Interview: Jonathan Frakes Ponders The Future Of Star Trek Movies (And If He’s Ready To Return To Direct)

Jonathan Frakes directing

TrekMovie had a lengthy and exclusive chat with Star Trek acting and directing legend Jonathan Frakes. All week long we have been sharing what he has had to say about all aspects of Star Trek on TV, past, and present. The final entry is more of a two-way conversation, where we talk about the current state of the film franchise.

In addition to appearing in the four TNG feature films, Frakes directed two of them—and he is also a fan. We start off talking about the news that Paramount’s new head of motion Pictures Emma Watts is considering three different possible scripts as she considers where to take the franchise next.

Frakes on the movies

I don’t know how much you have been following the trades with regards to Paramount and Star Trek movies, but they have all been sort of put on hold by Paramount’s new head of motion pictures. So let’s say Emma Watts rang you up and said, “Jonathan, you directed two movies, you know the franchise. I got all these scripts. What should I do?” What would you say?

I say greenlight the Tarantino and Noah Hawley, if you are lucky enough to get either of them. And if they are too busy to direct, I’ll be available. [laughs]

What about the Chris Hemsworth one? You’re saying give up on that one? That’s now apparently the front runner again.

Well, that’s probably the one that has the most hope of being made first because there’s already an audience. After  Paramount shut down Star Trek for five years, J.J. [Abrams] relaunched it, and in my taste, very successfully. It captured the zeitgeist again. They spent a lot of f–king money so it was a BIG movie. His first one [Star Trek 2009] in particular was great. I wasn’t crazy about Idris Elba wearing a mask [Star Trek Beyond]. And I love Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan [in Star Trek Into Darkness]. And I love that cast…. So my opinion is that that movie with J.J.’s cast is the one, if I were betting, that would be greenlit.

What do you think?

Yeah, if they can work out the money issues. Maybe Watts has more cash now, maybe Pine is more flexible. Because they want to make it work overseas, which has always been the struggle for Star Trek.

From the very beginning. From the first movie. From the first television show, it still doesn’t work overseas. J.J.’s did better than any of the rest of us. I mean, it plays in England and plays in Germany.

The cast of Star Trek Beyond

But maybe they can still do those two you mentioned, the Hawley and Tarantino movies too. So first they do a big movie by bringing in Hemsworth and they go for the global cash grab.

Right. You would get that with Hemsworth and I think with Pine now.

But then they could also do what Warner and DC have been doing. So you give Tarantino or someone working on that 100 million dollars or maybe even less to make a smaller and maybe weird Star Trek movie.

A prestige movie.

Right. Kind of like Joker. What do you know about the Tarantino pitch?

Nothing. I was under the impression that it was going to be the original cast. And then Patrick [Stewart] led me to believe it might have been developed for the Next Gen guys.

From what I understand, it could involve multiple casts. I don’t think that movie is something that would have to fit with the rest of Star Trek. Like Joker, it can just be its own weird pocket universe of a movie, and still be great. Whereas, the Hawley may be another reboot. It’s a whole new cast.

I’m a huge Fargo fan. So any of those, I think. But do they water down the power that [Alex Kurtzman’s] Secret Hideout has now, with this triumvirate of Strange New Worlds, and Discovery, and Picard?

So that takes us back to that phone call with Watts, do you recommend they should go with a unified Star Trek Cinematic Universe that integrates all those TV shows and the movies, or continue to let them live in their own worlds?

Yeah, that’s a great question to which I’m not sure I have the answer. I think that my interest as a fan would be in what would what kind of movie does Tarantino make. And as a fan of Hawley, what’s that writing going to be like? But as a businessman, I would think you would bet on Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth, wouldn’t you?

Yeah. But I don’t know how far down that road they can go. Eventually, they’ll have to reboot again.

Yeah. I think it’s going to be confusing until you’re successful, when you can bring all of the Avengers together if you will.

It’s funny, you mentioned that. I’ve recently talked to [Robert] Picardo about how there was a little bit of talk after Nemesis about maybe bringing together some of the crews the various shows together for one more TNG-era movie. Did you ever have any conversations about that?

I’ve never heard that rumor. No.

Jonathan Frakes on the set of Star Trek: Insurrection

Check out all of #FrakesWeek

This is the final entry from our week-long event with Jonathan Frakes discussing various aspects of the Star Trek franchise. Check out the previous posts:

Jonathan Frakes On Directing Notaro, del Barrio, Ajala & A Cat In ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3

Jonathan Frakes Talks Directing ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 2; Wants More Riker-Troi Family

Jonathan Frakes On ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’; Hopes To Helm ‘Short Treks’ Musical

Jonathan Frakes On ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ (audio clip included in All Access Star Trek podcast)

Jonathan Frakes On “Sub Rosa” Directing Challenge And Rethinking TNG’s “Code Of Honor”


Keep up with all the exclusive interviews at TrekMovie.com.

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It is to dream. An Avengers-type, post Nemesis movie with a few characters from every Trek?

Anyway, I say let Frakes direct the next one. Just give a good script and $100 million and we will get a fantastic movie.

Frakes was given a bigger budget for Insurrection though so bigger doesn’t mean always better!

especially if the script doesn’t work.

Too bad they did not use Michael Piller’s original story idea with the Romulans for Insurrection. That would have made a much better movie.

An Avengers inspired Star Trek movie sounds fun

Thanks to Trek Movie for a very interesting (and very LONG) interview all week long, and to Mr. Frakes for being so generous with his time!

Last edited 24 days ago by Corylea

i agree with most of that… in that it’s confusing and they all sound good for various reasons but i totally agree about why put idris in a mask… though tng did the same thing with ron perlman… was excited he was in a trek movie then it really could have been anyone under that gigantic rubber mask… i mean i get it the plot involved a reveal that idris was human so he had to not look human to start… but still

perlman always makes things work with make up on, like in ‘hellboy’.

yeah but not in nemesis… not his fault the mask was awful and bulky… and i knew lots of people who worked on that film it did not have the best person in charge… at least idris revealed himself end of beyond to make a point of it that he was human. the makeup and prosthetics on perlman should have been more subtle… he was wasted.

I think TMP did very well overseas. Better than the other TOS movies. Not as much as the later movies, partly because the international market has grown so much since then.

paramount was happy to make money domestically with the OS, TNG movies until films like ‘insurrection’, ‘nemesis”s budgets went up.

For TMP is still the best Trek movie and has more “Star Trek” per square meter than any other.

Frakes directing again?

Pro: Star Trek First Contact
Con: Star Trek Insurrection

Insurrection is not a badly-directed movie. A little bland at the conceptual level with a so-so screenplay; Frakes directed it quite well.

I’m not sure about that. Insurrection looks like a budget tv movie, it’s not cinematic at all unlike First Contact. I’ve been watching all the Babylon 5 tv movies and even they look more cinematic than Insurrection.

I agree with the common “glorified TV episode” moniker (much more so than Generations!) I think Insurrection is the BEYOND of Prime Universe movies in that sense, and more (“invisible” big budget, focus on one boring planet, lackluster villains, forced humour and songs etc). Only it came after the probably most popular Trek movie since TWOK, not the universally derided STID, so the disappointment was even greater. They had the momentum of First Contact and squandered it with the next two movies, which, again, is what happened with the Kelvin movies too!

Last edited 23 days ago by Vulcan Soul

Yep. The movies make me bloody angry how they’ve just been a complete waste of time ever since Insurrection. Like you say the momentum was high after First Contact and then we got the Amish in Space(no offence to any Amish people)

I have ZERO interest in the movie side of things now and I just focus on the TV side which is what Trek is all about and is best suited for IMO.

I think it’s many cooks that spoiled Insurrection (and in that I agree we can’t soly lay blame with Frakes / my initial point rather was that his insight and impact has limits and for every First Contact there will be an Insurrection). Infamously, Stewart himself prevented the Romulans as main villains, laying the groundwork for the horrendous Son’a (” As told in Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft, Patrick Stewart criticized even the thought of using the Romulans in Insurrection”). Arguably, with that he had a greater hand in ruining this movie than his “contribution” to Nemesis, the Argo ride!

Last edited 23 days ago by Vulcan Soul

The Romulans have been boring for a long time now though, so if Stewart wasn’t a fan it is understandable. Clearly he defers to new prestigious blood like John Logan and Michael Chabon when they say, “Oh let’s use the Romulans!” but I can’t imagine they’d have improved Insurrection at all. We’d have gotten some cool ships and Nemesis would have had a different plot. That’s it.

The movie after First Contact really should have been a story to tie-in with DS9, instead of a standalone story that really didn’t look or feel much more ambitious than Time’s Arrow or Descent. A movie about the Enterprise during the Dominion War would have been nice. Something like the short story “Eleven Hours Out” but seriously beefed up.

Completely agree. I get the feeling at the time that TNG should not have mined DS9’s hard work and been separate, but it’s all “one big happy fleet” and DS9 could have used the synergy as it was in its home stretch. They filmed a horrible Quark cameo, why not bring in Jadzia with her husband? Might have saved the Terry Farrell contract negotiations.

And having a war storyline did not mean they had to have Vorta and Jem’Hadar front and center, nor that they had to eschew humor. But a hippie cringey-humored take on Heart of Darkness with forgettable aliens and no teeth or memorable set pieces and characters was just not the way to go. TNG invented the Cardassians, they could have done something really effective with them at least. A proper war-related story could have pushed the crew to its limits and had big action but still let Picard and co show compassion and wisdom. And it would have boosted synergy a la Marvel, perhaps opening the door to a cast mashup in movies to come.

Last edited 23 days ago by Ian

I don’t see FC as terribly cinematic at all, just largely terrible. It took me well over a decade to even be able to watch it straight through, it just seems low-key to the point of unconscious at times, plus the comedy stuff seems pulled through time from the 1950s.

As all over the place awful as GEN was and as flat as INS was, they’re still both more rewatchable by far than FC for me, which is only a little above NEM (then again, I’m not a fan of TNG in any format.)

Low key? That’s a bit bizarre. I find FC one of the swiftest and engaging(particularly
from an audience perspective)Trek films out there. Space zombies, a little walkabout outside, space battles, a historic meeting of an certain alien race… Each to his own I guess.

I think Frakes is on the record saying Insurrection script wasn’t as strong as FC. I suspect after the success of FC the supporting cast asked or more to do in Insurrection and Nemesis. A Paramount suit blamed the cast for having too much input on both scripts.

First Contact is the best Star Trek movie.

Well… it’s the 3rd best after TWOK and TUC.

pro-great script
con-bad script

I much, much prefer Insurrection to First Contact.

That pro list could have about another dozen entries. And Insurrection is not a bad film, unless you just want explosions. It’s like a long TNG episode.

Last edited 20 days ago by ser

Interesting discussion of the global sales issue.

There seem to be some major blindspots at ViacomCBS, particularly Paramount.

They want to be successful internationally, but they really have an old Hollywood studio SoCal bubble mentality coupled with a 1960s American multinational business model. It’s weird, like no one at the top has taken a basic course in international marketing even if they’ve worked abroad.

Costs have driven them to production in the Greater Toronto Area, but they aren’t really harnessing global creatives and talent no matter how much they want to brand themselves on diversity, representation and aspirational content.

ViacomCBS and Paramount won’t survive the Netflix streaming era with that kind of mentality.

They really need to shake things up. Unless Apple or some other studio buys ViacomCBS and Paramount in a few years from now.

International marketing does matter like you said.

Here in the U.S., ViacomCBS has their own struggles to figure out

Last edited 24 days ago by Faze Ninja

Looking back at my post above, I should note that Prodigy looks to be an exception, in that the director is Swiss and trained/working in the UK. He also won an international award for his animated short.

We have to give SH and the new CBS Eye Animation for stretching. Prodigy may be a breakout show for the franchise in terms of international appeal.

It also seems clear that Picard’s high proportion of cast members who speak Spanish, and Rios character, has been used to build market share in Latin America and Mexico.

That said, as long as ViacomCBS has a classic “Coca-Cola marketing” approach of focusing on a product developed for and targeted to the United States market and then just trying to use promotion to sell it to the rest of the world, they will be an imitator and also-ran in the entertainment business.

The United States just isn’t a large enough market to support huge budget productions.

I’m wondering if keeping the “National Amusements” name for the holding company is a sign of a deeper problem that the principal own has with seeing ViacomCBS as a global company.

Well, maybe Netflix will finally start getting penalized for arbitrarily cancelling shows early, and Paramount+ can get brownie points for keeping Star Trek going, divisive as it may be.

Jonathan Frames is on a role lately.

Star Trek movies are in a state of limbo right now. Its future is really grimm and uncertain.

I would like to see a comic book superhero inspired Star Trek movie. An Avengers type Marvel inspired post-Nemesis movie that features every Star Trek character we know so far.

Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars. Warner Bros has DC. Don’t forget about Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others.

ViacomCBS is in a tight spot being surrounded by fierce competition.

Star Trek is the only franchise with broad popularity that they have.

The next Star Trek movie needs to be a runaway success.

Last edited 24 days ago by Faze Ninja

Find out whos available from all Next Gen era shows, stars and support actors, throw in Shatner and maybe characters from Enterprise in a City On The Edge Of Forever adventure with the Guardian the story vehicle. Write the script and get Frakes to direct. Star Trek GOLD! Don’t need $200M tent pole treatment, just a good story and a lot of stars and cameos!

Last edited 23 days ago by KevinA Melbourne Australia

Because Generations (“lots of stars and cameos”) worked out so well.

merely having OS characters bookending the film was not enough.
people wanted to see them mixed up dealing with crisis in the film

Good point Temarc.

It was also almost a generation ago now.

For Trek movies to make serious revenues and be profitable, they will need to appeal to younger audiences and global audiences who have little to no knowledge of Shatner and Nimoy or even 90s Trek stars and characters.

The more stars you want the more money you’ll need. Especially people like Shatner and Stewart won’t come cheap. The TOS and TNG movies don’t only look cheap because they had relatively low budgets but because sometimes more than half of that budget went into actor salaries. People may not be aware of that but (assuming numbers on the internet are correct) Stewart made more money on the TNG movies than any of the Kelvin cast made on their movies, and the TNG movies only had a fraction of the budget of those later movies.
Such an All-Trek mashup may be interesting for core fans but I have doubts it would entice a more general, international audience. So yeah, you definitely wouldn’t want to spend 200 million on it because you would never make that money back. But if you only spend something like 100 million on it and get together a big cast of Trek all-stars you probably won’t have much money left to actually make the movie (after cast salaries) so what you would end up with would be a glorified TV episode.

The movie needs to be more than just the budget.

$100 to $200 million won’t save the movie by itself. It needs to have a rich story and characters we must care about.

I don’t think a rich story and characters necessarily correlates with a profit making movie. What’s popular and what’s high quality often have no connection.

I’m not interested in any Star Trek movie right now. Feel preoccupied with the TV stuff.

You have excellent points.

You pretty much just described Generations, which in my estimation is the worst Trek movie ever. Nimoy took a pass on it because it was contrived….and he wasn’t wrong.

Here’s a crazy thought to Paramount/CBS: if you want to make Star Trek succeed overseas, then maybe you could actually show it overseas? And not months or years after it originally aired in the US? Just thinking out loud here…

On a related note, I hear the official viewership numbers for Lower Decks are abysmal outside of US/Canada. Gee, I wonder why.

A multi-series crossover movie is what I’ve always wanted… and no sending Scott Bakula Enterprise’s 22nd Century crew “to Coventry” in such a pitch either. Run the gamut of the franchise, in an epic How the Federation Was Won tale taking in 200 years from the first frame to the last.

First Contact is the most successful TNG movie for a lot of reasons that go beyond it being the first to star the Next Gen cast in my opinion.

It’s spans many series doesn’t it? First Contact with the Vulcans (nodding back to the Original and although it wasn’t intentional at the time, feeding into prequel show Enterprise).

The EMH Doctor from Voyager in a laugh-out loud cameo.

The Defiant and Worf joining the action from Deep Space Nine.

It’s more possible to make both a story with mainstream appeal AND include elements from across six decades of Trek, but it takes a fan to write it…. and a studio that recognises a Star Trek movie being too much like a Star Trek movie, is not a bad thing.

A lot of the fan service in FC didn’t make it a hit.
It was more appealing to non fans than previous ‘trek’ movies

One of the biggest risks with a multi-era film is that it could tie-down canon across centuries of potential storytelling.

Yes, it could be great, but even if it makes sense across the broad lines of existing canon, it could greatly reduce the opportunity for new Trek series and stories.

Look how bent out of shape many fans were that Spock has a foster sister that he never mentioned even though TOS series and films repeatedly demonstrated that he didn’t talk about immediate family unless they were standing in front of him.

I’d hate to see future television series marred by fans saying “that couldn’t have happened because it wasn’t mentioned in the crossover movie.”

Regal and Cineworld movie theatres suspend all operations as of today. Their stock dropped 58%.

That’s the current news, especially with the latest Bond film pushed back again further into 2021.

Film distribution has to be seriously rethought before any new films made.

Hopefully the theaters will reopen once the pandemic calms down.

Unfortunately, as long as there are…..individuals out there peddling the belief that the best way to combat the pandemic is to ignore it (and resist a vaccine when a legitimate one becomes available), it might be a while before theaters (and other venues) reopen. Yes, the distribution model is going to look a lot different this time next year.

Last edited 23 days ago by Phil

Definitely agree with your view on this point Phil.

Yes, like Trump, The Maniac President, now back at the White House, ripping off his mask, shoving it into his pocket, shaking his fist in the air saying don’t let the virus dominate you. As if in his delusional mind he physically punched the virus into submission. Now free to hurl his spit everywhere with his attention deficit disorder and hatred of books & education. All this while he continues to stoke the flames of a 2nd American Civil War.

I feel like I just opened myself up to a mob attack from some people who still defend him. Yet, I am so grateful to the Trek talent that this site posted regarding get out the vote. Like them, I really need to speak out. It really is our only peaceful option out of this. I honestly cannot understand any fan that holds dear the aspirations of Star Trek, aligning themselves with that truly destructive man, The Maniac President.

I’ve never gone into a political statement like this before on a website. So much of what has come from our government the past year has also been more than anything I have ever imagined.
I pray we can get free of The Maniac President before everything collapses.

My friend reading this just before I posted it said, “don’t mince words, say what you really feel”. I do feel like I was just channeling the spirit of Dr. McCoy. I just chuckled and felt a moment of solidarity with that character.

Can you imagine what the speech of Dr McCoy would have been about the Pandemic and The Maniac President?

This interview series with Frakes has been a joy to read. Thank you for doing it! I love your conversational interview style.

The only real actors from TNG were Stuart, Burton and Spiner. The franchise needs real sci-fi writers and a real director. They need to stop re-enacting original Trek stories. They have morphed the franchise to 3 versions: retelling original Trek stories – soap opera in space stories – and comic book morality plays with more spent on special effects than writing.
They could have spent the money wisely but at the end it was the same formula and the same mediocre mindset and talents that prevailed. Lucky for them the trekkies are so starved for anything Star Trek that they still make some money on this mess.

That was an excellent interview Anthony. I like the dynamic where you were both asking each other questions. It felt like two buddies just having a chat over a beer…

It’s really great to get these kinds of interviews here.

Let it rest. Trying to please too many audiences. Just give Trek a rest. Version fatigue, crappy plot lines, poorly written PC, not enough money. Just-let-it-go. It took a few years before JJ Trek cleaned the deck, but now we are back in the same post Nemesis down period. Save Trek before it becomes the American Western, over shown, over shot, over seen and just plain over.

The money does not exist to bring multiple crews together.

I’m still not sure why Frakes thinks Pine and Hemsworth are bankable stars. The evidence shows they them by themselves cannot save a movie. Both have been leads in some major league bombs.

If anyone is interested, Jonathan Frakes will record a video message greeting for $200. Some Trekkies would LUV that!

I love Jonathan Frakes. He’s my favorite guest at conventions. He’s genuine, bright, a talented director, funny, and he seems kind.
But umm…

I love Jonathan Frakes. He’s my favorite guest at conventions. He’s genuine, bright, a talented director, funny, and he seems like a good person. But, but…
“After Paramount shut down Star Trek for five years, J.J. [Abrams] relaunched it, and in my taste, very successfully. It captured the zeitgeist again. ”

I couldn’t disagree more. Many fans (not all, but many) feel the JJ movies did not capture the zeitgeist again. Many believe (including me) he dumbed it down into ordinary action movies. Yes, it reached a bigger audience, which is like crappy pop artists having mega hits. That doesn’t mean they make the best music, it means they appeal to the lowest common denominator. To me, appealing to the lowest common denominator is not recapturing Star Trek’s zeitgeist. Star Trek was originally not intended to be blockbuster material, it was meant to be a metaphor on the human condition.

Unfortunately, 37% of the American public couldn’t tell you what a metaphor is…. :-)

I think you misunderstand what Frakes means (or I misunderstand him). I don’t think he suggests that JJ’s movie recaptured the spirit of previous Treks. What he’s saying is that JJ’s movie captured the zeitgeist of the time it was made in. Zeitgeist is always specific to a certain era. Original Trek captured the zeitgeist of the era it was made in. What Frakes is talking about is the zeitgeist of the early 21st century. At least that’s how I understand his quote.

I think Jonathan Frakes should direct the next Kelvin Timeline film because his movies and TV shows that he’s directed have been very good and then maybe do an Avengers style film, Tarantino, Noah Hawley spinoff film’s like Joker etc

YES! Frakes for ST 4, 5, 6, 7, and so on!

After watching FC again, it’s my favorite by far of the TNG films, and I wish the franchise films from today onward were all directed by Mr. Frakes. He seems like a great human being who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and has a hell of a wicked sense of humor. Just what ST needs! Just hand him the reins for ST 4, 5, 6, 7 and on and on! Please make more ST movies, Jonathan!