“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I learned about this unpublished manuscript after watching an interview with Piller’s wife Sandra.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.
A little movie came out on Blu-ray last week. You may have heard of it: Star Trek Into Darkness.
It became the latest addition to my home video library and Star Trek collection, both of which are fairly extensive.
I have been a Star Trek fan for many years. I grew up on The Original Series cast and later became a fan of The Next Generation. That's when I finally started going to Star Trek conventions and continued to enjoy the other spinoff series. And if you go check out my pictures on Flickr, you'll see me use my Star Trek collection to get creative.
A few weeks ago, I got the idea to design and illustrate a Star Trek infographic. It would show all the ways the arrowhead insignia originally worn by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise has appeared and been adapted on each of the different versions of Star Trek, from the movies, the TV shows, the spinoffs, even the original pilots and animated series. The idea appealed to me as a Star Trek geek and also as a designer interested in seeing all of these creative incarnations assembled together into one place. Plus, I'd have the fun of rendering them as accurately as possible based on finding the best photo reference for each one.
I spent many hours going through my Star Trek DVDs, Blu-rays and books. It really became an obsession. I scoured the Internet for stills to also use as reference and visited websites like Memory Alpha to see what they identified as Starfleet insignia to make sure I considered everything.
My only criteria was that I'd just include variations of the original 1960's arrowhead patch, or delta shield as fans have also called it. And as the logo started appearing on hats and belt buckles in the movies, I limited it to just when it was worn over the left breast on uniforms, to keep this infographic focused and consistent. The only indulgence you'll find on it is when I included images of the various designs of the starship Enterprise associated with each insignia. The evolution of the design of each starship named Enterprise is pretty fascinating as well, especially regarding the little aesthetic details found on the original 1960's television model.
For logos like the dagger-based Mirror universe one or the starship-based patches worn on Scott Bakula's Enterprise series, they're not here because they didn't include the arrowhead motif. Maybe they'll turn up in a future infographic if I decide to do another one.
Originally I planned to get this done by last Tuesday to post on the day Star Trek Into Darkness came out on Blu. But I didn't get it finished, and I'm glad I didn't. Watching the new film I found a lot more and clearer reference that I didn't have before. So this infographic ended up becoming as comprehensive a collection of that insignia as possible, right down to this last movie.
So, I'll stop talking now and just share it already! It's posted below. Click on it to go to my deviantART page. On that page, click the art there to blow it up and see it larger.
As I pat myself on the back for this, let the nitpicking - and God forbid, citing mistakes - begin!
This holiday season, I had plans to enjoy three versions of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. For some, three might be enough. But this year, my interest in "A Christmas Carol" was piqued (not "peaked"), and I found myself wanting to explore more than these three versions, others that I either hadn't checked out before or wanted to revisit again. Here's how my journey through two, three, four and more "Christmas Carol"s turned out.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The first one I saw this year was this one. I've seen this only a few times before, but I've played my CD of the soundtrack over and over for years! This happens to be the first time I've owned a copy this movie. And it's on VHS!! I know, crazy, huh?
We had it at a yard sale my friends and I held to raise money for our Relay for Life team, and it was among the items that didn't sell. Originally, I had planned to buy the new Blu-ray version of it, but with it missing the "When Love Is Gone" scene, I dragged my feet on getting it. Ultimately, this VHS - which includes the scene (albeit in pan and scan format) - ended up with me. I know I speak for many fans of the film when I say how impressed I am by how much it uses the dialogue of the original story and retains much of its same tone while being told by The Muppets.
Disney's A Christmas Carol
I passed on watching this when it was in theatres three years ago because I got tired of Jim Carrey mugging and bugging his eyes out so damn much in his films. It was fine when he started out, but it got to be his schtick, altho' friends tell me I need to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so there's that. But the reviews claimed he reined in his usual-ness in this film, so when it came out on Blu-ray, I took a chance. And I was overwhelmingly impressed! I now have to watch this every year with my family at Christmastime who enjoy it too.
A Christmas Carol performed by Patrick Stewart
I'm a Star Trek fan. I got started watching the reruns of classic Trek, then got hooked on TNG after it debuted. That was around the time when I happened to start taking acting classes. And watching the show, even then I recognized how much Patrick Stewart forced the rest of the cast to bring their level of acting up to his level. Midway through his run on TNG, Stewart produced and performed his one-man show of "A Christmas Carol". A CD of it quickly became part of my CD library and I have loved playing it every year ever since. I finally got to see his show at the Doolittle Theatre in 1996, and I remember how cool it was that he'd changed the personality of Scrooge from the one I'd heard all the years before on CD to a low-key, sharp businessman, like one of those single-minded sharks you'd imagine swimming on Wall Street! It was a refreshing surprise and I often wished he'd record a follow-up CD performing that personality of Scrooge on it.
To listen to an excerpt from the CD, a lengthy clip is posted by Simon & Schuster on SoundCloud.
Dickens' words...my brushwork, on the TTC set
So there are the three "A Christmas Carol"s I had planned to enjoy this season. But I also got to watch a stage version of the story told by several actors each performing many different roles of the story at my local theatre, Torrance Theatre Company. It was great and reminded me of another condensed-cast-adaptation of the novel I'd done in Poway many years before.
Now, you'd think I'd gotten my fill of Dickens and Scrooge by now. But I also started reading the original short story too, something I hadn't done before. If you haven't either, I suggest you do. I knew it would be so, but it's still amazing to realize how much of Dickens' words are familiar to you as every adaptation has pulled their dialogue verbatim from his story. As I write this, I still haven't finished it yet. Unless the words are broken up with a lot of illustrated, colored panel art in between, I'm a very slow reader.
And speaking of panel art, I did finish "Batman: Noel", a graphic novel I'd gotten for Christmas last year. It's a book I wanted because of the beautiful, detailed artwork by Leo Bermejo. And "Surprise!" it's another adaptation of Charles Dickens' book, and a good one too that has the messages delivered by the three spirits in the original book represented by three familiar characters Batman runs into while patrolling Gotham City on Christmas Eve.
So two movies, on audio retelling and one and a half books later, you'd think that might be enough. But I still had that itch to look up other versions of the story. I went online and was delighted to find two full-length versions available to watch. And I also remembered I own another one that I've never seen. I only watched about twenty or thirty minutes of each the two online movies, but it only took that long to see the entirety of the other one that I owned.
A Christmas Carol (1999)
I tried to watch Patrick Stewart's TNT movie adaptation once before and couldn't get through it. This year, I still can't. To begin with, it's so dull to me right from the start. His performance on the CDs are so enthusiastic, I guess I miss that in the film. I recognize he's working with a script that includes many wonderful ideas that bring more insight into the situations and main characters, but those ideas just didn't play out well for me when acted out. He's also too much Patrick Stewart in the role if that makes sense; he's ultimately too darn charming.
It was a nice surprise to find the first sound version of "A Christmas Carol" on film available on YouTube. Taking into account the time it was filmed, I found the performances rather genuine and refreshingly less formulaic than what we've all grown up seeing of the main characters in more popular adaptations. Seeing only half an hour of it, I look forward to making time to watch the rest of it. And from what I've learned about the film, we should all be grateful that it's the full-length version that's available on YouTube (embedded below) and not the abridged 60-minute US version that's out on recent DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases.
Mickey's Christmas Carol
I own several titles of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. They were those 30 different titles that arrived every fall between 2001 and 2009 in distinctive silver or black tin cases holding a two-disc DVD set inside. I've watched some of them like Disneyland USA, On the Front Lines, and Tomorrowland, but others like Silly Symphonies, Disney Rarities, and Mickey Mouse in Black and White I bought mainly to hang onto for future reference, especially for my design work. Then I remembered one of my Mickey Mouse in Living Color sets includes "Mickey's Christmas Carol"! I pulled it out to watch, all 25 minutes of it. It's cute and very entertaining!
So that's all the ones I've seen this year. It was fun to discover the adaptations that were new to me. And there are still a few more that came to mind that I wanted to see. One was Albert Finney's "Scrooge" which I saw when I was a kid, but all I can remember about it is the catchy tune "Thank You Very Much". Another was George C. Scott's "Scrooge". And finally there's that Alastair Sim one of "A Christmas Carol" which I can't remember if I've ever really seen. So these'll be high on my list to try and catch next Christmas season.
That is, if that itch doesn't come back and I decide to watch 'em before then!
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!