Archive for 2012

BlogCritics: Interview: Catching Up with The X-Files’ Dean Haglund – Part One

Nov-24-2012
Interview: Catching Up with The X-Files’ Dean Haglund – Part One
BlogCritics
Barbara Barnett

[Original here]

Actor-comedian Dean Haglund is probably best known for his role as Richard “Ringo” Langley, a Lone Gunman member on the iconic Fox series The X-Files. The Lone Gunmen were so popular, they were given their own show, and although that only lasted 13 episodes, it had positive reviews when it aired in 2001. In the aftermath of 9-11, some of the parallels between the series and the real-life horror of the tragedy were incredibly eerie.

I caught up with Dean last week to hear about his post-XF projects, which include his long-running podcast Chillpak Hollywood Hour, his new graphic novel, the very cool-sounding documentary The Truth is Out There, and a forthcoming graphic novel. We also talked about comedy, our mutual admiration of beautiful British Columbia, and of course, The X-Files. Because of the length of our conversation, I’ve split the interview in half. Part One is largely about The X-Files; Part Two is largely not.

I was really delighted that I made the connection through Denise Dorman of WriteBrain Media. When I mentioned, among other things, that I had done a lot of writing about The X-Files, she thought it would be a nice opportunity for the two of us to talk.
Aw, that’s awesome. So you’ve written extensively in terms of critical reviews of The X-Files, is that it?

haglund-2

It was probably how I ended up writing TV criticism at all—doing X-Files reviews on the old X-Files listserves back in the day.
Oh my gosh, that’s going back, isn’t it?

It is. And it led me to eventually write critical analyses of other TV shows, and the rest is history. Anyway, when I tweeted out this morning that I was going to be talking with you, I got all these tweets back asking me information on the alleged X-Files 3 movie.
There was a big push for getting that out before 2012 ended, but they would’ve had to already been shooting by now to get that out by 2012.

Hold that thought for a minute, because I want to get back to the movie. But I want to  talk about The X-Files series first. The Lone Gunmen were introduced how early in the first season?
We were just supposed to be day players back in an episode called “E.B.E.” which stood for Extraterrestrial Biological Entity. And I think it was a way to get Mulder inside a top-secret facility. They needed some guise. And at the time [episode writers] James Wong and Glenn Morgan said they saw these three guys in an airport handing out UFO pamphlets, and they were all very diverse, and they thought that was hilarious. So they created these characters, and it was just going to be a one-off thing. But I think because suddenly realized that the Lone Gunmen were the representation of the online, the early, early online fan gatherings that were happening back then. And they were happening in newsgroups. There was a newsgroup called alt.tv.xfiles.

Aha!
Do you remember that?

I not only remember it, that’s where I wrote my reviews back in the day.
That was the thing; everybody assumed that [creators] Chris Carter and Frank [Spotnitz] and [writer] Vince [Gilligan] were all lurking on the site. And in fact, they were, because they were so excited that this was the first time writers got a chance to get direct feedback anonymously. Like, you could see the feedback honestly. Because if you go, “I’m Frank, I write the show.”  Then everybody goes, “oh, I love the show,” and it’s hard to get honest feedback of what they [really] think of the show. But if you’re just lurking in the newsgroup, you can see how everybody is complaining about this, or you know, some of the ideas that the fans had back then were very, very passionate and very cogent. So Chris Carter really appreciated that, and [after] putting in the Lone Gunmen, the newsgroup went wild, going, oh, well, this proves it. And for seasons two and three, we would say lines that actually appeared on the newsgroup. So we would take an actual sentence from the newsgroup and give it to the Lone Gunmen to say.

Oh, that’s wild.
So we had this great symbiotic relationship with the fans early on, and I don’t think the Lone Gunmen would have been as popular were it not for the Internet and the newsgroups at the time.

At the time, the Internet was really sort of new. I mean, there had been newsgroups before, for a long time before, but I think that because being on the Internet had become all of a sudden fairly cost-effective, especially with AOL, suddenly everybody was online. You didn’t need like some crazy, $95-an-hour subscription anymore to hang out. There was some very serious discussion on alt.tv.x-files and alt.tv.x-files.analysis. Maybe for the first time about a TV show.
Yeah, and it actually sparked, like whole communities of debate, which I always found fascinating. But, you know, scientists would gravitate, and talk about the science aspects of the TV show, and then the [Mulder-Scully] “shippers” and the “no-romos” had their own newsgroups, and I really thought that was a great fragmentation of how you could find your own collective group and hang out with them.

And, for the most part, the discussion was very intelligent. I remember a lot of the participants were writers themselves, especially fanfiction writers, including me, and it was really cool. There was tons of X-Files fanfiction: some fairly brilliant novels, scripts, short stories…
I tended not to read a lot of that. Sometimes it delved into that slash universe that I wasn’t into, so I stayed away from it. And early on one of the executives said, “You know, if you read anything online, any fanfiction, and then that shows up in the series, and there is a lawsuit, you’re left out, hung out to dry. We’re not going to support you on that. So be careful what you read, because if it mirrors on the TV show, the lawsuit lands on your shoulders, not the Fox Network.”

Back then, writing fanfiction was a real risk, and frowned upon by the networks. And now, it seems it’s really encouraged. Over the last couple years I’ve talked to a ton of TV writers, people who write amazing scripts for major shows. These days, the writers I ask about it really appreciate it as a compliment to their characters and their own work.
Absolutely, and that was a huge learning curve too for the executives, because I remember even when you could show video for the first time, when the bandwidth increased and you could show video on your website, all the fans used to put The X-Files up there, and they would get a note from Fox saying that’s licensed stuff; take it down. And then I would get e-mails saying, hey we’re fans of the show, we’re promoting the show, we want this on our website, why can’t we do it?  And I had to then get up on the legalities of copyright law, and be in the position of defending Fox.

And that too has changed, because now they have, you know, embeds, so the studio will release something and you can just embed it and everyone’s happy.
Yes, I think that was the thing. Before embedding, they felt like it was just being released in the wild. Now with embeds and all the tracking stuff, you can still get all the metrics back so that you know exactly how it’s being used and where, and still use that to sell advertising, I think was the biggest issue.

So I have to confess, I think I stopped watching The X-Files after season seven.
Right, when Mulder left.

When Mulder left, yeah. The show changed when it came to L.A., a little bit.
It sure did.

And it wasn’t just the move to L.A., I think the whole show just sort of changed, and I’m not sure if I could put my finger on why, but it just…
I know Chris Carter originally, said “we’ve got a five-year plan for this series, and then at the end of five years, we can go and do movies”—that kind of thing. And of course when you sell your show to a network, the network tells you when it’s over, so…  That’s sort of changed now too. I mean, there’s a way of ending series properly, but back then, because it was so successful, the network demanded more seasons than perhaps the writers wanted it to continue.

Right, right. And I think the fans kind of picked up on that.
Yeah. At that point everybody kind of burnt out. We were doing sixteen-hour days, every day.  Nobody saw a Saturday towards the end of the show because you were shooting all day and Friday night, and just slept all day Saturday. Sunday you did some chores and then Monday you’re back at work. And so it burnt out a lot of people for sure.

And after awhile the conspiracy got kind of crazy after a while as well, don’t you think?
Yeah, it became more and more—It got larger and larger, and it was a large—any time you brought it up there was a lot of strings that you had to keep—a lot of plates you had to keep spinning on the poles, as it were.

Right. Was there ever even a Bible for the show?
Not originally. In fact, it was just going to be sort of an anthology of monsters of the week—

I remember.
Absolutely. And then Gillian Anderson got pregnant and had to sort of be written out for a couple episodes, so they just wrote in an abduction story that arced over three episodes, and then from that became, well why was she abducted? Now the conspiracy, now the alien-hybrid thing, all of that started because she was pregnant, so—

Wow.
Yeah, I know, right?  If that didn’t happen, the series would have just continued on as a crime-of-the-week kind of thing.

The conspiracy arc was actually pretty compelling, until it got really convoluted…
We kept adding different layers; the layering of the onion, sort of was working in two directions. So I think, yeah, around season three, they sort of arced out a Bible, but definitely in the beginning there wasn’t one.

Unfair question time: Do you have a particular favorite season or a particular favorite episode or episodes?
Wow, so, yeah, difficult. I guess my favorite season is… Well, no, there’s no favorite season because some of the shows stood out so great without a season, that you couldn’t really connect them. The truth of my favorite episode, I still think is [Darin Morgan’s] “Humbug” with the Jim Rose Freak Circus—

What a fabulous episode that was: pathos and comedy rolled into one.
I saw them live in a bar when I was in college, and I thought the show was hilarious, Enigma and all of them in the show, acting and doing what they do as well. And I thought that was so cool.

So they were a real act, then?
Yeah. Oh, yeah, there was a live stage act. It was almost like an old throwback to a big circus that you would see on the road in the south or something like that, and each person would come up and they would do something horrific or bizarre. And there was one guy who wasn’t in the show, and I don’t know what happened to this guy, because it was the most amazing act I’ve ever seen, but he would step off the stage to the pool table that was in the bar, and he’d put in some coins and release the balls. And then he’d take all the solid colored balls, you know, one through eight, and he would swallow them. And then he would say, call up any number, and people would shout out ‘five’, and then he’d sit there and wriggle his stomach, and he’d bring up, out of his mouth, the five ball.

That is very strange and bizarre.
I know. How do you keep track? How do you do that?  How do you train for that?  How do you not throw up everything you ate all day?  I mean, like, there were so many questions. And then everybody—It was so stunning that the applause was just a smattering, because you couldn’t believe what you were seeing. And I never saw that act again. I don’t know what happened to that guy. I don’t know, but it was the most amazing bar show I’ve ever seen, so, So Humbug is my favorite.

I can imagine. Darin Morgan wrote some really great episodes in addition to that one.
Oh, yeah. He was so good. I loved Clyde Bruckman’s Return. He’s a brilliant writer.

And he didn’t start out as an X-Files writer, as I recall.
Well, no, he came because of his brother, Glen, and acted in one episode. (He played the iconic Flukeman in the early season two episode “The Host.”) He’s the guy with the tail [in the fourth season episode “Small Potatoes].

And then, of course there were the various “shipper” camps. I have to confess, I wasn’t really a Mulder-Scully shipper, I was more of a Mulder-Scully USTer.
I was a Noromo myself, frankly. I appreciated a relationship that was based on respect and intellect, even though they didn’t agree on their points of view, and that they could be working together and not have to make it all kissey-gooey, so I was disappointed when it became kissey-gooey, as… Yeah, and it’s not just the tension, but it takes out the idea that you could work with somebody on a professional basis and still call that a relationship, you know? And have it as satisfying, and not be boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever, cohabitation thing. So when the second X-Files movie came out and you know, they’re just in a cabin together…  Just wrote me out of the movie.

Oh, yeah, well, in the first movie, there was that infamous “almost-kiss.”
Yeah, well, you know, there were a lot of executives involved in how that movie needed to play. So, yes, you had to answer everything from season four, and it had to be a lead-in to season five, and it had to be a stand-alone so that, for people who had never seen the TV series, they could watch the movie and still get it. And so, because of all of these demands put on that movie, I was surprised it was as good as it was.

What did you think of the second movie?
See, now here was the harder issue. I mean, already you had the romance thing. They’re already cohabitating in a cabin. And then, aside from the [2007-2008 Writer’s Guild] strike, they had a lot of restrictions. The writers’ strike was coming; they couldn’t do re-writes, so they basically had the script that they had. And I didn’t realize this, but they had written another script, and they had it in story notes, and Frank moved production offices and that shoebox went missing. So they basically had six months to write that script, and then had no opportunity for re-writes because of the—

Strike.
The writers’ strike, right. So that was a really tough position to be in. And then, for my taste, you know, a lot of the conspiracy of the government stuff [in the second movie]… I mean, here you are at the height of the Bush administration with, you know, Karl Rove and all these guys, and then you write about Russian head transplants. It just seems like you missed a real opportunity to explore conspiracy in the government.

I mean, when we had our own real-life insanity going on, real time, how do you not…?
Exactly, I know. You had this opportunity to do—Even if you couched it in some other thing, you know, different names and stuff like that, you could’ve still explored all of these ideas, and instead chose two-headed dogs, you know?

Yeah, yeah. That was a missed opportunity.
I agree.

So do you think there is going to be a third movie?  You think they’ll get a redux, or a do-over?
A do-over?  Well, you know I talked to Frank that—He moved to London, and he said he’s into it. It’s just once Chris comes up with something that his heart’s really into, then there will be a third movie. But right now it’s all resting on Chris Carter’s shoulders and his impetus to come up with a really great story.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Den Of Geek: Frank Spotnitz interview: Hunted, the BBC cancellation, The X-Files, and more…

Nov-21-2012
Frank Spotnitz interview: Hunted, the BBC cancellation, The X-Files, and more…
Den Of Geek
Louiza Mellor

[Original article here]

On the eve of Hunted’s final episode airing on the BBC, we chatted to its creator about the HBO spin-off, The X-Files, and more…

Frank Spotnitz’s eight-part spy drama Hunted, starring Melissa George as Sam Hunter, a female spy in the Jason Bourne mould, comes to an end on the BBC tomorrow evening.

Originally a co-production between the Beeb and HBO, it was announced last week that the BBC would not be renewing Hunted due to it not reaching the desired viewer figures, but that HBO was to develop a spin-off based around Sam Hunter. In the divorce settlement, so to speak, Spotnitz and HBO were given custody of Sam’s character, but the new show will have to be just that, a different incarnation of Spotnitz’s stylish, slightly bonkers vision of the life of a private-sector spook.

We chatted to Spotnitz about the process of moving from Hollywood to the UK to make Hunted, the public response, the BBC cancellation, and his plans for the Sam Hunter spin-off. Being Den of Geek, obviously we couldn’t not also check in on the status of The X-Files‘ third film, and the possibility of a small-screen return for Mulder and Scully…

You followed some of the audience reaction to the first episode of Hunted on Twitter didn’t you?

Yes absolutely.

That’s a brave move…

[Laughs] I can take it, I’m strong.

There’s always that one snarky comment or offhand remark that needles though isn’t there? Was there any specific criticism that got to you?

Well it’s funny. No, I can’t think that there were any specific remarks that have stuck in my memory thank goodness, but you can read a thousand nice things and then there’s the one or two nasty ones that really hurt and the nice ones just go right past. You know, I think I’ve learned that’s just the nature of discourse and not to be too bothered by it.

Moving from Hollywood to the UK, you’ll have noticed the sizeable difference in TV budgets. Were there things you wanted to do with Hunted but couldn’t because of money constraints?

Well, in the beginning I was looking at a pretty major rewrite of the script because we just didn’t have the resources. Actually when HBO came on, it doubled our budget so we were actually able to do pretty much everything I wanted to do. Not that I wasn’t pushing against the budget every week, I was, and in truth we probably went a little over, but I’d say it was one of the best financed British productions ever, outside of a costume drama. We had a pretty healthy budget.

It shows, especially in the first episode with those fantastic locations…

That was really exciting for me. To be able to go to Morocco, and write those scenes for Scotland and then actually go there and take it outside of London. I think you can tell the difference, the audience can tell the difference, so that was really exciting to do.

There’s been some talk, whether it has any basis in truth, of the UK/US collaboration having been “creatively stifling”. Was that your experience or is that just hot air?

No, I mean I know where that perception is coming from, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had a fantastic relationship with both broadcasters both with the BBC and HBO and honestly, they saw eye-to-eye on their notes throughout the series.

I think what’s being talked about there is that Hunted is going to go on in another form after this year without the BBC, and when you make the decision to go forward just with HBO, it means you can go full-throttle for that audience, and you don’t need to be concerned with serving the general audience. So I think it’s a liberating move but it’s not an indication of frustration in any way with the BBC, who were great.

Tell us more about the new Hunted we’re going to see from HBO then, are you keeping the name, the same settings, the cast?

Well, I know it’s going to have Sam Hunter in it! [laughs] Actually, I have a pretty good idea where we’re going and what we’re going to do but I’m not free to say just yet. I’ll be saying something in the near future on that.

Respecting that, am I right that you won’t have acces to some elements of Hunted because of the departure from the BBC?

Yeah, it’ll be a different series. It has to be a different series. That’s where the risks of co-productions come back and change your plans unexpectedly sometimes. Because of losing the BBC as a partner, we had to do a different show, we couldn’t do the same show we did this year.

So will you be taking more advantage of HBO’s reputation for nudity and violence now?

I don’t think so, no. I think that the storytelling we did this year was one long serialised arc and I don’t think we have to follow that form now, so that’s the kind of difference in format I’m interested in.

When did you first hear the BBC announcement that they wouldn’t be continuing with the show?

Well, it’s been weeks, but it was a discussion. We were trying to see if there were terms we could reach where we could still continue with the co-production, but it just didn’t work out.

I’ve just watched episode eight and with all its revelations and things coming full circle from episode one, it made for very rewarding viewing by the end.

Thank you very much, I’m delighted to hear that.

So we’re chuffed that HBO will be taking it on.

Thank you, me too. I’m very, very happy about it.

You said in a previous interview, “Americans will watch British people, if they’re spies” presumably thinking about John Le Carré and Bond etc. How far were you making Hunted for a US audience?

Well, first I should say I said that with a smile in my voice, you know.

Americans are famous for not watching other people’s television, and pretty much just watching American television, which puts the rest of the world at a huge disadvantage economically, because the rest of the world buys American television, but Americans, until recently, wouldn’t buy television from anybody else. I was very interested in breaking through that wall and finding a way to get more European television in America, and not just in a niche, not just on PBS – which is great by the way, I love PBS and fully support it – but I wanted to reach a wider audience with European talent and storytelling and I thought the spy genre is something where Americans are used to seeing spies with British accents, you know, John Le Carré and James Bond, take your pick, The Saint, there are many excellent adventures so that was very much in my mind.

Having said that, I was also fully aware that you can’t do a show in Britain, and certainly for the BBC, and have it not be a British show. It has to have that integrity, it has to be designed for this audience first and if it isn’t then this audience is going to smell it and nobody likes that. Nobody wants something that’s been jury-rigged for commercial purposes, it has to have artistic and creative integrity and I wanted to please the British audience first.

Would you call Sam Hunter’s emotional unavailability a kind of British character trait then? A version of the stiff upper lip cliché?

I didn’t really look at it as being particularly British to be honest. I mean, my starting point with the series was, you know, ‘If Jason Bourne was a real person, what would he be like and how would he have got that way?’, and I just thought probably, that if you’re someone who lies and kills for a living, then you’re pretty damaged.

It becomes – as you’ll know, having seen all eight episodes – the things that happened to Sam as a child that are now catching up to her are really the centre of the series. She’s going to have to go back and face these traumatic events if she wants to stay alive. I thought, that’s so ironic, because for a character like Sam it’s easier for her to kill people than to go back and look at her childhood traumas, so that was in my mind more than any cultural stereotypes.

Do you think if Sam was less of a snow maiden, viewers would have found her easier to make an emotional connection with, and you may have kept a wider UK audience?

I don’t know. I think the audience the show found really connected with it, and I’m really pleased with the reception the show’s got. I think the ratings were good but not great, and it was just one of those calls, we just didn’t have a commanding argument in our favour to make the case for renewal. But I don’t know, I think that was sort of the character she needed to be and it wouldn’t have been truthful to soften her up just to win a larger audience.

SPOILER WARNING

I have to ask this. I read that you deliberately didn’t use certain real-life spy gadgets in Hunted so that it didn’t become, in your words, “silly”. How then do you explain the six foot rabbit in episode six?

The rabbit? I thought that was very funny. To me, that was very funny. The darkness of that, having that poor man dressed in a rabbit suit, yeah there were many times in the writers’ room – I developed these episodes with three fabulous British writers for six months – and we were crying with laughter at some things in that series. [Laughing] To us, they were very, very funny.

There is a dark sense of humour running through the show isn’t there? I loved the Communist being beaten to death with a statue of Karl Marx…

Yes! The Karl Marx thing, and then you know, when Fowkes retrieves the shoe…

Hassan’s boot, which he then keeps on his desk!

Yes, from the place where they’re incinerating the body. We thought we were very funny at least.

Do you think some people just didn’t get the jokes?

You did at least.

Something that struck me about Hunted, which may explain why some viewers found it hard to follow, was how even very late on, even in the final two episodes, a number of new characters were being introduced in each episode. Even in episodes seven and eight, we were still meeting people for the first time. Were you laying the ground for future series by doing that?

Absolutely, and I think that will be one of the things in the changed format, the spin-off, is that I’ll be eager to reward those who’ve seen this series and give them the answers that those last two episodes demand.

Just between you and me, that woman on the bridge in episode eight… is Sam’s mother really dead?

Oh, I can’t say. [Laughing] “Just between you and me”, you’re funny. Oh, you’ll have to watch, you’ll have to watch.

Okay, we will.

SPOILER WARNING ENDS

You mentioned being pleased with the audience the show found. The BBC non-renewal statement said that Hunted “…hasn’t found the mainstream audience it was hoped”. How important was reaching a mainstream audience to you?

You know, it’s one of those things that you don’t really get to decide. I always want to reach as many people as I possibly can, and I think I was spoiled by the experience of The X-Files because we got to tell exactly the stories we wanted to tell and we reached huge audiences all around the world but that’s not something anybody can predict. You just make the show you love and put everything you have into it and you just hope for the best, and a lot of it is luck too, a lot of it is stuff you just can’t possibly anticipate.

Going back to the online response, did you find the comparisons to shows like Spooks or Homeland fair or frustrating?

I understand totally why people make those comparisons, though I don’t think they’re particularly valid comparisons. I mean, I don’t think Hunted is anything like either one of those shows, nor was it ever intended to be. When we started out, Spooks was still on the air and nobody had any idea that it was going off, it was 2009 that I first started writing Hunted. And with Homeland, we’d already shot and edited the first two episodes of Hunted before I even saw Homeland, so the audience’s perception of these things is not in sync with how long it actually takes to develop a TV series.

If you wouldn’t compare Hunted to those two shows then, is there another touchstone you would compare it to?

Well I really tried to make it unlike anything that I had seen because I do love the genre so much – and by the way, I love Spooks and Homeland too. I tried really hard to honour some of the shows I loved, like Mission: Impossible or I Spy or James Bond or the Bourne movies, but not to ape them. I think there are deliberate nods and winks to those franchises in the show, but I tried very much to make it feel like its own unique self.

What kind of nods are you talking about? Were there specific shots or scenes in which you’ve paid homage to those earlier shows?

I think that the opening of episode one feels very Mission: Impossible. It’s similar because it’s twist after twist after twist in the very beginning in Tangier, and the idea of going to Tangier at all was sort of Jason Bourne. I Spy was this phenomenal series in the sixties where they amazingly travelled all over the world on locations, and then, James Bond for me is the greatest cinematic spy and just casts a shadow that no one will ever completely escape, and happily so.

All of those characters and movies and TV series were in the back of my mind, but I was always trying to find a way to do it differently or reflect the character of Sam. I think that the perfect story has the character and plot intertwined, you know? That story can only be happening to that character, and there were many things I think about this first series that I hadn’t seen before. I hadn’t seen a character quite like her before, and I hadn’t seen a world that was quite the same world as the one in which she operated, so it just created a whole bunch of interesting dramatic questions for us to answer.

Are more exotic locations in the pipeline for the HBO Hunted spin-off then?

Yes. Yes. I mean, none of that’s been decided as I speak to you today, but that’s definitely my ambition.

Hunted’s cynicism was a really defining feature with this first series wasn’t it? Its suspicion of corporations and capitalism and the moral murkiness of it all. There’s no sense that anybody’s doing anything good, ever.

Yeah, yeah. Well, I hate to say it, but I think that’s pretty much the way I feel [laughing].

You’re jaded.

To me, it makes goodness all the more moving, when you set it against an assessment that honest and that bleak of the way that most of the world operates. Because I do believe that there are good people in the world who want to do good things, and I’m enormously moved by those people, so I think it just sort of heightens the heroism of somebody like Sam, to see her do good knowing that there’s no reward for it, knowing that in fact you pay a cost for doing the right thing.

Can I just move on to The X-Files briefly, just as we’re running out of time. We’re as keen as you are for The X-Files film trilogy to finally be completed. Do you have a script for the third film in place?

No. No I don’t. I mean I’ve known for many years what I would like the movie to be and I’ve been talking to Chris Carter about it for many years, but there is no script.

Is it still the big alien invasion movie you want to do?

Yes, it’s the climax of the alien colonisation story that began the series.

Do you foresee The X-Files ever pulling a Star Trek and returning to the small screen in a different incarnation?

I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I mean, I don’t think I would have anything to do with it but you know, for better or for worse, these things are titles of big corporations , like Star Trek belongs to Paramount and The X-Files belongs to Twentieth Century Fox and it’s a huge asset in their libraries so I can’t imagine they would let it sit languishing forever.

Mulder and Scully: The College Years?

Anything could happen. I just hope that if they do it, they do it well, that’s my only request.

Returning to Hunted, what do you think you learnt making it that you’ll take into future work?

Oh well, this was my first production in Europe and the way television is made here is completely different from the way it’s made in Hollywood. The whole thing was a huge learning experience and I got to work with so many amazing people. The actors I think are second to none in this country, the crew is incredibly dedicated and talented and the directors I had, starting with SJ Clarkson, who did the first two and ending with Dan Percival, who did the last two. You learn something by working with great people, so it was a great experience.

We haven’t scared you off then, you’re going to stick around in the UK?

I’m not going anywhere, not yet anyway!

Frank Spotnitz, thank you very much!

Hunted’s series one finale airs on BBC One this Thursday at 9pm and the series one DVD and Blu Ray is being released by Entertainment One on Monday the 26th of November.

Den Of Geek: Exclusive: Frank Spotnitz on The X-Files’ potential return to TV

Nov-20-2012
Exclusive: Frank Spotnitz on The X-Files’ potential return to TV
Den Of Geek
Louisa Mellor

[Original article here]

Former executive producer of The X-Files “wouldn’t be surprised at all” if the show returned to the small screen…

With the BBC broadcast of Hunted finishing this Thursday, we chatted to series creator Frank Spotnitz about the BBC’s decision not to renew the spy drama, the show’s public reception, and his plans for the forthcoming HBO/Cinemax Hunted spin-off. That interview will be available to read in full tomorrow, but in the meantime, we thought you might be interested in this little snippet of The X-Files-related chat.

As a former executive producer of The X-Files, we first asked Spotnitz what the status was on the franchise’s planned third and final film (Spotnitz recently told Collider that he, Chris Carter and the cast want to press ahead, but the studio is dragging its feet based on the second movie’s performance):

We’re as keen as you are for The X-Files film trilogy to finally be completed. Do you have a script for the third film in place?

No. No I don’t. I mean I’ve known for many years what I would like the movie to be and I’ve been talking to Chris Carter about it for many years, but there is no script.

Is it still the big alien invasion movie you want to do?

Yes, it’s the climax of the alien colonisation story that began the series.

Do you foresee The X-Files ever pulling a Star Trek and returning to the small screen in a different incarnation?

I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I mean, I don’t think I would have anything to do with it, but you know, for better or for worse, these things are titles of big corporations, like Star Trek belongs to Paramount and The X-Files belongs to Twentieth Century Fox and it’s a huge asset in their libraries so I can’t imagine they would let it sit languishing forever.

Mulder and Scully: The College Years?

Anything could happen. I just hope that if they do it, they do it well, that’s my only request.

We’ll second that request. Straw poll though, over a decade since Millenium and The Lone Gunmen ended, who welcomes the idea of a new X-Files TV prequel/sequel/spin-off?

 

CraveOnline: Frank Spotnitz on ‘Hunted’ Season 1

Nov-17-2012
Frank Spotnitz on ‘Hunted’ Season 1
CraveOnline
Fred Topel

[Original article here]

The creator of Cinmax’s original spy series teases us about tonight’s “a-ha” episode and drops more hints about a third X-Files movie.

Cinemax’s latest original series, “Hunted” stars Melissa George” as Sam Hunter, an agent for the private intelligence firm Byzantium. Her current mission has Sam going undercover as a family’s nanny, and so far every situation has her fighting with or shooting at bad guys.

We got to chat with creator Frank Spotnitz by phone, while he is still in London where “Hunted” is based. We know Spotnitz from his years of work on “The X-Files” and “Millennium,” so we had to ask for an update on the third X-Files movie too.

CraveOnline: What feedback have you gotten so far as the first few episodes have aired in the states?

Frank Spotnitz: Pretty good. I’m pretty happy with the reviews. I’m one of those foolish people who goes online and looks at what people are saying on Twitter. It’s been pretty gratifying I have to say.

CraveOnline: We’ve seen two episodes so far. Where are things going to go from here?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, as you know, it’s very plot heavy, very dense and there’s lots and lots of twists and turns coming up. I’d say episode 5 is really the turning point in the whole show. I mean, everything changes in episode 5 but that’s not to say a lot doesn’t happen between episode 2 and episode 5. It does. More than I could summarize is going to happen in the next couple episodes.

CraveOnline: Even in episode 5, is that pretty soon to have a game changer in a first season?

Frank Spotnitz: It’s still the same story and everything like that, but there’s like a huge ah-ha moments where you understand how everything fits together in a way you may not see coming.

CraveOnline: How long does Sam’s undercover assignment as the nanny continue?

Frank Spotnitz: That story continues and it ends pretty definitively in the final episode. So in season two, knock wood, it’ll be a completely different assignment.

CraveOnline: How much fun do you have coming up with different encounters for Sam to fight and have action?

Frank Spotnitz: [Laughs] Well, I’m of a mixed mind I’ve got to say. I find those really hard to come up with, action sequences, because it is mechanical and you’re always trying to find the thing that sets it apart from any other action sequence you’ve seen before. You’re doing a TV timeframe and budget and yet you want to be as compelling as you can, so it’s a real challenge coming up with those things but they are fun. I mean, they’re really fun to put together and to see, so I’m not complaining.

CraveOnline: Did you get to direct any of those yourself?

Frank Spotnitz: I didn’t. I didn’t get to direct at all until the end. I directed just a few days towards the end because we were running out of time so I got to do some second unit at the end, but it was pretty much just acting scenes, no action.

CraveOnline: When you were casting actresses for Sam, were you looking for people who had experience with action, like she was on “Alias?”

Frank Spotnitz: Yes and no. Obviously she had to be somebody who looked a certain way because she’s supposed to seduce men in the show, so she’s got to be believable as a siren for men. Then she had to have that physicality which Melissa certainly does.

She’s incredibly fit. But the thing I was really looking for was, Sam is cold and invulnerable in her personal interactions, but if that’s all she is the show doesn’t really work. Most of the actresses I saw, they were good at playing the toughness and the coldness, but there was nothing underneath it. What I think Melissa brings to the role, I’m always aware there’s something going on underneath.

There’s this duality with her all the time, both when she’s Sam and you see there’s something underneath that surface that she doesn’t want you to see, and then when she’s undercover as Alex Kent, I can see the Sam poking through and that’s really hard to do. It’s easy to miss how difficult that is and that’s why the part was really hard to cast, just finding somebody who had that emotional depth.

CraveOnline:
You’ve worked in FBI and government genres before. What’s different about the spy world of “Hunted?”

Frank Spotnitz: The thing that struck me is that if you’re working for the FBI or even the CIA, you assume you’re the good guy, and you are. You’re trying to do the right thing for the American people. But when you go to work for a private security firm, you can’t make that assumption because you’re working for a private interest who has an objective and in many of these firms, as in the firm in my show, if you’re an operative, you’re not told who the client is.

So I thought that was really interesting for a spy show, not quite like anything I’d seen before, especially if you’re trying to create paranoia which this show is. To not know who you’re working for and whether you really should succeed or not I thought was really an interesting dilemma.

CraveOnline: Also do these agents get into a lot more fistfights and gunfights than Scully and Mulder did?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, for sure. It’s a different genre. It’s really an action show and that was one of our tasks every week was to find really exciting action and stunts to put the characters in.

CraveOnline: Because Cinemax is primarily a movie channel, did they have any means or facility to accommodate that?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, they knew it was what they wanted for their audience, but they really left it up to me and my partners at Kudos here in London to figure out how to get it done. It was challenging at times because, for instance, the opening of episode 1 we shot at Morocco and that’s quite a big action sequence there.

You’ve got the action outside the theater where Sam seems to get assassinated, then her being chased through the Kasbah and then that whole thing at the café where she fights off those three men, sets one of them on fire, it was a giant undertaking to do that in Morocco, but we managed to pull it off.

CraveOnline: Is it an advantage that you’re allowed to be a little more explicit on Cinemax?

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, it’s nice. I think this is a really great time to be working in television. I guess that’s not a surprise to anybody but the creative freedom that all this original programming that cable channels are offering is unparalleled. It’s unimaginable, 15 years ago when I was doing “The X-Files,” that you’d be able to write things like this and have the kinds of situations and dialogue that you can do now.

Having said that though, I’m not eager to push things just for the sake of pushing things. There’s a number of fight sequences for instance that I pulled back. What was shot was far more explicit, but I decided you don’t really need to see that. It doesn’t help you tell the story in any way. So there’s a line. I think it’s a line that you approach it and it’s great and then you can go past it, and I try not to go past it.

 


CraveOnline: How do you get that blue tint that the show has?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, the blue really was noticeable especially episode 1 because the director, S.J. Clarkson wanted to make Tangier have this kind of golden hue to it and then Scotland this kind of green and then London this cool blue. That we did in the color correction sessions, but as the show goes on, we stay in London so the palette of that blue fades. It loses its purpose if you keep doing it so if you’re paying really close attention, it becomes more and more subtle as the series goes on and it’s very subtle by the time you get to episode 8.

CraveOnline:
Is there something about the spy genre that lends itself to blue tinted cinematography like the Bourne movies?

Frank Spotnitz: She thought it was helping to tell the story because in Tangier, Sam was at her best. This was leading up to her being shot, she was at the top of her game. Then she goes to Scotland which is sort of safety, a refuge. And then coming back to London, it was sort of the cold, hard world of Byzantium and that’s why blue seemed appropriate. So it was more an attempt to key in on her emotional state.

CraveOnline: How many of the scripts for season 1 did you write?

Frank Spotnitz: I wrote five of the episodes and then I collaborated in our writer’s room, which is really unusual in this country, with three British writers, each of whom wrote one episode.

CraveOnline: How does this kind of writer’s room compare to what you had on “The X-Files?”

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it’s smaller because in “The X-Files” we were doing 24 episodes a year and here we’re only doing eight. They are eight full hours though. They’re 58 minutes long whereas “X-Files” tended to be more like 45 minutes long because it was on a broadcast network with commercial breaks.

CraveOnline: But “The X-Files” worked in those massive arcing story elements.

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, yes. It’s interesting because those story arcs were really only in six to eight episodes a year out of the 24. Now when I do shows with mythology, people expect them to be in every single episode and they miss it if it’s not there. That’s not the way “The X-Files” did it and I think that was one of the secrets to “The X–Files”’ longevity was that it didn’t move the mythology along that quickly.

CraveOnline: Have you gotten a second season order from Cinemax yet?

Frank Spotnitz: I am waiting with baited breath and feeling optimistic so I should know soon hopefully.

CraveOnline: When would you gear up to produce that?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s a good question. I assume we’d start shooting early in 2013.

CraveOnline: I know you’ve been busy with “Hunted” but has there been any talk or movement in the X-Files movie world?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, yeah. Honestly, it comes down to the studio saying yes, but I continue to talk to Chris Carter who wants to do it, as do David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. I have no news to announce sadly, but I am not giving up hope. I hope that there will be a third and final movie that brings “The X-Files” alien colonization story to a climax.

CraveOnline: So the next one would have to be the last?

Frank Spotnitz: Never say never, but my hope would be to give it the really satisfying, powerful ending that it deserves. I would be very content, speaking for myself now, I can’t speak for David or Chris or Gillian, but for myself I’d be just really happy to give it a great ending.

CraveOnline: Is that ending made up of material you’ve been sitting on since the finale of the series?

Frank Spotnitz:
Well, yes. In truth, it’s changed because it took so long to get the second movie made and then we were hoping that this third movie would happen before 2012 which was a significant date in the “X-Files” mythology and obviously it hasn’t happened.

But there’s a core group of story ideas that Chris and I have been discussing for I guess about a decade now, hard to believe. Yes, we have a lot of ideas about what should happen in that movie.

CraveOnline: You mentioned David and Gillian, but would Agent Doggett have any role in it?

Frank Spotnitz:
I can’t say. That’s sort of like a spoiler to say whether he’d be in it or not. All I can say is that I love that character and I love Robert Patrick, so it wouldn’t make me unhappy if he was in it.

CraveOnline: You also got to work with Vince Gilligan for many years. What have you thought of his success with “Breaking Bad?”

Frank Spotnitz: Ah, Vince is one of the nicest, most talented people I’ve ever met and a good friend. I think “Breaking Bad” is not just a great show, it’s one of the all time great shows. I love that show to death. I tune in every week like a fan and am just in awe of it. I’m just so proud of him and happy for him. It’s so well deserved because he’s worked for that success. It’s really remarkable I think.

CraveOnline: “Hunted” is really only the second original series on Cinemax. Do you feel like you’re on the ground floor of a new network?

Frank Spotnitz: I pinch myself because it was by accident. I came here to do “Hunted” and as soon as I got here there was a delay. So I found myself sitting around in London, like what am I going to do with myself, and so I said we’ll see if I can get a job writing something, which I’d never really done in my career, just looking for a job as a writer for hire.

Sure enough this show “Strike Back” needed somebody to help figure out how to make it a coproduction with the U.S. I ended up writing the first four episodes of that which became the first original show that Cinemax put on, and they were so happy with what I did that they said, “What else do you have?” And I go, “Oh, this show ‘Hunted’ that I’m going to be doing with the BBC.”

That’s how it happened. It was a complete accident. The people at Cinemax are the people at HBO. They’re terrific, really smart, really supportive. They do their jobs very, very well so I’m just really, really fortunate.

Chesterfield Monthly: Our Man in Hollywood

November 2012
Our Man in Hollywood
Chesterfield Monthly
Jim McConnell

[Original article here]

Vince Gilligan – L.C. Bird graduate and creator of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” – adds the county’s Bravo award to a long, long list of credits.

Fame never was Vince Gilligan’s ultimate destination. In another life, the 1985 L.C. Bird High graduate just as easily could’ve used his artistic talents to build a quietly satisfying career as a painter, sculptor or animator.

VG_BB_412-413_0607B_00_opt

But when you’re the creator and executive producer of one of America’s most critically acclaimed television series, hanging out in the background isn’t an option. Like it or not, Gilligan has become the public face of “Breaking Bad,” and now everyone wants a piece of him.

“If you had told me five years ago that I’d be doing ‘Conan’ or ‘Colbert,’ I wouldn’t have believed it, and I would’ve been terrified,” Gilligan says during a recent telephone interview from his office in Los Angeles, where he and his team of writers are working on the final eight episodes of the award-winning show’s fifth and final season.

“I don’t have much of a comfort zone,” Gilligan adds with a laugh. “I’m pretty much a worrier. I’m nervous about a lot of things. But over the years, I’ve been able to force myself to do things that have made me uncomfortable.”

An introvert by nature, the 45-year-old acknowledges that “life has changed a lot” since the first episode of “Breaking Bad” aired on AMC in 2008. Despite a screenwriting résumé that includes three feature films (“Hancock,” “Home Fries” and “Wilder Napalm”) and directorial credits from a stint on Fox’s “The X-Files,” Gilligan could’ve robbed a bank in Hollywood five years ago and many in the general public wouldn’t have recognized his mug shot.

Now he can’t walk down the street for a cup of coffee without someone stopping him to ask for an autograph.

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Actors Bryan Cranston (from left) and Aaron Paul with Vince Gilligan on a rooftop during filming of “Breaking Bad.”

“I’ve found myself adapting to the demands the job puts on me,” says Gilligan. “I thought my job was going to be putting together a good show every week, but a lot of it is dealing with people. You have to be socially skilled. I have to say I haven’t been for most of my life, but I have tried to rise to the occasion.”

This month, he’s receiving a hometown award – a Bravo from the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation – and he makes a point of talking about it graciously. He says he’s “very, very honored” to be receiving it, though he can’t come to the ceremony at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond because he’ll be in Albuquerque, N.M., working on preproduction for “Breaking Bad.”

“I wish I was going to be there,” he says. “Being home is always great. Any chance I get to come back, I take it.”
Youthful promise

George Vincent Gilligan Jr., the elder of George Sr. and Gail Gilligan’s two sons, was born Feb. 10, 1967, in Richmond, but spent most of his childhood in Farmville.

From the beginning, it was apparent his brain operated on a different plane: He already was speaking in clear, complete sentences at age 2 and on his first day as a first-grade student at Cumberland Elementary, he asked his teacher, “Am I going to learn to read today?”

“We knew he was sharp – he had an IQ out of sight,” recalls Gary Lambert, Gail’s brother, who helped cultivate his nephew’s love for science fiction.

Gail Gilligan, who divorced George in 1974, stayed in Farmville and raised Vince and his younger brother, Patrick, while she worked as a teacher at Longwood University’s J.P. Winn Campus School.

“My sons were my most important students,” she says. “Most of the time we had away from school was spent exploring and learning about one thing or another. Vince took to it like a duck to water.”

BB_412-413_0527A_0009_opt

Gilligan (left) and Paul, who recently won an Emmy for his role on “Breaking Bad,” on the set of the show.

Another teacher at the Campus School also had a significant influence on Gilligan’s future. Art teacher Jackie Wall, whose son Angus was one of Gilligan’s best friends, frequently gave the boys her Super 8 camera and encouraged them to make their own movies.

Gilligan was 12 years old when he completed his first film, “Space Wreck,” with his little brother in the starring role. A year later, he won first prize for his age group in a film competition at the University of Virginia.

Wall recognized Gilligan’s talent and creativity, and recommended to Gail that he pursue acceptance to the Interlochen Arts Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Michigan. Gilligan earned a full scholarship and he, Gail and Patrick made the long drive from Farmville to the banks of Lake Michigan about a week before he started eighth grade.

It was the first in a series of defining moments for Gilligan, who wasn’t sure he wanted to leave the security of his family to live and study with a bunch of rich kids he didn’t know. His mother immediately sensed his uncertainty.

“Vince, you can get back in the car with me and Patrick,” Gail told him. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do,” he replied.

Gilligan stayed at Interlochen through the end of eighth grade, then came home and spent his freshman year at Prince Edward County High. When Longwood closed down the Campus School, Gail took a teaching job in Chesterfield County and moved the family into the Deerfield Estates home where she still resides.
Her elder son enrolled at L.C. Bird, his fourth different school in as many years. As usual, it took Gilligan less time to make an impression on his new art teacher than for him to develop new friendships.

“From the beginning, he was very inventive and outstanding in his ability to execute his ideas,” recalls Helen Sanders, who taught Gilligan for each of his three years at Bird and nominated him for this year’s Bravo award. “He was different from the other kids. He was always thinking outside the box.”

Gilligan’s report cards indicate he was never an exceptional student, but Sanders notes that his maturity, creativity and intelligence were off the charts.

“He was beyond his years in his thinking,” she adds. “I used to enjoy talking philosophically with him. He liked to investigate thoughts and ideas. He’d create problems for himself just so he could figure out how to solve them.”

Way beyond the comfort zone

As Gilligan began his senior year of high school, Sanders found herself hoping he’d choose a college at which he’d be able to use his talents as a painter or sketch artist. Gilligan had other ideas.

“I’ve been lucky in that I always knew what I wanted to do and what drove me,” he says.

Determined to pursue a career in television and movies after graduating from Bird, Gilligan gained acceptance to New York University’s famed film school. Just as he did in eighth grade, he had to leave behind his family. This time, he traded the slower pace of Chesterfield County for a high-rise dorm in what was a crime-riddled section of Manhattan during the mid-1980s.

There were drug dealers and homeless people by the dozens in nearby Washington Park, which Gilligan crossed several times daily on the way to his classes. But he saw something else in the streets of New York City: opportunity. Movies and television shows were filmed in the city on a regular basis, and he wanted to be right in the center of the action.

Gilligan’s big break came in 1989. Shortly after he graduated from NYU, he won the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Competition for a script titled “Home Fries,” which nine years later would become a film starring Drew Barrymore and Luke Wilson.

One of the judges of that competition was Mark Johnson, a University of Virginia graduate who produced the Oscar-winning film “Rain Man.” Johnson took Gilligan under his wing and facilitated a meeting with “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter, who was impressed enough by Gilligan’s freelance “X-Files” script to offer him a full-time writing position on the show.

Johnson advised Gilligan to keep developing projects in Virginia. Gilligan didn’t want to leave. He mulled over Carter’s offer and went back-and-forth several times before he finally decided to take the job.

The thing that worried me the most was that he wouldn’t be able to separate the good guys from the bad guys [in Hollywood],” Gail says. “He’s such a nice guy, I was afraid they’d step all over him.”

Notwithstanding a mother’s natural protective instinct, Gail needn’t have worried. Her son may have been quiet and studious, but he was nobody’s doormat. If he had been, “Breaking Bad” likely never would’ve seen the light of day.

A difficult sell

F1989gailgilliganJM_co_opt

Gail Gilligan, mother of “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, keeps posters and
other mementos from his film and television career in an upstairs bedroom at her Deerfield Estates home in Chesterfield County.

When he set out to pitch “Breaking Bad,“ Gilligan’s success as a writer and the contacts he developed during the seven seasons he worked on “The X-Files” gave him the credibility to get in the door with some of Hollywood’s top television executives. He was excited about the show’s concept and truly believed it could become a successful series. But it didn’t take long before many of those same buttoned-down suits were looking at Gilligan as if he was one of the extra-terrestrials from an “X-Files” episode.

Gilligan chuckles as he recalls trying to sell the story of a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer and begins manufacturing and distributing crystal methamphetamine to support his family.

“After the first couple meetings, I realized how crazy it was and how unlikely it was that the show would ever get picked up,” he says.
Showtime passed. So did TNT. Even HBO, which had previously shown a willingness to push the creative envelope with such series as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” made it painfully clear that it wanted no part of Gilligan‘s show.

Gilligan stayed busy with other projects, most notably the Will Smith superhero comedy “Hancock,” on which Gilligan was a writer. Then in 2006, Gilligan’s agent, Mark Gordon, finally found a network willing to buy into Gilligan’s vision for “Breaking Bad.”

Six years later, the show has won more than 15 Emmy awards. Gilligan’s handpicked leading man, veteran character actor Bryan Cranston, continues to be hailed for his portrayal of troubled protagonist Walter White. Nearly 3.5 million viewers tuned in for the first episode of Season 5 in July.

“I’m very happy and grateful for his success, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says Sanders, Gilligan‘s former art teacher at Bird High. “He was always very devoted to everything he did. He would take things the furthest he could go to create a dramatic scene.”

The show’s critical and commercial success has vindicated Gilligan, who compares the multiple snubs to a “former girlfriend who calls you a loser.” Asked if he derives any quiet satisfaction from the knowledge that there are TV execs who now regret passing on “Breaking Bad,” Gilligan acknowledges that “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.

“That’s just human nature, I guess,” he adds. “But it’s not personal; it’s part of the job. In the movie and TV business, you get turned down a lot more than you hear ‘Yes.’ I still feel very fondly toward most of the companies that turned us down.”

Other than his family and longtime girlfriend Holly Rice, Gilligan reserves his greatest affection for the cast and crew of “Breaking Bad.” He goes out of his way in interviews to praise others for the show’s success, noting the “astounding” amount of work it takes to produce a weekly television series while suggesting “it just feels right to give credit where credit is due.

F1986gilliganartJM_opt

“Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan was a gifted art student and drew these
sketches during the three years he spent at L.C. Bird High School.

“I feel proud that, along with the producers, I’ve been able to bring together this incredible group of people,” he says. “It feels like a family. For me, that’s the saddest part of the show coming to an end: Here you have a group of people who have been through the fire together, and when it’s all over, everyone disperses into the wind.”

Success is ‘trickier’ than failure

With just eight more episodes left to shoot, the day of reckoning is fast approaching for both Gilligan and his show’s main character. After all the lies, murders and other assorted treachery, the series conclusion promises to be not very pretty for Walter White.

“I’m just hoping for a strong ending,” says Lambert, Gilligan’s uncle.

What about the man who created Walter and has spent the last five years locked inside his twisted head?

“‘Breaking Bad’ has ruined me for every future project,” Gilligan says with a laugh. “Now I’m going to want everything to be twice as good … and really, how is that even possible?”

Gilligan expects life to be “very interesting going forward” as he deals with the pressure to come up with another successful project and avoid the dreaded label of “one hit wonder.” And he’s under no illusion that it will always be a smooth ride.

“Success is always trickier to deal with than failure,” he adds. “Everybody understands failure. God knows I do. Navigating a path after such tremendous success is far more uncertain.”

True to his inquisitive nature, Gilligan has pursued a variety of interests away from work. He once took a welding class for fun. He bought a motorcycle, flew solo in both a helicopter and a fixed-wing plane and is a certified free-fall skydiver.

“Sometimes it’s easier for me to jump out of an airplane than talk to a stranger,” he says.

Gilligan’s mother believes he already has a head start on some of his Hollywood contemporaries in one respect: He’s managed to maintain a clear sense of self and avoid falling victim to the temptations that come with fame, power and more money than a middle-class kid from Chesterfield ever could’ve hoped to make.

He’s still with the same woman he dated before he became famous. He still prefers jeans and running shoes to suits and ties. While he’s been exceedingly generous to family members and friends – he bought his mom a BMW Z3 convertible and paid to put his brother through college,
among other things – Gilligan isn’t likely to go broke because of an extravagant lifestyle.

“I was a little afraid [Hollywood] was going to change him,” Gail says. “People say, ‘You must be so proud,’ and of course I am. But I’m more pleased that he’s still a good, humble man. He’s still Vince.”

Gilligan’s remarkable success story is one that teachers at his alma mater use as motivation for their teenage students.

“He’s just a regular guy,” says Keenan Entsminger, chairman of the history department at L.C. Bird and a devoted “Breaking Bad” fan. (He says he’s been “beating the drum” for three years to get Gilligan nominated for a Bravo award.) “That shows the kids the goals they can achieve and the opportunities they have are endless in this day and age.”

Wired: Frank Black is Back – A Literary Return for Millennium

Nov-01-2012
Frank Black is Back – A Literary Return for Millennium
Wired
Sophie Brown

[Original here]

Nearly every geek on the planet is at least aware of Chris Carter’s international hit show The X-Files which dominated popular culture in the mid 90s, but perhaps fewer are aware of the show’s two spin-off shows: The Lone Gunmen and Millennium. Whilst TLG was a true spin-off that expanded the world of existing characters, Millennium was a show in its own right that just happened to co-exist in the same universe that Mulder and Scully inhabited. Although it never gained the popularity of its predecessor, Millennium became a cult hit with fans and critics alike and ran for three seasons. Now Fourth Horseman Press has released a book, Back to Frank Black, exploring the series with the collaboration of many people involved with the show.

Millennium followed Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), a retired FBI forensic profiler with an uncanny gift — the ability to see into the minds of serial killers. The show takes places in the run up to the year 2000 and began with Frank working for the Millennium Group whose agenda was gradually explored as the show progressed. Season one mostly focused on Black using his gift to track down serial killers and murderers, the general tone of the show being much darker than The X-Files, in fact it was occasionally referred to as “The X-Files for adults”. As the show progressed, the sinister intentions of the Millennium Group were gradually revealed and the show’s mythology grew as the forces Frank faced became even darker and his personal life was shattered. The final season saw Frank return to work with the FBI and gain a new partner, Emma Hollis (Klea Scott) as the Group’s power grew ever stronger. Sadly for fans, Millennium never received a true finale of its own; instead Frank was brought in for a single episode of The X-Files (cunningly titled “Millennium”) during which Mulder and Scully helped him tie up the events of his own show and provide some resolution.

This new book aims to offer fans a complete look at the show with an enormous amount of new material (over 500 pages) including entries from Lance Henriksen himself along with creator Chris Carter and co-executive producer Frank Spotnitz. Also included are a number of essays by both people involved in the show and authors with in-depth knowledge, including Brittany Tiplady, who played Frank’s daughter Jordan, and Joseph Maddrey, co-author of Lance Henriksen’s autobiography Not Bad For a Human. The book is edited by Adam Chamberlain and Brian A. Dixon, both publishers for Fourth Horseman Press and consultants to the Back to Frank Black campaign which is pushing for Frank Black’s return to our screens in some form. The book itself will not be sold for profit; all proceeds from sales will instead be donated to Lance Henriksen’s chosen charity, Children of The Night.

I was able to talk to Adam about the book and the campaign for Frank’s return last month. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Millennium Series Premiere Promotional Poster © Fox via Fourth Horseman Press

Millennium Series Premiere Promotional Poster © Fox via Fourth Horseman Press

How did you first discover Millennium?
I was already a huge fan of The X-Files from the start, and so had the same sense of eager anticipation when Millennium first aired in the UK, and took to the series from its very first episode. It was not always a simple task to follow its original run in the UK as it was poorly treated in the schedules — I believe I saw most of season one either on ITV or via the VHS releases, season two on Sky One, and then had to wait for the DVD box set to see the bulk of season three! The dark tone and subject matter both appealed to me and I already had huge respect for Chris Carter’s work, so it was an easy sell, and I wasn’t disappointed.

There are a lot of crime shows out there and a lot of shows about the supernatural, what makes Millennium stand out to you?
Millennium is utterly unique in the crime genre, particularly in the way it incorporates interpretations and explorations of evil into its evolving mythology. No series before or since has really dared to explore the nature of human evil in such depth or breadth. And Frank Black is a unique protagonist: a man of deeply-rooted principles and unparalleled insight who endures the weight of the world on behalf of us all. Add to that the considerable combined talents of its writers, producers, cast and crew all enriching the tapestry of the series, and it really is a perfect storm.

Where did the idea for the Back to Frank Black book begin?
The idea to put out a book was first floated to Brian A. Dixon and I by James McLean and Troy Foreman — who run the Back to Frank Black campaign — just over year ago. We had already worked with them on a few projects for the campaign by this point, Fourth Horseman Press was well-established by Brian, and through it we both had some considerable experience in editing and publishing, so it was a good fit.

Can you tell us about the most difficult obstacle you overcame in creating the book?
Time. We were obviously eager to make the book as comprehensive and of the highest quality as possible, but at the same time the Back to Frank Black campaign has a certain momentum, of which this book forms a part, so inevitably it was a balancing act between the two. It has taken us a year to put the book together from start to finish and we are very happy with the results, but in all honesty we couldn’t have produced it any quicker!

You have forewords from Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and Lance Henriksen — how did you go about approaching them and what were their responses to the project?
The groundwork here had really been laid down by Troy and James through the Back to Frank Black campaign. They had already established good relationships with Carter, Spotnitz, and especially Lance Henriksen, who has worked very closely with us all on the campaign for some time now. So really it is testament both to the rapport and respect between the campaign and each of them, as well as to the value they place on Millennium and their enduring interest in the series. When it came to inviting their contributions to the book, all we had to do was ask! Each of them continues to be very supportive of the campaign and the book, and to be extremely generous with their time.

The Cover of Back to Frank Black © Fourth Horseman Press

The Cover of Back to Frank Black © Fourth Horseman Press

Which parts of the book were you most excited about obtaining?
The forewords from Lance Henriksen and Frank Spotnitz, and Chris Carter’s introduction are clearly highlights; we are so pleased to have each of them set down in their own words the relevance of Millennium to them, both during the series’ run and now. Added to that, we were particularly pleased to be able to interview Robert McLachlan, the director of cinematography who worked on all three seasons and was so integral to the signature look and tone of the series. He is always in huge demand and invariably on one or other punishing filming schedule, but I managed to grab some time from him directly after one project finished and just before he flew out to Ireland to work on the next season of Game of Thrones. Also, with the book now finalized it is just immensely satisfying to view it in its entirety. We have a wide range of talented contributors, and probably the most satisfying thing of all is to be able to appreciate the sum total of the collaboration of everyone involved.

The cover was drawn by Matthew Ingles. How did he become attached to the project?
The cover artwork from Matthew Ingles really fell into our laps. Just as we were beginning to plan the book and before we had even announced it, Matthew posted the image to the campaign’s Facebook page, both Brian and myself saw it and, independently of one another, knew it would be perfect. As with everyone involved, he was very happy to contribute, and I think the fact he was moved to create the piece in the first place is just another example of how Millennium continues to be a source of inspiration to so many.

The book is a non-profit endeavor. Can you tell us about where the profits will go and how that was decided?
All proceeds from the book will be donated to Children of the Night, a registered US charity dedicated to rescuing children from prostitution. Lance has always been very specific about wanting to support charities that benefit children in some way; specifically this has included Children of the Night through Back to Frank Black. Previously, in 2010, the campaign auctioned off his personal collection of scripts from movies he has appeared in throughout his career, alongside a number of other items donated by cast and crew.

The Millennium Group Logo © Fox/Fourth Horseman Press

The Millennium Group Logo © Fox/Fourth Horseman Press

Was there anything you discovered in researching the book that you found particularly interesting or that surprised you?
There are two points that really struck me in this regard. The first came from researching and writing my own essay, which is about the manifestations of evil across the series. I had always maintained an interest in the subject matter — I was very much influenced to undertake a degree in psychology, including a year spent exclusively on criminology, as a direct result of Millennium — but in delving back into that darkness alongside revisiting many episodes in such detail, I deepened my respect for the series yet further and discovered fresh perspectives on its content. Secondly, and leading on from that, it is a surprise to us that there is something of a dearth of critical analysis of the series published to date. Millennium undoubtedly has an intelligence to it that cries out for in-depth study and interpretation, and yet it has been largely overlooked. It would be a mistake to view the series as merely a child of pre-millennial angst and therefore no longer relevant; if anything, it feels even more resonant in today’s violent and uncertain times. Even if we were to set aside the ambitions of the campaign for a moment, publishing this book feels to us like a long-deserved and worthy endeavor on behalf of everyone who had a hand in the series. It fills that void, and we hope it will therefore appeal to the series’ enduring legion of fans as well as to those previously unfamiliar with the series and exploring it for the first time.

Back to Frank Black is also the name for your campaign to bring back Millennium. Can you tell us more about the campaign?
The Back to Frank Black campaign was started four years ago by James McLean, and he was joined in the endeavor by Troy Foreman shortly thereafter. What sets it apart from other fan campaigns is not only in its global fanbase of support — its signature podcast earns downloads from some seventy-five countries — but moreover the level of involvement from those who worked on the series. Lance Henriksen continues to do a huge amount to support us, and a considerable number of the main cast and crew have offered interviews, donated items and offered their support in a host of other ways. That makes the campaign unique in fandom and, as much as anything else, their support and eagerness to return to Millennium is what continues to drive us in turn.

How would you personally like to see the show brought back? A new season, a movie, a comic book series?
For me, the most viable and interesting ways would be a movie — either for the big or small screen — or as a mini-series through a cable network. Back to Frank Black campaigns specifically for a movie, and this would seem the most appealing and likely format, broadening the canvas from the confines of network television. Chris Carter has already hinted at ways in which he might achieve this in a movie, which he mentions in the book.

Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
After many months working on it behind closed doors, we are just really excited to have the book out there so that everyone can read it. Millennium has been a huge influence on both Brian and myself, creatively and in other ways, and in fact both our friendship and our creative partnership are very much founded in a mutual appreciation for the series. If there was ever any production we wanted to write about or for which we wished to compile and edit a book, Millennium is it. We very much hope the book will attract more and more interest such that it furthers the ambitions of the Back to Frank Black campaign, but it also stands on its own as a long overdue analysis of and testament to the truly unique, intelligent and remarkable body of work that is Millennium.

You can order your own copy of Back to Frank Black at Fourth Horseman Press, other retailers will be stocking the book shortly and a review will be here on GeekMom later this month.

Indiewire: Chris Carter Talks The Legacy of ‘The X-Files,’ Returning to TV and Why You Have to Read The Comments

Oct-23-2012
Chris Carter Talks The Legacy of ‘The X-Files,’ Returning to TV and Why You Have to Read The Comments
Indiewire
Daniel Carlson

[Original article here]

Chris Carter is responsible for the nightmares of a generation.

As the creator of “The X-Files” and “Millennium,” he shepherded in a new wave of horror and suspense on television, and his legacy can be seen in the success of everything from “Fringe” to “The Walking Dead.” For his contributions to the medium, Carter received the Outstanding Television Writer award from the Austin Film Festival, where he appeared on several panels and presented a pair of episodes from his best-known series. Indiewire got a chance to sit down with him in Austin to talk about everything from the rise of cable to the future of content distribution.

Let’s start with why you chose to screen these specific episodes of “The X-Files” (“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”) and “Millennium” (“Pilot”).

First of all, it’s nice to be here. I’ve never been to Austin, so this is a big thrill. It was an amazing honor today to be among my other honorees, Frank Darabont and Eric Roth. Amazing.

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Frank Darabont, Eric Roth, Carter at AFF Jack Plunkett

The episodes I chose were for two reasons: I didn’t want to focus just on “The X-Files.” I thought that “Millennium” pilot stands the test of time. I think it’s a really good, scary episode of television, and I was very proud of it. I still am. It was very nice to see it again today myself.

The other episode I chose [“Final Repose”] was, for me, a high point during [the show’s early years], and I thought it was still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. It’s completely original; it was taking “The X-Files” and turning it on its head. The performances were wonderful, the direction was wonderful, the writing was wonderful. I thought it was just an excellent episode in every way.

“The X-Files,” in a lot of ways, paved the way for network genre shows, especially horror. I can’t imagine it was easy to get a show with so many straight-ahead scares off the ground in the early 1990s. Was that a fight with Fox? Was there ever any feedback from them about the content’s grimness?

The good thing and the bad thing about was that there was nothing scary on television then, so when I came in and said, “There’s nothing scary on television, and this is something that we should be doing,” they got that idea. But they didn’t get the idea of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal. That was weird to them, and they didn’t want to do it at first.

I had to pitch the idea twice to the network, and they finally bought it maybe just to make me go away. I was at 20th Century Fox Television, pitching it to 20th Century Fox network; it was kind of a no-brainer for them, because it’s one hand feeding the other. That was a fortunate thing in the beginning, not so much in the end.

Do you think any shows since then have been that scary?

It’s really hard to scare people on network television. You’ve got to be smart about it. You’ve got to parcel out the scares. I’ve seen a few really scary shows, episodes of them, but I have to say, I took a break from television after “The X-Files” was off and sort of didn’t pay much attention, but I’m back now.

What are you watching right now?

“Breaking Bad.” Love it. A little bit of everything: little bit of “Game of Thrones,” little bit of “Walking Dead.” I’m back into “The Wire.”

Has there ever been a show that’s made you say “I wish I’d been part of that”?

I admired shows like “Six Feet Under.” That was an amazing show. Never boring, always inventive, smart. Loved the characters. Completely original. Those are shows that I admire.

In terms of your writing process, how did you determine what works for you best?

It’s pretty much a regular workday, 9 to 5. That works for me. I’ve worked, believe me, from 4 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night when we were in production, so I’ve done those kinds of hours. I try to sort of have a regular life now, but I’m not in production, so it’s a luxury to have a regular life. When you do have to feed an ongoing production, you have a finite amount of time in which to do the best work possible, so you have to work really around the clock.

Speaking of productions, could you talk a bit more about the status of the project you’re writing for Showtime?

[smiling] The status is, right now, that they like it.

Any descriptions or ideas you can discuss?

I’m sort of superstitious.

You had a show, “Unique,” that didn’t go. This Showtime project is a different one?

Yeah, this is a different project.

What was the fallout with “Unique”?

There’s no fallout. It’s just a show that we tried to set up in a certain way, and we didn’t set it up, and then we took a step back, and so that’s where we are on that right now.

What’s changed in the industry and writing/production process since you launched “The X-Files”?

There are more and different places to pitch and to develop, and I think you’re looking at the obvious eclipse of broadcast television by cable in terms of content. Things that you can’t do on broadcast now that you can do on cable, which is making it feel like a superior product.

It’s not more popular, but you’re watching viewership go up on cable so that now cable is actually starting to give broadcast a run for its money. Look at “Sons of Anarchy,” look at the way “Hatfields & McCoys” performed. There are lots of instances of cable shows … what else did I see the other day that premiered to huge numbers? [We both drew blanks, but Carter was likely thinking of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” which drew 3.85 million viewers on FX.] You’re looking at a change, and that’s an exciting thing, but what it says to me is there are also opportunities to do inventive things on broadcast television and still get a large audience.

Was that what inspired you to write a cable show?

I love the idea — as do a lot of people who have done broadcast shows, where you’re doing 22 episodes a season — of doing six, eight, or 10-13 [episodes]. That is very appealing to me, and it actually allows you to attract a different kind of actor because they aren’t doing it 10 months a year, they’re doing it three months a year. That’s a benefit, too.

I want to circle back to “The X-Files,” based on some comments you made earlier today about how the show evolved to encompass procedural, horror, comedy, etc. Was there a type of episode that was the most rewarding to do?

Some of the big mythology episodes, where we did big production stuff — exploded trains. I mentioned an episode [“End Game”] at one of the panels where we trucked in tons of snow and created the polar ice cap with the conning tower. There were things we did just because we didn’t know we couldn’t. Those were really exciting times.

Then there were episodes like the black-and-white episode [“The Post-Modern Prometheus”] which were taking a whole other direction. Production design had to be switched up because you design differently for black-and-white. We filmed in black-and-white. We didn’t film in color like a lot of people do and change it. So we took some technical risks.

One of the episodes I’m most proud of in terms of taking a risk would be the episode called “Triangle,” which took place on the Queen Mary. 24 edits in the hour of television, so big, long takes. We would do one take before lunch. You just don’t do that in television production.

That was the one with two long shots down a hallway that crossed each other, right?

Yes, that’s right. There were big tricks in it, and it took some inventiveness.

You mentioned alternate routes of pitching and distribution. Would you ever consider online fundraising like Kickstarter or online distribution like Netflix?

It’s funny, I just gave somebody some money through Kickstarter to work on a documentary — I think it’s a really interesting way to do things. Right now, I have what I would call more conventional avenues open to me, so that’s the way I think I would prefer to work right now. But I actually like the idea of choosing these alternative methods, and people coming up with new ways to distribute content, and people taking control of their projects. I think that will be a future of sorts.

Would online distribution be a possibility for “Fencewalker,” your film in progress?

Possibly. I’ve sort of put that away right now, and I’m gonna come back to it.

Do you think you’ll revisit that in the near future?

I’m not sure.

I wasn’t actually sure of the status: if it had finished shooting, etc.

It had been filmed and was in the editorial process, and I decided I wanted to rethink some things about it.

There’s a big focus here at the Austin Film Festival about writers, pitching, getting projects off the ground, and so on. What’s the best or worst piece of advice you’ve ever gotten as a writer?

It’s funny, no matter how much advice you get, the truth is that it’s kind of like “Throw Momma From the Train,” you know, “A writer writes always.” You must persevere. That’s the only way to find the gold.

You spoke at the panel about your relationship with the fan community, and how you read a fan letter in the first season of “X-Files” that influenced your approach to the show and steered you toward stories involving the relationship between the main characters. I can’t imagine what it would be like to mount a show like that today in the age of blogs, and comments, and recaps. Is that something that’s on your mind as you prepare the Showtime project?

You’re bombarded with, uh, “advice,” and with people wanting you to consider their ideas and their direction. Some of it filters through, and some of it doesn’t, so you filter a lot of it out. It comes to you in a variety of ways, and I still think I would pay attention [to it]. I’m sure every editorial writer in The New York Times reads the comments that come after, because they can be so — they are wildly varying in their meanness or sometimes insight. So you can’t disregard them. You must pay attention. It’s important. It’s a reality check of sorts. So it’s part of the process.

That seems like a tough balance to strike.

You could spend a lot of time just reading your reviews, basically. A lot of people don’t read their reviews, but I do. I read my reviews.

Wired: Taking a Cue From The X-Files, Spy Thriller Hunted Keeps Things Complex

Oct-19-2012
Taking a Cue From The X-Files, Spy Thriller Hunted Keeps Things Complex
Wired
Hugh Hart

[Original article here]

Creating a TV series that starts off with a bang and actually gets better instead of dissolving into generic pap (sorry, Revolution) is clearly a lot harder than it looks. As evidenced by high-concept flops like Alcatraz and Terra Nova, long-form television mythologies too often lose momentum when they should be building suspense.

New head-spinning thriller Hunted proves to be a satisfying exception.

The brainy action series from former The X-Files writer-producer Frank Spotnitz, which debuts Friday on Cinemax at 10 p.m./9 Central, centers on private security operative Sam Hunter. Played by an intense, athletic Melissa George (In Treatment, Alias), Sam comes across sullen, shrewd, psychologically damaged or sexy — whatever the mission calls for. She establishes her ass-kicking cred by snapping necks, shooting, kicking, punching and otherwise neutralizing a half-dozen attackers in a matter of minutes during the series’ opening sequence.

On first viewing, the mission, set in the chaotic streets of Tangier, Morocco, seems totally confusing. But the beauty of Hunted is that all this murky mayhem will eventually make complete sense, once Spotnitz and company plunge deeper into their Mobius strip-like mystery: Sam, equally plagued by recent betrayal and a traumatic childhood, belongs to a glum crew of backbiting Londoners employed at private security firm Byzantium.

(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)

Hunted pits Hunter against pitiless capitalist Jack Turner (ferociously portrayed by Patrick Malahide), who’s intent on building a dam in Pakistan. Byzantium’s anonymous client wants to shut him down. Simultaneously, Hunted teases out a huge Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy that keeps revealing new layers like so many Matryoshka nesting dolls.

After watching the first five episodes, Wired asked Spotnitz how he keeps Hunted‘s insanely complex storyline from running off the rails. “It was extremely challenging not only because the narrative is full of so many twists and turns, but because so many people are lying to each other,” Spotnitz replied in an e-mail. “No two people have the same understanding of what’s going on. That sometimes made it difficult keeping track of who knew what. But we were really pleased with the way it all came together in the end.”

Hunted‘s intertwined storylines include a “we’ve got a mole” subplot, but the familiar dilemma gains fresh dimension here because the very notion of a heroic purpose appears to be missing in action.

“In a traditional spy story, we assume our spies are the good guys,” said Spotnitz, who huddled for six months with three other writers and a story editor to make sure all the pieces fit together. “Whether or not everything the U.S. or British government does is good, I think we take it for granted that they’re trying to do the right thing. But when you enter the private world, you can make no such assumptions. Private interests are trying to accumulate wealth and power, and whether that serves the public interest or a greater good is purely incidental. I thought this was an extremely interesting subject worth exploring.”

Spotnitz became intrigued with the world of spies-for-hire after taking note of the private Blackwater operatives in Iraq and the 2008 financial meltdown.

“So much has been outsourced, downsized or privatized,” he said. “We live in a world where private, corporate power has never been greater. I didn’t realize when I first started doing research how ubiquitous private security firms have become. There are thousands of them! They weren’t that difficult to find and, surprisingly, they were very happy to talk about what they do.”

The X-Files Legacy

Like Vince Gilligan, creator of meth-dealing uber drama Breaking Bad, Spotnitz got schooled in the art of long-gestating story payoffs while working as a writer-producer on The X-Files. “Probably the two biggest lessons I carry with me from The X-Files are to be ambitious and to never write down to your audience,” he said.

Elaborating on the subject during a press conference last summer, Spotnitz said, “When The X Files started, the word ‘mythology’ was not in the vocabulary of network television. The internet was just coming and I remember looking at newsgroups to see how observant the fans were. We began to realize that we could thread clues, and sometimes wait two or three years before you picked up the thread again, and not only would fans notice it but they would reward you for it because you were rewarding their loyalty.”

Hunted, structured as an eight-episode season, shifts thematic focus from X-Files’ obsession with government cover-ups to a post-9/11 landscape populated by mercenary agents and their morally suspect corporate overseers. But in one key regard, Hunted extends Chris Carter’s X-Files credo: “I think you’re more engaged with the show if you’re not being spoon-fed,” Spotnitz said.

The takeaway, for potential Hunted viewers: Pay attention and be patient. “Something happens, and two or three episodes later you’ll see the connection,” Spotnitz promised.

Snakkle: X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted

Oct-19-2012
X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted
Snakkle
Erin Fox

[Original article here]

Full disclosure: We’re big fans of Frank Spotnitz. After all, he spent years as a writer and executive producer on the iconic ‘90s sci-fi droolfest The X-Files and rebooted the creepier-than-creepy thriller Night Stalker for ABC. Though Night Stalker was never really given a proper shot (marketing and time-slot issues), it made for some compelling TV. So imagine our delight when we discovered that Spotnitz was back developing a kick-ass spy thriller called Hunted, starring the lovely Melissa George and airing on Cinemax (go figure!)—did we mention it’s written and set in the U.K.? Snakkle was lucky enough to speak to Spotnitz while he was in town for the Television Critics Association press tour and asked him about working in the U.K. TV system, the genesis of Hunted, casting Melissa George (Alias baddie!), and, of course, his thoughts on a third X-Files movie.

Snakkle: Tell me about the genesis for Hunted and how quickly after the second X-Files movie (released in 2008) did you have this idea bumping around in your brain?

Frank Spotnitz: I was invited to the U.K. to speak in 2009, and that’s when I thought about going over there to do a show. And I called Kudos [Film and Television], and I called Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone, because they’d been talking to me for seven years at that point about coming to London to do a show. I always wanted to go to London. I could see how the business was changing, and I thought there was an opportunity if you did the right type of show to do it in London and have it broadcast around the world. And so I called them and said, “I think I’ve got an idea for a spy show.”

Snakkle: How do they do things in television across the pond as opposed to here? Is it all written beforehand and do you shoot a pilot and then they “pick it up”?

Spotnitz: No. There are no pilots. It’s completely different. Everything about the business there is completely different. And that’s been one of the big surprises for me. I didn’t realize quite how different it was. We pitched it, which they don’t do normally. We did verbal pitches with the broadcasters, but in terms of the sale, it was more like an American show. So we wrote the first script and then they commissioned the whole series.

Snakkle: How many episodes did you get and how long are they?

Spotnitz: It’s eight one-hour episodes. It’s 58 minutes, where in the U.S. it’s 44. That makes a huge difference, actually.

Snakkle: So you don’t need 12 episodes. You’ve got eight full hours.

Spotnitz: I’d still take them, don’t get me wrong. I’d take 10, anyway, if they’d give them to me.

Snakkle: Talk a little bit about wanting to do a spy show. You’ve written about conspiracies and character-driven procedurals, but Hunted is more of a kick-ass thriller. It’s dark and sleek and spotlights this beautiful woman spy, Sam, who’s been betrayed by her employer. What made you go down that spy route?

Spotnitz: Well, I was trying to think of something I could do that would have international appeal, even with a British cast, and obviously if it worked in Britain it wouldn’t necessarily work in the U.S. I thought an American audience will accept British spies, and we’ve been watching them. It’s just an accepted genre, and I don’t think Americans even think twice about it. And, it happens to be my favorite genre—at least in movies and television. I grew up on I Spy and Mission Impossible, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond, who was hugely important to me when I was a kid. Every movie. Every book. I was obsessive about that. That was both the great appeal and the most terrifying thing about trying to do something in that genre. So many good things have been done, how do you do something new? So my starting point was to take a character like Jason Bourne. What if he were real? What if it’s a real guy? What’s he really like? Because this is television, it’s got to be character-based.

Snakkle: Right.

Spotnitz: You can’t just do the stunts and expect people to stick with it. I thought, well, he’s probably not actually all that warm and loving. I mean, he deceives people, he kills people, he’s going to be very cold, remote, unreachable, kind of emotionally not [able to] let people get close.

Snakkle: True…

Spotnitz: So that was interesting to me, but then how did he get that way? And that’s really what the genesis of the show was. In this case, Sam’s a female spy, and we realize something bad must have happened in her past to make her this cold, emotionally remote adult that we’re seeing. And then I thought, well, what happened? So that’s really still what the heart of the show is. It’s really, thematically, can you overcome your past? When bad things have happened in your past, can you move past them and have the future you want to have, or are you forever going to be shaped by these things? And so for her, these terrible things happened to her as a girl, which we flash back to.

Snakkle: I was going to ask how the structure of the show will work. Will there be flashbacks every week?

Spotnitz: Well, not necessarily every week. I think we try to be strategic about it, because they can start to become less powerful if you see too many of them. I was always determined that the story was going to drive these flashbacks, but you do consistently through the first eight episodes learn more and more about what happened in her past and how it ties into what’s happening to her now. What you learn in episode 5 is that in order to find out who tried to kill her and why, in order to stay alive now, she has to go back and look at her childhood. Which for a woman like Sam is actually harder than having to kill somebody. It’s harder to have to go back and relive the emotional pain of her childhood.

Snakkle: So you knew what the answer was before you started, and now the challenge is that you have to dole it out slowly…

Spotnitz: That’s the other thing I want to do in the show is not tease. I mean, a lot happens. It’s a very dense narrative. And it’s not boring. So much happens every week. You may think they’re going to make me wait eight episodes to find out who the mole is; no, you’re going to find out really fast. They’ll be trusting that we’ll keep coming up with really interesting twists and turns. You’ll learn pretty quickly watching the show that somebody may seem like a good guy, and two episodes later, no!—bad guy. And somebody you were sure was a bad guy well may be a good guy, which also heightens your paranoia, because you’re never sure. It’s all shifting sands.

Snakkle: For lack of a better term, is there a sort of mythology involved with Sam? And then you intersperse it with kind of like the case of the week?

Spotnitz: Yes, exactly. There’s a story every week that has a beginning, middle, and end. And then there’s the mythology, as you say, of who tried to kill her and why. It ties into a big conspiracy. It’s not aliens in this instance—look, it’s a work of fiction, but actually I think it’s raising real issues that would be good for people to think about. In our world, she works for a private spy agency. She’s not working for CIA or FBI or MI6, she’s working for people who are in this for profit. And the morality of the world we live in is very complicated and interesting. And that’s the heart of the conspiracy. It’s the privatized world we all live in. And then there’s an undercover assignment that she undertakes each year. So in this season, she goes into this house, the Turner house, and that story continues through the first eight episodes, but it will come to an end. Episode 8, that’s all resolved.

Snakkle: Talk about finding your Sam—Melissa George. She’s played a baddie spy of sorts on Alias, so did that enter into your mind as you were casting her?

Spotnitz: Not really. I mean, I’d seen Melissa in Alias and In Treatment. We looked really hard. It was really hard to cast. We saw 200 actresses right for this part. And we had amazing actresses from London, L.A., and Australia. But I will tell you honestly, the moment—she put herself on tape in L.A.—the moment I saw her, I knew she was the right one. I knew it. And the reason is, as good as those actresses were, it’s a deceptively hard part to play. You have to be beautiful, you have to be believably physical, but then there’s the acting challenge of it because she is this cold, remote person. So many of the actresses we saw that’s all you saw: cold, remote, hard. You could see why they’d make that choice, but that’s not interesting. That’s not somebody I’d want to watch week after week. Melissa, from that very first self-tape, had the cold remote wall, but then you saw behind that there was a real human being with vulnerabilities and internal struggle. I don’t know how she does it.

Snakkle: Does she have anyone who’s her sounding board?

Spotnitz: Well, that was the really hard thing. We talked a lot about this—she has no sounding board.

Snakkle: That’s impossible! Poor Sam! Is there anybody that we could see the possibility of her trusting at some point?

Spotnitz: At the beginning of the show, she’s falling in love with this guy, Aidan Marsh, played by Adam Rayner, a wonderful Welsh actor, and then she’s betrayed right away. And he seems like the most likely person to have betrayed her. I think you’re hoping that she’s wrong and he didn’t betray her, that they can get back to that place they were in the beginning of the show when they were in love, but you just, you as a viewer you aren’t sure whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I felt like to maintain the maximum paranoia and anxiety for her and her safety, I didn’t want to give her safe harbor with the best friend or the psychiatrist. And it was a real challenge.

Snakkle: Much like Breaking Bad, created by your friend Vince Gilligan, it’s a dicey proposition to have somebody so unlikable as your hero. Walter White is unlikable. He’s almost inhuman at this point; he’s completely turned into an antihero. Were you worried Sam would be too unlikable?

Spotnitz: Breaking Bad is one of my all-time favorites. I think it’s just great, but Sam’s actually on a path to becoming more and more human, and more and more vulnerable and open. It’s very moving to watch this woman who was so cold, and there’s like this crack, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and she starts to care more and more. The irony of it is that caring is bad because you’re a spy. You can’t do that. You have to just do your job, follow orders. There’s a little boy that she has to tutor and nanny, and she really cares about this little boy. And she can’t do that. It gets her into trouble. I think the good news is, as hard as this was to launch and as worried as we were about audience engagement, if you stay with it, I feel pretty confident the emotional connections are going to get deeper.

Snakkle: What has been the reaction from the people you’ve shown it to so far?

Spotnitz: It’s been great, but I don’t count on anything. I know you can do a show you’re really proud of and then you just never know what’s going to happen in the world. But one of the things that’s given me confidence or cause for optimism is that we had two broadcasters: We were doing this for BBC-1 in the U.K. and for Cinemax here in the U.S. I was delighted to have all those resources. They couldn’t be more different broadcasters, but I’d say uniformly their responses to the scripts and the cuts of the show have been the same.

Snakkle: You guys got to shoot in some amazing places, right?

Spotnitz: We did. We shot in Morocco, London, Scotland, and then briefly in Wales. And there’s no soundstages. It’s all location. You really see London in a way that it’s rarely seen. It was expensive and a big commitment by Kudos to go invest in seeing that, but I think that you see the results.

Snakkle: When you’re doing a spy thing, it’s really hard to be believable when you have to pretend a backlot is Chinatown, or whatever the location may be.

Spotnitz: Exactly.

Snakkle: You need to go to those locations to make everything feel authentic, and I don’t think you’ve really had that opportunity on your other TV shows. Must have been amazing.

Spotnitz: I so agree with you. I think that was so important to the show to make it feel real. Give it that cinematic value. Especially now because TV is so sophisticated and, you know, you flip the dial and you’re watching a $50-80 million movie.

Snakkle: I know this is a weird question to ask, but is there anything you’re worried that won’t click with the audience?

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything.

Snakkle: No, Frank, no!

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything. I mean, but I feel incredibly blessed too, because we had fantastic directors, great crew—English crews are amazing. They are so dedicated, and their artistry is enormous, and they were given a chance to do things they rarely get to do because of the resources we had. And that was a joy. And the English actors! I hadn’t realized how good they were until I saw them from the inside. As a writer, seeing them say your lines—how thoughtful they are about literally every word and the best way to say it. You really appreciate the depth of their talent. So I feel really good about all the collaborators that we had doing this. But it’s always a gamble.

Snakkle: So they’re showing Hunted on Cinemax (owned by HBO) in the U.S. Was that a strange pairing for you? Or were you aware that they were trying to break into more of that scripted original programming that’s on par with HBO?

Spotnitz: You know, the funny piece of odd luck was that I came to London to do Hunted and I had six months to wait around to see if the BBC was going to do it or not. I said, I have to make some money and do something, so I got an agent and the next day she calls me and says, Oh, I got a job for you already. There’s this show Strike Back, and they were trying to get Cinemax on board as coproducers, and so I came just as a writer for hire. I wrote the first two episodes, then I ended up writing the next two episodes. And then Cinemax said, what else you have?

Snakkle: That’s great.

Spotnitz: I said, as it happens, we’re doing a show with the BBC called Hunted and they came on board, so it was really completely by accident and luck that they joined us, but you know the great thing is you got the resources and the intelligence to the taste of HBO and they’re trying to launch this new original programming for Cinemax and I think they’re still finding out what Cinemax is and all the things it can be. Strike Back was very successful for them, and I think they’re hoping this will be at least as successful.

Snakkle: I just want to touch on this briefly because the fans will skin me if I don’t ask you. A couple months ago you posted on your blog… it was kind of a little love letter to fans about not giving up hope on a third X-Files movie.

Spotnitz: Yes.

Snakkle: Do you really still hold out that hope, and if so, do you have anything you can share with us to keep the hope burning?

Spotnitz: I do. I actually feel the pressure of time now, and if this is going to happen, there’s got to be a script in the next year and a half.

Snakkle: Fingers crossed!

Spotnitz: But I still have faith. I mean, there’s such a powerful argument for it, and I think if I could just get the right stars to align, it could still happen. I actually just emailed David Duchovny this morning about this very topic, so I can’t say anything now—because I won’t be able to say anything good or bad until long after it’s decided—but I’ve not stopped trying.

 

Hunted premieres on Cinemax on Friday, October 19, at 10 p.m.

HitFix: ‘Hunted’ creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & ‘The X-Files’ legacy

Oct-19-2012
‘Hunted’ creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & ‘The X-Files’ legacy
HitFix
Alan Sepinwall

[Original article here]

And did his experience writing for ‘Strike Back’ come into play with the new show?

Frank Spotnitz has been the man up front for the first two Cinemax original drama series. He wrote the first four episodes of the Cinemax incarnation of “Strike Back,” and is the creator and executive producer of Hunted,” a new thriller starring Melissa George as British private spy Sam Hunter, who is betrayed, left for dead, and returns to work a year later looking for revenge on whoever it was that set her up.  (You can watch an exclusive clip from the premiere at the top of this post.)

I interviewed Spotnitz about his design for the series (which I reviewed yesterday), why he wanted a female spy at the center, and the legacy of his work on “The X-Files,” where he was one of the top writer/producers for years.

What did you learn doing those four episodes of “Strike Back,” within that budget and that format that then informed you in terms of, “This is what I can do with a Cinemax show”?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was weird because I’d written “Hunted” already before I did “Strike Back.” So I already had that in the back of my head. I honestly don’t know if I can tell you what I learned. “Strike Back” was like going to the ice cream shop for me. I could just go and have fun. It was male fantasy, testosterone, just go engage your inner-teenage fantasy self. And it was a blast. It was just really fun. This show, to me, is so different in every way. So I don’t know.

I think what I’m asking more is not so much creatively, because I agree with you they’re very different. But just in terms of what you can pull off in terms of budget and scheduling.

Frank Spotnitz: Well, to be honest, the “Strike Back,” it says I’m an executive producer, but I didn’t really. With this show I learned a lot doing this because I had never worked in Europe before. I didn’t really know how budgets correlated to versus what I’m used to. And I kind of learned as we went. And I think the crews in Europe are much smaller and faster, and it’s actually a good value. You actually get a lot for what you spend. And this was a really generous budget, so that’s what I learned by doing it.

I want to talk about structure, first in the pilot and then moving forward. The pilot is stream of consciousness at times. It’s slipping in and out of past and present. You’re watching Sam as she’s recovering and going back and forth. How did you decide that you wanted to structure the introduction to the character in this world in that way?

Frank Spotnitz: At the heart of this, it’s about Sam and her character. And I wanted to begin with Sam at the top of her game. She’s great. She’s the best operative Byzantium has, and I wanted the thrill of that, the adrenaline of that. Wow, you’re amazing. You pulled this off, incredible. You sleep with men and then you betray them. And then I wanted to show her love with this man, and then I wanted to take it all away. Because I thought that’s the story. It’s this woman who is a great spy and then this crack, this betrayal, that café. And as long as this TV series goes, it’s about that crack getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Because I’m fascinated by this woman who had erected these walls, these emotional walls, she’s tough; she’s hard to get at. How did she get that way? And those flashbacks to her childhood, that’s how she got that way. Terrible things happened to her as a little girl. And now because of this attack on her life, she’s going to have to go back and look at these events.

So you have A: Sam trying to re-assimilate herself into this place, B: Sam hunting for the people who betrayed her. And then C: There’s this mission, a very involved mission. We’re spending a lot of time in Jack’s imposing house with all the things going on in there. That’s a lot of layers to be throwing at people all at once.

Frank Spotnitz: It is.

Why did you do it that way?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was always my intention that you’re going to have that first narrative, who’s trying to kill her and why? That’s a narrative that goes on and on. And you’re going to get a lot of answers in the first eight episodes, a lot. But it’s like “The X-Files” strategy. We’ve answered one thing, now there’s three more questions.

And then there is a story each with a beginning, middle, and an end. Every week there’s a story, like episode two. Hassan is captured, he’s in the basement. He’s going to get out or he’s not. There’s just always. And then I’d never done this before, there’s a story that takes place over the course of these eight hours that’s going to end. So the Turner assignment is going to end. And I thought I liked as a form. I hadn’t seen that before. So I thought that’s really interesting to me, the opportunity to have complete closure. It’s like a short story. The Turner story’s going to be done. It will never come back. But there was a side switch, there was no way to have her come back without doing that. She’s going to come back, but she’s going to be given an assignment. So it just sort of suggested itself as a form. And I felt my way forward, because I’ve never tried to do anything like this before.

In terms of the mysteries, you invoked “X-Files,” and I think you and I have had this conversation in the past. Initially there was some sort of plan in place for what had happened to Mulder’s sister and all of that, and then success basically ruined that.

Frank Spotnitz: That’s correct, yes.

From the way that played out, what did you learn that you can then apply to this show?

Frank Spotnitz: I’ve thought about that a lot.  What I’ve learned is you can come up with whatever answer you want about what the island means, or why the aliens are here, or whatever and it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it matters but the audience will have thought of that answer and a thousand others that they may like better. You can’t outsmart or outguess the audience in terms of what the narrative answer is. And if that’s what you’re aiming for it’s going to be disappointing.

The one thing you can do that the audience can’t do — all those smart people online in the chat rooms can’t do — is deliver a satisfying emotional journey for a human being, for a character. And so character, character, character. Create a really interesting, complex person that you want to know more about, and take her on a journey that is rich and fulfilling and that has an end that is perfectly fulfilling, and that has an end that is perfect for that character, and the audience will love it. And so whatever the mythology is, it better be serving that journey. That’s the primary purpose.

It’s a very different world from when you were doing “X-Files,” just in terms of social media. If someone guesses that Edward James Olmos on “Dexter” is a ghost, and they tweet that, suddenly everyone watching “Dexter” knows that that’s what’s happening. Whereas if they guessed that even on Usenet, I was on Usenet, but not a lot of people were on Usenet back then, so how does that affect what you’re doing?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s exactly it. It’s like if my whole game depends on whether you can guess the ending or not, I’m done, forget it. Somebody’s going to guess it. So to me it’s like, yes I have a mystery, and yes there are answers. I mean, good luck guessing all. It’s so layered, good luck guessing all the answers. So I think I’m going to surprise you still with some of them. But it’s the emotional journey, it’s this character.

And I do think that’s the primary reason people watch television. You want to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, and learn what that’s like. You can only live one life, and so you get to see other lives through these characters. And that’s very satisfying. So the challenge is creating a character that’s that rich and interesting to warrant following for a number of years.

Was it always in your mind that it was going to be a female spy who was betrayed?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes.

Why?

Frank Spotnitz: A bunch of answers, but I think first of all just more interesting to have a female spy. Kind of like “The X-Files” averted gender stereotypes, gender expectations. You would expect Scully to be the character of faith and Mulder to be the rationalist. That’s your gender bias. And to flip that is more interesting, and so to have a female spy it’s just more interesting to me. And she’s also sort of automatically an underdog because she’s surrounded by men. And in fights she’s automatically the underdog because she’s a woman.

And not a large woman at that.

Frank Spotnitz: And not a large woman. And so I think it just creates an identification that you don’t necessarily have, and it makes it more interesting than all of the many, many excellent male spy shows that there have been and spy stories. So that’s the first answer. And then there’s just a shortage of great parts for women. I mean, I can’t tell you how many actresses I met with who are amazing, and there’s nothing for them to do, and it’s wrong. So I thought it made sense for my show, and it was smart as a producer.

Alright, so you have Melissa who is Australian playing a British woman who spends much of the season doing an American accent. Adewale is playing American. So given that it’s sort of an international team, how did you decide he is from here, she is from here?

Frank Spotnitz: Well it was always written that way. I honestly, it would have been a lot easier just to find an English actress, but she was the best person for the role. So that became her challenge, and it is very difficult, let me tell you. I mean, I’ve learned how difficult it is to get that English accent correct, because it’s so nuanced in the way that American ears would recognize. So she worked very, very hard at that. So she just got it. I didn’t mean to cast an Australian, it just happened that way.

And Adewale he’s an awesome actor. I mean, he’s an amazing actor. So it was like, “What, we can have you?” I knew the part was written for a black American. And he shows up and he’s British, and he’s like, “I haven’t worked in London in 18 years.” So he was happy to do something at home for once. And then the rest was all British. I mean, and Adewale’s British.

While “Strike Back” in its guest roles did employ a lot of actors you knew from “Game of Thrones,” the main guys were not incredibly famous. And here, every part is someone I’ve seen before.

Frank Spotnitz: You’re a sophisticated viewer.

Well that’s true too I suppose, but budgetarily you weren’t limited in terms of who you could get. 

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah we were. We had a budget, but the good thing is they wanted to do it. They really responded to the material. And that’s a thing you find culturally. It’s a business there but it’s also people, actors, it’s like they’re doing it not to get rich or famous, but because they really want to do good work. So a lot of them it was like, “I just really want to do this.”

So eight episodes, this particular mission closes by the end of that, but other things will continue.

Frank Spotnitz: Correct.

This is a “men plan, God laughs” kind of question, but have you thought in your head, if this works, how much mileage there is in it?

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, absolutely. I’m imagining five years. And if I’m crazy I think you could tell these stories in another medium after those five years. But that’s what I’m imagining. I think Sam Hunter as a character could exist indefinitely, but I’m imagining a story that goes on for five years.

Shifting back to “X-Files,” that was a show that was sort of the canary in the coal mine for both the idea of mythology and the idea that mythology can disappoint people. What impact do you think that had on later shows that tried to do that? Do you think audiences became more skeptical as a result or not?

Frank Spotnitz: No, I think first you have to talk about what happened to “The X-Files.” And I think what happened was I think Robert Patrick did an amazing job, and Annabeth Gish, but there was no way to give the show a novelistic coherence once David (Duchovny) left. There was no way to end that show in an emotionally satisfying way once David had left. Even if you bring him back, it was just not the same. And I think that’s the lesson I draw from it. And that connects to me saying earlier, “Invest in the character, follow the character’s emotional journey. That’s what you have.” I think because of that his leaving and coming back, he became tilted toward the plot and the conspiracy. And I think we did a perfectly good job of wrapping it up, but it was not emotionally satisfying because it wasn’t the character’s emotional journey.

So that’s the lesson I learned, but I think what happened is any other show then that did a mythology thought, “Uh oh. We don’t want a backlash from the fans. We better watch ourselves.” But you see how hard it is. I mean, I didn’t follow “Lost” religiously. What I saw I thought was excellent. But I think they were trying very, very hard to honor their fans and make it satisfying for them at the end.   But you realize how difficult it is, especially if you’re on for a long time.

And if you talk to (the “Lost” producers), they will also argue that the show was about the characters, and yet what gets people angry is, “You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly.”

Frank Spotnitz: Well the thing is, and I do sense from what I know about the finale that’s exactly what the strategy was and I think that was the right strategy. But what happens is as you’re doing a show, you go, “Well I need this story so I can introduce this thread.” But it’s impossible to tile those threads up. And what I found in “The X-Files,” though, was actually if you tie up the really important threads, even the hardcore fans are happy. But if you do too many threads, you’ve got yourself in a problem you can’t solve. But you don’t know until you do it. Nobody knows until they do it.