"Where So Few Have Gone Before"
(Although it seems the "Star Trek" franchise has ended with the cancellation of the prequel series "Enterprise" in the spring of 2005 after four seasons, we'll fondly remember family visits to the set during the filming of Seasons Two and Three. Originally written about our first visit in November 2002, additional comments and pictures from our second visit in February 2004 have been added to the account below, which is STILL not finished ... and yes, I know it's 2010).
November 14th had been circled for months on the 2002 calendar indicating the first day of our family vacation, a week-long cruise from Los Angeles down the Mexican Riveria and back. We'd arrived a couple days early - the ship didn't leave until Saturday - planning a couple days with Mickey at Disneyland. But first we were going to board another ship in the fantasy land known as Paramount on the soundstages of the latest "Star Trek" series, 'Enterprise'.
Frontier Airlines flight 403 touched down at Los Angeles International just after ten thirty on a gorgeous California Thursday morning. We'd made good time, leaving home just before seven, getting through airport security a little over an hour later and in the air an hour after that on a crowded Airbus. After brief stops at baggage claim and the rental counter, we were ready to roll.
We left the airport and made our way to the studio, arriving at the Melrose entrance shortly after noon. As we stopped for the traffic light at the 5500 block, we admired the design of the double arched gate, a tribute to Paramount's original Bronson gate, one of Hollywood's most famous landmarks a few yards down the street.
We turned left and waited in the visitor lane while the guards were checked the car in front of ours. One of them motioned toward us, clearly skeptical.
"A possible U-turn" he mentioned to his partner. "It's definitely a rental car". (It was a Hertz car with the "Neverlost" navigation system, to be precise).
I'm sure they expected to turn us around, since it was far too early for one of the scheduled sitcom tapings and Paramount hasn't offered public tours for quite some time. I had taken one many years before and seen the backlots, with the famous New York street sets in the center of the studio and memorable television exteriors elsewhere on the lot, props and wardrobes buildings and one of the soundstages, but none of the 'Star Trek' sets, which have always been officially closed to the general public. What they didn't know was that a family friend - who I'll just call Beverly here - worked for the studio and had arranged to give us a private VIP tour.
After a undergoing a very thorough security check, we learned our passes weren't listed in the computer, and were directed to the guard building. We parked and went in to explain our situation to the guard at the desk. He checked the computer again, then dialed Bev's office and handed me the phone. Her assistant Carolyn told me it would be a few minutes for our access to get fixed.
While we waited, we saw a number of people scanning badges in and out and listened intently as one enterprising couple came over and tried to convince the guard to give them a pass. The girl was cute and really flirting it up, but the guard had clearly seen this routine before and wasn't biting.
"My job's pretty simple.", the guard said to us after the disappointed pair left. "I just have a computer and a phone. If your name's in the computer, you get a pass. If not, you don't. That's it. And I don't type anything in. But people still ask, sometimes with some pretty creative stories. I just smile, blame the computer, apologize and turn them away."
Fortunately, that wasn't the case for us. A few minutes later he checked the computer again and everything was set.
"Ah ha, there you are. Which one is Jennifer? Bee? OK, I'm guessing that makes you Jim." Along with our passes, he gave us directions and a studio map. We thanked the guard and moved our car to the main parking area, in front of the Blue Sky Screen, near the water tower, and, appropriately, the Roddenberry office building.
The area in front of the screen is a parking lot most days, but occasionally transformed into the "B" tank, a four foot deep water set that that's been used in numerous productions over the years, including doubling as the San Francisco Bay in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home".
Bev had been with the 'Star Trek' family for a few years and was also involved with some other shows filmed on the Paramount lot including "Becker" and "JAG", two other favorites of ours. She greeted us just outside Stage 8 with a big smile, script, shooting schedule, an electronic press kit, and an official crew cap for Jen. The cap was cool, identical to those worn by the cast on the show, with the raised red 'NX-01' lettering on the front and 'Paramount Pictures' in white script on the back. (You can buy similar caps on Ebay and from the gift shop, but the mass market version has the 'NX-01' logo screened on the front and 'Enterprise' in white on the back.)
Bev introduced us to the guard and we talked a little about the show. The episode filming that week was Season Two's "Stigma", which would air almost three months later. While we were chatting, Jolene Blalock passed a few feet in front of us wearing a fuzzy pink robe and entered Stage 8 as the guard reviewed the production company rules.
"Quiet on the set" was the key one - when a buzzer sounded and the red light outside a stage was flashing, filming was in progress and noise had to be kept to an absolute minimum. As if on queue, the red light outside Stage 8 went on.
We thanked the guard and Bev led us into Stage 9.
"Enterprise" is filmed on three soundstages, 8, 9, and 18. Stages 8 and 9 are in the same building - 8 to the left, 9 to the right - with Stage 18, the largest of the three, directly across the street. The standing Enterprise ship sets are on Stages 8 and 18 while Stage 9 houses infrequently used sets or those built for a particular episode. We were on the swing stage, which previous 'Star Trek' productions had affectionately nicknamed "Planet Hell".
Ahead of us and to the right was some sort of tunnel; to the left was some new construction, a large two-room set in its' preliminary form. There were a few carpenters working on it and we asked one of them what they were building. "If I knew, I'd tell you.", he grinned. Bev hadn't read the script, so she didn't know what it was either. The four of us agreed it had a flowing design, with lots of bronze paint, various alien-looking design elements and far more detail than one might expect. Our verdict was that it was going to be some sort of palatial home.
(Of course, we were wrong. Reading the script later, I learned it was the Vulcan Conference Facility, which included the Vulcan Conference Room and Vulcan Medical Suite/Laboratory shown in "Stigma").
Behind the mystery set were some flats for and an alien city street and a few other miscellenous things. They didn't look terribly interesting so we went back to the tunnel we had seen when we first entered the stage. There were cables and flats all around, sand on the floor, along with a couple water bottles and a soda can.
The set was actually a couple of tunnels that fed into a cave. It was quite realistic looking - it really looked like rock, though a quick touch revealed it was just movie magic fashioned from styrofoam, cloth, plywood and paint. I wasn't originally going to go in, but Bev and I followed Jen and Bee into the cave, ducking not to our heads, stepping over cables along the way. There were openings above for cameras every few feet. We came out the "cave entrance" into a pretty impressive set, a circle of 12 to 15 feet covered in sand with a faux rock stairs formation directly across from tunnel we had entered through. Jen went up the rock stairs to a ledge while we checked out the detailed hyrogliphics, face and cobwebs over mouth of the cave.
(A few weeks later on November 27th, as we watched the early scenes in the "Vanishing Point", filmed about a month before our visit, we learned this was the "Primitive Alien Ruins" set. Although we didn't see any of the vegetation that appeared in the episode, you didn't get a sense of the scope a detail of the elaborate set from the few shots used in the episode. The set was also apparently used in the subsequent episode "Dawn", which would explain why it wasn't struck before we were there).
We didn't really explore the back part of the stage - there didn't seem to be much other than some disassembled sets and other odds and ends. Besides, it was time to beam up to the ship so we left "Planet Hell", crossed the breezeway and entered stage 8.
We turned the corner and saw the back of sickbay ahead, with an astounding amount of cables and wiring connected around and through the flats. Ahead of us and to the right was a two-foot-wide control panel that was clearly out of place to the right of the entrance to a series of ship's corridors. I stopped to examine it, trying to figure out what part of the starship was out of place.
(We figured out later that it was the airlock control, which had been moved to get the camera set up on the other side of the stage).
The set designers modeled the futuristic Enterprise after a nuclear submarine and it showed. There was a solid feel to the ship's sets - floors were solid steel grid; overhead pipes and steel beams. Ladders, hatches, light panels just off the floors and in the walls and descriptive signs lined the corridors.
Doorways were actually step-over hatches and we spent the next hour or so reminding ourselves to step up and through whenever we came to one. Since there was active rehersal and filming on the stage at the time, the stage was well lit, giving us an opportunity to examime and marvel at the detail you can only see up close, but that contributes significantly to the illusion of reality shown on television.
We walked down corridor to the first intersection. The entrance to Sickbay was a couple feet to the left, with another corridor to the right, and more directly ahead, ending at a Turbolift.
There was masking tape across the Sickbay doors, indicating that it was a "Cleaned Set". Beverly explained that meant everything was ready for shooting and that we shouldn't enter.
(Scene 32 with Archer, Phlox and T'Pol would be filmed later that afternoon after scene 10 set in the captain's mess was complete.).
Sickbay was "live" with all the consoles lit up and the displays looping, so we spent a couple of minutes looking in through the doors. It would've been great to go in, but we would get a great view from the other the side of the set a short while later.
We continued down the corridor directly across from the Sickbay entrance doors. As we got to the end, we noticed about a dozen crew members to our left in the section of corridor that continued off stage to nowhere. A few yards down there was a turn to the left that I presume led to another corridor parallel to the one we were in and ended at the Turbolift we'd seen earlier.
We turned right and saw a couple of director's chairs set up in across from a large high definition monitor sitting on a cart a few feet away. It was an odd sight to see a TV monitor in the corridor and it broke the illusion we'd had the few minutes before of actually being on the Enterprise.
Next was the crew quarters set on the left which was dressed to serve as T'Pol's cabin. We looked in, saw an open suitcase on the bed, some candles and some Vulcan hangings on one of the walls. It was pretty evident that they were between takes, so we figured it was best not to go in.
We stepped over some cables and went into the immediately adjacent mess hall set, which was in the process of being redressed as a conference room. The room, like all of the sets, was smaller than it seems on TV. The first thing we noticed walking in were two large windows opposite the entrance with a starfield background 12 to 15 feet behind them. Bev said that this was one of the favorite views for visitors and it really was an impressive three-dimensional illusion. She warned us to watch our heads as we stuck our heads through to see the back of the flats, and to take a closer look at the starfield. It was some sort of mostly black fabric with little reflective pieces of what I presume to be glass on it to simulate the stars that seemed to move, depending on your vantage point. Directly above it was an identically sized section of green fabric, which is used in place of the starfield backdrop whenever an optical shot is needed in a scene. (They are quite expensive and used very sparingly).
We looked around and crossed over to exit the room. There was a com panel on the wall to the left of the exit to our right. Like those on many panels thoughout the set, the buttons didn't work, but I had to stop and press them to make sure - they certainly looked real enough. Of course, it was just more Hollywood illusion.
As we crossed from the mess hall/conference room into the Captain's mess it really did feel like walking though a submarine hatch. The set was well lit and bathed in a light blue light, another starfield outside its' window. The dining table was partially set with a nice linen tablecloth and some fine china. I sat in Captain Archer's chair, which was far more comfortable than it looked, and Jen sat directly across from me. There was a cool glass and a very classy looking water pitcher or decanter on a small table behind me, next to an inoperable door, that, had it opened, would have led to a stage wall. To the left of the table there was a plasma screen and a couple of control panels near the door. Unfortunately, we didn't see a working replicator and had left all the good food on the tables outside sickbay, so our only meal on the Enterprise was an imaginary one.
We wanted to explore the rest of the ship, so we walked back out through the mess hall and cut across a section of corridor that had been moved, past a camera rig a few feet in front of the control panel that I'd played with earlier.
(On our subsequent visit to the set in early 2004, we realized that this was the airlock and corridor area and that some of the set sections had been moved to get the camera in place).
Across the street on Stage 18 there was enough ambient lighting to see well, but the big stage lights were off, so it wasn't as bright as the two other stages had been. Just inside and to our right the bridge. The set is designed in sections easily moved to allow cameras, lights and other equipment to be postitioned on the set as necessary. The viewscreen section had been pushed off to the left against the stage wall, leaving a wide path for us to enter through the front of the bridge.
Walking on to the bridge, dimly illuminated only by a few lights over the center of the situation room, a couple over the center dome and one inside the open turbolift, we could clearly see the futuristic command center of the ship in full operation, even though the consoles and chairs had clear plastic dropcloths over them and none of the displays were running - the only sounds those of our footsteps as we moved across the metal decking. We stopped to appreciate where we were.
To many, the bridge of the starship Enterprise is the ultimate embodiment of 'Star Trek' - its' distinctive layout instantly familiar to generations of fans.
The sets in the original series, the movies, 'The Next Generation' and 'Voyager' series and now Enterprise all share the same practical design - the captain's chair, helm and navigation consoles in the center, surrounded by the various crew stations, with a large viewscreen in front and a Turbolift off to one side.
The 'Enterprise' bridge is more open than previous versions - a railing seperating the main bridge in front and the situation room in back, a turbolift off the right center and a doorway down to Captain Archer's ready room to the left.
I went over and sat in the chair behind the left side of the navigation console and Jen stood to my right, her purse strap slung over her shoulder as if it were a tricorder. As I looked through the plastic at the buttons, levers and labels on the console, Jen pointed out the various crew stations to us, correctly naming who sat where as she went over to sit at Hoshi's communications station.
Moving over to stand behind T'Pol's station, I surveyed the rest of the bridge, still amazed my family and I were standing on the Enterprise bridge. Bev pointed out a few interesting facts about the sets and production. We learned that the captain's chair was from a Porsche, the pilot control was a go-cart steering wheel, and the budget for a single episode was well in excess of a million dollars. Although Bev didn't know the exact figures, I'm sure the standing ship sets cost millions more to build with all their futuristic hardware - there are eighty plasma screens on the bridge and dozens more in sickbay - and incredible attention to detail.
The Turbolift door was open and the door that led down to Archer's ready room was partially open. Since you would never see either of these situations on the show, we had a little discussion about how the doors opened and closed manually by off-stage crew.
(Somewhere in a closet I have a 16mm print of an old blooper reel that has a series of door-related mishaps from the original 'Star Trek' series featuring William Shatner walking into door after door that makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it. Of course, now that I no longer have a 16mm projector, it's been a while).
Just off to the left of the Turbolift was the ship's dedication plaque, which looks quite impressive.
The ship's name, number and commander is engraved on the top half of the plaque. On the bottom half, in much smaller text, are a few dozen names - many I recognized from various 'Star Trek' productions - and a quote at the bottom, which I wish I had written down, because I no longer remember what it said.
Stepping down into the situation room, we chatted about how nice it would be to have a plasma screen like the one on the back wall in our living room. After looking around a bit - the center console was quite impressive - we made our way over toward the Captain's ready room and were a little surprised that the ready room was a continuation of the bridge complex and not a seperate set.
We went through the hatch, and stepped down into the set, which was far smaller than we expected. It was also a little dark and seemed a bit barren, the only light coming from behind the window and the ambient lighting that bled over from the main part of the bridge. I remember seeing the pictures of the various Enterprise drawings on one wall and a monitor on the captain's desk, but not much else.
Leaving the ready room, we took two stairs down to the right out a door and off the set back on to the stage.
We walked around to our right on to a section of ship's corridor, entering the main engineering room a few yards further down.
Engineering is a very large, imposing, multi-level set topped with a ceiling and panel lights, with the impressive warp reactor taking up a major part of the center of the room. Even under the ambient lighting, the set was breath-taking - my first thought was simply "Wow!".
(On our subsequent visit in 2004, a crew member showed us the light switch that turned on the lighting for the warp reactor and "started" it for us. Although similar to that seen in the publicity photo shown here on the right, the effect was much more impressive while we were standing on the first level of the set looking up).
We walked around both sides of the center section, both taking in and being amazed by the detail of the set design and stepped up on the mini-platform to examine the warp controls.
Jen asked if she could go up to the second level, and, after the OK from Bev, quickly climbed the ladder stairs in the near corner.
Near a red and white "Warning: Hot Warp Plasma" sign and yellow and white "High Voltage" warning, she stopped to study a double control panel on the wall. There was a red button and a yellow button, the rest were green, blue or black, some plain, some with symbols on them.
While my daughter was figuring out which button would balance the warp field, I was almost directly underneath her examining another control panel and four beer-keg sized containers marked "Warp Plasma (200 liters)" sitting on a cart.(The cart and containers were seen in the episode "Dead Stop").
After she was done playing engineering mate, Jen noted that you could see the back side of the bridge set flats from up top before she came back down. Not too far from the bottom of the stairs was an operating hatch door low on the wall that had a couple feet of crawl space before leading off the set. Jen and Bee ducked through the hatch and exited off the set, directly in front of a large wooden platform that had a shuttlepod sitting on it.
Bev and I left engineering back through the main door. She mentioned that the transporter alcove was usually set up nearby, but it wasn't in place that day.
We went around to our right to meet the other two, exiting a section of ship's corridor on to bare soundstage.
The shuttlepod was closed and anchored to the platform with yellow straps. From the way the platform was constructed, it looked like they must've used a forklift to move it around. The nose had been removed to make room for a camera and there was blackout material taped over the right side window, so we couldn't see much inside.
The shuttlepod was a working set and not just a shell, complete with seats from a Porche used for the pilot and navigator. The door looked like it just lifted up, but I couldn't have climbed in anyway, and none of us were going to risk damaging the life-sized toy.
(We only saw one shuttle that day - the front of the right side was marked "POD 2", while the corresponding area on the left side was blank).
We sat for a minute on the platform. One of the crew members introduced himself - Ray or Gary, can't remember - and offered to turn on some more lights for us. He told us about the union rules about who could do what with lighting and gave us some background on some of the technical stuff.
With a flick of a switch, the seemingly vast expanse directly across from us was revealed to be the Launch Bay set, and presumably the cargo bay, with the ship's gym off to the left and the decon chamber to the right. Since there wasn't a lot of light, we decided not to climb up to the second level.
(When we returned in 2004, the shuttlepod was off its' platform and 'parked' in the Shuttle Bay, not too far from an alien spaceship)
There wasn't much to the gym set - two treadmills, two exercise bikes and three walls with some comm panels. What got our attention though was a really cool looking - and big - gyroscope thing. (Just as with the cave ruins set, we would see this used in the episode "Vanishing Point" a couple weeks later).
The one notable set we didn't see that day was the Armory. I didn't realize we hadn't seen it until after we'd left the studio, but was trying to figure out where it would have been located on Stage 18.
I found out later that the the gym and the armory shared the same space and some of the launch bay walls were just spun around as needed. I always thought the armory looked like a very cool set. It would've been nice to see, but it was interesting to see a set that hadn't been seen on screen yet.
After a quick peek at the decon chamber, we walked back past the bridge and out the stage door back to the bright California sunshine, just minutes away from seeing a bit of the Star Trek legacy captured on film.
After we crossed the street back to Stage 8, Jolene walked inside just ahead of us, sharply dressed in her Vulcan uniform (alas, no pink robe this time). She turned to the right, while we went straight ahead past a couple of supply rooms and the tempting craft services table, to the backside of sickbay. Since the set was still prepped for filming, we didn't enter, but stood in a "doorway" near plants, cages and some other props.
Sickbay was a fantastic, colorful set, which looked far more impressive in person than it ever seemed to on screen. We had much better view than we had earlier through the entrance doors off the hallway. The set was brightly lit and all the monitors except one to our far left were active, with impressive looping medical displays. We half expected Dr. Phlox to come through the main doors and tend to his managerie. Of course, a quick glance two feet behind us at all of the cabling poking out of the plywood backside of the flats quickly dispelled that illusion.
We made our way back over to the corridor outside the what was currently T'Pol's quarters. Jolene and Scott were on the set, with a couple of lighting grips, the cameraman and a few others from the crew. Nearby was producer Rick Berman, his guest and the director. The four of us were a few yards away behind some director's chairs set up in front of a bulkhead. Supervising producer Merri Howard explained a few things about the production and indicated they were just about to film the third shot of scene 36, listed as "36C" in her annoted script.
Until the final season, when multiple cameras were used, 'Enterprise' was filmed as a single-camera show, the method used by most television dramas. Using a single camera requires that every shot or point of view in a scene be set up, blocked, lit and filmed individually - there aren't multiple cameras to record a scene simultaneously from different angles. Each shot in single-camera show usually has multiple "takes" for a variety of reasons - an actor may have missed a cue or line, the director wants to try a slightly different angle or revise the blocking , there may be a problem with lighting or sound. In addition, the scenes for a given episode are shot out of order -- all the scenes using a particular set are filmed, then all the scenes on the next set, and so on.
We didn't have a direct view of Jolene on the set from where we were standing, but watched everything on a large monitor directly in front of us. First, there was a lighting test. The crew took various measurements for focal length and other things and then they went through rehearsal for what appeared to be a difficult shot. "Jolene, turn your head a little more right at this point". After the director was satisified, Jolene's wig and makeup were adjusted and they were ready to go.
With the camera rolling, it was clear that the shot was indeed a tricky one. The camera started on T'Pol's hands holding a book, then pulled back and panned up to her face as she turned and reacted to Archer. (Scott was off camera, feeding Jolene his lines. We could hear him quite well, though the sound through the monitor was T'Pol' dialog only, at a very low level.)
Add the additional detail about the scene here - Scene 36C - Take 1. Electronic sound/video marker (add text detail here - director (David Livingston?, episode #040). The shot/scene was done three times, with camera running the entire time (I presume - no "CUT" or clapboard). We were maybe 10 minutes. (12-15?) - Dialog seemed to be about 20-25 seconds.
ENTERPRISE: "Stigma" - 11/6/02 ACT FOUR 47. 36 INT. T'POL'S QUARTERS T'Pol is sitting at her desk, putting PADDs and books into a container... she's beginning to pack her things. The door chimes. T'POL Come in. Archer ENTERS ARCHER Mind if I sit down? T'Pol nods, and he sits on a chair. T'POL Lieutenant Reed told me you went to the surface... T'Pol gives a disapproving look. ARCHER I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to try to talk me out of it. (CONTINUED) ENTERPRISE: "Stigma" - 11/6/02 ACT FOUR 48. 36 CONTINUED: T'POL I assume you were unsuccessful. ARCHER Not exactly. Before I left I got the medical protocols from Hoshi... it seems they owe you a hearing. T'Pol returns to packing her books. T'POL They'll never agree. ARCHER They already did. T'POL (reacts) I have no interest in challenging their decision. ARCHER If you're not going to defend yourself, the least you can do is speak for this "minority" you're so eager to protect. (beat) You said you didn't want to condone the attitude of these doctors... your silence would do just that. After a long beat: T'POL You need to understand... I won't tell them how I got the disease. ARCHER I'll go along with that. I promise. (beat) But you've got to understand that I'm not going to give you up without a fight. OFF T'Pol...
After the take was completed, we walked by T'Pol's quarters set. Saw Scott and 6-7 crew members - Jolene was smiling broadly - a strange sight.
This page best viewed in a maximized browser window at a resolution of 1024x768 or better.
Page Last updated July 22, 2010