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A Textbook on Screenwriting from within the Star Trek Universe


The book is a master class in the nuts and bolts, the soaring highs and plunging lows, of what it takes to write a script...and for Trekkers...there's a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes information here for them to enjoy.  I believe it even betters (Piller's) own well-loved favorite Williams Goldman's classic Adventures in the Screen Trade.

 -- Ira Steven Behr, Exec. Producer/Writer

    Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

A uniquely in-depth look at the entire process of conceiving, writing, and producing a major feature film.  You're literally a fly on the wall, witnessing the conversational reality of creative collaboration, the obstacles, the missteps, and the triumps.  This is more than an inside look at the Star Trek universe, it's an essential, cultural guide book for anyone who dreams of creating stories for the screen.

-- Dana Coen:  Co-Executive Producer of prime time series "Bones" and "JAG," and Director of the University of North          Carolina Writing  for the Screen and Stage Program


FADE IN: The Making of Star Trek - Insurrection

A Textbook on Screenwriting from within the Star Trek Universe

Overview by Susan Nicoletti 


Written by Michael Piller, who has been variously described as a “writer’s writer” and the man who played a major role  in saving  the Star Trek franchise,  here is the very inside story of the writing process that resulted in the franchise’s 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection. Certainly for Star Trek fans – of which there are legions – and students of film and television, this is a sought-after look at the screenwriting process from concept to final film script through the inclusion of treatments, story meetings, storyboards, and the moving of the Trek characters on the resultant creative chessboard. Fans, hungry for this kind of rare access, may well be thoroughly engrossed in and entertained by the book; whereas students of writing for television and film will definitely benefit from this textbook as not only reference material but also as a bona fide annotated resource on this particular film and/or on the entire Star Trek oeuvre, in general.


The book also beckons fans of good writing in general as well as film aficionados and those entrenched in the lore of old Hollywood. The first thing Mr. Piller does is to invoke all the great writers of vintage Paramount Hollywood days – from Preston Sturges to Billy Wilder – and great television writers such as Rod Serling et al….too numerous to mention.  Piller weaves in his own rich history in “the business” – did you know he was a censor for CBS and part of his job was to sanitize President Nixon’s language on those famous audiotapes, which he refused to do?! (I didn’t know that, and I was a film Ratings board censor….. oh, the discussions we could’ve had!)  This is by way of saying the book may well also appeal to the sophisticated film or television buff out there.


Mr. Piller’s personality emerges, as well:  A baseball aficionado (his mother, the great songwriter Ruth Roberts, wrote two of the most popular baseball team theme songs – “Meet the Mets” and the Dodgers’ “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame,” so baseball is in his genes), Piller invokes his favorite team (the Los Angeles Dodgers) struggling in the playoffs as it parallels his own struggles with draft after draft of the film’s treatment. Piller’s trusted co-producer Rick Berman shares his love of baseball and also serves as his sounding board, business partner, and faithful lunch companion.


A bit of back-story that is not really covered in the book but is alluded to (Piller was always too modest to toot his own horn about this): Piller’s much-heralded importance to Trekkers originates from the fact that, early on in his association with the franchise, Piller had risen to the Roddenberry challenge (also known as “The Roddenberry Box”) when he was hired to “fix” the third season of The Next Generation series. Previous writers had been frustrated by “the box,” which discouraged writers from relying on emotion and/or “drama” (the very life blood of story!) to tell their tale. Seemingly anathema to all that drama consists of, The Roddenberry Box had Piller momentarily stymied, but he was ultimately inspired to invent the story-telling strategy that allowed ST The Next Generation to continue – thereby "saving the franchise" (writer Ira Behr speaks regularly to ST audiences about this). As a result, Piller and Berman had a solid springboard from which to spin the Deep Space 9 and Voyager series. These subsequent series enjoyed various levels of success.


Piller can make a story meeting downright suspenseful, even exciting; after all, considering the enormity of the franchise, it is welcome “inside stuff,” it is entertaining stuff, it’s the stuff that dreams are made on! (at least, to a Trekker and/or a screenwriting student). It is such an intimate look at the meetings, the writing processes, the conversations, and the thought processes that the reader is brought directly into the room and into the moment. Piller brings such “inside” material into this that, at a few points, even Patrick Stewart himself (and to a lesser extent Brent Spiner) weighs in with his input, which is fascinating. Hard-core Trekkers and students of screenwriting will absolutely devour each Piller tangent into minutiae precisely because it is Star Trek minutiae!  Also, and this is an extremely welcome bonus, the sketched Storyboards are included in the textbook.


My overall impression is that, ultimately, this will appeal to film students as well as the Star Trek nerd/fan in all of us – all of those Sheldons and Leonards and Howards and Rajeshes out there will absolutely relish this!



Perhaps best-known for his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and the motion picture Star Trek: Insurrection, Michael Piller achieved phenomenal success as producer of almost 400 episodes of major television programs and writing nearly five dozen scripts for those projects.

From his start on TV shows such as Simon & Simon and Miami Vice to his groundbreaking leadership on various Star Trek productions, his work ethic and dedication to quality were always on display.

Looking beyond his business and creative achievements, Michael was also a champion for people who had new ideas and alternative approaches. His policy of accepting scripts from previously un-produced writers resulted in many people being able to break into an industry that is often hostile to outsiders.

Michael Piller
(May 30, 1948 – November 1, 2005)

Born in Port Chester, New York, Michael was raised in a show business family. His mother, Ruth Roberts, was a hit songwriter ("Meet the Mets," "It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame" and many Hit Parade songs with popular artists of her time) and his uncle, Sam Roberts, worked at "60 Minutes."

Attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michael majored in English but switched to journalism because of discouraging reactions toward his writing. Upon graduating, he worked at CBS News, served for a time as a network censor, and later was a production executive, winning two Emmy Awards for Chicago-area television. Eventually, he realized his dream by returning to writing.

After initial success with scriptwriting, he became a producer and his guidance on the various Star Trek projects resulted in extraordinary triumphs in the television industry. As writer and/or producer, Michael's work ethic was also notable on such series as Sidekicks, Probe, Hard Time on Planet Earth, and Legend. There was additional family success when Michael formed the Piller Squared production company with his son, Shawn, which resulted in The Dead Zone and Wildfire series.

Michael died of cancer in 2005. Dedicated to the memory of the life they shared, his wife Sandra Piller released an EP of country songs entitled "Love Goes On" in 2012, one of nearly a dozen albums and EPs she has recorded.

In addition to the influence that his Fade In textbook will have on coming generations of writers, Michael Piller is often quoted in writing classes and seminars and his advice to young writers has both wisdom and philosophical importance for everyone: "Listen to the universe," he said. "The ideas are all around you – in newspapers and magazines, television, stories people tell you and most often in your very own life experiences. Sooner or later, something will resonate."

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