“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I learned about this unpublished manuscript after watching an interview with Piller’s wife Sandra.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.
I turned 50 today. And I decided to embrace it boldly and proudly. Taking the same route as my Christmas card art, I created this banner using selected moments, memories and achievements from my life to spell out my message graphically.
This was a last minute project I thunk up for myself too. The notion to do this only hit me yesterday morning. I brainstormed words and letters for about fifteen minutes, then went about my day as thoughts and notions ruminated in my brain. I got to work with the actual graphic designing at 8:30p last night. As I'd hoped, I finished it just before midnight, as yesterday transitioned into my birthday.
This morning, I spent a few hours to compose and write this blog. Figured you'd wanna know where each letter comes from. So here you go. Enjoy the read!
F is from Super Friends
One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons growing up.
I is from The Tick
The first kid's meal toy program I worked on from start to finish was for a comic book super hero that I'd never even heard of before. The Balancing Tick (at left) and Charles the Brainchild toy (concept sketch below and photo of the produced piece here) were the first toys I ever designed. Check out my portfolio page to find my original concept sketches of The Tick toy.
F is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This is but one of many geek shows I loved watching. Others were The X-Files, Xena: Warrior Princess, Firefly & Serenity and most anything with "Star Trek" in the title.
T is from Batman
I loved this show as a kid! Batman is my favorite comic book hero to this day.
Y is from Barry Manilow
Yes, I am a Fanilow. And darn proud of it.
Back in the day, there was this thing called the Columbia Record Club where you could get like 6 records for a penny. This two-LP set was one of the ones I ordered.
Y is from Disneyland
That's no surprise, right?
I have hundreds of photos I've taken at various Disney events and parks posted on Flickr, including the one below from my experience joining hundreds of thousands of Disney fans at three in the morning to celebrate Disneyland 50th birthday. Click it to check out the entire gallery.
E is from Huey Lewis and The News
My favorite rock band, the voice of my college-age self.
A is formed by the Starfleet Uniform pin from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Like I mentioned before, I've been a Star Trek fan since the original series. The art I used for the "a" is a graphic I rendered myself, first for a tee-shirt design and then an infographic I created this past year that's posted over at this site.
R is from Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition
I designed Star Wars kid's meal toys. And for that, I was forced to take many business trips to a place called Skywalker Ranch. Ho hum..
Below is a Taco Bell promotional header card showing the toys in the promotion, shamelessly pointing out the ones I concepted in the series. You can see some of my concept art on my portfolio page.
S is from San Diego State University
That's where I went took the five-year plan to earn my degree. This was the logo they were using oh those many moons ago.
O is from San Diego Comic-Con International
The first time I went to Comic-Con, Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman, was there to help ease fans' fears about Michael Keaton being cast as Batman. Comic-Con then was nothing like the monster it is now.
Visit Flickr to see my pix from my visits to Comic-Con and WonderCon over the past few years.
L is from the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games
At the first company that hired me after graduating college, I got to build and manage a staff to design and develop lapel pins and collector's pin sets for the Olympic Games sponsors and retailers when Atlanta hosted the games. All that experience working personally with the licensing office in Atlanta, as well as with licensing offices on other sports licenses, groomed me well for my eventual work designing products for licensed entertainment properties like The Tick and Star Wars.
D is from DC Comics
This is the 1970's version of the logo that I saw on the covers of the comic books I read and collected back in the day. I still read comic books today which, since I have freelance work for clients including Sideshow Collectibles, doubles professionally as "research"!
Below is the first of many other projects I've worked on at Sideshow this past year, including some DC Comics characters, that should all finally see the light of day beginning in 2014.
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!
Yesterday, Paramount formally released cover art for the home video releases of Star Trek Into Darkness combo packs. I later found artwork for the DVD cover as well, and I was struck by the fact that all three have entirely different cover designs, with none of them using any of the previously release movie posters.
Weeks before yesterday, those of us who skulk around the interwebs already knew about alternate editions available at two U.S. retailers. Walmart has a listing for an limited edition SteelBook case paired with a toy replica of the U.S.S. Vengeance, produced by Hot Wheels, and Amazon listed their exclusive 3D combo gift set that includes a high-quality replica of a Phaser weapon. Offering retailer exclusives such aren't uncommon. They're incentives hoping to lure consumers to purchase their copy from one retailers and maybe buy some other stuff while they're shopping. The same thing happened with the home video releases of the 2009 Star Trek film. Below are three of them.
If you must know, 2009's Star Trek Blu-ray is the first time I've given in to owning two versions of the same film. I picked up both the Target Enterprise case and Best Buy version to get all the metal pins. I couldn't help it. I'm a Star Trek nut!
Hunting further online, I found some more alternate editions of Star Trek Into Darkness home video releases included a few available overseas. Following is a gallery of what I've found so far. Enjoy checking these out. Fortunately for what I've found so far, I think I'll survive getting only one copy of Into Darkness this time.
Unless Best Buy, which hasn't revealed anything yet, comes up with something pretty compelling...
EXCLUSIVE EDITIONS - U.S.
EXCLUSIVE EDITIONS - INTERNATIONAL
And if you have no idea what a SteelBook is, check out one of my earlier blogs where I chatted them up!
Two weeks ago, it was announced that Disney will acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. I learned about the news when I heard my ABC7 iPhone app ping the headline. My immediate reaction was excitement, and then I went straight to the internet to learn what the exact details of the purchase was. I quickly discovered the two videos below featuring the two men at the core of the announcement. They pretty much said in the videos all I wanted to know about what led to this amazing announcement.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi.
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise.
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
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!