Archive for December, 1999

Newsguy On Location With Ilt Jones of the X-Files – Part 2

Dec-15-1999
Newsguy
On Location With Ilt Jones of the X-Files – Part 1
Ariel Penn

We continue our exclusive interview with Ilt Jones, the location manager for the X-Files. The location manager is the one responsible for finding those fabulous locations you see each week on this very popular show. Ilt is also responsible for coordinating all facets of bringing a crew on location.

I visited Ilt at Stage 5 on the lot at Twentieth Century Fox in L.A. The crew was dressing the stage when I arrived. Ilt and I visited in the location loft above the stage which features huge location maps on the wall of the greater Los Angeles area, a location manager’s tool of trade.

What was one of your favorite locations and what episode did it appear?

The most remarkable location was the one featuring the African beach in the season finale of season 6. The closing shot is a slow lift with a crane showing a space ship in the water. To get that shot at Leo Carillo beach, they had to build a crane platform at the very end of the rocks, a very narrow sliver of rocks sticking out into the ocean 100 feet. The grips built this camera platform that was 40 feet square all balanced on rocks 2 feet wide.

It (the set up) was huge. We were not allowed to drill into the rocks. When the tide went out they rushed in with forklift trucks and built the structure. It would take a month to build this if they were in construction. They built it in two days.

What’s the collaborative process like between the Locations and the Art Department/Production Designer?

When I get a script, I break it down for the locations. I go out and take pictures of things that I think will work. The first person I show the pictures to is the Production Designer (Corey Kaplan). Because some of the things we do on stage need to match what we do on location. We are the first people to collaborate on the locations. I get four or five choices for each location. She takes what she likes to the director.

We’re such a big company I try not take us to places that are logistical nightmares. It’s like moving a circus around.

What do you think of the naysayers who didn’t think the show could move from Vancouver to Los Angeles and maintain its spooky ambiance?

I think they (the production team) brought a refreshing new approach to the show. There’s a lot more humor than there was before. I think they stretched out and provided more breadth visually. We still do spooky dark stuff. Last year, we shot in Cedar Grove in Griffith Park, which was beautiful and spooky on screen.

We also did stuff in the desert: the Area 51 stories. I personally am a big fan of the desert. The naysayers are in the minority. We get loads of feedback from e-mail and the media that keep encouraging us to keep doing what we’re doing.

We are also in Southern California, and we’re gonna have to feature the desert. There are so many great old buildings in L.A. In Pasadena, there are magnificent buildings all over the place. There’s plenty of eye candy to be shot here.

What dream locations would you like to see in the X-Files that we haven’t seen yet?

There’s an underground reservoir in the San Fernando Valley that’s the size of the Rose Bowl. It’s has huge 50 foot tall pillars. It’s straight out of Metropolis. It’s the coolest place I’ve ever seen in my life as a location manager. It gives me goose bumps thinking about it now.

And Angelus Abby, the mausoleum in Compton, looks like downtown Baghdad. It’s a Moorish fantasy with huge mosque-like domes. It’s in a park setting with a temple.

The Bradbury Building I’d love to see on the screen (featured brilliantly in Blade Runner), one of my favorite all time buildings. Union Station is another location that looks rich on screen.

What has been the biggest location challenge so far?

“Rain King,” the episode we did last year about the guy who could control the weather with his mind, was one of the most challenging. We had to find a motel where we could crash a cow (fake cow) through the roof. We had to fire the cow up in the air. The next thing you know there’s a hole in the roof and Mulder narrowly escapes being hit by the cow.

There’s this cow lying on the bed. Basically, we had to find a hotel where we could make a big hole in the ceiling and have debris everywhere and the cow in the room.

Humanitas Master Writers Workshop transcript

Dec-15-1999
Humanitas Master Writers Workshop transcript
Carter and Spotnitz

Provided by “darknesslight”

I attended the Humanitas Master Writers Workshop in Los Angeles Tuesday night, at which Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz were the speakers. The Humanitas Workshops are presented monthly from September through May and feature noted television and film writers as speakers. The Workshops are open to Writers Guild members and other professional-level writers. (Humanitas is an organization founded by Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser which recognizes the writers of television and film scripts that explore the nature of human values — they present the Humanitas Prize every year to those writers.)

Following are some random notes I took. I can’t promise that any of these are direct quotes, but rather my impressions/recollections of what was said. I tried to pay special attention to what they said about the internet and the Mulder/Scully relationship. NOTE: If you’re a regular viewer of the show, there are no spoilers here.

FS on writing – it’s only once you’re in the professional world that you can know if you’ve got it – even after you’ve been doing it awhile, writing is HARD.

FS on rejection – you can either get bitter or you can figure out why you’re being rejected.

CC on XF’s origin – inspired by Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the fact that there wasn’t anything scary on in prime time – that’s how he pitched the show – how about something scary?

FS – they’re reinventing the wheel every week with the different kinds of stories they tell – his first script was End Game, part 2 of a 2-parter.

FS on story problems – Simple is Good – Hard, But Good – when it’s simple, you’re telling the truth. [He was talking about trying to figure out how to get X to tell Scully where Mulder was in that ep with the submarine tower – CC’s solution: have Skinner beat it out of him – simple!]

CC on taking notes/advice/suggestions – there are lots of voices out there, particularly with the internet – everybody knows how to do your job better than you.

FS – unless there’s a reason for people to care, there’s no reason to tell the story.

CC and FS in response to the question, “how does Mulder get through the day with all he believes and all he’s seen?” – CC talked about Mulder’s quest and his role as a romantic hero – CC and FS both talked about the importance of Scully as his partner in the quest, that their shared passion fueled them both – FS mentioned Mulder’s sense of humor, and commented that some of Mulder’s funniest lines come during the scariest moments.

CC in response to a question about the mythology/conspiracy and did he have a “grand scheme” in mind to begin with – he nodded as the question was asked – said he had a big idea in the beginning but that it has played out “in ways I could never have imagined” – CC and FS said that the Season 5 opener was the real turning point for them as writers re: the mythology – this is where the choices they’d made earlier really took over and the story just started telling itself.

FS in response to a question about David Duchovny’s writing for the show – David’s notes on the scripts benefit the *story*, not just his character – CC added that both Duchovny and Anderson are very smart actors who put the story and the show ahead of their own characters [most actors don’t, really – LM].

What outside writers get wrong in XF spec scripts: CC – the entry into the story; they don’t get the Mulder/Scully relationship (they’re not combative, they’re both determined); FS – Scully’s voice, Scully’s character.

CC – the show’s about FAITH, but it’s built on a foundation of SCIENCE – Mulder wrestles with his faith in the unknown, Scully wrestles with her faith in both science and God.

CC – good ideas for TV series are few and far between – the success of XF is a little miracle in that it was a series idea with a great deal of story potential.

FS re stand-alone monster stories – they try to portray the monsters in a human light – if they behave arbitrarily, they won’t be believed.

FS – write your characters as smart as possible.

CC – character development comes through role reversal [i.e., Mulder’s journey in Season 5 to regain his belief in the unexplained].

CC re the internet – it “affects my happiness” – he reads a lot, takes some stuff to heart, dismisses a lot – has never taken an idea off the internet – several times, thoughtful criticism has led him to make changes in future stories.

FS re the movie – the Mulder/Scully relationship really blossomed in the movie – the scene before the near-kiss is the key scene, the relationship is the key to the movie – the relationship had to move slowly in the series because in series TV you have to go back to the status quo – it was Season 3 before Mulder and Scully could even be seen touching hands – after the movie came out, FS and CC drove around to different movie theaters in L.A. to listen to audience reaction to the hallway scene.

A woman to FS at an XF convention sometime after Season 3 – “You’ve been on three years, you must be running out of true stories.”

FS in response to a question about whether Darin Morgan would come back as a writer – Darin watches every episode and thinks about what he would’ve done – CC said that he won’t be back as a writer, he’s too meticulous, the pace of TV took a lot out of him.

FS – the mythology episodes are the ones that advance the Mulder/Scully relationship – in the stand-alones they’re too busy with the monster, and they both have so much invested in the outcome of the mythology.

Both CC and FS were extremely noncommittal on the subject of whether or not this is the show’s last season.

The X-Files Magazine: Harsh Decision

Dec-07-1999
The X-Files Magazine [US, #12, Winter 1999]: Harsh Decision

It was news that shocked everyone. After only three weeks, Chris Carter’s fledgling series Harsh Realm was cancelled.

The initial episodes of the high-concept sci-fi/action show adapted from Andrew Paquette and James Hudnall’s comic book of the same name had received critical praise for its ambition but low ratings. Fox executives concerned about how their fall line-up would fare against that of other networks abruptly cancelled the series, explains executive producer Frank Spotnitz.

“It goes without saying, I think it was a terrible decision made by people who were panicked,” Spotnitz says. “I think if these people had been in charge when The X-Files launched, X-Files would have been cancelled. It came out of left field for us because all we’d been hearing from the network for the first three weeks was mia culpas — that they had botched the launch of the show and that they were aware that no one knew the show was on the air. We’re deeply disappointed. Our best episodes were about to be broadcast. We feel bad for us, and we feel bad for our crew and all the wonderful actors we’d assembled. It’s a shame.”

Spotnitz cites the network’s sporadic promotion of the series as key to its quick demise; when compared to Fox’s other new series, he says, Harsh Realm suffered from a lack of publicity. “I think the fact that it was underpromoted created vulnerability for us because the ratings were low and that led to the panic that drove the Fox executives to cancel the show,” he says. “If you look at the fall schedule for the Fox network, its understandable why they would be desperate, but I think they really just made their situation worse.”

The announcement came not only as a surprise to Carter’s fans but to Carter himself. The network had signed a 13-episode commitment with Ten Thirteen Productions, which the cancellation violated. “Aside from how poor the decision was, the way it was handled was equally poor,” Spotnitz says. “We found out the same day everybody else found out. I even heard from TV critics who had not given the pilot a good review that they certainly didn’t think it was going to get cancelled after three weeks and they were willing to stick with it and see where it went. It’s nice to hear words of support from all quarters but frustrating that what we felt very strongly was a great show didn’t get a chance to find itself.”

With only eight episodes completed, production wrapped on Harsh Realm at the end of October, leaving the cast and crew to go their separate ways. Whether or not the remaining five episodes will be shown is unclear. “There are eight complete episodes and where they will turn up and when I don’t know,” Spotnitz says. “We are finishing up those eight episodes. I would think they would see the light of day somewhere, sometime, but I don’t know.

“I think everybody believed in the show and felt so good about the work we were doing and was just as shocked as we were that the network made a decision like this,” he continues. “It’s one thing when you’re on a show and you can feel you’re struggling and you don’t have confidence in the material, but that wasn’t the case here. Everyone from the lead actors to the grips really felt like they were working on something they could be proud of. It’s a particularly hard decision to swallow.”

Spotnitz says the possibility of the series returning or being picked up by another network is remote at best. “Since the show was cancelled, not put on hiatus, they’ve created a situation where you’d have to rehire everyone,” he says. “If they’d done anything else other than what they did, that would have been possible. But they didn’t put the show on hiatus, they didn’t ask for a pause. They put an end to it.”

The move comes at a critical juncture in the relationship between Carter and Fox, as speculation about a possible eighth season of The X-Files builds and talks surrounding the follow-up to 1998’s feature film get underway. Could the network’s decision to end Harsh Realm affect Carter’s other projects? “I don’t know,” Spotnitz says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The X-Files Magazine: Unsolved Mysteries

Dec-07-1999
The X-Files Magazine [US, #12, Winter 1999]
Unsolved Mysteries
Steve Hockensmith

[Typed by Gayle]

Is this the last season for Mulder and Scully? When will they return to the big screen?

Chris Carter advises fans to stay tuned.

Chris Carter has – and always has had – a grand master plan for The X-Files. He had – and unfortunately never got the chance to fully implement – a grand master plan for Harsh Realm.

So what doesn’t Carter have a grand master plan for? His life.

“There is no grand plan,” admits the 43-year-old writer/director/producer. What Carter does have is a dream. The man behind the paranoid conspiracies of The X-Files, the brooding mysteries of Millennium and the twisted virtual reality of Harsh Realm has a decidedly sunny vision of tomorrow. In it, he sees himself on a remote beach with a surf board under his arm. There are no scripts to write, no dailies to watch, no deadline pressures of any kind.

It’s just Carter, the sea and the search for a perfect wave. “That’s my dream,” sighs the television visionary.

That dream came true this past summer . . . for a few precious days. While The X-Files was on hiatus after the end of its sixth season, Carter got a whopping two weeks off, much of which he spent in Mexico hanging 10.

“Surfing is a very demanding sport that has a lot to do with timing and technique,” says Carter, whose background as a California surfer dude is well known to X-Philes. “All these things get rusty out of the water, ironically.”

Of course, those skills will get a little rustier before Carter ends up with the months of uninterrupted beach-time he’ll need to become a master surfer one again. After all, he’s got a television series – a television legend, really – that he might have to guide to a graceful denouement in the months ahead.

As all in-the-know X-Philes are well aware, the seventh season of The X-Files could be its last. That means Carter might have a lot of loose ends to tie up by next May. As of early October, a full quarter of the season already had been mapped out, with a number of scripts ready for the cameras. But though Carter says he knows exactly what the series’ final episode will be like – “I’ve had that in my head for years,” he reveals – it’s unclear if it will come at the end of the seventh season or at the end of a possible eight season.

“The writing is not on the wall.” Carter says. “There are many things that could happen, but because I’ve been given no formal word otherwise, I’ve got to play this as if it were the last year. But I know [soon] I might be having talks about the possibility of keeping the show on [for another season]. For the moment, I have no contract for The X-Files for next year, so I don’t want to speak out of turn.”

Carter’s not the only one without a contract for a possible eight season: David Duchovny is also free to leave the series by the end of Season Seven. Obviously, a lot of complicated negotiating is going to have to go on before the future of The X-Files is finally made clear.

But Carter’s certainly not the type to leave things to chance. Even though an eighth season is little more than a remote possibility at the moment, he says he’s already thought up some potential storylines for it.

“What I haven’t had a chance to do are sequels to episodes that I really liked,” he says. “Next year, if the show were to go on, I would hope that there might be a way to reinvestigate some of those cases that were left [open-ended].”

Of course, Mulder and Scully got that chance this season in “Orison,” the episode that brought back murderous necrophiliac Donnie Pfaster (played by actor Nick Chinlund) – and also brought back veteran X-Files director Rob Bowman, who had only recently announced his departure from the series to pursue a feature film career. So just which other episodes would Carter like to give the sequel treatment to in Season Eight?

“I’ll keep that a secret right now,” Carter replies. Speaking of sequels – and secrets – there’s another X-Files follow-up to consider: the second film. Not surprisingly, there are some important decisions that have to be made before that project can start gathering steam. Whether or not there will be an eight season, for instance.

“One thing definitely has an effect on the next,” Carter acknowledges. “We talk about [the next film] all the time. It’s just a matter of finding the opportune time to do it.”

Just when that “opportune time” will arrive is anyone’s guess. But one thing’s for sure: the perpetually busy Carter has a little more time on his hands these days thanks to the fox network’s sudden – and somewhat puzzling – decision to cancel Harsh Realm. The critically praised series was yanked after just three weeks on the air in a move that took viewers and industry insiders alike by surprise. After all, The X-Files wasn’t a big ratings winner right out of the gate: It was only after a couple of years of critical kudos and cult status that it finally broke out and became a mainstream sensation. What could have happened if Harsh Realm had been given time to grow?

We’ll never know. And Carter, for one, isn’t too happy about that. He says the series’ best, most interesting episodes were still ahead of it when Fox pulled the plug.

“You always have big plans for how stories might work and characters might evolve, but it’s not until you get into those things that you really see what works and what doesn’t and you learn how the story-telling rhythms [develop],” he says. “You’ve got to get some of the mythology out of the way [early so] you can get into your stand-alone episodes, which are always refreshing because you know the characters, what their predicament is, what their history is. So you’re trying to accomplish many things at once in the beginning, and it’s nice when you finally get onto flat ground [with the stand-alones] and you’re able to really build up speed.”

Though he was going to get some help from ace X-Files scripters Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban, Carter expected to write “the lion’s share” of Harsh Realm’s first season: He was slated to script or co-script 10 to 12 HR episodes and equal number of X-Files episodes. That commitment was cut in half with Harsh Realm’s cancellation, but that doesn’t mean the well-known workaholic has any plans to start sleeping in late and scooting out of the office at 5 p.m. on the dot. Carter says he’s up at the crack of dawn every day, and the work usually doesn’t stop until late into the night. But at least he’s not toiling alone.

“We’ll all keep a very disciplined and rigorous work schedule,” Carter says of his X-files cast and crew. “Your personal life really disappears, particularly when you lose your momentum that you’ve gained from June [because episodes begin airing]. When it catches up to you [in the fall] when you really have a very labor-intensive few months to Christmas, where you get two weeks where the phones don’t ring but you’re usually writing or rewriting during that time. That’s been the cadence and rhythm of our lives for the last seven years.”

This summer, that rhythm was beating faster and more furious than ever thanks to the ambitious Harsh Realm. While The X-Files was gearing up for its seventh season down in Los Angeles, the new series was building up steam in Vancouver, leading to a lot of frequent flyer miles – and a heck of a lot of work – for Carter and company.

“There [was] never a logical sequencing of work or events or problem solving,” Carter says of the X-Files/Harsh Realm juggling act. “It just [came] at you fast and furious. You [had] to do everything at once is what it really came down to.”

So how long will Carter have just one huge, back-breaking job to keep him busy? Probably not too long. Not only does he have a hush-hush television project in development, he’s also considering a return to the multiplexes: Just because the second X-Files film might be on hold for the moment, that doesn’t mean Ten Thirteen Productions isn’t working on a few movie deals. According to Carter, company president Frank Spotnitz is developing several motion picture projects.

“There are some really exciting things that he’s brought to me and the company” Carter reveals. “One of them is a movie about a contemporary rock band. The band approached us. I can’t tell you who they are right now, but the film would be something like [the dark media satire] Network.”

If that project gets off the ground, Carter would likely serve as a producer and, if schedules permit, screenwriter.

But X-Philes shouldn’t fret just yet. Carter insists that he has no plans to run off and abandon the franchise he created in favor of the big screen – or surfing.

“I have contractual obligations to Fox and to the show. And of course I feel that I have a personal obligation to the actors,” he says. “As long as they’re here keeping the work good, I’ll be here keeping the work good for them.”

The X-Files Magazine: The Next Files

Dec-07-1999
The X-Files Magazine [US, #12, Winter 1999]: The Next Files

[Typed by Amy]

The Official Magazine: How is Season Seven progressing?

Spotnitz: If there’s anything I’ve learned, [it’s that] I really don’t see what it’s like until the end. You look back and say, “That’s what this year was really [like].” It’s kind of hard when you’re in the midst of it.

X-Files Magazine: Will this be the final year for The X-Files?

Spotnitz: Nobody knows. It’s David’s last year in his contract. It’s Chris’ last year in his contract. I’m told Gillian has one more year, although she seems to be saying everywhere that I read about her that she does not want to come back after this year. I don’t know. The X-Files is owned by Twentieth Century Fox. They could do it without anyone if they so choose. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I keep doing my work this year as if it were the last year. If it’s not, then we’ll see. I don’t want to find out in March that this was the last year and we squandered all the opportunities that we should have taken advantage of. I’m just going to act like it’s the last year until I hear different.

X-Files Magazine: When can we expect the next mythology episodes? Will any familiar characters be making surprise returns?

Spotnitz: [There will be a] two parter in February. I think you’ll see a lot of familiar mythology characters but all the situations and events of the opening stories are behind us. It will be all new.

X-Files Magazine: Will David Duchovny and Chris Carter collaborate on any more episodes?

Spotnitz: David has another idea, so I expect there’ll be one more collaboration between them before the end of the season. I think he’s going to cowrite one with Chris and maybe direct one as well. When we did “The Unnatural,” we had to lose him for an episode as an actor, so I’d hate to do that again, especially if this turns out to be the last season. We are going to lose him for a few days when he promotes his movie [Return to Me], so there will be one more episode that will be Mulder-light this year.

X-Files Magazine: Speaking of movies, what about the next X-Files feature film?

Spotnitz: We just had a meeting yesterday about that. We’re thinking about it. It’s really just in very beginning conception. [If the show were to end this year] I think we would immediately start having serious discussions about when we would do the next movie.