Posts Tagged ‘corey kaplan (production designer)’

The X-Files Magazine: John Doe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The X-Files Magazine: Brand New Day

Oct-??-2000
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Brand New Day
Chandra Palermo

[typed by Donna]

“One of the nice things about Mulder is that you have that character to push the paranormal envelope.” Maeda says. “If Mulder were in this episode, he would immediately be putting out a theory that, ‘I think I know what’s going on here.’ And he might be partially right, he might be totally right. Without him, you have to go through a different path to arrive at the same place. It’s tough, no question about it, but it’s also an interesting challenge to try and get there in another way.”~ Steve Maeda

Convicts playing basketball on a church rooftop would make a strange sight – anywhere but in L.A. The equipment trucks, catering vans and security guards surrounding the base of the eight-story building are a dead giveaway to native passsersby: Must be a location shoot. In this case, The X-Files’ crew has claimed the structure for the fifth day of shooting on Season Eight stand-alone “Redrum.”

The heat is oppressive. But as the sun beats down with the characteristic intensity of a late-August afternoon, the prison inmates continue shooting hoops and lifting weights until director Peter Markle calls “Cut.” After several takes, Markle finally dismisses the heavily costumed extras for a short break, and they head straight to the cooler, all the while bemoaning the absence of their true desire: cold beer.

“The last thing a bunch of convicts need is beer,” one of the extras joke. But none of the others has any energy left to laugh.

Yet, Markle and the rest of the crew are chomping at the bit to get to the next scene. The excitement is palpable. Season Eight promises to be a time of incredible change and experimentation for the series, and the powers that be have chosen to dive in with one of the most ambitious storylines to date: the tale of a man who awakens each day to find himself thrust backward in time to the previous morning.

“We had talked about doing stories in a more non-traditional format,” writer Steve Maeda says. “We’re in the eighth season now and [have done] 160-some-odd shows. Not that the show’s getting stale, but we thought, ‘We’re pushing in new directions with characters now, let’s try some new things with structure.’ So that sort of spawned the idea of the backwards story.”

“Redrum” protagonist Martin Wells wakes one morning to find himself in a jail cell, being held for the murder of his wife. But he has no memory of the past several days’ events. He’s treated coldly by his old friend John Doggett, denied bail and shot by his father-in-law in just a few hours’ time. The next morning he awakens in the same prison, alive, and learns yesterday’s events are set to take place tomorrow. On top of that, no one else seems to have any cognizance of the apparent time flux – though Agent Scully seems at least to be sympathetic to his claims. Realizing his unique situation puts him in a position not only to find out who really perpetrated the crime but also to try to prevent it, Wells sets to the task, though his inexplicable actions cause him to come under even more suspicion.

The episode’s clever, original conundrum might be fun for viewers to tackle, but the creative minds behind “Redrum” found it torturous. “It was a big headache to try to put it all together,” Maeda says. “It was really difficult trying to figure out what does he know on this day, what does he know on the day before and what do the other characters know. Martin is learning things about this murder that he does not remember over the course of this story, but Doggett and Scully and other characters in this story are actually unlearning things as they go backwards through the story. So, they know more at the beginning of the story than they do at the end. And in the beginning of the story, they come to Martin and tell him things he doesn’t know about because he has no memory of the past three days. At the end of the story he has to go to Doggett and tell him, ‘You don’t remember me, but my wife is gonna be murdered today.’ So, it’s pretty twisty.”

Got all that? Executive producer Frank Spotnitz swears it’s worth the bit of brainteasing to figure it out. “It’s like the satisfaction of solving a very difficult puzzle,” he says. “We felt very good when we finally got to the end and saw that it all made sense in some way. But it’s a real change of pace. I’d say we’ve only done episodes like this, which are not in the mold of The X-Files, really two or three times in the life of the series. So, it’s a gamble, which is always worrying and exciting at the same time.”

Actor Joe Morton, probably best known for his roles in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Speed and this summer’s What Lies Beneath, has taken on the formidable task of carrying the audience along with Wells on his voyage of discovery and redemption. Though he seems to delve into the paranoia and confusion of his character with relative ease each time “Action” is called, between takes he’s equally as ready with a handshake and a hug for an extra who’s wrapped his work on the episode.

“He’s such a strong actor,” Markle says. “You know when you’re looking at an actor like Joe, there’s always something going on inside. It just reads on the screen whether he has dialogue or he has no dialogue. So, this is a perfect role for him because the drama this particular character is going through dealing with the death of his wife, trying to change the event, living his days backwards, waking up in jail, being a prosecutor treated like a criminal – I think Joe’s the type of actor you need to be on camera with that range of emotions.”

Maeda says he knew Morton was the man for the job even before he finished the script. “Sometimes when you’re writing, you start to picture an actor playing in a particular role,” he explains. “You hear people say this all the time, but in this case it’s actually true that as we [were] thinking of who could play this character, for some reason Joe Morton kept coming to mind. So, when they asked me, ‘Well do you have any ideas on casting?’ my first thought was, ‘How about Joe Morton?’ And then we didn’t know about his availability and we looked at other people, as well. But then, when he became available, it was like ‘Fantastic. That was who I had in my mind from the get-go.’ So, I was really lucky.”

The casting of Martin Wells was an especially important one, as Wells drives the story himself, discovering the X-file and solving it on his own with only brief interludes with Scully and Doggett. Although this device conveniently addressed actor availability issues, Maeda says it was not intentional.

“As we started doing it backwards, it seemed to us [to be] the only way to tell the story, because it was from this guy’s particular point of view and he was the only one experiencing what was going on,” Maeda explains. “To cut away to Scully and Doggett and have them appear more didn’t feel right. It felt better that we stay with him and the audience knows what he knows, and that we’re part of his confusion. And then when he starts to understand things, we’re part of understanding them. It certainly, I think, has worked out well, and it’s nice that this is the kind of show where you can do something totally different like this and really have a great guest character carry an entire show.”

Morton’s increased role also gives the crew a bit more breathing space in creating the John Doggett character. Introduced in the season opener as the special agent in charge of a task force created to search for Mulder, Doggett will become a lead on the show alongside Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Although a Chris Carter-penned tale, about bats, will air before this episode, scheduling demands placed “Redrum” third on the production slate, making this the first time many precedents have had to be addressed. By the time “Redrum” airs, viewers will have already gotten a glimpse of Doggett and Scully’s new partnership, but the episode marks the first time the crew has had to take a crack at showing the ex-marine and former cop teamed up with Scully. Luckily, since Doggett mainly remains in the background of the episode, department heads could take their time shaping the little details of his character.

“I’ve already started doing what they call a closet for him,” costume designer Enid Harris says. “He happens to be fabulous. I mean, he’s got a great look, he’s got a great body. He’s been a dream to dress. We want to keep him conservative, like an ex-marine or policeman would dress. So, basically, it has to be a two-button suit. However, two-button suits always come with pleated pants, which is not a great look. So, I’ve had to redesign the suits to do a two-button jacket with a flat-front pant, which basically you can’t buy. So, we’ve had to redo all these pants.

Though shot entirely on location for “Redrum,” the interior of Doggett’s apartment – seen for the first time in this episode – will eventually be replicated on stage and become a standing set.

“Doggett is a cop, and we got to pick a really interesting house,” production designer Corey Kaplan explains. “It’s in a grungy neighborhood where everybody has fences and barking dogs, and everybody’s house is turn-of-the-century and totally cut up and revamped. And just that choice is kind of cool. He’s a cop and he’s willing to live in a bad place because he can handle himself. We’ll be developing his house and the things we put on his wall as [the writers] start writing about him. I don’t remember the episode where the ‘I Want to Believe’ poster landed on Mulder’s wall, but that’s how we came to this really rich character. All the scripts that passed by and the evolution of situations formed his office and his fish and his porno magazines and his closet – all those things that make him what he is. We don’t have that for Doggett yet. We’re slowly getting there.

“I like him already,” she continues. “He doesn’t have an attitude. He’s really straightforward. And it’s interesting how he’s going to be broken down into believing. It’s kind of fun watching, ‘Oh, my god, how can he not believe this,’ like we watched Scully being transformed through Mulder and his realizations.”

Property master Tom Day shows a similar amount of enthusiasm about the collection of items he has begun to gather for Doggett. “First off, Robert’s just a gem of a guy, so it’s made it really groovy for everyone,” he says. “This for us will be an ongoing process for the first few episodes because he gets himself in different circumstances, and that’s when a particular little personal prop will demonstrate itself, whether it be his wallet or his holster or a photo that says something about him. [It’s fun] developing those little nuances.”

One of the most challenging props to come by for “Redrum” was the knife Doggett uses to cut through the crime scene tape on the door of Wells’ apartment. Day chose a sleek, military-style blade to fit Doggett’s already established personal history. “There’s a lot that goes into what kind of knife a guy carries,” Day explains. “I’ve got five guys in my prop department, and we all carry a different kind of knife. So, you don’t just go, ‘Ok, give [Doggett] this and let him cut it with that.’ No, this is something that we’ve actually talked to the executive producers about. What do they want for him? What exactly do they want to say with this knife? And once that’s been said, then we’ll take this knife and we’ll have a whole bunch of them made. We’ll have rubbers made, and we’ll have ones with safety blades on them made up. And then we will have established that prop for him that will say something about him.”

Meanwhile, outside of Day’s Stage Six office on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, Mulder’s apartment set stands empty, darkened and locked. Directly opposite, a black curtain reaching from floor to ceiling covers an area dressed up to reveal Mulder’s current location in the two-part season premiere. Its contents are to be kept secret until the episodes debut in early November.

Though Duchovny does make a brief but powerful appearance in the opening two-parter, “Redrum” is the first entirely Mulder-free episode in The X-Files’ history.

“[In] ‘Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,’ you heard Mulder’s voice. I think you may have seen his lips, Spotnitz says. “And in ‘Three of a Kind,’ the Lone Gunmen episode, you only heard his voice. I think this is probably the first episode without Mulder in any way, shape or form. [But] it’s such an oddball episode anyway, it didn’t really hit us. I think episode four, which will actually be broadcast as episode three, [is] probably when it will hit us how weird it is that it’s without Mulder because that’s really the first true case where Scully and Doggett are partnered up.”

That’s not to say Mulder’s absence had no impact on “Redrum.” In fact, Maeda says it made it easier to take the chance on a guest star-driven storyline. If Mulder were around, it might have been tempting to take the road more traveled and play it safe.

“One of the nice things about Mulder is that you have that character to push the paranormal envelope.” Maeda says. “If Mulder were in this episode, he would immediately be putting out a theory that, ‘I think I know what’s going on here.’ And he might be partially right, he might be totally right. Without him, you have to go through a different path to arrive at the same place. It’s tough, no question about it, but it’s also an interesting challenge to try and get there in another way.”

Maeda insists, however, that turning The X-Files into an anthology show by having guest leads every week isn’t the only way to deal with this issue. But fans should expect more episodes, like “Redrum,” outside traditional X-Files formulas.

And of course, there’s always Scully to consider. Though she started the series as an ultra-rational scientist, her knee-jerk skepticism has been tempered by her years in the field with Mulder. No one’s calling her “Spooky” yet, but she no longer dismisses the paranormal as superstitious nonsense.

“She’s seen enough over seven years that she doesn’t walk away from the tall tale immediately,” Day says. “She actually sees it more based upon her experiences with the Mulder character. Still, she’s more rooted in the science. But there’s just an openness. Experience has taught her not to immediately discount things.”

The challenges The X-Files’ producers face, like establishing a new character and developing a device by which the leads are brought to the paranormal each week, are very similar to those of the first season. And with all the changes in store, it seems The X-Files, like Martin Wells, is getting a chance at a fresh start.

“There’s a little bit of a sense that we’re almost doing a new show. And there’s a part inside of you that wonders how well this is gonna go over,” Day says. “I mean, you’ve got a show that for many years has had people invest their time into these characters. These two characters have been there for seven full years. Now, you wonder, are those people who have been the loyal fans of the show for seven years, are they gonna revolt, are they gonna have issues? Or can you just hope, ‘Hey, they’re gonna like the new scripts, they’re gonna like the direction it goes in and they’re still gonna enjoy it. Because let’s face it, the stories themselves are coming from the same sources. So, hopefully, that bridge is crossed, everything goes well, everyone’s happy and Season Eight is a successful one.”

The X-Files Magazine: Heart and Souls

Dec-08-1998
The X-Files Magazine [US, #8, Winter 1998]
Heart and Souls
Gina McIntyre

The Cool View Motel is not the kind of place you would expect to find outside the balmy, bustling activity of Los Angeles. A breeze rustles leaves belonging to a thick stand of trees nearby. The gravel lot shifts uncomfortably as the occasional truck rumbles over its skin. The decor is anything but trendy. The Cool View us a rustic stop somewhere in the middle of nondescript territory. Its only distinguishing feature on this mid-October evening is the remarkable sunset consuming the Western sky, an explosion of red hues that is the inadvertent result, a random passerby mentions, of the brush fire that erupt from this site earlier in the day.

Outside the building’s perimeter, people assemble. The chattering of countless walkie talkies drowns out the night’s more natural sounds. Spectators gather in the artificial illumination originating from sets of powerful lights. It could be anywhere, but this rural locale is actually the location set of The X-Files’ first foray into romantic comedy, an episode called “The Rain King” penned by Season Six writing recruit Jeff Bell, that just might ruin producer/director Kim Manners’ reputation as “The Horror King.”

Manners, renowned for gruesome offerings such as the now famous Season Four outing “Home”, is unconcerned. In fact, he’s pleased to contribute to the eclecticism that is rapidly coming to define the series’ Sixth Season.

“It’s a sweet little story,” he explains. It’s got a lot of compassion, a lot of pathos, and it’s very funny. We’ve got some great characters. It all revolves around this weather man, Holman Hardt, who for 20 years has repressed his feelings for Sheila Fontaine. You know how people’s emotions and how they feel are affected by the weather, well it’s just the opposite here. The way Holman feels affects the weather. It’s really quite a clever script.”

Clever and different from traditional X-Files subject matter, “The Rain King” is indicative of the kind of unexpected episodes in store for the show’s devoted fans. Never afraid to take risks, Chris Carter and his new Los Angeles based crew have challenged themselves to push the series’ boundaries even further this year to deliver the most compelling television possible. So far, they’ve tackled car chases, time travel and body switching with equal aplomb; with the Valentines Day episode “The Rain King” and the Chris Carter brainchild “How The Ghost Stole Christmas,” they turn they attention toward creating paranormal greeting cards for the holidays.

Even as Manners is putting the finishing touches on his remaining second unit work, X-Files mastermind Carter is himself toiling inside the confines of a supposedly haunted house (no, really) in out-of-the-way Piru. A comedy of errors of sorts, the imaginative episode takes place on Christmas Eve and features only four characters: Mulder, Scully and two mischievous characters played by guest stars Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner.

The differences between the two episodes, which were shot in sequence, even though “Rain King” will not air until next year, were not lost on the crew. The first episode required them to find dozens of locations, build and decorate a number of sets, not to mention create snow and hail storms and stage a car crash on a deserted stretch of highway.

“We have to make it hail on the entire roadway while a guy’s driving a car and loses control and crashes it in a hail storm,” Manners sighs, largely unaffected by the daunting task. “This is my 27th one of these. I kind of giggle because it’s always big. We’ve done it. Nothing scares us anymore. You get a huge ice-chipping machine, then you get three of them. We put them on 40-foot flat bed trucks. We use 300 pound blocks of ice. It’s like a wood chipper. You throw it into the chipper and it blows then up into the air and it lands on the cars and you have to drive these machines along with the car. They’ve got to get the hail between the camera lens and on the car and in the foreground. As it doesn’t work, my lenses get tighter and tighter and tighter, so I’m shooting narrower and narrower and narrower. You get very wet, very cold and the ice hurts when you’re driving in it and it’s hitting you in the back of the head.”

Jeff Bell admits he was astonished at what it took to realize his creative vision. “Frank [Spotnitz] really encouraged me to be on the set the whole time, which has been a great learning experience, seeing how they do it, seeing how big it is,” he says. “I had no idea it was this big. Here’s one example. We make it rain one day, and so you write the word ‘rain.’ You don’t think it takes 25,000 gallons of water and three cranes to do that. You don’t think it’s 50 tons of ice, three ice chippers and about 40 guys throwing ice, staying up all night as you do it. Sort of the reality of how a simple word can become [something that] takes a lot of labor, it just makes you think about what you write next time.”

Watching as his script was carefully shaped into being, Bell says, was ultimately more rewarding because he had poured so much effort into painstakingly crafting the quirky story. “This is so specific,” he explains. “To balance two points of view, the paranormal with the rational, have them both sort of half right, is incredibly difficult. I had no idea it was this hard. I think the writers/producers here are terrific, and now I see how hard they work to make it that good.”

As Manner’s team bravely suffered the barrage of their own ice storm, the first unit crew preparing Carter’s episode had somewhat the opposite problem. The day before the episode began filming on location at the Piru mansion, a sizable California brush fire broke out.

“It was like Vietnam because there were six of those big yellow and red water dropping planes circling around dropping water on the hillside and then there were about six helicopters doing the same thing,” marvels location manager Ilt Jones. “At one stage, the fire got within 500 feet of the house and we were standing in the backyard with Venture County fireman watching these huge 30-foot flames leaping up behind the eucalyptus trees and saying, ‘Are you sure this is going to be O.K.?’ They said, ‘Oh sure, it’ll burn itself out in an hour’ Sure enough that area right behind the house burnt out within an hour or two, so the house was saved. It was amazing because the whole of the hillside was lit up, only half a mile away.” “After something like the fourth episode, Frank Spotnitz called and said, ‘Great work guys. It’s amazing what you do.’ I said, ‘Yeah, they’re pretty exhausted but happy.’ Joking, I said, ‘You could do us a favor and do a “My Dinner with Scully” [episode]. Let everybody have a break.’ If you’ve ever seen the movie My Dinner with Andre, it’s one set. So Frank said, ‘You know thats a good idea.’ They call this Christmas episode ‘My Dinner with Scully.’ This is the break. When I found out this was the episode, I said, ‘Well, there’s one small catch: The only people who didn’t get a break were the art department because they had to build this house!”

The house in question is the beautifully recreated library, complete with working fireplace, of the Piru mansion. All teasing aside, Kaplan says she and her team are happy to have been able to collaborate on such an elaborate set. “To be honest with you, the art department is so pleased to have had a chance to put so much quality woodwork into a set. Everybody feels proud. They take a look and it feels like an art piece.”

Construction coordinator Duke Tomasick echoes her sentiments. In only eight days, a crew of roughly 50 people-painters, plasterers, carpenters, laborers- built the library from scratch. “”we’ve got a good crew who came in and got it done. It’s a beautiful set. I knew it would be. I couldn’t wait to do it. I was hoping we would build something. At first they were talking about finding a practical location, but I think Chris wanted a lot more ability to shoot it and with all the trick stuff I don’t think they could have found a location that would work, so we created it.”

Mid-Afternoon, mid-week on Stage Six. Chris Carter walks through the replica library ensuring that everything will be ready when David Duchovny and Lily Tomlin arrive on set. Nearby, visual effects supervisor Bill Millar stands waiting to answer any questions about how to adjust camera angles or lights to make Tomlin’s entrances and exits more dramatic and spooky.

“We decided that [she] appears usually in flashes of lightning, which is obviously practical, so we shoot background plates different frame rates, different camera speeds, then shoot the production plates to match those and introduce [her character] selectively in post-production. Most effects on this series are acquired as 35mm images and then scanned into the digital domain and we manipulate them there. Even the effects we plan wholly as production visual effects we tend to enhance a bit later on,” Millar explains.

Last minute changes, which are not out of the ordinary, require Millar to stay close by as the shots are set up and completed. Even before the actors arrive on set, the effects supervisor spends time discussing new ideas with perfectionist Chris Carter. “We have Lily disappear in one shot and she’d been holding Mulder at bay with his own service revolver,” Millar says. “Now rather than just disappearing, he wants her to disappear selectively, a little bit at a time, leaving the gun hanging in the air, which will then drop and Mulder will catch it. The original script idea was that she would just disappear and take the gun with her. It’s a nice idea. It just means we have to rig things slightly differently. We need to be able to isolate the gun on the set so that we can move the actors independently of it.”

Costume designer Christine Peters explains that it was her job to construct Tomlin’s replica turn of the century gown to enhance her antique look. “Lily’s [dress] had to be made,” she explains. “She had to be [dressed in turn-of-the-century [garb], and we couldn’t exactly find that anywhere, so we had to make it and we had to have doubles, so it had to be made. We couldn’t just rent it from a costume house or something. It’s a direct copy of two separate pieces. We used the back of one gown I found and the front of another. The sleeves and the front are a copy of an old silk piece that’s from the 1890’s and the back is a copy of a separate piece.”

Complicating matters further, Peter’s continues, was the fact that Tomlin’s guest-star role was not finalized until the day she was to begin shooting. “She came in Friday night for a fitting to work on Monday afternoon,” she says adding that the consumers took the liberty of working ahead to ensure that the costume was ready. “We decided what the costume was going to look like before the actress was even cast. We cheated and called another costume house and got [Tomlin’s] measurements. We pretty much knew it was going to be her, so we started without her. We decided if anything changed, we’d change accordingly.”

As Lily taunts a bewildered Mulder over and over again to capture just the right camera angle and just the right vocal intonation on film, the busy second unit team assembles a high-school gymnasium set for the final day of shooting on “The Rain King” on adjacent Stage Five.

What that means for set decorator Tim Stepeck and his crew is recreating piece by piece the set that they first built on location, much as they were required to do for “How the Ghost Stole Christmas.” When the set is as elaborate as a high-school reunion, though, that prospect can be more difficult than it sounds. “Half of that gym is being re-shot, and we had to build the gym on that stage,” he explains. “The Rain King” was actually the hardest episode for my department. I think that it was dressing all whole big high school reunion dance and then doing the corridors here on stage on top of doing the bathrooms on stage. It was like eight sets a day. The good thing is with the crew and I have, pretty much anything these writers throw at us, they seem to surpass it.”

That tireless dedication is something Manner’s is also quick to praise. “It’s really a good crew,” he says. “I think part of their stamina comes from being part of the excitement in being part of the best show on TV. We thought that there would be a longer learning curve in getting the crew hip to what we do here on The X-Files, and as it turned out, boy, by the end of the first episode, they knew very quickly what they were up against and they responded.”

When second unit shooting at the reunion wraps in the wee hours of the morning, the actors will depart, the crew will travel home for some much deserved rest and Bell’s script will be complete, sending the writer back to the storyboard to brainstorm a concept for his next episode. For the time being, however, Bell is just happy that he could contribute a script that would add a new dimension to the series he’s watched for so long. “It’s an X-File/Love Story. Of course when Mulder and Scully sleep together in my episode, I think it’s going to shock everyone,” Bell dead pans, trying to stifle a sly smile. “And then the fact that everyone dies is probably more shocking. But isn’t that what a great X-File is? Anyone can die at any moment?”