Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, Patrick Stewart as Picard, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher and Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker in "The Bounty" Episode 306, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Interview: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Editor Drew Nichols On Boldly Editing the Final Frontier

When Drew Nichols performs his job flawlessly, he becomes practically invisible. The audience becomes so engrossed in the television show they are watching—the performances, the visuals, the musical score—that their own lives fade away, replaced temporarily by a beautiful and cathartic shared moment, completely unaware of Drew’s tireless efforts. Drew, of course, is the editor for Picard Season 3, and he is acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with narrating new stories within a beloved franchise, featuring characters who have been our idols since childhood, such as Jean-Luc Picard, Beverly Crusher, Geordi LaForge, Worf, and Data.

Drew:We better be doing the best thing we can and servicing these actors who are just fell back into these roles, and also brought new things to these roles, too. So there was that hanging over it, making sure we’re doing justice to what we’re trying to do here. It was it was intensive, to be sure.

As the editor, Drew shapes the final version of the story before it is experienced by the audience.

Drew:This is the thing that people are going to see. It’s a powerful responsibility. But I think that’s what makes it interesting.

Drew didn’t start his editing career on one of television’s most popular sci-fi shows. He had humble beginnings, working his way up from the bottom of the industry as a post-production assistant for reality TV.

Drew: “I’m pretty musically inclined. And I think music was always going to be something in my life. So I originally moved out to Los Angeles, I was playing drums in a band and hoping to be a big rock star. While doing that, I needed a job, obviously, to pay for the rent. So a friend that I went to film school with, worked at this reality TV company and said, ‘Hey, we need a nighttime assistant editor to digitize the tapes.’ So I started doing that, digitizing tapes and footage, doing string outs and started to dabble around with editing a bit. And it was kind of fascinating and super interesting. I mean, film had always been something that I love. I always saw myself as a director someday, in my wildest imagination, and editing felt like this great kind of combination of music and directing and filmmaking. So I kind of really got into it. And so the company saw that I was doing good work, they asked if I wanted to edit. So I started editing Reality TV.”

Unlike scripted shows, reality TV and documentaries heavily rely on the editor to shape and craft the story. Drew found this experience to be an incredible training ground, allowing him to prove and enhance his abilities.

Drew: “It really sharpened my storytelling skills. You’re trying to find the story. You’ll have story producers and people who are helping, but in the end, it just really does come down to you, and your storytelling skills particularly, but also your speed, your editing speed, because you have so much footage. We think we get a lot of footage in scripted, it’s like not even close in the documentary reality. We send a B roll unit and they just shot for 10 hours straight. And you have to be able to go through all that stuff, make selects, reels, remember where all the things were? I think all of those skills, absolutely translate directly over into the scripted side.” 

Once an editor becomes entrenched in a particular format, it’s easier to stay within that lane. So, how did Drew successfully cross over into scripted television?

Drew: “I took a chance. I had known some editors, through a friend who worked on Mad Men. And I asked if I could email them and ask for advice and tips. One of the editors, Christopher Gay, he agreed to meet me for lunch. We had a nice meeting. He had this little indie film he was doing. He said, ‘Look, there’s no money. I was planning on being my own assistant editor. But if you would like to come and do this, I’ll show you the ropes’. So I did this independent film with him. I’m guessing I impressed because he said that his assistant editor on Mad Men wasn’t going to be able to come back for the first part of the final season. ‘Would you like to work on madmen with me as my assistant editor?’ The rest as they say is history.”

Growing up watching Star Trek with his father, Drew developed a deep appreciation for The Next Generation, which he fondly refers to as ‘my Trek.’ When Terry approached him, joining the crew was an easy decision.

Drew: 12 monkeys, I mean, our relationship is forged in fire there, because it’s a time travel show, and it was incredibly well written. But inevitably, with time travel, you can’t possibly think of all the iterations while you’re writing it, shooting it. I absolutely was ready for it and hungry for it. I must have impressed because they kept me on. And then I did season two three and four with Terry which was an incredible experience in every way. And I think that really kind of paved the road for Star Trek Picard.

Growing up watching Star Trek with his father, Drew developed a deep appreciation for The Next Generation, which he fondly refers to as ‘my Trek.’ When Terry approached him, joining the crew was an easy decision.

Drew: “I mean, it was absolutely crazy. Because they’re big, expansive episodes, tons of visual effects. And then particularly the finale, because Terry directed the last two episodes, as well. And, you know, it’s the series finale. So while they’re directing, basically you get a call the next day, like, hey, you need to, you need to cut the scene, because they’re going to tear down the set tomorrow. So there’s a little extra pressure. Let’s make sure we have it all before they tear down the enterprise set.”

Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I asked Drew if there was a specific moment where he felt he truly left his mark—a genuine Drew Nichols moment.

Drew:One of the cooler things I think, was probably in the finale, where Jean-Luc goes back into the Borg cube. He plugs himself back into the collective to go rescue his son. And that was in the script. Terry was like, ‘we got to see this journey’ What’s it like going into the Collective? So it was just a question that he put out there. And he’s like, ‘why don’t you just try to figure something out?’ So me and my assistant editor, Justin Block, we pored through some of the shows and the movies to see if there’s anything with Locutus that we could possibly use, and some stock footage bits. So that was fun. And kind of, you know, crazy, because again, I had kind of no directive beyond just ‘make it cool’. We’re going into the Borg Collective. And then we’re in the Borg Collective, which again, we’ve never really seen before, what’s that like to be in a simulation? It was through some bits from First Contact, and some stock footage and some clever sound design stuff that Dustin and our sound design team did. And I think it turned out kind of really cool.

One of the most challenging aspects of an editor’s job is letting go of beloved scenes. I asked Drew if there were any moments consigned to the cutting room floor that he wished could have been salvaged.

Drew: Episode six. It’s the episode where they have to go into Daystrum Station and heist Data. It’s beautifully written and directed. But when we put the episode together, it was just feeling like there was no tension. There was some language that wasn’t working. We need to punch this thing up, you know. That was another fun kind of assignment: how do we introduce some more tension into this thing after the fact? Not a whole lot of things got cut out of the season entirely, which is rare. So there was only one instance of that where where we lifted a whole scene. And it was kind of a nice scene, where Worf, Riker and Rafi with Data plugged in there waiting to get picked up. And Worf has a story explaining why he’s a pacifist now, because while he was hunting changelings, he accidentally killed a woman who wasn’t a changeling, and he has that regret, that weight with him. It’s a beautiful scene, it’s really great to get some insight into war. But it was absolutely just killing the tension entirely. If there’s another Star Trek series, I hope this is something that we can get into and just dive into a little bit more about his character because it was such an interesting character turn.”

Brent Spiner as Data, Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker and Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker in”The Bounty” Episode 306, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The series finale of Picard was screened in limited IMAX theaters, allowing fortunate fans to watch episodes “Vox” and “The Last Generation” back-to-back. I inquired if Drew had the chance to attend one of these screenings.

Drew: It was incredible to watch those last two episodes with an audience, particularly an audience with seen episode nine, but they had not seen the finale. And it was awesome. There was laughter, there was cheering. There were gasps, there was this really tenable sense of emotion that you could feel like electricity, especially in the finale and some of those like very emotional scenes, you know, when Jean-Luc goes in to save jack, and they’re having this conversation that collected super personal stripped down, baring your soul conversation, you could just feel it, people were on the edge of their seat. It was magical. It was it was awesome. It makes me want to watch like everything I do in a movie theater with people. What a cool shared experience.”

As a lifelong Trekkie, the opportunity to work on Star Trek was a dream-come-true for Drew. I asked how it felt to be able to add to the legacy of such beloved franchise.

Drew: Terry, really wanted this to be a love letter to Star Trek this season. And I think it seems like we have delivered on that. I mean, as a Star Trek fan myself, it absolutely hit all the buttons for me where I was like this is I had to pinch myself most days that I was like, This is what I get to work on. And these characters were grew up with are on my screen, like I get to Yeah. And then and then the enterprise there on the enterprise. I mean, it was just I never thought it would happen ever. And it’s it’s amazing. It’s really it was it was such a wonderful experience.”

You can watch all three seasons of Picard on Paramount Plus.


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