Archive for April, 2011

The Junction: Truth, Trust and the Magic of Mulder & Scully: 13 Questions for X-Files Writer and Producer Frank Spotnitz

Apr-25-2011
The Junction
Truth, Trust and the Magic of Mulder & Scully: 13 Questions for X-Files Writer and Producer Frank Spotnitz

[Original article here]

Hardly any other series left such a profound impression on the 90s like the sci-fi cult show The X-Files. Not only did it win an incredible amount of awards, attracted a huge fan following and led to two movies, but it also influenced the way stories are told on the small and the big screen. Even today many shows continue to cite The X-Files in one way or another: Be it LOST, Bones, House M.D. or Fringe – just take your pick. And if everything goes according to plan and the optimism of many fans, a third movie should hit screens next year – after all the complex mythology about aliens, invasion and conspiracies makes it a necessity. We got together with X-Files writer and producer Frank Spotnitz to talk about the impact of the show as well as about his experiences as a storyteller.

Drawings by Rose and Roxanne Goldfish from heART for Charity (http://heart.keyofx.org/)

Drawings by Rose and Roxanne Goldfish from heART for Charity (http://heart.keyofx.org/)

Source: Anastasia Hansen and heART

So what is it exactly that made and makes The X-Files such a hit? It is a mix of different aspects – the high quality of the scripts, directing and acting, the mix of creepy and funny stories, the challenging mythology, the unique score by Mark Snow, the atmospheric camera work and, of course, the main characters Mulder and Scully. Two smart characters with different belief systems and world views that were always treated as equals – and even led to a gender role switch to a certain degree: While Mulder is the more intuitive and open-minded character, Scully’s rationalism exhibits more supposedly male qualities. Not to mention the sizzling chemistry between the two: Hardly has unresolved sexual tension been more attractive. When the resolving part does finally take place, it happens off-screen.

Hence it should come as no surprise that The X-Files is still very much alive today. Especially the online community is very active and offers a diverse source of creativity. During the early 90s the show was actually even one of the first to play such an important role within the internet world. When you search for it today, you find a wide range of online forums, creative video editors, news networks, conventions and even charities.

TheJunction: How do you approach storytelling and writing a script?

Frank Spotnitz: When I’m looking for a story to tell, I look for something that I care about, both emotionally and intellectually. The emotional connection comes first. That’s the fuel that drives me through the process of devising the story. But at the same time, I’m thinking about what my story is saying, what questions it’s asking about life. And whether I feel I’m saying something true. That may seem surprising coming from someone who’s written so many stories in the supernatural genre. Ironically, I find it’s easier to identify interesting ideas in supernatural stories. If you’re going to depart from literal reality, then you have to think about why you’re doing that, and what rules govern the reality you’re creating. And in that process I invariably end up finding something I want to say about life.

My frame of mind each time out is that I’m going to try to write the best thing I’ve ever done. I tend to be very meticulous in the process of drafting a story. I typically spend weeks devising the story for an hour of television, thinking about each scene, how they end and begin, the journeys the characters take, what makes the story work. Then I sit down to write, and try to make my first draft as polished and well crafted as if it were my final draft. It never ends up being my final draft, of course — the cliché that most of writing is rewriting certainly holds true for me.  But the stronger the first draft, the stronger the platform upon which to build all my revisions.

Please tell us about your current projects.

I have many projects in development, most of which I can’t really talk about yet. The movie and television business is speculative, so you often have to cast a lot of lines before you get a network or a studio to bite. The project that’s occupying my every waking hour right now is tentatively titled Morton. It’s a spy thriller commissioned by the BBC and co-produced by Kudos Film and Television.

How did you find your way into storytelling and the film industry?

Circuitously. I wanted to be a writer, actor or director from a very young age, but I ended up getting sidetracked by journalism. My first quarter at UCLA, I had this amazing journalism professor, Jim Howard, and I just fell in love with the idea of being a reporter. I ended up writing for wire services for seven years — in Indiana, New York and Paris — before I realized I didn’t love it enough to stick with it. So I moved back to Los Angeles and studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute, where I was blessed with two more wonderful teachers, Beth Sullivan and Howard Dimsdale. The X-Files was, believe it or not, my first job in Hollywood.

How did you become involved in The X-Files?

Dumb luck.  I’d met Chris Carter in a book group while I was in film school. The book group ended, we didn’t really keep in touch, and he went on to create The X-Files. Toward the end of the first season, an old friend of mine who knew of my connection to Chris asked if I’d call on his behalf to see if he could pitch an episode. I felt somewhat uncomfortable doing it, but made the call anyway. Chris said he wouldn’t hear my friend’s pitch, but he’d hear my ideas, if I had any. Up to that point, I’d never thought of writing for television. I thought I was going to write movies. But I figured what the hell. So I came up with three story ideas, went in to pitch them, and Chris promptly shot them all down. I thought that was the end of it, but then a few weeks later, I got a call from Chris. He said two writers were leaving the show — I later found out this was Glen Morgan and Jim Wong — and asked if I’d like to come onboard as a staff writer. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I still can’t.

What do you think was decisive for the major success of the show?

So, so many things. When you have a big success like The X-Files, you have to do everything right — and then get lucky. I think it started with an amazing pilot episode, and the inspired casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. From there, the competition between Chris, Jim & Glen and Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa made for a first season that just got better and better. And I would argue that competition to outdo ourselves continued until the very end. It’s incredible to look at the creative trajectory of the show, how restless our imaginations were, and how it just got more and more sophisticated.

How important is the relationship to the fans for you?

I think The X-Files was the first series to have a deep relationship with its fans via the Internet. While we were writing the show, I’d frequently check out the newsgroups, and then the message boards, to see how fans were responding to the stories. Especially with the mythology episodes, it was incredibly useful to see what ideas were landing and which weren’t. In one instance, a fan’s question about the aftermath of Melissa Scully’s death inspired a two-part episode (Piper Maru & Apocrypha). The interesting thing is that the fan base evolves. I suspect of the people who are talking about and following The X-Files online now weren’t online when the show was first broadcast.

What makes the relationship between Mulder and Scully so unique?

You can’t overstate the importance of David and Gillian’s performances, or their chemistry together. Beyond that, I think it’s enormously appealing that Mulder and Scully are two incredibly smart people with boundless respect for one another, despite their profoundly different points of view. During the course of the series, it was their work that brought them together, but also kept them apart.

Since you explore the profound connection between being an author and storytelling in the episode Milagro, how do you perceive the interrelation between an author and the story he/she is telling?

It’s a very interesting subject to me. One of the reasons Milagro is one of my favorite episodes is because it’s about the power of storytelling. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that people need stories to survive — not “want,” “like” or “desire,” but “need.” When I first heard that, I thought it was an overstatement, but I’ve come to believe it’s true. Stories help us make sense of the world in which we live. We connect to the emotional lives of fictional characters in a very intimate way that can be incredibly helpful to one’s life. That’s certainly true for me — stories and fictional characters helped me get through some difficult times as a kid, and they still help sustain me in many ways. I am aware when I’m writing that by asking myself what’s true, what I care about, I’m learning things about myself and about the world around me. But at some point, the story becomes its own thing. And then it’s there for other people to draw from, to find meaning.

Do you have any favorite episodes or ones you are particularly proud of? If so, why?

I love the fact that The X-Files was so many series in one. Just about anything Darin Morgan wrote. So many of Vince Gilligan’s episodes and the ones written by Morgan & Wong, And of course countless episodes written by Chris Carter. His craftsmanship and fierce dedication to excellence continues to inspire me.

Big Light, Frank Spotnitz’s production company

Big Light, Frank Spotnitz’s production company

Source: http://www.biglight.com/index.php?p=about

Are there any funny anecdotes you could share from the time the The X-Files was being filmed?

Only over a drink, and off the record.

While working on Millennium, how did you manage to keep a distance from the often dark nature of the show?

I didn’t! But it’s actually incredibly liberating writing about dark things — it helps you sort out your feelings about things that terrify you.

Do you have any advise for people striving to become filmmakers?

Don’t be afraid. If you love it, do it. But work hard. Allow yourself to be as good as you’re capable of being.

Is there anything you would like to tell those out there waiting for a third X-Files movie to be greenlit?

I still don’t have any news to share. But I won’t give up. And the fans shouldn’t, either.

Thank you for the interview! If you want to learn more about Frank Spotnitz and his production company Big Light, check out the homepage for the latest news. And until December 2012 comes around: Never give up on a miracle.

Who Forted?: Interview: The X-Files’ Dean Haglund

Apr-06-2011
Interview: The X-Files’ Dean Haglund
Who Forted?
Tony Hart-Wilden

[Original here]

Actor and comedian Dean Haglund, best known for his role on television’s the X-Files (and more recently, as the host of Ghost Adventures Live), has more in common with his television role than one might think. He’s a self-proclaimed geek, an inventor, and even a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Regular contributor Tony Hart-Wilden had the chance to sit down and pick his brain about HAARP, the second shooter, alternate dimensions, and even Jane’s Addiction’s feelings on Alien/Human relations.

deanh

TW: You’re most well know for you portrayal of Richard Langley, one of the X-Files‘ Lone Gunmen, but you in fact have a long and varied career, tell us a bit about your background:

DH: It’s a green screen! (My background? Special effects? Anyone… hello?) Okay…. I come from Canada and was acting since I was 12 when I was doing children’s theatre and moved into the comedy racket when I was old enough get into a bar. And I never looked back.

TW: People may be surprised to learn that you may have more things in common with your Lone Gunmen character than they are aware of..

DH: Yes, including me. I have invented a laptop cooling system called a Chill Pak.

TW: Do you think your fame as one of the Lone Gunmen has helped you persue your interest in conspiracies?

DH: Yes, I didn’t really know much about them till I started researching my character and then meeting real researchers and occult scholars and ex-military dudes. And the stories were too fascinating to be ignored. All of them would probably make great movies…

TW: Although a fictional TV show, do you think the X-Files influenced people to take a greater interest in real life UFO incidents and conspiracy theories, maybe even to question what their own government may be hiding from them?

DH: I think that may be true, but there is also an alternative viewpoint and that is the government keeps creating shows like the X-Files so that when real life UFO or paranormal occurrences happen they can all say “you watch too much TV.” Even Jane’s Addiction lead singer, Perry Farrell refused to participate on the X-Files CD that came out a while ago because he said that X-Files set back “Human/ Alien relations by twenty years.” They are using the media to dazzle and confuse us from the truth.

TW: Do you believe that earth has been visited by extraterrestrials? If so, what is your most compelling evidence to support this?

DH: I think that term extraterrestrial needs some highlighting before answering this. I do believe that the universe is too large for us to be alone out here. Statistically there has to be other life forms. But are they coming here and sticking flashlights up our ass, I am not so sure. The majority of UFO sightings are now in Mexico, and in all those sightings, not a single incident of anal probes. That would suggest that all previous sightings and abductions were tapping into some other primal brain issues.

But then what are these things, and I know from my mathematician friends that the math indicates 11 to 13 other dimensions existing right around us all the time, with it own set of physical laws and functions. These would also be extra- terrestrial. And I would think that DARPA and other military branches are working in these fields and getting multi dimensional vehicles or something like that in those particle accelerators they build everywhere.

So I would say we are visited but it could be others who are right in front of us and they just happen to change frequencies where we can see them. Of course, the recent report by the Brazilian air force also is intriguing and argues against everything I have just said here. So… that puts me back into the “I dunno” Category. ”

TW: Conspiracy theorists are often labelled as “crackpots”, do you think there is an element that deserves this label?

The X-Files’ Lone Gunmen: RIP

DH: Unfortunately, paranoia is a sliding scale and some is healthy and a lot is an imbalance. So if you have lots of time and can follow some odd occurrences in your life and make a few logistical jumps (not everyone is trained in logic) then you can drive yourself crazy, quite literally. And some do. Others are clearly part of something, and choose to remain silent; I have met them as well. But “crackpot” is also comforting to those who don’t want to believe. Like in the Matrix when Joe’s character chooses to go back into the Matrix, He says “I know it’s fake, but it tastes so good.”

TW: The X-Files character you played was part of a group by the name of the Lone Gunmen, which was obviously a reference to the Kennedy assassination; do you think there was another gunman involved apart from Lee Harvey-Oswald?

DH: Yeah, I do. Even the 1975 acoustic ballistic tests found that a second gunman had to be involved. And that was commissioned by the government. A mob hit, a Vietnam cover-up, or something darker.

TW: Do you think we will ever know who killed Kennedy?

DH: They were supposed to open the files on that, but Bush pushed that date indefinitely into the future. That and his Dad’s records as well.

TW: Which conspiracy do you find the most disturbing if true?

DH: I would have to say the HAARP project which we know bounces 3.5 gigawatts of electricity off the Ionosphere from the University in Alaska, to help, they say, with cell phone reception. But if you research brainwave and neural disruption devices they are basically electric fields that alter brain wave patterns. So is HAARP a mind control device…? Let me just tell you that my cell phone still gets crap reception.

deanga-300x211

Dean hosting Ghost Adventures Live

TW: Do you have an interest in the paranormal? What are your beliefs on ghosts and the afterlife?

DH: I love a good ghost story, and I think that no energy is ever destroyed, as Einstein stated… So whatever keeps us going would seem to have to the ability to go somewhere else. And for those who don’t read up on science you wouldn’t know that your energy could go anywhere else so you stick around and scare those who remain. Next time you see a ghost, explain quantum mechanics and tell them to move on.

TW: As a result of the freedom of information act, the U.S government has been forced to release some of its previously top secret documents to the general public; do you believe that the government would ever really release information that would implicate them?

DH: John Greenwald Jr. has been getting Government info through the FOIA since he was fifteen and putting it all at his site, the www.BlackVault.com. Here huge amounts of info are blacked out and key details are lost. So I think we will know everything one day, but it won’t come from the powers that be. Some other revolution will bring on complete disclosure.

TW: The CIA acknowledged that they employed “psychic spies” known as remote viewers under their Project Stargate programme, they claimed to have discontinued their research in 1995; do you think we should take their word for it?

DH: I think that they have discontinued the “research” and now employ them full time. All those books, like the Psychic warrior and the like lay out the way it is done and what they saw. The simplicity of it and the results would say that from the 70′s till 95 you probably got it all mapped out and then just hire as needed. Research is over.

TW: You have travelled around the world with your stand up comedy and convention appearances, do you find that there are particular countries that are more into conspiracy theories and have a stronger belief in the paranormal and UFOs then others ?

DH: No, they are all pretty good. Some seem to have more distrust of their government than others, and all seem to know that the US has some sort of hidden agenda. But the UFO stories stay fairly consistent and the ghost stories relatively, some would say eerily similar.”

TW: What do you say to the skeptics?

DH: I would say, prove that I am wrong and you are right. I present this plethora of information and facts. Now you prove that my conclusion, whatever it is, is wrong, because what was a conspiracy theory 5 years ago is now a best selling book by Carl Bernstein. Just because the research is ahead of the curve doesn’t make it wrong.

TW: What projects are you currently involved in, what are your future plans?

DH: Chill Pak, of course, and three or four movies on the go, perhaps hosting a show on Discovery. All too soon to say.

TW: Finally, will the Lone Gunmen ever be returning to the big screen?

DH: Hopefully, though we will have to find a way to come back from the dead.

Find out more about Deans laptop cooling system, the Chillpak: http://www.chillpak.com/

Dean’s Official Website: http://www.deanhaglund.com