Ward Kimball was one of Walt’s Nine Old Men, the group of heralded young animators who worked on the studio’s earliest animated shorts and feature-length movies. Disney fans know the legend that Walt never directed compliments toward anyone, but Kimball is the only employee he ever publically called a genius. With that knowledge in hand, I was eagerly looking forward to this book.
Supported by annotations from Kimball’s own personal journals and hundreds of interviews of his and others who worked with him, this was a fascinating book about an ambitious, restless artist. With a slim amount of formal art education and youthful aspirations of working as a commercial artist for advertising agencies in New York City, Ward reluctantly accepted a job at The Walt Disney Company to learn animation, originally believing the trade to be a step down from advertising. He ended up proving to be an expedient animator, working faster than most, and worked on all of the original Disney classics, including designing Jiminy Cricket. He would later co-direct “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Walt Disney. He later earned one with his own name on it for “It’s Tough to Be a Bird”.
He founded the Firehouse Five Plus Two Dixieland jazz band which performed at clubs around LA and Disneyland, produced three installments about space exploration for the Disneyland TV show that drew fascination and interest from the viewing public up to President Eisenhower, and even enjoyed a friendly relationship with the boss, unique among the Company staff, building up the Mousetro’s interest in model trains, before ultimately feeling boxed in by the studio’s family friendly art house style.
In some ways, he reminds me of Chuck Jones, who claims to have told Walt Disney that ultimately the only job he wanted at his studio was Walt’s. Ward wasn’t that discourteous of Walt’s position or the benefits of creative opportunities he received from his employer, but later in his career, the eccentric Kimball clearly wanted to create his own artistic identity apart from the name Disney. So the later years, close to Walt’s passing in 1966 and thereafter until his retirement in 1973 were frustrating for him. He also faced criticism and resentment from other animators, including some of his Nine Old Men peers.
I wouldn’t call this a warts-and-all biography, but it doesn’t shy away from the animator’s stubbornness and misjudgments when he fails to recognize how best to spread his creative wings and pursue his ambitions with strategic tact and even some humility while at the studio. I enjoyed this book a lot. The only disappointment I had about the book is that it includes no photos of Kimball at all beyond what’s on the cover.
“Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft - The Writing of ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’” by Michael Piller (Book Review)
I learned about this unpublished manuscript after watching an interview with Piller’s wife Sandra. Michael Piller joined Star Trek: The Next Generation as Head Writer in its third season, and general consensus is that his addition to the series was a major reason why the series finally hit its stride. He wrote the fan favorite two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds” and other popular episodes, including “Booby Trap” (watch it at CBS.com) and “First Contact” (watch it at CBS.com). He also co-created the spinoffs Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
Anyway, after a theatrical screening last year of “The Best of Both Worlds”, Sarah, whose husband had died of cancer some years earlier, mentioned she was trying to publish this manuscript so there would be a nice, bound version of it, while acknowledging the fact that it was already out on the internet for all to read.
I googled and found it right away. According to Memory-Alpha.org, the manuscript was made available to TrekCore.com in 2010, and while it's no longer available from them, despite Paramount's desire to suppress it, once on the internet, always on the internet. (How long it remains at the link I provided above, time will tell.) I started reading the 271-page PDF last night and just finished it this morning.
It’s a page-turner! It’s a conversation, a story actually, shared by a writer about writing this script. It’s part a case study of how a Hollywood screenplay is made and part autobiography, dotted with early memories that influenced his younger self that eventually led him to pursue writing.
He’s an open book, sharing his excitement and anxieties along the journey, his first to see his work make it to the big screen. Pillar throws everything of that experience into this, which outsiders will appreciate but some insiders might be uncomfortable with. Literally, everything, from his original treatment to rewrites and, more even more telling, what those involved in the early stages of story development had to say. Notes from producer Rick Berman, emails from Patrick Stewart (who played Captain Picard), a list of questions from Brent Spiner (who played Data), and feedback from several studio execs at Paramount. While offering them uncensored as they relate to the development of his story and script, they also provide casual insight into folks' unpublicized thoughts about DS9 or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, to cite just two examples. Funny bits, but maybe not appreciated by those involved on these other productions when aired in a book.
But for writers and non-writers interested in learning the behind the scenes goings on to create a screenplay from birth to final draft, this document is a gold mine.
This was so much fun to read! An insightful, intimate, and reflective view of screenwriting, filled with wit, humor, and brutal honestly. Using a well-known script as the basis for the telling, it's a useful book for writers, a blast to read for Star Trek fans.
"When you start a screenplay, you never know where it’s going to take you. Or what you’ll have when it’s done. I tell young writers what I always try to remember myself: enjoy the journey. It’s the best advice I have to offer. And the journey is enjoyable for me when, and only when, I’m writing about something meaningful to me. That’s when I can bring a passion to my work." - a quote from "Fade In" by Michael Piller
Star Trek: Insurrection wasn’t one of the better films in the Star Trek franchise. But he did his best.
Now, excuse me while I pull out my Blu-ray copy of Star Trek: Insurrection to watch all over again.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!