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Eric Stillwell Talks STAR TREK: The Next Generation

Eric Stillwell Interview


Megan Zappa

In 1987, Eric landed the job of Production Assistant on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He spent the next two years running errands for producers, directors, writers, actors and various studio personnel involved with the hit TV series. In 1989, Eric was promoted to Script Coordinator for the series, working under Executive Producer Michael Piller to coordinate the typing, proofreading, printing and distribution of Next Generation teleplays and script revisions.

In 1989, Eric teamed up to co-write the story for Yesterday's Enterprise, a third season episode which featured the return of Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby). The episode was nominated for three coveted Emmy Awards and won in the category for Technical Achievement in Sound Mixing Yesterday's Enterprise has also been voted by the readers of Starlog Magazine as the most popular episode of the series (1993); ranked as the single most popular one-hour installment of the series in a nationwide viewer's choice marathon (1994); was chosen by the readers of TV Guide as one of the top five all-time Star Trek episodes (1996); and was chosen by viewers in the U.K. as the number one Star Trek episode of all time (1996). The California Lottery even featured the Enterprise-C from the episode on one of six Star Trek scratch-and-win lottery tickets in 1996.

While serving as Script Coordinator on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Eric was elected President of the Paramount Office Employees Association in 1991 and negotiated the most successful 3-year contract in the history of the union. With the help of a federal mediator, Paramount was forced to concede on a key issue: Paid sick days were granted to Paramount's clerical staff for the first time in the 48-year history of the union.

During the series hiatus in 1991, Eric also worked as an "extra" on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, playing one of the numerous background Klingons in the trial scene of Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy. In 1992, accepting an opportunity to travel regularly, Eric left the studio and became a full time convention organizer and emcee while continuing to write in a freelance capacity. In 1994, he teamed up with David R. George to write the first season Star Trek: Voyager story entitled Prime Factors. The episode was nominated for "Best Dramatic Hour" by the Sci-Fi Universe Awards in 1995.

In 1994, Eric founded Horizon Conventions, Inc., a California corporation. In its first nine months of operation, the company raised over $10,000 for various charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 1995, Eric co-produced the biggest convention ever staged for Star Trek fans. The event, held at the prestigeous Royal Albert Hall in London, England, sold out 10,000 tickets two months before the show! The live event featured the entire principal cast of The Next Generation and producer Rick Berman, and coincided with the London charity premiere of Star Trek: Generations at the Empire Theatre, contributing to the fanfare and publicity resulting in Paramount Picture's biggest-ever U.K. film opening!

Through his convention work, Eric met his wonderful bride, Debra Holdbrook, in 1994, and the two were married on July 13, 1996.

Also in 1996, Eric returned to work at Paramount where he's currently employed by writer/producer Michael Piller (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Star Trek IX). As Piller's assistant, Eric also functions as Script Coordinator for the ninth installment in the enormously successful Star Trek franchise!

In 1998, Eric was an off-camera "typing" extra for a scene in the Deep Space Nine episode Far Beyond the Stars, directed by Avery Brooks. Eric also shares a story credit on The 34th Rule, a DS9 novel written by David R. George & Armin Shimerman, due in bookstores Christmas 1998.

StoryCrafting- Eric, what draws you to writing Science Fiction as apposed to another genre?

Eric- I've been a Star Trek fan for 26 years. Professionally, I've worked for Star Trek for 11 years. I love good human drama and that's something that Star Trek is generally good at. Science Fiction lets you tell stories about the human condition while stretching the imagination at the same time.

Are there limits to what a writer can create on paper, and what can be presented on the movie screen?

There is no limit to what can be imagined on paper. Only limited budgets prevent the ultra-fantastic from reaching the screen. But if you've got money, you do almost almost anything. Look at "Titanic," for example.

How has computer animation and special effects helped storytelling for screenwriters?

I'm not sure that the writer's vision has ever been limited by budget or technical ability, at least in the first draft! The fullfilment and fuition of that vision may be limited eventually by expense or ability, but modern technology has opened the floodgates in those areas. Certainly computer animation and visual effects techniques have made it easier and cheaper to bring fantastic things to life -- allowing writers to do things, especially in television, that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

What, if any, are the negatives to special effects? It seems people now tend to go to certain movies for "special effects" and not good stories?

It's not the visual effects which are negative -- it's the studios and producers who forget that telling stories about people -- the human condition -- is what makes great storytelling. Visual effects can add greatly to that process (again, "Titanic" is a perfect example). But visual effects alone do not a good movie make.

What advice do you have for sci-fi writers?

I'm certainly in no position to advise established writers, and certainly people have different perspectives on what makes good science fiction. From a Star Trek experience, however, I would suggest that people not forget that the core of the storytelling is always about the human drama and the human condition. Everything else is pointless if you don't have a good people story. And I think that probably holds true in all drama, science fiction and otherwise.

Any closing thoughts?

Be persistent! That's the best advice I ever got.

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