Star Trek Continuum 1998
(This was online a couple of years ago, but I couldn't find it anymore, which is why I retyped it)
Tim Russ recently broke into new territory when he directed his first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, "Living Witness." Through this process, Tim allowed Star Trek Continuum to follow his progress and discuss the steps to directing a successful episode.
This is the first of an ongoing series of interviews with Tim, plotting his course through uncharted territory as a first-time director.
Tim, what led you to pursue the direction of an episode?
I took an interest in directing in the beginning of the 2nd season of Star Trek: Voyager. I approached [Excecutive Producer] Rick Berman and asked if I could enroll in a voluntary intern director program. This is something he has done which gives individuals who are interested in directing access to behind-the-scenes departments of production; production meetings, editing, screening of dailies, and the opportunity to observe directors on the set. So I basically did these kinds of things when I had the hours and days off to do so. I pursued it for the better part of three years. I also took a directing class, a workshop, during the year of 1997 and I read a number of books (on directing) during that time. Finally they (the producers) called me in December of 1997- about three weeks before Christmas - and said "would you like a slot in January of 1998, it'll be episode #23." And I thought, well now it's going to happen! And up to that point you're going through all the motions and taking it seriously, but it doesn't really impact you until they give you a show: a date and a production number. And at that point it becomes very serious, even urgent.
What would you recommend someone look for in a class or a book on directing? What types of things were you looking for in outside instruction?
The class that I took was interesting, but it wasn't to me as detailed (in terms of the mechanics of directing) as I wanted. Meaning the cutting, editing, how long a shot is, how it looks, how it cuts together with other shots, how the scenes are covered - the technical aspects of filming. The class I took concentrated more on the character relationships than the technical aspects of directing. My concern's got to be "how many opticals do I have in this scene?" and "Do I have to avoid shooting a certain part of the set?" If I've got to shoot five people with dialogue and at some point, I've got to reveal the opticals during this dialogue - This is what I'm concerned with. I've got to be able to plan that shot, determine where I'm going to put the camera. The first question the Director of Photography (DP) is going to ask is not "Do these characters have a relationship?" It's "Where do you want to put the camera?" If you have some knowledge of the different lenses, you can make a suggestion. The DP will take over in terms of the length of the lenses - it's just more of a question of what you want to see, where you want to cut and how you're going to cover it. The First Assistant Director (AD) and the Unit Production Manager (UPM) are asking you how many shots you have in this scene... If you don't know how many shots you have, because you haven't been concentrating on how it's broken down, then what do you tell them? So these are things that were missing in the particular class I took. There were other things that were interesting, but my job (for shooting television) is that it's more of coming in and blocking and getting the mechanics done. The aspect of acting did come up as a factor while shooting - which tended to take more of my time up than I assumed it would - but that isn't something I needed to go to workshops for [at this time]. The most important thing (to me) was that I knew how this thins was going to cut together. How was I going to plan this shot and how I was going to make this dramatic piece work, by cutting it together.