The Astronomical Society of the Pacific: Universe 2000 Expo
“Visioning the Future” panel
Panel with Brannon Braga (Star Trek Voyager executive producer), Frank Spotnitz (X-Files executive producer), David Brin (physicist), Syd Mead (‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ designer)
[Transcribed by April]
Frank Spotnitz Speaks on a panel discussing “Visions of the Future” for The Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Universe 2000 Expo
Transcript from the wonderful April-thanks for sharing with us. And thanks to Frank for being such an interesting person-this is a great read-IMHO.
The panel he spoke on ( David Brin couldn’t make it though) had 2 writers for Star Trek: Voyager, one writer of various movies like Blade Runner, and this professor dude who rocked and I shall speak more of later.
I brought along a tape recorder and recording almost everything he said except for his last answer to a question… and here you are, transcripts of.. stuff he said 🙂
Question: about if science has anything to do with science fiction writing and if it does what do you feel are your responsibilities in your role..
Frank Spotnitz: “Okay. Hi sorry to be late, accident on the one seven I swear that’s the truth… I guess the question of how well educated the public is about science and where the lines in science fiction and science fact is one of those half empty half full questions because I think you could argue that while a great number of people still have a confusion about what’s accepted good science and what’s not and probably have as well educated a population as we’ve ever had since the founding of the republic, and so while things could be better they’re probably as good as they’ve ever been. I think that my job on the X-Files or as a television writer or movie writer is to entertain, and I look at that first and foremost as my calling. And in the X-Files specifically, we use science as a tool to create a believable scenario. So I will use as much science as I can to try and make what is happening seem credible, with the idea being that if something seems possible or plausible it’s going to be scarier to you than if it seems ridiculous. Beyond that I don’t really see my purpose as a writer as being synonymous with that of an educator, although I do think that one of the most fortunate things about science fiction is it tends to spark interest in real science, and I know the original Star Trek series, for Andre and probably for Brannon, I don’t know but certainly for me sparked a lot of interest in science, science fiction and probably why I’m writing for television today. So hopefully the fictitious license we take will lead people to explore the real thing.”
[note: Right here was a cute story the professor guy told, his name Richard Berendzen. He was called up to have permission granted to use footage of him that was used in Gethsemane 🙂 and he was telling about the end when Mulder cries (at this point I held up my season four episode guide with a page with a photo of that happening and he was like “yeah right there” and Frank grinned at the book, so yeah score hehe, aaanyway) and said how because of Scully saying Mulder committed suicide Richard got these calls from students asking if he killed Mulder :)]
This next part started off with talk about the darkness of sci fi and led to atmosphere and well yeah let’s pick it up here you only miss Frank agreeing with the prev. speaker .
Frank Spotnitz: “…I was thinking about this the last couple of days, knowing that I was going to be coming here late, and talking about the future and you know it goes without saying that no one knows what the future’s going to be, so why is there so much interest in it? And the answers that I’ve come up with certainly in terms of the storytelling we do is because it deals with our fears of what we’ve become, which of course are based on the present, and so I think science fiction frequently, chiefly deals with fears of how tech may change human beings and the way we live in the future. And this is a way of dealing with those fears, telling stories about those fears, in the hope of ex them or changing the path of the future. Human beings certainly have changed. And if you read the Greeks or the Romans, their [something] with human behavior are identical to what it is you know all of us behave today, as far as I can tell. But technology has a way of presenting opportunities that we fear we cannot control, whether it’s you know industrial revolution or the atomic age or the Internet. And so I think storytelling provides a great surface in imagining where these technological paths may lead and how to prevent a fear from being realized.”
Question: [Paraphrased] Where does the writing come from?
Frank Spotnitz: “I’ve had the most frequently asked question. I think when you write television or movies and the hardest answer because it’s a very mysterious process I think for people who write where those ideas come from and I know I watch a lot of programming, news, biographies, documentaries, hoping something will spark, newspapers, magazines. When all else fails, when I’m trying to tell scary stories I think back about being a child and what scared me as a child and look for something there. It’s a hard question to answer. I will say before I lose this thought that occurred to me while Andre was talking about 2001, I don’t think, I hope none of us are actually going to be called upon later to show how accurate we were in predicting what was going to happen, you know that, I never think about that in terms of the X-Files and any predictions about the future. But I think what 2001 did presently and Blade Runner as well was predicted the rise of commerce and commercial influence on what at the time was ? governmental enterprise and the fact that there was Hilton and Howard Johnson and ?? was right on, and I think, you know I think one of the fears that um, I think is probably growing in our consciousness that you see in movies being made now is that government is actually less and less important and commerce is all important in the post-cold war environment and I think that’s gonna make for a lot more stories. [warning! confusing possibly mistranscripted sentence ahead!] You know X-Files has been bread and butter for 8 years now is government conspiracy but I think people have a sense now that you know dollars and eurodollars are where it’s at.” “Have you tried watching the old Jetsons episodes?”
Question: Favorite sci fi story you’ve done, fave episode etc. and why?
Frank Spotnitz: “That’s a really hard question to answer.. I think that the favorite episode that I was involved with was called Memento Mori and that was where Agent Scully found out she had contracted cancer as a result of her abduction. And it was a story we were afraid to do, honestly, because cancer is very much real and not something science fiction, and it touched on people’s lives, everybody knows others been touched by it. But it ended up being one of my favorites because it was so revealing of the characters, and when you do a TV series particularly you get so close to these characters you spend so many hours imagining their lives, their interior lives, that when you get a chance to do an episode that explores a part of them that you’ve never seen before it’s very exciting. So that was my favorite, it had heavy duty science fiction quotient in it, it had aliens and you know, green goo, and abductions, and memories, and things like that, but all of those things I think are just metaphors for fears we all have and I think that’s the appeal of UFO lore, whether you believe in it or not. It speaks to our fears, and interests and how or not you’ll understand these amenities beyond ourselves, and actually the episode that you referred to earlier, where Mulder commits suicide, is that that panel discussion was talking about how if he discovered aliens existed, if you had proof of extraterrestrial life, it would be greatest scientific discovery ever, there is no greater scientific discovery, because it would change our understanding of our own role in the universe. And in many ways, I think the search for extraterrestrial life is a lot like the search for God, truly trying to scientifically tackle the same question.”
Question: [from our fellow X-Phile Heather in the audience :)] what difficulties might you run into when writing a story, and how do you solve this problem?
Frank Spotnitz: “Very painfully. The interesting thing about storytelling is that you are trying to devise a plot at the same time you’re trying to understand your character. And the two things tug each other constantly. You’re constantly finding that if you make a wrong move with the plot, you get a wrong move with the character and vice versa. And so you’re trying to move both of them along in an interesting way and be true to those and that’s the challenge and [word missing] instance for telling stories on the X-Files, there’s always a science fiction or horror element that is woven into the particular human story. But it’s the human values that, you know, are the forefront that people care about that’s why you watch the story and the science fiction angle gives you something new and different and cool that you may not have seen before you hopefully haven’t seen before. But yeah I think, to touch on the question that was asked last you know about the human behavior, I don’t think human beings have changed and I think even Star Trek, you know, Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the future notwithstanding, you know you recognize those people, you know they’re supposed to be 3, 400 years in the future, you recognize [that they’re?] characters they could be people you meet today. There’s just a lot of social issues that we, especially in 1964. You know, there were people on the streets and there were violent protests, they had been resolved in a way that made people hopeful. So I think that’s what hopeful science fiction’s about, it’s not [that] human beings are going to become primarily different, it’s saying that certain struggles will be resolved in a positive way.”
Another comment here by Heather about how she thinks science changes not the people.
Frank Spotnitz: “I think that’s absolutely what it is, I mean (another you know? 🙂 conditions change radically.. healthcare, science, technology change the way we live and the way we interact with each other you know the world community, but who people are let’s face it their basic instincts are things that you know..” *trails off*
Question: If there’s art in the writers’ science fiction, which led to a comment that art or creativity is so internal, about actions instead
Frank Spotnitz: “We actually did one episode about art if you will, it was about a writer, and it’s exactly what you said I mean, science is about understanding the natural world the world around us and art is about. To generalize [about] understanding what makes us and what makes us human. And this writer wrote. Finally wrote something so good that it actually came to pass. But unfortunately he found out that what was inside of him was hate and destruction. And [the fear?] of art has no guarantee of happiness, because it shines a light of understanding, but what you see now [is beautiful and uncertain?]”
“Well I think it remains to be seen, was Freud a great scientist or a great artist? I think the big difference, cause I think you’re right, I think it made a lot of people thinking [it was] truly greater than science, if not more so than it is than the art, but science strives to have an empirical standard by which we judge its conclusions, which you know art. It’s time to get rid of that.”
Frank Spotnitz: “How did it get so ugly… oh the question was, do we have any thoughts about a uh, English scientist’s theory that UFOs are actually visitors from our own future, checking in on us today. I find that unlikely.. no I mean I.. as I touched on before, having thought about UFOs now for 7 years, and never having really thought about before I came on the X-Files, to me a lot of the interest in extraterrestrials is analogous to our interest in God, and wanting to understand our place in the universe, and whether we’re alone. A lot of the same questions come up when you consider religion and UFO phenomena. I can’t explain UFO phenomena, I have no idea why it is so widespread, you know it’s incredible if you read surveys of the American public, the number of people who believe in UFOs is astonishing, and the number of people who claim to have had first hand experience with UFOs is equally amazing, whereas I think when I began writing for the show 7 years ago I was a hundred percent Agent Scully, skeptic, and a disbeliever, I say I’m still of Dana Scully’s [mind] that I’m not equipped to explain the phenomenon.”
Question: How much of the writing is from a white male vision? How much diversity is on the writing staff?
Frank Spotnitz: “In the past, we’ve had a number of woman writers, minority writers, at the moment the X-Files staff is all male, but not all white. But, it’s like Brannon said, it just so happens the Writers’ Guild, who you have to draw on, is predominantly white male, so that’s an obstacle right there. And the first thing you are thinking about when you’re a producer desperate to make a good TV show is, get me good writers. Now, if I can have a racially diverse, and sexually diverse staff, well great, but first get me good writers. So..”
Question: Is it a white male perspective?
Frank Spotnitz: ‘It has been mixed on our show. There’ve been times when we’ve had all white male staff, there’ve been times we’ve had, you know, much more mixed. I hope not. I mean I really hope, I don’t know what a ‘white male vision’ means, exactly. I mean I’m a white male but I hope that my vision, my humble vision, is not in some way villainous or derogatory, I hope I’m open minded enough to try to encompass other visions too in my white male vision, you know what I’m saying? That’s what we’re constantly trying to *tape interference* reason for the question, it worries me, questions like that, because it suggests that somehow whether you are black or white influences the future, and we just hired for the Lone Gunmen, which is comedy series about you know Mission Impossible[-style?] capers features a black woman. And what she knows about you know three white computer nerds.. I don’t know it shouldn’t matter in a perfect world. In the world where Star Trek is headed it wouldn’t be questioned. ”
Question: about metaphysics
Frank Spotnitz: “…It’s not on a conscious level but I think the meaning of death–spirit, soul. That which exists beyond our own corporeum in existence. Those are things play into the X-Files.. you know again and again, but I don’t think I ever approach it, you know… you know “this week I’m doin’ the metaphysical”
My tape ran out during the next question, which was about an occult author with the first name Alistaire that a person asked about, who for the record Frank did not know of :).. and there was also one part where nanotechnology was brought up and Frank was asked by another panelist if the X-Files touched on that and Frank said “yeah we did” hehe
Afterwards, Vanessa and I hung around, I had two magazines one for me one for a friend I wanted to get signed and we both got them signed as well as pictures, nice nice guy 😀 I asked him when production starts, the 24th or 25th? It’s the 25th.. and Vanessa asked when the season premiere is (first week of November) and Heather asked if cancerman was really dead and he said he couldn’t say and laughed 🙂