My celestial ride with Star Trek: Picard began when I was shooting Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 in Toronto. Thank you to Olatunde Osunsanmi, who gave me that call. He was running the show, and he was a director I had previously worked with in New York on the series Gotham. Also, thank you to Alex Kurtzman, the grand-master executive of the Star Trek franchise, who gave me the ‘live long and prosper’ thumbs up.
I wrapped my season of Discovery, and I was going to remain on the team for the next season, but after a few weeks of prep, the executives asked if I would entertain going back to L.A. to work on Picard Season 2 and 3 — back-to-back seasons! I live in Los Angeles but had been away from home for most of the past seven years, working all over the country except for L.A. I said yes, and three days later I was in a conference room with the entire writing staff, producer Dylan Massin, and one of the showrunners, Akiva Goldsman. They were breaking down the next two seasons, but concentrating on Season 2, which was to start production very soon. Gulp.
I thought Picard Season 1 was fantastic, so I had a knot in my throat as I stepped in to help helm this ship that was already sailing toward Season 2 and 3. My rotating partner for Season 2, Jimmy Lindsey, ASC, was also hired, and guided by our ‘Zen master and Wizard of Oz,’ Alex Kurtzman, we began our prep immediately and diligently. Alex loves Panavision, especially their lenses, and so do I, so our conversations were immediately aligned regarding the look. He is very specific, meticulous, and had a very clear picture in his creative mind.
Look books were important to communicate attitude, emotion, feeling, colors, compositions, etc., especially during this Covid time of meeting over Zoom as opposed to being tactile and direct with meetings around the drawing table. I looked at all the Alien films and studies the colors and movements of their great DPs: Derek Vanlint, CSC; Adrian Biddle, BSC; Alex Thomson, BSC; Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC; Dariusz Wolski, ASC. These films were seeds to fuel my inspiration. And of course, the granddaddy of all sci-fi films for me is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, photographed by the great Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC. I would watch this film before each season of work, just to keep it in to my DNA.
Jimmy and I were discussing lenses for Picard, and we’re both huge fans of Panavision’s T Series anamorphic lenses. I like the Ts because of their undeniable personality and presence, with an inkier bite of contrast — I did not want to use softer lenses with lower contrast. In outer space and in the dark galleys of spaceships, I felt the darkness of the blacks should be deep and haunting, and the roll-off into darkness should be discernibly sharp and defined.
My chief 1st AC, Chad Rivetti, was key on executing the prep of our camera package for these next two seasons of work. We had an enormous amount of detail in our equipment, and Panavision's David Dodson made sure we had what we desired and needed, always with unconditional love and enthusiasm. This is the philosophical strength and backbone of Panavision: servicing their clients in a personal way.
I have been part of the Panavision family going on 40 years now, from when I was a camera assistant in New York, prepping at General Camera. As a Sicilian, family and loyalty are most crucial to me, and Panavision has always made me feel safe and secure. I've always known I can rely on them in any difficulty that may surface - technically or even personally - any time of the day.
We had three Panavised Arri Alexa Minis for Picard, one each for A and B camera, and the third was either built for Steadicam or crane. These tools were operated by a great team of camera operators: Nicholas Davidoff, SOC, on A camera and Brian ‘Joey’ Morena on B camera, with Brian Bernstein, SOC and Brooks Robinson, SOC, filling out our team of ‘day players.’
Picard Season 3 mostly took place in our spaceship set, the USS Titan. When production designer David Blass and his great team — including Doug Drexler, John Eaves, James Addink and Bill Krause — designed this set for Season 2, it was the USS Stargazer, but we knew that we would be repurposing it as a new ship for Season 3. There were numerous discussions on the subject, led by Season 3 showrunner Terry Matalas. As mentioned, these two seasons were shot directly back-to-back — we finished Season 2 on a Friday and started Season 3 that Monday!
My personal approach shifted from Season 2 to 3 because Season 3 was a different beast: more visceral, bolder action, backstory drama, bringing back the world-famous Next Generation cast, and bringing on legendary actress Amanda Plummer, who entered our cast as the dark and unhinged Captain Vadic, commander of the Shrike.
For Season 3, Jon Joffin, ASC joined me as my alternating partner. I love executing close-ups with close-focus wide-angle lenses; I love that round, super-close, intimate feel when it's a very important line. Jon was awesome with his own aesthetics as well. We had individual thumbprints, but we collectively adhered to the story and the mission at hand. My personal Zen approach was to not be fearful and to conceive outside the box as much as I could without breaking the 'canon methodologies' the franchise adheres to so vigorously. I needed to remind myself with a mental pinch every now and then that this is the largest franchise in history!
I get so very excited to explore new chapters in my photographic life. Before the science-fiction world of Star Trek, I was photographing the DC Comics show Gotham, which allowed me to create worlds that were colorful and surreal, far from reality, filled with supervillains and inspired by a young Bruce Wayne’s desire for justice. This is what keeps me inspired, learning from and being surrounded by great artists from many different crafts, sharing our creative visions, all collaborating to singularly execute a story.
All images courtesy of Crescenzo Notarile, ASC, AIC.