David Livingston On Directing Star Trek Episodes, Part 2
By StarTrek.com Staff - July 03, 2012
Yesterday, in part one of our extensive conversation with veteran Star Trek director David Livingston, he discussed how he made the leap from unit production manager to producer and from producer to director. He also recounted his two episodes of The Next Generation and his earliest efforts calling the shots on Deep Space Nine. Today, in the second half of our interview, Livingston talks more about DS9, recalls his experiences on Voyager and Enterprise, explains why having the lionfish on TNG named after him wasn’t exactly a tribute, and updates us on his current line of work.
You directed 17 episodes of DS9, including some of its best hours. You did “The Storyteller,” “In the Hands of the Prophets,” “Rules of Acquisition,” “Crossover,” “The Visitor,” “You Are Cordially Invited” and on and on. Which two or three, for whatever reason, stand out most?
Livingston: “Crossover” was one of my favorites because it was the first time going to the alternate universe. The characters weren’t themselves. They were all very offbeat. It was wonderful and strange to see these actors playing alter egos of their characters. Also, visually, it was a lot of fun because we could change the station into something else and make it into a different world. All the elements were new and different and challenging, for the cameramen and from a directing standpoint and also for all the craft departments, because everything had to look different and be different. If everything else was going to be different, then the directing had to be different. So, in my mind, I had to shoot it differently. I did a lot of weird angles and I got into a little bit of trouble with Rick Berman because he thought I’d pushed it too far at times. But I felt it was important to make it, visually, look the opposite of what DS9 normally looked like, because that’s what they wrote. I’d constantly say that. “You guys might be concerned about what I’m doing visually, but look at what’s been written. I’m only trying to fulfill what’s in the script. If you write something that’s weird, then I’ve got to direct it as if it’s weird.” That was always my philosophy.
“The Visitor” is regarded as one of the top episodes of the entire series. You weren’t sure you could make that one fly, right?
Livingston: I’d heard about it before I read the script and I thought, “Oh God, I’m going to have to spend seven days with people just sitting around talking about family and relationships. I can’t do that stuff.” I thought I’d be so bored. I needed action. Rick Berman would say, “You just want to go out and wreck something.” Well, that’s true. But then I read the script and I went, “Oh my God, this is unbelievable.” My son was 11 or 12 at the time, and it touched a chord in me personally. I said, “Wow, this is really something.” Again, my favorite episodes were the shows that weren’t traditional Star Trek episodes. “The Visitor” is actually about as far away from a Star Trek episode as you can conceivably get. There are very few science-fiction elements in it and the science-fictions elements that are in it relate directly to the characters and the story and to how it’s going to be resolved ultimately, so that Jake and his father can get together again. That was a brilliant construct. And then you had the performances, which were just fantastic.
You directed 28 episodes of Voyager, more than you directed of any of the Trek shows. Which episodes do you remember most fondly, and why?
Livingston: “Future’s End” was one of my favorites, again, because it broke the mold. We shot in present-day Los Angeles. We shot at the Santa Monica Pier. We got to shoot on Melrose Avenue, at Griffith Park. I got to shoot the Hollywood Sign and, oddly enough, subsequent to that episode, I ended up moving and living underneath that sign. So that’s another one that wasn’t a traditional Trek episode. Sarah Silverman was wonderful in it. I think she could have had a much bigger acting career than she’s had, but she’s stuck with her stand-up comedy. It was fun to not sit on a stage all day, but to get outside and shoot contemporary stuff with the Trek characters. Ed Begley played our bad guy. I see Ed a lot, actually, and he’s a great guy. We talk about that episode when I see him because he’s totally opposite of the character. He’s into green and drives an electric car. He has a whole line of green products and is very committed to the environment. His character was the total opposite, but he played it really well.
Livingston: “Flashback” is the one with George Takei. That was a lot of fun, working with George, because he’s such a character and so committed and so caring. We had a great time. It was also fun to try to integrate footage from Star Trek VI into our episode, to put our people into that situation. “The Killing Game” was set in France, during the Occupation. I did part one of that two-parter and, of all my Voyagers, that was probably my favorite, and it was one of my favorites of all the Trek shows I did. I shot at Universal, on the backlot, and I had these great sets. I was shooting World War II. I got to shoot Jeri Ryan, singing and in a killer 40’s dress. She was the quintessential 40’s vamp. Jeri had to sing a song at the beginning of the episode and they were going to dub her voice. But I understood that she sang in musicals when she was in high school or college. I said, “Why don’t you have Jeri sing?” They said, “OK, we’ll check it out.” Indeed, she ended up singing, and she’s got this beautiful voice. She did an unbelievable job and that scene is one of my favorite moments in anything I’ve done. I started off on the piano and ended up on Janeway, and went through the whole room and did this huge, huge Steadicam shot. I loved everything about that episode. It was a total kick.
Let’s switch to Enterprise. We think we know what you’re going to say, which is that you liked the breaking-the-mold episodes best. Would that be accurate?
Livingston: It would be. I’d say “Impulse,” the zombie episode, was, from a directing standpoint, my favorite episode of Enterprise. To me, it’s the best directing I did from a visual standpoint, of any of my Trek episodes. I was doing a zombie movie. Everybody got it, all the departments, especially Marvin Rush. We were all on the same page. We said, “OK, what are we doing here? We’re doing a zombie movie. So let’s do a zombie movie.” Everything fit into that and we pulled it off. So, from a pure technical directing standpoint, it’s the best job I did because it really does look and feel like that. And it wasn’t empty (story-wise) because it had T’Pol and her illness and how she’s possessed and all of that.
Also, I’d tend to shoot my episodes and my minutes to page count would be really fast. Inevitably, my shows would come in short and we’d have to go in and shoot something second-unit to make enough time for the episode. They didn’t quite know what to do at the end of “Impulse” and I sketched out a whole shot-by-shot thing for the end of the episode, and they bought it. The end of it is T’Pol having this nightmare, and it was very cool to be able to add that on. It doesn’t feel like it’s added on. It actually feels like it’s important, like it’s a part of that episode. So for all of those reasons, I was the most pleased with and had the most fun on “Impulse.”
Enterprise only ran four seasons. Did you know, by the time you directed the fourth-season episode “United,” that Enterprise was not going to be be picked up by UPN for a fifth year?
Livingston: Oh, we all knew it was done. In fact, my assumption was that, going into the fourth season, everybody knew that was it. I remember walking off the set of “United” after, again, doing some second unit to fill it out, and thinking, “That’s it. This is over with.” I had this tremendous sense of ennui and I guess I was a little depressed walking out of the stage that day saying, “It’s over. It’s been a great run, but that’s the last Star Trek shot I’m going to do.”
Of your 62 Trek episodes, what one or two would you not change a bit and what might you erase from existence?
Livingston: I wouldn’t change anything in “The Visitor,” and it all has to do with the writing. I didn’t have anything to do with it. Tony Todd’s performance was brilliant. Its soul was wonderful. I think it’s about as good a piece a drama I’ve done because of the emotional content and the way it affected the audience. And I wouldn’t change anything on “Impulse,” my zombie episode. Which would I erase? Which was the one with Meg Foster? “The Muse.” That was not very good. In fact, that was not good.
What do you see as your biggest contribution to Star Trek?
Livingston: Mike Westmore. As a production manager, I hired Mike. He’s the guy who, week after week, created the makeup for the series. That seems pretty specific as an answer. You were probably expecting something different. But that was a pretty good move on my part.
We’ve got just a few more questions. First, how did the lionfish in Picard’s ready room come to be called Livingston?
Livingston: Well, it was an insult. Herman Zimmerman named it Livingston. This is what I understand. I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not. But it’s because of my reputation as the production manager on the show, because the fish ate other fish. So it was a reflection on my temperament as a production manager. It’s a funny knock. It’s one I’m flattered by. That’s my understanding. I don’t even know if it’s true, but that’s what I was always led to believe, that Herman decided to name the fish after me and it was because I ate all the other fish.
You’ll be in Las Vegas next month at the Creation Entertainment Official Star Trek Convention. How often have you done conventions and what do you like about the experience of meeting Trek fans?
Livingston: I’ve only done one other convention. It was in Spokane, and it was a kick. The passion of the people who were there and the knowledge they had, which was infinitely more than my knowledge, was amazing. It was scary. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know or didn’t remember a lot of the stuff they were talking about. These people, it’s almost like a religion to them. It’s the sacred and the profane. The people so believe in and are so passionate about the vision that Gene Roddenberry gave to them, of humanity having a shot at it. These people have a positive view of the future and they’re able to feel a part of something and dress up in funny costumes and have fun. That was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Everybody who’s there, they want to be there. It’s a shared experience. And that’s why I’m looking forward to Creation’s show in Vegas. I was really quite honored that they said, “David, come on and do one of these.” So I’m really looking forward to going and to latching onto that feeling again.
It’s been a while since you’ve directed. What are you doing these days?
Livingston: Directing slowed down and I started to look around for other things to do. I got into still photography. I bought a digital camera about seven or eight years ago. Like I mentioned, I live below the Hollywood sign. So I did a series of pictures of the sign, photoshopped them real heavily, and then had a couple of exhibits. I went to UCLA for several photograph classes. Then I thought, “How can I monetize this?” Somebody in one of my classes suggested that I start to shoot for a throwaway newspaper in the Valley, for free, to get experience shooting red-carpet events. I thought, “I’ll go out and see what that’s like.” I did that for a while, but still had to figure out how to monetize it. Finally, I got hired by an agency called WENN, here in L.A., and I shot for them for nine months. Then I interviewed with Getty Images and they hired me as a freelancer, and I’ve been with them ever since. So I shoot all kinds of events, movie events, TV events, music events.
Click HERE to read part one of our interview with David Livingson.
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Album: Prop Shop
Caption: My Federation jacket insignia. The final piece to make my uniform complete.