Jonathan Frakes Reveals "Cardinal Mistake" He Made Directing 'Star Trek'

Jonathan Frakes holds a special place of distinction in the Star Trek franchise. In addition to being one of the stars of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he was also the first member of the cast to become a director, something that would begin a trend. He went on to direct several episodes of Next Generation, as well as episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager and the films Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.

But even Frakes makes mistakes, as he revealed in an interview with the official Star Trek website. Frakes discussed his directing career and recalled a “cardinal mistake” he made while directing the episode “The Drumhead” during Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fourth season. It began with Michael Dorn, the actor who played the Klingon Lt. Worf, asking for a favor.

“Michael Dorn had somewhere he had to go, so he whispered in my ear, ‘Is there any way that you could shoot me out of this scene?’" Frakes says. "I said, ‘Sure,’ because I thought I could get my coverage. 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, anything, you literally are not supposed to let any actors go until that scene is completed. And I, of course, thought, ‘I know how to do this. I'll shoot Dorn's coverage, and everything will be fine.’ And it's not like you had an actor who you could just call back in and say, ‘Come back in,’ because this was Turtle Head, and that was 2 1/2 hours in makeup.”

And then Frakes realized he’d made a mistake. Luckily, Next Generation’s director of photography was there to bail him out.

“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,” Frakes recalls. “Not only see him, we'd see his face. So, the clever and talented 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.’ We kicked it around, and he got the piece of coverage. I think it was of Jean [Simmons], actually. 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. 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.”


Frakes returns to Star Trek again to direct two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. As he mentioned, he’s also directing an episode of The Orville’s second season as well.

What do you think of Frakes' story? Let us know in the comments!