Hanelle M.Culpepper became the first woman of color to direct the debut of a new Star Trek series when she helmed the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard. With Emmy nominations around the corner, she's looking back at how she handled Patrick Stewart's return to his Star Trek: The Next Generation character. Speaking to Variety, she discussed what it was like to collaborate with Stewart on a role he'd been playing for decades. "Because he was so involved with the writers, a lot of the things that he felt about his character were already incorporated into the script," Culpepper says. "So for me, it was just about creating the safe space where he could do the things he wanted to do. He was still collaborative with me. But ultimately, it was nice to be in a situation where the actor and the writers are all on the same page for who this character is."
Culpepper also discussed her approach to the new Star Trek show and how she balanced sci-fi cinematics with the show's focus on a single character. "I wanted it to feel inspired by where Picard was on his emotional journey," she says. "He was living in a vineyard; he felt trapped. So I wanted to have a little bit more of a static frame, and then go handheld once his world is rocked [in the pilot]. We switch to handheld cameras pretty much as much as possible after that. It's Star Trek, we have to get those big, cinematic shots with drones and cranes and stuff, but we always wanted to not forget that it's really a character-driven series with Picard at the heart.
"We went for a warmer color palette and a more contrasty look. I used anamorphic lenses. We embraced flares. We embraced shadows. The main thing [executive producer] Alex Kurtzman wanted was to always see both eyes, so the DP and I worked to make sure that when we came into close-ups, you could see both eyes and all the emotional expressions that the actors were giving."
CBS is pushing Culpepper for a nomination for Oustanding Director for her work on the show's first episode, "Remembrance." The studio is also pushing Akiva Goldsman for directing the finale, "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2." Patrick Stewart is up for consideration for a Best Actor nomination, and the rest of the Star Trek: Picard for supporting roles. Some of the returning stars -- Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Del Arco, Brent Spiner -- are getting pushed for Guest Actor/Actress nominations.
The first season of Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on CBS All Access.