Okay, this doesn’t really have much to do with my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN (which you may find for purchase here on Amazon), but an interested reader stumbled across the fact that, for a brief time in my checkered past, I served as an extra and stand-in on Star Trek: The Next Generation, thereby upping my “geek cred” among sci-fi nerds throughout the Federation. Said reader asked if I would share some reminiscences of my Trek sojourn, and since followers of this blog tend to be fans of all things fantastic, I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the Adventures of Ensign Woodworth.
My Hollywood experience prior to Trek had been limited to some extra work on that timeless classic Teen Wolf, Too!, which filmed on campus at my alma mater Pomona College while I was a student there. I composed part of what the filmmakers referred to as “background action” or “atmosphere.” I found the latter term rather insulting, since it made us extras sound like nebulous, gaseous beings who would simply dissipate when the director yelled “Cut!” Nevertheless, I had fun on the set, despite catching a horrible stomach flu that nearly caused me to puke on star Jason Bateman as I rode behind him in a shuttle van when the last day’s shoot wrapped.
My first gig on Next Generation was as an unnamed, uncredited (of course) “security officer,” which in Classic Trek would have made me a “redshirt.” (Hence, the photo above.) Alas, I did not get to die horribly in the first act of either of the two episodes in which I was cast! (I would be remiss if I did not express gratitude to my childhood friend David Trotti, who was 2nd Assistant Director on the show and without whom I would never have had the opportunity to take part in it)
My stint began with the show’s costumers at Paramount Studios fitting me for my sleek, one-piece gold jumpsuit Next Generation uniform. To ensure an absolutely wrinkle-free veneer, I had to wear a special tuck-in tank top and brief undergarment combination. The jumpsuit worn over the undergarment consisted of a stretchy, Lycra-type material with bungee-type straps that ran underneath the soles of the costume’s boots to pull the entire outfit taut. This arrangement made the outfit look super-snappy, but it felt like I had giant rubber bands dragging down my shoulders all day. Furthermore, the uniform had no fly; in order to relieve yourself, you had to unzip the jumpsuit and essentially drop the entire costume down around your knees. The design made me wonder if people in the future will be genetically altered so they never need to go to the bathroom.
Sadly, I only got to be a human crew member on Next Generation. I was hoping I might get cast as an alien, not only because that would be even cooler from a geek standpoint, but because I’d get a “bump” in pay, as we extras say. I gather the amount of the “bump” depended on what percentage of your face they had to cover with makeup: a little bit more for a latex wrinkle across the bridge of your nose, more still for the ridged scalp of a Klingon, and most of all if they had to remake your whole visage.
Both of the scenes for which I served as “atmosphere” for Trek took place in Ten Forward, the lounge where Enterprise crew members go to unwind after a hard day of dodging photon torpedoes and repairing overloaded dilithium-crystal warp drives. No doubt this pub serves its squeaky-clean crew Trek patrons nothing but non-alcoholic smoothies and juice cocktails! (Actually, I vaguely recall reading a copy of the Next Generation series bible that stated that the drinks in Ten Forward are chemically designed to give crew members a pleasant buzz that, somehow, they can immediately shake off if the ship needs all hands sober on deck for an emergency. No bar fights, and the Enterprise navigators are never DUI! And, as I mentioned earlier, you never have to go to the bathroom, even after all that drinking. What a truly utopian future awaits us in the Trek universe!)
I first reported for duty in the Next Generation episode “Masks,” in which an alien archive starts to transform the Enterprise into a replica of what looks to be a Mayan temple. As I indicated, I was in a crowd scene in Ten Forward, strolling through the bar in the background with a colorful (and completely innocuous) cocktail in one hand while chatting with an attractive red-headed female navigator. Unfortunately, this scene appears to have ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor. (Not because of me, I hope!) At least, I have been unable to spot myself in the show in the couple of times I’ve watched the episode.
My second tour of duty on the Enterprise came in the episode “Bloodlines,” which centers around a young man who may—or may not—be Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s son. Again, the scene takes place in Ten Forward, where Picard and his presumed offspring are having an intense discussion. This time, I actually made the final cut: You can see me (albeit out-of-focus) in my gold security officer’s uniform seated at a table behind Picard’s “son,” where I am playing a futuristic checkers game with an older, African-American crew member. The actor playing my opponent was a very warm, funny gentleman who cracked me up with the flamboyant, enthusiastic jumps he made with his space-age checkers. Neither of us knew any rules for the game we were supposed to be playing, but whatever they were, he was clearly winning.
The rest of my work on Next Generation was off-camera as a stand-in for Picard’s “son” and for Brent Spiner, beloved by the known universe as that affable android Commander Data. As I was of a similar height and hair color to these two actors, the camera crew would use me to set the lighting, sharpen their focus, and practice any camera movements prior to the actual shot. I have particularly fond memories of Brent Spiner, who went out of his way to introduce himself and shake hands with me the first day I served as his stand-in. (Shaking hands with Data—I was in geek heaven!)
Spiner was as much fun off-camera as on. In between takes, he and Michael Dorn, who played the formidable Klingon Worf, would amuse themselves (and everyone else) by doing improv comedy. During one rehearsal for a scene on the Bridge, Patrick Stewart as Picard barked an order at the two of them, and they both dropped to the ground and crawled away like groveling slaves. On another occasion, they adopted the accents of Borscht Belt comedians and ad-libbed an incredible routine as the screenwriting Epstein brothers, doing a hilarious Yiddish version of Casablanca. (“This could be the start of a beautiful frayndshaft!”)
Messrs. Spiner & Dorn were not the only ones with a sense of humor on the show. In this pre-HD era, the set designers took advantage of the fact that the home audience would never be able to read the blurry, out-of-focus labels on the Enterprise’s control panels. They embedded several inside jokes on the Bridge and elsewhere, including a set of buttons devoted to the “Improbability Drive” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
My contact with the other principal actors on the series was limited, although I was seated on the ground near Patrick Stewart at one point when he stumbled slightly and used my shoulder to catch himself, for which he apologized like the English gentleman he is. (Picard almost fell on me! I was in geek heaven again.)
Those are the high points of my personal Star Trek voyage. I would love to post a picture of me in my security officer’s outfit, but everything Trek-related is so thoroughly copyrighted and trademarked that you’ll just have to take my word about how dashing I looked in uniform. Or squint really hard as you watch that one Ten Forward scene in “Bloodlines.”
Until our next blog journey…LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!