While Jonathan Frakes has gone on to become one of Star Trek‘s most prolific figures both in front of and behind the camera, he made a rookie mistake early on in his directorial career.
While directing the Star Trek: The Next Generation fourth season episode “The Drumhead”, Frakes revealed he had let co-star Michael Dorn, who played the iconic Star Trek character Worf, leave early during a day of filming…only to discover they needed to shoot more coverage of his character in a certain scene.
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“It’s an unwritten rule that you never let anybody who’s in a scene go before you have moved on to the next scene, literally. Even if they’re on the other side of the room,” admitted Frakes in an interview with StarTrek.com. “Dorn is long gone, and we’re doing a piece of coverage, and where Dorn was standing it couldn’t be clearer that we would see him. Not only see him, we’d see his face. So, the clever and talented [cinematographer] Marvin Rush, who I’m now working with on The Orville, I told him the story. I said, ‘I screwed up. I let Dorn go.’ He said, ‘OK, I got this.’”
Through the use of some quick-thinking camerawork and stand-ins only slightly in frame, filming on the episode continued as planned.
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“[Guest star] Jean Simmons was talking, and we managed to move the camera in a way where we pushed in, dropped down, got a piece of somebody in Dorn’s costume, and then came back up on the next person,” explained Frakes. “Then we pulled back out, and we thought we felt Dorn in the shot, but we never had to see his face. Marvin Rush bailed me out, and I’ve never released an actor until a scene was done since then.”
In addition to starring as Commander Will Riker, Frakes has a long association directing Star Trek. He has directed episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and currently directs episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. Including his extensive television work, Frakes also directed 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact and 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection. Fortunately, the early directorial mistake hasn’t dissuaded him from continuing to work behind the camera.