Piller Talks ScreenwritingBy Caillan
June 28, 2002 - 4:25 PM
Having worked as a writer in Hollywood for over twenty years, Michael Piller knows the ins and outs of the show business world. In a recent online chat, the Emmy-nominated writer-producer talked about how he got his big break, and dispensed some advice to budding screenwriters.
"I was working as a censor at CBS television in Hollywood, and I saw writing screenplays as a way to move ahead with my career," Piller told fans at StarTrek.com. "I used the opportunity at CBS to meet a lot of people in the business, people who would be able to read and hopefully hire me as a writer someday. It took me three or four years before I really started writing professional quality screenplays. But finally the producers of Simon and Simon and Cagney and Lacey agreed to give me my first writing assignment, and so I left CBS."
Eventually Piller ended up writing the Next Generation episode 'Evolution' as a freelancer. "It was received with a great deal of enthusiasm at a time where there were a lot of problems between Gene and the writing staff of Next Generation," he recalled. "They needed someone new to run the staff and they asked me. I have been a certain kind of sci-fi fan ever since I was dedicated to the original broadcasts of the Twilight Zone in my youth. Now you know how old I am."
One chat attendee praised Piller's attention to characterisation in his Miami Vice episode, called 'Child's Play.' "I always come from a character motivation when I think about just about any story," he replied. "I think if you look at the work that I've done on any series, I usually try to explore some facets of the leading characters' personalities."
Piller said he's constantly shaping stories and coming up with ideas even when he's not really writing. "I often get up around 4 o'clock in the morning and go into our den, and work until about 10, after which I can spend the day doing other important things like having meetings. However, as you may know as a writer, we never really stop writing. I will often get my best ideas waking up in the middle of the night or in the shower."
But what should one do when the dreaded writer's block strikes? "I think writer's block is a very complex issue," he said. "I once took a course at UCLA, when I was a new writer, in writer's block. And it turned out that I had less writer's block than anyone else in the class, so they kept coming to me for advice. I think fear comes with judgment, and I strongly recommend you not judge your work before you write it, but allow what is inside you to go down on the page. Beyond that, I have always found psychotherapy extremely helpful."
Asked about a possible speculative script submission system for his new series, The Dead Zone, Piller was cautiously optimistic. "At the moment, we have no procedure in place to accept speculative material unless you have an agent. As we did with Star Trek, it is my hope, once we are established, that our studio's legal departments will allow us to look at submitted materials. But we'll have to wait a year on that, which is what we did on Star Trek as well."
The full chat transcript, in which Piller also talked about his hopes for The Dead Zone, can be found here at StarTrek.com.