Actor/director Jonathan Frakes is best known among Star Trek lovers for playing Commander William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) and in the Star Trek feature films. Before joining the other legends of Gene Roddenberry’s operatic future world, Frakes had worked on television and was a regular in two short-lived series, Bare Essence (1983) and Paper Dolls (1984).
The Pennsylvania native made his television debut in the 1979 movie Beach Patrol. Frakes has also appeared in numerous miniseries including Beulah Land (1980) and both installments of North and South (1985 and 1986). Frakes cut his directorial teeth with episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and went on to helm other episodes in the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
He has also directed episodes of Diagnosis Murder and University Hospital, as well as the CD-ROM Star Trek-Klingon (1996). Frakes made his feature-film debut as an actor in Star Trek: Generations (1994). He made his big-screen directorial bow in Star Trek: First Contact (1996). His fame from Star Trek has led Frakes to host various sci-fi/paranormal-oriented documentaries including the series Paranormal Borderline and the Fox network’s popular special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction. He also directed several episodes of Roswell.
His latest venture is the sci-fi actioner Clockstoppers, which revolves around Zak Gibbs (Jesse Bradford), the son of an acclaimed scientist, who stumbles upon his father’s greatest invention, “hyper time”. With the aid of a deceptively innocent looking wristwatch, Zak’s molecular structure is accelerated beyond the constraints of linear time. As a result, it appears as though time has stopped, but he keeps moving. Paul Fischer talked to Frakes about the film, sci-fi and Star Trek.
Question: Were you chosen to do this film because of your sci-fi background and is that an area that’s of particular interest to you?
Answer: I think that I’ve been pigeon-holed by virtue of the fact that I’ve spent so much time in front of a green screen. Also, the fact that Nickelodeon is part of the Paramount family, didn’t hurt and I’ve been over there for fifteen years so they knew I’d bring the movie on time and on budget, so it’s not too big a leap for them. It took me a long time to get off the Enterprise, but I finally did.
Question: What did you take from your “Star Trek” experience to lead you in this project?
Answer: Well, it’s all storytelling. I think that what happened with “Clockstoppers” is we had a couple of kids who hadn’t spent a lot of time doing visual effects and it was helpful to them to have an actor as a director who has spent so many hours with the motion-control camera and the green screen. I think I was able to explain to them ultimately what the shots would look like even though the elements they were shooting seemed so ridiculous.
Question: Why do you think the story works better as a caper with good guys and bad guys rather than just, ‘what would kids do with this power?’
Answer: I think in general, you need a bad guy to have someone to root against and I think kids understand a story more clearly if there’s an evil element for them to cheer against and to root for the good guys.
Question: What from this script appealed to you?
Answer: It’s a simple concept, but a high concept – the idea that there’s an invention that speeds up your molecules so fast that everything around you appears to be standing still. The idea of that and the wacky hijinks that ensue and the possibility of what you can do, I think appeals to kids of all ages and it certainly appealed to me.
Question: There was a nice in-joke where (Paula) said, “make it so, number 1…”
Answer: That’s not my fault. You have Dave Stem and Dave Weiss to blame for that, the “Rugrats” writers who came on board to doctor up Rob Hedden’s script. That was not my suggestion. I was a little embarrassed by it, but people insisted that it would get a smile and I hope it does.
Question: Have your kids seen the film?
Answer: More than once. I’m a big hit at home. I’m sure they’re much more excited about this obviously than the “Star Trek’s” or the “Roswell’s” or anything else that I do because it’s right down the pipe for kids and it’s advertised so heavily on Nickelodeon, which is a channel they spend a lot of time watching.
Question: Was it a conscious decision to go for a more family film than something more sci-fi and action-oriented for adults?
Answer: I sort of made a deal with myself that if I was going to spend a year on a project, I wanted my kids to see it at the end so they know where Dad has been. Because of the Nickelodeon philosophy, this fit right in there.
Question: Is “Star Trek” too intense for them?
Question: Were you also set to direct the latest “Star Trek” feature or was that never on the table?
Answer: I was never offered it.
Question: Were you disappointed or surprised?
Answer: I was surprised.
Question: You’re obviously involved as an actor, however…
Answer: Yeah, we just finished shooting. It’s actually going to be a fabulous movie – “Nemesis.” It’s back to the great, big action-adventure, galactic stakes with Picard and the Enterprise coming to save the day. It’s old “Star Trek.” It’s big. It’s a war movie.
Question: There were some reports that the cast would’ve preferred that you directed the film. Is that so?
Answer: I have no idea.
Question: Can you tell us if you’ve heard anything about “Roswell?” It seems like the cast is already moving on and sets are being dismantled. Is there an official word?
Answer: There is no official word and we’re trying to find a home for it on another network.
Question: Would that be like the SciFi Channel?
Answer: Yeah, exactly.
Question: What can you tell us about the pilot you’re directing now – “Twilight Zone?”
Answer: We have too little time, but it’s going to be spectacular. Pen Densham (longtime writer, producer, director – currently overseeing “The Outer Limits”) wrote it and I think it’s got real style. I’m on my way into there now. “The Twilight Zone” is a franchise not unlike “Star Trek” that people have very fond, specific memories of and I think they’re realistic and macabre and still have parables is similar to what Roddenberry and the original “Star Trek” was like.
Question: Are you prepared for “Clockstoppers” to become a franchise and how many more of this series would you be willing to helm?
Answer: From your mouth to God’s ears. I have high hopes for “Clockstoppers,” but be careful what you wish for. I think it’s got great possibilities for a franchise and a TV series. We’ll see what happens on Easter weekend.
Question: What challenges did you have directing “Clockstoppers” versus a “Star Trek” film?
Answer: Well, we had to create everything from scratch. On “Star Trek,” a lot of things are in place. The cast obviously knows how to play their characters. The sets are where they are. Not the style so much, but you have a pretty good sense of how we interact. We have a great shorthand because we’ve all spent so many years together. On “Clockstoppers,” it was building from the ground up. Meeting new people, getting to know what their idiosyncrasies are like, deciding on how the characters behave, what they look like, so it was more challenging and I think as a result, I think, possibly more satisfying.
Question: Do you think you’ll be doing more Nick films, possibly? At the junket, they mentioned that they were looking to do more sci-fi type films…
Answer: I’m hoping to do another one as soon as next year. They’re a wonderful company to work with.
Question: Do you have a script for the second “Clockstoppers” yet?
Answer: We don’t. We’ll see how that opening weekend does and I bet one can turn up pretty quick.
Question: What do you think about “Enterprise?”
Answer: I actually like “Enterprise.” I think Scott Bakula is a wonderful leader both on-camera and off. It’s got a cast that seems to have gelled, they all to genuinely get along. They’re a great company of actors. I’m very impressed. I’m hoping to get over there next year to do a couple.
Question: In what capacity?
Answer: As a director, I hope. If Berman will have me, of course.
Question: Do you think this next “Star Trek” pic will be the last?
Answer: Only if it doesn’t do well. I think, unfortunately or fortunately, the reality of Hollywood is that if your movie makes money, they’ll make another one. I think that’s true of “Star Trek” as well.