Archive for April, 1999

Richmond.com: Southern Fried Sci-Fi – Vince Gilligan

Apr-21-1999
Richmond.com
Southern Fried Sci-Fi – Vince Gilligan
Melissa Lee

The “X-Files'” Vince Gilligan may be a big-time Hollywood writer, but at heart he’s just a Southern boy. Gilligan reflects on peach milkshakes, Hardee’s biscuits and all things Southern.

To X-Philes Vince Gilligan is revered as the “writing god” responsible for such memorable episodes as “Pusher,” “Paper Hearts,” and “Bad Blood.” To those who work with him he’s just Vince, the Southerner from Farmville, Va., who lives in Los Angeles, but still considers himself a Virginian.

“I don’t get back as much as I’d like to, but I still have a home there in Powhatan County,” Gilligan says. “I grew up there. I attended L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield, and went to church at St. Teresa’s in Farmville. If I could do my job from there, I would. Nothing against Los Angeles, I just like Virginia better.”

When asked what he misses most about the South, Gilligan pauses for a moment. “I miss Hardee’s peach milkshakes and biscuits,” he says. “They’ve got pretty good chicken too. I hear there is a Hardee’s in Compton, but I haven’t gotten down there yet.” When asked if there is anything he likes better in Los Angeles than in Virginia he immediately responds: “Iced tea. They have better tea here than in the South which is kind of surprising. I’d miss the tea if I went back.”

Gilligan considers himself to be a Southern writer. “I think who you are and where you’re from greatly influences your writing,” he says. “It’s not so much that you set out to write Southern scripts, but it’s what you know. It’s natural for that to leak into your writing.” Chuckling he adds, “Sometimes I let a little Southern dialogue slip into Mulder and Scully’s lines. My co-workers call me on it by saying, ‘Hey buddy, you might want to take a look at this. I don’t think Mulder and Scully would say this.”

After three years in Hollywood Gilligan still has a subtle yet distinctive accent. Asked if he believes Southern accents are overdone he hesitantly agrees. “But I think it’s just because they don’t know any better,” he says. “A good Southern accent is really hard to do. It’s a very subtle thing. It’s easier to go overboard than to do it well.”

Accents aside, Gilligan has just inked a multi-year, multi-million dollar development deal with Fox Broadcasting and 1013 Productions. His film career is also taking off. His second screenplay, “Home Fries,” starring Drew Barrymore, was released late last year. His first screenplay to be turned into a feature was 1993’s “Wilder Napalm” starring Debra Winger.

“‘Wilder Napalm’ was a learning experience,” Gilligan says. “I’d never been on a movie set before and had no idea about production. … While on the set I saw some things I didn’t think were right. I just figured they’d fix it in the editing. When I saw the final product, what had looked bad on the set was still bad on the screen.”

Four years and several “X-Files” episodes later he was ready to try again with “Home Fries.” “It was a completely different situation,” he says. “I knew more about production and that helped the writing. Knowing what could and couldn’t be achieved. I wouldn’t have had that knowledge without my ‘X-Files’ experience.”

When asked where he gets his inspiration for the “X-Files,” he admits to reading comic books growing up. “My grandfather owns a used book shop on Broad Street in Richmond. It’s called the Richmond Book Shop. He used to get stacks of comics in and I’d spend the day reading them.” His favorites, he says, were Archie and Richie Rich. “I think I liked them over the superhero’s because they were real people,” he says. “I could relate to them.”

It’s that ability to relate that Gilligan keeps in mind when creating villains on the “X-Files.” “People remember them because they can relate to why they are the way they are,” he says. “They know it could happen to them.”

TV Zone: The X-Files: Chris Carter Six Underground

Apr-??-1999
TV Zone
The X-Files: Chris Carter Six Underground
Richard Moore

[Typed by alfornos]

There’s something different about TXF this year. By all rights, a series in its sixth season should be flagging, as the writers run short of ideas, the actors lose their energy and settings and scenarios begin to look frustratingly familiar. Furthermore, following in the wake of last year’s blockbuster movie, one would expect a sense of anti-climax, a feeling that it’s all so much smaller and less significant on the tv screen.

This hasn’t happened. Against the odds, fans and critics have been quick to praise the latest series as one of the best yet, which showcases an extraordinarily diverse range of stories, feature quality production values and an impressive range of guest characters. Mulder seems more animated (DD almost looks as though he’s having a good time) and Scully retains all her inner fire and determination. It’s a far cry from the obvious feeling of fatigue that bled onto the screen during seasons four and five.

“I can tell you that actually moving to LA rejuvenated the show by giving us new stories to tell, new places to tell them, new staff, new crew,” says CC, addressing the press in Pasadena. “I think the show looks as good as it’s ever looked.”

Of the season so far, The Beginning bridged beautifully from the movie screen back to tv, taking M&S away from the X-Files and placing them under the authority of AD Kersh (James Pickens Jr). It was up to Spender and Fowley to investigate the mayhem caused by a gestated alien on the loose, a plot that would intriguingly tie-in with child genius Gibson Praise. Drive offered some high-speed thrills and grisly body horror, while Triangle found CC directing long steadicam shots in widescreen for a homage to The Wizard of Oz. The two-part Dreamland was an hilarious body-swap story, The Ghosts that Stole Christmas [sic] was a black comedy featuring Ed Anser [sic] and Lily Tomlin, while episodes like Rain King, Tithonus and SR 819 have explored more standard, gloomy XF territory. Some viewers might be disappointed that we have seen less of the CSM and the Syndicate than in recent years, but CC and his team of producers (FS, VG and JS) have been busy flexing their creative muscles.

In Theory

“You know, the movie was the biggest mythology episode,” he muses, “so we knew we had to service the mythology in the season finale coming into the sixth season. But then we wanted to take a lighter tone. We made a definite choice to take the show in some new directions, to see where we could push it, in terms of storytelling, and I think what you’re seeing is a result of that. A lot of people have come to love the lighter stories, beginning with the work that Darin Morgan did, it showed the show is very elastic. Because of that, it excites the writers and the actors to take the show in different directions, and because it can pop back into shape for a mythology episode, we decided this year to explore some different kinds of storytelling, and I think it’s been very satisfying for everyone. Certainly the ratings reflect it.”

Of course, you can’t keep good villains out of the picture for long, and CC saved the ultimate mythology episode for the February sweeps period, when the eagerly awaited 2F and 1S hauled in the viewers by promising to tie up a lot of loose ends.

Tying the Loose Ends

“You’re going to understand this conspiracy after the end of the two parter,” admits CC. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything’s wrapped up and finished. In fact, there’s a lot to do. We’re making some choices, knowing that the show is moving toward a kind of completion, and so we are planning ahead for that.

“So, [the two-parter] is part of that move to get the ultimate answer about what happened to Mulder’s sister. You actually understand a lot about how Mulder didn’t necessarily choose the X Files, they were kind of chosen for him. You learn historically how the X-Files came about, and what Mulder’s father’s part was in them.

“We all know that Agent Spender is the Cigarette Smoking Man’s son, so that creates an interesting dynamic and if you’ve paid attention, you know that Mulder’s father and the Cigarette Smoking Man have some history together. We’re playing with a big, familial story here that I think enriches the idea of The X-Files in a very personal way for the characters.”

It’s a Mystery

With so many mysteries blown open, and the conspiracy finally fully exposed to viewers, one wonders where CC can take the show from here. Certainly, Babylon 5 lost much of its mystique when the bulk of its story arc was resolved prematurely during its fourth season. Could TXF face a similar problem?

“You know, watching The X-Files for some 130-odd episodes, every time we give you an answer, we also ask a question,” CC responds. “I think you can look for more of that.

“You’ll see that the show will have to change. You might wonder where we’re going to go. We’ve thought about all those things. I think that will be the thing that keeps people coming back, is ‘Where can they go now?’ I look forward to dealing with a whole new set of problems. I think when you see the conspiracy exploded, you’re going to see that there are lots of characters who were out there working as free agents who might create strange bedfellows, and I think that’s going to be fun. The Cigarette Smoking Man is all but stripped of mystery, to an extent, and I think that’s going to be interesting, for him to be so exposed in the series.”

Auto-Pilot

One might argue that one difference between TXF and Babylon 5 is that CC’s franchise has developed slowly over the years, while J Michael Straczynski had mapped his five-year story arc out before shooting even began. While the pilot of TXF served as a workable template for the series, it was by no means the prologue for a story that was already set in stone.

“It’s amazing to me, [looking] back over five and a half years of work, how many questions we ask in that pilot, not ever knowing how completely we’d be able to explore everything about the Cigarette Smoking Man, the conspiracy, or what happened to Mulder’s sister.

“When you start, you make certain choices, and those choices accumulate and create a number of [other] choices. The story starts to tell itself, and that’s been very exciting in a way. There’s so much that has come and been told that you are, in a way, a slave to the facts you’ve created, and it’s a really fun way to tell stories. That’s not to say it’s simplified. In fact, it becomes complicated, but it all starts to make sense, and that’s been a really wonderful thing.

“It does take twists and turns you don’t imagine, but if you have a rough idea of where you’re going, then you don’t get lost. If you try to define it too early, then you lose some of he [sic] fun of discovering it along the way, as you go.”

Samantha’s Return

2F and 1S addresses the mystery surrounding Mulder’s abducted sister Samantha, a thread which began as long ago as the pilot episode. This explanation did actually feature in the initial cut of TXF movie, during a conversation between FM and the WMM, although it was edited from the theatrical release, and later re-instated for the video.

“That was taken out of the movie because we felt it was too much information,” offers CC. “It was something we wanted to play with in the series as we went forward. It is important to the two-parter and the mythology that you’ll see, but you’ll understand it whether you saw that special cut or not.”

Harsh Realm

One of the busiest television producers in Hollywood, CC currently divides his time between shaping TXF, preparing the sequel to last summer’s feature, and overseeing Millennium. He is also currently developing Harsh Realm, a new series for Fox which is rumoured to star Nicholas (Krycek) Lea and Chris (Spender) Owens.

“It’s a Science Fiction idea,” he reveals. “It’s based on a comic book called Harsh Realm, but it really owes the title to the comic book, 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.”

There is talk that HR will debut in the fall in a Friday night slot. Whether this means that MM will end this year has yet to be confirmed, and CC has no further insight into the situation.

“I think that we’re still doing really great work on that show,” he stresses. “That’s something I’m very proud of, and I wish it had a larger audience because I think it deserves it. I hope Millennium comes back next year. I’m not counting on it, but I think it deserves to come back because I think it’s still quality storytelling.”

Despite a strong audience for the pilot episode back in 1996, MM has failed to capture the kind of following that has supported TXF. In fact, few of Fox’s new shows (with the exception of Ally McBeal) have achieved such mass appeal, and one might imagine that the network would be very unwilling to let such a major money-spinner come to an end. Apparently, DD, GA and CC remain under contract to the show until the year 2000, after which we should expect it to continue as a series of theatrical movies.

The End

“Right now, everyone is prepped for the seventh year to be the end of The X-Files,” CC states. “I think that we are all planned for that, because it has to do with the actors as well, what they want to do. But things have a way of changing, and it has a lot to do with enthusiasm. It has a lot to do with contracts. There are many different factors.

“As a storyteller, I want to know where I’m going, and what my parameters are, so that I can choose when to say what. Certainly with the mythology, it’s important to know where I’m heading. I don’t want to have the rug pulled out from underneath me.”

“An eighth season could happen. I’m not anticipating it, but I don’t want to say that it wouldn’t happen.”

Embracing the Future

The only certainty in the whole situation remains that there will be a second XF feature, thanks to the box-office success of FtF.

“I don’t know when this movie will happen,” the executive producer admits. “It would have been great to have it happen at the end of the seventh year, but that means it would have to be made this summer, and I can tell you that it is not going to happen this summer. But I can see it possibly happening in 2001 or 2002.

“Gillian asked me the other day about doing the next movie, so I know she’s excited to do it. I’m assuming David is excited too. We’ve spoken about it. It’s a matter of setting the time aside. Both David and Gillian have movie careers ahead of them, and they’re very anxious to start doing something besides playing Mulder and Scully. Who could blame them? So I think it’s giving them some time to exercise those creative urges, and them [sic] come back and put on the FBI clothes again.”

With DD and GA ready to pursue other roles, the possibility still remains that the tv show could continue without them – a kind of The X-Files: The Next Generation, featuring a whole new cast. Just picture it: the Lone Gunmen could carry on, Skinner could remain the boss, but two new agents could assume the leading roles…

“It could happen,” concedes CC. “I just don’t know. The thing is that right now, it’s hard to do what we do. Just to put 22 episodes on the air, you’re really focused on that. Until someone takes the ball away and says, ‘We’re not going to play anymore,’ you just focus on doing that work. If I started to have anxiety about the future, or finding new Mulders and Scullys, I think it would actually get in the way of doing that good work. Right now, I don’t think about problems that don’t exist. I wouldn’t not consider it. But because I don’t have to consider it right now, I don’t.”

A new cast, a new setting and with new X-Files to explore…it’s a possibility. After all, stranger things have happened.