the print zine Enterprise Incidents (June 1984 Special Issue, Spotlight On... Interviews) It was later posted online at Trekplace sometime after 1999.

The interview was conducted face-to-face, and was transcribed from an audio recording. HTML conversion by Greg Tyler.)

Franz Joseph Schnaubelt is the creator of Star Fleet Technical Manual.

Similar Interviews

Some Topics Discussed


I have a recognized reputation from a successful 30-year career as an aerospace design engineer. When I saw how the typical SF paperback was treated, the cover illustrations, etc., I didn't want my name to appear on the work. So I resorted to the name I'd used for 45 years as a freelance commercial and industrial designer: Franz Joseph.

It started in 1973. A group of fans had formed S.T.A.R. San Diego and they were meeting at Jeannie Graham's house. They finally decided to go over SDSU and open it up as a campus activity. Karen asked me to go with her that inaugural night, April 14, 1973, because I guess she was a little nervous about going there alone. When I got there I discovered a lot of the young people were children of friends of mine, people I'd worked with at Convair. Well, they had made models of the Star Trek memorabilia. I don't know whether or not you were aware of it at the time, but they were made out of cardboard, balsa wood, tape, wiring, glue, and paint and, for college kids (anyone who is 3 or more years younger than me is a "kid") the workmanship was pretty bad any way you looked at it. (I helped to initiate the Cub Scout Program. In 1932 we ran a Scout Leader's training course in the West Suburban Council, and one of the things we had the leaders do was to take a Cub Scout project, a nine-year-old craft project, and do it as part of the course. We gave them two days to come up with something and then we set it up as an exhibit. Well, we set the leaders' projects up on one side of the hall; meantime, we'd collected the same kind of work from the various Cub Packs and put it up on the other side of the hall. When you saw the adults' work compared to the children's' work, the Cubs' work looked like Einstein had made it, I mean, it was professional work. While the adult leaders' work looked pretty bad). Well, that's what this Star Trek memorabilia looked like. I told them I thought they could do better. And they said, "Show us." When we got home, I had Karen get out some of her slides from the Star Trek TV series and I reduced one of them -- I think the first was the communicator -- back into its three-view drawing. Let me digress for a moment. There is a simple procedure in architectural drawing, or orthographic drafting, in which you place the face view of the building to the left of your drawing, the side view of the building to the right of your drawing, and the plan view at the top of your drawing. You turn the plan view to the angle at which you want to view the building. Your drawing then becomes the contact face plane of that plan. Then, by simply erecting all the lines of the building against the face plane and the horizon, using the three views, you draw, create, the building as it will appear in three dimensions and it is correctly reduced for perspective. Well I discovered this procedure can be reversed (from picture to plan) which I did upon occasion during the war...

We sat in the dining room and I showed them the drawings I'd made. They went wild over them and then began to write lists of all the things they wanted to see and wanted me to convert to plans. In other words, everyone had a sheet of paper and was busy writing a list of what they wanted. When I saw the lists it suddenly dawned on me that what they were asking for was a "technical" manual. And so I decided right then that I'd try to do it.

Then Karen got a set of the...they're called the "Enterprise drawing set" at Lincoln know, the famous three-view and the cutaway, and other things from Stephen Whitfield's book; and the drawing of the hangar deck...and I think there was also a drawing of the shuttlecraft. From these sketches and those in Whitfield's book, I then laid out...those drawings were bad, they're out of scale...but I laid the drawing out, scaled and sized it, and made a drawing of the Enterprise. Next I devised the Dreadnought, made a drawing of one of the uniforms, and about twelve drawings in all. They were drawn on the format I'd already devised for the Technical Orders. I sent a copy of the T.O.'s for the Dreadnought and the Enterprise to Gene Roddenberry on June 3rd, told him what I was doing, and inquired about proprietary rights. I got a letter in reply immediately, stating there was no problem with the proprietary rights, that he liked what I was doing, and wanted me to proceed...So I sent him copies of some fourteen T.O.'s I'd made to date and I got a very enthusiastic letter back. He said he'd never seen anything like that before and he wanted to see more of it. So I started collecting Star Trek material in order to be able to make the T.O.'s. In the lists ST fans had made, they wanted to see things that were on the Enterprise but never appeared in the series. I had already decided that if I was going to do the work, at least it would be technically and scientifically correct.

Karen had been attending ST conventions since about 1971, and she was bringing home those cheap mimeographed copies of the scripts, and things like that, and paying six dollars for each item. I thought, "Gee, the kids are getting an awful shake for the money they're spending." So, in the Technical Manual, I decided I'd try to teach them what all the ST fans seemed to be looking for every time I got around a group. They wanted the real thing, or at least something that could be real when we got around to making it. I decided that I would keep the Manual as accurate as possible an extension of our knowledge of science and engineering technology. I was pretty confident everything could be worked out or extrapolated on that basis.
The fans who saw the plans said, "These are beautiful, all the fans will like them." I've learned from working with the youngsters all my life that when a kid says "all" the ST fans will like it he means himself and his friends, which may be five or ten people. To find out for myself I printed 500 copies of the plans to sell at Equicon '74 in Los Angeles. I got a one-time agreement from Paramount, and there was no advertising. I bought S.T.A.R.'s table because I figured they would be sold in a few hours and I'd have no further need of the table. I told the S.T.A.R. members to keep track of their time when they sold the plans and I'd pay them for it, everyone who was involved: "When my plans are sold out you can continue on with your own sales on the same table." Their table was stuck in a back corner of the sales room. I had one uncut print (all the individual sheets were together on one sheet), which they hung on the wall behind the table. I had signed it, and they got Gene Roddenberry to sign it, and it was later auctioned off at the end of the Con. Now no one knew about the existence of the plans until a fan bought a set and walked out on the Con floor with it. It turned out there wasn't enough time in the Con for all the fans who wanted a set of the plans to get into the dealer's room to get one. At the end of the Con I think there were still something like 90 left. But I'd also had a strip chart of 14 sample T.O.'s from the proposed Technical Manual which they also put up on the wall as a display. And I had preprinted cards available for fans to indicate their interest in the plans and the manual and return them to me. The S.T.A.R. people brought back hundreds of signed cards with them, and more began arriving in the mail everyday. Everyone was asking for a set of then plans and indicated they also wanted to get a copy of the manual when it was completed. Now most of the dealers at a Con, excepting for a few of the professionals, maybe send Paramount an extra five or ten dollars to settle up their sales. I sent Paramount a check for $400, and asked what I could do with the unsold sets of plans and all the fan requests I had for them.

In the meantime, both Paramount and Ballantine knew I was working on the Manual because I'd sent them the strip chart I had at Equicon '74. And the ST fans knew about it because they'd filled out the cards I had provided. Before I started seriously on the Manual I had talked to Gene, Paramount, NBC, and Ballantine Books, and they all assured me the Star Trek TV series was dead, it would not go back into production. Of course the reruns were maintaining continued fan interest, and gaining new fans every year. So I felt it was all right if I made the Manual. It was something the original series never had, Gene wanted me to go ahead and finish it, and Ballantine was interested in publishing it. I had told Gene I didn't feel comfortable trading on someone else's original idea, but he insisted the Manual would be a real asset to the memorabilia. I told him I'd stay with the theme he'd developed, explained the errors and what I'd planned to do about them, and also offered to send any major changes to him for approval before using them. This way, since the subject was dead, I didn't think I'd be hurting anything he'd accomplished. I wasn't interested in science fiction, or the Star Trek TV series. My interest was in the interplanetary community, how much we actually knew about its potentiality, and the true science and technology as it would exist in that time period. I wasn't interested in watching the TV reruns although I saw every episode maybe 50 times or so, just to confirm a single detail of something I was going to put in the Manual. It took almost two years to complete all the Technical Orders. I was nearly done with the drawings, I think there was only two or three unimportant T.O.'s still left to do, when Gene signed the contract to do the Star Trek movie on March 12th, 1975. Star Trek wasn't a dead issue anymore, but the Manual was too far along and too much had gone into it to drop it. I also had a commitment to Paramount and Ballantine. I signed the contract for the Manual with Ballantine on August 14th, 1975, and Ballantine immediately put their whole organization to work on producing it. (Normally, when you sell a manuscript to a publisher, it will be two years from that date to the time it appears in the bookstores. They have to retype the manuscript into book format, choose the size of the book, the type style, the number of pages, and a lot of other details. Most least from what little I know...normally carry about 20 to 50 different titles each year, and this requires all the effort of their staff to keep this number of books on the market.) On the Manual, Ballantine put their whole organization to work on producing a set of "blues," the photo-ready copies for the printing presses. The "blues" were done early in September, and Ballantine then rented about twelve presses in the New York area...they apparently don't have enough presses in house...and began printing to get the quantity of copies ready for the bookstores.

The first order for the Manuals was 450,000 copies, which they tell me, at that time, was the largest single order ever placed for an SF book. All I know is what people in the business have told me. Anyway, the Manuals went on sale in the bookstores on November 26th, 1975. It became number one on B. Dalton's list in the first week of sales and, three weeks later, it became number one on the New York Times list of bestsellers, where it remained, I think, for two or three months or something like that. I got a bottle of champagne...everybody got a bottle of celebrate becoming the number one bestseller.