Archive for April, 2002

Cinescape: Chris Carter on Season 5 DVD set

Apr-15-2002
Cinescape
Chris Carter on Season 5 DVD set
Arnold T. Blumberg and Anthony C. Ferrante

The X-Files creator Chris Carter is currently toiling with his team on the conclusion of the cult series turned pop culture phenomenon, but he had a few spare moments to look back on the season that provided the mythology connection between the TV show and its feature film debut: Season 5, now arriving on DVD.

“It was the season where not only did we have to do the season perfectly, but we had to finish the movie, and it was working backwards and forwards at the same time,” says Carter of Season 5, which was shot after production wrapped on the X-Files film but took place chronologically before the story seen in the movie. All of the mythology plot threads of Season 5 therefore had to lead naturally into the beginning of the film, but were written and shot long after the movie was in the can.

“If we screwed up on any one thing, it would affect everything else,” says Carter. “If we screwed up on the movie, it was going to affect the series. If we screwed up on the series, it was going to damage the movie. It was a house of cards that we needed to stack oh so carefully. And we succeeded.”

They succeeded so well, according to Carter, that last minute tinkering on the movie to fix any inconsistencies just before its release was not even necessary.

“It all worked,” says Carter. “It was one big, beautiful plan. But there are episodes in Season 5 that didn’t have anything to do with the movie – ‘Bad Blood,’ ‘Kill Switch,’ ‘Unusual Suspects’ – that added to the storytelling franchise of the series and made it an enjoyable year.”

While some of those episodes also finally lightened up on an otherwise very dire mood, it was not the lightest it would get.

“Not like Season 6,” says Carter. “Season 6 was the lightest one we ever did. This had enough elements of self-parody to make it a traditional X-Files season. That started happening with Darin Morgan’s ‘Humbug’ in Season 3. So it became an X-Files tradition, and I think that Season 5, in that way, is a regular year.”

As with all of the previous X-Files DVD season box sets, the Season 5 set will boast some intriguing extras for fans. Carter suggests that those extras might increase in number as the sets enter the later seasons.

“Those first few years, nobody knew to make these arrangements to save stuff,” says Carter. “A lot of this was lost because it’s expensive to store. A lot of things were not preserved. Now the mood of preservation is what’s fueling the increasing number of special features. A lot of other people are involved in doing that, and they’d be best to tell you. But I can tell you now that nothing is not thought of in terms of its DVD potential.”

Carter admits there are not many extensive scenes cut from episodes for inclusion on the DVDs, although some bits and pieces do get trimmed from time to time.

“Rarely are there entire scenes cut,” says Carter. “Mostly things inside scenes. We have it down to almost a science. Every once in a while it will happen. Like the episode we’re working on right now, [which] was 17 minutes too long, and it’s all got to go. Usually [the episodes are] six or seven minutes [too] long, which means you have to go in and trim a little bit, but occasionally entire scenes have to be lifted.”

Now that the entire series is coming to an end, Carter has the rare opportunity to look back not only on individual seasons, but also on the whole of his creation. It’s a task he finds a bit difficult.

“I have been working so hard and my perspective is the perspective from behind my desk here at my computer. A lot of this is lost on me. So maybe I’ll have a chance someday to get some perspective on it. But right now it’s the focus of my life. In a weird way I am a slave to it. Now this will be a little bit of a jail break.”

For Carter, he admits “this has been a decade of my life,” but it is one decade genre fans are definitely grateful for. Not only did it create a franchise comparable to Star Trek in its scope, but it also pushed future genre shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dark Angel to push the limits of what could be done on a television budget, while still having the scope and rich story structure TV had lacked prior to X-Files.

“It took me a year to get it off the ground, so it’s been a decade,” adds Carter. “I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. Even though I got to do some other things during that time, The X-Files was the child that got all of the attention. It’s not scary at all. It’ll be a relief not to have production deadlines chasing me each and every day of my life, though I’m sure I’ll get back into that at some point.”

Carter believes he’ll miss the fun of creating new stories for these characters the most.

“What’s sad is that I liked writing The X-Files and I love telling stories in this format,” Carter notes. “Luckily, we’re doing a movie and that will satisfy that craving.”

While the final year of the show has taken a lot of heat from fans and critics, Carter is quick to defend Season 9, its characters and its stories.

“It’s been inventive and original this year. We’re telling stories we wouldn’t have told otherwise. I’m sorry that this season will be our last for these characters, Doggett and Reyes, because they are a joy to write for.”

He does admit, however, that Season 9 presented its share of unexpected challenges.

“I thought this year was going to be a piece of cake because there wasn’t anything else vying for attention, but it’s never easy,” he admits. “This has been one of the hardest years for me in terms of workload. I wrote or rewrote seven of the first 11 episodes, and that’s a grind. And I had come back late. I had gone on a vacation and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to come back this year, so I got a late start. It’s like I’ve never gotten ahead.”

Coming into the home stretch, the last few episodes will supposedly tie up some long-standing dangling mythology plot threads. David Duchovny, otherwise known as the show’s former lead character, Fox Mulder, will even return to direct one of the last installments.

“The David Duchovny directed episode comes up on the 28th of this month,” says Carter. “[It’s] a big mythology episode. It’s about the baby and the return of Mulder. It’s a question about whether you see him or not.”

Whether we see Mulder then, we’re certain to see him in the big finale. Duchovny’s return in the final two hours of the series will at least please fans who want one last look at Mulder before the TV screen goes dark, but some fans believe last season’s conclusion, with the long-awaited romantic reunion of Scully, Mulder and baby, was a more perfect ending. Carter agrees in some respects.

“That was an ending,” he observes. “This, in a weird way, is a culmination. So I think this functions as a more satisfying end to the series than when we ended with Gillian and David kissing. That had a certain amount of satisfaction too, but it didn’t do anything to address the larger themes. That’s what this episode should do.”

Carter also reveals that there was never a contingency plan if Duchovny chose not to return.

“I always planned on having him,” he says. “It couldn’t have been done properly without him. So we’re fortunate to have him. So it’s beside the point to discuss what would happen if we didn’t have him, because I don’t know if we could have done it.”

Following the end of the series, the second X-Files film will be on its way. Long rumored to be a self-contained, non-mythology story, it will most likely reunite Mulder and Scully just like in the old days.

“I can tell you that if we filmed it in the summer of 2003, you wouldn’t see it before 2004,” he says. “So there’s a little bit of a wait.”

But will Doggett and Reyes turn up as well?

“That was never the plan, but on The X-Files, anything can happen, and maybe there’s a novel way to do it.”

Carter even has plans to jump right back in and develop another series while one year remains on his Fox network contract. He’s willing to say only that it’s “something totally different.” But for those who felt that The X-Files lost its way in Season 9, Carter believes they’re missing something that made the entire series such a long-lasting success.

“Even in its ninth season, The X-Files is original and inventive,” says Carter. “I’d like to believe that’s the hallmark of the show. I think we’re doing great work this year. Robert and Annabeth are hitting their marks and they’re growing as characters. I think the show is [now] under-appreciated.”

The X-Files Magazine: Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood

Apr-??-2002
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood

It’s the last night on the set for actors Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood. There is an air of impending sadness, because this could be their last night of shooting on any episode of The X-Files. So far, however, the mood is light. The actors and crew stand in clusters, chatting and laughing, as they wait to begin filming another scene. Several crew members ask for pictures with the cast of The Lone Gunmen. But later, the tone of the set will switch, as the cast and crew shoot close-ups for the trio’s final scene, which just happens to be the characters’ death scene. The script reads: Jimmy slowly lays his hand on the glass. The Gunmen do the same… three hands side-by-side opposite Jimmy’s, whose eyes now well with tears. This is goodbye. Reactions are mixed among the three actors. They all agree that the deaths of Frohike, Byers, and Langly while sad are fitting. “I’d already mourned the fact that the show was ending,” says Bruce Harwood, who plays John Fitzgerald Byers. “The fact that we were being killed, I don’t think made too much of a difference to me. It doesn’t surprise me that we go out this way.”

“Isn’t that how we all want to go?” remarks Dean Haglund, who plays Langly. “Well, maybe not so painfully,” he laughs.

Tom Braidwood, who plays Melvin Frohike, was not enthusiastic about the ending at first. “I guess I was a little disappointed,” he admits. “I don’t quite see why it had to happen.” Braidwood, who worked on the Vancouver set of the series as an assistant director for Seasons One through Five, is able to see the producers’ need to wrap up The X-Files characters once and for all. “In the end, it’s right for them,” he surmises.

Choosing to have the Lone Gunmen die at the end of “Jump the Shark,” did not come easy to co-writers of the episode, executive producers Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. “It was actually a really hard decision to make,” explains Spotnitz. He exposes his fondness for the Gunmen, saying, “It’s funny, because they’re fictitious characters, and the show is coming to an end, but we really have a lot of affection for them.”

Spotnitz says that he, Gilligan and Shiban wanted to give the Gunmen a special ending, one that could only be achieved with such a dramatic climax. “It felt like the right thing to do,” he says. “We could really make them into big heroes and give them their moment to shine.”

Although they did not, at first, know how they wanted the Gunmen to meet their fate, the writers had definite ideas about how it should play out. “We just knew that we wanted it to be unequivocally heroic,” Spotnitz wholeheartedly.

Chris Carter’s announcement that this season of The X-Files would be the last came just as the writers were plotting out this one storyline. That was when they knew what they had to do. “It gave us the impetus to do this kind of ending,” Shiban says. Although a bit traumatic to comprehend at first, Shiban found himself excited at the story prospect. “If it is done well, there is no more heroic thing to do a character,” he says. “It seems just like the perfect end for the unsung heroes of the world.”

The producers did consider the effect on loyal Gunmen enthusiasts. “The ending is going to be challenging for fans of the Lone Gunmen,” guesses Gilligan. “It makes part of me sad, but it’s hopefully a noble end.”

Shiban has his own rationalization. “They die to save the world, and that to me is a fitting end.”

The guest actors in this episode are also well-versed in the Gunmen mythology, appearing in both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen series with the conspiracy-debunking cabal. Stephen Snedden and Zuleikha Robinson make a reappearance (see ‘Shooting Co-Stars’ box-out), while Jim Fyfe also returns, having played Jimmy the Geek in The X-Files episode “Three of a Kind” and also dead Jimmy’s twin brother, Kimmy the Geek in The Lone Gunmen. Fyfe recalls his fondness for the three actors, as well as their on-screen counterparts. “I love them,” he says. “As guys they’re great, and as characters they’re great.”

When Fox canceled The Lone Gunmen in 2001, executive producers Gilligan, Shiban and Spotnitz were sure that they still had a story to round out. “It was such a big cliffhanger sitting out there,” Gilligan explains. “And we knew we wanted to resolve it.”

The ninth season of The X-Files was the obvious place to tie up those loose ends. “Within the X-Files context, we sort of vowed to ourselves to make this work,” states Shiban.

The return of this plot meant that they had to wait a whole year from the last episode of The Lone Gunmen to write the resolution. Gilligan admits to having some trouble when he actually had to sit down at the computer. “I spent a lot of time building it up in my head,” he says. “The whole time saying, ‘This has to be the greatest episode ever. This has to serve two masters – The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen series – and marry them together perfectly. It has to be beautiful.'”

While crediting Spotnitz with making sure that the episode would get done at all, Gilligan still toiled with developing the plot. “It’s taken me the longest of about any episode to work my way through,” he says. “It’s been a tricky one.”

The writers agreed that they could not simply make this show a continuation of The Lone Gunmen finale episode, “All About Yves.” “I was thinking along those lines,” Gilligan acknowledges, “but Frank rightly said we can’t exactly do that because this is a whole different television series – one that we’re using as a platform to finish this story.”

The writers also had to bear in mind that many X-Files fans may not have tuned in to the Lone Gunmen’s series. “It would have thrown The X-Files audience too much,” says Spotnitz.

The three put their heads together to figure out just where exactly the audience would find the Gunmen and their cohorts after a whole year. The story they came up with reunites the Gunmen, Jimmy, and Yves with arch nemesis Morris Fletcher (played comically and astutely by Michael McKean) was pivotal to The Lone Gunmen finale. Fans of The X-Files will also remember the character from the “Dreamland” two-parter and “Three of a Kind,” both in Season Six. In “All About Yves,” Fletcher orchestrated a dramatic con job, kidnapping Yves and leaving the Gunmen in a secure, underground bunker. Naturally, the Gunmen are none too thrilled to encounter Fletcher again.

In “Jump the Shark,” Fletcher first draws Agents Doggett and Reyes into Yves’ case by teasing them with the claim that she is a Super Soldier. The agents then bring in the Gunmen. The episode moves quickly out of the realm of Super Soldiers and into that of international terrorism, biological agents, and shark cartilage. Yes, shark cartilage. Sharks were incorporated into the story after the title of the episode was chosen. “Jump the Shark” is an entertainment web site launched in 1997, named for the famous Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps over a tank full of sharks on his motorcycle. The creator of the website, Jon Hein, christened the term to portray the moment in a television series’ run when its originality has begun to go downhill. Spotnitz calls the title, “a funny joke at our own expense.”

Gilligan agrees. “I kind of like it when a show ribs itself, and the idea of jumping the shark is sort of fun.”

The producers arranged for Hein to have a walk-on role in the episode, but unfortunately, his schedule did not allow for the appearance. Hein, however, was delighted to hear of his creation’s use as the episode’s title. “I thought it was great,” he declares enthusiastically. “The X-Files has always ‘got the web’ and actively incorporated it into the show with a great sense of humour and cleverness.” The X-Files is the site’s second most popular vote-getter. Most of Jump the Shark’s voters feel that the show has never, in fact, “jumped the shark.”

After the writers secured their title, they looked for ways to incorporate sharks into the episode. Gilligan recalls that the writers liked the image of the shark in the first shot of the show. They came up with the teaser that features Fletcher on a boat in the Bahamas.

“We threw out the teaser for a long time because it felt, at first, that it got us off to the wrong start,” says Shiban. After several sessions of working out more traditional X-Files teasers, they came back to the original, more comedic one.

“We wanted to start it off and truly tease the audience in the classic sense of a teaser, to get them intrigued,” Gilligan opines. “Michael McKean does that.”

McKean is a favourite of the show’s producers. “When an actor exceeds your expectations, it’s great,” says Spotnitz. “He is a surefooted actor, period. Be he’s also a great comedic actor, with great comedic timing and instincts.”

“He’s just a delight. He so embodies this character that it’s scary,” Shiban gloats about his guest star. “One of the reasons he’s such a good fit with both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, is because, as comic as he is, he carries himself with such a sense of reality.”

Also praising McKean, Gilligan says simply, “He so gets it.”

The Lone Gunmen themselves are also exciting about reuniting with McKean. “We’ve been talking Spinal Tap, and I switch from fellow actor to annoying groupie,” jokes Haglund.

“Micheal’s great,” agrees Braidwood. “He’s a character and a very funny man. He’s a lot of fun to work with.”

Gilligan likens the character of Morris Fletcher to Louie DePalma from the television series Taxi. “He’s the guy you love to hate,” Gilligan laughs. “But you don’t really hate him. Deep down you sort of love him.”

After Fletcher’s humorous entrance, the story gradually becomes more serious, culminating in the Gunmen’s touching final scene with Yves and Jimmy. Balancing humour is something The X-Files writers have done numerous times throughout the series’ nine seasons, especially when the Lone Gunmen are on hand. In this episode, however, it was especially challenging.

“In the writing, we did a number of revisions around that very issue,” Shiban states.

“The world in which [these characters] live is not funny,” Spotnitz elaborates. “We had to make it more real.”

Over the course of writing The Lone Gunmen series last year, the producers, according to Gilligan, found the show “worked best when there was actually a little more drama rather than a little less.” He thinks they achieved this tone best in the series finale. “That episode struck a nice balance between comedy and sort of high stakes seriousness,” he recalls wistfully. “We tried to strike that same tone in this one.”

Admittedly, this episode hits both ends of the spectrum. “It is a balancing act, and we’re watching dailies every day and walking that tightrope,” Shiban confesses.

Another challenge was the actual melding of the two shows. Once they got into the writing of it, it became very difficult to merge the two series together. Spotnitz refers to the combination of the two shows, something they have done before with the Millennium series crossover in the seventh season X-Files episode, “Millennium,” as a “massive headache.”

Shiban remarks that it was difficult to communicate the complicated back-story that would have become The Lone Gunmen mythology had the series continued. “We kept running up to these moments where the three of us would be working on the script,” he recounts, “when we asked ‘Does The X-Files audience need to know this? Is the back story too complicated?’ You have a whole world for a series, but this is just one episode.”

The writers were now faced with the daunting task of communicating this world to a viewing audience that may not be familiar with The Lone Gunmen series. Calling it a “necessary evil,” Gilligan explains that they tried to keep exposition to a minimum.

Another challenge to writing this episode was, as Spotnitz puts it, “striking a balance in screentime between the Lone Gunmen and Doggett and Reyes.” Add Morris Fletcher, Jimmy Bond, Yves Adele Harlow, and Kimmy the Geek to the mix, and you’ve got a full plate for any writer.

“It’s an exercise in trunk packing,” says Gilligan. “You have to use every little bit of available space.”

Shiban, while discussing the difficulty of working Agents Doggett and Reyes into the initial story, says that he found it just as problematic as having to incorporate the characters into the X-file into any script. “The X-Files is a hard form to master,” he muses, “which is partly what I think makes it so good when it clicks. But we struggle every week.”

“We realized very early that our Act IV would mostly be the Gunmen, because we’re doing a story about how the Gunmen are unsung heroes,” Shiban says. “We want them to be heroic in the climax. Therefore, we knew that [Doggett and Reyes’] role would be diminished at some point, and that made it easier in some ways.”

The producers are happy with the final script as a tribute to the Gunmen, but they understand fan reaction will undoubtedly be mixed. “Some will hate us for it,” predicts Shiban. “But I bet the ones who say they hate the idea will cry when they see it.”

“At the end of the day, if the fans of The Lone Gunmen series are the ones pleased, that’d be enough for me,” sighs Gilligan. Although he hopes that all X-philes will enjoy it, Gilligan offers up some morsel of completion for the fans of the canceled series. “They stuck with us through thick and thin, and I wanted to see something resolved for them.”

As the late night on the set draws to a close, the actors reflect on the end of the Lone Gunmen, bringing up feelings about the end of The X-Files series as a whole.

“I’m really sad to see it go,” says Fyfe of The X-Files. “I think all successful shows become a part of the culture in a way. I’ll miss it.”

The cast and crew once again laugh together between takes. Although the sentiment of the episode is bittersweet, everyone on set is having fun with the one last go around.

“What I’ll miss are the people, because they’re all great to work with,” Braidwood reflects. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

Medicalpost.com: Doctoring the X-Files

Apr-??-2002
Medicalpost.com
Doctoring the X-Files
Margaret Fearon

From examining the morgue to “Lock it up,” a Canadian doctor gets a chance to help make sure the science of the X-Files is as believable as can be

“Lock it up!” echoes around the cavernous sound stage, the call taken up by crew members to alert everyone in proximity that filming is about to begin. Within seconds, the buzz of voices and the bustle of a busy film studio miraculously stop. You truly can hear a pin drop.

“Sound rolling”-quickly followed by the director’s “And . . . action!”-begins the first of what will be numerous takes, using different camera angles. What will end up as a two-minute segment of an hour long (about 45 minutes, actually, excluding commercials) television episode of the X-Files will take from one to two hours to set up and shoot. And that doesn’t take into account the hours of research, scriptwriting, acquiring props, set-building and special effects preparations that go into every story. I am sitting in a recreated Brady’s kitchen (yes, from the Brady Bunch!), feeling like I’m in a time warp. I’m sure my best friend’s kitchen had a table just like that, and didn’t our next door neighbours have that ugly orange lamp I can see in the living room? The wizards of the X-Files crew have perfectly recreated the Brady Bunch living room and kitchen right here in the airplane hangar-size home of the X-Files at Fox studios in downtown Los Angeles. They tried to get the set used for the Brady Bunch movie, but it was not available so they had to do it themselves. They have done an amazing job, down to the large Chinese horse on the credenza. They are shooting what will be the second-to-last episode of both the season and the series, and in true X-Files fashion, it is the Brady Bunch meets the FBI. But I won’t give away any more details-you’ll have to watch for yourself.

So what is a Canadian doctor who works as a medical microbiologist in an Ontario public health laboratory doing on the set of the X-Files? Well, aside from the fact I have been an X-Files fan for years, and I am having a great time watching how much work goes into making those weekly episodes, I am also “working.” Vince Gilligan, the soft-spoken, charming writer/director of this particular episode has been quizzing me on the autopsy they plan to shoot later in the day, and has asked me to check out Scully’s morgue to make sure everything is set up properly. Compared to testing hundreds of powders and packages for anthrax, dressed in full respiratory protection in a containment lab, this doesn’t qualify as work, as far as I am concerned.

My closer connection with the X-Files came through a friendship with the scientific consultant for the series since it began in 1993. Dr. Anne Simon (PhD) is a plant virologist at the University of Maryland, who several years ago wrote a fascinating book titled the Real Science Behind the X-Files. If you think some of those X-Files episodes are far-fetched, think again. Most have a solid basis in scientific fact taken a step further. I have always been impressed with the effort made to get things right, and, knowing Dr. Simon, I can see why they are so successful.

Recently, I had the opportunity to contribute in a small way to some of that science and it has been great fun. Chris Carter, the show’s creator and executive producer, invited Dr. Simon and me to spend a day on the set during a recent visit to L.A., where we had the opportunity to meet cast and crew, watch them shooting the day’s scenes and snoop around some of the permanent sets that make up the familiar back-drop to the characters and stories of the X-Files.

When I examined the morgue, I found a room I would be happy to do an autopsy in (if I were still doing pathology, that is). All the equipment, including two stainless steel tables, nice Leica microscopes (including a teaching scope I would love to have) and cabinets full of glassware, vacutainers, specimen bottles and instruments are authentic and appropriate. Well, OK, maybe you wouldn’t have virus tissue culture flasks sitting in your morgue cupboard, but they look very scientific. I actually didn’t have to do much other than fix the X-rays (backward, of course!) on the viewing box and put a stopper in an Erlenmeyer flask containing a culture medium, which looked like it might be actually growing something extraterrestrial-sort of like the stuff I find in my refrigerator when I forget those leftovers from Sunday dinner. (Note to director: Have someone wash the glassware occasionally!)

I examined the instrument tray to make sure everything needed for an autopsy is there-and it is, but after nine years of autopsies, the X-Files crew probably knows what is needed as well as any pathologist.

I also check out “the dead guy.” In a huge trailer just outside the X-Files sound stage, the makeup artists are in the process of preparing the dead body for Scully’s autopsy later that night. The dead guy is a very much alive young actor who is patiently having a stitched up Y incision applied to his chest while another girl paints on the appropriate mottling and discoloration typically seen on a corpse that’s been dead for – well, let’s just say a while.

The makeup team for the X-Files has received several Emmy awards for their work, and I can see why. Again, the attention to detail and the desire to make everything look as authentic as possible impresses me. I tell the corpse he makes a great dead guy. He’s not sure if he should thank me or not, but the makeup ladies are pleased someone with first-hand experience with dead bodies admires their work.

Many X-Files episodes are filmed at night. The shooting schedule is such that, to meet demanding episodic TV deadlines, they often work well into the early hours of the morning – a gruelling 14-hour day for cast and crew alike. When we left Fox at 1:30 a.m., there was still another scene to film for the day.

Gillian Anderson, who as Dr. Dana Scully frequently has to spout reams of medical and scientific jargon, most of which she doesn’t understand, was having difficulty with some lines, mainly due to exhaustion. For the first time I appreciated how hard it must be for a lay person to portray a physician. Words that trip effortlessly off our tongues from years of familiarity are like a foreign language to most people.

Add to that actions that go along with the dialogue, emotional responses to situations and having to repeat it exactly the same way over and over for different camera angles and you have some idea of what it’s like for an actor.

Glamorous? Not really. It’s hard work and often mind-numbingly boring as actors go through a scene for the 20th time.

So would I trade my always challenging, interesting, never boring job as a public health medical microbiologist for a TV career? Make me an offer. These days, boring would be a welcome relief!

Margaret Fearon is microbiologist in the laboratories branch of the Ontario Ministry of Health in Toronto.

Cinefantastique: David Duchovny on “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.”

Apr-??-2002
Cinefantastique
David Duchovny on “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.”
Paula Vitaris

“Written and directed by David Duchovny.” These were the credits for two eagerly anticipated episodes — sixth seaon’s “The Unnatural” and seventh season’s “Hollywood A.D.” — of the popular Fox television series The X-Files. As the show’s wry, deadpan FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, Duchovny had already made a permanent impression not only on the show’s fans, but on popular culture itself, with Mulder and his partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) referenced constantly throughout the ’90s in magazines, newspapers, books, the internet and even other television shows. But Duchovny, whose father is a writer, had always had writing ambitions himself, and wanted to do more than play Agent Mulder; he wanted to participate in the show as a storyteller. With the broadcast of “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.,” Duchovny revealed himself to be also a writer and director of great promise. “The Unnatural,” a warm, gently humorous and ultimately moving story about baseball and aliens, clearly was the outstanding episode of the sixth season. In “Hollywood A.D.”, Duchovny turned a Hollywood producer loose on a tantalizing mystery investigated by Mulder and Scully, and the resulting “movie” is one of the funniest spoofs yet of the show. Although “The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.” seem like completely different stories, they both share a fascination for exploring characters who live passionate lives, whether they’re playing great baseball or making grade-B movies.

David Duchovny grew up in New York City, the son of playwright and novelist Avram Ducovny and teacher Margaret Ducovny. His father’s work exposed Duchovny to the worlds of theater and literature, leading him to define himself as a budding writer. He envisioned a life spent writing either full-time, or even part-time while working at another profession. In high school he took creative writing classes in poetry and he wrote throughout college, although his formal studies were primarily in literary analysis (Duchovny has a bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton and is A.B.D. — All But Dissertation — from Yale). He wrote a novel which he still keeps in a drawer. While at Yale, he began pursuing more seriously his ambitions to become a playwright and began spending time with students and faculty at the university’s famed drama school. He adapted Charles Bukowski’s short story “The Copulating Mermaid of Venice Beach,” for an off-off-Broadway production. He decided as a playwright he needed to learn about the acting process, enrolled in an acting class, and consequently he became so interested that writing — and academia — slipped onto a back burner. He dropped out of Yale to join the ranks of aspiring actors, moved to Los Angeles, and after an initial spell with no work, began to win roles for himself in independent films (Venice/Venice; The Rapture; Kalifornia) and studio movies (Chaplin; Beethoven). He also won the hearts of Twin Peaks fans with his performance as Denise, the cross-dressing DEA agent, during that show’s second season.

But it was his complex performance as the obsessed FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files that catapulted Duchovny into high profile fame. He garnered much acclaim, not only from the show’s fans, but from critics and colleagues, winning a Golden Globe Award and receiving several Emmy and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Acting on The X-Files wasn’t enough for Duchovny, though; the writer in him soon resurfaced and he started thinking about writing a script for the show. He had originally become interested in screenwriting about 10 or 15 years ago, and as one of the leads of a prime-time series, he felt he could make a contribution towards the show’s storyline. In the second season, he shared story credit with the show’s creator and executive producer Chris Carter on two episodes, “Colony” and “Anasazi” (on the latter he also participated in the plot break-down). Other episodes for which he received story credit include third season’s “Avatar” and fourth season’s “Talitha Cumi.”

Several seasons went by before he began thinking about actually writing a script of his own. “I didn’t have the surety, the confidence in my mind that I could write a teleplay,” Duchovny said. “Writers and directors like to keep scriptwriting a very arcane enterprise so that dilettantes won’t try to get involved and realize that it is actually just lightning and luck. If you have talent you can do it. Other than that, you can take all the McKee screenwriting courses that you want,but you’re still not going to write a decent screenplay. I was 34, 35, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get it. I have decent ideas and I’ll just pitch them to the writers.’ It took me to the sixth year of the show to actually sit down and write one of my ideas. Being on The X-Files gave me a great advantage in knowing that I could pick that up really quickly. That’s when I got focused on it. It was really a matter of realizing that I could do it.”

Duchovny’s first “written by” credit was shared with Carter for the seventh-season episode “Amor Fati.” Mulder falls into a coma when stricken by a potentially fatal brain disease, and Duchovny suggested Mulder confront a situation like that faced by Christ in Martin Scorcese’s film version of Kazantakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. Mulder dreams that, instead of having spent his life looking for aliens, paranormal creatures, and his abducted sister Samantha, he has spent it as a family man, married to Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers). “I really was attached to that idea,” Duchovny said. “The Lamentation of Christ is about how we’re all Christ, about how every single person on this planet has to make this heartbreaking choice between a life in the world and a life of the family. That’s what makes Christ so heartbreaking in that movie and in that book: his struggle is not only godlike, but also profoundly human. People ask, ‘when is Mulder going to get a personal life?’ Well, this is the equation. This is what it’s all about. Mulder is a guy who’s been given the same problem. You either have a life or you sacrifice it all and you become this guy who’s running around chasing aliens and has no life. I wasn’t saying Mulder is Christ; I’m not inflating Mulder. What I’m doing is using the very human model of Christ to make Mulder an everyman.”

Despite eight years of training in literary analysis, Duchovny does not analyze the story during the writing process. “I do that much more as an actor. I think one of the problems with studying great literature at a young age is that it intimidates you and you just go, ‘What’s the use?’ When you’re 17 and reading Shakespeare and you have thoughts of being a writer yourself, it’s like having one week of boxing lessons and going in against Mike Tyson. You say to yourself, ‘I’ll never be a boxer.’ It’s not necessarily true. So there was some of that: “Well, if it’s not Shakespeare, why should I even try?’ ”

By sixth season Duchovny was ready to write his first solo script, and decided he should direct it, too. His episode, “The Natural,” is about an alien who falls in love with baseball so much that he will do anything to play the game. Duchovny wrote the script without input from the X-Files writing staff until he was ready to show them the first draft. “The satisfying thing about it is that I had no help at all,” he said. “The mentoring was done through having five years of well-structured teleplays to guide me through. I wouldn’t have known the teaser, four-act structure. That’s not an intuitive thing to figure out. Above anything else, The X-Files is a really well-structured, story-telling mechanism. So I had that as my mentor. It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.”

The episode’s teaser opens on a night game in 1947 between a Negro Baseball League team and a white team in Roswell, New Mexico. The players are attacked by hooded horsemen. A player unseats one of the horseman, and when his hood is removed, we see the face of a gray alien. The first act begins one Saturday morning when Mulder, working in his office, spots a familiar name, Arthur Dales (this character first appeared in the episode “Travelers”), in a caption to an old newspaper photograph. Mulder goes to Dales’ apartment and finds not the Dales he expected (who had been played by Darrin McGavin in “Travelers” and subsequently in “Agua Mala”) but his identically-named brother (played by C. Emmet Walsh). Mulder asks about the photograph, and the crotchety Dales finally agrees to tell him its story. The episode then flashes back to 1947 Roswell, New Mexico, where a much younger Dales (Frederic Lane) was a policeman assigned to protect Josh Exley (Jesse Martin), a member of the Negro League team The Roswell Grays from potential racist attacks motivated by major league interest in Exley. Exley and Dales strike up an unlikely friendship, and eventually Dales learns, to his shock, that Exley is actually an alien — a Gray alien, to be precise. Exley has fallen in love with baseball and all he wants to do is play the game. He’s so good that scouts from the major leagues — which have just been integrated — show up. But Exley doesn’t want attention; he shapeshifted himself into the form of an African-American man in order to play in the Negro leagues and avoid mainstream publicity. Exley’s dream of spending his life as a human baseball player takes a tragic turn, though, when an alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson) tracks him down and demands he submit to the ultimate punishment for passing himself off as human.

Duchovny and X-Files executive producer Chris Carter, both devoted baseball fans, had wanted to write an episode about baseball for several years, but had never been able to find the right story. Carter had suggested a story about an Indian burial ground under a baseball stadium, but that idea didn’t pan out. Duchovny, who had reached the point where he felt he was ready to write and direct, and very much wanted to do a baseball story, kept searching for the right idea. One morning he was reading the newspaper — much like Mulder is looking at a newspaper in the beginning of the episode — and spotted an article about a minor-league player named Joe Bauman. (In 1954, Bauman, a gas station owner who had played for the now-defunct Roswell Rockets in the long-forgotten Longhorn League, hit 72 home runs, and drove in 224 runs, for an overall slugging average of .916). “Bauman was like a Bull Durham character,” Duchovny noted. “I don’t think he ever made it to the majors, but I read this article during the McGwire -Sosa home run race, and it mentioned that Bauman had more than 70 home runs in a year in the minor leagues. And he played in Roswell, New Mexico, which I found hysterically funny. So I thought, ‘What if this guy’s an alien? He’s hitting 70 home runs and he’s an alien. There’s my story — we’ve got an alien baseball player.’ I told my wife [actress Tea Leoni] the idea and the next day I woke up and said to her, ‘What if the guy’s black and he’s an alien and the reason he’s black is because he doesn’t want to go to the pros because he doesn’t want to be discovered?’ After that it just all fell into place.”

Exley’s race also dictated the flackback structure of the episode. “Once Exley became black, the story wouldn’t make any sense if it took place after the integration of baseball, because after integration he would be discovered, whether he wanted to or not,” Duchovny said. “I liked the sense of loss that is part of the legacy of black ball players in this country. There were players whose names we don’t know who were every bit as good as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and all the names we do know. Josh Gibson was the prototypical Negro League ballplayer who never got a shot to prove to the world how good he was. So I liked this idea of an invisible history that we don’t know. But this wasn’t something I could do in a story set in the present.” A flashback story also lessened Mulder’s presence in the episode, giving Duchovny time for pre-production and directing.

In Duchovny’s original script, the Arthur Dales who relates the story of Josh Exley is the same Dales The X-Files audience first met in “Travelers,” also a flashback story, this time set in the 1950s. Darrin McGavin had played the current-day Dales, and Frederic Lane (who also appeared in flashback scenes in “Travelers”) his younger encarnation. Duchovny brought back Dales because “it just made sense to me. Rather than have to create a whole new character and introduce him, I thought anytime you can use a character who has a history, you don’t have to waste precious time telling the audience who he is and what he does. You get more time to tell the stuff that matters.”

McGavin agreed to play Dales once again, but three days into the shoot, he fell sick and had to drop out. Duchovny was urged by the writing staff to change Dales into another character entirely and then have the new character tell the story of Dales to Mulder, but Duchovny resisted introducing a third person not directly involved in the situation. His solution was to make the character into the brother of the original Dales — a brother with the same exact name. Veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh came in to take over the role. “It wouldn’t have worked if Dales were telling the story about somebody else. That’s why I couldn’t let that happen and opened myself up to the ridicule of that stupid scene where the guy says he’s got a brother by the same name,” Duchovny said. “Fortunately it went by so quickly. The whole story fails if it’s not this guy’s primary experience. He can’t be telling the story about somebody else, because he has to feel it, not just tell it about somebody else. That one-step removal would have taken away all the emotional immediacy of the piece.”

Walsh’s performance as the grumpy, hermit-like brother moved to tears by 50-year-old memories turned out to be one of the highlights of the episode. “It was intimidating because I was asking him to do so much so quickly,” Duchovny recalled. “He came in the day after he got the script, and he had tons of what I thought would be fun dialogue if you had a couple of weeks with it, but he only had a day. I felt bad for him to come in and make the stuff work, because it was written kind of floridly. It’s very hard to ask an actor to inhabit that way of speaking after a day, but Emmet was great. You somehow believe that he and Darrin McGavin could be brothers. They’re both kind of cantankerous. Emmet made a mistake in the dialogue that I kept in because it was so funny. ‘ I think My Best Friend’s Wedding was in theaters then. He had a line in the script, ‘I was chasing aliens while you were watching My Favorite Martian,’ and he said, ‘You were watching my Best Friend’s Martian.’ That cracked me up.”

One of the episode’s most powerful moments is an overhead shot of young Dales holding Exley as he dies that match dissolves back to the present day of the old Dales, crying, while Mulder sits by him and tries to take in everything he’s heard. This shot of Dales and Mulder was Duchovny’s very first as a director, but Duchovny had to reshoot it when Walsh replaced McGavin. “Darrin did it beautifully, by the way,” Duchovny remarked. “As for the shot itself, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was all about preparation. I told Bill Roe, my director of photgraphy, that I wanted a crane shot and then a little pivot, and then we come down and do a close-up. Basically all that means is that when we got out to the baseball field, we had to match it. Actually, the second shot always is the harder one. I just told Bill the effect I wanted and he went out and did it.”

One of Duchovny’s favorite moments in the episode came in a scene where the Roswell Gray team is traveling on the bus to their next game and begin to sing a spiritual. Duchovny had first written the scene with Exley revealing a terrible singing voice. He had wanted to make a comment, in a humorous way, about the stereotype that all African-Americans can sing, which would be doubly humorous because Josh was really an alien attempting to sing. “It was going to be this anti-stereotyping, racial ha-ha, ‘black man can’t dance’ joke,” Duchovny explained. “But Jesse Martin turned out to have a beautiful singing voice and I decided to put him in there singing. I’m not going to make him sing badly.”

The song was a spiritual chosen by Maggie Jacobson, a former girlfriend, and still good friend, of Duchovny’s. (Jacobson, who is an actress, appeared with Duchovny in his first film, New Year’s Day, and in the first season X-Files episode “Born Again.”) “Maggie is the only Jewish gospel singer in captivity,” Duchovny said. “She teaches gospel workshops. She’s a wonderful singer and has a great love of that music, which I don’t know very well at all. I called her when I had that idea, and I said, ‘Can you find me a song about home?’ I told her the story that I was writing and I said I needed to reflect this issue. And I knew it wouldn’t be hard because most spirituals are about longing for home, or for rest. She sent me a tape of three songs that she thought would be relevant, and I chose “We’ll All Be Together in That Land.” It’s a beautiful song.” The song recurs at the end of the episode when Dales hold Exley as he dies and plays throughout the dissolve back to the present-day, where we see Mulder meeting his partner, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) at a ballfield for some nightime batting lessons. “I wanted at that point to have that feeling bridge us back from the ballfield where Jesse’s dying to Mulder and Scully at the ballfield, and also as a bridge to the scene on the bus. I wanted to bridge the two eras. [Editor] Lynne Willingham and I tweaked the song so that as soon as Mulder puts his arms around Scully, they’re singing, “I got a sister in this land.”

That nighttime scene where Mulder instructs Scully on the finer points of batting is one of the most charming finales in an X-Files episode. On one level, watching Mulder teasing Scully and Scully laughing at their fun together is utterly endearing. But there is another level to the scene, a subtext in the words that they do not say: Mulder’s desire to communicate to Scully what he learned from Dales. The scene also complements beautifully their first scene together at the beginning of the episode’s first act, when Mulder is spending his Saturday researching in the office and an unhappy Scully, brandishing a fat-free tofutti cone, longs for weekend freedom and asks Mulder if he ever wants to get out of the office. (One of the scene’s funniest moments comes when Scully discovers that Mulder isn’t really researching X-Files; he’s got a baseball book hidden among the papers on his desk; he then wrestles Scully for the toffuti cone he had just disdained.) Duchovny saw these Mulder and Scully scenes as his opportunity to write something warm and funny for the two characters, something less formulaic than their usual back and forth style of dialogue. “I was tired of hearing the conversation between Mulder and Scully where Scully would say, ‘Well, I’m a scientist. I believe in science and science tells me this,’ and then Mulder would say, ‘Well, I go with my gut. My gut tells me this.’ I wanted them to have a conversation in which they are actually ‘in’ their dialogue rather than saying who they are, to let the way they speak say who they are, and to let them inhabit themselves than perching outside themselves.”

Although the show’s writing staff had urged Duchovny to end the episode with the dissolve from the ballfield where Dales holds the dying Exley back to Mulder and Dales in present day, Duchovny resisted taking out his epilogue with Mulder and Scully. “It was very important that there be something like an old-fashioned moral. The whole story is about how it affects Mulder and Scully. What did we learn? It was really important to me that Mulder and Scully have communication on this issue, but that it not be literal and that the audience realize Mulder has called Scully up to the ballfield because he’s learned something about life. I wanted him to impart it to Scully without telling her what it is. At first he’s going to tell her, but the last line belongs to Scully, who says, ‘Shut up, I’m playing baseball.’ As usual, Scully gets it, and tells him to shut up. Here’s Mulder, he’s learned this big lesson, he’s going to tell Scully all about it, and she just intuitively grasps it and tells him to shut up because she’s playing. What he’s supposed to have learned is the value of just loving the game.” Mulder, by sharing his knowledge with Scully, is a contrast to Dales, who keeps to his apartment and doesn’t want to let the world in (including

Mulder, who only is granted entrance after passing a baseball pop quiz). However, that kind of contrast doesn’t fascinate Duchovny so much as who the characters are and how they react. “That stuff is not so important to me. I don’t think of Mulder as a character. I think of him as an opportunity to tell a story. I don’t really believe in character — I believe in situations. I believe people’s character comes out of their responses to situations, but I don’t believe that that character exists before the situation exists. As a writer, I think all that stuff about character is bullshit. Screenwriting is storytelling; you put a figure in a story and have him react the way you want to tell your story. When people get outraged and say, ‘Oh, Mulder would never do that!” Well, yeah, he would, it’s written right here. I’ve got it in writing. Look: Mulder wears a dress. Says right here that he would do that. But people don’t get that. Read Mamet on character; he’s very smart on that.”

When Exley realizes that the Bounty Hunter is on his trail, instead of fleeing, he stops and plays one more game. “He knew he was found out and they were going to come and take him away. He wanted to set his record, he wanted his one last chance to be remembered by the game,” Duchovny said. What sets Exley the alien apart from his fellow aliens is his love of humanity, symbolized in the joy of the game of baseball, but also in other human pleasures such as laughter and song. For Duchovny, Exley — who at the end truly becomes human and bleeds red blood, instead of alien green — is a Pinocchio figure. “He lives the fantasy not just of wooden boys, but of all men and women. You want something to make you real — authentic. Exley becomes real. I spared you the dialogue where he could have said, ‘I feel real,’ but you get to see it [when he bleeds]. The beauty of movies is that you can actually show things instead of telling them. You can have a very tidy — as my former teacher Harold Bloom would say — ‘trope’ of humanity: ‘Oh my god! You’ve become a real person out of your love of the game!’ I’m being ironic but this is moving to me and it meant a lot to me. If I were to sit down and look at that hour of television, I would say it has more of me than anything else I’ve ever done.”

As director, Duchovny had first cut of the episode, so for the first time he found himself working in the editing room. His editor for “The Unnatural” was Lynne Willingham. Duchovny found the experience greatly rewarding. “It’s fun if you have enough footage to make your show make sense,” he said. “I think I did pretty well both times in getting footage. We often start to shoot scripts that are still in progress — that’s just the nature of the schedule — but I had my script far in advance because I was only doing one, so I was prepared months before and I knew what I needed. Lynne [who began editing while shooting was still in progress] would call me if I missed anything, so I had the chance to go back and get something. When you’re out there shooting, you really do have an infinite amount of possibility for where you’re going to put the camera. The great thing about the editing room is that for better or for worse, once you’re in it, you only have the shots you took, and you have to make it work from that. There’s less panic in editing, because even though you’re dealing with something diminished, something no longer infinite, at the same time you’re dealing with something concrete, and you’ve got to make it work. It’s kind of like growing up. You’re like, ‘Okay, well, fuck, I’m not going to be an astronaut, let’s just learn how to fly a plane.’ ”

The editing process did not see any major changes from the the final script, although Duchovny remembered one alteration suggested by X-Files writer/producer John Shiban that helped clarify the story. Shiban suggested that Duchovny add a fourth-act recap of the teaser, right before the episode advanced beyond the teaser’s attack on the ballplayers by the horsemen. “I had written it so that you go back just to the point where you left it off, to the unmasking of the alien, and John and some of the producers felt that the audience needed a reminder about what’s going on. I thought that was a really good editorial decision.” Duchovny’s favorite post-production experience was working with X-Files composer Mark Snow, who has composed and performed the music to every episode. “I talked to Mark about the feeling that I wanted, which was this Ry Cooder-guitar, Paris, Texas sound. I just loved the music in the beginning of the epsiode.”

Duchovny’s decision to direct “The Unnatural” grew out of his occasional frustration with the show’s storyline and his lack of control over his character, something he acknowledged an actor “has to give up” in a television series. He saw directing as a way of protecting his script. “Directing is a part of the writing process. It’s the completion of the writing and making sure that your vision gets carried through all the way. I guess I’ve been disappointed in the show’s execution. It’s a little like music. You can tell somebody this is how this should be and this is how it goes, and they nod, and you figure, ‘We’re on the same page, we’re speaking the same language,’ but it never works out that way. It doesn’t. So you just go, ‘For better or for worse, I’m going to be the guy that executes it all the way. I’m not going to leave it up to somebody else.’

Duchovny admitted that as a director, he has his weaknesses, especially in his ability to conceive a shot visually. “I’m spatially backwards. I have no competence at all. I can’t draw. I can’t even conceive on a flat piece of paper in three dimensions. I wish I could. So I was really nervous going in thinking how am I going to move these people through three dimensional space. I also always feel nervous that I’m not always getting enough pieces to cut it together. What I do have is a kind of non-linear sense of how images reveal a story. I guess in ‘The Unnatural” it would be the moment when Exley bleeds red blood, and in ‘Hollywood A.D.’ it’s the final moment when a piece of plastic makes zombies dance on a sound stage. When someone would say, ‘This doesn’t make any sense. Why is this here?’ I would say, ‘Because.’ It makes poetic sense and I think that when you tell a story visually you’re telling it poetically. You’re not telling it like a literal narrative. I feel very comfortable creating an image that is poetic. I feel very uncomfortable in those three dimensions. That just comes with experience, that you go, ‘OK, that’s how everything cuts together.’ I think I was more comfortable the second time around with “Hollywood A.D.”

Although “The Unnatural” was his first directing assignment, Duchovny felt he did not receive any help beyond what is usually given any new director on the series. “Traditionally, as a sop, TV producers will let long-time actor on a series direct, but it’s letting a monkey paint,” Duchovny laughed. “The idea is, ‘Oh, we’ve got this mechanism of The X-Files in place and we won’t let you fail,’ which is encouraging, if also condescending. When you actually go through it, you realize both that you can do it, and secondly, that you do need a lot of help. Everybody who comes in to direct gets a lot of help, not just dumb actors who think they can direct. Every director who goes in there has the benefit of a great director of photography, a great script supervisor, and actors who have been doing their roles for years. But I got no more help than anybody else. The illusion is that you have these directors who come in and run the ship, but the ship runs itself and the ship knows where to go. That comes from people like the director of photography, Bill Roe, who’s so important, and the set designer, Corey Kaplan, who’s phenomenal; in “The Unnatural,” which is a period piece, it was just perfect to have that baseball field and that old bus. I don’t know the uniforms, any of those things. I just went, ‘OK, I want to set it in the 1940s,’ and then everybody else helped me out. [Producers/directors] Kim Manners and Rob Bowman helped me a lot. My first assistant director, Barry Thomas, held my hand and sat up till three in the morning making up shot lists with me so I wouldn’t feel naked going in there. Michael Watkins, who is a director and was a producer at the time of ‘The Unnatural,’ was there all the time. So it was really Michael and Kim on the first one and then Rob and Kim on ‘Hollywood A.D.’ I storyboarded everything with Alex Hill, who is fantastic. Then I’d bring my storyboards to Kim and I’d say, “Do you think this is going to work?” and that’s the kind of help I got.”

“The Unnatural” was an instant hit with X-Files fans, some of whom compared the episode’s visual puns and occasionally mocking tone (particularly when Arthur Dales was on screen) with episodes by former X-Files writer Darin Morgan, the show’s self-referential humorist par excellence. Duchovny claimed that Morgan, who wrote “Humbug,’ ‘The Final Repose of Clyde Bruckman,’ ‘War of the Coprophages’ and ‘Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,’ ” wasn’t as big an influence as one might think, although he greatly admires Morgan’s work for the show. “Darin comes much more out of the history of film,” Duchovny commented. “He’s seen everything. I come more out of literature. In that way we’re very different, but I do think we are both kind of hellbent on subverting the seriousness of the show. [Former X-Files writers and producers] Glen Morgan and James Wong opened the door to deflation of the show’s archness, and then Darin kind of destroyed the show from within. I was a real fan of that, so Darin paved the way for this kind of tone.”

The tone in Duchovny’s second episode as writer and director, “Hollywood A.D.,” moved away from the pathos and low-key humor of “The Unnatural” towards something more outrageous and satirical, creating a story with a dual focus — a super-serious case investigated by Mulder and Scully — and a satiric look at Hollywood — that is tied together by an hilariously bad cinematic version of the case and the episode’s final image of dancing zombies.

The teaser of “Hollywood A.D.” takes place at a movie premiere at the 20th Century-Fox lot. Among the glittering group celebrities sits Mulder, Scully, and Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi): the movie is based on one of their cases. What they see so embarrasses Mulder that he bolts the auditorium. The episode proper begins 18 months earlier, when Skinner tells Mulder and Scully that his friend, a movie producer named Wayne Federman (played by actor/comedian Wayne Federman!) has permission to accompany them on their latest investigation in order to research his latest cinematic venture. Skinner, as it turns out, is an old college chum of Federman’s, so he is happy to comply. Mulder and Scully instantly consider Federman — who constantly interrupts them by talking into his tape recorder and making annoying observations — a total nuisance, but they’re stuck with him. Their case concerns a bombing in the crypt of a local Catholic cathedral. Cardinal O’Fallon (Harris Yulin) shows them around the church and tells them he is mystified why anyone would bomb it. While investigating the crypt, Federman wanders off and observes an amazing sight: bones dislodged by the explosion dancing around and trying to put together pottery shards to form a bowl. But before Federman can tell Mulder what he’s just seen, they make a disturbing discovery: a body is under the rubble. The corpse is identified as that of Micha Hoffman, a former campus radical, current-day explosives expert and forger who (Mulder and Scully learn) had sold documents derogatory to Church doctrine to O’Fallon. The Cardinal had hid the documents to avoid the repercussion of their discovery and is utterly dismayed when Mulder tells him they are forgeries. Scully and Mulder puzzle about the broken bowl in the crypt and Scully tells Mulder and Federman about the Lazarus Bowl, which a potter was making just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and recorded his words in the groves of the clay. When Mulder and Scully take the bowl to their scientist pal Chuck Burks (Bill Dow) for analysis, they hear some words that sound very much like Aramaic. Could the bowl be genuine? The case takes a surprising turn when Hoffman (Paul Lieber) turns up alive just as Mulder and Scully are about to arrest O’Fallon for his murder. Skinner is so furious by the misidentification of the corpse that he removes them from the case and put them on suspension. Federman, now back in Hollywood, invites the two agents to California to observe the shoot of his movie, and with nothing much else to do, Mulder and Scully accept his offer. A visit to the set proves that Hollywood is about as bizarre as anything else they’ve ever seen.

The episode returns in the fourth act to the premiere of Federman’s movie. Mulder and Scully watch in horror as they see up on the screen the O’Fallon/Hoffman story turned into an action-packed exploitation film, with a “Cigarette Smoking Pontiff” and his zombies battling it out in a cemetery with “Mulder” (Garry Shandling) and “Scully” (Tea Leoni, Duchovny’s wife). The scene ends with “Mulder” and “Scully” tumbling into a coffin, realizing their love for one another, and kissing passionately, which is enough to make a mortified Mulder bolt the theater. He takes refuge on a still-standing set, where Scully joins him and tells him she just learned O’Fallon killed Hoffman and then committed suicide. (The corpse in the Church’s crypt is never identified.) After some musings, the two depart for a night on the town. “Hollywood A.D.” ends with a movie tie-in Lazarus bowl – mass-manufactured to hold popcorn — coming into contact with a fake branch on the film’s still-standing set. Music issues forth, bring to life the movie’s zombies, who celebrate their brief existence with a tango.

Duchovny’s original idea for a second episode was to write a story centering around Assistant Director Skinner. “I’m always wanting to write Mitch stuff, because I think Mitch is totally underused,” Duchovny said. A few years ago he had pitched a Skinner idea which was used for the episode “Avatar,” but the final version was far from what he had originally proposed. “I had this idea where a spirit, like a lilith, comes to Skinner at night. Basically it’s a wet dream, because she doesn’t exist, but then she falls in love with Skinner and starts to wreak havoc with anybody he gets close to. It was about how spirits don’t understand the living, that they’re threatened by any kind of closeness, and then Scully was going to come into jeopardy because the spirit was going to misinterpret Skinner’s relationship to Scully. This spirit was supposed to be beautiful and sexy.” By the time “Avatar” went before the cameras, Duchovny’s sexy spirit had been rewritten as a wrinkled old woman. “I told Mitch, ‘I apologize. I had an idea it was going to be a succubus and they turned her into a crone!’ Duchovny lamented. “And I don’t know what the story was about after that. So I felt was like I owed Mitch.”

For his second script, Duchovny thought about writing a Midnight RUN-type episode for Mulder, Skinner and the two Arthur Dales brothers. “The old guys want to go on the road one more time. So that’s where I was heading, and then it turned into ‘Hollywood A.D.’ Originally it was supposed to be a show for Mitch, and then as it always seems to be the case for Mitch, it turned into a show about Mulder and Scully. So again, I had to apologize to Mitch for it not being about him in the end.” Even so, Skinner has several stand-out moments in “Hollywood A.D.,” particularly when he and Mulder and Scully all end up in bubble baths in their respective Hollywood hotel rooms and engage in a three-way split screen phone conversation a la Pillow Talk, or when he’s happily grinning with a hot babe on his arm at the movie premiere.

Like “The Unnatural,” “Hollywood A.D.” moved into high gear with another suggestion Duchovny made to wife Tea Leoni one morning. “I woke up — this is how all my ideas start — and I said to my wife, ‘What if Skinner was working with a Hollywood producer on one of Mulder and Scully’s cases to make a movie?’ She said, ‘That’s funny!’ And, all right, here was the one I’m going to do this year.”

Duchovny’s Hollywood producer, Wayne Federman, appears at first blush to be the stereotypical notion of such a creature: slick, fast-talking, unable to view the world as anything but one big movie. Naturally, the super-serious Mulder and Scully wish Federman would go back to where he came from (Mulder asks Skinner if he’s pissed him off “in a way that’s more than normal” to merit Federman’s presence), but they eventually realize that words of wisdom may emerge even from the mouths of Hollywood producers, especially when Federman paradoxically states that Mulder is crazy for believing what he believes and Scully is crazy for not believing what Mulder believes. “The idea was Hollywood satire, but that’s too easy,” Duchovny said. “There are a lot of philistines out here, but there are a lot of smart philistines here, a lot of people who know what people like and have an intuitive grasp of storytelling. They couldn’t tell you why something is good, but they can make it good. And that’s what makes Hollywood a crazy town. Wayne is a little like that. He’s a boor, he’s rude, but he’s got this ability sometimes to cut through the bullshit. That’s real for me out here, even though Wayne’s a caricature and kind of a stock Hollywood character. I wanted to make him insightful, even when he didn’t know he was being insightful.”

Duchovny couldn’t resist naming his prototypical producer Wayne Federman after the actor who played him. “I love that name,” Duchovny laughed. “Wayne’s a friend of mine and Garry Shandling’s. He’s a stand-up comic and he’s got this great voice and this great delivery. I was going to write the script over Christmas and just by chance, Wayne called and said, ‘When are you going to get me on that damned show of yours?’ I said, ‘Let me write you a part,’ and I did. It was like one of those things where you go, ‘This is waaaay too fuckin’ easy.’ So I had Wayne’s voice in my head and I thought, “Well, that voice is so ‘Wayne.’ I’ll call the producer Wayne Federman. I love that name. It’s a great Jewish last name with this really crazy first name Wayne. What Jew is named Wayne?”

Although the episode’s teaser is set at the movie’s premiere, Duchovny didn’t want to bring Mulder and Scully to Hollywood until the fourth act of the episode. He knew he needed a “really good caper” to keep the agents busy in Washington — and viewers intrigued — through the first three acts. “The case had to be good enough to sustain a whole episode, even though I was only going to use it for half or three-quarters of the episode,” Duchovny said. “After I had the idea of Skinner and this Hollywood frame, then it became just a search for the caper, the X-File. When I conceived the episode and wrote the teaser, I had a different caper — I hadn’t come up with the Lazarus Bowl yet. The caper was about the Tetragrammaton, whichh is the name of God — Yahweh. The caper was about this thing that was God, so it was like, ‘Hand over the Tetragrammaton!’

Duchovny added that he took pride in “throwing the case away, because I knew people would want to see the whole story. I like it that it’s so good I’m going to throw it away. Originally I had the news of the death of Hoffman and O’Fallon delivered when Scully comes to Mulder’s apartment in the third act when he’s watching an Ed Wood movie. They take that in and then they go to Hollywood, so that the X-File was wrapped up at the end of act three. The rest of the show would be a lark, until it was hopefully all brought back together by the final image. The producers felt that that ended the show there and they wanted to keep the O’Fallon/Hoffman story open until the very last possible moment. But the news of O’Fallon’s and Hoffman’s death was always going to happen off-screen. There was always going to be a sense, I think, in which people were going to feel cheated because it happened off-screen. I didn’t set out to cheat or confound anybody, it’s like I didn’t know how else to do it and still make the turn into the story I wanted to tell. If I was to rationalize it, I would say, here’s just another example of storytelling getting in the way of what really happened. But to be honest, it was just to be expedient.”

Duchovny drew his caper from the real-life story of historical documents dealer Mark Hoffman, who forged documents detrimental to Mormon Church doctrine and proceeded to sell them to Mormon officials, who then kept the papers from the public eye. Like Cardinal O’Fallon, the Mormon Church officials did not realize that the documents had been forged. (Hofmann was eventually convicted of murdering two business associates.) “That idea has probably been in my head for 15 years,” Duchovny said. “Hoffman was fascinating to me, because he claimed that he could become [Mormon Church founder] Joseph Smith. He certainly could write like him. And he was a very talented forger and murderer. He exploded himself with a bomb in order to make it look like he was the target. So you had all these things.” The Micha Hoffman of “Hollywood A.D.” is also a prankster and former campus radical, which brings to mind another Hoffman: the real-life campus radical and prankster Abbie Hoffman. Duchovny hadn’t initially thought of Abbie Hoffman as a source for his Hoffman, but eventually realized there was a more than a little similarity between Abbie and Micha. “That was like the moment when I realized Jackie Robinson and Roswell were the same summer. It’s like, ‘I’m so smart! The name is the same!,’ ” he laughed. “Sometimes the world helps you out with coincidence. Also, Micha is [former X-Files writer and producer] Howard Gordon’s son’s name and I always liked it.”

Duchovny cast Paul Lieber, who played Hoffman, after he saw him in a short film called Parking, which had been directed by James Morrison (best known to genre fans as Colonel McQueen in Space: Above and Beyond; he also guest starred in the X-Files episode “Theef”). “Jim had seen ‘The Unnatural,’ he knew I was going to do another one, and he wanted to read the script,” Duchovny said. “He also showed me a short film he had done about a guy in a parking lot. Paul Lieber was in that, and I said, ‘That’s the guy I want!’ I called Paul and I explained the character and he said, ‘That’s funny, I just played Abbie Hoffman!’ There’s a noticeable resemblance between Duchovny and Lieber, of which Duchovny is not unaware. “People were saying we both have some Richard Gere thing happening,” he joked. The enigmatic character of Micha Hoffman provokes an unexpectedly strong response in Scully, who is startled by visions of a dead Hoffman rising from the autopsy table to speak with her, and Hoffman crucified on a cross in the cathedral where Cardinal O’Fallon officiates. Could Hoffman have actually transcended death, might he be Christ? The episode does not answer these questions, but these moments leave Scully deeply shaken. “Scully sees visions because the subject matter seemed more personal to her,” Duchovny said. “She’s been established as some kind of active Christian, but her faith has never been anything more than salad dressing on this show. I thought here’s a chance where her faith can be seen as a similar field of magic or delusion to Mulder, who’s constantly seeing things. It made more sense to me and it made the story better to have Scully tested in that way, rather than Mulder, who is hard to test because he always wants to see the vision. Nothing is going to test Mulder because he’s always going to believe in anything; nothing is going to shake him. So this was a way to get to what I felt was the truth of the Micah Hoffman character: that he was legitimately powerful and charismatic religious figure.

Although Harris Yulin as Cardinal O’Fallon has only a few scenes on screen in “Hollywood A.D.,” he makes an indelible impression, in great part thanks to a sense of humor dryer than the Gobi Desert. “I think humor is a real sign of intelligence,” Duchovny said. “If I can give a supposedly serious character an awareness of what is funny, to me it says ‘this is an intelligent person.’ When I was writing Cardinal O’Fallon, I said to myself, ‘Okay, he’s a stock, high religious character, you’ve seen it before. He’s probably done something bad. But what if he has a great cell phone line? What if he’s in the crypt and says, ‘I never get reception down here?’ This shows that he’s not stuck, that he has an idea of what people are expecting him to be, and he’s confident enough to go against it. Harris is a great actor. It doesn’t get any dryer than that. Also, he played that scene so beautifully when he tells the story of why he hates Micha Hoffman. Harris had two scenes to create a character that you have to feel for. The weakness of the episode is that it has so many characters, whereas in ‘The Unnatural,’ you really had two, Arthur Dales and Josh Exley. In ‘Hollywood A.D.’ you have Federman, Hoffman, O’Fallon, you have Shandling as ‘Mulder’ and Leoni as ‘Scully,’ you’ve got a ton of stuff happening. So it’s much less centered. It’s probably more ambitious in that way and therefore prone to failing more.”

The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov served as another inspiration for O’Fallon. The Grand Inquisitor explains in a long monologue that he believes the evil acts he commits are justified because they are the means towards an ultimate good.) Duchovny had brought the character of the Grand Inquisitor to Chris Carter’s attention for the X-FILES episode “Talitha Cumi,” where dialogue for scenes between the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes) was inspired by the Grand Inquisitor’s monologue. “I told Chris I saw The Cigarette Smoking Man as a Grand Inquisitor figure, because he has seen the truth and he is damning himself in order to save people. In his own twisted way, he’s a very moving figure to me: the man who will go to hell so that other people may live more freely. Those scenes in ‘Talitha Cumi’ didn’t work to my satisfaction, so to me O’Fallon is really the Inquisitor. He is a guy who says, ‘I know the truth and the truth is too much for people to bear. So I will destroy the truth and take the heat and save the people.’ In that way, Duchovny added, O’Fallon is related to Federman, because they both share a sense of commitment and passion to their respective professions. “Silly as Federman is, he’s completely committed. And that’s something that I value and that I try to treat with respect. Every character in ‘Hollywood A.D.’ — Hoffman, O’Fallon, Federman – has it.”

Duchovny underscored that theme in the scene where Scully comes to Mulder’s apartment after Skinner has removed them from the case and and finds a discouraged Mulder watching Plan Nine From Outer Space, the “masterpiece” of Ed Wood, often described as the worst director ever. The choice of film on Mulder’s TV is not an arbitrary one by Duchovny; Ed Wood symbolizes the qualities Duchovny admires in characters like Federman, whose enthusiasm for his terrible movie never wavers. “I would never have done that scene had not Tim Burton made his movie Ed Wood,” Duchovny said. “I didn’t know about Ed Wood before that movie and I never would have conceived of Ed Wood as a heroic character without seeing it. I love Burton’s take on that character, which is: who cares about how bad the movies were? This is a guy who believed. He believed in movie-making more than all these people who had the resources and the talent. There’s something beautiful in Ed Wood. To me, passion is a gift. I only discover it every now and then in my life, so when I see people who have that gift, I respond to it. I worship it. To me it’s something genetic, because I don’t have it. It takes a certain lack of self-consciousness which I don’t seem to have, so I love it, even when the product is bad.”

“The Unnatural” and “Hollywood A.D.” share a similar narrative structure; the teaser takes place during the time-frame of each episode’s fourth act, so that their first acts open during an earlier time (in “The Unnatural,” this is even more complicated, since the teaser is part of the story Arthur Dales begins relating in the first act) and the story eventually returns to the events seen in the trailer and then proceeds beyond them. Both end with Mulder and Scully together, sharing information (non-verbally in “The Unnatural;” with dialogue in “Hollywood A.D.”) about what they’ve witnessed and what it means. Duchovny felt that despite the similar structure, each episode’s conclusion showed Mulder and Scully in a different light. “They are two separate stories that dictated to me how they should end,” he said. “They’re slightly different in that ‘Hollywood A.D.’ ends on its own [with the zombie dance] and ‘The Unnatural’ ends with Mulder and Scully. ‘The Unnatural’ is more integrated into the frame of the characters in the show. ‘Hollywood A.D.’ is more of a release and happens behind their backs; they sum up the story in the way they think it was, and then the story sums up itself with the way it is. In ‘The Unnatural,’ it’s Mulder and Scully who sum up the story the way it is. They get it. In ‘Hollywood A.D.’ they think they get it, but then it goes one more step. Mulder and Scully get what they need to get, but they still underestimate the power of Hollywood. Of course, they would, because they don’t really care about it. They get what they need to get, and whoever gets to tell the story wins. They got to tell the story, they got to remain true to their own version of what this life is. ‘We can’t let this bother us, let’s go out and have fun. We know what we do, we know who we are, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.’ ”

The zombies of “Hollywood A.D.,” first seen in Federman’s movie, have the final word after they are brought to life by the inadvertent contact of the plastic Lazarus Bowl and the fake tree on the soundstage that Mulder and Scully have just left. Duchovny likens this dreamlike, illogical coda to similarly illogical scenes in “The Unnatural” — images of Dales’ memories turning out to be pictures on his television set; the same boy both delivering liquor to the older Dales and hanging out at Roswell Grays’ baseball games; the alien Exley bleeding red blood when he should bleed green. “It’s a non-linear sense of how images reveal a story,” he said. “In ‘The Unnatural’ you can see that in the moment when Exley bleeds, and in “Hollywood A.D.’ it’s the final moment when a piece of plastic makes zombies dance on a soundstage. These scenes makes poetic sense. It’s like when you’re talking about a poem and you go, ‘What does this poem mean?’ Well, a poem is. It doesn’t mean. That’s really what I feel like about the best images. The most recent literalization of that would be in American Beauty, where Wes Bentley shows the video of the plastic bag. That’s almost a manifesto of ‘here’s an image, it makes me feel everything — I don’t know why, it’s just a plastic bag floating in the wind’ — and whether or not that works for you. That’s all about movie-making, that moment in American Beauty with the kid who is a filmmaker. To me, they’re all these little plastic bag images and they work or they don’t. I had the feeling for some reason people didn’t get the last image of Hollywood A.D. They just thought it was fun. But to me it was really the whole reversal of the episode. If I were to literalize it, it would be to say, ‘Here we are on this Hollywood soundstage and we have the mass-produced plastic replica of a ceramic bowl that may or may not have the voice of Jesus on it, and this plastic bowl, even this far removed from the source, has the power to raise the dead. And more so, it has the power to raise dead people who aren’t even there and make them dance and show us what life is really all about. Mulder talked about this earlier in the bathtub scene, where he says, “Why is it that dead people are always attacking the living?’ I say, ‘They’re hungry first’ and if we stayed with them longer, they would get drunk and make love and dance. It was an imagistic reversal of the whole show but because it wasn’t literalized, maybe it wasn’t successful. For me it was the big circle of what it’s all about. It’s non-existent dead people laughing, dancing, sexy, making love. I feel very comfortable creating an image that is poetic. I think directing is the same as poetry.”

Duchovny limited his appearances for The X-Files’ eighth season to the second half, choosing instead to spend that fall working on the Ivan Reitman SF comedy Evolution. When the eighth season concluded, he had no more plans to write and direct for the show, or even return to play Mulder. Instead, he worked with director Steven Soderbergh on Full Frontal, and this summer begins shooting My Dark Places, based on crime novelist James Ellroy’s memoir of his mother’s murder and his troubled childhood and young adulthood. But he changed his mind, and returned briefly for the X-Files’ ninth season, directing the episode “William” (for which he received a story credit) and playing Mulder one more time in the two-hour series finale, “The Truth.” He is also amenable to making more X-Files movies. His preference, though, would be to move into directing his own feature scripts. “The great thing about THE X-Files is that I could cut my teeth on what’s about as close to movie-making as you can get on television,” he said. “I don’t know if I have the stamina or the kind of creativity that somebody like Chris Carter has. I don’t have the need to do the same characters in a serial format, probably because I’ve done it as an actor. So I don’t see myself going into television to try to create characters that could sustain seven years’ worth of hour-long shows. I’d love to write and direct two hours at a time. I feel that’s what I should do with my life.”