X-Files mythology, TenThirteen Interviews Database, and more

TV Guide: Q&A with Frank Spotnitz

TV Guide
Q&A with Frank Spotnitz

TVGEN: Welcome to the TVGEN/Yahoo! Chat Auditorium. Our guest tonight is X-Files: Fight the Future’s co-executive producer, Frank Spotnitz. Frank has written over 13 X-Files episodes and served as co-executive producer on the first season of Millennium. Here we go folks! Welcome Frank!

Frank Spotnitz: I am very excited that the movie is about to be released, and very happy to be addressing the online fans of the show, because they’ve been so important in building the success of the show, and now, hopefully, the movie.

Blondguy2cute: Why do you think the X-Files has had such a tremendous following?

Spotnitz: There are a lot reasons why the X-Files is so popular. I think the first one is simply David and Gillian. That they both are incredibly talented as performers and carry the show week after week. And they have incredible chemistry which is undeniable. Beyond that I think the show deals with subject matter that is inherently fascinating to people, which is the unknown and the limits of our understanding. And it’s scary and simply fun to watch.

Curious_55421: Mr. Spotnitz, what makes the theatrical X-Files different from the TV series?

Spotnitz: Freedom! Our challenge every week in doing the television series is trying to get it on the air, frankly! We are always trying to be as ambitious as we possibly can and as visual as we possibly can and it’s very hard to do on a television schedule and a television budget.

So when Chris and I came up with the story for the movie we forgot about schedule and we forgot about budget, and we asked ourselves what X File would we tell if we could tell any X File we wanted. And I think when people see the movie, they’ll see the freedom we had physically to go anywhere physically in the world we wanted to go, and anywhere in time we wanted to go.

Elderess27: How did you first get in touch with Chris Carter?

Spotnitz: It’s funny, I had been a reporter, I wrote for the wire services, UPI and AP, and I came to L.A. over 10 years ago to make a career change. I wanted to become a screenwriter. So I enrolled at the American Film Institute and began studying screenwriting. But before I had written my first screenplay I was introduced through friends to Chris Carter, who at the time was writing television movies for Disney. And I kept in touch with him over the years, and he read my work. But when the X-Files went on the air, I didn’t feel I knew him well enough to call and ask for a job. So I watched the show as a fan from the beginning. But it wasn’t until late in the first year that a friend of mine asked me if I would call Chris on his behalf to see if he could get a job writing an episode. So I did, believe it or not, I called Chris and asked, “Will you hear my friend’s pitch?” And he said, “No, but I’ll hear yours.” So I did, and I ended up landing a job on staff just as the writing team of Morgan and Wong, who wrote many of the show’s best episodes, were leaving. That was the beginning of the second season.

Thekmaster: Will there be more “mythology” episodes this season than last?

Spotnitz: Yes, I guess there will. Simply because we only produced 20 episodes last year due to the movie. We’ve actually got a really big and interesting narrative arc carrying through from last season and the movie into the new season. So we’re very excited to get started.

Thekmaster: How will the show change, now that it’s moving to Los Angeles from Vancouver?

Spotnitz: The honest answer is no one really knows. I think the movie will prove that the X-Files works no matter where you film it, because the movie was not shot in Vancouver. But we’d loved the look of the show in Vancouver and want to keep it as dark and moody and atmospheric as it’s always been, even though we are filming in L.A. And while none of the producers wanted to leave Vancouver, the truth is filming here in L.A. gives us the opportunity to tell stories in different parts of the country that we could never have done in Vancouver. So I think fans can expect to see things like Area 51 popping up in the X-Files now that we’re in this part of the country.

Thekmaster: Who is your favorite X-Files character?

Spotnitz: Ha! Wow. That is a tough question. I loved the strong villains, and guest roles. I loved John Lee Roche in an episode called “Paper Hearts.” I loved Eddie Van Blundht in “Small Potatoes.” Both of those were written by Vince Gilligan. I also loved Clyde Bruckman, who was played by Peter Boyle. And Dwayne Barry, played by Steve Railsback. Those are the ones that come to mind. In terms of writing for characters, the hardest characters are Mulder and Scully. They are always hard and never seem to get easy, because their voices are very specific. But I would have to say that I loved writing X and still miss him as a character.

Thekmaster: Millennium had a change of focus this season to be less serious. What sort of plans are underway for this season for Frank Black?

Spotnitz: I think Frank Black’s world has been turned upside down, and there were strong indications that the Millennium Group was serving another agenda. I think you can expect to see a continuation of that story and a lot of surprising twists early in the new season. Both Chris Carter and I are returning to Millennium this year after leaving it in the capable hands of Morgan and Wong last year. And we’re very excited about it.

Evapilot01: What exactly do you do on the X-Files?

Spotnitz: I’m still trying to figure that out! I do a little bit of everything. My most important job is helping writers to develop their stories and I work as a team with Chris, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban to come up with all the stories and how they play out. But beyond that, I cast the shows, go into editing, work on the special effects, go to the music playback, and try to find time to write and rewrite.

There are literally not enough hours in the day to do all the work that a show like the X-Files demands. So I’ve pretty much surrendered my personal life the last four years. But I’m not complaining. All of us on this show realize how lucky we are and the fact that people recognize what we do is totally unexpected and very gratifying.

ARLO_STREET: Was there any difference between the movie and the show, acting-wise that is?

Spotnitz: No. Gillian said that early on she thought she had to make it bigger because it was a bigger event. But she very quickly realized that that would be a mistake. And I have to say that David and Gillian are as good or better in the movie than they’ve ever been in the series, and that’s saying a lot. The amazing thing to me was seeing them on a big screen after watching them on a small one for five years. It was really a shock. I think everyone, whether they’re fans of the X-Files or not, will agree that they both fill the big screen beautifully.

SKEPTIC01: Was writing “Memento Mori” especially challenging because of the emotional aspects?

Spotnitz: “Memento Mori” was challenging for a number of reasons. Most people don’t know that “Memento Mori” almost didn’t happen. John, Vince and I were still writing “Leonard Betts” and Darren Morgan was supposed to do the next episode. But he dropped out and we had no script. So there were literally only a few days in which to come up with a story and write a script. We had talked about the Scully cancer story for six months and very quickly decided that this would be the time to do it. So we wrote the story in a mad rush. The crew in Vancouver began prepping the episode right before the Christmas vacation. Over Christmas break, Chris Carter took it with him to Hawaii and did a rewrite of it which really made it into the script it was. And immediately after finishing that rewrite, I joined him in Hawaii and we came up with the story for the movie. All of us were amazed and relieved at how well “Memento Mori” turned out. And in retrospect I think it’s one of the episodes we’re most proud of.

Logan_666: Will there be a relationship between Mulder and Scully?

Spotnitz: There IS a relationship between Mulder and Scully! I go to expos and ask the audience do they want to see Mulder and Scully romantically involved. Invariably far more people say they don’t. I do think in the movie, without giving anything away, fans will see a deepening of that relationship. And we have no intention of stepping away from that deepening in the coming season.

SananMorganX03: Do you think the movie will become a franchise?

Spotnitz: I sure hope so! It just seems like a natural. And I can’t say we had fun doing the movie because it was so rushed and we had to go straight from doing the TV series to doing the movie to doing the TV series and finishing the movie, but there is an excitement about it. And the show seems to lend itself naturally to the bigger screen. I know David is very proud of the movie and his work in it. And he has said he would like to do another one.

Zhapharie: Will they give Scully more of central role than what Mulder seems to be playing? It seems that Scully is more on the sidelines.

Spotnitz: I don’t think that’s true. I think one of the keys to the show as a writer is that all of the stories are told from Scully’s point of view. She is the one that grounds the fantastic in reality. And I think all of us feel that it’s the interplay between Mulder and Scully that makes the show tick. And the movie is as much about the strength of that relationship as it is about aliens, conspiracy or anything else.

coleguest_4a05179: Having filmed the movie first, how did it affect filming the fifth season, essentially akin to reading the last chapter of a book first?

Spotnitz: It was very strange. I think we thought it would be easier to plot out the fifth season knowing where we would be the following summer. In fact, it proved much more difficult to decide exactly how much to reveal and how much not to reveal. And I think “Patient X” and “The Red and the Black” which are two of the most important mythology episodes we’ve ever written, were probably the hardest stories to devise and write.

Elderess27: Any plans for X-Files/Millennium crossovers next year?

Spotnitz: We’ve always said we would do it if we could find that right story. We don’t want to do it for the wrong reasons. That is for cheap promotional or commercial purposes. It seems like a natural but the truth is it’s harder to come up with a story that benefits both shows than you would think.

Logan_666: What changes have been made because of the change from British Columbia to California?

Spotnitz: The biggest change is the loss of our crew in Vancouver who were hugely important to the success of the show. These people worked night and day on this show and were incredibly proud of it. And to a large degree they carried the standard of excellence that was set. So the biggest difference and the greatest challenge in moving to Los Angeles is finding a new crew who can not only uphold the standard that has been set but surpass it. Because all of us want to see the show continue to get better even as it gets older.

Thekmaster: I heard there were three different scripts ready in case the details of one were leaked. Any truth to this rumor?

Spotnitz: Not to sound like one of the bad guys in our show, but I can’t confirm or deny that.

Thekmaster: Do you think the Internet has made this show more successful?

Spotnitz: I do. I think from the beginning the people on the Internet have beat the drum for this show and really made it their own. And I frequently lurk on line to see how people respond to episodes, particularly the mythology shows. The people that follow this show are so smart, it’s a challenge to stay ahead of them. And lurking on the net helps me see how much they’re picking up on, how confused they are, and whether they are confused about the right things. Having said that, I find it hard to read nitpicking, because so often the people who are picking the nits are wrong themselves. It also astonishes me how many people presume to understand the inner workings of the staff here, and what the various people’s strengths and weaknesses are. If people understood how close and collaborative all of us were, then I think that all of that chat would evaporate.

_spiffeYgurL_: Is it cool working with Gillian and David?

Spotnitz: It is! One thing people probably don’t think about is that for the past five years, they’ve been in Vancouver and we’ve been in L.A. So most of our contact has been electronically, watching them in dailies, or talking to them on the phone. But the best part about working with David and Gillian is that they invariably make the work better than any of us imagined it would be. And as writers, we are all incredibly grateful for that! Now that we’ll be shooting in Los Angeles we’re all looking forward to seeing more of David and Gillian.

Thekmaster: Is Agent Spender going to play a more important role in the next season.?

Spotnitz: Yes. Agent Spender has an important connection to the Cigarette Smoking Man, as we revealed in the last episode of last season. And there are many more surprises in store for that character.

Cape_Bretoner_: How long does it take to produce one show?

Spotnitz: We shoot the main unit for eight days. We then have a second unit that does additional photography for two, three, four, sometimes eight or 10 or more days. It varies, depending on how physically ambitious the episode is.

Mmbsmith: Will Mimi Rogers be returning next season?

Spotnitz: Yes, she will.

Nieng_: I heard C.C. say that the season six was going to have a different style in writing. Is that true?

Spotnitz: I think we will continue to do what we’ve always tried to do, which is tell good, scary stories. But I think what Chris was probably saying was that we will try to tell different stories, which is what we’ve always tried to do. I think one of the really smart things that the original writers of this series did in the first season was try to make every episode as completely different as they could from the one that preceded it. Which defies conventional wisdom on television. And I think one of the things that I have loved about this show, both as a viewer and as a writer, is that you never know what genre you’ll be watching from week to week, whether it’s horror, suspense, mystery or comedy.

Non_Smoking_Girl: What’s it like working with Chris Carter?

Spotnitz: LOL! Chris Carter is the most focused person I have ever met. He is incredibly driven and incredibly smart. And I have said before the best and the worst thing about working for Chris is that he knows exactly what he wants from the way a scene should be written, to how it should be lit, to what the music cues should be, to the sound effects. That’s a great thing because you have a leader with a clear vision. On the other hand, he sets the bar very high and it’s a constant challenge to meet that standard and expectation.

Butterfly_Handjob: Did you have to plan out a portion of season 6 to figure out the movie plot?

Spotnitz: No.

SSMelies: Do you feel more pressure because you worked on the story?

Spotnitz: No. I’m proud and thrilled that Chris asked me to work with him on the movie. And I guess the truth is, we have an enormous amount at stake with this movie. But when we were writing the story and when Chris wrote the script, we forgot about all that. We just concentrated on doing what we always do, which was telling the best story we could.

Blondguy2cute: The coming movie has been said to be more accessible to everyone especially the people who don’t follow. How did you achieve this?

Spotnitz: Every step of the way, we thought about how this story would reward fans of the show and still make sense to people who had never seen it. And there were some questions that couldn’t be answered in the movie because of that. And some characters who we would have loved to have featured in the movie, such as Alex Krycek, whom we couldn’t include because their backstories were too complicated. In the writing of the script, Chris came up with very clever ways of restating what you need to know about the characters and the show without boring the audience that already knew those things. I think we have done a good job of making a movie that can appeal to everyone, while still going deeper into the mythology, and most importantly, into the characters of Mulder and Scully than we’ve ever done in the stories. I appreciate all the support and interest in the show and the movie. We have worked hard to meet everyone’s expectations. And I hope everyone enjoys it!

TVGEN: Goodnight everyone!!!

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “TV Guide: Q&A with Frank Spotnitz”

  1. […] With all this going on, it should not be a surprise that Scully’s cancer arc was a (very) last minute addition to the season. The revelation that Scully had cancer was thrown into Leonard Betts at the last minute, when it turned out that Darin Morgan would not be able to contribute a script to the season. As Frank Spotnitz notes: […]