Are multiple scenes of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine filmed at the same time?

For example while Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden are filming a scene on the paper mache planet, are Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton filming a scene in engineering?

I ask because from a production standpoint, wouldn't filming multiple scenes at a time be more efficient? For example Data may only be needed briefly for one scene. Rather than having to redo all his costume and makeup later, wouldn't it be faster to film multiple Data scenes back to back?

Or are scenes filmed in order?

I'm primarily interested in Star Trek, but examples from other shows filmed around that time (1990's) are also welcome.

  • 13
    You may be able to use actors' time more efficiently running multiple film sets at the same time, but there are a lot of other factors to consider. A film set is not just actors, a director, a cameraman, and a few others. Most film and tv sets involve a huge amount of people and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars of equipment. So coordinating all of that to run simultaniously in multiple locations would be quite a nightmare in most cases. Not saying it hasn't been done. But it's not as efficient as it may seem at first glance. Aug 19, 2021 at 19:06
  • 4
    You might enjoy this segment from Reading Rainbow on a behind-the-scenes for The Next Generation: youtube.com/watch?v=NIFYpKucMa8
    – Juggerbot
    Aug 19, 2021 at 19:22
  • 2
    It's not quite the same thing, but you will often notice that when a character is barely present in an episode, it turns out that the actor was directing that episode. Most of the main cast of TNG tried their hands at directing a few episodes. Alternatively, they may be heavily featured in the previous or next episode, which may have at least partially overlapped in filming schedules. (e.g. a Riker-light episode might be immediately followed by an all-Riker solo episode, filmed separately around the same time.) Aug 19, 2021 at 19:40
  • I can't say for ST but in Sci-Fi/Fantasy feature length filming and other genres where there are elaborate sets or public locations that are only available for a short time frame or remote locations that are expensive to revisit, it is common and practical to shoot scenes out of sequence. The risk you take is that there is less room to evolve the plot or some basic character attributes like costume, this is where continuity errors can easily creep in. But if you're on a budget, sometimes you have to be pragmatic. Aug 20, 2021 at 3:39

4 Answers 4


Someone might be able to find specific info for Star Trek, but there is no general rule in the industry.

Scenes are rarely shot in order. They are shot according to actor and set/location availability. If they have to build some special set to be an alien ship's bridge for just one episode, they'll shoot everything they can on it so they can break it down again in time to re-use the space for the next special build.
Not really applicable to Star Trek or anything shot entirely indoors but relevant to many productions is crew availability and rest time. If they need several night scenes, then in order to maintain the crew's 'right to rest period' they will film maybe a whole week of nights, everything they need for a whole block, then next week go back to standard days. You can't film a night shoot immediately followed by a day shoot - everybody must get a minimum time between wrap and call.

The rest depends on budget, project duration and also whether they can film scenes simultaneously that don't require the same director. Also dependant on budget is how long they are given to shoot each scene. Some rapid-fire shows can hammer through 12 scenes a day; most will be looking at maybe 5, max. High budget shows down to one or perhaps two. [Massive budget might spend two weeks on a single scene, but that's rare for TV].

Simple establishing shots or scenes with light dialog might be given to a second unit, but the main characterisation, look and feel of a show is usually in the hands of one director per block. A block could be anywhere from a single episode to three or four, or far more rarely these days, the entire season.

Soaps and long seasons - 26 episode shows - may have more flexibility in this, with two or more units concurrently filming separate blocks, with different directors. These tend to be booked around availability of the main cast, so it's not impossible Riker, Troi, Crusher or Data could potentially be shooting one episode in the morning on one stage, then another in the afternoon, on a different stage. Production will try to keep actors employed in such a way as to keep just one plot at a time in their 'head space' but it's not always possible.

  • 2
    Don't shows often film day for night, meaning the night shooting thing isn't an issue?
    – LShaver
    Aug 19, 2021 at 15:05
  • Isn't there often a "Second Unit", at least for movies? They film less critical scenes in parallel with the main shooting?
    – Barmar
    Aug 19, 2021 at 15:48
  • 2
    @LShaver - They used to. I've not known anyone who did it recently [I've just come off 2 days of night shoots & have today off, thankfully. Back to days tomorrow;) Barmar. Often, as mentioned above, but not so much for the critical 'characterisation' parts. They will be 'unimportant bits' in that respect - don't get me wrong, they don't employ fools to do this, they employ the same calibre of crew as for the main unit, but they have less critical/artistic control.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 19, 2021 at 16:33
  • For "indoors" shows, especially, filming on different sets in the same soundstage would be problematic due to noise, too, if nothing else.
    – minnmass
    Aug 19, 2021 at 20:48
  • 5
    Second unit is not only "less critical scenes", but also shots within an acted scene that don't have the actors in the shot. For example, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Khan picks the tiny eels off their mother's back with a tool, the shots with the actors in them were shot by the first unit, but the closeups with only the tool and the eels were shot on a different day by the second unit (and of course it wasn't Montalban's hand holding the tool).
    – Lee C.
    Aug 19, 2021 at 21:02

A competitor of sorts to Star Trek, Babylon 5, did some amount of this. There were always significant cost pressures, and so one of the things they did was plot out when different sets would be needed, and actors, and so on, so that they could use actors and sets in parallel. They even did this across episodes, so an actor might be filming one episode one day, another episode another day, and then back to the first episode on day 3.

I'm going to have to see if I can find references. I know jms wrote about this in his usenet posts.

  • 2
    They had a pretty big difference though, in that nearly all of Babylon-5 (I think all of it after season 1) was written, directed, and produced by the same person. Trek (Next Gen at least) was famous for shopping out scripts. This makes a pretty big difference because you can't shoot without an approved script, and there wasn't necessarily any common elements from week to week.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 20, 2021 at 16:49
  • @T.E.D. Absolutely; you couldn't do that on a show like Star Trek that changes from week to week. Aug 20, 2021 at 20:41

In the television world, Star Trek is what is known as a "single camera" show. There is literally just one camera, and there will only be one scene filmed at a time. But ironically, even if it were a "multi-camera" show, there would still only be one scene shot at a time, so industry terminology might not be very helpful here.

The primary reason why there would be only one scene shot at a time is because there is only one director. One director cannot monitor or manage multiple scenes simultaneously. That works both ways. The director cannot know what he is getting, and the actors (and crew) cannot know if they are giving him what he wants, if he is not there to see it.

Generally speaking, the only time there will be multiple crews shooting scenes independently for the same production is when there is a "second unit" involved. Second unit filming is typically confined to establishing shots that don't involve actors. A car driving down the highway, a plane taking off, people walking into a bank.

There are movies made with two directors working simultaneously. The Russo brothers and the Coen brothers are the best examples. Because of the complexity of Marvel films, the Russo brothers could have operated independently at times, but I don't know if they actually did. I doubt the Coen brothers ever did. There is a saying in the business: "Movies with multiple directors look like movies with multiple directors," but that applies to movies where the director was replaced during filming.

  • 9
    "single-camera" and "multi-camera" refer to how many cameras are used on a single set, not the total number of cameras available. And I think multi-camera filming is practically only used for sitcoms.
    – Barmar
    Aug 19, 2021 at 15:46
  • 8
    kind of a one off situation but The Lord of the Rings trilogy at one point had seven diffeernt unit filming simultaneously
    – NKCampbell
    Aug 19, 2021 at 16:40
  • 4
    In the Director's comments on the Extended Edition DVDs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson mentions that they started off with a Second Unit, but the more the shooting went on, the more he saw that the Second Unit understood and shared his creative vision to a T, and thus the more the Second Unit morphed into a "parallel First Unit", so to speak. But that is probably an exception, and partially caused by the unique situation of shooting three massive epics back-to-back-to-back, partially in parallel. Aug 19, 2021 at 16:41
  • Multi-camera filming is used in many situations. Soaps/live comedy etc, of course, but also in high-budget situations where there's a lot to capture. A huge percentage [possibly the majority] of shoots use two cameras full time some even three, or with a floating 4th on occasion. The maximum I ever saw was eight on a single scene. Long-run TV shows use parallel 'first units' with a different director per block rather than distinct second units.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 19, 2021 at 16:52

As a teen I was an extra on an episode of a popular fantasy show shot in New Zealand. The process was quite interesting, especially as a fan of the show.

This show used a second unit to film distant, static and filler shots using body doubles, often at the same time the main unit was shooting close-ups and walking shots on the main cast. I watched a bit of both while waiting to be called for the few scenes I was loitering in, and the main unit was the only one to shoot close-up and dialog. Even if it was just faces in a crowd reacting to dialog - usually read by an AD rather than the actor - it was in front of the main unit. We wrapped in two days for the episode, including reshoots.

To be fair the episode had two leads, about five guests and about that many feature extras, and the story didn't call for much in the way of split action. There was one scene pair that was filmed back-to-back on opposite sides of a papier mâché cliff face but that was as close as we got. Second unit was off at the time filming the back of a couple of body doubles riding away.

I had a lot of time to talk to the other extras and the body doubles, and this appeared to be the norm at the time for production companies in the area. Any time you see a main character or an important bit of dialog, the Director was sitting on set making sure it fits his "vision."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .