For the third season return of Star Trek: The Pod Directive, Star Trek legend Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker) joins hosts Tawny Newsome (Beckett Mariner) and Paul F. Tompkins (Dr. Migleemo) for a lively discussion detailing his career in front of and behind the camera.
On Exploring His Interests Behind the Camera
Frakes, who has played Will Riker for over 35 years, details how the opportunity for directing opened up for him during Star Trek: The Next Generation. During long production days, which involved a lot of sitting and waiting around, he discovered from Rick Berman he could shadow the different roles he was interested in — director, cinematographer, etc.
“I didn’t know much about editing, and I was able to spend 100 hours in the editing room with these guys, Letterman and then Tom Benko, and others who also wanted to direct,” notes Frakes. “I was kind of thrust upon them. And then, I was able to go to pre-production and go to visual effects meetings. Not to story breaks, but to tone meetings and budget meetings, and casting. And it opened up; everything was available. And the most exciting was to go to the scoring sessions because we still had an 80-piece orchestra on the Paramount sound stage. This is all behind the walls of Paramount, which was like walking around Sunset Boulevard and Godfather and all those familiar locations; they’re all on that lot. So it was a dreamy situation.”
On Directing His First Episode
Despite now directing over 100 episodes of television, Frakes still recalls his first experience fondly. He got his first opportunity in the third season of The Next Generation with the fan-favorite episode, “The Offspring.”
“When they finally did give me an episode, it happened to be a Data episode, which are kind of bulletproof because he's an astounding character and an astounding actor,” shares Frakes. “It was Rene Echevarria, who became one of the showrunners on Deep Space Nine, and then on Castle, it was his spec script which had been submitted and accepted. And Whoopi [Goldberg] was in it. There were a lot of things going for it, and I had this wonderful team support from the crew. I mean, the sound department gave me a megaphone that the whole company had signed for me to do old school directing with.”
“LeVar always calls it catching lightning in the bottle,” Frakes continues. “It was that kind of experience for me. And the fact that one went well allowed me to get another one.”
On Directing His First Feature Film
After Star Trek: The Next Generation ended, Frakes would go on to direct Star Trek: First Contact, his first feature, in 1996, which Newsome remarked as one of the best films to get non-Star Trek fans into the franchise.
On the alchemy of what made First Contact exceptional and accessible, Frakes shares, “It was sort of like a horror movie and you really didn't have to know a lot about the history of Picard and Riker and Troi and the Borg….”
“We had Alice Krige, which didn't hurt,” adds Frakes. “The script, it was Ron Moore and Brandon Braga kind of at the top of their game. The script was bulletproof. And then I was able to ask Alfre [Woodard], my godmother, to be the guest lead. And then we got Jamie Cromwell, as we were talking about earlier, who had just come off Babe, and Alice. We had the three great guest stars who were able to play up there at the Patrick Stewart level. I had a cinematographer named Matt Leonetti, who was a big movie guy, had never done a movie before. So was again, there was so much positive energy, and Berman was so supportive, and we were all so psyched because the script was really, really was tight.”
To hear more about Jonathan Frakes’ directing and non-directing experiences including his directorial work on the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, "Seventeen Seconds," be sure to listen to the latest episode of Star Trek: The Pod Directive!
Fans can listen to Star Trek: The Pod Directive on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and via StarTrek.com.
In addition to streaming on Paramount+, Star Trek: Picard will also stream on Prime Video outside of the US and Canada, and in Canada can be seen on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.
Stay tuned to StarTrek.com for more details! And be sure to follow @StarTrek on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.