Jonathan Frakes Shares a Story of When He Made a Cardinal Mistake as a Director on STAR TREK

Many fans of Star Trek will know the name Jonathan Frakes. He was Commander William T. Riker and Captain Jean Luc Picard’s “Number One.” Frakes also directed some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager as well as my personal favorite Star Trek film Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. He will also be directing two episodes for Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. Needless to say, he’s worked a lot on Star Trek. While he’s considered a great director, he’s not perfect.

In a recent interview with the official Star Trek website, he revealed one time he made a mistake that he definitely learned from.

And I got other interesting stories. “Reunion” was the wonderful Worf-centric show with him and his kid. “The Drumhead,” I had Jean Simmons, who was there because she was an enormous Trekkie. “Cause and Effect,” I thought Braga was taking the piss out of me when he set the script down and each act was the same thing. That turned out to be like a directing test, or directing puzzle, or directing challenge, which I really enjoyed. I also did “Sub Rosa,” that wild, sort of off-canon show with Gates and Duncan Regehr as Ronin, with the candle and ghost. I made a cardinal mistake on “The Drumhead” as a director, which I’ll share with you.

Michael Dorn had somewhere he had to go, so he whispered in my ear, “Is there any way that you could shoot me out of this scene? I said, “Sure,” because I thought I could get my coverage. It’s an unwritten rule that you never let anybody who’s in a scene go before you have moved on to the next scene, literally. Even if they’re on the other side of the room, anything, you literally are not supposed to let any actors go until that scene is completed. And I, of course, thought, “I know how to do this. I’ll shoot Dorn’s coverage, and everything will be fine.” And it’s not like you had an actor who you could just call back in and say, “Come back in,” because this was Turtle Head, and that was 2 1/2 hours in makeup.

Dorn is long gone, and we’re doing a piece of coverage, and where Dorn was standing it couldn’t be clearer that we would see him. Not only see him, we’d see his face. So, the clever and talented Marvin Rush, who I’m now working with on The Orville, I told him the story. I said, “I screwed up. I let Dorn go.” He said, “OK, I got this.” We kicked it around, and he got the piece of coverage. I think it was of Jean, actually. Simmons was talking, and we managed to move the camera in a way where we pushed in, dropped down, got a piece of somebody in Dorn’s costume, and then came back up on the next person. Then we pulled back out, and we thought we felt Dorn in the shot, but we never had to see his face. Marvin Rush bailed me out, and I’ve never released an actor until a scene was done since then.

Frakes is a wonderful actor and his directing skills are fantastic, too. I’m glad he’s able to use his failures as a learning opportunity. In addition to Star Trek, Frakes is working on directing an episode for season 2 of The Orville.

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