Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BREAD AND CIRCUSES - September 1967 (Star Trek)

This posting can also be viewed
(extended and revised) on the other RALPH'S TREK at www.senensky.com

When I was interviewed by Dave Rohlf for the Star Trek History website, he and I surprised each other. I surprised him when I told him that I did not remember BREAD AND CIRCUSES with any great affection; that it was not on my list of shows of which I was proud. He surprised me when he told me that BREAD AND CIRCUSES ranked as a very popular episode of STAR TREK.

I was surprised later by a follow-up question. They wanted to know where I had filmed the sequences of the arrests being made. The locations were right on the studio lot, utilizing entrances to offices and sound stages.

And I was beaming back to STAR TREK after a busy four months during the summer directing a western, a court room drama, an episode of I SPY and my first INSIGHT which was live on tape. I discovered it had been a busy summer at Desilu Studios as well. Gulf Western, owner of Paramount right next door, had purchased Desilu. The wall separating the two studios had been torn down and it was now just one big unhappy family.

When I first came to STAR TREK, Gene Coon told me that although the shows were supposed to be scheduled for a six day shoot, actually it was averaging out to six and a half days per episode. The edict from the new owners was that ALL SHOWS MUST BE COMPLETED IN SIX DAYS. But there was more. A normal shooting day had a crew call of 7:30am for an 8:00am shoot. Actors’ calls were based on the amount of time needed for makeup and hair to have them ready for the 8:00am shoot. The day ended at 7:00pm. Another order from the new management was that filming must end at 6:12pm. That was 48 minutes less per day; 48 minutes times 6 is 288 minutes; 288 minutes divided by 60 is 4.8 hours, just 12 minutes less than 5 hours which is a half a day’s shooting time. In other words it was now being demanded that STAR TREK be filmed in five and a half days. As you saw in the clip, I was now challenged with putting a SPARTACUS-like saga on film on a schedule that would have satisfied the executives at Ziv Studios in the fifties.

To start this impossible venture we returned to Bronson Canyon where I had filmed the idyllic THIS SIDE OF PARADISE. But it was a part of Bronson Canyon new to me. I had previously filmed in the forest section of the canyon. I did not know about the cave.

Septimus was portrayed by the highly respected character actor, Ian Wolfe. Ian at this time was seventy-one years old. He had come to Hollywood in 1934 after a successful career on Broadway. I collect old movies (my library at the present time includes around 2400 titles), and there are times when I wonder if any movie back in the thirties and forties was made without Ian in the cast. His final screen appearance (and there were over three hundred of them) was in Warren Beatty’s DICK TRACY in 1990.

I had one major concern with the script. The early version I felt telegraphed the ending of the story. But I had TWO Genes working this time. Both Roddenberry and Coon divided up the scenes to be revised so as to establish the slaves’ religious belief in the Planet Sun..

And again Jerry Finnerman has to be commended. The interior of the cave was shot at the location in Bronson Canyon. When filming an interior away from the studio, everything had to be lit from the floor. There wasn't the advantage of lighting from above. Filming within the confines of the cave just added to the difficulty. But Jerry still managed to do more than just get it photographed. In the cave as in his work back at the studio, there was an artist at work.

And once again Bill ‘Honey, you wanna ride on my bulldozer’ Bramley (from THE BULL ROARER) ended up in front of my camera. He’s the leader of the police group making the arrest.

STAR TREK was Jerry Finnerman’s first assignment as a director of photography. He had been Harry Stradling’s operator for several years and Stradling was one of the giants of the profession. He was the one who urged Jerry to take the STAR TREK assignment. Jerry, like so many gifted artists, was not the most confident human being on the planet. In fact at the beginning of the first season of STAR TREK he wanted to be let out of his contract. Fortunately wiser heads at the studio prevailed and he was persuaded it was better for his career if he stayed on. He did and I believe he is due a great deal of credit for the look of the show. Again as in the cave he didn’t settle for the drab gray of the jail cell walls and bars. Jerry, although he had a fine crew of gaffers, set all of the lights. He painted with light. And the amazing thing was how fast he was.

Television scenes at this time rarely ran longer than three minutes. The following scene was more than twice that. The actual page count for the sequence was eight and an eighth pages. And it was not a scene that allowed for any movement once the five people entered and were seated. Plus which any movement would have required additional camera setups and time to light them. The scene was a lot of talk. It was on days like this that I was grateful and appreciative of the five talented actors who comprised the cast. I must put in a word here about leading actors in episodic television. Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley after a long twelve hour day such as the one to complete this sequence (and I think there would have been an additional scene; I do not have my call sheets for this episode, but with a sixty-five page script, each day averaged out at at least ten pages), they would then go home with the requirement to work on the scenes for the following day’s work. To do it at all was an accomplishment. To do it with such skill --I bow my head in admiration.

The sequence in the arena is that part of our story most harmed by the time restrictions imposed by the new management. It was literally put together on the run. The second gladiator in the arena with Flavius was a very fine stunt man, Max Klevin, whom I had worked with in New York on NAKED CITY. I knew what he was capable of. The satiric look at live television was there; the spectacle of the Roman arena was less than it should have been. There was so much more that could have been done that would have been exciting and entertaining, but it needed time to stage and rehearse, with care taken to avoid injury to the actors involved. It should have been the breathtaking set piece of the production. But those wolfhounds in the black suits were nipping at our heels.

The role of Spock was both a starmaker and a cage for Leonard Nimoy. The unemotional character was an unusual creation and added substance and even comedy to the series. But for an actor of Leonard’s capabilities, most of the time it was limiting. Whenever there were ways to release him from these strictures (as in THIS SIDE OF PARADISE) it was edifying and entertaining. I’m not sure which Gene was responsible for the following scene between Spock and Doc (although I have my suspcions) but I think the scene is a winner.

Gene Roddenberry was doing a rewrite on the final climactic scene before the trio beam back up to the Enterprise. It was so last minute that I left the studio the evening before without the script in hand. Gene promised it would be waiting for me at the studio early the next morning. I arrived at the studio at 6:00am and, as he had promised, the script was there. While I was in the jail cell set planning my day’s work Ted Cassidy (Lurch on THE ADDAMS FAMILY television series) came into the set. He was guest starring on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE on an adjoining sound stage. I didn’t know him but either Leonard or DeForest was on the set and did. We planned a little prank to get the day off to a happy start. We filmed it; everyone knew what was going to happen except Bill Shatner. You may have seen it on one of the blooper reels that has been around for a long time. But here it is!

And here’s the sequence including the scene Bill thought we were doing before he was abducted.

As I wrote before, my early concern about the script was my fear the ending was being telegraphed. Both Genes worked on various scenes to establish the Roman slaves’ religious belief centered on the planet Sun. Now here’s our farewell to that week’s planet.

You can hear my telephone interview on this episode by going to the Star Trek History website at:



  1. I remember another funny blooper from this episode: in the arena, the Master of Games forgets his line, and says "If they refuse to move on cue, SCREW THEM!"

  2. Hi Ralph,

    Thanks for these great blogs. I'm a star trek fan of course and I've also been listening to Jerry Finnerman's interview on http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/gerald-perry-finnerman

    and he talks about your high standards and your determination to not compromise on quality. Wish more directors would talk about their experiences like you.

    Thanks again,


  3. Nope. I wish I was related to someone famous.
    But, no just regular Paul from Western Australia.

  4. Maybe we are related. I have family in Sidney, Australia!