Chip Chalmers, in part one of our interview yesterday, talked about his TNG experience: how he landed the rare opportunity to jump from 1st assistant to director, and calling the shots on “Captain’s Holiday,” “The Loss,” “The Wounded” and “Ethics.” Today, in the second half of the conversation, Chalmers discusses his two trips behind the camera of Deep Space Nine, “The Magnificent Ferengi” and “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” and updates us on what he’s doing nowadays.
At what point did you get the call about doing DS9?
Chalmers: I had been doing a couple of other series for awhile and it wasn't until 1997 or so that I got a call from the line producer.
Your two DS9's are among our favorites -- and the fans' too. Did you know at the time you did them you had a pair of winners?
Chalmers: Oh, I most certainly did. First of all, the episodes didn't take themselves too seriously. I had a script written by Ira Behr again, along with Hans Beimler and they obviously have the best time with these scripts. “Take Me Out To The Holosuite” was written by my friend Ronald D. Moore and again, it was just fun. I think that's why they are fan favorites. The series is much like a dramatic play. Every once in awhile you need to have a beat of comic relief or the show just doesn't hold up. Let the audiences breathe a little bit. The scripts were self-explanatory.
Where do we begin with “The Magnificent Ferengi”? What interested you most about the story?
Chalmers: All Ferengi, all the time! That's what interested me. Aside from the obvious tribute to Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, it was just a joy to work with all the great talent. You probably know how long it takes to get in and out of Ferengi makeup, so we actually put them up in a hotel so they could make their turn-arounds. But even more interesting is that I almost never saw them out of makeup. Once I ran into Max Grodenchik at a Staples store and it took just a few seconds to recognize the voice. I had no idea who he was. And we had worked together on “Captain's Holiday”!! There was one other moment that came to me in retrospect. I tend to get to the set earlier than the crew. I do this to walk the scenes with script in hand so that I can give the crew advance warning about what my plans are for the next scene. So there I was, walking down the lower corridor with only the soundstage lights on when a seven-foot creature, all silverfish gray and with a white heroin-like substance running through a tube on each side of its neck, looking all the world like a giant lizard walks past me and says "Morning, Chip" and without hesitation I say "Morning, Bill." I had accepted this whole world in the future.
You also had Iggy Pop. How cool, weird and random was his appearance, and how'd it go?
Chalmers: Okay, I think it was Ira who most wanted to get Iggy to do the role. How did it go? Okay, well, here is a man whose career consisted of being a wild man onstage during his concerts and we asked him to play a part that was almost deadpan. Someone suggested we give him a microphone and see what happens. What a great guy. A legend who was truly humble. Much like Whoopi in TNG. Really down-to-earth and fun.
Did you smile when you got handed a script called “Take Me Out to the Holosuite?”
Chalmers: How is it possible that I get two DS9's that are fun to make and involve so many interesting actors? I smiled all the way through every read.
How freeing was it to get out of the studio a little?
Chalmers: It's a rare occasion when the show went on location. Obvious statement since outer space wasn't a possibility. But occasionally you had that chance with a planet or the Holosuite. So we go to Loyola Marymount University's baseball field for four consecutive days. It was great to get off the stage, but it had the inherent issues of being outdoors. We had to hope for no rain. The university is located very close to the beach, so fog was an issue, and having actors in makeup like DS9 standing in the sun was an issue that I asked to address even before the show. I wanted stand-in doubles for the wide shots so that Worf didn't have to stay on first base in the sun when he was soft in the background. The same for Rene. Since he was behind the umpire mask, I could have someone else be there when it wasn't a tight shot. But yes, it was great to get outside.
What else sticks out most in your memory about that shoot?
Chalmers: Two things really stick out in my mind. The first was that I had never shot a baseball game on film before. Yes, we used film. So for the first time in my career, I went to the amazing art department and spent a great deal of time doing storyboards. Shot by shot. It's easy enough for me to write them down, but you really can't go back there and pick something up. So between the 1st AD and myself, we made sure that each shot was made. I had four cameras. Think about how many you need at a real baseball game. I had a Steadi-cam operator there for the whole shoot, a high-speed camera for one day and two other cameras with full crews. It was one of the biggest scenes I had shot to that point.
The other thing that sticks out in my mind like it was yesterday is sitting at lunch with multiples. What does that mean? Well, I already mentioned the stand-in doubles in full makeup for the characters I could, but I didn't mention the baseball doubles. Everyone was up for doing their own baseball stuff, but if you recall the episode, we had a number of stunts. Sliding into home plate. A collision at second base. Whatever the flip is called against the wall in the outfield by Dax. Oh, a Fancy Dan? Anyway, there I was at lunch surrounded by two Worfs, two Daxs, two Odos, etc. It strained my brain.
That was your final Trek episode. Why did you not do more?
Chalmers: You'll have to ask the producers. I loved doing them. But I was directing a lot at that time. I'm a very lucky guy.
How eager to see your episodes of TNG and DS9 get the HD Blu-ray treatment? Will you be doing commentaries?
Chalmers: I haven't been asked about commentaries, no. I think most fans want to hear from the actors, writers and producers. But I'm looking very much forward to Blu-ray. 3D might be fun, too.
Post-Trek, what are some of your favorite credits?
Chalmers: Well, I have a special affinity for Melrose Place. I directed almost 30 episodes over the seven-year run and it was all family. And a wonderful one. And it was also a little bit tongue in cheek.
You seem to have gotten out of directing about a decade ago. Why? And what did you after that?
Chalmers: Ten years ago, I moved to Florida to teach film directing and be the Head of Production at the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. It was an amazing time, but it was even more difficult than directing television. I was also a little tired of talking about directing and not doing it. I'm back in Los Angeles (now). It isn't likely I'll be asked to work in television, but I will likely direct some theater. It's something I've done in between television shows all my career and I love it.
What are you up to these days?
Chalmers: There are two things I love and now I finally have time to get back to them seriously. Music. I play guitar and piano. And… magic. I perform sleight of hand and I'm a member of Magic Castle in Hollywood. Come to think of it, I've had two careers I've loved and I never went to work in anything except sneakers, blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts. Now I go to the Magic Castle and we require men to wear suits.
Click HERE to read part one of our interview with Chip Chalmers.