"Students must learn to write from
the inside, to trust their imagination and life experiences," said Michael Piller
'70, writer of the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection and co-creator of two Star
Trek television series. "Carolina has a great tradition of writing, and the Southern
voice is much needed in Hollywood. I couldn't find a better place for the program."
Piller is co-creator, former executive producer and creative consultant of
the television shows Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
He also was executive producer and head writer of the television series Star Trek: The
An Emmy Award-winning journalist, Piller has spent his career
weaving stories for television and film. He began in broadcasting with CBS News in New
York. Later, he was managing editor of WBTV-TV News in Charlotte and senior news producer
at WBBM-TV, the Chicago CBS affiliate. His writing and producing credits include the hit
series Simon and Simon, Cagney and Lacey and Miami Vice.
Piller's gift to Carolina's Arts and Sciences Foundation will form
the basis of a fund to develop a program based in the communication studies department as
a joint venture with the English department's creative writing program. Communication
studies teaches screenwriting courses now, but Piller's gift begins a quest to establish
the University's first formal program.
Faculty from both departments and professional writers in film,
television and performance art would teach in the program. Bill Balthrop, communications
studies department chair, said Piller's gift, just one example of growing support from
alumni, constitutes the largest gift in department history.
"Telling the story well is at the heart of great film,
television and live performance," Balthrop said. "Piller's contribution will
make it possible for students at Carolina to benefit from the insight, skill, experiences
and creativity of outstanding writers."
Although Piller doesn't make it back to Chapel Hill as much as he'd
like, he still is an ardent fan and promotes Carolina every chance he gets - even wearing
a Carolina cap on the set. When he gets overly stressed, he said, he dreams of Chapel Hill
and Carolina: "It's just such a warm and nurturing environment."
"I was profoundly affected by the environment at
Carolina," Piller said. "It was a life-shaping experience for me. When I was
here in the '60s, I had the experience of being introduced to an extraordinarily wide
section of people, many of whom have shown up in my work in alien disguise."
Piller received a bachelor's degree in radio, television and motion
pictures. Part of that department merged in 1993 with speech communications to form the
communication studies department. Piller serves on the department's advisory board.
Marianne Gingher, the creative writing program director, called
creation of the new screenwriting program "a golden opportunity."
"The creative writing program is always looking for ways to
increase opportunities for our students to take as many writing-intensive courses as they
possibly can," she said. "Michael Piller's generosity will help enhance and
expand our efforts with those of communication studies."
by Sally H. Jones '99