Fade In by Michael Piller
Cover concept by Lorenzo Princi, 16th July 2013

Fade In

Author: Michael Piller

Reviewed by Lorenzo Princi

A personal and insightful look at the writing process behind the ninth installment of the Star Trek film franchise, Insurrection. Though this book is essentially just a draft and never edited or published, it is easily found online as a PDF. Piller penned a very honest and detailed little tale of the writer's process when working on a big studio movie. It includes early draft synopsis, script re-writes and letters from different parties involved including Patrick Stewart (the lead actor).

The movie itself has gone down as a disappointment to many fans who were anticipating another movie like the previous installment, First Contact. It seemed as though the Next Generation crew finally come into their own in regards to feature films after the passing of the mantle in Generations. However Insurrection ultimately didn't live up to these expectations and most agree the film played out like a “not bad” two-part episode rather than a feature. It re-hashed a lot of themes the show had touched on already and perhaps worse still, also re-used a lot of key plot devices the series used to good effect in the past.

Michael Piller is far from completely at fault, his initial concepts for the screenplay were much more grandiose and would have tied much better into the direction of the Star Trek universe at the time. Furthermore, the extensive budget cuts outlined in the book explain why a lot of the production values are poor, very poor in fact when compared to the previous two installments. Everything looks plastic and a lot of this has to do with the lighting, too bright with many warm colours and Earthy tones; much like the television series and this just doesn't work on the big screen. The worst offenders here are the special effects, they simply don't hold up today.

At times Piller's dialogue is really good and even well delivered by the stellar cast of crew and guests, however these few moments of brilliance and a touching scene where La Forge stares at the sunrise are just lost in the mix and are typical of the bread and butter scenes in The Next Generation series. Ultimately, the movie was trying to tackle serious topics but through a light-hearted action adventure story and it comes across as clunky. Michael Piller wanted for Picard to essentially lose faith in everything he had ever stood for when he decides to turn his back on the federation. It should have been a huge moment in Star Trek but it is watered down here since the bad guys are too bad, the federation doesn't really seem present (or omnipresent). The pacing of the movie, again probably due to the excessive editing for budgeting reasons, is all over the place as light hearted jokes are interrupted by enemy attacks and serious scenes are interrupted by jokes.

As I read Piller's book there is a depressing undertone that is quite tragic, you just know he wasn't happy with the work. He doesn't say as much but it is clear throughout especially as at the beginning he is discusses early ideas and drafts that you can tell he really thought were good but ultimately rejected. Once he is pressured to move in different directions trying to please many different parties, he feels like anyone in a creative job that is simply trying to please the client rather than the customer. The book illustrates well how one thing leads to another and ultimately leads nowhere. Fade In ends up being more of a journey into the “heart of darkness” than what Insurrection was meant to be.

The book is an interesting insight into writing for film and Hollywood studio politics. It demonstrates how things we take for grant work behind the scenes and how decisions get made in the industry. Though I'd recommend it to all Star Trek fans, the book is well worth a read by anyone interested in the movie business and Piller takes great care to explain anything Star Trek related for general readers.