I’ve just read Michael Piller‘s unpublished manuscript Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft – The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection … and it’s awesome.

Seriously, if you haven’t read it, you really need to track down a copy. Oh look, there’s one there.

It’s a really candid and in-depth account of what it’s like to spend two years writing a film which turns out to be merely adequate. Some people loved the film, some people didn’t. Some say it’s just an extended TV episode, others say it’s a victim of the curse of the odd numbered Trek films.

That last bunch can, of course, fuck right off. Odd-numbered curse my withered arse-muffin.

Whatever your view on Star Trek: Insurrection, this account shows you how much work goes into every film and (hopefully) allows you to understand why vitriolic statements can be needlessly hurtful and upsetting. #

There’s no apology for the way the film turned out, neither is there any finger pointing or real opinion on the finished product. It’s just a study of how a film goes from idea to screen via the minds of everyone involved. Along the way it illustrates how an initial idea can be subtly altered by the wishes of the producer/director/cast/heads of department/budget without anyone actually behaving stupidly or with anything less than the best interests of the picture at heart.

The lesson it drove home for me is one I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while – trust your instincts.

Unless your instincts tell you the first draft is a flawless work of art; in which case, take your instincts outside and give them a damn good kicking for they are stoopid.

The instinct I think you should always listen to is this:


All too often I’ve fretted over a scene or sequence in a script during a restless night. In the morning, I re-read the script from the beginning and convinced myself the problem isn’t a problem in context.

But it is. If you think it needs work, it does.

I’ve even handed a script in saying I didn’t think it was right and was a rough interim draft … only to be told it was perfect and a work of genius. Obviously, you don’t argue with that kind of opinion; but you should.

If you think it needs work, it does.

On that occasion, the other producers got hold of the script, (rightly) tore it to shreds and hired someone else.

Don’t listen to other people (unless you really, really trust them), don’t let you talk yourself out of it because it seems like a lot of work. Seriously, if you think it needs work, it does.

Tattoo that on your face.

Then get a couple of mirrors set up over your desk so you can read it.

The vague feeling it isn’t working is a warning sign – don’t look for reasons why that instinct might be wrong, look for ways to change the script. Even when no one else on the production thinks it’s a problem – it is.

Unless it isn’t. In which case, don’t bother; but do bother to read Michael Piller’s manuscript – it’s a fantastic read and highlights exactly how much of a dude Patrick Stewart is.

In fact, the only time you shouldn’t listen to your instincts is when Patrick Stewart tells you you’re wrong. Tattoo that on your face:


Except, you know, when he isn’t.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Instincts

  1. John Fox

    After reading this post, I downloaded Fade In. You’re right. I read it on one sitting and it is indeed awesome! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Pingback: 2011 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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