A few days ago I managed to catch up with another Star Trek / Paramount Pictures employee, Eric Stillwell. My meeting Eric on the internet was initiated by my recent interest in the life and work of Michael Piller. Piller was the head writer on Star Trek TNG from the 3rd season, co-created both Deep Space Nine and Voyager and then went on to write the 9th Star Trek film Star Trek Insurrection. Eric Stillwell was fortunate enough to work with Michael for many years and last night I found myself talking with him over instant message. The conversation graduated to telephone after two hours and for the remainder of my day, approx 5 hours Eric and I spoke about Star Trek while I periodically filled in answers to the questions I had quickly thrown together for an impromptu interview.
My conversation with Eric Stillwell was a very productive one a few major things are going to be taking place because of our discussion. I am keeping the information about what is going to happen close to my vest at the moment but I will say that I have asked Eric to guest write here on SebRT.com in the near future. The following is the interview, which in reality was massive and if I had written everything Eric and I talked about it would be about 25 pages.
SebRT.com Welcomes Eric Stillwell, Star Trek TNG Script Coordinator and the Assistant to the late Michael Piller.
You worked for Star Trek like a lot of SebRT guests. What exactly did you do?
I started off as the production assistant on Star Trek The Next Generation in ‘87 and I did that for two years. Then I was promoted to script coordinator and worked on TNG until ‘93. After I finished with Star Trek the TV show I went to produce Star Trek conventions and in 1996 I returned to Paramount Pictures and worked for Michael Piller. At that time he was Executive Producer on Star Trek Voyager and I spent time as a production associate and his assistant. He stepped down and left the studio in 1999 to work on other projects and I went with him (as vice-president of Operations for Piller Squared) to do that. He created the Dead Zone TV series and I was an associate producer on that and then he and his son created Wildfire and I was an associate producer on that. As the vice president of operations for Piller Squared I was in charge of a lot of aspects of the company.
I read you are a genuine Trekkie yourself, if I wanted vaporize my neighbor’s dog, what setting would I set this phaser to?
[laughs]I don’t have to know all that stuff to be a Trekkie!! But if you do that you have to go have a meeting with Counsellor Troi.
You worked with the late and great, Michael Piller. In the past I have published how I would like to have known him. What was he like?
Michael was a complicated personality. It took me a long time to get to know him genuinely. On the outside sometimes he can seem abrupt and I don’t want to sound like I am saying he was terrible. He hated cocktail parties…it was easier for him to have a discussion with a potted plant. He was actually quite charming in person. It was all in his writings. Michael could write a scene that could be completely innocuous, but underneath it was about the humanity of things. If you watch the Best of Both Worlds, the personal problems of Riker being offered his own command are taken from Michael’s own life experiences of the time. He knew that the humanity was important, and the characters even though he technical stuff in Star Trek is important.
It seems like you and I might have met when I was 7 years old in my home town of South Bend, Indiana at a trek convention. What was your involvement with the conventions?
At that time frame I did some conventions in South Bend. I was the MC of the event and introduce all the guests and handle all the celebrity appearances and handle all that stuff so it very likely.
What are your thoughts about the upcoming “prequel” of Star Trek TOS in the form of Star Trek XI?
I think prequels are a questionable approach to doing Star Trek because I don’t even think it was a viable option for Enterprise regardless of how good the production was. I think JJ Abrams is terrific.
Your work after you left Star Trek has been very successful and you even have your name on a Star Trek novel – Do you have any more plans to work with anything Star Trek related?
I don’t have plans to but you never know what the future holds. Somehow I think my career path is heading towards politics. Star Trek influences my political views on things and it’s all mixed together in weird ways. The whole 34th rule novel is inspired by George Takei’s life in the internment camp. There’s always possibilities.
Most recently you have been working on Children’s television, how does that compare to working on the biggest television franchise of all time?
For me its like the difference between being a small fish in the big ocean and being a big fish in a small pond. I got to be the head writer and a producer on the Children’s show. I was not just the 47th person down the production list.
What is the work (out of your entire career) that you have found most rewarding and you are most proud of?
Co-Writing Yesterday’s Enterprise was certainly the highlight of my Hollywood career. I did something creative and it got realized in front of my eyes. Getting to work with Whoopie Goldberg was great as well.
Do you have any pieces of Trek in your possession such as a prop or set piece to remember the show by?
Most of the things I received were “crew gifts” including stuff from your friend Dennis Madalone. I have a picture of me with Gene Roddenberry on the bridge set that Gene autographed that is really special to me.
Star Trek Insurrection’s story was not a typical Star Trek story and many felt it was not loyal to what trek had established. 9 years on, what did you think of the story when you were script coordinating on that picture?
The final project was not what Michael originally intended. Patrick Stewart made a lot of changes to the script that fundamentally changed the script as far as I am concerned. Originally the bad guys in the story were Romulans.
What are you working on at the moment? Got any exciting plans to share with SebRT readers and the internet at large?
I’ve been trying to revise my political blogging career because I’m currently unemployed and looking for work. So looking for something in the political realm. I’m going to Italy on vacation for a Star Trek Convention –not running for President.
Thank you very much for your time Eric and you are most welcome to come back sometime!
Thanks, I enjoyed it! (after 5 hours on the phone)
If you would like to ask Eric any of your own questions or contact any of the interviewees here at SebRT.coom you can email “firstname.lastname@example.org”