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Interview with Doug Drexler

Check the calendar, it's:
Trek-Initiative Trek-Tuedsay 001


Anyone who knows the behind the scenes workings of Star Trek knows the name Doug Drexler. He's a diehard fan of Star Trek: The Original Series who fulfilled his fan dreams by becoming a makeup artist, production designer, visual effects artist, occasional actor, and more throughout the run of the Star Trek spinoff shows. One of his biggest claims, and one of my favorite things he did, was that he created the Enterprise NX-01 for Star Trek: Enterprise.

I had the pleasure of meeting Doug at Star Trek Las Vegas last month, and he was kind enough to agree to talk to the Trek Initiative for an interview, which is this week's Trek Tuesday exclusive. After asking for your questions, I chose the best ones and sent Doug your questions and a few of mine. Check out his answers, and the photos he provided for them, below!

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Brandon: I've compiled 10 questions, 8 of which were submitted by members of the Wikia Star Trek community from both the Trek Initiative and Memory Alpha. Our readers are eager to hear your thoughts! Here are the questions:

1) XEAN wants to know, "What is the first thing you ever did for Star Trek?"

Doug: My involvement with Star Trek began in 1966, as a fan. I was an original fan, back when it wasn't cool. I studied the original series from every angle I could think of. I drew it, wrote it, and built it as a kid. Working on real Star Trek was like reaching nirvana. I came to TNG as a makeup artist in season three. Working for Mike Westmore was another dream come true. The Westmore's invented Hollywood makeup. So working for Mike was the first "official" thing I did on the show

If you know anything about the Westmores of Hollywood, you know that the family practically invented Hollywood makeup. At one time there was a Westmore as head of makeup at every major studio in town. During the golden age, most big stars would not do a film without a Westmore. It’s a fascinating story, and if you are interested find a book called “The Westmore’s of Hollywood”.

Mike told me a funny anecdote about his uncle Bud. Bud was apprenticing on a very early Tarzan movie, and on that particular film Cheetah the chimp was played by a male ape. Bud’s job was to take a wet sponge and burnt cork, and use it to black out the chimps “water works” so that they would not show up on the big screen. After about a week of that, whenever Bud walked on stage, Cheetah would scamper over excitedly, take the cork and sponge out of Bud’s pocket and hand it to him. Monkey like!

Doug Drexler Question 01

There aren’t too many shots of me back on TNG doing makeup, and this is probably the only one I have ever seen. Being on TNG was unforgettable. A high point was putting on all of Patrick Stewart’s old age makeups for "Inner Light," which earned us an Emmy nomination, Lal as a featureless gold android, and Jerry as Mark Twain. There were many Klingons, Vulcans, and Romulans to boot. Makeup is a whole 'nother world.

Having applied Michael Westmore’s makeup to Patrick Stewart for “Inner Light”, Jay Chattaway’s theme for the show holds special meaning to me. Patrick had a penny whistle he practiced playing it on. It would be two in the morning, and I’d be taking him back to the trailer to remove his makeup. We walked thru the alleys between the stages as he played, and for a brief moment I felt pulled out of time, and a part of the episode. “Inner Light” is a TNG classic, and this theme is as well.

2) Another question from XEAN: "Of all the work you've done for Star Trek, which was more difficult: production design, makeup artist, special effects, or acting?"

Doug: It's all really hard work... but makeup, no question. It's grueling, with loooong hours, and plenty of egos to deal with! I in fact loved it all.

Actors often start off hating you, because you are up their nose with a glue brush. Here is something I wrote about the experience that captures it a little—

Doug Drexler Question 02 Lal

Full Lal makeup.

"I was a makeup artist for 13 years. I’ve inflicted more pain and suffering on well meaning human beings than any truckload of producers combined. I’ve owned actors. If I am your makeup artist on a prosthetic heavy show like Star Trek you belong to me. I will shadow you for 17 hours and never leave you alone. I’ll stick a brush up your nose, and paint adhesives right up to your eyeballs and I won’t let you rest. I will stipple your face in between scenes when you’re trying to rehearse your lines. I won’t let you eat anything that doesn’t go through a straw. Sometimes you’re not allowed to pee. Sometimes you’re blind. I’m your worst nightmare. I’m the police, I’m your own personal devil, I’m that monkey on your back.
You’ll fall in love with me. I become your mommy. I wipe your nose, I rub your shoulders. I take you into the shower and wash you like a little baby. I help you dress in the morning and undress in the evening. I run lines with you. I give you feedback on your performance. I help you decide who you are, and how to play it. I transform you. I make you free. I’m part of your character. I’m the angel only you can see. I’m always there to dust you off and help you through. I tell you you’re great. I give you answers. I empower you."

3) Roy323 wants to know, "What was the most enjoyable part about working on Star Trek?"

Doug: You know what, Roy! It's the friends you make that become family. Living on the starship is mind-blowing, but just like on the show, it's really about the friends you make along the way. I worked with some of the coolest, most creative, most alive, and funniest people ever. And there is nothing... I mean nothing... better than funny!

4) 31dot wants to know, "Is there any contribution you made that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently?"

Doug: Everything. You are never satisfied. Usually you have very little time. That's what separates the men from the boys in this business.

For instance... The Chaffee shuttle—

Chaffee was one of those things that came out of left field. I was in the art department lighting matches with my feet, when Gary Hutzel appeared in a flash of light and smoke. Shuttle! Yes? New! Yes? Today! Oh god! Hurry! Go like the wind! And that’s pretty much how it always happens, except that I had just completed the diagrams of the Defiant for the DS9 Tech Manual. Gary! I blurted like a little kid who didn’t wanna. Where? Where is it supposed to launch from! It’s impossible! There is no place! And to prove it I unfurled the newly minted diagrams on top of the lightbox. See? I’ve worked out every nook! There is absolutely no place... no place... um... hey... it could go right here! I point to the circular ring on the bottom of the ship. Right here! Some modest adjusting and… it… could… work! There was another flash of light and a roiling of thunder and he was gone! His disembodied voice reverberated over me... Today...today... today...

5) BertH wants to know if you have any relationship with CBS/Pocket on their books: "I know that some of your ship designs, like Titan and (I think) the NX-01 refit have been used on the book covers. Are you involved in designing for the books at all, such as the new Deep Space Nine design?"

Doug: I've had a great relationship with them starting with the Star Trek Encyclopedia. I've done many covers for them over the years. The design for the new station was pretty much arrived at by the writers and editorial staff. I enlisted Andrew Probert and Douglas Graves to refine the design, and build a model. I just did a cover with the NX refit this weekend, as a matter of fact. I'm delighted that fans have reacted so well. It's like the ugly duckling has turned into a swan.

6) We have a few questions from Sennim. First, he's heard that you're a big fan of The Original Series. "Now that you've worked on its successors, have any of the shows replaced TOS as your favorite, or at least become equal?"

Doug: None can equal the original, simply because it was the first... that show birthed everything that came after it. It certainly changed the course of my life, and colored everything that I would do from then on. TNG is right up there next to TOS. It's a thoroughbred, that is true to it's roots. It's Star Trek grown up. It's philosophical, and thoughtful. That's what makes real Star Trek. Star Trek is always about an idea. If it isn't asking questions, it's just an action movie.

7) His next question is, "On the DS9 episode 'Trials and Tribble-ations,' do you remember if all the Enterprise sets, such as the bridge, were re-built-in house, rented from someone, or were the actors completely added in to TOS footage?"

Doug: Everything except helm and Captain's chair, were built for specifically T&T. We rented those from Steve Horsch, a big fan who was also a professional Hollywood prop maker. Almost nothing is left over from the 60s, set-wise. So we built an entire corridor of the original ship, and parts of the bridge. Pinch me! That was the high water mark!

8) His last question is, "After having worked on Star Trek for so many years, are you still the bright-eyed fan you were when you started out, or has the intimate knowledge you have acquired on the making of the shows changed your feelings in any way?"

Doug: You know it, Spanky! Working behind the scenes for so many years only revved me up! Does this story sound like the thrill is gone?

“Doug!” snapped Mike, “Please join me on the bridge!”
I always got a thrill out of hearing that, and Mike knew it. “Which one?” I grinned. On stage 18 there was the bridge of the Defiant, on stage 8 we had the D bridge, and further down the lane on stage 14, the bridge of the Enterprise B. Was there ever a better time to be on Star Trek? Mike smiled.
Alan Ruck (Captain Harriman), and Jacqueline Kim (Demora Sulu) were waiting on the bridge for us. Both of them had asked for someone to explain how the ship functions, it’s method of power... the basic theory of starflight, and the proper way to put real intent into using a starship’s command interface. It was just one of the fun things we got to do, break actors in on using the futuristic consoles.
Making it even better, Alan and Jacqueline were in uniform. Mike gave them the basic run down on warp technolgy, and how the ship’s systems worked. What was most surprising was that they were really interested. Not all actors cared... usually they were the same thespian’s who use the business end of a weapon to point out a fellow crewman.
“Ok,” said Jacqueline who really seemed to grok. ”There’s a right way and a wrong way to interact with the controls...” Wow... I was really impressed. Mike smiled.
“Doug, why don’t you show Ms. Sulu the basics of operating the instruments.”
“With pleasure, captain!”
I smoothly slid into the helm position as Mike continued, “Hands are expressive. Often hands are more expressive than a person’s face. Temper your tempo with the drama of the situation. You can go a long way in selling that things are even keeled or dangerous just by the way you operate the console. You have to sell it to the balcony.”
“The man speaks truth,” I agreed. “Check out some of the cast on TNG. No one played a console like Brent Spiner. Spiner was poetry in motion. He made a ballet out of it.” I began to mime. ”Notice something over here... respond to it with a cascade of finger work... stop and wait for the ship to respond, check the MVS... make an adjustment on your console, check the board for feedback, finish with a flourish."
I rose from the station and offered it to Jacqueline. She took her position and fell in beautifully.
“Every move doesn’t have to be a button push. You can rock the button, or even dial,” explained Mike. ”Don’t be afraid to make a sweeping or sliding motion across a swathe of interface,” I added. Later, I would see her do that in the picture and smile to myself. Before we left the stage, she and Alan were panel dancing like Starfleet veterans. Mike and I stepped off the bridge, smiled at one another, shook hands, and headed back to our stations over the Marathon Mill.

9) What are your feelings on the J.J. Abrams film universe? Have you enjoyed the films? What do you think about their production design, make up design, and other areas you were involved in on the shows?

Doug: Technically they are beautiful... the work is stunning... however... and I hope no one will hold this against me... I did not enjoy the last two films, and honest... I really wanted to... but for me, Star Trek has to have a philosophical, humanist bend to it... always making a point, or asking a question. It should be introspective, and self examining. That's the Roddenberry factor. The new films are devoid of Gene Roddenberry, and at the end of the day, I'm not ok with that.

10) In your opinion as a Star Trek fan, where should the franchise go next? For example, should it continue as feature films, TV shows, or both?

Doug: Star Trek belongs on television. It works best when it is able to explore lots of ideas. That's what real science fiction is about- Ideas.

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There you have it, Star Trek fans. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Doug Drexler. Please join me in thanking Doug for taking the time to talk to us!

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