Reading Rainbow “Behind the Scenes of Star Trek: TNG” (part 3 of 3)
“And so it goes,” LeVar explains, to a montage of the clapboard being clapped all over the set. Cut to LeVar back in his Casual Friday clothes, sitting in a canvas chair and holding a film strip up to the light. He says, “Close-ups… establishing shots… reaction shots… two-shots… zooms… pans… wide-angle shots…” He then sighs and says, “How do you make a show out of all of this?” He then pulls out more film, drapes it over his shoulders, and proceeds to stare at it like an ape discovering fire. And when it comes to making a show out of all of this, I would imagine step one is not draping the negative over your shoulders like a mink stole.
But the real answer, which we learn in VO, is that “you take it… to an electronic editing house!” Cut to the same scene we just saw being filmed, now on a small monitor in an editing room. Zoom out as LeVar enters and tells us we’re at the Post Group in Hollywood.
A guy who’s also in a stiff cotton shirt and jeans turns around, and LeVar introduces him as Rob Legato, TNG’s “visual effects supervisor”. Rob, in the years following this, did pretty well for himself. He moved on to doing effects for Deep Space Nine, then after that, feature films like Apollo 13 and Titanic, the latter of which won him an Oscar. Unfortunately, he seems to have fallen within the Michael Bay sphere of influence since then, because he did effects for both Armageddon and Bad Boys II. You win some, you lose some.
Rob and LeVar shake hands and go sit near two hairy guys, one with a mullet. Mullet Guy is Fred Remandi (I’m guessing on the spelling), and the other guy is Rich Thorne, who I assume is the same Rich Thorne who later worked on visual effects for X-Men and Daredevil and last year’s Fantastic Four. And also, the same guy who went on to direct Dr. Doolittle 3. Yeah, I had no idea there was a third one, either. Probably because it went straight to video and doesn’t even star Eddie Murphy. That’s got to be one hilarious movie.
LeVar is still in Retard Mode, so he yells out, “So this looks pretty complicated! What are all these buttons and knobs?” O-kay, I think we’re gonna be here for a while.
They patiently explain it’s this thing called an ed-it-ing console, and Fred likens this to a “remote control” connection to machines “downstairs in the basement, so to speak.” What does he mean by that? If they’re not in the basement, where are they? He shows off his special editing keyboard, and LeVar says, “Well, let’s edit some film!” Okalee-dokalee, neighbor!
Fred says they’re working on scene 42 (at least he doesn’t say 47), which Rob reminds LeVar is “the one with the solar flares”. Is that what they ended up calling the episode, Friends-style? I’ve long believed that’s how all Star Trek episodes should be named.
LeVar says in VO that “Editing film… or, video tape… is like putting together a puzzle!” Yes, in the sense that it’s incredibly hard, and few people have the patience for it. So we finally zoom in on the monitor to see the finished scene. Well, they cut away halfway through, and there’s no background “rumble” of the ship’s engines, and you can still hear the turbolift doors sliding on their tracks. But other than that, a finished scene.
LeVar distracts us from this by declaring that “what makes Star Trek unique… happens next! Those ammmmazing special effects!” Kind of amusingly, we immediately see a clip from TNG where they blatantly reuse the Spacedock starbase from The Search for Spock. It’s those ammmmmazing recycled props!
There’s a shot of the Enterprise going into Ludicrous Speed, with nebulous energy masses zooming past. I’m not the world’s foremost expert on first season TNG, but I’m pretty sure this is from the episode “Where No One Has Gone Before”. In the episode clips, Geordi kind of blandly states that they’ve passed Warp 10. Of course, according to the Voyager episode “Threshold”, this would mean the Enterprise is occupying all points in the universe at once, which it clearly isn’t. Just one more reason to wipe “Threshold” from canon and all of our memories, as if any more were necessary.
LeVar’s VO says Rob and his team create these effects “in some very surprising ways!” Still down in the editing room, Rob and LeVar stand in front of a short black cylinder. It has a script on top, apparently to illustrate to the retarded kids at home that the visual effects start with the script. LeVar picks up the dummy script and pointlessly stares at it while Rob talks.
LeVar (supposedly) reads out of the script while we see finished clips from an episode, which must be “When the Bough Breaks”. Again, I don’t know the first season that well, but I do see Jerry Hardin in the clip. You might know him best as Deep Throat on The X-Files, but he appears on this very site as the booking cop in Mitchell. He also showed up on TNG again, playing Mark Twain in the “Time’s Arrow” two-parter.
Back in the editing room, Rob talks about how he envisioned a 100-foot octagonal tower for the scene, and LeVar picks up the actual model, which is just two feet tall. Rob explains it’s made up of pieces from different model kits. Kitbash! Yeah, baby! And then we see the same prop in the episode, and yep, it does look 100 feet tall. Kudos, Rob. Though I kind of find it hard to believe that this, of all things, was the best example he had on hand of his effects work.
Then LeVar randomly starts talking about the beam-up effect. Rob again says everything starts with the description in the script, and eventually reveals he used “sparkles, like you buy at a… hobby shop”. And to create the effect, he would “suspend them with water”. To demonstrate, he dumps sparkles in a big beaker of water and stirs them, and then there’s a close-up on the sparkles spinning through the water. A typically astonished LeVar says in VO, “Look at that! You can actually see those sparkles in the beam-up effect!” I wouldn’t go that far, but I suppose it’s at least where they got the ball rolling.
Rob stirs and stirs some more. LeVar confesses, “Rob, that’s amazing.” As far as sparkles deposited in water go? Yes, it is pretty incredible. There’s a sliding scale for awesomeness when it comes to metallic particles deposited in fluid, though.
Then Rob pulls out a small shuttle model they used for a “matte painting shot”, and describes how they flew this in front of the Enterprise in Spacedock, which I have to assume happened in the pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint”.
Rob calls it a “scout ship”, and says they “didn’t have much money” (on the first season of TNG? Get outta town!), so they used a disposable razor for part of it. And indeed, you can actually make out the Gillette logo [!] on the side of the ship—no lie. He points out the little LED lights in the front, which they “shot in smoke”, and then we see the final result, which is a rather well-done shot of the Enterprise with the little scout ship passing by in the background.
LeVar happily asks, “You like what you do, don’t you?” Okay, so I guess this is the part of the show where we ask random questions. And it’d be so awesome if Rob suddenly got a defeated look, hunched his shoulders, and confessed right here and now to hating his job, his life, then hurled some random insults at Rick Berman (I imagine something along the lines of “dipshit”), and finished up by saying he wants to divorce his wife. Instead, he stays low key and calls it all “fun” and a “challenge”.
LeVar turns to us and uses his crazy psychic abilities to read our thoughts and know that we’re “all wondering where the real Enterprise is!” Kirk’s ship? He says that “earlier today” they went to Image G, which is “where the Enterprise lives!”
To the opening strains of the theme song, we cut to the big Enterprise D model in a darkened room. LeVar and Rob step behind the model, and Rob says it’s six feet long. It’s also upside down, which Rob explains by saying it’s easier to shoot across the top of an upside down model than to shoot across the bottom of it right side up, especially since they can easily flip the camera upside down.
Cut to a camera on a robotic arm whizzing around the underside of the beached Enterprise. Helpful LeVar cries, “So the camera is actually… moving around!” Wow, quite an astute observation. And with no assistance from his VISOR, even. Rob then gives genuine insight: They don’t move the ship, they move the camera, “so it’s all lit correctly”. Makes sense, really. Then there’s raw footage from the robotic camera, which is fun to see.
Back in the editing room now, LeVar is sitting beside the hairy guys and telling us how they’re ready to “put the Enterprise into space! This, I wanna see!” Because he has never actually seen the show.
So Fred Remaldi, or whatever his name is, explains how they put the Enterprise in orbit above a planet, and how they first cut out the ship’s silhouette. Whatever he’s talking about is not explained all that well, but he says they use a “cookie cutter of sorts” to “cut a hole in the background”. On a monitor, he shows us a big black Enterprise-shaped blob over the planet. LeVar reflexively goes, “Wow.” At this point, you have to wonder what wouldn’t impress LeVar.
Then somebody pushes a button, and the Enterprise appears, and LeVar asks if they can make it “move in this picture?” No, LeVar, all of TNG is rendered through still shots, much like the animation on Reading Rainbow. So, some other random buttons are pushed, and then an energy discharge comes around the planet, hits the Enterprise, and sends it spinning away. “Whoooooa!!!” LeVar exclaims.
LeVar enthusiastically thanks the guys for everything he’s “learned” today, and heads out. After he leaves, there’s an awkward shot of the guys saying stuff like, “Let’s cut to the ship!” “Good, you got it.” Wow. I hope they don’t really talk like this when there are no cameras around.
After a few random TNG clips, LeVar is wandering through the Enterprise corridors. He talks about the “miles of corridor”, and “how much power it takes to keep it running.” He steps into the Engineering set, with the pulsating warp core in the background, and kind of implies the warp core prop is what’s actually powering the set. I could believe that. But then again, I also believe the flux capacitor can really send Michael J. Fox back in time.
LeVar says, “This is the energy source that powers the Enterprise as she explores new worlds!” And he does a completely unnecessary bicep flex on the word “powers”. If he air-writes the number “12”, I am so out of here.
He declares this to be “pretty impressive”, and yeah, I guess a giant stack of fluorescent lights could be impressive in the right context. “There’s something else that can help you explore the universe,” he says. Any guesses? “Books!” Hey, how did you know he would say that? He says that if we liked The Bionic Bunny Show, here are more books that can “take you where you’ve never gone before!” Hey, nice subtle Trek reference there, LeVar. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit.
So, this is the fabled “book report” segment of Reading Rainbow, where they round up various kids, shove them in front of the camera, and make them act excited about books. And of course, LeVar introduces it with the exact same line he uses to kick off this segment in every other episode of Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”
First up is a hyperactive kid telling us about the book Lights! Camera! Action! God, does he need his Ritalin. He says this book tells you all about “pre-production, production, and post-production!” Sounds pretty comprehensive, no? He says he wants to be a director when he grows up because he’ll “get to tell people what to do and when to do it”. Aw, they say the darndest things, don’t they? So it looks like being a director—or an abusive husband—is the color of his parachute.
Next up is Deirdre Avery, the 12 year old version of Lela Rochon, with a book about the philharmonic. Am I an absolute pervert for wanting to know what she looks like nowadays? I mean, she has to be at least thirty by now.
I guess this is a book about musicians bathing and getting dressed and getting ready to perform. Deirdre totally brags that this book reminds her of when she plays piano and how she gets “butterflies in [her] stomach” before a recital. But it’s okay because “it makes me feel… special!” Geez, what a princess. Pretty, plays piano, goes on PBS to talk about books… I bet everyone at school hated her, a lot. She says this book will give you “an idea of what that special feeling is like!” Oh, if only.
Next up is a kid who looks like Paul from The Wonder Years, and his voice is cracking like you wouldn’t believe, and his book is a behind the scenes look at the Ramona TV show. He says, “This is a challenging book to read! It’s a chapter book!” I hear it’s also demanding because it has both a front and back cover. By the way, Sarah Polley played Ramona on the TV show, before eventually going on to appear in films like Go and Dawn of the Dead. So at least I don’t have to feel like a pervert for wondering what she looks like now.
So, Paul wraps it up, and now it’s back to LeVar Burton voicing over TNG footage. “You know, things on the set don’t always go… well… perfectly!” And this leads directly into the first (and so far, only) authorized broadcast of bloopers from TNG. I wish I could say these were memorable, but again, since all the footage comes from this one day of shooting, they obviously didn’t have great pickings to choose from. It lasts less than a minute, and Patrick Stewart has some amusing flubs, and at one point gets a priceless pained looked on his face. The high point is when a piece of a clapboard falls directly into LeVar’s lap. Yikes! Hope he wasn’t planning on having children someday.
But don’t take my word for it! Check out these bloopers for yourself, which I just now uploaded to Yahoo Video!
After that very brief blooper segment, LeVar has a big fake chuckle over some TNG footage, then wraps it all up by saying that even though they have a lot of “fun” on the set, they end up making a show that everybody’s “really proud of”.
Then comes the part of the show where LeVar encourages us to read. “When you read a good book, you’re the producer, the director, the actor, even… the special effects magician!” LeVar, you are choking your lifeblood here. Don’t knock sitting on your ass and watching TV and letting some other guy be “the special effects magician”. Like you’re all high and mighty above it, as if books are so great because they’re a show “in your imagination“, whatever that is. I mean, come on. Who needs an imagination when there’s Internet porn?
LeVar says farewell from the bridge set, and of course, he beams out. In keeping with this drugged up, retarded version of himself, he makes faces like a total buffoon right before beaming out. How great would it have been if Geordi made these same stupid faces while beaming out? When the closing credits roll, we hear the Reading Rainbow theme on regal synth presets, trying to make it sound like the TNG theme. But to be honest, it sounds a lot more like the Love Theme from MST3k. It’s barely recognizable, frankly.
And that about does it. Like I said, it’s pretty far from being the most insightful or interesting look behind the scenes at The Next Generation, especially compared to all the extras included with the TNG DVD sets. But it’s fun for what it is, and certainly worth what I paid for it. Which was nothing.
Ah, crap. Does this mean I’m obligated to buy that Roy Orbison video the next time my local PBS station has a membership drive?
UPDATE – September 22, 2008
The mystery has been solved! “Fred Remandi” AKA “Mullet Guy” is actually visual effects artist Fred Raimondi. Which I know because Fred contacted me personally to set me straight. Here’s what he had to say:
I’m the ‘hairy guy with the mullet’ (which incidentally was pretty cool in 1987) that you refer to as Fred Remandi. Which is actually spelled Raimondi.
I know that episode of Reading Rainbow seems retarded to you, but like Rob, I’ve done pretty well for myself too. I’ve won 8 or 9 Clios, an MTV award, a Grammy, and have 9 spots that I’ve done in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In addition, I can’t tell you how many young people I meet at Digital Domain (the studio that I helped to found and just left to pursue a career as a director) that tell me they were inspired by that very episode of Reading Rainbow. So much so, they made their career choice to work in the film/visual effects industry.
Like I said, I know that episode seems retarded to you, but it means a lot to me. Especially that I was able to influence a ‘next generation’ of visual effects artists.
Thanks for dropping a line, Fred! And for the record, it’s not so much the episode I find retarded, just LeVar Burton’s slow, freaky mannerisms, which I still find disturbing, to tell you the truth. My sincere apologies for getting your name wrong, and hopefully this link to your official website makes up for it.