‘Star Trek: Picard’ Team Built a ‘Museum Quality’ Enterprise D to Make Things as ‘Cinematic as Possible’

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Producing a TV series as ambitious as “Star Trek: Picard” would have been challenging enough under normal circumstances, but the conditions with which seasons two and three were produced were anything but normal, as they were shot back-to-back and during the worst of the pandemic.

But director Jonathan Frakes and production designer Dave Blass were not only up to the task but as collaborators were encouraged by the powers that be to boldly go where no “Star Trek” series had gone before by making the third season as cinematic as possible.

How did you first approach your collaboration on Season 2 of “Star Trek: Picard” (with the episode “Fly Me to the Moon”), and how did that evolve into Season 3 (with “Seventeen Seconds”)?

Blass: We were deep into the pandemic, so there was all this craziness, but Jonathan is everything you would want someone to be. He elevated everyone’s mood and everyone’s talent. He would walk into the room and say, “Let’s be creative. Let’s do something fun. Let’s come up with this idea.” And everyone wanted to please him. We just had so much fun, and it was a wonderful experience.

Frakes: As Dave mentioned, we were in the middle of a pandemic, so nobody could see each other, and you couldn’t express yourself. We all wore a mask, and then to talk to the actors, we had to put a shield over the mask. It was nuts, and it took a lot of the joy out of the process. Season 2 was meant to be much bigger than it was. It was supposed to be a callback to [the 1986 feature film] “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” where they go to San Francisco, and you can feel the city with thousands of people all around us. All that was taken away, and we had a limited number of people, but Dave was unfazed by that, and we powered forward.

Blass: It was crazy because we shot Seasons 2 and 3 back-to-back. At the same time that we were doing the finale of Season 2, we were also building all the brand-new sets for Season 3. It was actually the first time that “Star Trek” really did 20 straight episodes of TV again in decades (since “Star Trek: Enterprise” ended in 2005). It was literally like running downhill, and you just keep going as fast as you can. You’re working harder, but you’re also working smarter.

STAR TRy PICARD PRODUCTION DESIGNER DAVE BLASS BY DENNYS ILIC
DENNYS ILIC 2022

Jonathan, after working with production designer Herman Zimmerman on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” as well as many other designers in TV and film over the years, what made your experience with Dave so unique?

Frakes: A boundary had been established when 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” didn’t make money. After that, “Star Trek” as a franchise shut down for five or six years, until J.J. Abrams took over and made those wonderful movies between 2009 and 2016. But part of the marching order at that time was that no one who had worked on the previous regime – either in front of or behind the camera – was invited back to work on those movies. That mandate was lifted by Dave. He had the very good taste to hire veterans from Herman Zimmerman’s original production design team, like Mike Okuda and Doug Drexler. And I thought that was not only wise, but it also created good karma for the show. It was an impressive group of artists.

Blass: These are the people who literally wrote the book on how to design “Star Trek.” Mike Okuda is legendary. I wanted to work with them as much as I wanted to work with Jonathan and Patrick Stewart and all these other people.

Back in 1987 when “The Next Generation” premiered, I remember thinking how the production design was leaps and bounds above what the original “Star Trek” series was able to accomplish in 1966. And now in 2023, I’m watching “Picard,” thinking again how the production design is leaps and bounds above “The Next Generation.”

Frakes: The entire “Star Trek” new wave after the J.J. movies was encouraged to be more cinematic in every aspect of filmmaking, and that influence came from executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman, the people at Secret Hideout and also from CBS Studios and Paramount Plus. They all encouraged us to shoot to thrill. We still had to get our close-ups, and we still had to get traditional coverage. But when you have a massive, gorgeous set, you want to see that set. When you have a gorgeous costume, you want to see that costume. And even when they repurposed sets, they didn’t look like they were repurposed; they looked like brand new sets.

Blass: I’ve heard people refer to Season 3 as being kind of like a bottle season and how it’s very self-contained. And I agree that it is a bottle season. But you still had to build the bottle! We didn’t have a warehouse full of stuff that we could dive into, like they did when they repurposed sets, props and costumes on the earlier “Star Trek” shows.

Frakes: You’re burying the lead, Dave. What about rebuilding the bridge for the Enterprise-D?

Blass: Yeah, that was a little bit of a thing. Once you get into it, you realize that “Star Trek” has devoted fans, and they’ll sit there and pick apart every little nuance. So, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it properly. We had to do a museum-quality replica so that we leave no doubt that this is exactly right.

Frakes: You fought the good fight with the color, with the fabrics, with the dimensions, with the angle on the arch, with the horseshoe, with the Okudagrams and so on. And I remember, most of the cast hadn’t been on your bridge – our old bridge – until we were called into rehearsals on the first day. I was around, because I had been directing other episodes, so I came in with Marina Sirtis and LeVar Burton. And both of their jaws dropped in exactly the same way that our characters did. To see art imitating life with these friends you’ve had for 36 years on Dave’s new version of the exact room that we made those 176 episodes, it was really something. It was very emotional.

Source: Variety


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