Although Hanelle M. Culpepper has directed episodes of more than 30 shows, it wasn’t until CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Picard” that she got to helm her first pilot. And that was before she joined the inaugural class of the ReFrame Rise program. Now, the sky’s the limit.
Given how many “Star Trek” series there have been, what visual approach did you want to take with the first three episodes of “Picard”?
I wanted it to feel inspired by where Picard was on his emotional journey. He was living in a vineyard; he felt trapped. So I wanted to have a little bit more of a static frame, and then go handheld once his world is rocked [in the pilot]. We switch to handheld cameras pretty much as much as possible after that. It’s “Star Trek,” we have to get those big, cinematic shots with drones and cranes and stuff, but we always wanted to not forget that it’s really a character- driven series with Picard at the heart.
How did you balance that cinematic approach with a character-driven show?
We went for a warmer color palette and a more contrast-y look. I used anamorphic lenses. We embraced flares. We embraced shadows. The main thing [executive producer] Alex Kurtzman wanted was to always see both eyes, so the DP and I worked to make sure that when we came into close-ups, you could see both eyes and all the emotional expressions that the actors were giving.
What was it like directing Patrick Stewart in a role that he’s been playing for decades?
Because he was so involved with the writers, a lot of the things that he felt about his character were already incorporated into the script. So for me, it was just about creating the safe space where he could do the things he wanted to do. He was still collaborative with me. But ultimately, it was nice to be in a situation where the actor and the writers are all on the same page for who this character is.
You were part of the inaugural class of the ReFrame Rise program, which was created to help support female directors to advance their careers. What have you seen happen as a result?
It was absolutely thrilling and an honor to be accepted. The other seven women who are in the program with me are all inspirations. What’s so great about it was the commitment to people mid-career. They have these ambassadors, high-level executives all over the industry who’ve made this commitment to supporting this program. Those people go to bat for you, make the call for you. With pilot season, they helped me with preparing for my pilot pitches and making calls on my behalf. I credit them with helping me get the pilot for “Kung Fu.” It gives people less of a reason to say no when you have enough people who are saying, “She’s a good one, you should work with her.”