Posts Tagged ‘tom day (prop master)’

The X-Files Magazine: Risky Business

??-??-2001
The X-Files Magazine [US]
Risky Business
Chandra Palermo

[typed by Donna]

Nestled conveniently out of the way of bustling crew members, a small machine noiselessly churns thin streams of smoke through a confined police station set’s cramped hallways. The severe light emanating from the set’s interrogation room cuts through the diaphanous haze, giving the busy corner of Stage Eight on the Twentieth Century Fox lot a spooky, surreal air that smacks of The X-Files. In fact, the hustle can indeed be attributed to production on the 14th episode of The X-Files’ eighth season, “This Is Not Happening.”

Suddenly, the hustle comes to a stop and the typical behind-the-scenes din fades to silence, as Kim Manners strolls into the interrogation room, his face tense with deep concentration. Taking a seat at the tiny room’s table, the director watches Gillian Anderson rehearse the upcoming scene. Anderson runs through her lines several times, stopping now and then to discuss her character’s demeanor through the weighty sequence. An easy dialogue springs up between the actress and the veteran helmer–who have worked together countless times throughout the past several years–concerning Scully’s fragile state of mind as she questions a man who may know Mulder’s whereabouts.

“This Is Not Happening” opens with the reappearance of abductee Theresa Hoese, who was taken around the same time as Mulder in the Season Seven finale “Requiem.” Other abductees have been turning up, many barely alive like Hoese, but many others dead. The man being interrogated, Absalom, has been seen at the sites of these discoveries but claims he’s only concerned with helping Jeremiah Smith [the shapeshifting alien healer from Season Three’s “Talitha Cumi” and Season Four’s “Herrenvolk”] nurse the abductees back to health. “And whereas Scully’s approaching it as there may be something to it, Doggett is approaching it strictly as a cop and wants to know why [Absalom] tortured Theresa Hoese,” Manners explains. “It’s kind of an interesting scene to see the different dynamic between Scully and Doggett.”

Yet the cause for concern over perfecting Scully’s every nuance lies not in her developing relationship with Doggett, but rather in her vulnerability as she prepares for a possible resolution to her search for Mulder. The cameras won’t roll until Manners and Anderson devise what seems most apt for the character.

“It’s an emotional story for Scully,” Manners says. “I mean, we’ve been looking for Mulder and we now have hope, seeing as Therea Hoese’s been returned, that we may indeed find Mulder. It’s an emotional roller coaster for Scully’s character, so I have to concentrate on what we’re doing with Gillian and her side of the story. [Plus], Doggett is a non-believer, but he doesn’t want to see Scully hurt, so I have to concentrate on what Robert’s doing. And Skinner’s got an investment in this, as well. At the same time, we’re also introducing a new character. So, I have my work cut out for me here, a lot of bases to cover. It’s tricky.”

The new character Manners mentions is Monica Reyes, an FBI special agent from the New Orleans field office who specializes in ritualistic crimes. Doggett, who worked with Reyes on a prior case, calls upon her expertise to help explain the source of the returned abductees’ horrific wounds. Scully resists Reyes’ help at first but soon begins to appreciate her open-mindedness. Partly created to, according to executive producer Frank Spotnitz, balance the believer/skeptic dynamic and prevent Doggett from becoming a third wheel once Mulder returns, Reyes is very much unlike the show’s other characters.

“I think she’s going to bring a lightheartedness [to the show],” Manners says. “Whereas Scully and Mulder have always been so guarded in their true feelings, this is a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She speaks the truth maybe sometimes too freely, too easily. She’s a free spirit. She’s not flaky, but she’s kind of by the cuff. She works spur of the moment. Maybe she and Doggett can find something interesting together.” Thrilled to sink her teeth into such a meaty, important role, the actress chosen to portray Reyes, Annabeth Gish (Buying the Cow, Beautiful Girls, Mystic Pizza), is counting on this enthusiasm to help her adjust to the series’ notoriously long days and nights of shooting. “My first night of shooting was on location in Simi Valley, sort of out in the middle of no man’s land,” Gish says. “And as I was driving up, I saw that little gathering of generators and the big crane that’s the false moonlight, and [I felt] all of the energy on the set. It kind of reminds you of why you’re an actor on movies or television. There’s such an energy to it that, no matter how many hours you’re working, there’s still that magical little excitement that we’re telling a story and we’re pretending. It’s really cool, and it’s kind of eerie and surreal.” Although Gish has so far signed on for only a three-episode arc, there is a good chance Reyes may become a recurring character. With this in mind, Manners has been paying close attention to how he handles her introductory scenes.

“I’m taking it slow and, with each performance, weighing every line,” he explains. “When I yell ‘action’ I literally try to concentrate on every line of dialogue and every expression and make sure that it’s right for the character–after talking to Chris [Carter] and Frank and Annabeth about who the character is. And we’re just trying to discover it together You can’t rush it.” Manners is not the only one to struggle with the episode’s many competing interests. Spotnitz, who co-wrote the episode with Carter, describes s number of concerns they wrestled with in crafting the compelling tale.

“We knew that everybody knew Mulder was coming back, so we didn’t want his return to be what you’d expect,” Spotnitz explains. “How do you make that unpredictable, despite the fact that everybody knows it’s happening? And aside from the desire to make it as suspenseful and surprising as we could, there’s the fact that we were cognizant we were reopening the mythology of the show and creating a new chapter with what the aliens are up to, and so we had a lot of long term thinking to do about that. It was a very complicated puzzle.”

Several tall lamps with large, circular heads shine brightly behind an immense backdrop, illuminating its Giegeresque design and bringing to life the alien spacecraft where we last saw Mulder-strapped to a demonic-looking chair and subjected to a host of tragic tortures. David Duchovny’s stunt double, Mike Smith, removes his robe and slippers and settles into the imposing chair, as Manners and stunt coordinator Danny Weselis discuss the camera movement for the next shot. Luckily for the X-Files’ crew members, Mulder’s story picks up right where it left off, so the so-called “limbo” set they toiled on for the season’s opening two-parter, “Within”/”Without,” gets to see at least one more episode of action before being indefinitely packed away in storage.

“[The limbo set] was a huge undertaking.” general foreman Billy Spires says. “It’s an intricate set that really involved everybody–special effects, company grips, construction, a lot of different crafts. That was probably our most intricate set so far this season.” Even though “This Is Not Happening” ranks as one of the toughest episodes this season from a writing/directing standpoint, it’s a relatively laid back one for the rest of the show’s team. Despite the enormity of the storyline, the series’ department heads insist it’s a fairly light, straightforward episode from their individual standpoints.

“Its not light in reference to the amount of work that needs to be done, it’s that there’s nothing outlandish,” property master Tom Day explains. “I’m not trying to figure out how to get 500 rats to all go from one jail cell to an other one on cue. That type of challenge isn’t there. But to be perfectly honest with you, after some of the stuff we’ve done on stand-alones, we don’t mind a little bit of a break on this stuff. We’ve had some bizarre things.” Of course, as with any episode, there’s still the occasional bump or two in the road. For instance, stage space has become an endangered species this year, and the only place to create the dilapidated cabin where Absalom gathers and cares for the unfortunate abductees is inside an already existing set originally created to house the nuclear reactor structure featured in Season Seven’s opening two-parter “The Sixth Extinction”/”The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.”

“It’s been 30 to 40 sets since then, but we’ve always left it standing,” Spires says. “It’s our only huge, permanent set that we always turn into something else, whether it’s a basement laundry room, the hull of a ship or a Plexiglass prison cell. But this time we’re filling the entire set with an other set.”

“This compound is a really tricky thing,” set decorator Tim Stepeck adds. “We’ve got to put 60 people inside that one little space and try to make it look bigger than it really is, so we’re doing a lot of trick stuff with the set and hanging plastic and giving it depth.” Also tricky was staging the episode’s teaser, which features a high-speed chase between a beat-up old car and a UFO. Weselis worked with an aerial coordinator to make a helicopter and its bright “night sun” light double for the saucer–until it can be added later via CGI by the show’s visual effects wizards. “We had the helicopter pilot shining the night sun back and a stunt double for [UFO-obsessed character] Ritchie chasing it,” Weselis explains. “He was going about 70 to 80 mph down this dirt road chasing a helicopter that’s probably six feet above the ground. And we did close run-bys at high speed and numerous shots coming over rises.” Ambitious stunt sequences and set construction aside, what crew members really want to talk about–what they’re most excited about–is the return of Mulder and the show’s continuing storyline. After a string of stand-alones, everyone seems to relish the chance to create another installment of the X-Files’ mythology. And this episode’s shocking revelations and jaw-dropping cliffhanger had most of them feeling like X-Philes glued to the edges of their seats on a Sunday night. The consensus is clear: “This Is Not Happening” is an instant crew favorite.

“It is, in my humble opinion, a great episode,” Day says. “And that character Jeremiah Smith-cool character. As a matter of fact, one of the coolest things about episode 14 for me is that, when we do an episode like this, I need to research characters like that. So, I’ll get a hold of the tape from the office from the first time we saw this Jeremiah Smith character, and I’ll take it home and watch it in case there’s any personal props or any little insight I can gather. It’s a great episode, and my wife and I were watching it and got hooked 100 percent. But it gets to the end and says, ‘to be continued.’ And I don’t have part two! So every night when I get home from work now, my wife says, ‘Honey did you happen to get the tape of part two?'” Outside the protective confines of Stage Eight, a torrential downpour rages as the temperature steadily drops. Constant requests for umbrellas and parkas dominate CB discourse, but a drastic shortage of the desired items plagues hair, makeup and wardrobe technicians. Now adorned in soaking wet attire, the crew expresses shock and dismay over the nasty weather change.

When the show was filmed in Vancouver, cold rainy conditions were the norm. Certainly, there would have been no lack of umbrellas back then. But The X-Files has now been in Los Angeles for almost three seasons and, pampered by the land of sun and fun, cast and crew were caught unawares. The series has traveled a long and winding road since that move took place. Many of its successful conventions remain intact, but a great deal has changed–mostly during Season Eight alone. And “This Is Not Happening” marks a definite turning point in this transformation. Although the return of Jeremiah Smith links the episode to previous events in The X-Files’ mythology, its story takes the arc to the next level, opening new horizons to be explored. Obviously the addition of the Reyes character speaks volumes to the writers’ willingness to experiment with the show’s successful formula. Of course, it did help that the introduction of Doggett had already proven the fans to be open to new cast members.

“I thought that our fanbase would take a little while to warm up to Robert, but they didn’t,” Manners says. “I guess I shouldn’t be [surprised by that] because Robert really brings a lot to the character of Doggett. He’s a very likable character, he’s a hell of an actor, and I think he brings a really refreshing dynamic to the series. I know that he’s inspired myself and Gillian and all of us to reinvigorate our work, and it’s been exciting. I look forward to the same kind of thing with Annabeth.”

But the changes don’t solely involve new characters. As they did in Season Eight’s opening two-parter, Scully and Skinner again demonstrate a conversion, cementing the fact that they now, like Mulder, accept alien abduction as a possibility – automatically assuming this to be the cause of the episode’s strange events.

“It’s kind of a relief because for so many years we had to work so hard to maintain Scully’s skepticism,” Spotnitz says. “Once we let Doggett into the show, it gave us the latitude to relax that. And for Skinner, I think it’s just absolutely liberating for the character because he had been in the middle for seven years and finally gets to be on one side. And I think for Mitch [Pileggi] it’s been very gratifying to be able to play that.

“But I think Scully’s a believer in her own way still,” he continues. “We’re cognizant all the time as we’re writing these scenes of how she would say it. If you notice, when she talks about aliens like Jeremiah Smith, there’s still some qualification there. She believes, but she doesn’t but it wholesale. She doesn’t leap into things like Mulder does. So, it still feels like her character, even though she’s come a long way.” And of course, the manner in which Mulder is reintroduced will have a significant ramifications for the show. But that secret may not yet be revealed and so surely won’t be spoiled here. Suffice to say, it should defy any expectations.

“I think it’s a big surprise,” Spotnitz says. “There’s twists and turns about how he’s returned and what happens when he gets back. The show will not be the same old show once he gets back. I think it’ll be more interesting than it’s been in a long time because everything is up for grabs.”

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 Associated Press: Aliens, Mayhem, All in a Day’s Work

Mar-??-2000
The Associated Press
Aliens, Mayhem, All in a Day’s Work
Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Makeup artists Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf and Kevin Westmore were confronted with the task of turning a chubby-cheeked doll into a believable corpse for “The X-Files.”

“So Kevin throws the doll on the studio sidewalk and he’s stomping on its head. A guy walks by and says, ‘That’s really sick, buddy,'” recounts Montesanto-Medcalf.

It’s just an average day for the special effects experts who conspire to make the Fox drama one of television’s most ghoulish and reliably chilling experiences.

The truth isn’t out there, as lead character Fox Mulder insists. It’s in the wizardry of technicians who can make us believe that aliens have landed, that a patient has been barbecued in an MRI machine, and that a handsome young actor is wizened and ill.

A small army works behind the scenes of the show (9 p.m. EST Sunday), which stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents solving oddball cases while trying to expose a government conspiracy possibly involving an alien invasion.

The prop department alone has six to seven people, double the usual number for a TV show, said property master Tom Day. There are three people in Bill Millar’s visual effects squad and an equal number in the department run by Montesanto-Medcalf. John Vulich contributes additional makeup effects.

Some joined the series when production was moved to Southern California two years ago, after five years of filming in Canada. And they really love their work.

“I do nice beauty makeup but I also have a kind of sick mind and can make people look disgusting as well,” said Montesanto-Medcalf, cheerily. If she’s haunted by frightening images, it’s only professionally.

“I’ve been up since 2 a.m. thinking of zombies because of you,” she chided Duchovny recently. An upcoming episode he’s written and directed is filled with undead souls, and Montesanto-Medcalf had to devise a makeup scheme for them.

Day’s Fox studio prop room is filled with evidence of the mayhem he regularly helps fake. There are boxes marked “human guts,” skeletons and a rainbow of body bags – yellow, black and white representing different law enforcement agencies.

Many items are custom-made, such as a machete that was shown slicing into a scientist’s shoulder in the season’s opening episode.

A weapon with a cardboard “blade” patterned to fit snugly against the actor’s shoulder was created, then held in place with a thin metal plate and straps. Makeup provided the bloody finishing touch.

“It looked great, but it was kind of silly to watch the guy walk over to craft services and get himself a sinker and cup of coffee in the morning,” Day said.

The aliens who make occasional appearances in the series are MIA from this storage room.

“We have a selection of alien bodies at another warehouse, the ones with big eyes that look so friendly,” Day said. “As we use them and they get more and more beat up … then they become the body of the guy from Florida who’s just been eaten by the swamp monster and is inside the bag.

“As long as they don’t complain, they’ll go into any body bag we can fit them into,” Day said, a grin stretched across his face.

Some props are benign. A baseball-themed episode last season called for a mechanical bank. When a suitable one couldn’t be found, Day and his crew researched and engineered a bank with a ballplayer whose hat tips in coins.

“All that happens in five or six days,” Day said, referring to the average prep time available for each episode. “That’s the part that amazes me. How quickly it winds up happening.”

The various departments collaborate on each episode. Although division of labor is the rule, sometimes one unit – such as CGI, or computer-generated imagery – will take the lead on a special effect.

“They decide by virtue of what gives them the most bang for their buck, so to speak,” Day said. The big-ticket effects, such as giant spaceships, provide a respite for his department.

“When we read ‘CGI’ in the script, it’s great. We’re at craft services (eating and relaxing) for those parts,” he said.

For performers, the “X-Files” experience can be truly memorable.

“A lot of times the actors are hired and think, ‘Oh, I got a part.’ Then they read the script and go, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to happen to me?'” said Montesanto-Medcalf.

In one episode involving poisonous snakes, a guest actor was covered with prosthetic blisters that seeped a pudding-like substance with the help of air pumps. For another episode, titled “Theef,” the MRI victim was “burned” by four makeup artists working for eight hours.

“We put a bald cap on her. Then the hair people glued on yak hair, which is wiry, that had been singed,” said Montesanto-Medcalf. A blend of acetate, gelatin and paint was used to simulate charred flesh, with dog rawhide serving as exposed bone.

It was “X-Files” perfect. “It looked so disgusting,” said Montesanto-Medcalf.

Most actors are good sports, including the stars. Anderson was a real trouper when subjected to a swarm of insects, including giant winged beetles, in the season’s first episode, while Duchovny was equally game when facing live snakes, Day said.

Duchovny even relished being transformed into an elderly man in one story, Montesanto-Medcalf said.

“Not only did he have to look old, he had to look diseased. So he wasn’t a good-looking old guy, that’s for sure,” she said. “But he loved it. Everyone on the set was so amazed at how great it looked and kept going up to him and saying ‘You look fantastic.'”

There seems to be only one thing that can frighten an “X-Files” veteran – sharp-eyed fans looking for flubs.

“If a baseball bat is used in an episode in season two and I bring out the same baseball bat for something in season seven, there will be people who get on the Internet to carp,” said Day.

The X-Files Magazine: Fate Accompli

Feb-15-2000
The X-Files Magazine [US, #13, Spring 2000]
Fate Accompli
Gina Mcintyre

[Typed by Gayle]

After years of searching, Mulder finally learns the fate of his missing sister in The X-Files’ most emotional mythology two-parter to date

A nearly opaque cloud of manufactured mist fills the wide, open expanse of Stage eight on the Twentieth Century fox lot. A strong, circular light cuts through the haze like halogen beams through a night fog, illuminating a rectangular, wooden set that resembles a train car from Santa’s workshop on some exaggerated scale. While dozens of people scurry from place to place inside the considerable shadow cast by the box car, director Kim Manners stands on the other side of the stage, walking in circles around production designer Corey Kaplan and visual effects supervisor Bill Millar. Waiting for the final preparations for this morning’s scene to be completed, the forward-thinking Manners is already planning the exact choreography of a complicated camera move still days away on the production schedule, with the pair of department heads standing in for Mulder and Scully.

The whole place is a hive of activity. It’s the beginning of the second day of shooting on “Closure,” the second of a two-part episode that finally reveals what really happened to Agent Mulder’s missing sister Samantha. The shows begin with the story of a young California girl, Amber Lynn LaPierre, who disappears one night under peculiar circumstances. The case draws the attention of Mulder, who is struck by its similarities to Samantha’s alleged abduction. Driven, the agent and his devoted partner Scully are drawn deeper into the child’s case and after much searching, ultimately uncover a life-changing truth. For years, Chris Carter has indicated that his master plan for The X-Files includes the explanation for Samantha’s fate, which has been central to the ongoing narrative since the pilot episode. His quest to discover what terrible circumstances befell his beloved sister has spurred Mulder onward through countless adventures, his will resolute and unyielding. But penning the episodes that would once and for all explicate the mystery proved more challenging than Carter and his writing partner executive producer Frank Spotnitz had anticipated. In breaking the story, the pair directed the storyline onto an entirely new path, borrowing a phrase from German philosopher martin Heidegger that translates as “being in time” as the title for the first episode.

“I don’t think [Chris] thought he would tell a story that said exactly this,” Spotnitz explains. “We’re still going to the same place in the end, but I think we found a slightly different way of getting there. We kind of stumbled upon it at the last minute, honestly. We sat down to do this two-parter and these are the post-conspiracy mythology episodes, sot hey tend to be simpler. We wanted it to be a case that became a mythology episode, rather than just starting out a mythology episode. We found a way into the Samantha story and I think we ended up going further in explaining what happened to her earlier than we expected to. It was exciting to do. I think it feels very reality based, this-could-be-happening-in-your-city kind of thing, which was very appealing to us about the story. It’s always been Chris’ maxim of telling stories that seem real, and this seems very real in the beginning and it gets more fantastic.”

While the episodes unquestionably belong to The X-Files mythology, they do not involve conspiracies, aliens or Cigarette Smoking Men – even though the CSM does briefly appear. Instead, the two-parter closely examines Mulder’s emotional state, resulting in a gripping tale that afforded leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson the opportunity to showcase their acting talents.

“Right before they received the scripts, I called to prepare the actors for what was coming, and I think they’ve welcomed it,” Spotnitz says. “I think they look forward to scripts like this because so many of the episodes are about the cases and that honestly is what’s most interesting to us about the mythology shows. They can be about Mulder and Scully as characters more than investigators.”

Manners, at least for the time being, is more concerned about logistical issues and exacting camera work – the nuts and bolts of the operation – than how the actors will meet the emotional rigors of such sweeping important episodes. With dozens of X-Files outings under his belt and years of working with Duchovny and Anderson, the director is confident that each scene will take shape naturally under his lens.

“We haven’t really discussed it up front,” Manners says. “I think this is a story that we’re going to have to find together, David and I. As we shoot, I think that it will flesh itself out for both David and myself. It’s one of those. David, he’s not an actor that likes to plan or predict. He likes to find it on the day, which works well with me, especially in a story like this. It’s better to find it as we get there.”

“It’s a big story,” he adds. “I’m kind of excited to answer for everybody, myself included, what happened to Samantha. I’m handling it like I would any other script. I’m just trying to do my best work and tell the story the best I can.”

Assisting in that mission are the dozens of hard-working members of the series’ behind-the-scenes creative team, most of whom are presently toiling on one of three stages on the lot. Today, first unit begins filming at 9 a.m. on Stage Eight; then the company will move to the adjacent Stage Five, while second unit work for “Sein Und Zeit,” under the direction of co-executive producer Michael Watkins, is completed on Stage Six. The day will last well into the night.

Rarely does the shooting schedule see three stages in use (generally, The X-Files uses only Stages Five and Six); most of the time, at least one unit is out on location. But this has proven an exceptional year in many ways. Even while the fate of the series hangs in the balance – no official announcement has yet been made about a possible Season Eight – The X-Files has kicked into artistic overdrive, producing uncompromising, dark, outings and quirky, imaginative tales, as well as taking the mythology into unexpected areas. Crafting such an eclectic mix is sometimes unpredictable.

“It’s been different than last year, but actually more hectic,” says general foreman Billy Spires. “I don’t mean that in a bad way, but we have to have a lot more stuff ready sooner. We haven’t had any episode with one main set. It seems like there’s eight to 12 different sets every episode that we ‘re getting ready. You don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor as much when it has to be ready so quickly. Because of the lack of stage space, we have to take [a se] down sometimes the moment they’re done shooting either to revamp it or put something else there. “We work about 80 0ercent of the weekends,” he continues. “We’ll be working through this weekend on all the changeovers and the sets that have to be ready for Monday and Tuesday. And then we’re going to start prepping episode 12. We may have a break for a few hours but that’s only because the director hasn’t let the production designer know exactly what he wants. As soon as the prints come down to the trailer, it’s on.”

For “Sein Und Zeit”/”Closure,” property master Tom Day’s department was required to stage dozens of photographs of young Mulder and Samantha to appear at Mulder’s mother’s house, which meant finding six children to pose as the siblings at varying ages and inventing memorable poses suitable for framing.

“In this particular case, we had to go back beyond what we usually see of them into even younger and younger [ages], Day says. “In fact, one of my assistants, he has a son and a daughter who are roughly the same age relationship. We used his children as one of our groups of kids because his daughter is a 1 year-old infant. She’s got the chicken pox, right now, so it made for these really cute pictures of a big brother holding his little sister who’s got the chicken pox.”

The photographs, though time-consuming, were not the most challenging item Day was called upon to procure for the episodes. “In [“closure”], Mulder finds his sister’s diary,” Day says. “Considering how absolutely central to his entire series that relationship is and how important being able to read what she’s written is to that character, that is as huge a prop as we can be responsible for. It’s really got to be right on. That’s years worth of storylines and preparation leading up to that. As the prop department, we want that prop to be worthy of the years of build-up something like that gets.”

To find the perfect specimen, Day acquired countless diaries and journals, then headed to the show’s producers for feedback. “What I’ll do is I’ll start with Kim and say, ‘Kim, what works best for you as far as the logistics of shooting?’ Then I’ll get multiples of them and have them aged to varying degrees. We’ll do maybe one version that will have been attacked by mold and mildew, and the other version will be dusty and worn and aged, bleached looking from the elements. Once the director settles on what works for him, size and width and all those parts of it, I’ll age a few of them up to show the differences and then I will show them to Chris, Frank, and all the guys at Ten Thirteen.”

The scope of the two-parter – the LaPierre case leads Mulder to other similar cases all with a paranormal bent – is even affecting the workload of effects man Millar. Upon completing a blue screen sequence involving a young boy for the episode directed by Watkins, Millar must begin to procure the equipment necessary for the specialty camerawork featured in the final installment of the story. He, too, echoes Spires’ and Day’s sentiments about the frenzied pace of Season Seven.

“[‘Closure’] is probably the heaviest episode [in terms of visual effects], certainly of the last three seasons,” he says. “We probably have four day of motion control shooting to build [some supernatural entities] into moving plates and have them mingle with Mulder and Scully. Integrating all that is an object lesson in choreography and motion control acting and camera work. [In feature films], certain shots and scenes can take three to five days t set up and photograph, some longer than that. We’re being asked to do that kind of quality and essentially get our shots in half a day, which requires an immense amount of preplanning and a little bit of luck as well.”

To ensure that luck is on his side, Millar ways it is key to take advantage of the lead time he has, now nearly eight days. “Kim kind of previsualizes what he wants to do with certain scenes,” he says. “We talk and figure out the camera moves largely on paper. Kim wants to be able to move the camera though 360 degrees without giving any evidence that there was any kind of special camera in use. He wants it to look more like a hand-held shot. We figure out what configuration we need of camera and track and what kind of motion control camera we need, whether it’s a crane, whether it’s a crane built on top of a dolly, what axes of motion the camera needs to describe and how fast the dolly needs to move to get out of its own way so that when the camera turns around to photograph where the dolly was at the beginning of the shot, we’ve managed to move the dolly around to the other side of the room. All of this has to happen over and over again, and the camera has to be positioned for each pass within literally fractions of a millimeter from where it was, time after time after time in order for us to meld each of those plates together and not see any misregistration, lines or any perspective change that would five away that one of the entities in the scene was shot at a different time or place than everything else.”

According to Millar, that particular scene will take two to three hours to set up, roughly six hours to shoot and will require 40 to 50 hours of digital composting during post production to complete. It will appear on screen for less than 30 seconds.

The end result, of course, is worth the labor. Week after week, The X-Files continues to meet the standard of excellence demanded by Carter and the millions of fans who embraced the series as a watermark for television. If anything, the unparalleled ambition of episodes like “Sein Und Zeit” / “Closure” is raising the bar higher, challenging the crew to push themselves to reach new creative plateaus.

And viewers can continue to look forward to more of the same. Even though many of the series’ carefully guarded secrets have been revealed, some components of the ever elusive truth will remain out there and will take shape in even more remarkable forms. “There’s something more coming,” a confident Spotnitz says with a grin.

The X-Files Magazine: Going Hungry

Oct-??-1999
The X-Files Magazine [US, #11, Fall 1999]: Going Hungry
Gina McIntyre

[typed by Gayle]

In season seven’s first stand-alone, Vince Gilligan tells the tale of a monster’s tragic eating disorder. Vince Gilligan has everyone fooled. The X-Files writer/co-executive producer best known for quirky episodes like Seasons Four’s “Small Potatoes” and Season Five’s “Bad Blood” projects an unmistakable Southern charm; in person, he is amiable, easy-going, good-natured. But lurking somewhere deep within his psyche is a villainous imp. There must be. There’s simply no other explanation for how someone so unassuming could send property master Tom Day on a mission as revolting as hunting down real brains for the inaugural stand-alone episode of the series ‘ seventh year, the all-too-appropriately named “Hungry.”

The story of a monster in disguise who uses his part-time job slinging burgers to sate his unstoppable and quite literal appetite for the cerebral. “Hungry” is a throwback tot he show’s classic take on horror, with touches of Gilligan’s irrepressible wit thrown in for good measure. Although the episode will air third in the season line-up, scheduling demands mandated that it was the first to be filmed. As stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were both completing work on features they shot over the hiatus, a Mulder/Scully-light story was needed to begin the roster. Gilligan’s unusual and intriguing stand-alone offered the perfect solution.

“Originally, I wanted to do a story about a monster from the monster’s point of view,” the writer offers. “sort of like an episode of Columbo where you were following the bad guy throughout the show and then Columbo, or in this case Mulder, keeps coming in and asking questions that make it clear that he suspects our main guy. It seemed like a fun idea. What I really wanted to do, if it really worked correctly [was] to have it by the end of the show [that] you’re rooting for the monster. You’re sort of not happy every time Mulder and Scully show up because you don’t want the poor guy to get caught. I don’t know if it will work like that when you watch it but that was the intention.”

X-Philes displeased at the intrusion of their favorite agents? The unlikely prospect made Gilligan’s task that much more formidable. To capture the pair’s signature chemistry without using them as the center of the narrative, the writer employed inventive storytelling devices.

“It was a very interesting experiment.” Gilligan admits. “By the time I got through it I was realizing that this is why we don’t tell stories this way, because Mulder and Scully get so little screen time in comparison. I don’t know how much the fans are going to like this one. I hope the do and they see [that] at least we tried something different. I’m real proud of it. The fans so like Mulder and Scully, so enjoy watching then on screen together, and this episode by virtue of the fact that it had a different structure to it, they’re on screen much less. I mean they still have that Mulder/Scully dynamic and yet I had to be very scrupulous about only showing it from this guy’s point of view.”

While Gilligan’s script offers yet another approach to the classic X-Files formula, it also helped ease the crew back into the routine of shooting television’s most cinematic series. Nearly everyone working on the L.A. set praises the episode not only for its ingenuity, but for the fact that it allowed them the rare opportunity to gradually work back into the show’s frenetic pace. Rather than exhausted seniors battling final exam week with too little sleep and too much caffeine, the principals seem more like classmates reunited on the playground after a relaxing, homework-free summer.

Not that there’s a dearth of activity on Stages Five and Six on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, The X-Files’ home when not shooting on location. On this, the sixth of eight days of first unit photography on “Hungry,” the construction team has been toiling since 5 a.m. to strike the various sets no longer needed for the episode, make changes to existing pieces and begin planning for what the next script will bring. Music from an unseen radio blares from across the stage; sawdust litters the air, seen only in the rays of sun streaming in from the open doors at either side of the building. Voices call to one another, sharing jokes and plans for lunch.

In the midst of this bustle, Day enters the safe confines of his office, which is nestled along the side of Stage Six, camouflaged in part by Mulder’ s apartment and various props and pieces of set dressing. After enjoying a pleasant summer hiatus, Day admits he was ready to get back into the swing of things, but was quite astonished to learn what Gilligan had in store for him.

“Fried brains, that was one of the highlights,” Day says, shaking his head. “At one point, we need to simulate human brains. We actually had a brain test day where we went out to the different meat-packing places and brought in a bunch of your different varmints’ brains, cow and pig and sheep, to see which one would look the best and which one would sit on the set properly.”

Given that Day has been working in the industry for years, one might think that brain detail would be less grisly that it sounds. Not so, he says. It was possibly the most grotesque assignment to ever come his way. “It’s right up there,” he says, “It took some getting used to. It took a leap of faith to jump in and say this will all work just fine. I talked to the medical technician on Chicago Hope because they use all kinds of animal parts, stuff you could even go to the market and buy. Obviously when you’re simulating surgery you have to have something. I talked to them about what’ s best to sue for rain. We found steer brain worked best. They could have had [special effects make-up coordinator] John Vulich whip out some brains, but I don’t know in all honesty if it would have looked the same. It looked great for what we were doing with it. It was perfect.”

For his part, Gilligan felt no remorse at sending Day on his stomach-turning errand. “They love this stuff.!” He says with a smirk, “I think they said they used steer brains. I would have thought they’d be too big, but I guess not. I mean they’re not super-smart animals, but their heads are so big you ‘d think their brains would be bigger than ours. That was pretty funny. Then they have to cook them once they’re out there. They have to put them on a hot grill. I don’t know what brains do when you grill them. People eat calves’ brains. I’ve never had them. I don’t know what they taste like.”

If there’s brain on the grill, you might guess which of the X-Files stable of directors would be behind the lens. Infamous for his affection for the gruesome, the tireless Kim Manners found in “Hungry” material he could really sink his teeth into, aside from its horrific menu. As odd as it might sound, the script is actually a subtle character study about one man’s seemingly futile struggle to conquer insurmountable odds.

“I think they tailor made it for me,” the director says. “It’s one of mine. I’m having a good time with it. I had a good time off and I’m feeling really fresh. Normally when I do my first show of a season, you come in with butterflies and you’re always a little frightened. It’s been two or three months without directing, talking to actors, pointing the camera, but I feel like my brain’s on Viagra. I’m very, very excited. I’m getting great film and great performances, and that’s what it’s about.”

According to Manners, guest star Chad E. Donella, who portrays peculiar anti-hero Rob Roberts, is responsible for one of those “great performances.” The actor, whose previous television appearances include stints on such impressive series as ER and the Practice, recently completed work on Flight 180, the feature debut of X-Files vets Glen Morgan and James Wong, perhaps accounting for his ability to key into the show’s dark spirit. “Chad is an outstanding actor.” Manners raves. “He’s really carrying this episode, [Because] the episode is from Rob Roberts’ point of view, the ball is really in Chad’s court. He’s doing tremendous job.”

Of course, man cannot become monster alone. To truly assume the aspect of an otherworldly creature, one needs special effects – and lots of ’em. Supervising Donella’s transformation from mild-mannered fast-food employee to intimidating and ravenous fiend are FX make-up artist Greg Funk and visual effects maven Bill Millar. Prosthetically, the monster is comprised of three separate pieces-a forehead appliance, a bald cap and a nose piece. To completely transform the actor into his hideous alter-ego took nearly three hours, Funk says, adding that the metamorphosis was complicated because certain scenes required Donella to remove portions of the make-up himself.

“He has a disguise on and he takes all the pieces off,” Funk explains. “It can’t just be a make-up job-boom, he’s the monster. We’ve got to make it so a human disguise comes off revealing this monster, almost kind of Mission Impossible-like without pulling a whole mask right off. He pulls off little ears, takes [his] wig off. Kim was very specific. He said, ‘It’s gotta be good.'”

One of the creature’s most distinguishing attributes is its rows of deadly teeth, which it uses to extract sustenance from its victims. The lethal incisors had to be fashioned digitally by Millar. “The monster has shark-like teeth, several rows of them, which are seen to slide in and out of his jaw as he opens his mouth,” he says. “He covers that with an artificial set of dentures which makes it look as though he had normal teeth. He removes those teeth and we see nothing but gums and then these razor-sharp rows of teeth slide out of the gums. To build that prosthetically would have been difficult and also would have extended the gum to the end of the actor’s [real] teeth, which would have looked somewhat strange. We’re doing all that digitally and enhancing the mouth and shortening the practical teeth digitally and then introducing the shark teeth. They’ll be a digital composite generated with CGI teeth and tracked into the mouth.”

Finding a place for all this monster business to occur fell to locations manager Ilt Jones. After scouring Southern California for a restaurant that would employ a brain-eating monstrosity, he stumbled onto a Mom and Pop-owned hamburger stand named Lucky Boy in a working class Los Angeles neighborhood called Southgate.

“There’s a Greek family who owned it for 38 years,” Jones says. “It’s actually one of the first burger joints in L.A. It was right around the time of the first McDonald’s, 1948, [that] they built it. It’s actually something of a landmark in the neighborhood. It’s much nicer than your average generic Burger King or something like that. It’s got a huge neon sign, lots of fun lights. It’s got a great look. I’m happy to have found that. I combed L.A. looking for burger joints because none of the big boys wanted to touch us. Curiously enough, McDonald’s didn’t want to be associated with somebody who ate brains.”

After Jones discovered the kitschy locale, the rustic restaurant was given a slight overhaul by construction coordinator Duke Tomasick and his crew. “We had a lot of work to do at the restaurant,” Tomasick says. “We had to make it what it needed [to be] for the script. We were down there for five working days. We took an average-looking restaurant, and we made it nice. We repainted everything, brought in a lot of greens, made some new signs. The owner of the place is probably happy.”

Except for the fact that there was a monster working behind the grill luring unsuspecting customers to their deaths, the owners were undoubtedly pleased. (At least the monster was kind enough to vacate the premises when filming wrapped.) For the scene in which the creature claims its first victim, the restaurant’s drive-thru was used as a clever snare for an unsuspecting unnamed “Hungry Guy.” As the man drives to the open take-out window, the equally hungry monster snatches him from his car for a quick bite.

The sequence, which serves as the episode’s teaser, was shot in the wee hours of a mid-August Saturday morning, explains stunt coordinator Danny Weselis. For the scene, Weselis used a double in the place of the actor cast as Hungry Guy, the stuntman wore a vest-like harness that was rigged with a cable underneath the costume. “From the camera you couldn’t see the cable,” Weselis says. “You see his whole body leaning out of the car. We had three effects men on the other end. We had fall pads inside [the restaurant] so when he got pulled through the window, he actually slid across the countertop and landed on the top of the fall pads. On the count of three, they pulled, he was out of the car, through the window.”

At that point, the script called for the drivers car to creep forward. Obviously, a real runaway car is far too much of a danger on a television set, so Weselis climbed on the floor and took control of the wheel. The only catch was he couldn’t see where he was going. Fortunately, the stunt went off without a hitch.

“As he goes through the window I was lying in the car blind-driving it,” he explains. “I took the driver’s seat out of the car, lay on the floor, covered myself in black so you couldn’t see me. I could just barely look out of the top of the windshield. When [my stuntman] got yanked out of the car, I just sort of crept forward, went out the driveway and made a slight left turn and he headed across the street. Traffic was blocked, obviously. I just ran into the curb.”

In addition to driving an out-of-control vehicle, “Hungry” required the enterprising Weselis to dispose of a corpse-in broad daylight with witnesses, no less. As he devises a way to tackle this latest obstacle, a group of onlookers gathers across the street from the apartment building in the trendy L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz where the production has moved for the day.

Watching from beneath a black tarp, Manners, sporting a white X-Files T-shirt and his new short haircut, sits surrounded by a barrage of camera equipment, artificial tree limbs and an assortment of black and white trash bags stuffed with paper. Soon, he and the stunt coordinator discuss Weselis ‘ carefully choreographed designs for tossing the body of stuntwoman Annie Ellis out with the garbage. Unrecognized beneath the remarkable work of Emmy-award winning make-up team Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf and Kevin Westmore, the normally sun-tanned and svelte Ellis has assumed the identity of the unfortunate Sylvia Jassy, a nosy neighbor who falls prey to the monster’s malignant hunger. Dressed in a flowered house dress and covered with layers of padding, Ellis undergoes final touch-ups, which include being doused in even more fake blood, before climbing into a trashcan.

“We put her inside one of those big trashcans, like the ones outside residential areas, and the trash truck’s going to pick her up,” Weselis says. “Inside the trash truck, we’ve got fall pads and boxes with padding in there. We’re going to slowly dump her in. She’s got a big, nice area to fall into. It’s a brand new truck, actually. It’s not one of those old ones. I already tested it out myself a couple of weeks ago, got the arc of the trashcan and put a pad in there. It’s over pretty quick, and you’ve got a big landing area. There’s no problem with that.”

He’s right. Despite having to repeat the action four times, Ellis escapes unharmed and manages to stage her landing perfectly for the camera. Manners repeatedly praises her, and pleased, the crew breaks for an early lunch – promptly at 3:30 p.m. Over his meal, Manners discusses the myriad components that comprise his first Season Seven outing, the out-and-out horror, the black humor, the poignant tragedy of Rob Roberts’ dual nature. It’s a potent mix and one that the director seems quite confident will find a place in the hearts of X-Philes.

“I think the fans are going to love the show because it’s scary,” he states. “We’re having a chance to shoot scary, [with] tight eyes, a guy waiting, points of view, a lot of tension. I think that’s what the fans like. I know it’s what I like as an audience member. I want to do more shows like ‘Home’-shows that when the audience turns them off they go, ‘Wow,'” Manners says, adding, “I think that’s what I’m going to try to do this year.”

The X-Files Magazine: L.A. Story

Oct-13-1998
The X-Files Magazine [US, #7, Fall 1998]: L.A. Story
The X-Files embraces its new home–sunny California
Gina McIntyre

While driving down busy Southern California Streets, you might notice brightly colored sings sporting random nonsensical words affixed to the odd telephone poll. The markers are written in a secret code that only those well-versed in Industry Rhetoric can decipher-weird alien sounding abbreviations for film or television location shoots that transform neighborhood streets and store fronts into something more or less glamorous, depending on the day. Occasionally, between curses and head-shaking, grid locked drivers will glance across the street at the cardboard herald. But more often, the signs, gateways to what some media buffs would consider nirvana, or else a really great story to post on the internet, remain on the periphery. They’re only another part of the West Coast landscape.

So it happens that these irritated motorists, trapped in their sport utility vehicles, pass right by any number of the sites The X-Files is employing for its sixth season episodes. Little do they know that the new production team assembled to take the weighty reins , once handled so competently by the Vancouver crew, labors nearby to craft their own take on the moody, compelling series. Or that two of televisions brightest stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson , are only minutes away, preparing to bust conspiracies and capture monsters. Then again, it might not matter. After living in a town where camera crews are a regular feature of the landscape, long-time Angelinos might not even bat an eyelash if they encountered a UFO.

Those willing to follow the paper trail, however, would find so such apathy awaiting them on the set of the show. An energy rises through the air, a culmination of the frenzied buzz of technical personnel shuttling back and forth, determining how to capture just the right lighting effect or the proper sound quality. Watching the members of the dedicated (and terribly friendly) crew give their all scene after scene, you might not realize that anything has changed since filming of Season Five wrapped in British Colombia last May.

Until you walk outside. Just down the street from The X-Files’ new production facilities, nestled deep inside the winding labyrinth of identical white trailers that comprise the 20th Century Fox lot, are luxury hotels, posh restaurants and even Rodeo Drive itself, quite a departure from the suburban strip mall that abutted that series’ studio home in Vancouver. As far as the eye can see, warm unfiltered rays of sunlight bathe the mid-August landscape. A gentle breeze blows in from the Pacific Ocean; it is a comfortable 80 degrees. And of course, there’s a lot of traffic.

Yes, things are different in the world of The X-Files, but series creator Chris Carter isn’t one to let things like relocating the show to another country, hiring an almost entirely new staff and encountering a little sunshine stand in the way of his vision. In fact, the sweeping changes only served to stimulate Carter’s imagination, judging from the first few episodes of the highly anticipated Season Six

So far, he has crafted a season premiere, aptly titled “The Beginning,” that picks up where both last season and the film left off, promising a host of professional and personal changes for Mulder and Scully and introducing at least one new recurring character, Assistant Director, Alvin Kersh, played by James Pickens Jr., to the show’s roster. Cater also handily managed to transport all the series’ key players back in time 60 years for an epic, “alternative reality” episode, which he wrote and directed.

Filmed aboard the historic ocean liner Queen Mary, anchored outside of Long Beach, Calif., the show features hundreds of extras, dozens of Nazis and is staged so that events seem to take place in real time, similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rope.

Such a full plate might make the new crew wonder what they had gotten themselves in for. Obviously, The X-Files expects-and receives-miracles from its production team, by the beginning of Season Six is formidable even by the show’s own high standards. When asked about the workload, though, none of the behind-the-scenes players seem surprised. Those kind of never ending challenges, they say, attracted them to the series.

“The X-Files gives you the opportunity to try different things. Every show’s different. Every show’s different looking,” says director of photography Bill Roe. “Chris Carter loves to take it to the limit.”

That’s what we know how to do,” offers construction coordinator Duke Tomasick, whose team had only five weeks to reconstruct the standing sets for the show (including Skinner’s office and Mulder and Scully’s apartments) and build at least one elaborate set-the interior of a power plant-for the season premiere. “We’re used to doing that kind of stuff. Hopefully, we get a lot more time to do it in. You know, the more time you have, the better the quality, and you don’t wear the guys out as much. These guys are working seven days a week, Saturday, Sunday, just to get everything done in time. It’s a little exhausting, but everything’s coming together.”

Things have been just as hectic for set decorator Tim Stepeck, who says The X-Files is just about the only show he watched faithfully before landing his new job. So far, working on the series has been just as rewarding as tuning in every Sunday. “You never really know where it’s going to go,” Stepeck says, “It’s not like you’re going back to standing sets of anything like that. We’re always on the road. [Every episode is set] in a new state, so we’re constantly researching out each place we’re going to be in. This show, the pace never slows down. It’s like shooting a movie in a week. The pace doesn’t bother him; in fact, he says it’s rewarding to accomplish so much in such a short time frame. “It’s nice to work on [a series] you really enjoy watching,” he says. “That’s kind of hot.”

Prop master Tom Day echoes Stepeck’s sentiments. “What I was looking forward to the most was the difference in the shows,” he explains. “It can go from anything with period stuff to way-out there futuristic. The storylines always change. They aren’t always difficult. Even the continuing ones, they go somewhere. Then there’s the stand alone ones. They can really take you in a different direction.”

It didn’t take long for an item to surface that made Day scratch his head. Even before he finished the first script he was almost stumped. “One of the very first props in the very first episode this season was something that I read on the page and said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, where am I going to come up with that?’ It was a special piece of forensic equipment that is only in forensic labs,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to have to go home and take those little sugar cubes that kids make their little projects out of and build one of these things.”

Never losing his cool, Day demonstrated the resourcefulness necessary to survive the world of The X-Files. “I was able to contact the company that manufactures this thing in England. We wound up having a representative fly into Los Angeles with this machine and set it up for us.”

The business as usual attitude isn’t confined to the crew, either. Chris Owens, whose Agent Jeffrey Spender is treated to a big promotion in the season premiere, admits e is surprised every time he reads a new script: By now, he has learned to be ready for anything. I never know where it’s going to go,” Owens says. “It’s almost like watching the show from week to week. You really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Case in point: Owens never thought he’d be traveling to historic locations, such as the Queen Mary, to film an episode, the third of Season Six. “It’s great shooting on the Queen Mary and being able to walk around the boat,” Owens says. “I’ve never been on anything like it. Walking around the state rooms you get the complete feel of the era. Then you get into the costume and before you know it, it’s all working.”

Which is exactly how things are supposed to happen, according to co-executive producer Michael Watkins. Another recent addition to The X-Files team, Watkins, in a matter of weeks, has managed to attain the quiet dedication the rest of his production team possesses. Like his co-workers, he signed up for duty well aware of what was required. If that means making sure cast and crew are shuttled from the Fox lot to location shoots–which can sometimes be two hours outside of Los Angeles–or that equipment crises are averted, or that the series continues to accomplish what no other television show has yet done, all the better. The challenges just make braving the traffic of his daily commute to the office (or to some secretive location) worthwhile.

“My goal is not to give up, to maintain the good fight, “Watkins explains. “It’s a huge show and you expect nothing less. We have to be clever and very finessed and efficient in how we do everything. [My job] is to make sure we get on the air for the fans, and that’s by God, what we’re going to do.”