Archive for May, 1999

The Arizona Republic: The Truth is out there for Phoenix native – Frank Spotnitz

May-16-1999
The Arizona Republic
The Truth is out there for Phoenix native – Frank Spotnitz
Davie Walker

“I think that part of the fun of the show is how people struggle to decipher the conspiracy,” Frank Spotnitz (above) says of The X-Files, which stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. (Photos courtesy of Fox Television)

Frank Spotnitz knows The Truth.

Chris Carter, creator of the paranoia-prone Fox drama The X-Files, has shared with Spotnitz his vision for what has come to be called The Mythology.

That places Spotnitz, a Phoenix native and one of the show’s executive producers, inside a tiny band of Earthlings who knows how the series’ long-running alien-invasion story arc will resolve itself a year from now.

For the record, he’s not sharing. Would you?

After tonight’s season finale, only 22 episodes of The X-Files remain. According to Spotnitz, six or seven of them will advance The Mythology story line, a complicated macramé of conspiracy.

Several elements of The Mythology were resolved (or not, but please resist sending withering e-mail) earlier this season, and Spotnitz said tonight’s episode opens up “a new chapter” that will set up the series’ concluding season – whatever that means.

“It’s a new story line, beginning with the season finale and continuing next year, which will bring this to an end,” he said, adding that the new story won’t require “prior knowledge” of Mythological minutiae.

“Anyone who’s intimidated or lost by the previous episodes won’t need to worry. It’s not an entirely clean slate, but it will be simpler than it has been.

“What you need to know about what came before, I think you’ll be able to pick up.”

You’d think the responsibility of knowing The Truth would weigh heavily on Spotnitz, a mild-mannered scuba enthusiast (when there’s time, and there never is) whose first job out of film school was staff writer on the series.

Worse, it would seem, would be having to decipher the known pieces of the puzzle for confused viewers, network executives – not to mention baffled TV critics.

“No, I’m happy to explain it to people,” Spotnitz said over a recent breakfast near the 20th Century Fox studios. “I went to a fan convention once, and as my presentation, I tried to draw a flow chart of all the stories. By the end, it was this tangled mess. No wonder people get confused.

“I think that part of the fun of the show is how people struggle to decipher the conspiracy,” he continued, adding that its complications are “what make it seem plausible.”

“It (a real-life conspiracy to cover up an alien invasion or whatever) would be complicated,” he says.

Movie franchise

Of course, The X-Files franchise won’t die a year from now. Show creator Carter has planned a series of movies to perpetuate what has become one of the most successful and influential TV series of its era.

The X-Files at times has been agonizingly skimpy with big-arc revelations. Mythology episodes that promise to be (and are promoted as) illuminating often spark more questions than they answer.

Spotnitz promises that the series’ last season won’t be treated like a protracted run-up MG cq MG to its feature-film afterlife.

“It’s not like the series finale’s going to be a tease for the films,” he said. “It’s going to be a conclusion of the television series, and of the stories that have been in the television series. But we’ll leave room for more stories.”

Good thing. Spotnitz is president of Carter’s Ten Thirteen production company, which gives him significant oversight not only of The X-Files brand but whatever else Carter comes up with, including Harsh Realm, a new Fox series for fall.

Spotnitz also has his own multimillion-dollar production deal with 20th Century Fox Television, and he intends one day to create his own series, TV movies, miniseries and feature films.

“I think it’ll be very sad” when the end of The X-Files comes, he said. “And yet at the same time, I’ll be ready to work on other things.”

As a lad in Phoenix – attending the same east Phoenix public schools as Clay Graham, executive producer of The Drew Carey Show, and if that isn’t paranormal, what is? – Spotnitz said he “grew up obsessed with movies and television.”

“I was such a TV watcher as a kid,” he added. “Fortunately, my parents (who’ve since moved to Nevada – hey, isn’t Area 51 near there?) tolerated that.”

Spotnitz, who’s now married with one small child and another en route, enrolled at UCLA, intending to pursue an education in filmmaking.

“But I quickly got sidetracked by journalism,” he said, thanks to “a great, charismatic teacher” during his freshman year.

Spotnitz interned for the Los Angeles Times and worked for two wire services after graduation, but he eventually grew disillusioned with the news biz.

“I looked at other journalists who I thought were great and realized that I wasn’t as good as they were and never would be, probably,” he said. “So, I decided to go back to my original passion.”

Spotnitz returned to LA, free-lanced for Entertainment Weekly and attended film school at the American Film Institute. He wrote three film scripts and had all three optioned (or purchased for potential production, although none has yet made it to the screen).

By this point, Spotnitz had known Carter casually (they were both in the same book group) and was asked by another friend to call Carter on the friend’s behalf to set up a possible meeting to pitch story ideas for The X-Files, which was then in its first season.

“He said, “I’m not interested, but why don’t you come up with some story ideas?’ ” Spotnitz said. “It had never dawned on me to do that.”

Carter quickly shot down Spotnitz’s first few ideas but called back later and encouraged him to try again. Carter eventually invited Spotnitz, who shares his boss’ appreciation for The Night Stalker TV movie and subsequent series, as well as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, to join the show’s writing staff.

“That was on a Thursday,” Spotnitz said. “On Monday, I started at The X-Files, and my life has never been the same.”

“You never know how your lucky break is going to come, but when it does come, you have to be ready to capitalize on it. I instantly felt that I understood this genre, and this type of material.”

Back then, The Truth was germ-size. Nobody knew how long the series would run, or that it would cause such a cultural spaz attack.

Approximately 172 Entertainment Weekly covers later, all of the interlocking Mythology pieces have come together, at least in the minds of The X-Files creative team. The Truth, Spotnitz said, didn’t reveal itself with the clarity many fans no doubt imagine.

“Early on, I learned what Chris’ idea was for the end point of the series, what the final episode would be,” he said. “But on purpose he didn’t spell out all of the steps we’d take to get there, because he wanted to make room for things that come up in the news, and actors you find who are good.

“It turned out to be very wise, because some of our best characters and stories have been things we couldn’t have predicted.”

Finale countdown

Provided the Y2K glitch doesn’t send society skidding to a dead stop, the countdown to next May’s series send-off likely will build fan frenzy to near-Seinfeldian levels. It’s hard to imagine hard-core followers getting much more intense, considering the current density and fervor of X-Files-related Internet action.

Spotnitz occasionally trolls the online chatter, and he manages to resist correcting wayward fan-boy analysis. He does take cyber criticism seriously, however.

“Even if 80 percent of the posts are positive after an episode, you’re going to find the 20 percent that are negative, and those are the ones that stick in your memory and eat away at you,” he said.

The Internet interest, as well as the series’ highly successful history of fan conventions, illustrate the sense of ownership its viewers feel for The X-Files. As one of the keepers of Carter’s keys, Spotnitz has attended a few conventions, and he found them fascinating.

“In the beginning, I was very wary, because I didn’t know what kind of weirdos would show up to a convention for a TV show,” he said. “But it actually ended up being a really enjoyable experience. I was amazed at how much these people know. They knew more than I did.

“I got the feeling that this was their show, and they were begrudgingly letting me work on it and talk about the characters.”

Bardsmaid’s Cave: Encounter with CSM

May-05-1999
The Cave’s X-Files Commentary Archives:  Encounters with the show
Title: Encounter with CSM
Author: Zuffy

[Original article here]

William B. Davis was speaking the merest ten minutes from Zuff’s own abode this evening (5-5-99), so off she went with family in tow. He was very entertaining and very relaxed. Here’s the report (apologies if you’ve heard or read some of these things elsewhere).

First, William B. Davis looked just like CSM. No cigarette though. Nice to see that he is the same face without the makeup. Very smiley though. That was a little discomfiting. You know he’s up to no good when he smiles.

CSM attempted to convince us that he was the hero of TXF and not Mulder. He suggested a comparison on several grounds. 1) What would happen if they each got what they wanted? If Mulder finds out the truth, he intends to broadcast it. That would horrify everyone and create panic on “Independence Day” scale. If CSM gets his way, there will be a massive cover-up. No one will feel bad because we’ll never know. 2) Who sacrifices more? Mulder is basically doing what he wants to do, has a cushy job with the FBI, and works with a beautiful woman. Maybe he’s given up his personal life, but then we haven’t seen any sign that he is capable of a personal life, so maybe it’s not a true sacrifice. CSM, he said, has sacrificed his health, personal life, wife, son, maybe other unacknowledged children. 3) Acts of love: Sure Mulder goes chasing off after Scully when she gets abducted, but what happened when Skinner put his career on the line for Scully’s cure? Did Mulder offer to take the burden? CSM thinks not. CSM risked his standing in the Syndicate and with the project to get the Bounty Hunter to cure Mrs. Mulder. 4) Thoughtfulness: Mulder is impetuous. Always acting without considering the consequences. Waves his gun around a lot. CSM is always thinking, trying to come up with the best strategy. Doesn’t even carry a gun as far as he recalls. 5) Eyesight: Every time it’s a little dark, Mulder has to get out a flashlight. CSM, though, he *lives* in the dark. 6) Potency: Frankly, he thinks Mulder is a virgin. Well, in the shower scene, he finally took a look at Scully, but then he seemed to grimace. What was that? CSM, well, it’s still possible that he is Mulder’s father, it’s been intimated that he is Samantha’s father, he is Spender’s father.

So, pretty much across the board, he thinks CSM comes out ahead. So why do people prefer Mulder? Lighting. If they bathed CSM in pink light and played ominous music when Mulder appeared, it would be a different show.

Davis also had some things to say about the choices made to cooperate with the aliens. He compared it to Vichy France where compromises were made to forestall invasion and attempt to save the population from a worse fate than occupation. It may not have been the right choice in retrospect, but it was a situation of people trying to make the best decisions they can. He sees X-Files as a show without true heroes, only people trying to take actions as best they can in light of some terrible options.

Davis gets very much into his character. He plays him as human whose actions make sense, not as evil incarnate. In fact the way he plays CSM, he sees Mulder as the bad guy. [Zuff’s note: I think that’s one thing that makes the character so effective.]

He talked for a while about people who believe in aliens and the power of hypnotic regression to create false memories, etc. He’s not a believer himself, that was clear. He also said that from what he could see TXF didn’t create much belief in the paranormal. But it does feed into the present moment when people have stopped being certain about what they know. A post-literate time in many ways. There is more information, but also more skepticism growing out of the fact that people have come to distrust information that they sense is associated with some sort of power structure. He polled the audience (several hundred people, mostly college students) about belief in aliens and in alien abduction. Almost no one raised his/her hand. Then he asked whether the government was engaged in conspiracies and almost everyone did. He said some things suggesting that he did distrust some of the info we get from authorities (he was talking about Kosovo and the rationales for bombing), but he also said that in general large bureaucracies are too incompetent to pull off real conspiracies for any length of time.

Someone asked about “Musings.” He said he was really surprised when he read the script and found out this was what he character had been up to. It seemed inconsistent. Writing a novel? That really surprised him. Anyway he interpreted the ep as Frohike’s version as told to M&S, not necessarily the truth. In the original script CSM was supposed to shoot and kill Frohike, but CC nixed it.

He thinks Scully is too good for Mulder. Actually, with her rational, scientific approach she would be a much better match for CSM. CC has said no Mulder-Scully relationship, no Skinner-Scully relationship, no Mulder-Skinner relationship, but he hasn’t said anything about CSM-Scully. [Stay away, fanfic writers. Do not go there.]

Davis has finally decided to write a script himself and hopes that something might be produced next year. It was really hard work to come up with an idea and he has great admiration for the writers who do it over and over.

Unlike some series that start out with a plan for where the plot will go, XF had nothing. The stories have developed as they’ve moved along. It’s been amazing.

When he auditioned for the show it was for the senior FBI post. That character had three lines! He felt that CSM had developed as a really long audition. They thought he did pretty well at standing around smoking, so they gave him a line. He handled that pretty well, so they gave him some more.

What does he smoke on the show? He’s a spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society, so he smokes herbal cigarettes instead of tobacco. They taste pretty bad, but the smoke smells like marijuana, so kids if you want to surprise your parents…

Why did he burn the X-Files office? He really didn’t remember. He was angry about something—maybe about being shot–really angry, so something had to burn. That’s all he recalls.

Why does he hang around with Diana Fowley. Well, like all men, he has no judgment when it comes to women. [Sorry, Hobrock. Those are his words.]

Someone asked how he could play some of the scenes knowing that what happens is going to be contradicted. What about the scene in Redux with Samantha, for example? Well, he certainly thought she was the real Samantha and that’s how he played it. Then a year later, he heard someone say, “No that wasn’t her,” and his reaction was “huh?”

What would he like to be remembered for? Mostly being Canadian national water-ski champion!

There were a variety of miscellaneous comments and questions, but these were the ones that stuck in my mind.