Back in 2004, I had the good fortune to appear as an extra in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. It was quite simply the greatest experience ever for a lifelong Star Trek fan.
From the charity auction that got me on the show, to finding out the role that was selected for me; from my costume fitting and an amazing 15-hour day on the set, to seeing the finished product… my experience could not have been scripted any better.
Below is a hit list (in no particular order) of my greatest memories from two incredible days on the set of Paramount Studios shooting an episode of Star Trek. This list serves as a snapshot of a once-in-a-lifetime experience of how a lifelong Star Trek fanatic got to fire the phasers and put the ship on red alert from the bridge of the Enterprise.
For a more complete record of “My Day on Star Trek,” check out my website at trekranks.com, where I documented the entire experience in ridiculously thorough detail (aka 20,000 words of overkill).
1. Walking onto the Set
I’d say it was a dream come true, but everything on this list was a dream come true. After my wardrobe fitting and hair/make-up session on the Paramount lot (and after four months of anticipation since I’d won the charity auction), I was finally about to do something I had literally been dreaming about my entire life. I was walking onto Star Trek’s main sets at Paramount Studios.
As I moved through the side door into Stage 18, I was completely blown away by the first thing I saw, which was the bridge set, where I would be filming all day. Incredible. The bridge was even more impressive than I expected. The set was completely enclosed except for the view screen section, and the lights were all blazing. Truly unreal.
As I faced the bridge from the door, to my right was a small area for craft services and to my left was the working area for cameras and the production staff. Beyond the bridge area was a small opening in the large room, where the makeup people were hanging out and where some director’s chairs for the cast were positioned as a rest area. Beyond that was a huge labyrinth of additional sets (corridors, engineering, shuttle bay, transporter, etc.), all connected and intertwining. This area took up more than half of the overall space in Stage 18. Finally, in the far corner of the stage was a single shuttlepod used for all internal shuttlepod scenes.
The sets were absolutely amazing (but you already knew that).
2. Seeing My Nametag on My Uniform
On the morning of my set day, I got to the wardrobe department and entered the fitting room for extras labeled “Starfleet Men.” I was early (of course), and as I walked into the empty little room for the first time and saw my nametag on my uniform, I experienced a truly out-of-body experience. As I stood there and stared at the uniform with my name on it I was overcome with emotion. It was another moment of clarity in which the universe was telling me: “This is really happening.”
3. Uniform Fitting with Bob Blackman
On the day before my set call, I spent an afternoon getting my uniform fitted in the wardrobe department, which was located just a few hundred feet from Stage 18. The large cavernous wardrobe room felt as big as Stage 18 and included work tables along one long wall and curtained fitting rooms along the other, with endless racks and rows of uniforms filling up all the space in between. On those racks was Trek history, with costumes from throughout Enterprises four-year run.
During my fitting I was thrilled to see for the first time that I would be wearing a red-trimmed uniform, indicating security and engineering ranks. I, of course, was also interested to see what my rank would be, but all the uniforms there were “non-comm” (for non-commissioned officers). I had been hoping for something like a Lieutenant ranking, but, yeah, if “non-comm” is good enough for Chief Miles O’Brien, it is good enough for me.
The uniform consisted of a black button-up undershirt, that was a very snug but comfortable fit, as well as zipper boots that were actually extremely comfy.
At one point in the middle of trying on uniforms (I had to go through four uniforms to find the right fit for my 6’1″ frame), a nice woman working there knocked on my stall needing to retrieve something, and asked “If I was decent,” and I said, “Sure, come on in. I’m in my boxers, but who cares!?! This is Star Trek!” She was quite funny and immediately came in.
Once I had settled into my final wardrobe, I asked for a couple of pictures. The woman working with me said, “You should get a picture with Bob, the designer.”
Bob Blackman, of course, is the longtime Star Trek costume designer, responsible for everything in Trek from about 1990 to 2005.
When Bob came in to the fitting area, we had a nice exchange and I thanked him for the great work he and his staff do, and then at some point I hollered out loud to everyone in the big huge department who could hear me: “You know, what, I just want to say to everyone here, ‘THANK YOU! The work you do is wonderful and truly appreciated!’”
It was a pretty funny moment. As I stepped back into my stall to change back into my civvies, I could hear Bob saying to the staff, “What a nice guy. Funny guy.” That was nice to hear, but I don’t think he knew I could hear him, which is surprising since the stalls were like loft bedrooms with no ceilings in that large room.
4. Wait a Second, T’Pau Is in My Episode?
Through my research in advance of arriving on set, it appeared I was going to be part of a trilogy of episodes dealing with Vulcan. My episode was callled “Awakening” and was sandwiched between “The Forge” and “Kir’shara.” It certainly sounded exciting to be part of massive Star Trek Vulcan Trilogy, but when I found out that “Awakening” would be the episode detailing T’Pau’s backstory, I could have cried. OK. I probably did cry. Yes, I cried. I have loved the T’Pau character my entire life, since the first time I saw “Amok Time” in the ’70s. What an incredible honor. (I mean, seriously, I could have been in “Precious Cargo”!)
5. A Trek Legend in the Director’s Chair
I had been hoping that a Trek legend would be my director, so when I saw that Roxann Dawson (who played B’Elanna Torres on Voyager) was the director of “Awakening,” it was a special treat. I have loads of respect for her work as a television director (not only in Star Trek, but also shows like The Closer, Bates Motel and Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
For most of my time on the set, I lurked behind her position as the director watching her frame shots and call action and, well, direct everything that happened. And for most of the day I’m pretty sure she thought I was an annoying “background actor” hovering about out of place. By the afternoon, one of the assistant directors on set came up to me and said that Roxann finally realized who I was and invited me over for a picture and a quick chat.
As I’d been doing with everyone I met, I thanked her for her great work through the years and we took a nice photo together.
(photo: James Moorhouse)
6. Sitting Down at the Tactical Station
When you win a walk-on role in a contest, there is zero guarantee you are going to do anything prominent. I could be in the background of one shot in which you see my shoe. Or worse! So when I was told that my role would see me at the Tactical Station firing the phasers, I didn’t believe it until the second I sat in that seat. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
When I sat down at the station I tried to take it all in. The console was amazing and looked very authentic, with buttons, levers and lights everywhere. As I sat there waiting for the first scene to roll I focused on practicing pushing buttons and trying to look as good as possible. The uniform was tight and constricting and I had to make a point to really sit up straight.
As I was practicing, I received some excellent advice in the art of fake-button pushing: Make sure I’m doing the same thing consistently during each take, and also to not reach too far. I ended up using the lower left buttons and the left side buttons as controls to reset whatever I was doing with my right hand. I also was careful to make sure I was opening up my torso to the direction of the camera, instead of reaching across my chest.
It all worked like a charm.
7. Firing the Phasers and Putting the Ship on Red Alert
How many people do you think have fired the Enterprise phasers and put the ship on red alert? Well, whatever that number is, I’m a member of that club! That’s an experience that is too incredible for words.
After filming that first scene came the first of several moments that defy description. As I was prepping for the second scene, one of the stage hands said to me, “OK, when we go to tactical alert, what Dominick normally does is hit two buttons with his right hand here, and then one with his left hand here.”
Are you kidding me? I was going to be putting the ship on red alert!
In the scene, I receive a command from Trip to go to tactical alert and get to respond with an official Starfleet nod. After running through it in rehearsal, we start to film the scene for real—except this time, as I pushed the buttons to put the ship on alert, WHAM! All the lights went down and the computer screens lit up red (including the one right in front of me). Totally caught me by surprise.
8. The Star Trek “Shake”
In addition to firing the phasers and putting the ship on red alert, I also got a crash course in the Star Trek Shake during one of my scenes. Everyone knows what this is. But interestingly, there are two commands in play during these scenes.
“Tremble” is a direction to the camera to give a slight shake, while “shake” is a direction to the actors to give a physical jolt. It was very interesting to see how the “tremble/shake” thing worked. In fact at one point, when they were discussing whether it would be a tremble or a shake, Linda Park said, “I don’t think we shake anymore, right? Isn’t it all tremble now?” And there was much discussion, but we definitely did the shake.
As the “shake” scene was getting underway an interesting discussion took place, one that I’d assume would have taken place and been settled years before, but was fascinating to hear.
Basically it was Connor asking, “Should we all shake in the same direction?” (I mean, how is that even a question at this point?) The response was yes, we should do the first shake away from sparks over Hoshi in the same direction, and the second shake away from the tactical station sparks over my head.
After one rehearsal, I realized if I went in the same direction as the rest of the cast, I would shake myself out of the picture. So instead, when the camera was rolling, I shook myself into the frame…and it made the final cut!
9. Circuit Breaker Sparks…Over My Head
Just before filming that “shake” scene, the crew was setting up a significant amount of sparks to explode directly above my head. As we got ready to roll on the scene, Connor Trinneer looked at me and then looked at the sparks over my head and then looked at the special effects guys and said, “Are we sure he is going to be OK right there?” They semi-confidently said, “Yeah.” And I, of course, said, “No problem. No problem. Let’s do it!” At that point Connor nodded his head and said, “Oookay. Good luck, man.” It was a funny moment delivered in “a better you than me” tone.
10. Touring the Sets
Earlier, as I waited in the corner of the set with the other extras for my scenes to start filming, I took it upon myself to start exploring (which I wasn’t technically supposed to be doing). My private tour started down one of the Enterprise corridors, and I was incredibly impressed by how real everything felt as the hallway branched out in two directions.
Each corridor led to another recognizable set: The decon chamber or engineering or the shuttle bay — they were all seamlessly connected, and I felt like I was exploring an actual NX-01 ship. When I was in the shuttle bay, walking next to one of the shuttles, I looked down and saw the markings on the floor where the shuttle bay doors opened. I literally took a stutter step as I approached the “doors” in the floor, not wanting to fall through them and be exposed to deep space.
My tour eventually took me onto the engineering set, where I actually had to climb through that little hatch in the back of the set (diehards will know what I’m talking about it) to get into that room. Since the set was being used for my episode, everything was covered in plastic, but what I saw was impressive to say the least.
In addition to my walkthrough of the filming sets (including the sickbay set on Stage 19 that I saw in the afternoon, and the planet hell set, where they had the Vulcan Council Chamber set ready to go), I also got a tour of the Costume archive and Michael Westmore’s makeup workroom before the day ended. (Technically, that tour took place at 11 p.m. at night after being on set for 14-plus hours, so yeah, these guys do work hard. But you knew that already.)
Honestly, it would have been a dream just to tour the sets, let alone be on the show!
11. Sitting in the Captain’s Chair
No explanation necessary. Another lifelong Trekkie Achievement unlocked!
12. Meeting the Cast
I don’t collect autographs or photo ops, as I’m literally a bigger fan of the below-the-line staff on Star Trek than I am of the on-screen talent. Having said that, meeting the cast was great. On set that day were: Gary Graham (Soval), Dominic Keating (Malcolm), Anthony Montgomery (Travis), Linda Park (Hoshi) and Connor Trinneer (Trip). Anthony and Connor were particularly welcoming. Super cool guys.
13. To Be Continued
In my final scene, I was standing at the back of the bridge and you can clearly see me during a dramatic moment when Trip sets the ship on a course for Andorria at maximum warp. It’s the last shot of the show before “To Be Continued” appears on the screen. It’s a very dramatic moment. After the first take of this scene, the second AD asked me to step to my left for the second take, which was clearly designed to try and get me into the scene, because it was such a tight shot on Trip. It worked! That slight movement put me clearly into that final dramatic shot.
It’s fair to say that going into this thing from the moment I won the walk-on role, a brief glimpse in a shot like that, is all I really expected. There was no guarantee I would be visible in any scenes, and ultimately I had basically just won the right to be on set. So to get that, plus all the other stuff where I’m in the middle of the action, was just truly incredible.
14. What if I Was in the Previews?
A week before my episode aired on Nov. 26, 2004, I was watching “The Forge” (the first part of the Vulcan Trilogy) and as it ended, I suddenly said to myself, “What if I was in the previews?” What are the odds? At that point, there had always been a chance I would end up on the cutting room floor. You just never know. So when I saw those sparks exploding over my head in the previews, I immediately ran around my house screaming, “I’m on Star Trek! I’m on Star Trek!” It was a glorious moment.
When all was said and done, and I was leaving the studio at almost midnight after 14-plus hours on the sets, I was literally in shock about what had just happened. I was on Star Trek.
James Moorhouse is the creator of TrekRanks.com and a lifelong fan of Star Trek in every incarnation. You can find him living and breathing Trek on Twitter at @EnterpriseExtra, where this year he is also celebrating his 50th “anniversary.”