April 24 2024

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McNeill To Berman, I Want To Direct!

3 min read

For Robert Duncan McNeill, being persistent led to his first directing project.

By the time he was finished with Star Trek, McNeill had directed four episodes of Voyager and four episodes of Enterprise. He then went on to direct other TV shows after Star Trek: Enterprise concluded.

On the first day of the Voyager pilot, he went after Rick Berman in hopes of getting to direct an episode of the new show. “I said to Rick, ‘You know, Rick, I’ve been observing directors for a few years now, on different shows, but every show I get on seems to get canceled before we even complete a full season. So, I haven’t had a chance to direct on anything up until now. I’ve been shadowing and observing, and you guys have had a history of letting actors direct. So, I’m just letting you know…'”

Berman was noncommittal. “Yeah, we’ll see,” he told McNeill. “In a couple of years. Let’s get the show going, and we’ll see.”

But McNeill was not having that. “I was like, ‘No, no, I want to direct first season, because I’ve been on shows that got canceled,” he said. “As much as I believe this will run a long time, whatever it takes, I want try to direct as soon as possible. Will you let me know what I need to do?’ I think that first day he thought it was just a lot of talk. But I kept speaking to him. I talked to [Jonathan] Frakes and other people who’d done it. I started spending time in editing and screenings, particularly screenings when Rick was in the room. I wanted to hear what he liked, what he didn’t, how he thought, how things could’ve been directed better… All of that.”

Even though McNeill had been learning how to direct, he increased his efforts, hoping to meet up to Berman’s unofficial requirements. He shadowed Les Landau, Frakes, and Rick Kolbe. “Because I’d been shadowing directors and I’d been on the set a long time, I felt like where I was learning the most was in the editing room, going to post, sitting in production meetings, listening to how all the department budgets worked,” he said. “Things like that.”

McNeill was “excited…ready…[and] terrified when his turn came with the episode Sacred Ground. “You run on adrenaline that first time or two, or twelve,” he said. “You don’t know what you don’t know when you start out directing. That’s good, in a way, because, you’re not locked into tricks and things you’ve done before.”

Which show was he satisfied with his work the most? “Someone to Watch Over Me,” he said. “I think that was my best episode. It had comedy. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do not just one-hour dramas, but comedy, over the years, as a director. Though my background as an actor wasn’t heavy in comedy, I just feel comfortable in that genre. I like working on lighthearted scenes with actors and characters. I find it satisfying. I feel like I have a good radar for comedy.”

Would McNeill direct Star Trek: Discovery if the opportunity arose? “I wanted to direct Discovery,” he said. Changing times though, might get in his way. “Discovery does a limited number of episodes and a priority there is to get female and diverse directors, so there are fewer opportunities for people like me, which is a great thing. But, yeah, if the opportunity arose to direct Discovery and I fit what they needed and it fit my schedule, I’d love to do it.”

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