Let’s start with the basics. Why you? Why were you picked for the “Star Trek” musical episode?
I had a meeting with [Alex Kurtzman’s production company] Secret Hideout, and first of all, the first season of “Strange New Worlds” hadn’t even aired yet, and I was like, “Look, I mean, [“Star Trek” shows are] all good, but why another one?” I said, “What was so fascinating about the original was every week you’d just sort of be something completely different. You could be the tribble comedy, you could be in an interracial romance, you could be a courtroom drama.” And they were like, “That’s exactly what we’re doing with this.” They said, “And we have two episodes open. We have a sitcom and we have a musical.” They don’t hire directors to do blocks because every episode is so uniquely different. They really want to find the right person. And I had done a musical “Flash” and “Supergirl” episode called “Duets,” in which the alternate Earth was kind of a weird Bugsy Malone ’50s gangster world.
Not to blow my own horn, but Vanity Fair did a really flattering review and called it quite possibly the best hour of musical television ever produced. I had done some other music-influenced episodes of “Prodigal Son” and I had come of age as a cinematographer when MTV was really making music videos. So I was making three to four minute movies set to music almost once a week for quite a few years. We met, we talked about it. Obviously Bill [Wolkoff] and Dana [Horgan] wrote a great script and they took a swing with me and I’m so happy. It’s a career highlight.
What was the big thing you learned from your “Flash” episode? The thing that made you say, “Yeah, we’ve got to make sure we do this in ‘Star Trek,'” or “We’ve got to make sure we don’t do this”?
“Flash” wasn’t … I mean, it was grounded and they were trying to get out of this world they’re stuck in, but everything’s sort of a little heightened in the DC world. What’s amazing with “Strange New Worlds” is how grounded — even though you’re in outer space and going to strange new worlds every week — is how grounded that show is. I think it’s paramount to what Akiva [Goldsman] and Henry [Alonso Myers] were setting out to do. I guess the biggest takeaway I had learned was just how prepared you need to be. I mean, [“Flash”] was an eight-day episode with probably half the money, so every minute counts — not that it didn’t on twice the budget and almost twice the days, but really getting the actors familiar with their songs. Because when I came on board, music was temp recorded with the other singers.
As I was imagining choreography for the two weeks I was on before my regular prep started, I was with the choreographer walking the stages, just trying to get a … really wanting to differentiate each song from the next in how the characters moved and how we were going to have the camera visualize it differently. I had certainly learned the stakes in one hour TV with “Flash,” but this was its own animal and I was looking to sort of make it its own, so I wasn’t looking to really repeat “Flash.” But coming from music videos, I had worked with actors that were appearing in music videos. We were working with non-actors because the singers wanted to play the parts in their videos and go in and out of narrative to song, so I had quite a bit of experience doing that, good or bad. I hope good, in everybody’s eyes that sees it.