I got the script for what I call Discovery Episode 203, a/k/a “Point of Light,” and rang the writer Andrew Colville to congratulate him on writing a heck of an episode. It had a lot going on! Klingons... WITH HAIR! And, MAJOR spoilers ahead... The first on-screen introduction of a Klingon baby. The interior of a Klingon house. Georgiou’s return to the series. Characters dying… or not dying. The introduction of Leland and a brand-new Section 31 ship. All of this on the superstructure of a tremendously emotional episode. And I got to direct it. I couldn’t wait to get started.
The following is a quick snapshot history of what transpired… in pictures:
I’m on a stage scout, showing where I’d like the crane to go. This would play for the scene where Burnham and Amanda walk in the hallway shortly after Amanda’s surprise arrival to the Disco.
Bob D Key Grip would have to remove a 20-foot-high stage wall and thread our techno-crane in like a needle to get the shot. It was a tricky shot due to the amount of space involved, but he can pretty much pull anything off if I give him and Director of Photography Glen Keenan enough of a heads up.
A Converted Transporter Room
This is us in the Transporter Room. It had been converted to the U.S.S. Hiawatha’s Transporter Room, and so it had all sorts of weathered paint and frost courtesy Alex Kurtzman’s vision for Episode 201, "Brother." So, I wondered how easily it would be to convert it back to normal for my episode. Production Designer Tamara Deverell was happy to show me in this video.
Took a snapshot of the bridge with my director’s viewfinder (which these days is on my phone, amazing!) This was less about finding a shot, and more about understanding the bridge in the new anamorphic 2:39 aspect ratio we adopted, as compared to spherical 2:1 used last season. It’s an adjustment almost every department has had to contend with: how we build the sets, how we block the cast, how precise the Assistant Camera department had to be with pulling focus because of the shallow depth of field, but it was well worth it.
In a very rare behind-the-scenes look, you can see the back wall of the Engineering set out the viewscreen, which is normally blocked by our large greenscreen curtain.
That’s me, 2nd AD Shannon, 1st AD Felix, Producer Thom, and in the window, deep in the background, is Executive Producer Frank Siracusa glaring at me. We’re in a scheduling meeting, where we have an honest conversation about how long the episode is going to take to shoot. Usually, we want it to be 10 days, but this episode didn’t quite fit into that… so we squeaked out another day (or two…or three).
Before a prosthetic goes before the camera, it has to go through several rounds of tests. Glenn Hetrick works with Neville Page on the concept art. Once that’s approved, Glenn starts working on creating the prosthetics, which can take months to perfect. We then camera test it on the actor, usually make minor adjustments, and then sometimes camera-test it again. Then, we shoot with it on the day. Below is me and Kenneth Mitchell as he tries on the Kol-Sha prosthetic for the first time.
As some of you fans may know, at the start of each production meeting (one of the last meetings before directors go off to shoot), the director receives a surprise from under a black box. I lifted mine, and this is what I saw:
It reads “Success Olatunde!” It is indeed a cake. And, yes, it was edible. Or it looked like it was supposed to be edible while I watched other people eating it…
Finally shooting! We started in L’Rell’s home, which Tamara diligently designed from the ground up. Here, I’ve got a two-camera, one-dolly, remote head system.
The camera operators are sitting next to me in Video Village and are remotely controlling the heads.
I’m using the viewfinder in L’Rell’s nursery, and happen to catch Francois, our A camera operator, on the right, Franco our gaffer in the center. Angela, the script supervisor, she’s in the background, wearing red. Tamara and the art team had a lot to build this episode, and this was another one they built from the ground up. I thought it photographed great. Glen Keenan lit this episode for me, he has a tremendous eye.
Another angle inside the Nursery, showcasing the House Mokai stained glass window behind the bassinet.
The Klingons are getting their last looks. From the hair to the costumes to the prosthetics, it takes an army to get ready every time we step Klingons to set to shoot.
L’Rell finished with her final looks, awaits shooting. Last looks with aliens can last up to 15 min-plus before they’re ready to go. There are that many details to cover.
Of course, we took some time to pose for a pic because, well, why not? Lucky me. These three -- Kenneth, Shazad and Mary -- are among the most selfless actors I’ve worked with. They give so much to the production, so much to each other, and ultimately so much to the fans. It ain’t easy emoting through the prosthetics, and in Shazad’s case, playing two people in his head at the same time!
Here’s Sonequa right outside the Disco bridge. We stage all the actors nearby, so when it’s time to shoot they just have to walk in.
Sometimes, actors prefer to hang out in trailers between setups and scenes, but not Sonequa and the rest of the team. They prefer to be close, hours on end. It's remarkable, and it really helps out production, because moving 20 people in and out of an area can be quite the task for the ADs.
This is us in the middle of a crew blocking on the bridge, for the Tilly mental breakdown scene. The way we like to do it is having a private blocking with the director, cast, DP, script supervisor and the AD. This is where we finalize where all the actors are going to walk in the scene -- and consequently where we want the camera to go. Then, after we have that sorted, we bring in the 100 other crew members to watch, which is the pic you see here. Then, we go about the business of setting up the shot and getting everything ready to shoot. That said, every director can have their own variation on this process. In general, the bridge is a fast set to shoot on Trek.
Mary Wiseman killed it this day. In this episode, she was playing a Tilly we weren’t used to seeing: dramatically serious and then losing her mind on top of that. It was fascinating watching her work.
Jason and Ante of the VFX team do so, so much on this show it’s just bananas. Whether it’s putting space outside the window, or generating entire sets, they are always present in virtually every scene. The set for the council chamber was designed beautifully by Tamara, but we couldn’t possibly build out the entire thing, so VFX to the rescue. All that green you see in the pictures is eventually filled in by JZ and team:
In addition to VFX, there is also SPX, aka Special Effects. They do the physical effects on set: fire, smoke, explosions, gimbals etc. They had a herculean job supplying enough fire in the council chamber for the look I was going for.
Cutting off someone’s head is never easy. Getting it to look like the actual actor is always a challenge, but Glenn and Alchemy found a way.
It’s always an eerie prop to have on set, but for some reason, L’Rell didn’t seem to mind!
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space Channel and OTT service Crave.