Archive for February, 2002

Cinescape: Underneath Too Painful To Air?

Feb-16-2002
Cinescape
Underneath Too Painful To Air?
Daniel Wood

For those who have been following the upcoming episodes calendar closely, you will have noticed something curious about the forthcoming episode Underneath. It was originally slated to air in December (before 4-D, and then it was pushed back to air before Lord Of The Flies before being pulled altogether). It was rescheduled to January, then to February, then it was pulled from the calendar again and it is now set to air in the final week of March.

An anonymous source has seen a rough cut of the episode and has this to say of it:

“[Underneath] was pulled from the schedule because FOX had a lot of problems with it — quality problems. It was bad. I mean B-A-D, really bad, like Lord Of The Flies bad. This was a solo John Shiban script and word is that he was pretty much left to his own devices for it. He directed it too. But it was written at the time in between season nine preparations and Chris Carter’s re-arrival, so Carter wasn’t on the scene when it was written and even though he did a rough re-write it was pretty much left of the scrap heap. The first cut was reportedly incomprehensible. I think I saw the second or third cut, and it was a little better. Not really insulting or bad — just boring. It was like a season one Millennium episode, except for the fact that that show was comparatively Oscar material. Underneath is just plain silly. Parts of it reminded me of your basic run of the mill B-grade slasher horror flick. Like Valentine or Urban Legends, minus the mask. They try to give us some insight into Doggett’s past as a NYC cop but it just falls flat — there’s no real meat there. It’s all just facts and figures and no emotional involvement. The killer is boring, we’ve seen the “escaped killer goes after his captor” routine before. But aside from Shiban’s typically poor writing (he did have some good eps like SR 819 and yeah I liked Badlaa — but the bad far outweigh the good) his directing is shocking. I mean really bad. They had to order more re-shoot time than is usually allocated because there were a lot of shots and set-ups that Shiban just didn’t get. Like I said, the cut that I saw was hard to follow…you’d see poorly set-up shots of Doggett walking around a corner and then he’d walk around again…you know, really bad continuity between shots. The lighting was very good, though, except for the confrontation with the killer where it lost something. But I will tell you that it was so hard to follow and so badly directed that the network ordered for it to be re-worked into something a little different, more ‘basic’ and streamlined. We’ll see how it turns out. But that might give you some idea as to why there have been so many scheduling problems with it.”

You’ll have to judge for yourself when the episode airs on March 31.

The X-Files Magazine: Frank Discussion

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Frank Discussion

The X-Files Magazine: Before we get into the specifics of how and why there’s a season nine, were you among those rooting for the show to return?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, I was. I thought Robert Patrick was such a home run last year and I was excited about Annabeth Gish and what her character could be. I believed in the show and what the show could be this year.

The X-Files Magazine: What did you make of the prospect of doing the show without Chris?

Frank Spotnitz: For some time we didn’t actually know if we had Chris and we worked for, I don’t know, four to six weeks without him this year. It was actually Chris’ idea; he encouraged the rest of us to signup without knowing whether or not he was going to come back. I never would have done it unless he wanted us to do it and encouraged us to do it. I made it clear to him that I hoped he’d come back. So I guess I felt we could do it without Chris Carter and that we would do it, that we’d do as great a job as we could, but I was hoping all along that he would decide to come back.

The X-Files Magazine: Some people feel that the show itself is about Mulder’s quest for the truth. And those people argue that without Mulder there is no X-Files. How big a hurdle is that, in your mind, for the show to overcome?

Frank Spotnitz: The show has been Mulder’s quest for the truth. It was that for seven years and part of the eighth year. But I really think that with the introduction of John Doggett last year, the TV series started to take on e a new dimension. A baton was passed, almost literally. There was a scene in “Vienen” where Mulder literally handed over the X-Files office to Doggett. It’s always a question mark whether or not the audience will accept huge changes like this, because the characters are so important and so much of why you watch a TV series. But, having said that, I think The X-Files is a very strong idea for a series with an almost inexhaustible supply of stories. If you can find other characters that are strong and other actors who people like and want to watch. I think there’s potential for the show to go on indefinitely.

The X-Files Magazine: Were you pleased with David Duchovny’s final scene?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, totally. That was one of my favorite scenes in the series. It moved me, so I was delighted with it.

The X-Files Magazine: Let’s talk first in broad strokes about Season Nine? To your thinking, what’s the big picture story wise?

Frank Spotnitz: It’s very interesting because Season Nine is sort of a three-lead show. It’s Scully and Doggett and Reyes. As you’ll see early on, it begins the way it left off last year, with Doggett and Ryes on the X-Files. Scully has a new role to play. She’s now a forensic investigator assigned to the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. So you’ll have these three legged investigations all season. It’s a different way to tell the stories, which is exciting for us because it makes the show fresh and new again and not things we’ve done before. That became a challenge late in the Mulder-Scully era, how to keep ourselves really interested and excited when you’re up to the 175th episode, the 180th episode. When you’ve done that much, how do you keep Mulder and Scully’s investigations feeling new? That’s not a problem anymore for anyone. We’re on our toes every week because we’ve never done this before.

The X-Files Magazine: Let’s hit specifics. What will Scully’s role be? Will she be off at Quantico, communicating with Doggett and Reyes by cellphone and in separate scenes with baby William, or will we see her with Doggett and Reyes?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, there’s no standard format for it. Sometimes she’ll be primarily at Quantico and sometimes she’ll be out in the field. Sometimes it’s focused on her, and Doggett and Reyes are in the background. There will be different shapes to all of these different stories. It really is a three-lead show in that they’ll all have individual moments to shine as characters and actors. And there will be quite a few scenes of the three of them together. That’s really interesting to what, because not only do Gillian, David and Annabeth like each other personally, but they have great chemistry together. We’ve got different dynamics on the show that we’ve never had before. We’ve got scenes with two strong, independent, professional women together, which we’d never played like this. The other interesting thing is that all three characters are heroic, but in different ways, and they’ve all got different crosses to bear as characters.

The X-Files Magazine: Take us through the various character interactions in S9.

Frank Spotnitz: Doggett has kind of declared war on Deputy Director Kersh. He’s accused him of complicity in his alien conspiracy or super-soldier conspiracy as Knowle Rohrer claimed it was. So that’s really where we’ve picked up this season. It’s a very awkward thing to do when you’re an FBI agent–accuse your superior of corruption, essentially. Agent Reyes is by his side. Agent Scully has other issues to deal with, like what is her baby? We’ve said that Mulder and Scully consummated their relationship and that Mulder appeared to be the father of the baby. That’s what Mulder and Scully believe, but we haven’t answered the question, how a barren woman could become pregnant. We haven’t answered the question of why all these aliens, if that’s what they were, surrounded Scully at the Desert Hot Springs in Georgia and then left her untouched. So there are some deep, personal mysteries that Scully has to deal with and solve. As she said in the season finale last year, the X-Files has become personal and have become her life. It’s not a case. It’s not something she can walk away from. It’s her child.

The X-Files Magazine: And Skinner?

Frank Spotnitz: For many years Skinner was this kind of Hamlet-like figure. He was torn between his responsibilities as an Assistant Director and his sympathies for Mulder and Scully. What was fun for us last year, and I think for Mitch as well, was that the character finally took sides and went with Mulder and Scully all the way. That’s still pretty much the role he plays this season. He’s much more of a character of action than he’s ever been before. And one of the reasons he’s able to be such a partisan on behalf of The X-Files is that there are new antagonists that have developed within the FBI, like Deputy Director Kersh and Assistant Director Follmer, who ranks the same as Skinner.

The X-Files Magazine: David Duchovny is gone, but how long a shadow will Mulder cast on the proceeding? Will he be a ghost lurking around the X-Files office?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes and no. A lot of people on the Internet, at least the louder, more strident voices in chat rooms, kept saying, “Mulder is the absent center.” And the other people were saying, “He’s not the absent center. Look at all these episodes that went by without even a mention of Mulder.” I think that’s the fundamental misunderstanding of the X-Files TV series and has always been. If you look at any of the seasons leading up to last season, you had these mythology episodes that really bring us up to speed on the personal lives of the characters and on the alien conspiracy. Then you’ve got these stand-alone episodes that rarely touch on the personal lives of the characters and are really separate, discrete installments of life on the X-Files. You’ll see Mulder dealt with or mentioned in depth in certain episodes, like we did in the first two episodes this year and like we will in other mythology episodes later in the season. Then you’ll have cases that are cases, that investigate monsters and other paranormal phenomena. It’s very hard to shoehorn the search for Mulder or the disappearance of Mulder into stories like that, and we really don’t try. But having said that, I think the fact that Mulder defines the X-Files, Mulder turned the X-Files into a unit, is hard for anyone to forget. He does come up a lot. His name is mentioned because of the spirit with which he investigated these cases. I also think what’s appealing about Doggett and Reyes is how much respect they have for Mulder. They very much respect and honor what came before them.

The X-Files Magazine: Simply put, will there be an episode that explains why he’s not there anymore?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes. That’s the biggest question we faced, how to gracefully address that while being true to the character because, obviously, we just don’t have David Duchovny. We wanted to come up with a worthy explanation for why he’s not there anymore. It was a big question going into the new season and it was partially explained by the end of the second episode. It’s a question that will come up again and again in the mythology episodes this season.

The X-Files Magazine: David Duchovny has said he’s willing to do another movie. Chris Carter has said there will be another movie. Do you have to bear a potential movie in mind while doing the day-to-day work on the show? And if so, isn’t that a pain?

Frank Spotnitz: It was a pain in the ass, but we’ve figured all that out, I think. We know where we we’re going this year .We have a very clear idea about this season will end for Scully and Mulder’s characters. There’s an anticipation that this is Gillian’s last year whether or not it’s the last year of the series, so we have prepared ourselves for that and have a master plan.

The X-Files Magazine: Let’s switch to the Lone Gunmen series. What went right and what went wrong with the show?

Frank Spotnitz: I thought a long more went right than went wrong. I wished very much the network had brought back the show for another year. There was a mighty campaign internally to keep it on the air. There was a lot of support for the show among the studio executives and some of the network executives too. I think they just took a gamble that they could do better. But I think The Lone Gunmen was a really good show. I was really proud of it. I’m very proud of the work the guys did and that Zuleikha Robinson and Stephen Snedden did. I think that the biggest curveball we threw the audiences was how comedic, how blatantly comedic the show was. And I don’t think people we’re expecting that from the people behind The X-Files. If I had to do it over again I might have tried to make the transition more slowly. Having said that, I think if the show had come back for another year it would have had a chance to settle in and find its audience. It’s a great disappointment.

The X-Files Magazine: After all of your years with the show, how would you define your contribution to The X-Files?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s a really hard question to answer. I was a neophyte coming into this show. I started as a staff writer. It was my first job, not only on TV, but in Hollywood. So much of this show is the singular vision of Chris Carter. He’s got a very very clear vision and I think everybody who has worked here has come to appreciate and respect that vision. Once having understood his point of view about storytelling I think we’ve all tried to bring our best work to it. And so it’s been a very collaborative atmosphere. This is my eighth year on the show, my seventh year with John and Vince. That’s a long association, a long time for a group of people to work together. I look at all of these episodes-I flip and see them on FX or in syndication on weekends-and I have memories of pieces of me and pieces of them in virtually every show. We’ve all poured our hearts and souls into it. I don’t think people generally understand, nor do they need to, particularly, how hard you have to work on a show like this and how much of your life is devoted to it. I’m very proud of it.

The X-Files Magazine: You directed your first episode in S8. How did Alone come about?

Frank Spotnitz: Season Eight was one of my best years, if not the best year, I’ve had on The X-Files. I wrote a lot of stand-alone episodes. The whole Lone Gunmen experience, though it ended, was a joy. I loved the show and I loved watching dailies every day. The directing was something I was kind of dragged into, kicking and screaming. I didn’t really have a great desire to do it. But I was convinced by a number of people, including David Duchovny, to do it before the chance went away. It was a bad time for me to do it in a way, because there was so much work to do as a writer and producer. We were still trying to figure out the season finale. My show went prep and I had no idea how it was going to end because I hadn’t finished the script. So I was extremely stressed. I had all the issues outside of being a director, plus the pressure of directing for the first time and not being entirely sure how that would go. But nobody told me how much fun it is to direct. You’ve got all these people who are trying to help you succeed. The actors were so good. I was thrilled with Robert and David and Gillian and also Jolie Jenkins, the guest actress who played Leyla Harrison. I was very proud of the show.

The X-Files Magazine: Last question. If this would be the last year of The X-Files or your last year with the show, what would you do for an encore?

Frank Spotnitz: This is the first time in six years where I’m only doing The X-Files. I’ve always been doing The X-Files and Millennium or Harsh Realm or The Lone Gunmen or Fight the Future. That’s been a great. But now I’m waiting to see what comes next, to see if Chris develops another series. If this is the end of the X-Files for me, I may go do something else, develop another show or write a movie. I don’t know what I’ll do next. But it’s kind of an exciting time.

The X-Files Magazine: Barbara Patrick

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine
Barbara Patrick

[typed by Megan]

The casting for “John Doe” took another step in instilling a sense of realism when the producers called on Robert Patrick’s real-life spouse to play his on-screen spouse. Actress Barbara Patrick made her debut as Doggett’s wife (albeit in flashback) for the first time on the show.

“I let them know that I was a real actress. I they ever wrote something about her down the line, I wanted them to know I could handle it,” Barbara explained.

But her X-Files debut wasn’t the first time she played opposite her husband. The couple actually met on the set of a movie, and they have played husband and wife on-screen in the past. “I’ve worked with him at least four times,” she says, alluding to such films as Out of these Rooms and Shogun Cop. “They usually think of casting me because they know I’m an actress, and you already have the built-in chemistry.”

Although her role is small, the crew treated her like a star. “I had one scene with my back to the camera, but the make-up and hair girls made me look so beautiful. I told them it wasn’t necessary, but they went out of their way,” Barbara says. “They treated me so well! It’s a good crew and good bunch of people.”

She has felt like part of The X-Files family since last season. “Everyone has been so great to us since Robert joined the show,” she says. “They work harder on The X-Files than anyone else on TV. Robert puts in 15-hour days, every day. Then he studies lines for an hour and goes to bed.”

Despite the grueling schedule, Barbara is please with her husband’s job. “I’m so happy to see him be successful and happy,” she says. “It’s so great for him to be doing that. He deserves to be the TV and movie star that he is.”

Barbara also has nothing but praise for the episode’s writer Vince Gilligan. “This was the first time I met Vince. He has a different voice in his writing, and I like his work a lot. I can see why the fans appreciate his episodes so much.”

It’s possible that Mrs. Doggett will return to The X-Files, but Barbara isn’t waiting by the phone. “I’ve heard it floated by me,” she laughs. “But I’ve been in this business too long, so I don’t believe anything until I get the call.”

Still, she enjoyed the job, taking its short-lived career in her stride. “I got paid to hang out with my husband all day,” she admits. “If I only did it this once, then that would be fine with me.”

The X-Files Magazine: Gish Fulfillment

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Gish Fulfillment
Ian Spelling

[typed by MarieEve]

After an impressive debut as special Agent Monica Reyes in Season Eight, Annabeth Gish has continued to bring a fresh feel to The X-Files. The actress chats to Ian Spelling about her – and her character’s – progress.

From that deliriously odd decidedly personal X-Files called exception versus reality, Annabeth Gish observes the following so far as her character, Special Agent Monica Reyes, is concerned : “I thought that she might be more esoteric, more ethereal, based on the way that Chris Carter and frank Spotnitz presented her to me at the beginning, when we first talked about how Reyes would develop,” the friendly and soft-spoken actress says. “But I think, actually, that might have been my own misconception, because she’s also an FBI agent and she has to have a lot of practical, tactical and logistical skills that she can perform. I don’t know that any agent could perform all those skills and be too esoteric and ethereal. So the performance aspect that’s been the most challenging is being a detective, as opposed to being a spiritual, open-minded woman. The way she is now, she’s a bit of both. She’s an FBI agent who has a bit of the ethereal in her. Chris and Frank are cultivating that more and more, but she has to deliver when it comes down to wielding a gun and doing her job. That’s been interesting for me.”

Asked about her initial reaction to her character, Gish is full of enthusiasm. “I liked Reyes’ disposition right away,” she says. “She had a willingness to believe without knowing much. She was open-minded and had this attraction to the other realm without pure, direct experience of it. I don’t think Monica had seen alien spacecraft before, but it was in her nature to have a sensitive, mystical thirst for whatever is out there. We’ve touched on that and I hope it’s an aspect that they’ll really pursue. There’s also a lot about her past that I don’t know yet. I’ve sort of collaborated on our idea about how she came to be here. They’re giving me some roots to feed on, but as with any series the characters evolve as the stories evolve. So I think that Chris and Frank are discovering who Monica is, just as I am. It’s happening simultaneously and I like what I’m seeing. What else would like to know about her ? I’d like to know about her experience with her family, her mother and father. I think there’s some mystical aspect to her background, and I’d like to explore that or at least touch on that. I think that knowing what happened in the past will give you a better understanding of why she is now. I also want to know why she’s into the occult.”

Gish arrived on The X-Files scene late in the eighth season, appearing first in “This Is Not Happening” and then returning a few episodes later for “Empedocles”, “Essence” and “Existence”. The character was quickly partnered with Special John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and thrown into the mix as Doggett and Scully (Gillian Anderson) dealt with the return of Mulder (David Duchovny) and the impending birth of Scully’s baby. The realm of series television was pretty new to Gish, who’d acted in the short-lived show “Courthouse” and a bunch of made-for-TV movies, including “Scarlett”, “Don’t Look Back”, “God’s New Plan” and, most recently “The Way She Moves”. However, Gish is best known for her work in such features as “Desert Bloom”, “Mystic Pizza”, “Wyatt Earp”, “Nixon”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Steel”, the box office hit “Double Jeopardy”, and the soon-to-be-released independent features “Buying the Cow” and “Race to Space”, the latter of which co-stars James Woods, Jake Lloyd of “Star Wars : Episode I – The Phantom Menace” fame, and X-Files veteran John O’Hurley.

Gish quickly discovered that The X-Files production team spends more days shooting an episode than just about any show on TV and that those days can easily run 12 or 14 hours or even longer. And, just as the rigors of weekly television were new to Gish, so too was much of The X-Files universe. “I was a casual X-Files watcher, but you have to understand that I’ve never been a religious watcher of any television program,” she says. “I’d definitely watched the first few season while I was in college. That was a big Friday night thing, watch The X-Files before you go out. As for the entries mythology… man, I tried to download some of it on the computer before I started with the show and it was so extensive and so deep and profound that I was kind of intimidated and daunted. The good thing was that Monica Reyes doesn’t have to know everything. She, like I was, was walking into the mythology kind of blind.”

Bye the time Season Nine rolled around, Reyes was on hand as a fulltime presence, while Mulder vanished into the night, Scully spent much of the her time at her new job at Quantico, and Doggett tried to fill Mulder’s shoes, win Scully’s affections and trust, and solve cases – of both the standalone and mythology variety – with Reyes. Meanwhile, with each passing day and each passing case, Reyes seemed to grow fonder and fonder of Doggett. Where any of this is leading, Gish has no idea. “The frustrating thing about series work is that you don’t know the entire story and you have to wait to know it,” explains the actress, who was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles. “And even though you don’t know it you have to play it out every week, a little bit at a time. So there are pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit or don’t match up yet or that’s frustrating as an actress. I want to know what’s going on between Doggett and Reyes. There’s this unrequited love. They’ve set up that Scully loves Mulder, Doggett loves Scully, Reyes loves Doggett and Follmer, Cary Elwes’ Character, loves Reyes. So they’ve set that up and it’s all unrequited. I think there’s a lot of sexual tension going on. And I think they should explore that, dammit!”

The ongoing, teasing, will-they/won’t-they nature of the romantic situation between Reyes-Doggett forces Gish and Patrick to carefully calibrate their performances, both when the characters are together and when they’re apart. A longing glance here or there might suggest something to the audience that Carter and Spotnitz never intended to convey. No episode highlighted the point better than “4-D”, the parallel universe show. Early on, Doggett brings his partner a housewarming gift of Polish sausage with mustard. The banter is sweet and when one character affectionately wipes some mustard off the face of the other, there’s no denying the sexual tension. Gish’s face registers comfort, warmth and familiarity, while Patrick’s betrays that plus a touch of conclusion : “Hmm, I think this is woman is into me”. Later, that scene gains relevance and impact when Doggett ends ward for Robert and me to film that [mustard-wiping sequence] because we haven’t gone there romantically as our characters”, Gish notes. “But that scene was so good. And the word is calibrate. That’s the perfect word. It’s frustrating, as I said, not to know where things are going, but it’s also great as an actress to always have an obstacle. My relationship with Doggett always has an obstacle in the way. Either he doesn’t want to love me or he’s in love with Scully. I don’t know if he even recognizes that Monica love him. It’ll be very interesting to see how they play it out, but Chris and Frank haven’t told me anything.”

While many of her scenes pair her with Patrick, Gish has found herself part of an ensemble cast. That’s been another new experience and one quite to her liking. “The amazing thing about Chris and Frank is that they have the ability to find actors who are interesting and as talented as hell,” Gish enthuses. “They really do attract great actors, from the main parts to the recurring parts to even the smallest roles. David, Gilliam and Robert, myself and Cary are completely different beings. I think we each have very different characteristics and qualities, and that’s good for the show. The one thing we all are, though, is dedicated and professional. It’s not like any of us are standing around, stomping our feet and saying, ‘Get the limo to take me home!’ We’re all about the work and we’re all dedicated to the work. I think Chris sort of demands that. He chooses actors who can execute that way, under these conditions.”

Gish has been called upon to do some strange things in a handful of her previous projects. She, along with Cameron Diaz, Courteney B. Vance and Ron Eldard, wined, dined, murdered and buried Jason Alexander, Ron Perlman and others in the black comedy “The Last Supper”. And, hell, she acted with Shaquille O’Neal in the comic book-based big-screen epic, “Steel”. The X-Files, however, regularly requires that Gish participate in a variety of crazy things, the kinds of things that prompt her to call her friends and family after a day’s work and, sometimes, right after she wraps a scene. “Doing some of the stuff in “Lord of the flies” was pretty darn weird,” she says, laughing. “Getting in that plastic sheath [which served as spider webbing] was pretty weird. I’ve had to look at hamburger meat that was used as the brain in a skull. Delivering the baby [in “Existence”] was pretty wild. One of the most exhilarating experiences was doing the episodes with the ship [“Nothing Important Happened Today, Part II”]. That explosion scene was one of the most extensive stunts I’d ever been a part of and it was totally exciting.”

Gish was obviously disappointed by the news of the series’ cancellation. She wanted the show to continue and she wants fans to give her and the show – which she acknowledges was starting to morph into something new – a fair shake. “I think people like what I’m doing,” she says, bringing the conversation to an end. “I’m sure there are those who are very loyal to Mulder and Scully and don’t want to have anything to do with Reyes and Doggett. As a whole, though, I think people are seeing good work and a good show.”

The X-Files Magazine: One of a Kind

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
One of a Kind
Joe Nazzaro

[typed by MarieEve]

Long-time X-Files writer/executive producer Vince Gilligan chats to Joe Nazzaro about the future of the show, his personal favourite X-Files episodes, the cancellation of The Lone Gunmen, and much, much more.

For the better part of a decade now, writer/executive producer Vince Gilligan has been trying to push the envelope as far as what could be done with an X-Files episode. “Hungry” came from the idea of telling a story completely from the bad guy’s point of view; the groundbreaking “X-Cops” is a letter-perfect homage to the pseudo-reality show “Cops”, right down to the cheesy production values and bizarre camera angles; and “Bad Blood” managed to combine Rashomon-style flashbacks with a goofy vampire parody.

Gilligan began writing for The X-Files with “Soft Light” at the end of Season Two, eventually landing a staff position and working his way up the show’s production hierarchy. His episodes range from the terrifying (“Unruhe”, “Paper Hearts”) to the comedic (“Small Potatoes”, the aforementioned “Bad Blood”). More recently, his time has been divided between script rewrites on The X-Files and working on the short-lived spin-off series The Lone Gunmen, the unexpected cancellation of which still dismays and puzzles him to this day.

This season, Gilligan has written the psychological thriller “John Doe”, and is preparing to write and direct episode 18, the first time he’s directed for the series since Season Seven’s “Je Souhaite”. And finally, he’ll be teaming up with fellow staff writers frank Spotnitz and John Shiban to tie up some of the threads from The Lone Gunmen, which means the next several weeks are going to be rather busy. Just before sitting down to write episode 18 (a story he couldn’t reveal), Gilligan sat down to talk about his work on the series…

Do you find the current season easier to write because you’ve got new characters and situations to work with, or is it more difficult without the Mulder/Scully dynamic ?

In some ways it’s easier, and more difficult in others. It’s easier to come up with new ideas and new situations to put our two new characters in, by virtue of the fact that they’ve been in so few episodes compared to Mulder and Scully. And it’s challenging and exciting to come up with ideas for them because they’re such interesting and original characters as far as I’m concerned. I absolutely love the character of john Doggett, and the way Robert Patrick play him. The same goes for Annabeth Gish who plays Monica Reyes. They’re two very unique characters, and they have, in my mind, a lot of striking differences from Mulder and Scully, so it’s great fun to write for them. On the other hand, with every X-Files episode we write, that’s one less idea that we can no longer go to when it’s time to come up with another episode. So it gets trickier with every episode we write, to come up with something new plot-wise, but on the other hand, yes, it’s easier in a sense to write the new characters.

Do you think the X-Files concept is strong enough in Season Nine without Mulder and Scully ?

I believe so. I know for a fact that there are many fans who would disagree with that, but in my mind, the basic idea of The X-Files is more than sound enough with a different cast. Provided the two new characters are just as strong and interesting as the old ones were, that is. At the end of the day, I think the show can be just as interesting with a new set of characters.

Is it easier concentrating your energies as a writer on just one show right now ?

To my mind, the only goof thing about The Lone Gunmen being cancelled is that we have half the work to do this year. Last year was the roughest single year I’ve had working on this show, because we were doing double duty on every-thinking, ‘Boy, I don’t want to get cancelled, but how the heck are we going to do this again next season ?’ Fox solved that problem for us very abruptly by cancelling the series, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. I enjoyed the show and its characters, and truly loved writing for it. Having said all that, I don’t know how we would have got through another year, because if we’d been doing it this year, we would have had 20-22 episode order, and we barely got through 13.

Why do you think the Lone Gunmen show didn’t catch on ?

That’s the question I’ve asked myself every day, because I’d love to know the answer. Maybe this was a show that had a specific time it should have come out and we missed that window. I don’t know what that window would have been, but I’ve got to think there was enough interesting plots and humor, and the characters were likeable and noble enough. In my mind, and I’m the most biased person you can ask, my thing was always, what’s not to love ? Maybe there wasn’t enough sex or sexiness or something. Maybe three guys hanging out together in a basement, maybe people need more romance; I don’t know what it is.

Tell us little bit about tour latest episode, “John Doe”.

This episode went through a lot of permutations, and wound up being a story about memory loss and amnesia. It’s about a character who can suck people’s memories right out of their head. In the teaser, Agent Doggett wakes up in this abandoned warehouse, where a crack addict is trying to steal the sneakers right off this feet. Doggett chases this guy out in a very bright landscape that turns out to be a Mexican border town, where Doggett promptly gets arrested, and we realise that our hero has absolutely no memory of who he is or he got here.

The bulk of the episode is about Doggett trying to remember who he is and falling in with some characters who lead him to believe it’s probably in his best interests to lay low and not to go back to the US where he imagines he’s from. It’s a different sort of episode. At the heart of it, the one little glimmer of a memory that keeps coming back to Doggett is something to do with a little boy who comes and wakes him. He imagines this little boy is his son, and that’s the emotional part of the episode, because as fans of the show know, Doggett lost his several years before he joined the X-Files unit, so that’s the key to him getting his memory back.

So it’s more of a psychological piece ?

There’s a fair bit of action to it, but it’s definitely a psychological piece, and not your standard X-Files. It was interesting to write, because the teaser and the entire first act is just Doggett in Mexico. We’re wondering the world, but it takes until act two for us to catch up with our other heroes in Washington and see what’s going on there. I always like to try and construct a different kind of structure, and “John Doe” is a different kind of story.

What made you decide you wanted to direct again this season ?

I feel like I’ve been lucky my whole life in that I’ve always knows what I wanted to do, even since I was a third grader. I always wanted to make movies, and in my mind, I wanted to do everything – I wanted to write and direct them, I wanted to do the special effects and make the costumes, and all these years later, I’ve been very lucky to have seen that dream fulfilled. Writing is a wonderful career, and I feel very blessed to get to do it, but I wanted to try directing as well. The first time I directed (on “Je Souhaite”), my plate was already full, and I was really nervous. In the back of my head, I thought, ‘Maybe I should call this off, what if I screw this up terribly and waste 20thCentury Fox’s money ? What if everyone just thinks I’m a fool and completely screw me up ?’ But something kept me going, and I guess it was the self knowledge that if I didn’t take this golden opportunity when I had it, I would forever be looking back and kicking myself in the butt for not having at least tried and failed. Now that I’ve done it, I’ve still got so much to learn, and that’s one of the reason I want to do it again.

So you’ve taken some lessons on board from that experience, which you’ll be using when writing and directing ?

Yes, and hopefully I can come up with something good. I’ve got a bit of an idea, but I really need to nail it down, because the clock is ticking and I need to get going on that script. I’m hoping to get going on that on that one sooner that later so I have time to polish it and make it the way I want it. That’s always our concern, are we going to have enough time ? Somehow it always works out, although there’s a lot of nervousness and a lot of ulcer-causing stress related to this job, but I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are you looking forward to tying up the threads from The Lone Gunmen later this season ?

As I said, I was so disappointed when it was cancelled, and I want to do right by the fans and the characters, so I hope we do it justice. It’s so hard to wrap something up perfectly in just 42 minutes and 26 seconds, which is all the time we have in an episode, but I hope we do a good job. I really don’t want to disappoint anybody, including us, and I don’t want to disappoint Bruce or Dean or Tom, our three Lone Gunmen, because all three of them are great guys, as are Steven Snedden (Jimmy Bond) and Zuleikha Robinson (Yves Harlow). All five of them are wonderful actors, and wonderful people to work with, so I hope we don’t disappoint them either.

What do you look on as your strengths as a writer on The X-Files ?

Well, I can tell you where my strengths don’t lie. I definitely don’t have a facility for the mythology episodes. There was only one that I was actually involved in as a writer, and that was the quasi-mythology episode, “Memento Mori”. I’ll be honest, I love watching the mythology episode, but I watch them as a fan. I don’t have that much to do with them. They’re a different king of story-telling, and a very good kind, but one I don’t feel particularly equipped for. If I had strength on the show, it would be for the stand-alone episodes that don’t deal with the mythology or the over-arcing mythology of the series. That would be both my strength is the actual sitting down and writing of an episode. I say that because we as producers have a lot different hats to wear during the course of production on an episode. We have to come up with a story and beat it out brick by brick before anyone starts writing. And then we have to cast the episode and edit it and listen to the music, give input into the visual FX producers, and all of these things are part and parcel of our job. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about those aspects, but I guess my strength lies in actually taking a finished ‘board’ – which is the hashed-out beat by beat plot of the story – and turning it into a finished script. If I have a strength, that’s where it lies.

Looking back over the many episodes you’ve written for the series, are there any particular favourites that come to mind ?

That’s a good question. The truth is, I don’t really have a favourite. I’ve never been the kind of person who had a favourite food or soft drink or a favourite anything. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to pare anything down to one favourite, and that goes for the episodes I’ve written. As far as episodes I’ve written but just enjoyed as a viewer, I’d be hard-pressed to say which one is my favorite.

Do you have a shortlist ?

Of mine ? Well, “Bad Blood”, “Pusher”, “Paper Hearts”, “Hungry”, “Je Souhaite” just because it was so much fun, along with “X-Cops”. One that I was actually really proud of is “Folie à Deux”, which I don’t think was as enjoyed by the fans as I would have hoped, but to this day is still one of my favorites.

Any you’d like to forget ?

I feel very fortunate in that the episodes I’ve worked on or rewritten, there are some I’m not as proud of. But I can honestly say there’s not a single episode of this series that I would abscond with and bury in the middle of the woods. I’m just so proud to be a part of this series that was great before I got here, and to this day, nine years later, is still great. It was a show I was a fan of before I ever had anything to do with it, and I’d still be a fan of it today if I’d never joined the staff. I think it’s a strong show regardless of anything I ever did, but I’m also proud of what I’ve done while here as well. I’m very proud of this show, and I’m biased I’ll admit, but I hope it’s going to have a place in TV history.

DGA Magazine: Directing The X-Files

Feb-??-2002
DGA Magazine
Directing The X-Files

Kim Manners looks into his monitors as yet another take is completed on “Audrey Pauley,” episode 13 of the ninth season of The X-Files. “Cut – Print it! Next!” he yells after doing that little karate move with his hands that everybody around the set imitates. The crew immediately picks up and begins to arrange the next setup, seemingly willing to do anything to ‘Mind Their Manners.’ The director comfortably steps aside for an interview as his crew happily prepares another shot.

It’s a virtual Kim Manners Love fest on Stage 5 at 20th Century-Fox. Actress Annabeth Gish (Agent Monica Reyes) dashes by, eager to put her two cents on tape: “He’s one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with.” The respect goes both ways. “These actors are talented enough; they come in and you believe them,” Manners said. “And when you believe the actors, the audience believes it.”

Manners is shooting his 50th episode of the show this day. The series will end later this year, with the completion of a total of 201 episodes, a quarter of them directed by one man. There have been a number of top-notch directors over the years, and the list continues to grow.

The directors are only part of a team that has endured a change in locale (from Vancouver to Los Angeles), which required replacing the entire crew, as well as major changes to the cast. But the tone and style of the show have remained consistent, under executive producer Chris Carter’s leadership.

The X-Files has a tightly functioning team of producers, writers, directors, UPMs and ADs that is able to turn out one of the more complicated shows on television, all in an 11-day shooting schedule. “We have all the special effects, all the scope, all the production value that you’d have in a feature film, just in a compact period of time,” 1st AD Barry Thomas said. “The difficulty is shooting a one-hour movie in eight main unit days.”

Each episode is shot using one of two alternating director/AD teams, doing principal photography with the main unit for eight days, followed by three days of 2nd unit work. The director follows his episode into the 2nd unit, while the main unit begins work on the next episode with yet another director and AD. The 2nd unit has its own AD and 2nd ADs. “The 2nd unit’s really another main unit,” line producer Harry V. Bring said. “It’s not like we give them all the car crashes and all the stunts. It’s whatever fits the schedule with the actors’ scheduling. They get drama scenes, spooky scenes, monster scenes, just like the 1st unit. We don’t necessarily delineate.”

Planning, of course, is a primary element in keeping The X-Files machine running smoothly, and communication is essential. The process starts with a “concept meeting,” which occurs upon delivery of an episode’s script, seven days before filming is to begin. The concept meeting is run by that episode’s 1st AD, and is attended by the director and the heads of the major departments – production design, props, costume, special effects and visual effects. The AD goes around the table and gives each department head the opportunity to answer any questions they may have about the script as they begin their prep. “Chris Carter is intimately involved,” said UPM/co-producer Tim Silver. “Chris’s ideas and his concepts for the series and for each episode can be seen in each frame. One way or another, it’s there.”

Seven days later, on the day before shooting, a “production meeting” is held, attended, once again, by the director and department heads. In this case, instead of going over the script department-by-department, the group goes through the script from beginning to end. “We go scene by scene through the script, letting anybody jump in with questions,” executive producer Frank Spotnitz explained.

Later that day, a “tone meeting” is held, attended by the director, the script’s writer and one of the senior producers, either Carter, Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan or John Shiban, all of whom are also writers for the show. “Again, we start on page one, and we go to the last page,” Spotnitz said. “We are as specific as we can be about who the characters are, what’s motivating them, what’s working underneath the surface. Everything we can think of to talk about to ensure that the director is successful.” The tone meeting marks “the day before you hit the beach,” according to Chris Carter. “We discuss what we want to make sure that we do and make sure that we don’t do.”

“Those meetings were what created the magic in the storytelling,” recalled Rob Bowman, who directed X-Files for seven seasons, as well as directed The X-Files feature film. “It was there that I could look into the writer’s eyes. I was able to get into their head, and they were able to get into mine. Maybe there’s something I didn’t understand in the script, or maybe I misinterpreted something. You can just walk through those things.” Often, for Bowman, after weeks of shooting 14-hour days, remembering those conversations provided the inspiration to complete a scene, sometimes even making use of a recording made of them. “I might be feeling, ‘I just want to crawl into a hole and die right now, I’m so cold and tired.’ And I play that tape, and I could hear myself and the writer – most often it was Chris – talking enthusiastically, like campfire storytelling. You’re put back in that moment when you weren’t tired, and you say, ‘Oh, that’s right, now I remember.'”

The writer on The X-Files is intimately involved with the look of his episode – even to the point of providing shot direction in the script. “That’s kind of something unusual about this show,” Spotnitz said. “But the truth is, if you didn’t do that on an X-Files show, you’d just never make it.”

X-Files scripts, Manners says, are the tops. The best ones “are the scripts that, when I read them, visually I am excited. When I read the script, I go to the movies.”

The movies Manners saw as a boy were those of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Vincent Price – “This is my niche,” he said. The director recalled one of his X-Files shows, “Home,” written by Glen Morgan and Jim Wong, which featured three mutant brothers and their armless and legless mother, who lived in a cart under a bed, and with whom they had an incestuous relationship. “The picture opened with this woman giving birth on a kitchen table during a thunderstorm. You never saw the baby, but these three brothers carried it outside and buried it alive, because they didn’t want this terrible genealogy to continue. I read it, and I went, ‘Now this is a classic horror script.’ There are episodes that, when you read them – bang! – the images just leap into your head.”

Believability is the key goal for The X-Files, and that, said Manners, is the result of a combination of good scripts, good acting and good directing.

“This is a very difficult show. If you don’t do this show right, it would be the most ridiculous show on television. I mean, I directed an episode, ‘Leonard Betts,’ where a guy had his head cut off in the teaser, and he grew a new one.” If the show is grounded in reality, though, through solid acting performances and quality writing, said Bowman, “we found out that you’ve actually got latitude to do some pretty absurd things. If you can get people at the end of an episode to shake their head and laugh and say, ‘I don’t know – maybe,’ then that is a huge victory.”

Manners himself comes from a showbiz family. His father, Sam, was a production manager on such TV classics as Route 66 and The Wild Wild West. Kim was “a set rat,” he said, both watching and participating, as a child actor, appearing in his first commercial at the age of 3, selling Chevrolets. A year later, on his way home from watching William Beaudine, Sr., whom he called “Gramps,” direct an episode of Rin Tin Tin, the younger Manners told his father, “I want to do what Gramps does when I grow up. He gets to tell the cowboys and Indians what to do.”

A few decades later, Manners found himself climbing his way up the ladder, working as an assistant director and UPM on a number of shows before landing the title of director in 1978 on an episode of Charlie’s Angels. “I’ve been through all of them: the Simon and Simons, the Hardcastle and McCormicks, the Stingrays, the Wiseguys, the 21 Jump Streets.” Manners joined The X-Files during its second season on recommendation from both Bowman, who’d been with the show on its first season, and writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, with whom he had worked on 21 Jump Street.

Manners had worked on and off for years in Vancouver, where The X-Files was filmed for its first five seasons, and eventually was hired “in passing” by Chris Carter, he said, in the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel. “He brings a wealth and breadth of experience that few television directors have,” Carter said of Manners, “particularly if you consider the hours of TV and amount of film that he has shot. He understands everything about filmmaking.”

Manners’ experience as both a production manager and as an AD is not lost on the crew either. “Having come from a production manager background,” said line producer Harry Bring, “he thinks that way when he’s plotting out his day and moves, very efficiently, through the day to maximize it. His creative eye is wonderful, his storytelling is wonderful, and he does diligent homework.” Manners is renowned on the set for his preparedness. “Kim is the best prepared director I’ve ever worked with,” said 1st AD Barry Thomas. “He’s so prepared that he calls me on the weekends, prior to a week’s shooting, and gives me the number of setups and any special equipment notes I need for the entire week.”

“On Monday morning, I know every shot that I want for the week,” Manners said. “I’ll get with my 1st AD, and I’ll give him the number of shots in each scene, and we’ll talk about how best to organize it. I look for an assistant to help me organize the most efficient way to approach a week’s work. I’ve been working with Barry [Thomas] so long – he knows what I want: To stay ahead of me. Keep feeding me. Keep the crew informed.”

From the crew, the feeling is mutual, according to Thomas. “The crew appreciates his ability to compromise, to shoot efficiently, and to not waste time. It’s so important in episodic television, where you’ve got to be quick on your feet and come up with compromises and solutions quickly.”

The actors love him, as well, both for his compassion and respect for them, and for his directing skill. “He has an extraordinary visual eye,” lead actress Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully) said of the director. “He knows everything about the camera and about what one will see – where to put the camera in a shot in order to move the story forward.” For instance, filming repeated conversations on the set of FBI Assistant Director Skinner’s office could easily become run-of-the-mill. “But it’s never tired, it’s never just ‘another episode of television’ to him,” Spotnitz added. “He kills himself every time out, puts his heart and soul into it. And everybody sees it.”

Manners rarely rehearses his actors, except, perhaps, for the camera crew for a difficult move. “We’ll normally shoot the rehearsal,” he said. “I like the spontaneity of it. And most of the actors would rather shoot it first time.” He is also intimately involved with post-production. “What airs is most often my cut.” And because he is a co-executive producer, and “because I’ve been here so long,” his word counts when going over the other producers’ notes in the editing room. “I must say, they’re very willing to cut their dialogue and preserve some of the shots that we worked so hard to get. So it’s a very satisfying environment in that regard.”

Bowman has an equal respect for his former directing partner, with whom he would alternate each week (along with director R.W. Goodwin, who was with the show for its first five years) until his departure after season seven. “I’ve seen Kim tired, well beyond what’s good for him, and still right on his toes.” Bowman, currently completing Spyglass Entertainment/Disney’s summer fantasy, Reign of Fire, became attracted to X-Files after seeing a commercial for the series’ pilot. Raised on such shows as The Night Stalker and Night Gallery, he was hooked by the trailer, and eventually got on board, directing his first episode in the first season, “Gender Bender.” “I thought the whole process and the way the team worked and the way Chris [Carter] was aiming the show was something I wanted to be a part of badly. So I asked to come back as much as possible.”

He directed again in the show’s second season, after which Carter asked him to stay on full time as a producer/director. “It took me about a second and a half to make that decision,” he recalled.

According to Manners, he and Bowman set the tone for the series. “Robby and I set a real different look for the show. It’s a much different look in seasons two and three than in season one. Our styles are similar but not exact.”

“Rob is very precise, very aware of everything going on in the scene,” said Spotnitz. He’s “always looking for the detail that’s going to distinguish that moment from any other moment ever done.” Bowman has great respect for actors – going as far as studying acting himself in order to better understand their craft. “It completely changed my point of view about where my paint brush should go on the canvas, since the actor was going to be the one telling my story,” he said.

While Manners is “very good at the monster episodes,” Bowman said, his own preference was for the “conspiracy” stories. “At one point, I told Chris, ‘Please don’t give me those monster episodes.’ I just have such a tough time looking at the man in a rubber suit and taking it seriously.” The balance between the two was “a perfect marriage,” he said.

After Bowman left the show, he was replaced by several directors, among them Tony Wharmby, who recently had to leave to attend to personal matters, though not before leaving his own mark on the show. “Tony is a wonderful director of actors,” Carter said. “He doesn’t sit at the monitor like the rest of us do. He will stay right there with the actors and direct them from inside the room or next to the camera. And while he makes beautiful pictures, the performance is what matters to him.”

Interestingly, Carter himself has directed a number of episodes over the years (typically one or two per year). That number will increase, as he steps in to take up the slack caused by Wharmby’s absence, increasing the workload on the show’s creator, executive producer, chief writer and overall mastermind. He first took on the job in the series’ second year, when director Bryan Spicer was unable to do a scheduled episode. “I gave myself the job,” Carter said. “I was director by day, a writer by night – rewriting episodes coming up, planning the direction of the show, trying to produce other episodes. It was something that required a tremendous focus, I learned.”

Directing by cast and crew is something The X-Files regularly affords its family members, and, in fact, encourages. After seeing her cast-mate, David Duchovny, direct an episode, Gillian Anderson finally answered the call two years ago, not only directing but writing the script herself. Her show, “All Things,” focused on her own character’s personal life and relationships.

The experience was a great learning experience for Anderson, in all facets of filmmaking. With regard to directing other actors, “I’m actually surprised I hadn’t thought about this,” she admits. “Being an actor, I kind of assumed that I would know what to say to the actors. But that wasn’t the case.” Anderson involved herself in everything, from casting to post-production.

“I think that was a turning point in Gillian’s career,” commented her boss, Chris Carter. “I can see it now, especially directing her as an actress, that she understands camera direction in a way that she might not have before.” Anderson plans on continuing her directing career after the show ends, having optioned a book, Speed of Light, which she is currently adapting and plans to direct.

Actors are not the only X-Files’ family members to direct. 1st AD Barry Thomas directed an episode last year, as did executive producer Frank Spotnitz, who also took another turn in the current season. “This is my eighth year on the show, so I was very late to attempt it,” he admits. He was reluctant about the idea of directing, but eventually warmed to the idea. “It’s a very difficult show, because performance is really important to make something that’s kind of unbelievable seem believable. There are also very specific visual requirements. And when you’re trying to scare people or create suspense, if the camera’s not in the right place by even a few degrees, it makes a huge difference.” Having written the two scripts he shot helped to give him an edge. “When you’ve written the material yourself, it’s already in your own head, you understand all of the dramatic objectives.”

Co-executive producer Michelle MacLaren also took a shot this year, skillfully directing writer Vince Gilligan’s “John Doe.” MacLaren had wanted to direct for some time, taking directing courses to prepare her. Carter and Spotnitz agreed, scheduling MacLaren in early in the season, avoiding having the director’s duties interfere with her already heavy workload as a producer. Like the others, Michelle sought guidance from Manners, who went over breaking down the script, doing homework and preparing shot lists. “The most powerful thing he said to me was that he imagines it all cut together, and he sees the movie in his head, really visualizes it.” Chris Carter gave her some important advice, as well: “Make sure that the camera is always telling the story.”

“It’s a very, very supportive, creative atmosphere here,” she said. “And Chris is really generous in giving first-time directors a shot. To direct for your first time on a show like this is pretty incredible.”

It’s not always easy bringing in new directors on an established show, Carter said. “You step onto a moving platform here. You really need to understand the characters, and you need to be able to understand the mood.” Carter is always willing to give a new director a chance, though, “Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. And when you find a hit, you try to keep that person in the camp.”

In the last few years, the X-Files’ team has had to deal with two major changes – the introduction of new lead characters and a major move from Canada to Los Angeles. Following the announcement of David Duchovny’s departure two years ago (though his character has returned occasionally after being brought back to life, X-Files style), Anderson, who had played his partner, decided she, too, would be moving on after this season. Though the series is to come to an end this year, Anderson’s character’s role had been scaled back, first with the introduction of actor Robert Patrick’s Agent John Doggett character and, more recently, Annabeth Gish’s Agent Monica Reyes.

The changes have been both a challenge and an opportunity. “We wanted to preserve the Mulder/Scully relationships after David Duchovny left the show,” explained Spotnitz. “We knew all along that we were going to introduce another pair of characters,” Patrick’s Doggett at the beginning of the eighth season to replace Duchovny, and then Gish for a few episodes at the end of that season and all of the ninth. “Very consciously, you know you need the skeptic and believer characters. But we didn’t want to undermine or tarnish the Mulder/Scully relationship by having Scully have a new partner.”

And how have the directors handled the change? “It was very exciting for me when Robert Patrick came on,” Manners said. “After being on the show for seven seasons, suddenly I’ve got rebirth, creatively, because I’ve got a new guy to play with. All new options. Then Annabeth came in. So for me, I’ve got a whole new reason to get out of bed in the morning.” And, as with the directors, Manners assisted the new lead actors in fitting into their roles. “He sort of grandfathered me in,” Gish said. “He was kind of my umbilical cord, pulling me in and welcoming me. He sat down with me, wanting to find out how I work, and also to communicate the way the show works. He was like my ‘sponsor.'”

The move from shooting in Vancouver (based at North Shore Studios) to sunny California was similarly both a challenge and a nice change. “The obvious difference is the climate,” explained Bowman. Manners added that, “You realize that rain should be appreciated through a window.”

The change was brought on at David Duchovny’s suggestion, who wanted to return south. “After I was done kissing David,” Manners joked, “we moved to Los Angeles, and I was the happiest guy on the freeway.”

The change in locale allowed changes in story, as well, as new types of locations could be utilized. “More often than not, in Vancouver, we got moody clouds and fog and rain. In Los Angeles, you’ve got chipper yellow sun, Mexican restaurants and palm trees,” explained Bowman.

“One of our editors made a joke the first season in Los Angeles: ‘The show used to be dark and wet, and now it’s dark and dry,'” Spotnitz said.

The move to Los Angeles also allowed the writing and producing team, who were always based in Los Angeles, to be near the camera, which rarely occurred in Vancouver, save for a three-day trip north to prep each episode. “We ended up being insulated from an awful lot of day-to-day decisions,” said Spotnitz, “and now that’s not true.”

The difficulties came in having to give up a well-loved crew/family in Vancouver and quickly build a new one in Los Angeles, which, Spotnitz said, was partly accomplished by bringing in a number of people from the 1998 X-Files theatrical feature. “Leaving those people behind, who had basically helped make life for the show, was the hardest for me,” said Rob Bowman.

However, moving to Los Angeles meant building a team out of the world’s best crewmembers. “We were in a very enviable position moving here in that we were already a top show. We got here, and we kind of had our pick of the town,” Spotnitz said.

Here’s a crew that’s basically got to take a show that’s already become semi-legendary, and take the baton and try to cross the finish line and not lose the lead,” added Bowman. “Quickly, deftly, and with great dexterity, the L.A. crew just jumped right in and found equally as strong a visual vocabulary.”

So how will The X-Files end when filming wraps later this year? A two-parter – both parts to be directed by Manners – will bring the series to a close, though that’s not the end of the story. “The plan, hopefully, is that X-Files will become a movie series,” Carter said. “But that’s a fantasy, and we’ve got to still do them one at a time.” In the meantime, he and Spotnitz are developing an untitled feature project for Miramax/Dimension, and, Carter said, he still owes Fox another pilot.

And what of Kim Manners? “I’m hoping to move into long forms. I’d love to do films for theatrical release. But leaving the X-Files family will not be easy. This is a very difficult show. And we each help each other get through it. It’ll never be that way again. I’m savoring these last episodes that I have to direct. And they’re memories that I’ll never forget.”

Cult Times: Black Once Again

Feb-01-2002
Cult Times
Black Once Again

He’s played pretty much every kind of role under the sun, but Lance Henriksen still has a special place in his heart for Frank Black…

In his extensive career spanning over 30 years, Lance Henriksen must have played every type of character under the sun. While still most famous among genre fans for his role as Bishop in the Alien movies, many will also know him from his stint as FBI profiler Frank Black in Millennium. After hanging on a knife edge at the end of each season, Millennium finally shut up shop after three seasons. Does the actor wish it had carried on past this point? “It would have been nice, but believe me, everything worked out for the best,” he considers. “I’m back to films now, there’s no looking back and feeling sad about anything, it’s just the way it is. I never regret anything like that, because there are so many elements of it that are out of my hands.

“I was in a truck heading down [with some crew members] from Vancouver to LA to jump on a plane, and when [the powers that be] said it was cancelled, we cheered. We were laughing and cheering and they were going, ‘Are you laughing and cheering?’ and we said, ‘Yeah!’ They said, ‘Well, we’re kind of sad,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s the way it goes, you know? I mean, what are we supposed to do?’ Honest emotions. We were exhausted, man, we were totally wiped out!

“Here’s the thing,” Henriksen considers, when asked if Millennium’s seasonal format alterations became problematic. “Even marriages don’t work if the people involved in it don’t grow together. How can they expect a corporate thing like a television show to work if there’s no growth? You can’t just keep plodding along; if that happens, you’re wasting your life. And I think it was some of the best television I’ve ever seen, some of those shows that we did on Millennium. I’m not just wagging my own tail, I honestly believe that. Some of those shows were good writing and were shot really well and the actors that came to visit on those shows, some of them were incredible and it went very well. That’s all you can ask for. I just think one of the reasons it went out was because it didn’t grow. Change is not necessarily growth.”

In many ways it was up to Henriksen to keep viewers tuning in, with Frank Black being pretty much the only unchanging element of the ongoing story. Unfortunately, it was something of a case of one step forward and two steps back.

“Yeah, from one show to the next you didn’t know who was your enemy and who was your friend. Yet you couldn’t express it. It wasn’t like they’d let Frank Black sit down and say, ‘You know, I feel like I’m going really insane, one day you’re my friend, the next day I wanna kill you.’ The humour wasn’t allowed, and neither were the street smarts. I really am gonna look forward to doing a show where there’s humour, even in a dramatic thing. We know that five minutes after you almost go off the road in a car and you’re almost killed, you’re laughing. You have to, you have to let it out, and that’s the thing that was missing. I don’t care how much of a dirge anybody thinks sells, it doesn’t, not as well.”

When Millennium finally bit the dust, Chris Carter offered Frank Black and Henriksen the chance to come back for an episode of The X-Files, the Season Seven episode cunningly entitled “Millennium.” Curiously, the story related the news that the Millennium Group were all being killed, only to be reanimated as zombies, leading Mulder to enlist Frank’s consulting help on the case. Fans of the original, however, were wondering how long this had been the Millennium Group’s ultimate, rather ridiculous, plan and what had gone wrong. They weren’t alone, agrees a chuckling Henriksen.

“I gotta tell you, man, the way I got pitched this by Chris Carter, the reason I went on The X-Files, he said to me, ‘This is gonna be closure for Millennium,’ and I went, ‘Oh God, great, Chris, I can’t wait to read the script.’ So the day I got to the set to do the show, I get the script and I’m facing zombies. Now what has that got to do with the closing of Millennium? Absolutely nothing! And I thought, ‘That’s closure for Millennium, all right. Yeah, right.’

“I thought, ‘They’re gonna give dignity to Millennium and here comes a show on The X-Files to give it dignity and it became zombies! I went, ‘Oh shit, I’m going down in flames!'” He bursts out laughing again. “I have to laugh about it, man. But you get sold the bill of goods. If somebody says to you, ‘This is a tribute to something’, you’re gonna want to believe it, and so you go, ‘Oh good, okay.’ And then when you get there and it’s in a taste and style that you’re not interested in, it’s pretty funny. Now it’s hysterical!” he chuckles again.

But would he ever return to The X-Files for another try? “They wouldn’t want me on there!” he laughs, continuing, “Listen, I’m a little bit like a boxer. You put the opponent up in front of me and I’ll deal with it, you know what I mean? And I don’t mean The X-Files is the opponent in a negative way, I mean it’s a sport. What we do, acting, is a combination of a love affair and a sport. I’d try anything and I’ll go for it. I’m not afraid of anything.

“I’ve never tried to have a career where I’ve calculated [everything]. It’s been more like a farm where you get up in the morning and you step out and you smell the air and you get out there and you try to grow something. I hear they’re gonna do an X-Files movie and I think they’d be insane not to bring Frank Black into it. Without zombies,” he laughs. “Bring him into the mix, man. He’s a force to be reckoned with, or at least he’s game, he’s adventurous. He’s not just sitting in an office somewhere. He can handle anything.”

While he’s waiting for this offer, though, Henriksen has a nice little sideline going on: he makes and sells his own pottery, each piece hand-crafted. “Everybody needs labour,” he begins, keen to discuss his work. “You do, I do, everyone does. There’s rest in labour, there’s pride in it. You’ve gotta be able to do something, even if it’s just digging in a garden, but you gotta do it every day when you’re not doing the thing that makes you a living. Now, acting is certainly an art form, but pottery for me is spiritual.

“I make pottery, dinnerware and stuff, that people can eat off and use. It’s not just artsy stuff like gargoyles, but when you put food on my pottery, it looks really beautiful, it makes you feel like this is an occasion, and that’s what I work for. I love doing it. We’ve put up a website this year for the first time and it’s paying off because it’s getting exposure. I don’t like galleries. I think galleries are just extortionist. I don’t wanna go that route.

“I took a 1973 military truck and restored it completely,” explains the actor when asked how he’s been getting his work out to the public. It’s not the kind of truck you’d miss either, as the name of the pottery, ‘Screaming Red Ass’, is on the side. “What [that] means,” explains Henriksen, “is during the Second World War there was an American flying fortress; they painted a jackass on the nose of their airplane and put ‘Screaming Red Ass’ [on it]. Pottery just takes itself so seriously, I like to be more blasphemous about it. I don’t wanna be considered one of the old ladies that are making teacups. And that truck, I sell pottery right off the back of it; I get to meet people and talk to them about what they like.”

Of course, making pottery is a useful skill to have when you’re an actor and not always employed. “It’s not only that,” Henriksen reveals, “But I will not sit around and wait for somebody else’s call to live. That’s a big mistake. If I’ve got a movie to do and I have a month to get ready for it, I do it organically. So it’s very important for me to have a good sense of time, time being used well and time just lived. I’m not waiting to live any more of my life.”

The X-Files Magazine: Doggett’s Pursuit

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Doggett’s Pursuit
Ian Spelling

[typed by Megan]

Amazed us all in Season Eight, and now he’s for bigger and better things in Season 9 (and beyond…?). Robert Patrick chats about Special Agent John Doggett

“I love our show,” Robert Patrick enthuses of The X-Files. “A lot of people love The X-Files. Hopefully, it’s good diversion. One of the big things about The X-Files is that it’s often about questioning authority and not just accepting everything your government tells you is true. I think a lot of it applies right now, in this new world we’re in since September 11. That’s a big thing. Plus, I’d like to think that our characters are heroic and patriotic and on the side of good. They’re not nearly as heroic as the real police and firemen, but our intentions are good. We, as actors, are trying to make our characters people of virtue.”

Patrick, of course, joined The X-Files in Season Eight as Special Agent John Doggett, the man brought in to head up the investigation into the disappearance of Fox Mulder. Doggett initially displayed plenty of doubt. But based on what he himself saw and experienced – everything from shapeshifters to possible alien babies, from death to rebirth (via regurgitation!) – he is becoming increasingly faced with the possibility that perhaps Mulder wasn’t crazy and that perhaps Dana Scully has every reason in the world to believe in Mulder and his cause. Heck, by the end of Season Eight, after dealing with the imminent arrival of Scully’s baby, interacting a few times on missions with Mulder, and facing the possibility that he himself possesses some sort of psychic ability that may tie into the death of his son, Doggett was very close to becoming, well, less of a doubter…

“I thought there were a number of important episodes and moments,” Patrick says of Season Eight. “I think there were a lot of stand-alone episodes we did that were good experiences and good episodes. The one that sticks out is ‘Via Negativa’,” he says of the episode which earned The X-Files its second viewer discretion warning for graphic content (the first being for Season Four’s “Home”). “That was the one where Doggett’s mind was possessed by the leader of a religious group that was invading people’s psyches and getting them to commit these atrocities on his behalf. He started to get into my head. That was a great experience as an actor. It was challenging and a lot of fun. So far as specific character moments, I think he gained Scully’s trust and respect. He came through in the sense that he found Mulder. He gained respect for and insight into Mulder and what he’s done. He was a man of his word and accomplished his goal, and all the while he did that protecting Scully, watching after her and her best interests. Even though he loves Scully, he realized that he was there to protect her, and he didn’t intrude on her relationship Mulder. He stood back and respected that. I thought that was a great thing.

“I was also pleased with the scenes between Doggett and Mulder,” Patrick continues. “I thought they were great, and Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz did a great job of respecting both characters, allowing them to get together and find respect for each other. I really loved the way they wrote those scenes.

David Duchovny, the actor who of course portrayed Special Agent Fox Mulder from the very first episode, left the show at the end of Season Eight. Patrick comments on the actor and their brief working relationship. “I think David and I both responded as actors with mutual respect toward each other, and that carried over to the characters. It all went hand-in-hand. You also have to realize that a lot of what Chris and Frank wrote reflected what was going on in real life, in terms of me being a new actor on the show. Mulder and Doggett did a few missions together, but we were bitching in the corners of the office. It’s his office and I have respect for that, but I’m now there and I have a job to do. So what do I do? I can’t not have a backbone. I think Chris and Frank did a great job writing that transition and I commend David for the way he handled it. I thought it was first-rate all the way down the line.”

So, did Duchovny ever approach Patrick and say, either directly or in essence, ‘I’m not coming back. It’s all yours. Good luck’? “David and I had a couple of conversations about it and they went like this,” Patrick recalls. “David said, ‘Man, I’m having fun. This is fun. I’m really enjoying working with you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think it’s great. I want you to come back whenever you want and I hope you know that.’ He said, ‘I do and I will, maybe. I’ve got to see how things progress and how they write.’

“That’s how it went for a while,” says Patrick “Then, as things progressed, I got the sense that he wanted to stick with his game plan of saying goodbye and moving on. But I never got a definitive [answer] until the end. He said, ‘Hey man, you’ve got a great job. You’re doing a great job. Just have fun with it.’

“He probably decided that, after eight years, enough was a enough,” Patrick continues. “I’m not going to speak for him, but I want to convey that it was a great experience working with him. I think he really enjoyed it. But I think as he got back into it, he thought, ‘You know, I said I’m going to walk away and I’m going to stick to that.’ He never flat-out said that to me, but that was the sense I got.”

Once it become clear that Duchovny was not coming back, the fate of the series was thrown into question, and not just because of Duchovny’s departure. Carter, just before the eighth season kicked off, signed a one-year contract. And as of the season ended, Carter hard yet to sign on for year nine. Fans wondered if Carter would relinquish his day-to-day writing and producing duties. He did return, but only at the very last minute, after Spotnitz and company had started work on upcoming episodes.

Then there was the matter of Gillian Anderson. She was under contract for a ninth season, but made it clear in interviews that she’d prefer to move on with her career and spend more time with her daughter. Patrick, meanwhile, stood on the sidelines and awaited word of the show’s fate, though he figured it would all work out.

“I’m going to be presumptuous and say I don’t think there’s ever been a show like The X-Files,,” he says. “It’s an expensive show. It’s a fantastic-looking show. They tell stories no other show tells. They try to do things on The X-Files in 8 days of shooting an episode that are incredibly difficult. The hours are grueling. We hear from other people on other one-hour dramas about their 12-hour days, and we’ll be in our 18th hour. The schedule is grueling. There’s not a lot of free time. There were some times last year when I was really treading water, going, ‘My God, I hope I make it.’ It can be a little overwhelming, not just for me, but also the whole crew because the show is so ambitious and there’s so much money behind it. We sometimes do 80 hours a week. Chris takes two weeks off a year, but otherwise he’s got to eat, drink and sleep The X-Files. The whole thing is on his shoulders. I’m sure he probably gives it some thought. ‘Do I want to continue?’ I know how hard Gillian works. And she’s been there from the beginning. I know how hard David worked. I know how hard I work. That’s why I’m excited that the show is now more of an ensemble show. If it’s an ensemble, there are more people and that senses everyone’s workload. It’s certainly easier than having just two people who are in every scene together. We can spread the workload around. So if Chris and Gillian are tired, it has nothing to do with the show, the subject matter or the enthusiasm we all have for the creative part of the show. I think it’s just the arduous schedule that gets to you.

“As I said last year, when I started on the show, I focused on the work, did the best I could and figured ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ And I kind of feel I stuck to the game plan and it worked, thank God. The fans stayed tuned and they seemed to accept Doggett as a new character. I don’t think his being there threatened anybody. I think people, even the Mulder fans, felt that Doggett was there to support all the good work that Mulder had done. And that worked dually, as characters and actors. I think the fans also realized that I was there support David and all the good work that he’d done.”

Season Nine got underway in November with the “Nothing Important Happened Today” two-parter and the show had indeed morphed into an ensemble series. Doggett is partnered with Special Agent Monica Reyes, a relationship that’s complicated on several fronts. On the professional end of the equation, they work well together. She believes in Doggett and does her best to support him, both on the usual investigations into the unusual and also in Doggett’s pursuit of Deputy Director Kersh. Kersh is emerging as a major nemesis, a shadowy figure not unlike Assistant Director Skinner in the early days of The X-Files.

On the personal front, Reyes seems well aware of Doggett’s suppressed psychic abilities and might just be in love with the guy. That last point’s a sticky wicket, for Doggett seems to be interested in Scully, Scully still feels affection for Mulder (even though he’s on the run from the aliens and had to leave baby William behind) and Reyes is fending off the unwanted affections of her snide and oily former beau, Assistant Director Brad Follmer, who looks to be as out to get Doggett as Doggett is out to get Kersh.

“I like what’s going on,” Patrick enthuses. “I want to continue on with this theme of Doggett having virtue, being morally sound and patriotic. He believes in his country and yet he’s willing to question authority and question everything, really. There’s a find line in that. I keep talking about the fine line that John Doggett walks, and I want that to be defined more. I also think Doggett’s going to have to deal better with the situation involving his son and the premonitions. I didn’t realize, going into the show last year, that Doggett had some sort of questionable paranormal experience relating to his son. That happened about midway through the season and it was a good thing. Maintaining your knee-jerk skepticism when you’re taken a shotgun blast, been spit out by a shaman and come back to life… how can you got [sp] through that and maintain your skepticism? That’s been one of the challenges on my job. Doggett has to stay somewhat skeptical, but hopefully that will help him be able to be a little more open to some of the things he comes into contact with as a result of being the ‘X’-Files.

“I also think he’s going to have to resolve some things with Scully and Reyes. There’s a lot going on there. I’ve gone to Scully for some help and she doesn’t want to help me. Doggett find himself alienated. Nobody wants to help him out. The only person on his side is Reyes. So, in effect, Doggett and Reyes are the new Mulder and Scully. I want to see what happens with his relationships with them.”

Might that entail Doggett engaging in a romance with either of the ladies? “I would really like it,” Patrick replies playfully as the conversation comes to an end for now. “Doggett would really like it, I should say. You know what I mean? It would be great for the character.”

The X-Files Magazine: The Next Files

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
The Next Files
Martin Eden

[typed by MarieEve]

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz chats to Martin Eden about the progress of Season Nine, Mulder/David Duchovny’s return, and the end of The X-Files.

Can you tell us how the decision to end the show came about ?

It was difficult and emotional for us, because we all love the show so much and it’s been our live for a very long period of time – eight years for me, 10 years for Chris (Carter). Chris, John (Shiban) and Vince (Gilligan) have all worked together for a long time, so it’s like breaking up a family.

The reality was that as much as we believe in the show, and we really do, the audience this year just wasn’t what we hoped it would be. I don’t think it’s a verdict on the show, or on Robert (Patrick) or Annabeth (Gish), because it was really from the first episode out of the gate – there was just a certain portion of viewers who didn’t show up. And at some point you need to decide : do you want to fade away and struggle against the ratings or do you want to try and go out strong?

Have you been checking out the online reaction to the news of the show’s cancellation ?

I’ve really learned over the years to take all the online chat with a huge grain of salt. I think it can be a distorted view of what fans are thinking and feeling. Over the last two years, there’s been a very vocal negative chorus on the internet which has been unpleasant to read. I have read it though, and I continue to read it because I want to know what people are thinking, but I have never for a moment thought it was representative of the audience at large. And now that the decision has been made to end the show, a lot of the same people who’ve been kicking us in the teeth online are shedding tears and I find it hard to take seriously.

I think a certain number of people will start to be sorrier when they realize that the show’s coming to an end, because there’s so much unexplored territory with Robert and Annabeth that really could have been explored for years to come.

I king of look forward to syndication. That’s where I believe we’ll have vindication, because so many of the show we’ve done over the last two or so years are outstanding and will really age very well.

Will we see Robert and Annabeth in the next X-Files movie ?

I don’t really know. We haven’t even started to talk about what the movie will be other than in the broadest possible terms. Whether they are or not, I really hope I get the chance to work with both of them again because they’re not only extremely talented actor, but they’re also extremely nice people and they’ve been great to work with.

What have been your favourite episodes of Season nine so far ?

I liked “4-D” an awful lot, and “John Doe” and “Trust No 1”. There’s some that are coming up that I think are gonna be highlights as well. Episode 12 sees the return of Leyla Harrison, the fan/agent, and it’s all about comparing Doggett and Reyes to Mulder and Scully, so it’s kind of a fun episode. That’s written by Tom Schnauz. Episode 13 is an episode called “Audrey Pawley” and it’s a very far-out idea for an episode. It’s really a kind of “Twilight Zone” sort of episode, but really emotional, powerful story for Doggett and Reyes. And then Chris Carter is writing and directing episode 14, and I think it’s unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It’s kind of unique in the way that “Post-Modern Prometheus” was unique. And then episode 15 is our kind of valedictory for the Lone Gunmen. We’re gonna bring back characters from their show and it’s really gonna be kind of summation of their nine years on The X-Files.

I was interested to see Terry O’Quinn return to The X-Files universe in “Trust No 1”. How did that come about ?

We couldn’t resist! He’s just one of our favourite actors. He can do no wrong in our eyes. We’d used him in Season Two’s “Aubrey” and we used him in Millennium and The X-Files movie and in Harsh Realm. We missed him and we wanted a chance to use him and we did it despite the fact that many, many people would recognize him, especially from The X-Files movie.

Is the Season Nine finale going to be a two-parter?

Yes. Chris Carter is going to be writing it.

I’ve heard it’s going to be a cliffhanger …

That’s not really true. Mulder and Scully will be left able to go on to do movies, but beyond that it’s not a cliffhanger. We’re still working on what that story’s gonna be, because we only decided last week to end the series this year. It will hopefully have a very big satisfying conclusion.

And will David Duchovny be reprising his Mulder role for the finale, as had been rumoured?

Yes. He wants to and we all want him to, and now it’s just a matter of making the deal and seeing if he’s available, because he’s got a movie career. The truth is we’d been talking to him about coming back to do some work on the show even before the decision. So the conversation sort of just changed direction once the announcement was made.

How do you feel Reyes character has been shaping up ?

Annabeth Gish is doing great job and I think the character is growing nicely. I think it’s been a challenge because she’s not one of those characters who came into the series with a full biography. People have had to discover over time who she is and what her past is. We’re slowly learning more about Monica Reye’s past, how she was raised, and her relationship to Doggett. Some of the episodes we’re writing now are gonna explore that more deeply. She’s one of those characters where the more you get to know her the more depth you realize she has and the more you like her.

Some of the theories she’s coming out with are more far-out than some of Mulder’s theories. Is that something that you had in mind from day one ?

Yeah. I think we’re always thought she’s a little looser, funnier, quirkier, more neurotic than Mulder was. We didn’t just want to have another Mulder, we didn’t just want to have another Mulder, we wanted a type of character we’d never seen before and we have quite an elaborate back-story worked out for her. Unfortunately I don’t know that we’ll ever get chance to find out what that was because this’ll be the last year of the show.

Is Reyes proving popular with the fans ?

I think she has a growing contingent of support, especially after the episode “4-D” was broadcast. People really saw what Annabeth Gish could do, and they saw a new side of this character too. But I think in the beginning certain people were scratching their heads, because they weren’t quite sure who she was. I also think you can’t ignore the fact that there was resistance from a lot of people to anyone coming in to the show after Mulder and Scully, and I think she’s really worn down a great deal of that resistance. I think by the end of the season people will love and miss her character greatly.

Has it been a different type of atmosphere on set with the new cast members ?

Oh sure, it’s been very different. It can’t help but be different when you bring in new actor and new characters. It’s also very exciting for us because when you do a series for a long period of time it becomes more and more difficult to find fresh things for actors and characters to experience, and suddenly with the addition of Robert last year and Annabeth a little bit last year we had this whole new range of possibilities and ideas and emotions and situations that we could play. So for all of us it was very exciting.

There’s also an interesting process between the writing staff and an actor. It’s like getting to know each other and saying “Oh wow, look how well he or she does that’ and then you start to write things in response. It’s like a conversation between the dailies and what you’re writing now. They’re both just terrific actors, and very different from David and Gillian, but just as appealing and talented in their own ways.

Finally, are thoughts now starting to turn toward the next movie ?

We had been offered the movie before the season had even begun, and we expressed an interest, but the deal has just been on hold because of everything that’s been on hold because of everything that’s been going on. But I think it will happen. I don’t think it will happen until 2003 at the earliest but I actually think it’s a good thing to get to the end of the series, to catch our breaths and recharge, and then come back and look at the movies franchise with fresh eyes and decide where we’re going.

The X-Files Magazine: John Doe

Feb-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
John Doe

Season Nine’s seventh episode “John Doe” finds Doggett dazed, confused and completely oblivious of his own identity in a gritty Mexican town. Did The X-Files cast and crew leave the country to shoot this show? Almost. Robin Benty went on set to discover the secrets south of the border.

Dusty streets, stray dogs, clothes-lines. Buildings crammed together, none more than a couple of stories tall, none built after 1950… A few flies buzz. Broiling sunset slants in through the cracks… We can practically smell the p’ss… This ain’t the Ritz…

And it ain’t a travel brochure for a lavish resort. These vivid images come straight from Vince Gilligan’s script for X-Files episode 9X07, “John Doe”, which is set in a dilapidated Mexican town. The episode not only adopts an innovative visual, but weaves a unique stand-alone story. However, the premise of the episode was somewhat different in its early stages.

“Setting the show in Mexico came late in the game,” reveals Gilligan of the episode’s origins, on the set of “John Doe”. “The original idea was about a ‘memory vampire’ who steals memories.” This “vampire” was going to live in the United States, having been raised in an orphanage as a ‘John Doe’. Knowing nothing of his past, he sought to learn about his identity. In the process, the vampire would steal memories from other people and leave them as vegetables. The victims were to have ranged in age from 30s to 60s, but all his prey would have woken up believing that it was 4 July 1972 – the stay the vampire was born: he stole their memories up until that date. In fact, Gilligan’s original episode title for “John Doe was “July 14, 1972”.

However, all the months of development went out the window (along with Gilligan’s scripted teaser and act one) when the writing team began mapping out the plot. “We got halfway through the storyboards and it just didn’t feel right,” Gilligan explains. The producers felt the story would be scarier if one of the show’s heroes had his memory eliminated, but in Gilligan’s original version, there would have been no turning back. It was when executive producer Frank Spotnitz suggested that the episode be set in Mexico that the pieces began to fall into place. Gilligan, however, held onto the intrinsic nature of the story that had fascinated him in the first place when crafting the second version.

“The interesting thing is this idea of someone who has no memories,” Gilligan says eagerly. “Would you still have the same morals and character? Would you still know right from wrong? I think you’d still be the same person.”

First-time director (and current X-Files co-executive producer) Michelle MacLaren responded to this concept whole-heartedly when she read the script. “Doggett has no memory, but underneath it was important the instinct and morals of who Doggett really is come out,” she says. “His training may have him throw someone against a bus, but he would never overstep the line to actually hurt Reyes or kill a person without just cause. It’s very physical and extremely emotional on many levels.”

As an amnesiac, Doggett tries to figure out what is going on, but his only brief memories are of his wife and son – and it is only with Reyes’ help that he is able to remember Luke’s shocking fate. MacLaren loved the raw emotions of that set-up. “There are the frustrations, anger and sadness of someone who not only does not know who he is, but knows that he left a son behind somewhere. Then has to relive the knowledge that his son has died,” she says.

Gilligan agrees: “We figured that it would be a great ending if, by the time Doggett remembered Luke’s name, he then realized his son has been murdered. We knew that scene could bring down the house.”

Overcoming the story obstacles, the production department tackled its next hurdle – achieving a whole new style in one episode.

“Most of our shows are dark, smoky and gloomy,” Gilligan explains. “This one is the opposite.”

The writer was inspired by some recent movies. “I have to say that I was thinking about the movie Traffic when I was writing; specifically the scenes in Mexico.” Director of photography Bill Roe and his crew took their cue from both Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and David O. Russell’s Three Kings, by over-exposing the daytime exterior shots on the camera to help give it a golden-yellow, washed-out feel.

MacLaren’s directorial preparations were quite similar to Gilligan’s. “I thought about running across the border to refresh my mind about Mexico, but decided against it because of the current national situation.” Instead, MacLaren rented movies, turning to Robert Rodriguez’ Desperado and El Mariachi, as well as other, older movies for encouragement.

Production designer Corey Kaplan also went the cinema-study route, using Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses, and films native to the country for imagery. “Since they know their own terrain, it’s more exciting to see how Mexican directors get it right,” Kaplan adds.

“I hate to admit that most of what I know about is from the movies,” Gilligan confesses. “That’s why the contributions of the Locations, Art and Construction Departments are so crucial.”

Those three divisions of the large X-Files crew were tasked with transforming Southern California into the country that lies just south of it. Location manager Ilt Jones proposed the idea of recreating the fictional Mexican town in the San Gabriel Valley city of Pamona, California. Although it was far away from the Los Angeles set, it did have a bare bones street that the show took over and turned into the ‘Sangradura’ of Gilligan’s script. With MacLaren’s lengthy list of specific directions of Kaplan, the Art Department filled an entire notebook of research to capture the feel of the border town. The goal, however, was not to duplicate cliché notions.

“They can keep the piñatas to themselves!” Kaplan exclaimed as her mantra.

Then the painters and the plasters arrived in Pomona to turn it into the seedier side of Mexico. They added sand, aged the buildings by hand, and redecorated 30 shop fronts.

The director was overwhelmingly pleased with the exteriors her crew provided. “It breaks my heart that we can’t shoot the entire show in that town,” MacLaren says of the move back to the interior soundstages on the Fox lot.

Yet The X-Files stages were just as resplendent as their Pomona counterparts. Layers of plaster thickened the set walls to recreate the Mexican Adobe architectural style. The Art Department designed a cantina that was two stories high to permit the important choreography of the actors in the scenes. (They added one velvet painting for fun.) For the prison scenes, Kaplan tried to recreate the decrepit jail from the Alan Parker film, Midnight Express, with enough space so that the camera could capture the Calabozo station from many angles.

Despite the numerous movie influences, the production was lacking in the one thing that feature films have plenty of: money. “It was even more fantastic that they did that on a television budget, which is not the kind of money any old feature would have,” Gilligan proudly states. “In my mind that makes their accomplishments all the more important.”

With the words and sets in place, MacLaren turned to her actors, especially Robert Patrick, for whom she has total praise. “Robert is a dream to work with. He is so unbelievably talented and he loves the process.”

To support Patrick, MacLaren had to find a cast of unknowns that were believable. “We tired to keep it as authentic-looking as possible,” says casting director Rick Millikan, who required every actor who was submitted be fluent in Spanish. The lines in the script are written in English, and these actors read them in Spanish for the audition. Nobody on the show’s side of the casting table, however, spoke a lick of Spanish.

“We could always tell if there was emotion behind the words,” Gilligan remembers. “We knew whether it was fake or forced, or whether this person was really a good actor.”

Although it was MacLaren’s first casting session in the director’s chair, she knew she had found her primary leads immediately. “When Frank (Ramon) came in, he blew us away, and we knew he would be ‘Domingo.'” she says.

Another actor, Ramon Franco, read for the same part, but MacLaren and company were confident he would play better as ‘Nestor.’ “Bother were a slam dunk,” she says.

Gilligan, too, is overjoyed at the selections. “This is one of the best guest casts we’ve ever had on this show,” he says happily.

In keeping with the theme of authenticity, a dialect coach named Allyn Partin-Hernandex was hired to assist the actors – as well as the director.

“When they made a mistake in their Spanish dialogue, I didn’t even know,” MacLaren admits. “Once Allyn came up to tell me that one of the actors swore in Spanish on camera. I had no idea. Of course, I had them redo the scene.”

Partin-Hernandex based each character’s dialect on historical show facts. She listened to Doggett’s Spanish in Season Eight’s “Vienen” to match the dialogue for this episode, and then made a cassette tape of the new dialogue for Robert Patrick to study. Since Monica Reyes is supposed to have grown up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Allyn translated dialogue for Annabeth Gish to match that region. Yet MacLaren wanted the cartel players to sound different from the locals. Partin-Hernandex chose a Tampico, Mexico dialect for the locals as opposed to the internationally-sounding cartel men.

“In Mexico, they use an upwardly-gliding intonation that is quite musical,” explains Partin-Hernandez. “The ‘locals’ are using a dialect indicative of the Gulf Coast, which sounds more like a Caribbean variety.”

In many Latin American dialects, the ‘s’ at the end of a syllable sometimes gets turned into an ‘h’, but that is not pervasive in Mexico. “I told the actors to be more aggressive with their s’s,” Partin-Hernandez giggles.

Make-up Department Head Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf and her team then enter the process to overhaul the guises of the actors to match the authentic sets and Spanish language. “Vitamin E oil has been sprayed on everyone to create sweat,” reveals Montesanto-Medcalf. “It’s nice and oily, stays on all day, and it’s good for your skin.”

The three consecutive Emmy-winning staff also worked their magic on Robert Patrick. They applied a method called ‘stretch & stipple’ to make his skin look wrinkled, and attached gelatin eye bags to make him appear tired. Facial hair was also added by hand. One particular item of make-up proves vital to the storyline – Doggett’s tattoo. The image is the US Marine symbol, and Spotnitz and Gilligan created the brief words underneath the emblem to convey the characteristics of Doggett’s military service and move the story along. Unfortunately, they later realized that Patrick’s arm had been visible in prior episodes, so some reshoots were done for the two episodes of the season.

Although the basic image was only drawn once throughout the shoot, Montesanto-Medcalf aged the tattoo with skin tone paint so that it looked like Doggett had had it for 13 years or so. “Robert loved the tattoo,” Montesanto-Medcalf says. “But we haven’t done it again on any episodes since then, because Doggett always seems to wear suits.”

Her team also distorted Luis Robledo, the actor who plays ‘Crackhead’, from a handsome man into a starving junkie. Montesanto-Medcalf created one swollen eyelid, to make Robledo’s face look asymmetrical. The make-up crew then rotted his teeth, put dark circles around his eyes, weathered his skin, dirtied his hair and made his lips appear extra-dry with burns, so that he seemed to have been charred by a crack pipe. Before he went on-camera, they blew a tiny bit of menthol crystals in his face, cause his eyes to become glassy.

“He looked gross!” laughs Montesanto-Medcalf about Robledo’s transformation. “People didn’t know who he was when he arrived on the set. He thanked us over and over for helping him become his character!”

Perhaps one of the best makeovers on the episode, however, was Michelle MacLaren’s transformation into a director. She is only the second female to have taken the helm of an X-Files episode (the first being none other than Gillian Anderson), and she impressed the entire staff, especially Gilligan.

“She’s doing a wonderful job, and it is a tough proposition to ask a first-timer to come work on The X-Files,” Gilligan extols. “She has great taste as a director, and she pays fine attention to details.”

MacLaren returns the compliment to Gilligan’s writing. “I was excited that it was such a different and a great script. I feel so lucky to have gotten that script for my directorial debut.”

To take a break from her daily career of producing the show, MacLaren pays gratitude to a number of people at Ten Thirteen. “(Producer) Harry Bring has really stepped up to the plate to cover my producer duties,” she says.

MacLaren also credits the advice of show directors Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Kim Manners and Tony Wharmby. As well as office assistants Ginger Wadly and Stephanie Herrera for lightening her workload.

“The whole crew has been supportive and have let me focus on being a director. I can’t say enough about how wonderful everyone is,” she beams.

But will she give up her day job? “I wouldn’t say I’d ever leave producing,” says MacLaren. And sounding like a grizzled X-Files veteran, she adds, “This is my first shot at it. Although I’ve been learning a lot, I still have a lot to learn.”