Part 3: Taking My Station
After a pretty sleepless night, I arrived at the studio at 8:30 a.m., where I parked my car and packed up just the essentials (camera, car key, business cards and my Enterprise communicator). I walked over to wardrobe where I arrived a little early, so Carol, who had been so cool the day before, showed me around the wardrobe area (at my prompting, of course).
It was great. She showed me the EVAC suits, the desert wear, Xindi reptilian outfits, admiral uniforms, T’Pol outfits, a special rack for every Archer uniform (including the ones messed up in “Hatchery” and other shows). Amazing stuff. Then she said, “Oh let me take you to the archive and show you my favorite items. It’s a secret place, not supposed to allow people in, but ...”
So she grabbed a key and we went outside the wardrobe warehouse and upstairs to this different area for their costume archive. It was as big, if not bigger, possibly deeper, than the already big wardrobe room, and awesome. She took me through and it was suddenly apparent what she wanted me to see: The Ferengi outfits. They were wonderful to see all together. Very colorful. There must have been 30 of them. I thanked her profusely.
We then went back to change and my stuff was hanging as anticipated in a little stall labeled for “Starfleet Men.” I took a couple of pictures and struggled into the uniform. When I walked into the room and saw my nametag on the uniform it was pretty exciting. After I finally got into it (again, not easy with my stiff range of motion), Phyllis helped me straighten out the undershirt underneath, because it is next to impossible to not have it bunch up as you pull on the jump suit. I really can’t explain how difficult it was to get my arms into the jump suit. And when wearing it, it pulled my shoulders down so much it was difficult to stand up straight, but I straightened my shoulders for the next 12 hours and stood tall.
While I was dressing, Scott Hill (a nice extra showed up and I was just finishing when he started dressing). We were in a very small room in the back of the wardrobe place. Scott was very nice and was at the helm all day in the shooting and has said he has done many episodes previously. (He is extremely recognizable for anyone that has watched the show consistently.)
“Breaking the Ice”
After getting into my uniform, I left wardrobe to walk over to the sound stage. Oops. I looked at the map wrong and walked all the way over to Stage 17 next to the Cooper building (which I had scouted out as the Trek offices the day before, but never actually went into). The problem was that they have a weird chronology in counting the stages and Stage 17 stops in the southwest corner and then Stage 18 (where I was supposed to be) starts up again right next to wardrobe in the direct opposite northeast corner. So I had to walk all the way back and was now actually worried about being a little late, even though it was not even 9:20, which was still 10 minutes before my call time for just showing up at wardrobe. It makes perfect sense that the main stage they use would be right next to wardrobe, but I wasn’t thinking too clearly (obviously).
I made it back in front of Stage 18 and was looking for hair/make-up. It is worth pointing out at this time I was pretty much on my own. I was not getting any royal treatment at all and just basically having to find my own way.
I spotted two people, a man and a woman, talking and they noticed I was looking a bit quizzical, so I introduce myself. This introduction would be a funny irony. The guy was Dave Trotti, the First Assistant Director and he ended up being the greatest guy ever. He really took care of me, despite obviously being the linchpin to everything happening that day on set and being busy for every second of it (organizing crews, calling shots, schedules, etc.).
The woman he was talking to was an associate director or something (Jeanne) and I could immediately tell she was kind of crabby. Right away I was thinking I didn’t like her much, which would prove to be an accurate assessment on my part. She just wasn’t very nice throughout the day and obviously wasn’t going to be helping me much.
We were literally standing in a small alleyway and Jeanne pointed out that on one side was Stage 18, where we would be shooting all day, and on the other was a row of trailers, with the nearest one being the hair/make-up trailer. Jeanne then popped into the trailer to see if they were ready for me, but I had to wait for Scott to get done because he had beaten me there after my earlier detour.
While I was standing there waiting, the only other extra showed up for work. Her name was Cecilia and she was probably about 35, with red hair and a regular extra. She was very cool and we got along very well and gave me an audience for my many jokes.
(Later, Cecilia would tell me a great story about putting out a fire in a Season Three episode and someone on set deciding it would be better if a man did it after the first take, so all the women on the set went crazy and she ended up doing it.)
I briefly explained my situation to her and used my line for the first of probably 15 times in which I said: “Let’s just say it was enough for someone to take a first class two-week cruise through the Caribbean or something.” And adding: “I’ve traveled a lot and will travel again, but for me this is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and I’d much rather do this for one day than that for two weeks.”
After 10 minutes or so, Jeanne came back and got me into the hair trailer. In similar fashion to my good fortune of meeting Bob Blackman on Thursday, I got to have my hair done by Trek hair guru Michael Moore. That was a treat. He was a nice guy, and laughed at my jokes about my horrible cowlick and my nightmare, ducktail neckline. As you can see from the photos, my hair was quite 22nd century Starfleet regulation (also known as pretty dorky).
With my hair complete after about 10 minutes, I went outside and Jeanne told me the drill: “We are going to be inside shooting on Stage 18 all day. So you can hang out in there and there is a bench in the back for the extras.” (What she actually meant was, “I don’t like dealing with extras, and there is a crappy wood bench way back in a dark corner very far from all the action, past the nice director’s chairs and all the important things.” I honestly had no issue with this, but it was fascinating to see how the cogs turned in the machine.)
This was the moment. I was about to do something I have literally wanted to do my entire life.
As I walked through the side door into Stage 18, I was completely blown away by the first thing I saw, which was the bridge set, where I would be filming all day. Incredible. The bridge was awesome. Even more impressive than I expected. It was all enclosed except for the view screen section, and the lights were all blazing. Unreal. (Later in the day, David took me to the control room behind the bridge that housed all the computer commands for the screens and that was incredibly fascinating to see.)
At that point I walked around the main set area a bit to get the lay of the land, and I still didn’t have any one really showing me around much. So after looking at the bridge from afar, I found the bench in the back and it was way back at the edge of one of the Enterprise corridors. The other two extras were very matter of fact about being on the outer edges, knowing their place and that it is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait in this business. They were most concerned about having a light set up in the corridor so they could read, which I didn’t really comprehend until later when all the lights were turned out during filming. Without the light, they would literally be in the pitch dark for long stretches of time.
After talking to each of them for a bit about my story and their stories, I worked my way back to the bridge set. At this point I noticed some of the main actors were there and they were about to go through a quick rehearsal of the first scene being shot. (I quickly learned that the normal procedure was to get the main actors [First Team] in to walk through a scene and make sure they know what they are doing and how it works. Then the stand-ins for each major actor [Second Team] comes in and copies their motions so that the camera and lighting people can figure out exactly how to light the shot, etc. Then they bring back the first team in costume, they do one or two more rehearsals and then all the make-up people come out to touch everyone up, and then they shoot the scene. Very cool.)
Anyway, I got back to the bridge and Connor Trineer (Trip), Linda Park (Hoshi) and Gary Graham (Soval) were rehearsing their scene and it was exciting to see. I was in a good position to watch but was obviously to close for Jeanne’s liking as she approached me and said, “It is OK for you to be here during a rehearsal like this, but once they start setting up and shooting the scene, you really need to be away from here. There are benches in the back for the extras.” (Granted she was right that I obviously couldn’t be standing right there during the setting and shooting, but she just wasn’t too friendly. But no big deal. She was pretty irrelevant as the day progressed.)
During this first rehearsal I also got some more exciting news when I realized that Roxann Dawson (who played B’Elanna Torres on Voyager) was the director of my episode! I had been saying for months that I would really love it if a Roxann Dawson or Robert Duncan McNeil was the director and I lucked out with Roxann. The episodes she directs are always a little bit more special. I have a great amount of respect for the amount of work she was putting in.
“Strange New World”
So when the stand-ins hit the set, and the hustle bustle started with the cameras moving in and setting up for the shot, I moved back to the benches and the set corridors. When I got back to where Cecilia and Scott were, since no one was really showing me the sets, I started walking down the corridor and was just blown away by how real it felt as it branched out in two directions and just kept going.
(A brief description of how this huge room was laid out: the room was rectangular, and the original door I entered was along a short wall, so the room was very deep in front of me. As I said before, the bridge set was right in front of me as I walked in, with the space of the bridge and the space for the cameras and cranes taking up about a fifth of the rectangular stage. As I faced the bridge from the door, to my right was a small area for craft services all day and to my left was the working area for cameras, etc. Beyond the bridge area was a small opening in the large room, where the make-up people were hanging out and where some director’s chairs for the cast were positioned as a rest area, and then beyond that was a huge labyrinth of additional sets, all connected and intertwining. This area took up a more than half of the overall space in Stage 18. Finally, in the far corner of the stage, deep to my right from the original entrance point was a single shuttlepod, where I would learn later is for shooting all internal shuttlepod scenes.)
As I began my exploration of the main sets, I walked down the corridors and it was extremely dark. After I turned down one path I could hardly see where I was going. As you can see from the many pictures I took on this portion of my visit, I used my digital camera to show me everything. I would make out a shape in the dark, hold the camera up, take a picture and then look at how clean it came out with the digital flash. It was a clever way to see what I couldn’t see on this “unofficial tour of the sets.” I took pictures of the transporter area and console, a bunch in Engineering, a bunch in the shuttle bay and a bunch in the corridors. It was amazing to me how each corridor led to another recognizable set. Whether it be the de-con chamber or engineering or the shuttlebay, it was amazing how it all came together. When I was in the shuttle bay, walking next to one of the shuttles, I looked down and saw the markings on the floor where the shuttle bay doors opened, and I literally took a stutter step, not wanting to fall through them and be exposed to deep space. That impromptu tour was great, and I would eventually get back to see everything later through David, but loved that first excursion, eventually coming out all the way on the other side of Stage 18, just behind the bridge (opposite the door leading outside).
When I came out there, I noticed one last set on Stage 18, the captain’s ready room set. It was located in a small little cubby hole right next to the bridge, almost in the spot it would be in the ship, but the passage from the ready room exit on the bridge didn’t connect with the ready room stage. This stage was small, but impressive and even though it was completely dark and covered with protective plastic, the lights on all the consoles were working and active (as they must be under the same controls as the bridge). I actually never saw a way into this small set, as I’m sure it was mobile and could be pulled out for more convenient shooting. The only way I could see into it was looking through a cutout hole for the window that you had to crouch to see through.
By this time it was probably around 10:15 a.m. or so and I was getting pretty anxious to see what I would really be doing. The week before I had been told I would be at tactical, but I wasn’t taking anything for granted.
The crew was just beginning the process of filming the first scene, which takes place around Hoshi’s station. At this point, Cecilia showed me a great place to watch from back along the back wall, next to the sound guys and behind the director’s location, in which they are monitoring what the cameras are shooting on two big digital monitors. From this location, I could see into the bridge, I could hear pretty well and I could see all the action on the monitors. It was amazing to watch. I had a great view of everything from this spot.
While I was standing there the first time, one of the stand-ins was hanging out there and damn if this guy wasn’t the splitting image of Billy Bob Thornton. His name was JR and he was very cool. He was standing in for Trip, so he had a lot of stuff to do during the lighting sequences. We were talking and he mentioned that Tag was a huge a soccer fan, which I didn’t know when we had talked the night before. Tag was the key 2nd AD John Tagamolila. We hadn’t met yet, but he was the guy who called me on Thursday night with my final call time. Obviously I was excited to hear this, as maybe I could take care of him in some way through my work connections.
I ended up watching from that spot behind the director as they filmed the first scene with Trip, Hoshi and Soval. As I was watching it, I made a point to think to myself, “I wonder if Gary Graham has ever worked on the bridge.” This is a good time to note, too, that his Vulcan make-up was just incredible. It was so authentic and cool. And I noticed he had a few scratches on his face, which later I read on the shooting schedule was noted as a continuity point to match his make-up from a previous scene (not yet filmed) when he gets injured. Cool.
After that shoot was over they started setting up for the next scene and I worked my way back over to the main area in front of the bridge and David was there and said, “OK, you are going to be in this next scene. You will be in 47 and 50. 50 is a short one, but 47 is being mainly shot from Hoshi’s side so your role will be significant.”
At that point, I still wasn’t sure all I would be doing, but hearing him say “significant” just sounded great. (And, of course, how great is it that I was going to be in scene 47!) He then pointed out to me this huge crane they have with the camera at the end of it that he said was “the bane of their existence, because it was so hard to move in and out of the sets for shot,” but added “it is absolutely worth it because of the shots it gets.” I was glad he pointed it out, because it was amazing watching them move the thing around in these small areas and never once banging it on a wall or lip of a ceiling or anything.
So after his brief description, I moved back to my place against the wall by the sound guy, behind the directors. I was there for only a bit when Karen (a DGA apprentice who was working her last day on the show, having graduated out of her three-month apprenticeship) came up to me and said, “that I need to take my position on the bridge.” Wooo hooo!
We started walking over and I said that “I need to put my camera away” (since it was in my pants and too bulky) and she said, “They did tell you that you can’t take any pictures of the sets, right?,” and I said, “Yes,” even though they hadn’t, “I have it just to get a picture of me in position on the set.” So she said, “OK, we can do that now,” but I didn’t want her to possibly discover my 20 pictures of the sets I just took so I said, “No, we can do it later” and I ran to throw the camera in Cecilia’s purse.
This was it. I was stepping on to the bridge to shoot an episode of Star Trek.
I moved back around the side of the stage and entered the bridge for the first time through the captain’s ready room door, which is right behind my tactical station. It was glorious. The bridge was absolutely incredible and when I sat down at tactical, I was pretty giddy. Cecilia was having a good time making fun of my excitement, in a good-natured way, as she settled in back in the situation room.
I must admit that while I was on set, things really did start to become a bit of a blur. I was trying to remember everything, but it was just all too much. I do remember being there for a few minutes when the main actors came in to take their stations. It was very exciting to see Connor Trinneer take his spot in the captain’s chair, just a few feet from me. Then Linda Park came in and took her spot at Hoshi’s communications station and Gary Graham, as the Vulcan Soval, took a spot at T’Pol’s usual station. It was all just too exciting.
There were two main things to accomplish in this scene and I was heavily involved in both, which is still amazing to me.
When I first sat down at the station I really tried to take it all in. The console was amazing and just so authentic. After getting a good feel for the station, I slid my chair back and checked out the stuff behind me, which was equally cool. I noticed at that point something I’d never seen before on the sets, which were levers up in the top of the panels that you can reach into and pull down. I was thinking they looked pretty cool and those levers would become significant later.
So as I sat there I got really, really focused on practicing pushing buttons and trying to look as good as possible. The suit was tight and constricting and I had to make a point to really straighten up and sit-up straight, so hopefully that will be the case in the shots I’m seen in.
As I started practicing, I really only got one bit of instruction from anyone and that was from Karen who said to make sure that I try to make it appear I’m doing the same thing consistently during each take, and to not reach too far. Both were bits of advice that made perfect sense.
The art of pushing buttons on the bridge of a starship is not as easy as it looks, but let’s face it, I was born to push buttons at the tactical station. I quickly got my plan in place. I would use the lower left buttons and the left side buttons as controls to reset whatever I was doing with my right hand. So I started with a couple of pushes in the lower right corner, then reached up to the upper right corner so that most of the motion was with my right hand while the left hand was pushing buttons in response to the right hand. It all felt very natural. After we started rehearsing, I also got smart and reached in the direction of the camera and Trip so I would make sure to open up my torso to them, rather than being facing them with an arm in front of me or something. (The sentence above makes sense to me, and that is all the really matters.)
At that point we went through a few rehearsals and then did the first scene, which was pretty innocuous (again, I can’t even remember what it was … it was a blur*). What I do remember about that scene was being so focused during rehearsals and just doing great, not thinking much, really feeling good about my motions and looks, and then when the first shot actually started rolling on film, I all of a sudden realized where I was and was struggling to not be grinning. I had been joking about an occurrence like this for weeks, and it happened. It was just a moment of “I can’t believe I am here doing this.” Funny stuff. I definitely wasn’t smiling broadly, but no doubt I was grinning.**
*Note: the first scene was me glancing up at Trip as he entered the bridge and then glancing up at the viewscreen as he spoke with V’Las.
**Note: the grinning cam when I put the ship on Tactical Alert, and if you look really close, you can see me grinning!
After that first scene came the first of several moments that defy description. As I was practicing for it, one of the stage hands came up and said, “OK, when we go to tactical alert, what Dominick normally does is hits two buttons with his right hand here, and then one with his left hand here.” It was kind of what I was already planning to do, but it was great to get that advice. The way the panels are placed, it is just go great pushing those buttons.
So in this next scene, Trip gives me a command to go to tactical alert and I get to nod and acknowledge him. Wooo hoooo! So great. What happened next was so awesome. We start doing the scene, and of course, I normally would have seen this coming, but wasn’t thinking about everything like that, so when the camera is rolling and he gives me the command to go to tactical alert, I nod to him, hit two buttons with my right hand and two buttons with my left and then WHAM, all the lights go down and the red alert lights come up on all the screens (including the one right in front of me, which changes to tactical alert status with the red hue). SO AWESOME! I’m still a bit in shock about that experience!
At some point in that second scene there was also a moment where David called out “tremble,” which I learned is not the same as “shake.” “Tremble” is a direction to the camera to give a slight shake, while “shake” is a direction to the actors to give a physical jolt. I didn’t know that later I would be shaking, but it was cool seeing how the “tremble/shake” thing worked. In fact at one point, when they were discussing whether it would be a tremble or a shake, Linda Park said “I don’t think we shake any more, right? Isn’t it all tremble now?” And there was much discussion, but we would definitely be shaking later!
So we went through that scene a couple more times and it was just GREAT, GREAT, GREAT! That wasn’t even my significant scene! There was still so much more to come! Are you kidding me?!?