Michael Piller 1994 Documentary
I’ve long been fascinated with Michael Piller, the writer/producer who came aboard a floundering Star Trek: The Next Generation in the third season and drastically improved its quality—turning it into the beloved show it is today, and enabling its spin-off movies and sequel series.
Piller died in 2005 from cancer—he was only 57. I never met him, but I was always fascinated by him because for years I read the year-end Cinefantastique articles and making-of books about the show (usually by Mark Altman) where he was one of the central “characters.”
Also, Piller wrote an unusually candid and insightful book about the making of Star Trek: Insurrection, for which he wrote the screenplay. The book was suppressed by Paramount at the time of the film (for not being positive enough—Piller was honest to a fault), later leaked to fans and ultimately published by Piller’s widow, Sandra. I absolutely recommend it.
And lest I forget, I can credit Piller for my interest in screenwriting. He set up the open-submission script policy at Star Trek, a rarity in television, which led to 16-year-old me learning the format and submitting terrible Star Trek spec scripts.
So imagine my delight to discover online the above 1994 half-hour documentary about Piller by Paul Rosa. It’s like watching a videotape version of some of those CFQ issues, with Piller, Jeri Taylor, and baby-faced Ron Moore and Brannon Braga interviewed at their offices at Paramount.
I always had an impression of Piller as a thoughtful, humane person and that’s reinforced here. It’s lovely spending time with him in this interview—and more than a little sad to think he’s not still with us. It’s also delightfully embellished with photos and vintage media (Piller’s college radio show) and it’s lovely hearing him reflect upon all of it.
“The consequences of violence are rarely shown on television. We are constantly questioning the violent acts to make sure they’re necessary, and I just think we do our very best to make sure that what we do include is integral to either the character development or the message of the show or the storytelling.”