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Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek on Covid-19 and Season 4 Discovery


Jonathan Frakes directs Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones on the Star Trek: Discovery set.

Jonathan Frakes on set with Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones.
Picture: Michael Gibson / Paramount +

Jonathan Frakes may be famous forever Star Trek fans as Commander William Riker, the The next generation a role he has held to this day Picard i Lower Decks. But probably his most important contribution Star TrekThe new era was behind the scenes, as one of Discoverythe most reliable directors. But even that recent role can still bring surprising challenges.

Frakes directed the episodes Discovery every season from his firstIncluding this week’s “Stormy Weather”, a the exception so far this season—And has long supported her love of working behind the camera these days instead of being in front of it. But as much as he loves directing, returning to the fourth season of the series currently airing was a challenge unlike anything he had faced before. Star Trek: the possibility of filming the cast in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. To learn more about his process of reviving this week’s episode and the challenges of working on a show as big as Star Trek as safe as possible, io9 spoke to Frakes over the phone this week. Check out our full interview below.

Picture for an article titled Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek on the trials and filming of Discovery during Covid-19

James Whitbrook, io9: How did it feel for you to come back this season and shoot safely, under completely different circumstances with the valid Covid protocols?

Jonathan Frakes: Honestly, it takes away the joy of work. It was … changed. But fortunately, Paramount and studies in Canada and the United States are so strict under the Covid protocol. We tested daily. Masked. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had to wear a mask, and then a shield, next to the mask, when we left the set to talk to the actors. It’s suffocating. That’s frustrating. It is a constant reminder of the danger we are all in and continue to do this, some would say, frivolous act. But people love to have that fun. I look forward to a time when we will be able to work the way we used to work. Having said that, show business in general, I think he was a great leader in how we work with these new constraints. I once worked on the show ABC and Disney has a very strict vaccination mandate, which is why some people left the show. When I went to Discovery this season, I had to quarantine in a hotel room for two weeks. I was not allowed to leave the room. Download the app where they check your location daily. It has little of that Cold War communist Russia in it.

So there’s nothing fun about that. It’s especially frightening — and I’ve talked to a number of directors, Michael Pressman and Robert Duncan McNeil, Olatunde Osunsanmi, who is the producer of the production. [Discovery], and others. And we all shared … we find, with a mask, now we over-verbalize. Because we used so much of our face and body to express the note. Or a positive note, “attaboy!” or we suggest trying something different. We can tell a lot of stories and tons of what we ask of your facial expressions and movements. And since they see only a part of your face, they can misinterpret your note – either you think they are misinterpreting it, or they are looking at you with empty eyes. So the weird side effect of all this is excessive verbalization. Without a mask and shield, communication would be faster, cleaner and more efficient. I bet you’re sorry you asked that question …

io9: No, it’s really fascinating to see the reality of how these shows are being filmed right now.

frakes: You feel safe because they take it so seriously, but it really takes a lot of joy out of work.

io9: Something that was quite interesting about “Stormy Weather” is that it’s almost a rarity for Discovery“It’s kind of like a bottle episode.” What was your approach to trying to keep many of the scenes this week dynamic, as we’re mostly focused on the bridge and Discoverynew living room?

frakes: Well, on Discovery we are encouraged to film and I love the bridge. I love the bridge on it Discovery, especially. So I always have competition around roaming around the bridge with Steadicams and handheld cameras, at least. We are very competitive in how much we can bite off in a certain shot. We keep the camera moving all the time. And especially, considering – if you watched the episode … there’s nothing on the screen. Burnham himself comments on this and says, “Set up the visuals,” and Owosekun says, “These are the visuals – you watch it.” And it was my first time in the salon, so I could explore it and it was gray inside, so … again, use Steadicam, keep it moving, explore the area … and because it’s a new set for the audience will find new pieces of it. There is very strong support in Discovery be cinematic in a way that some shows are not. Everything Star Treks are that way. So, whatever you want to try, you can. They will provide you with any equipment – any toy, if you want – that you need. So, in a show where they have to find or discover a way to escape, in essence, from a black hole … you need toys at your disposal.

Frax directed the 10th episode of the first season of Discovery,

Frax directed the 10th episode of the first season of Discovery, “Despite Himself”, 2017.
Picture: CBS

io9: This is also a great week for Gray Ian Alexander, he got a lot of solo work with Annabelle Wallis as the voice of Dawn. What was it like working with them on these scenes?

frakes: I found him incredibly professional, prepared, aware … similar to the character, who now has the physical body in which he lives, Ian now has part of the action, if you will. He is the main character in this episode, for sure. And he accepted that in a way – he is a true professional. He may be young, but he has been doing it for a long time, he has a great presence … very smart. Very collaborative. He will try everything in terms of setting up and moving and blocking and making choices and intentions. Zora plays the same. Not uncommon in Star Trek have an AI or inanimate character as part of a scene. That might be weird in shows of other genres, but on Star Trek… I mean, Burnham and Sara are playing with Dawn too.

io9: As we touched on, this is also a major episode for Dawn and Annabelle Wallis, as we learn more about AI and the ways in which it is quite different from the past Star Trek computer voices. I want to talk about those culminating scenes on the bridge – where only Sonequa Martin-Green is and she talks about what the ship needs to do with Dawn. What was it like to plan those emotional scenes?

frakes: Anyway, I’m always looking forward to the scenes from Sonequa, and I’m looking forward to the bridge. We have a very strong shorthand like me, as an actor who is recovering, and she – we speak the same acting language. And I’m one of her biggest fans. So it was at least two or three days on the bridge – just the two of us and the film crew. So we had a cunning plan, we shot scenarios where the fire would develop — we had practical and special FX fires, digital FX fires … we had big helmet tile decisions. It was completely impractical, because it reflected all the lights and cameras – so in the end we did all those things without the front panel. Which is often a decision that is made when working with people in space suits. So Sonequa and I thought it made sense to shoot in a row, so I shut up and shut up towards her. We talked about tension, we talked about rhythms, we talked about sound … and I had people in different parts placed on the horns and out of the wings, who made extra sounds that would give the character something to react to. So we collaborated on that in a way that I think was a good will – it’s a beautiful scene.

And the emotionality of “Storm Time” is, in my opinion, very effective. Obviously, the double meaning of her relationship with Book is full of images and metaphors and I think she’s pretty smart. My credit to Michelle Paradise and her writing team. I am delighted with the results. Again, speaking of toys, you got a lipstick and diopter camera and things that got into Sonequaine’s eyes … it was plotted and planned and plotted. And in execution, Sonequa and I decided what the character would see. And she delivers. She commits herself. You could argue that she is the reason why the series is in its fourth season.

io9: What is it that kept you from directing Discovery, and hope to keep coming back for more?

frakes: so, Discovery became my, for lack of a better word, my home show. Because when I started with them in the first season, I had … I felt that camaraderie. Unfortunately, I finally accepted that I was old. So I was kind of a big brother or a brave uncle. Father. However. I came from another Star Trek and I’m thrilled to be directing this next version Star Trek as well as Strange new worlds i Picard, and be a part of Lower Decks, so I feel very blessed to continue the tradition Star Trek. But I always look forward to coming Discovery, because Sonequa is number one. You can’t look for a better number one on the call list … Montreal is cold as hell, and you know, before covid, we weren’t afraid to film funny hours outside. So in the middle of the night, someone could be there and do a particularly dramatic scene and some of the actors, including Sonequa and Doug [Jones] and Mary [Wiseman] and Anthony [Rapp]—Many actors — they would return wrapped up, home, and comfortable. [They’d] he drove to the studio to support his fellow actors through their scenes. This does not happen in many shows.


Star Trek: DiscoveryHis fourth season is currently airing on Paramount +.


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