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Archive for January, 1999

Bardsmaid's Cave: My visit to the set

The Cave’s X-Files Commentary Archives:  Encounters with the show
Title: My visit to the set
Author: Patterson

[Original article here]

Ok gang! Now that the cat’s out of the bag, it would be wrong not to share as much info and details as I can. So here goes.

FIRST OF ALL, HOW DID I GET TO GO? Well, I’m still amazed at it. I give total credit to God for the opportunity. Yes I pursued, but so much was out of my hands and His timing and opening of doors is what made it possible. I just really wanted to say that first. I am a student studying television production. One of the reasons I love the show is because what little I know about producing episodic television makes me appreciate what these people do every week. And we all love knowing the names of the people behind the scenes and what they do. So, I wrote Kim Manners a letter telling him how much I really enjoyed his work with the X-Files and that I was studying television production and was fascinated with what it took to put a show like the X-Files together. I said I would be in LA during a certain time and if at all possible, I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with him and learn more about the process. I didn’t think I’d get anywhere. He’s obviously a very busy person, why in the world would he bother with a kid from Nashville? Imagine my elation when he called. To quote the movie, The Saint: Miracle number one. We spoke on the phone and he said it shouldn’t be a problem for me to visit the week I would be out there since he wasn’t directing that week. He told me I should call him a few days before I left for LA and we would arrange a time for me to visit the set.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? So I did. It took a while of phone tag and thinking it wasn’t going to happen. I had been in LA a couple of days before I heard back from him. I was so anxious I think I called his office a time or two too many. He’s incredibly busy trying to do his job of providing quality entertainment, but I was worried about me. Yeah. But he called and said he was in the editing room cutting the episode he had just finished directing the week before, but that they were shooting on the Fox lot and he would show me around that afternoon. I was very jazzed. OK that’s an understatement. I was literally jumping up and down. Now, the day before, just on a lark a went and found the Fox lot. I circled, then decided, “what the heck, let’s see what happens,” and turned into the gate. When I got up to the guard shack, they asked my last name and I told them. But surprise surprise, I wasn’t in the computer. She asked me if they were expecting me and I said no they aren’t. And very nicely she suggested I make a U-turn and try the courtesy phone to let them know I was here and have them buzz me in. So I made a U-turn and went home. Well, it made it so much more fun when the next day I pulled up and they asked for my last name, I told them and they said “Patterson?” (well actually they said my real name but you get the idea.) I had a drive -on pass. Which means I could drive a few feet onto the lot and then turn into a parking lot. I was directed to the Ten Thirteen production offices, which are very cool. The doors are that translucent smoky class and the logo on the door looks like the logo at the end of an episode where the kid says “I made this!” I went in and there were three desks in an open area, one directly in front of me, and a fourth in an alcove of sorts behind the guy in front of me. I had been told to ask for a certain person whose name I didn’t recognize and he would take me to Mr. Manners in editing. However, that person was at lunch (it was 2 p.m. PST). So I said, that I was there to meet with Kim Manners. Well, the guy behind the guy in front of me picked up the phone and said, “I’m assuming he’s expecting you?” I answered in the affirmative and he asked my name. I told him and he called Mr. Manners. Then the young man directly in front of me was then instructed to walk me back to the editing building.

We headed even further into the maze of trailers, RVs, and house-like buildings and I chit-chatted with this guy. On the way, I saw a really familiar face walking towards us. The guy I was with raised his arms and bowed in mock worship and then it hit me who it was. Now let me stop here (I know, how dare I?) but before I went out there I had written down every single question I could think of to as Kim Manners. Some serious, some not so serious, some out-right funny. But one of the things I wanted to ask was if I could meet John Shiban. He is, hands down, my favorite writer for the show and I love him! So now back to the story. So I recognize this face and decide to seize the day. “John Shiban!” I said. He turned around because he had passed me and I walked up to him and said, “Hi I’m Patterson (really told him my real name) and I love your writing. You are my favorite writer for the show. I’m sorry I don’t want to take up your time, but I just had to stop you and tell you how much I admire your work.” He smiled (very cute smile. Is it obvious yet how much I love this man?) and thanked me and unfortunately that was the end of the conversation. But I couldn’t believe the timing. Miracle number two. Well nice young man (actually he was a couple years older than me) and I continue on. He points to a small building with a large “X” on it and sends me on my way. Alone. By myself. So I go in the door and I’m in a hallway. there are only four rooms off this hallway and I don’t see anyone in the first two on my right and left. I call out a questioning ‘Hello?” and get a loud welcoming “Hello!” back. Kim Manners bolts out of the room and extends his hand. “Kim Manners,” he said. “Patterson,” I said. (actually I told him my-oh you get it.) He invites me into the room where they are editing the episode he directed last week. I was thinking he would try to maneuver me away from the booth but instead he ushered me in and began telling me all about the story. I got to watch them edit for almost an hour. It was really amazing. The editor Louise Innes whose first job with the XF was Triangle!!!, had been putting together her edit since shooting began using the footage shot each day. So it was cohesive and you could follow it. What they were doing was making the Director’s cut. Manners was changing a few shots used, picking different takes, trying to tighten it up because it was running about ten minutes over, he said. They hadn’t added any music or audio effects, hadn’t re-recorded any dialogue, all they had was the audio from the set. But it was very cool. Certain things hadn’t been inserted yet like close-ups of Mulder reading a letter or words typing on the page. Stuff like that. So suddenly there’d be a black screen with what we’re supposed to be reading in quotes. That was funny.

I asked some production questions and he told me a couple of stories. He  said he like to be about four or five minutes over when he takes it to the producers. Then they make their cuts. He said it’s difficult because he is one of the producers so he’s simultaneously still trying to cut and yet fight for the shots he wants. I wanted to ask so many questions but I didn’t want to distract him too much. Also, I was very engrossed in watching the monitors. So much so that at one point I forgot where I was and during a very suspenseful moment let a “No!” out when something happened I didn’t want to happen. He and Louise started laughing at me and Kim said something to the effect of “Got ya didn’t I?” They refer to the episodes by their number, not by the name like we do. So he was editing 18, 19 was currently shooting, 20 (DD’s baseball ep) was set to begin shooting on Friday (I was there on Wed. St. Patty’s Day), and Manners was eagerly awaiting the script for 21 which is the first part of the two-parter season finale. I’m sure that 17 was still being sweetened in audio and having the music added. Until being there, I knew they worked hard, but in reality I didn’t have a clue, not even an inkling of how hard they work. I still don’t fully grasp it. But getting back to my story. Manners said that most episodic television is shot in eight days. But X-Files actually averages about 10 to 12. He said about a year and a half ago he and Bowman did a two-parter that shot 28 days straight I think he said. I guessed if it was Patient X/ The Red and the Black. He said “No but good guess!” It was Tempus Fugit/Max. So we talked about all the effects they had to do like the crash site and working in the plane cabin. He told me he had his camera operators wearing helmets during that scene.

So they got all the way to the fade out for the commercial break and Manners said he’d take me over to the sound stage!! As we were walking over there I asked him about Monday, if he found it more difficult to direct having to shoot the same scene five different times or if it gave him a chance to play. He said it was more difficult because he had to find five different ways to film it and he wanted each time to have subtle differences and so it was a lot of difficult choices. So we talked about what he did choose and things like that. Then we went to the sound stage. They were shooting the sequel to Unusual Suspects and it is set in Las Vegas, so they had built the hallway and a couple of rooms for a Las Vegas Hotel. It was awesome! If you had blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of it, I would have sworn I was in a hotel. From the carpet to the signs pointing the way to different wings to the working light fixtures to the very large, very gaudy floral arrangement sitting on a marble table in front of the elevator. You literally could walk the whole floor which was built in, I guess, a D shape. They had two bedrooms built. The one they were currently shooting in was huge and you walked in from the hallway and it had a bathroom with a black jaccuzzi and gold faucets. It was so cool!! So we walked around and he introduced me as his friend Patterson from Nashville. I met one of the camera operators who was really neat. I met a couple of the Special Effects guys. They were either getting ready to shoot someone or had shot someone. The shirt they had was in plastic (like it got just got back from the cleaners) but had blood all over it from several gun shot wounds. They showed me the little contraptions for getting shot so that you bleed. There’s a charge and they hit the button and the blood packet explodes. I asked if it hurt and they said sometimes when the clothing is loose and if the packet has allot of blood in it, when it explodes it gets slammed against the flesh and makes “A very nice welt. Or so I’ve been told” as one of them said. I asked Manners if he had gotten dibs on directing the sequel since he had done the Unusual Suspects. He said they had wanted him to do it, but he felt like he had been there, done that. I did meet the director of that episode whose name was Brian Spires or something very much like it. I didn’t recognize his name. But he seemed nice. He was young, like early to mid thirties. They were getting set up to shoot in the room and they started taking a wall down. Manners explained that all the set walls are “wild” so that they can remove a wall and put the cameras any where to get the shot. He said it spoils them because they’ll go out on location and be shooting in someone’s house and want to remove a wall to get a shot, but obviously can’t. Then he said, “C’mon, I’ll take you over to FBI headquarters.”

We walked over to another section of the soundstage and turned into a hallway. Yes, The hallway!! I was standing in the hallway of FBI headquarters!! However, it wasn’t lit so it was very dark. But I realized we  were standing right outside Skinner’s office. So we went in. We went into his outer office and it was eerily familiar. All the furniture was in there along with a bunch of other stuff. He said that when they weren’t using the sets they become storage areas. But the black leather couch was in there. The one Skinner was reclining on in SR 819. The one Mulder and Scully have sat on oh so many times as they waited for Skinner like in Bad Blood and Dreamland and yes I have seen this show too many times. All these thoughts I kept to myself. So we maneuvered our way around boxes and stuff to Skinner’s door. Alas it was locked! No! Denied!! So we headed back out into the hall to go in through those other doors!! As we did I saw the blanket on that black leather couch move and I realized someone was trying to get some sleep. And I felt very bad for whoever it was that our little tour had come through and yet very glad I hadn’t tried to sit on the couch for a thrill. We went out and in through the doors that go directly into Skinner’s office from the hallway. It was partially dressed. And also stuffed with stuff. But the conference table and chairs were there, his desk was there, but the pictures weren’t on the wall. You know the ones of the President and the Attorney general. But nevertheless it was enough for a moment of zen. We left the Assistant Director’s office and walked down the hallway a bit. And did you know that there is an autopsy lab across from Skinner’s office? Well there was that week. In the episode I had seen them edit, there was an autopsy scene. Manners said this was where they filmed it and actually I was currently standing on Scully’s mark and Mulder walked over to her from another door way. I actually felt my atomic particles jump to another energy level. But it was nothing compared to where I was about to go. We walked through the door the aforementioned Mulder had been near, and walked behind a  bunch of other sets till, this pilgrim reached her Mecca: a tiny office in the basement of the FBI. yes ladies and gentlemen. I went into the X-Files office. It was lit and dressed and perfect!!!! I’ll try to tell you exactly what I saw but keep in mind my circuits were most definitely blown so there’s a lot I missed. But here’s what I did notice: there are two desks, but I realized there have always been two desks. Mulder’s desk and a tiny table more than a desk where the computer is. Both are incredibly short. I instantly headed to that little alcove we never go in, so I could see what the hell is back there. It certainly is set up for Scully. Lots of scientific equipment like beakers and test tubes and measuring things. It looked like a very small version of your High school science lab. There was a sink, I think. And a snazzy looking computer that appeared to be linked up to a database. As I walked back toward Mulder’s desk I asked the oh so important question. Not the one about why Scully didn’t have her own desk. There really is no room and I figured it was a losing battle. So I asked why her name wasn’t on the door. Especially now that they were back on the X-Files. He said that Scully’s never had her own office. It’s Mulder’s office. I pointed out the painfully obvious fact that Scully was also assigned to the X-FIles. He said but it’s not her office. I countered that when Diana was assigned to the X-Files (a very dark time in the history of the justice system) HER stinkin’ name was on the door. He acknowledge that I was correct but said when Spender was shot and Diana was “-well, we don’t know what happened to Diana. But Fox got his office back.” He said, “As you can see it plainly says ‘Fox Mulder – Special Agent’ ” I concurred with his reading skills , but suggested it should say Fox Mulder – Special Agent and Dana Scully Special Agent. He only said “Sorry.” By this time we were leaving the office and I said. “This is a source of great frustration.” Y’know what he said? “You’ll get over it.” I had to laugh! I guess so, I mean not much I could do about it except take him down right there, and I wanted to finish the tour.

We then left that sound stage and went outside. We started heading over to another sound stage and Manners was talking to someone and asked, “Are the Lone Gunmen anywhere around?” That guy said, “yeah, in the alley.” So we head that way, turn the corner and there was Frohike. Manners let out a very large, very loud “Tommy Boy!!!!”. Now I had been freaking out the whole time, but kept it inside, projecting a very cool, calm, collected veneer. But I swear when I saw Frohike, I broke into the biggest grin. No hiding it. Frohike had just seen Monday and was congratulating Manners on a great episode. Manners introduced me and said “of course you know Tom Braidwood as Frohike.” It was very cool and he was very nice. It was so surreal, because he is just like he is. It was amazing, I’m getting giddy just thinking about it. So we finished talking to Frohike and continued on to the other sound stage. It was dark but we approached another set. It was Mulder’s apartment. Unfortunately, it was not dressed for Mulder’s apartment. The episode Manners directed centered around Mulder’s new next door neighbor who has no furniture. And it was dressed for his apartment. That is to say it was a very empty room with sheers on the window instead of blinds. We actually went in through his bedroom door so I got turned around for a second. And there were no lights so even though I got to stand in Mulder’s foyer/dining room, I couldn’t see anything. And his kitchen wasn’t up. Bummer. We walked out his front door and there were Mulder’s fish. Real fish! All the time. It was cool!

We left his apartment and headed over to wear a crew was shooting something with a phone booth. Manners said that they were shooting second unit stuff. We head over there and guess who they had directing second unit stuff. Rob Bowman. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. He directed Fight The Future. 🙂 I really liked Bowman. He has this amazing personality that’s larger than life. He was talking to Kim Manners about his plans for the weekend and the production manager comes over and wants to hurry things along. Bowman turns to him and says, “Hey man. I’m having a conversation.” Manners doesn’t miss a beat. He yells “Action!” and they run through this one move. Manners kind of shrugs like “Hey cool.” I had turned around to watch what they were doing and realized a man was naked except for flesh colored shorts. It didn’t make sense. I hope it will soon. Manners even said “Why is this man naked?” but no one really answered him. Just remember naked man attacking phone booth with a rock. Apparently Bowman had been called in to shoot these scenes for some reason. But he was very jovial. I wanted so bad to say “Syzygy, man loved it!!!” But I was trying to be cool. And I didn’t really get the chance. But it was so awesome especially since I don’t think he was even supposed to be there! Miracle number three.

We left that sound stage and went back to the Vegas hotel. We watched the monitors for a moment or two while DD and GA’s stand-ins ran through their moves. Steve and Michelle are their names. Manners told me that David Nutter, another director, saw Steve walking down the street in Vancouver and quickly had the car pull over. He chased Steve down and said “How’d you like a job?” He’s been DD’s stand-in ever since and you can’t tell the difference from the back. Michelle looks just like GA especially looking straight-on. I also met the First Assistant Director whose name was Bruce. He’s very tall. And very nice. Well, Manners said he had to get back to editing so we headed back to editing. He told me that Monday had been submitted to the Emmy board for writing and also for directing. So very cool. It was at this point I remembered my camera and fought the urge to kick myself. I told him I had brought it and if it was ok, could we get a picture together. So Louise took our picture with me sitting at the Avid. I thanked him heartily and headed out. On the way John Fugelsang from VH1 asked me if I knew where building 79 was. He was lost. But I didn’t know. But I thought that was cool. So that what pretty much everything.

Of course as I’m leaving the gate, like a flood, I remember questions I should have asked, details I should have noticed, things I should have said, etc. Funny, it’s never enough is it? I hope this narrative made sense. I thought so much about you guys and how so much of what I saw seemed right online with what we had been discussing in the cave. Little info tidbits: David and Gillian are apparently all anyone ever talks about. They weren’t even there and everything was David this and Gillian that. It was very wild. I don’t think I’ve left out anything. But really I have a whole new respect for what these people do. I read somewhere that Shiban said he was amazed when they hit 100 episodes. Not that he ever thought they would be cancelled but that they were able to do it and everyone still be alive. Manners said that sometimes he’ll leave his house and won’t return until 17 hours later. If they work a 12 hour day it’s getting off early. They all were just praying for hiatus. Everyone kept asking Manners if he had received the script for 21, yet. And I think it was a combination of wanting to know more about the mythology and also being that much closer to summer. It’s an amazing group of people. It’s amazing that there is a brand spankin new episode every week for us to pick apart and critique. So my hats are off to them Also, it gave me a vision, or rather a marker, for me to keep in my mind as I begin my career. It will be a long time before I find myself at the X-Files level, but I have that image in my head and it is very motivating.

Sci-Fi Entertainment: Executive producer Frank Spotnitz looks to the future of The X-Files

Sci-Fi Entertainment
Executive producer Frank Spotnitz looks to the future of The X-Files
Melissa J Perenson

Two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, were introduced to the airwaves in 1993 with little fanfare and virtually no expectations. The same can’t be said six years later. Expectations for The X-Files are as high as ever, even as outside dramas swirl around the series (a pending lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox brought by star David Duchovny; the cancellation of series creator Chris Carter’s new show, Harsh Realm; uncertainty whether or not there will be an eighth season).While the long-term future of The X-Files and its intrepid agents (played by Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) remains unknown, executive producer Frank Spotnitz offers some thoughts going into the seventh season.

What directions do you plan on taking the series, after having resolved much of The X-Files’ mythology last year in the episodes “Two Fathers” and “One Son”?

Spotnitz: Our feeling was that the mythology was becoming an awful lot for people to continue to keep track of. And by definition every time you tell a new story you have to complicate [that mythology]; you can’t just keep repeating the same old information. As we sat down to the mythology episodes for February, [we felt that] we’d reached a critical mass. And so we [decided to] just bring it all to a head. Everybody in the syndicate is dead now except for Cigarette Smoking Man; that chapter is closed. But the consequences of what happened in “Two Fathers”/”One Son” certainly won’t be dropped; in fact, it’s the starting point now for the Cigarette Smoking Man’s actions in the coming season.

Even though we close the conspiracy, the events of the first six seasons will still reverberate through what happens in the final season of the show. I just think there is a lot less baggage that has to be carried now. You don’t need to keep track of all the complicated layers that had been involved in the conspiracy that we had destroyed.

Have you already been considering how the series is going to end?

Spotnitz: We’ve all been thinking about it, in anticipation of this being the last year–what’s the best way to send off Skinner, Krycek, Marita Covarrubias, the CSM, and all of these characters that we have come to care so much about? And we’re working out the story lines that will lead to the series finale, and to the place where we leave all these characters as the TV series ends. So that’s very exciting, while also a huge responsibility, because it’s a farewell, and we want to do it just right.

Mulder and Scully’s relationship is the core dynamic of the series. Yet there are aspects of their relationship that have been danced around for seven years. Are we going to see any new developments on that front?

Spotnitz: There was the near-kiss in the movie, which indicated their desire, even though they did not consummate their kiss, and I think we played with that mostly humorously last year. And there will be a more direct examination of their relationship in the coming year. But aside from the personal, sexual tension side of the relationship, such big things are going to be happening in the mythology that their relationship is going to change in other ways, too. It’s not all just will they kiss, won’t they kiss: There are other, bigger, more profound things about their relationship that come into play–big ideas about why they’re together or why they’re not together. And I don’t mean romantically, I just mean as people, in the universe, why they’re together. Especially in the first two episodes of the year, there’re some big things about the role they fulfill in each other’s lives and the universe.

Last season featured a higher quotient of light-hearted episodes than usual. What can we expect from this season?

Spotnitz: Every year I’ve been on the show–this will be my sixth year–and every season I always hear from fans and critics, you know the show is changed this year, the show is changed this year, and it’s true actually, every year. And I think the most obvious change that was apparent to everyone, critics or casual viewers alike, was the number of lighter episodes, and that was not a conscious choice on our part, and the movie was so big and important and so hyped that we all just wanted to push away from that for a little while, so I think that was our emotional response to where we had been. The series and then the movie. [As I] approach our final season I think there will be some, but not nearly as many as there were last year. I think there are going to be a lot of scary ones. We want to be telling scary stories.

What are some of the stories coming up this season?

Spotnitz: There will be a millennial episode of The X-Files, about the end of the century. Vince Gilligan [wrote] a story from the point of view of the monster, which we’ve never done before. The hunted will be telling the story, and you’ll really be seeing Mulder and Scully through the monster’s eyes. Jeff Bell is writing one, it’s not one of the darker, scarier ones, but it’s about luck, which is one of the few X-Files that everyone has experienced, so it will be interesting. And there will be [another episode written by author] William Gibson. It’s not a sequel [to the fifth season’s “Kill Switch”], it’s a completely different story.

So much fuss was made in the press about the series’ move from Vancouver, B.C., to Los Angeles, Calif. In retrospect, what did the move mean for the series?

Spotnitz: I think everyone was anticipating the look of the show would be ruined by the move. But I really think that criticism evaporated very quickly. Even though we do some night shooting, for most of the show, it’s really the way the interiors are lit. The move to L.A., I think, was actually invigorating for a lot of people, especially David and Gillian, who I thought were just terrific [last] year. And going into the season we all thought it was such a great experience being here, creatively, because it was just like a new set of batteries.

There’s also been a lot of discussion about The X-Files’ ratings in the past year.

Spotnitz: The truth is, our percentage decline is roughly consistent with all the other top hit shows. And where we have ranked, in the ratings, is essentially where we ranked last year. Where we’ve been hurt is in our repeats. The number of people that come back to watch the shows on the second broadcast is much lower. The obvious explanation for that is that we are on FX twice a night, five times a week, and we are on in syndication every weekend. So if you want to watch reruns of The X-Files, there’s just so many places to get them that I think it’s inevitable our network reruns would get smaller numbers.

Are there any episodes from the sixth season that you look at and realize you missed your target?

Spotnitz: Oh probably. I don’t want to single them out; they’re all my fault, ultimately, because I’m the guy that approves all of these stories for the writers. There were a couple that I don’t think were what we wanted them to be, but there always are every season. It’s just what happens when you’re doing 20, 22 hour sets of television. I look at The Sopranos, which is a great show, and I just think how I wish we were in their shoes, because they only have to do 13 episodes; that would be a more pleasant and rational working process. Even though there are some [episodes] that I don’t think were our best effort, I still think on the whole it was a very consistent season. I look back at some of the clunkers in years past, and I think we did pretty well.

The question on everyone’s mind: Is this the last season of The X-Files?

Spotnitz: I love the series, I could go on forever, but I just think the time is right. There is a point in time when I thought five seasons was going to be it, and then we got two more years of life. And I think it feels right [to finish] at the end of this season. I think there will probably be enormous pressure put on all of us to continue. Honestly, it doesn’t depend on me; it depends on Chris [Carter] and David [Duchovny] and Gillian [Anderson], and what they decide.

What about the future of The X-Files in feature films?

Spotnitz: We are just in the early discussions about what the next movie would be and when we would shoot it. So we are pretty far off, still. It really won’t be until after the series ends.

Sci Fi Entertainment: The ABCs of 'X'

Sci Fi Entertainment
The ABCs of ‘X’
Melissa J Perenson

[typed by Amy]

Neither of the show’s two main stars have returned yet. David Duchovny, who plays Fox Mulder with a deadpan aplomb, is due to return first, and his Emmy nominated co-star Gillian Anderson, who plays the scientific and pragmatic Dana Scully, returns the following week; both spent the summer hiatus filming feature films (Return To Me and House Of Mirth, respectively). But you can already feel the energy as the crew gears up for a new season.

For the moment filming is limited to a scene in a psychiatrist’s office, an otherwise ordinary looking set with perfectly slanted blinds allowing just the right amount of mood-setting light through. The crew is milling about, setting up the shot for director Kim Manners. The episode being filmed, “Hungry” is actually not the first episode of the season; rather, it’s an episode written by co-executive producer Vince Gilligan that follows an X-File case from the perspective of the monster

Elsewhere on the sound stage–whose elegant art deco facade betrays it’s status as on of the older stages on the lot–are scattered standing sets. Currently, those sets are dark, but they’re just waiting to come to life once more–Mulder and Scully’s apartments, Skinner’s office, the main corridors of FBI headquarters. On the show’s other stage stands Mulder and Scully’s office and corridor; the Lone Gunmen’s command center; and the Navajo hut used in the sixth-season finale, “Biogenesis.”

Breaking an X-File

After five years of working together as a team on The X-Files, the show’s core producers have settled into a comfortable routine that’s solid enough for them to comfortably take on the responsibilities of launching a new Fox series, Harsh Realm. Series creator Chris Carter is pulling double duty shepherding both series, as is X-Files’ executive producer Frank Spotnitz. But Spotnitz is also a key part of the trio of writer-producers who are responsible for the day to day writing for the series. The other two components in the puzzle are Gilligan , and supervising producer John Shiban.

“We all connect in a very natural way”, says Spotnitz. “There’s so much verbal shorthand that the three of understand; our rhythms in story telling are kind of this undeniable thing.”

The synergy between Spotnitz, Gilligan, and Shiban is clear, even as the three sit together for an interview in Spotnitz’s office. As they describe the process of turning concepts and ideas into full fledged X-File episodes, it’s easy to extrapolate and imagine how the three producers play off one another in story meetings.

The producers rely on a process called “boarding”, in which they “break” a story by dividing up the four acts and the teaser into concept nuggets written in block print on 3 by 5 index cards. “It starts with an idea and we all have ideas floating around, and we all kick them around constantly”, explains Shiban. “We’ll often sit down and beat out the story scene by scene on these cards. But sometimes you’ll go through a story you’re trying to beak and it’ll take two or three boards to go through the entire thing and plot it all out. The we’ll pitch it to Chris and if it’s not quite right or we all sense that it needs another element, we take it all apart and rebuild it. All that is done before the first page is written.”

“The first board for [fifth season’s] ‘Unusual Suspects’ was a real…I don’t want to say stink-a-roo, but the whole thing ended up being thrown out,” admits Gilligan of his own Lone Gunmen focused episode. “It happens.”

“The bad ones, the unsuccessful episodes, are the ones where you got to the end of the board and you never quite figured out why you were telling the story or what the central idea was,” explains Spotnitz. “And that’s happened a couple of times, rarely. You just run out of time, and then in the editing room you find yourself trying to fix the problems you never fixed in the script, which is always a losing game.”

At the beginning of the season, there’s perhaps a month, month and a half lead time on an episode. “And as the year progresses the window shrinks,” says Gilligan. “Sometimes you have a script that comes up and you’re struggling to come up with the idea and the thing is due in 15, 14, 13 days.”

“Sometimes we’ll have ideas that have been floating around for as long as a season or two and then finally you get to do that one–the elements are all there,” adds Shiban. “One television, every eight days you’ve got another script due. No matter how much time you have it always seems to be down to the wire.”

No one script is the work of a single writer-regardless of the credits that appear on screen. “We all have different strengths. Vince will often come up with a stunning visual idea or a creepy look,” says Shiban.

“And Frank and John are really strong with plot”, offers Gilligan. Vince loves writing more than anybody I know,” Spotnitz contributes. “Frequently we’ll come up with a scene and he’ll go ‘Oh, that’s going to be fun to write.’ And he does have fun. All the producers try to understand the story so well that if we had to, we could come in and write it ourselves. And often we do, or we re-write somebody else.” For as much as writing is a part of Spotnitz’s job, the process actually takes less time than you’d expect. “I’d say 80-90 percent of my time is not writing. It’s editing or playback or meetings or boarding other people’s stories.”

“The ideas for X-File stories,” says Shiban, come from various sources, including the news, books, magazines, and the Internet. Once of the things that we’re trying to do more and more now that the series has gone on for so many years is find different ways to attack a story, different ways to tell a story. And different types of stories to tell. Which is why we did a number of humorous episodes [in the sixth season]–because it’s a different way to use our characters and to tell a story in the X-Files world.”

The hardest thing about writing for The X-Files–and the most difficult in finding writers for the show–“is the approach,” says Spotnitz. “Just in the way we tell stories. It’s very specific. We try to be very rigorous about the plotting of our stories. We’re more successful sometimes than we are other times, but that’s our method.

The degree of direction the writers put into a script “is amazingly specific,” Gilligan notes. “There are a lot of pages that don’t have any dialogue at all in our scripts. There can be just a page full of scene directions and action lines. I love that because it’s visual. It’s all story telling, but if you’re telling stories through words and what-not, through dialogue, you might as well be writing for theater.”

Achieving the voice of Mulder and Scully is often the biggest obstacle for new writers. “It’s in the approach and the mindset of Mulder and Scully every step of the way,” adds Gilligan. “Mulder and Scully are actively pushing the plot along and there’s always some sort of tension between them, because of their different beliefs as to what’s happening.”

While Gilligan never experienced that particular road block, the character’s voices have plagued many other writers. “It’s the hardest thing to learn on the show that can be learned. I mean it took me a long time to learn it,” admits Shiban. “And a lot of it has to do with the subtlet of their ongoing conflict. In their relationship, they’re very close, but they have these two separate points of view that are very specific and well founded. It’s like you have to learn to first look and the X-File from Mulder’s point of view, and then look at it from Scullys. And then believe it both ways. Those are the best scenes. The best Mulder/Scully banter is when they both have a really strong point. Yet they both have a profound respect for each other. And then there’s also that sexual tension that everybody picks up on.”

“It’s rarely scripted, by the way,” Spotnitz interjects. “It’s just there. You don’t have to address it.”

But the show is slowly starting to address Mulder and Scully’s relationship, anyway. After having brought the simmering tension to a boil in the feature, it was almost impossible for the show to ignore the under currents. “Because of the near kiss in the movie-which to me was significant because clearly there was intent and desire to kiss in that moment-we thought we’d play with the moment, with the attraction,” explains Spotnitz of their tactic for the sixth season. “Which we did a number of times, I thought: Mulder and Scully’s farewell in ‘Dreamland II’, certainly the kiss and [Mulder’s] ‘I love you’ in ‘Triangle’, the winks that there’s an attraction for each other in ‘Rain King.’ But I don’t think any of us wants to get rid of the tension that keeps the relationship interesting…or ruin that relationship. So it’s an evolution. Theirs is very much an organic, continuing relationship.”

And while Anderson and Duchovny may have enough electricity on screen to carry the tone of the relationship, eventually, even Spotnitz recognizes that the status quo cannot be maintained forever. But don’t expect any big developments while the series remains on the air. “If we all know the series is going to come to an end, not only does it allow you to do something really big and important and satisfying with the conclusion of the series, but it allows you to do new things with the relationship in the feature film,” Spotnitz remarks.

All three producers credit the Mulder/Scully dynamic to Anderson and Duchovny’s work on the series. “You can’t even begin to describe how much David and Gillian bring to those scenes with the two of them together,” enthuses Spotnitz. “There’s just so much chemistry. I think it’s incredible because they’re so different as human beings and while they’re friendly to each other, they’re not particularly close off screen. But you turn on the camera and there is something magnetic about the two of them.”

After six years and one feature film, both actors know their characters intimately. “David will add a few lines every now and then. He’ll add some funny lines,” says Gilligan. “I don’t think Gillian ever has added a lone off the top of her head. She’s more formal. He’ll just do it.”

Production Multitasking

As writer-producers, the job doesn’t stop once the story is written and on the page. All three are involved in such production details as casting, budgeting, editing, special effects, music, and sound spotting. “We all do everything,” says Spotnitz. “Twelve hour days are the norm, and weekend crunches are not unheard of, either.”

Each producer has a different strength, and the division of labor has evolved to reflect that. Over the past couple of years, Spotnitz and Shiban have focused on breaking the stories, and Gilligan has helped develop and write the stories from there. Still, all three remain involved in all aspects of the process. “We pretty much oversee most of the creative decisions that have to go on, from breaking the stories to giving notes on a script to the writer,” adds Shiban. “We have a pretty big production meeting where we deal with budgetary concerns and [questions such as] ‘How is this going to be done?’ and ‘Can it look like this?’.

Once shooting begins, the three watch dailies every day and pass on comments to the director as to what’s working and what isn’t. After the episode completes its eight day shoot, the director has a chance to cut footage together before passing the episode off to the producers.

“I’m probably best at just writing,” Gilligan considers. “Frank and John are better at overseeing the big picture, as well as their own episodes. I’m not as good at that; I’m better at just my own episodes.”

Carter encouraged his writers to produce their episodes from the outset, and that X-Files tradition has benefited both the writers and the writing in turn. “I learned so much about writing visually,” says Shiban. “From telling the story on a page to seeing what was shot and trying to piece it together to tell the story I first intended. What’s so great about working on this show is that when I was a staff writer, I had the opportunity to go down [to the set[ and just watch and see how the director planned out the scene. It’s made me a better writer. Being responsible for the other end of[story production] teaches you to write more economically.”

Initially, X-Files’ much-hyped production move from Vancouver to Los Angeles at the start of season 6 proved a “tough adjustment,” according to Spotnitz. “We’ve been so lucky because we’ve found really great people. We sort of had our pick of the town.”

Concerns that the show’s rich, dark cinematography would be irreparably affected by the move faded quickly. “By episode five last year, I didn’t hear that anymore, about whether the show looked the same or not,” recalls Spotnitz. “Even though we do some night shooting, from most of the show, it’s really the way the interiors are lit. And I thought [director of photography] Bill Roe did a superb job of maintaining the atmospheric and cinematic look of the show.”

Fiscal and practical realities have proved the greatest challenges the producers have had to face since relocating. “Here in Los Angeles, it’s harder to get around the city than it was in Vancouver,” notes Shiban. “We do a tech scout, for example, where the department heads and a producer all get into a bus and we drive to every location we’re shooting in, going over what the director is going to do here and where they’ll need a crane over there. We had one [scout] that was 12 hours on a bus, because to find the right look, we had to go 200 miles all around Los Angeles, all the way up to Ventura County. In Vancouver you could have done that in half the time because there’s no traffic, and it’s all [right there].”

“Things are more expensive,” adds Spotnitz. “That’s been the real pressure, the financial. The cost of moving from Vancouver to LA was extremely high, higher than anyone anticipated. So we really were between a rock and a hard place. As producers and writers, we were trying to protect the quality of the show; on the other hand, as employees of the studio, we were trying to be responsible in terms of what the show cost.”

In order to save money, the producers came up with some creative solutions. “We ended up trying to devise stories that could be shot economically using existing sets,” reveals Spotnitz. And that’s a challenge on a show were you are out in different parts of the country every week, investigating completely different [cases].” Relatively self-contained episodes included “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” and “Milagro”.

At the start of season 6, the production took advantage of the fact that Los Angeles locations offered opportunities not available in Vancouver. Desert locations, bright locations, even unique shipboard locations-The Queen Mary ocean liner docked in Long Beach, California-became the norm for the first five episodes or so that it suddenly became a running joke, “so often were they shooting out of Los Angeles,” Spotnitz chuckles. After completing the two part ‘Dreamland,’ the trio made up crew t-shirts bearing the line, “When is The X-Files moving to Los Angeles?”

Once the temptation to film in the desert was satisfied, things settled down considerably. “We’re still doing what we’ve always done,” maintains Shiban about the story locations. “A Virginia story. And Arizona story. We’re all over. I think we’re successful at that.”

There is a catch, though:”The only problem is that there are so many palm trees you’re always shooting with a palm tree just out of range,” laughs Spotnitz.

Having production housed on the same lot as the production facilities has had its benefits, too. “It used to be we’d fly up [to Vancouver] two to three days before a show would begin and we’d prep our own episode. You’d see [the crew] for two days,” Spotnitz remembers. “The nice part about having the show down here is that we’re all together every day. You can walk over to the prop guy and say, ‘Hey, Tommy, what about this? It looks great.’ And we’re in meetings that we would see only the results of. Now, we’re often designing the storyboards or a special effects sequence or something. And we can walk over to the stage and say hello to David and Gillian or Bill Davis. That’s been great.”

Future Watch

At the start of filming in August, no word had come down yet on whether the seventh season would indeed be the last. Anderson and most of the supporting actors are signed for eight seasons; the wrinkle in the equation is Duchovny, whose contract is up at the end of this season. But as he plots the course of the mythology and the resolution of the mythology, Spotnitz is counting on the seventh season being X’s swan song on the small screen. At least until he hears otherwise. “I think it feels right at the end of this season. But there will probably be enormous pressure put on all of us to continue,” he says, adding that he’s already heard rumblings to that effect.

In the event that the plan changes, Spotnitz will have to shift gears–and the mythology–accordingly. “I’m not sure what I would do,” he admits laughing. “We may be in trouble. Right now, we’re plotting out what’s the last thing you will see of Cigarette Smoking Man, the last thing you will see of Krycek, Skinner. We’re trying to find the right place to send off all of our characters, at least on television.”

The highly publicized “Full Disclosure” of the mythology earlier this year in the episode “Two Fathers/One Son” were tied together loose ends and answered many questions about the international government conspiracy that Mulder and Scully have been battling to expose. The season finale, which raised philosophical and religious questions about the role aliens played in the development of Earth, paved avenues for Mulder and Scully to explore in the two part seventh season opener. When we last saw Mulder, he was locked away in a sanitarium due to the mysterious effects of an alien artifact; Scully, meanwhile, was searching for traces of an alien craft off the coast of Africa. “We really opened up a new chapter in the mythology with “Biogenesis,” and that will be the final chapter of the series,” confirms Spotnitz. “The effects of discovery and what has happened to Mulder will drive all of the mythology episodes into the series finale. You can expect to see all the major characters involved in the resolution of the series, and we’ll deal very directly with Mulder’s sister and with the relationship between Mulder and Scully.”

Something else for genre fans to look forward to: novelist William Gibson is doing another X-Files script with his writing partner Tom Maddox. Gibson wrote the popular fifth season virtual reality episode, “Kill Switch.” Plus, there’s a possibility that Duchovny will step behind the scenes again for a repeat performance as writer/director. Duchovny, who was on his way to a PhD in English Literature at Princeton prior to launching his acting career, has contributed several story ideas over the years. Sixth season’s “The Unnatural,” which marked his debut as both writer and director was well received by fans and critics alike. “I hope he will, but I don’t know whether he’s going to,” Spotnitz remarked prior to Duchovny’s return from hiatus. “He certainly has a lot of story ideas involving mythology that we’ve actually been discussing or we’re going to use.”

And, of course, regardless of when the series ends, there’s another X-Files feature destined for the big screen. After all, the first feature, release in the summer of 1998 racked up nearly $185 million in worldwide box office. But the feature won’t materialize until after the series concludes.

New York Post: Future of 'X-Files' is uncertain

New York Post
Future of ‘X-Files’ is uncertain
Don Kaplan

AFTER six years on the air, the future of the “X-Files” is still cloudy.

When the show begins its seventh season on Nov. 7, it may be the beginning of the end for the long-running series about two FBI agents who specialize in investigating the paranormal.

Ever since David Duchovny – who plays one of the two FBI agents – announced last summer that he wanted to leave the show when his contract expired at the end of this year, the show’s eighth season has been in jeopardy.

Creator Chris Carter’s contract with the show is also expiring this year. Now there has even been talk that his co-star, Gillian Anderson, wants to leave – maybe even before her contract expires in 2001.

“I wouldn’t make any assumptions about who is going to be with the show or not, or even if the show is going to be around next year, ” said Carter.

“I think there are way too many things that need to be worked out, decided and cleared up before anyone can say clearly what is going to happen.

“It always [complicates matters] when contracts run out and there are situations unresolved, whether they be legal or creative. There are always things to work out. Through the life of the show, there have been many re-negotiations. This is just another one,” Carter said.

When the show finally does end, Carter said the story will continue on the big screen in films that will star both Duchovny and Anderson.

“We’ll have to know [if the series will continue in 2000-2001] sometime after the new year,” Carter said. “Probably in February or March for sure.”

A lawsuit filed by Duchovny slamming Fox – which airs the series -has confused matters further.

The suit claims that the studio cheated him out of the show’s licensing fees when it undersold “X-Files” repeats at bargain basement prices to Fox affiliates and cable stations. In the suit, Duchovny also alleges that Carter knew about the deal and didn’t tell him.

The lawsuit has not damaged their relationship Carter said. “We’re doing great work, David and I just co-wrote a script. I don’t see that there are any issues [between us].” Meanwhile, Carter has been focusing much of his energy on “Harsh Realm,” a militaristic sci-fi that takes place in a virtual world. The show, which debuts Friday, has already taken some heat for its violent content.

“We’re using war as a backdrop, as a metaphor, [and] a playing field,” Carter said. “We’re going to have situations that suggest these things and we don’t want to shy away from them because it would be irresponsible to the subject matter and unreal to expect war to take place without any sort of consequence – even though it’s in virtual reality.”

Cinescape: Cinescape's Season Seven Interview with Frank Spotnitz

Cinescape’s Season Seven Interview with Frank Spotnitz
Melissa J. Perenson and Annabelle Villanueva

It seems like just yesterday that The X-Files was the little cult show that could. But now the successful series is heading into its seventh-and likely final-season. And although the series isn’t quite the media hype magnet it once was, in many ways the show is still on top of its game.

“It’s like a marriage,” says X-Files executive producer Frank Spotnitz. “We have been around for six years and people know us. It becomes harder to surprise people, but we just keep doing the same hard work we’ve always done and try and deliver the best quality show we know how.”

In the seventh season, the show’s writers will have to work hard to pick up the shards of The X-Files mythology arc that was obliterated in last year’s watershed two-parter “Two Fathers/One Son.” Spotnitz admits that the government conspiracy was becoming too unwieldy and that he and series creator Chris Carter thought that partially resolving the arc in the sixth season had an advantage: the element of surprise. “We thought it would be great because no one expected us to do it [then],” he says.

Instead, they decided to take the mythology in a new direction. “We really opened up a new chapter in the mythology with [the sixth season cliffhanger] ‘Biogenesis’, and that will be the final chapter of the series. The effects of that discovery and what happened to Mulder will drive all the mythology episodes [leading] into the series finale,” Spotnitz promises. “I think you can expect to see all of the major characters involved in the resolution of the series.” He adds that viewers can look forward to the series coming full-circle in the seventh season and dealing “very directly” with the disappearance of Mulder’s sister and his relationship with Scully

Although The X-Files cast and crew are counting on the seventh season as being their last, they recognize that there may be pressure from FOX to pump put an additional year. Nonetheless, Carter and Spotnitz are already planning ways to bid their characters a fond farewell. “We are plotting out the last thing you will see of Cigarette Smoking Man, the last you’ll see of Krycek, of Skinner. We do that with a lot of mixed feelings, even though I think the time is right [to end the series],” Spotnitz says.

But take heart, disconsolate X-Philes – Mulder and Scully may return for another big-screen adventure as early as 2001. “We’re just at the very early stages of discussing that with the studio,” Spotnitz reveals. “I anticipate the series finale will leave room for films in the future.”

[Unknown] Future X

Future X
Frank Barron

[Typed by alfornos]

If TXF seemed to have a different look and feel this season, there’s a reason, says series creator CC, who claimed his goal was “taking the show in new directions. We wanted to see where we could push it in terms of storytelling. Moving to Hollywood gave us fresh stories, fresh places, fresh staff, a fresh crew. But the show looks as good as ever.”

CC, who serves as executive producer while writing and directing a number of episodes, was thrilled with the success of 1998’s XF movie, which grossed nearly $200 million worldwide. “That means we’ll do another one, and the success of that will dictate whether there will be a third movie,” he says. However, CC is uncertain as to when filming on the sequel will commence.

“It would have been great for [release at] the end of the seventh year, but that means we would have had to make it this summer, and that wasn’t going to happen,” he notes. “I can see it possibly in 2001 or 2002. Besides, we couldn’t have done it now because of our move from Vancouver to LA and getting settled.”

Nonetheless, CC already has “big ideas for the second movie. We still have time left on the TV series, and [when making the first XF film] we didn’t want to do a movie that would reduce interest in the series. We wanted to do a movie that would increase interest.

“Gillian [Anderson] is excited about doing a second movie, and I’m assuming David [Duchovny] is, too,” he adds. “We’ve spoken about it, but it’s a matter of finding the right time and setting that time aside. It’s very hard work for actors to do a dramatic show for seven seasons that’s not an ensemble. I believe both of them have movie careers ahead of them, and they are both anxious to start doing something besides playing Mulder and Scully. [Pursuing other projects] gives them some time to exercise those creative urges, and then come back and put on the FBI clothes again.”

The producer also comments on the tone of the once dark and disturbing series, which has grown increasingly comedic in recent years: “A lot of people have come to love the lighter stories,” CC says. “The shows are very elastic, and it excites the writers and actors to take the series in different directions because it can pop back to shape for a mythology episode. We decided this season to explore different kinds of storytelling, and it has been very satisfying for everyone. Certainly, the ratings reflect it.”

As for the mythology episodes, he notes, “The stories almost dictate themselves. So much has been told that you are a slave to the facts you have created. It’s a really fun way to tell stories. On every episode, every time we give you an answer, it has its own set of questions that come along with it. You can look for more of that.

“But the show will have to change, because so much is going to be explained,” he adds. “People will wonder, ‘Where could they possibly go now?’ I look forward to dealing with the whole new set of problems. Some of the characters may be working as free agents, and that’s going to be fun.”

In addition to producing XF and the final season of Millennium, CC also tackled a third series in the past year, set for a Friday debut on Fox this fall. “It’s called Harsh Realm, a sci-fi idea based on a comic book,” he says of the show, which stars D.B. Sweeney, Samantha Mathis and Millennium’s Terry O’Quinn. “Actually, it owes the title to the comic, and not a whole lot more. It deals with virtual reality, but a spin on what we think of as ‘the visored approach’ to that.”

Not surprisingly, CC’s network and cinematic commitments leave him with little time to spare. “Doing 44 episodes of entertainment a year, a lot of things get left behind in your life,” he says. “Friends, family and pursuits go by the wayside. You end up sacrificing everything for the show. And while I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I look back and [find I] haven’t surfed as much as I would have liked to over the last seven years. I’m sorry for that. One day I’ll get back out there in a big way. Even Christmas vacation was marred by having to do rewriting.”

While it appears that TXF’s upcoming seventh season will be its last, CC notes that “how long the show stays on the air also depends on the actors – what they want to do. But things have a way of changing. There’s a lot to do with enthusiasm, with contracts – many different factors. And as a storyteller, I want to know where I’m going, and what my parameters are. It’s important that I know where I’m heading. I don’t want to have the rug pulled out from underneath me.”