14 facts about Star Trek actor turned director Jonathan Frakes

By: H&I Staff    Posted: November 17, 2022, 1:22PM Tags: Tags: Star Trek

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Jonathan Frakes, also known as Star Trek's Commander William T. Riker, reminisced on his time in Star Trek's unofficial director's school in an interview with StarTrek.com. Read on below to get the fascinating details.

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He's No. 1

Frakes was the first Star Trek actor to attend the unofficial Star Trek directors’ school. He was also the most successful (in terms of Star Trek) according to executive producer, Rick Berman.  

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures 


the list goes on

His directing work in the Star Trek franchise includes 15 episodes in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Discovery, as well as the films First Contact and Insurrection. He will also be directing again on Discovery season two.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures


Not a sleeper

He realized he wanted to direct almost immediately during The Next Generation, partly because he got tired of naps. "The novelty of napping wore off. So, if I was between scenes, not working, I would take my fricking spacesuit off, hang out and watch (the directors). That was interesting to me. I've always been kind of a set brat.”

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures


Getting Schooled

It didn’t take long for him to speak up about wanting to direct. “In the beginning of season two, I voiced an interest to Rick (Berman) about directing, and I could feel his eyes roll. He and I were friends, in addition to being working companions, and he said, ‘Well you know what? You're gonna have to eventually train up.’”


Keepin' it old-school

Producer Bob Justman gave him old-school advice that sticks with him to this day. Frake recalled: “Justman said, ‘Never show up at the set without a shot list.’…He was an advocate, right from the beginning, for some reason. His role on the show, it was very much as a keeper of the old, of the Roddenberry, you know? He was a Roddenberry advocate and representative, and he was a gentleman. He knew a lot about production, so that piece of advice I give to all the young directors that'll listen to me.”

Photo Credit: StarTrek.com


No days off

On his days off from acting, he’d go to Paramount to spend time shadowing and learning in the editing room, pre-production, or — his favorite — scoring. When working with the score, “Dennis McCarthy was one of the only people still using a full orchestra, and I was a musician, so I loved that.”


Happy wife...

His wife made sure he kept working hard to achieve his goal of directing. “One day, I wasn’t feeling it. I said to my wife, the beautiful and talented Genie Francis, ‘You know what? I don't feel like driving in today.’ We were living in Tarzana then. She said, ‘You know what? The minute you start not showing up, it'll give Rick an opportunity to say you're really not interested.’ So, I got my ass in the car and drove to Paramount.”

Photo Credit: The Everett Collection



Starting out as a rookie director, lens size decisions were challenging. “Deciding on the lens sizes was harder then because it was on film. When you shoot now on digital, you can literally change the size of a shot by, maybe, up to 50%. So, if your shot was too wide, you can make it tighter in post-production. If your shot was too wide in the '80s, you missed getting the right coverage.”


Copy Cat

He shadowed four different directors to learn how each of them made the craft their own. “I followed Cliff Bole. I followed Bob Scheerer. I followed Rick Kolbe, and I followed Corey Allen.”

Photo Credit: StarTrek.com



Two years of shadowing finally paid off. “When I got 'The Offspring,' it was a scheduling situation, because I was light in the episode before it, so that I had time to prep. I had finally, I think by virtue of persistence, broken Rick down. This was the middle of season three, so I'd been shadowing for almost two years.”

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures



The team was super supportive going into his first episode directing. “The sound department gave me a big megaphone that everybody had signed, wishing me luck…. The camera, lighting and grip departments, I had really good working relationships with them. I remember Bob Sordal, the key grip at the time, who was about to retire, said, ‘You know, Frakes, you tell me what you want. We will build anything you want. Anything.’”

Photo Credit: TrekMovie.com


Step by Step

Working as an actor first, helped with directing both for his credibility with the crew and for his career, long term. “I [also] believe I wasn't arrogant about it, and I certainly felt prepared. So, I think I definitely made the right decision to pursue directing. It was actually one of the best decisions I ever made, because I have another craft. I like it better, and I'm better at directing than acting.”

Photo Credit: TrekMovie.com



He made a big mistake while directing ‘The Drumhead’ that he’ll be sure never to make again. He let ‘Worf’ actor Michael Dorn leave the set early, but later realized he still needed him. “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…. And it's not like you had an actor who you could just call back in and say, ‘Come back in,’ because this was [Worf], and that was 2 1/2 hours in makeup.”

“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 Marvin Rush, who I'm now working with on The Orville, I told him. 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, 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.”

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures


Two of a kind

Without Rick Berman, Frakes’ directing career would not be possible. “Rick specifically changed my life by allowing me, and encouraging me, and supporting me as a director… when we were doing First Contact and Insurrection together, it was the best of creative times because we have a similar sensibility and a similar sense of humor, and we like the same kind of music. I talk to him about it every time I see him. And sometimes when I feel something somewhere else, I'll send him a text and thank him. If it wasn't for him, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation.”

Photo Credit: The Everett Collection