Coming off his recent GalaxyCon event, Star Trek: The Next Generation star and current Star Trek TV shows director Jonathan Frakes talked with TrekMovie about a wide range of topics. We began by discussing his work directing on the third season of Star Trek: Discovery, which premieres on October 15. We will post more of the interview as the week goes on.
So, let’s talk first about the next thing coming, which is Star Trek: Discovery season three. As I understand, you did three episodes.
Yes, I did. I actually just rewatched 303 a couple of days ago. Season three is really wonderful on Discovery, by the way. So the first episode is Michael Burnham alone in Iceland [for location shoot], which is a foreign land. And she meets “Book” [David Ajala]. The second episode is the entire crew on Discovery. And the third episode, which is the one I was fortunate enough to get, is their reunion. And it is very heavy on the emo.
On the emotion? So, lots of hugging?
Emotion, yes. There is a lot of hugging.
Which means a lot of coverage for the camera. Right?
Yeah… but it worked. Between the hugging and the music, it’s wonderful. I love Discovery! Those guys remind me of the Next Gen cast.
Can you talk through how you approach shooting Discovery?
The style of the show is… Tunde [Osunsanmi], Alex [Kurtzman], myself, Doug [Aarniokoski], and all the directors are encouraged to ‘shoot to thrill.’ You are never discouraged to try something and it’s a wonderfully competitive shooting atmosphere. Tunde and I particularly love to create long oners—fabulous, intricate, complicated. And he’s a masterful shooter. Then you still have to get coverage because when you get in the editing room, producers and others are going to want close-ups on things that they feel they need, which is always the case with television. And they spare no expense. If you have a legitimate plan, they will get you the toys that it takes to carry that plan out. It’s a very filmmaker-friendly television show. It’s great to work on.
Did this style at all change in season three, with the new setting? I joked with Tunde before the season started about how he maybe goes a little too crazy with the spinning camera and the Dutch angles. So are you guys ramping all that up or down in season three?
It’s still there. But it’s been toned down. (laughs)
In season two, Alex came in and directed the first episode and kind of reestablished a look and a new style. In fact, he literally changed to an anamorphic format. So you had to study that episode to do your season two episodes, right?
Exactly. I was actually prepping [Episode 202 “New Eden”] while Alex was shooting. So I visited him and saw it on the set and saw what was happening, how the boss wanted to do a new show. And it was beautiful! It made the bridge of the Discovery set even more powerful, because it was built for an anamorphic lens.
So this time you shot the third episode of season three. Was there a need to study how the first two were shot to fit with a new style?
Tunde shot the first two in Iceland with Glen Keenan as his DP. Originally, I was going to do episode two and we were going to split it. But because it was Iceland in both, they took one and two and then I came in and did three.
And did those first two episodes inform how you were shooting episode three?
No. What Tunde was doing with episode one was a brand new world. It’s a two-character movie with Sonequa and David, and nothing on the ship. And then episode two was on the ship with the characters we know. But, it was more tonally different than it was cinematically different.
Season three introduces us to some new characters and new actors. The biggest one would be Book; can you talk about what it’s like working with David?
David fell into it so easily and he’s very user-friendly and there’s great chemistry between he and Sonequa. He’s got a wonderful on-set demeanor. He’s funny. He’s physical. He’s prepared. He’s gorgeous. He’s powerful. He works hard, he’s got a great heart. He’s a movie star, even with that damn cat on his ship, which is our least favorite new actor.
I think that the stars that they’ve cast as season-long guest stars, they’ve just batted 1000. With Jason [Isaacs in season one] and Anson [Mount in season two]. And now David. It’s really impressive.
And what about Blu [del Barrio as Adira] and Ian [Alexander as Gray]?
I’ve not worked with Ian, but I did with Blu. If you talk to Anthony Rapp (Stamets), he and I experienced their first scenes together and we shared a number of eyebrow-raising looks. Anthony was shadowing me as a director and obviously, he was also in the scenes with Blu. There is a calmness, that they have for not having ever been on a television soundstage before, that really surprised us.
Blu is so well cast that as the character reveals themself, I think they’ll be a new favorite. Much like Tilly—do you remember how offbeat and non-Star Trek Tilly felt in the beginning? Blu brings a different dynamic and a different color totally, but a brand new color to the palette of the group. Much in the way Tig [Notaro] did. Tig brings an entirely different tone, color, rhythm, music to her character. Jett Reno is completely different from anyone else on the show. And Blu does the same.
I hear Tig was ribbing you pretending she didn’t know who you were… what’s it like directing her? Especially because she openly says she hates the technobabble. Is it a challenge or is it easy directing her?
Both. [laughs] Fortunately, Tig doesn’t pretend to want to do any kind of method acting or traditional style of acting. But what Tig has and what Alex had the clarity to realize, I guess they are personal friends, I’m not sure. But the addition of Tig to the show created another shade in the palette of that fantastic Discovery crew. A day with Tig is unlike a day with anyone else. [laughs]
I believe they have known each other for years and Reno was a character specifically written for Tig. It’s a little like how Guinan was written for Whoopi [Goldberg]. So they created a character around the actor they knew they wanted.
Yeah, I forgot that—I was told the same thing. And they wrote to her so that the lines would feel like they were part of Tig’s sort of comedy routine, essentially.
More to come with #FrakesWeek
The fun and lengthy interview also covered Star Trek: Picard, Short Treks, Strange New Worlds, the state of the film franchise, and even some of his least favorite episodes of The Next Generation. So stay tuned all week as we share our conversation with the “Number One” Star Trek legend.
Keep up with Star Trek: Discovery news and analysis at TrekMovie.com.