The latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds “Among the Lotus Eaters” was directed by Eduardo Sanchez. While this was his first time directing for the franchise, Sanchez is a veteran of directing both episodic television and a number of independent horror movies. He is best known for co-writing and co-directing the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, considered a modern classic using the “found footage” style of filmmaking. Sanchez also happens to be a longtime fan of Star Trek and made a Trek parody student film back in 1989. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to the director about his experience directing his first “real” Star Trek.
I know you are a fan, but how is it that you ended up directing for Star Trek? And did you expect they wanted you for a more horror-style episode?
It was kind of a last-minute thing, so I don’t think it was them thinking to bring me in to do something scary, even though I would love to do that too. I think one of the directors shifted out or something. I had maybe a month and a half to prep. It just happened that I was up for consideration and my agent told me and I was super excited about it. It was a dream come true to even think about doing a Star Trek episode. I understand Star Trek and am very comfortable in that space. I love my episode because it was kind of an old-school kind of Original Series episode.
I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was a kid and during the time of the pandemic, since I was home a lot, I decided to watch every single Star Trek episode that has ever been produced. I loved The Original Series but hadn’t had as much of an occasion to fully sit down and watch all the other shows. So watched it all, in chronological order of the Star Trek timeline, starting with Enterprise. I know people bag on that one but I like it and I like seeing how the different series changed into the 2000s and to now. And I love Strange New Worlds and how they are taking big swings. That is what I think is missing from a lot of other shows on television. You’ve got to take a chance and it’s better to take a big swing and fail than do something mediocre. I think the people in charge of this show are just fans of Star Trek and giving us what they want to see, and it’s what we want to see as well.
As you said, your episode “Among the Lotus Eaters” had a classic feel with returning to the planet from “The Cage” along with a TOS-like story about what happened to the crew. Did you want to use that classic Trek style in the way you shot it?
Absolutely. I mean, the show looks a certain way. You can’t go in and do something totally crazy like shoot in black and white. But, there was a lot of collaboration with the DP as far as putting it together. And for me, this episode feels like a classic episode. I’m not opposed to doing cool moves and using the new style of television with camera movements and things they really couldn’t get away with too much back then, because of cost and difficulty. But the idea of classic framing of stuff and simplifying the coverage and I definitely felt the ghost of The Original Series constantly in my head. In fact, probably too much in my head. Like a couple of times at the beginning, I would talk about “Spock and Kirk,” because you are used to that. The idea I was directing a character named Spock, this character I grew up with! But of course, I got it was Pike and got my head on straight and luckily Anson didn’t hear me. But the episode was old-school, I could hear the old soundtrack in my head as I was doing scenes and transitions. So I wanted to keep it as classic as I could without it being too retro.
Speaking of Anson, there was a critical scene with Pike when he is attacking Zacarius until he remembers himself and it was pretty violent and not how we are used to seeing Pike. Was there a lot of discussion with Anson to get that scene right?
Anson and [co-executive producer and episode writer] Davy [Perez] talked a lot about it and Davy is on the set a lot. The first time I met with Anson, that was the first thing he brought up. It was definitely a complex episode and you have to figure out the different personalities and what you remember, what you don’t remember, and how you react. It’s heavy lifting for all the actors, and especially for Anson. We talked about the brutality of it because Pike at that moment is going to kill him and then that bit of humanity enters him. He was really worried about that moment. I told him to just do it as he did in rehearsal, and I’ll do a little move into your face, and it’ll be very clear that the old Pike is back. It was a big place to go, especially for Anson, who has been playing this character for a while. I don’t think you have seen Pike this out of control and violent and barbaric. It was a big deal for him and we worked on it a lot. We had to really layer it with the DP and with him with a number of takes. And he has a long monologue there and we didn’t want to burn him out. But he is a professional and he knows his lines and in the end, it went very smoothly.
If there was a scene where you did lean into your horror roots it was with Melissa Navia, when Ortegas has just lost her memories and is kind of freaking out in her quarters. Were you trying to play up the fear angle there?
Yeah, absolutely. We went handheld on purpose. We wanted to get the audience so close you are almost inside her head. We worked with Melissa on how long we were going to take it. I always saw it as a kind of montage showing little bits of her mental state, so you don’t know how long she has been there but you get little beats of her kind of freaking out and stuff. So we did these long takes for that scene and then we just cut up the best little pieces. I think we did like three or four takes of that and it was exhausting. Again, I wanted to create a kind of haunted house almost with the flashing outside. And then I love this shot outside the window of the Enterprise looking in, kind of voyeuristic. You put as much in there as possible and I am glad it felt that way to you because we definitely were going for that. You are deep in her psychosis and you’re deep inside her and it’s as close as you get with any character. I just thought she did a great job and the editor did a great job and the camera crew. We had two cameras on her at the same time. It was just very collaborative. Again, it’s easy to do when you have such great people.
This episode used the AR wall but even though it’s super high-tech, to me, it almost felt like old-school Trek with those planet sets from TOS. Was that in your mind as you worked on the AR volume stage?
Yeah. That’s why the AR wall is perfect for Star Wars and Star Trek because it does give you–even if you try to do something super photorealistic–it still gives you this little bit of that old aesthetic. You are limited to the size and scope of the stage you are inside and you can only shoot in certain directions. It’s kind of like shooting on a stage of a playhouse. You can’t point the cameras toward the audience. It was definitely challenging and we had some big scenes. For that scene in the quarry where Pike gets into the fight and they escape, that was supposed to be done on location outside and we did some scouting and I said that it’s just not going to match what we do in the volume. And it was February and drizzling and so everything would go slower, so we made this last-minute decision to shoot it on the AR stage.
To me, that is what I love about the episode. Not only story-wise, but it has the look. There are a lot of things that remind you of The Original Series and all those alien planets inside a soundstage. Not that we wanted it to look like a soundstage, but for me at least, every time I looked through the lens in the volume I thought about that. Obviously, it’s a lot more photo-realistic and definitely it’s the next level of it, but there is this kind of soundstage quality to it. Once we made the decision that all the planet exteriors were going to be in the volume that was the style we had. That is the room you have but we kind of leaned into it. “This looks cool.” There are a lot of elements that look just like original Star Trek.
Strange New Worlds prides itself on mixing up genres. Are you interested in coming back and maybe trying a more horror-style episode?
I was talking to Davy Perez about that. He wrote my episode and he was the one that wrote the sort of Aliens kind of episode for the first season, with the Gorn. I would love to come back to do any kind of episode, but especially a scary episode. That would be amazing.
Thinking of your background starting with Blair Witch and the style you have used in other films, do you think that found footage style could work within Star Trek?
That’s exactly what Davy and I were chatting about. Because it’s in the future so you have image-taking devices all over the place. You can have a camera anywhere, so I think it’s a really cool idea. He and I talked about that but I haven’t reached a level where I can actually suggest an episode. I am just happy directing my episode and hopefully, they invite me back.
Sanchez’ Star Trek: Demented
In 1989 Sanchez wrote, produced, and co-directed Star Trek: Demented as a student film at Montgomery College. It was their final project and Sanchez tells TrekMovie he was inspired by his own Star Trek fandom and how the studio on campus always reminded him of the USS Enterprise due to a low hum coming from the air conditioning.
Sanchez has posted the entire film in seven parts to his YouTube channel. You can see the first part below.
For more about Sanchez’s movies, visit his production company website at Haxan.com.
New episodes from season 2 of Strange New Worlds drop weekly on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S, the U.K., Australia, Latin America, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Season 2 is also available on SkyShowtime elsewhere in Europe. The second season will also be available to stream on Paramount+ in South Korea, with premiere dates to be announced at a later date.
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