Published Mar 19, 2019
Gates McFadden's 'Earthshaking' Directorial Debut
Not even a natural disaster could keep 'Star Trek: The Next Generation''s "Genesis" off the air.
By Joe Bergren
Today marks the 25th anniversary of “Genesis,” Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 19th episode in the show’s final season. Featuring Gates McFadden’s TNG directorial debut, the makeup heavy episode focuses on Captain Picard and Commander Data as they discover the Enterprise crew have evolved into genetic hybrids crossed with various other species. To celebrate, we’re looking back at an interview McFadden gave to Entertainment Tonight while in the middle of post-production for the episode that premiered March 19, 1994.
“The show itself is long. It was long when it was written,” McFadden said in the February 8 interview, a little over a month before the episode was slated to air. The Dr. Beverly Crusher actress and former Jim Henson puppeteer was working in an edit bay when she spoke with ET about the process of cutting down the episode’s running time and the natural disaster that interrupted production. “Because of the [Northridge] Earthquake we got delayed shooting scenes. We stopped for two days.”
Destruction from the January 1994 quake ended up causing 57 deaths, 8,700 injured, and billions of dollars in damages. “Genesis” was just one of many film and TV productions impacted by the disaster that people still talk about today. Elsewhere on the Paramount backlot, Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Quark) was in the makeup chair when the earthquake hit. The actor later recounted exiting the lot in full Ferengi makeup and getting looks from passing drivers.
Back in the editing room, McFadden and editor Daryl Baskin knew there was a lot of trimming left to be done to meet network television’s rigid runtime standards.“There's great pressure to make it as tight as possible, but the first thing we want to do is find the way that plays the best and then that's like the starting point,” said McFadden.
“And then we have to cut more, and that's the part where I get depressed,” she added with a laugh.
“Genesis” is a combination of familiar sci-fi motifs and aesthetics. The Fly, Alien, and The Island of Doctor Moreau all come to mind while viewing this episode. The necessary and impressive practical makeup effects created another showcase for the legendary Michael Westmore and his makeup team. Deanna took on amphibian qualities, while Riker seemingly devolved into early proto-human, and Worf became extra Worf. Picard and Data were able to release an antidote throughout the ship, which returned everyone to their natural form — even though iguana-Spot looked adorable wearing that little collar.
It’s common practice for actors who direct an installment of their TV series, since the lack of screentime provides actors with more time to work behind-the-scenes, it’s commonplace for the characters of actors who direct episodes to take a back seat that week. Both Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes (who directed last week’s episode of Discovery, his second one this season) were given Data-centric plotlines for their TNG directorial debuts. Picard is mostly designated to the b-story of season four’s “In Theory,” while Riker simply pops up to be kissed by Lal in season three’s “The Offspring” before disappearing for the remainder of the episode.
McFadden owed her confidence throughout the production to her cast and crew, who she knew from first-hand experience would push through the challenges they encountered. “It's a show that has a great track record. Everybody here knows what they're doing,” said McFadden.
“Daryl, in fact, has been particularly nice to [have] accessible, because a lot of people don't like to have someone in the room when they're editing and don't like to have the director's opinion,” said McFadden. “I've learned a lot. He's been willing to try all of these different versions and then we vote on it. It's been great,” she added.
Along with directing one of the series’ final entries, McFadden had the added distinction of being the first female cast-member to direct a Star Trek episode. Roxann Dawson would later follow in her footsteps and direct two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, as well as ten episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Dawson has become a prolific director of TV and film, most recently for critically acclaimed shows such as The Americans and This is Us.
Today, McFadden looks back on this time fondly and cherishes the intense creative experience of directing Star Trek. A few years ago, she also jokingly provided us with a glimpse of an alternate ending for this episode.
Joe Bergren is a coordinator for ET Live and freelance writer. He’s obsessed with “Trek” franchises and retro celebrity scandals, as well as niche topics like his very cool dog.