Spring 1999

UNC-CH Development

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Piller's gift encourages Southern voices

Michael Piller '70 wears his trademark Carolina headgear on the set of "Star Trek: Insurrection."

A screen-
writer who wants to help students become good storytellers has pledged $500,000 to help launch a nationally distinctive screenwriting program at Carolina.
"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 Next Generation.

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

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