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The very first shot in the very first episode of Star Trek: Picard was designed to put fans on red alert. We see the '90s-era USS Enterprise, we see Picard and Data playing poker in Ten Forward, and we can't help but ask: Is this an episode of The Next Generation?
Star Trek: Picard is a decidedly different Trek beast than anything that has come before, and after over 50 years of space travel, the crew of this new show felt fans had to be eased into it. That meant something familiar at first — with a twist. For the director of the first three episodes of the new Star Trek series, Hanelle M. Culpepper, the goal wasn't to revel in fan service, but instead to make longtime fans feel wary of what was coming next.
Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 1: "Remembrance."
"I feel like there wasn't too much nostalgia. There couldn't be too much nostalgia," Culpepper tells SYFY WIRE of the very first shot of the first episode of Star Trek: Picard. "The idea was to make audiences feel like they were watching The Next Generation, but it was a little bit off. We rebuilt the set [of Ten Forward] exactly as it was, as best we could. But Patrick was not in his uniform."
Culpepper explains that initially she had pushed for Picard to appear in a Starfleet uniform in the first shot, to "complete" the pseudo-deception that we were "reentering" the world of The Next Generation, but that Sir Patrick Stewart didn't want to be in uniform for the very beginning. Turns out, the Captain still calls a few shots.
"We gave in to what he felt was best. And you do get that heartwarming feeling that you're back in The Next Generation before it totally turns." A longtime director of film and television, with credits ranging from various installments of the Arrowverse to pivotal episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, Culpepper's approach to cinematography in television is artistic and specific. And she was very aware, early on, that she did not want the cinematic tone of Picard to look anything like the Discovery episodes she directed. That so much of Picard was shot on location made that easier to achieve, but there was even more thought put into it from the perspective of the way the shots were framed.
"I always wanted to distinguish it from Discovery. We moved the cameras less. We went handheld," she says. "And, because so much was shot on location, it limits the time you have, so that changes the craft. Before I was hired — because the script was so top secret — I had envisioned that Picard might be an ambassador on other planets, but it was nice to be able to shoot so much outside and in real places."
Trekkies who are planning their vacation to La Barre, France, to take a vacation at Jean-Luc Picard's wine vineyard, there's good news and bad news. For international fans and Americans who have booked non-refundable plane trips, know that the beautiful vineyard you see in Star Trek: Picard isn't really in France — it's in the United States.
"We shot Chateau Picard at Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez, California," Culpepper explains. "I loved The Next Generation but didn't feel like the house from The Next Generation felt like a chateau. It was crucial to me that felt like it was in France, after asking the producers; 'Can we shoot in France?' and getting a big fat 'No,' we ended up finding this spot in Santa Ynez which is made of brick that is imported from France. It's about as authentic as you can get!"
As you watch Picard, you'll see various mirror images play across the frame, as though the images and light are being glimpsed through real eyes, not the static lens of a TV camera. When we're in Jean-Luc's Chateau Picard, sometimes it feels like we're catching glimpses of the characters through wine glasses or bottles, which, it turns out, is exactly what Culpepper wanted. This isn't a clean version of Star Trek; things are a little rougher and unclear.
"I always want to dirty up my shots by finding stuff to shoot through. We shot that through bottles and crystals and stuff like that," Culpepper says. "And I liked that because I felt like he [Picard] was kind of dealing with two worlds; there's the life he's almost imprisoned himself, his life at his family's vineyard on the ground. And yet, he still feels a part of him that feels like he belongs somewhere else — that he belongs in the stars. He has unfinished business."
Star Trek: Picard is streaming now on CBS All Access.