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Kodak InCamera Web Exclusives: The Cinema History Behind ABC’s Castle

Kodak InCamera Web Exclusives: The Cinema History Behind ABC’s Castle

[Original article here]

Rob Bowman has television in his blood. His father, Chuck Bowman, directed and produced hundreds of hours of prime time television, working on hit shows like Jake and the Fatman, Alien Nation, The Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

“My father grew up in the Midwest and he used the movies as an escape,” says the younger Bowman. “He knew all the directors, actors, producers and studios, and discussing the filmmaking craft was normal dinner conversation in our house. We grew up with an awareness of how many craftspeople it took behind the scenes to make the magic that appeared on the screen. We also knew that when it was done right all that hard work becomes invisible, and what remains are the emotions and the drama of the story and the characters. What remains is the magic.”

The elder Bowman made documentaries and local commercials, and Rob tagged along from an early age, holding a reflector or loading the camera. Eventually the family moved to Burbank, and while the father became a successful television director and producer, the son hung out at the video store and became an expert on the history of motion pictures.

“My goal was to see and understand exactly what my heroes did,” says Rob. “I think the most exciting aspect was seeing how each director used the exact same tools to construct their own incredibly distinct aesthetic. I learned early on that to be successful as a director, you had to have your own signature. Otherwise, why hire one person over another? Just by watching all these movies and seeing what I responded to, I’d started to develop my own aesthetic as well. Becoming a filmmaker wasn’t the most secure ambition, so I wanted to do whatever I could to make it work and I knew that the best thing I could do was to come to it with a strong point of view.”Bowman has gone on to have a major impact on today’s television entertainment. He was a key contributor to The X-Files, and is credited with changing the way television looks. The success of The X-Files also had a ripple effect on the writing and editing styles of the TV shows that followed.

“The X-Files came at a time when television was ready to jump forward in its film look, in its film aesthetic, as well as in the storytelling and production values,” says Bowman. “Around that time, you started seeing more feature film producers getting involved in television. On X-Files, we were dealing with paranormal, supernatural themes, and sometimes what you can’t see has a much stronger emotional impact. Shadows became an important narrative part of the show and part of its whole look. We tried to take our time and be very careful about how we lit each scene.”

The X-Files brought Bowman together with Bill Roe, ASC. Their collaboration continues today on the series Castle, which stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a well-known author of mystery novels who tries to overcome his writer’s block by tagging along on police investigations. Stana Katic stars as the no-nonsense detective who grudgingly admits that Castle’s imagination and ability to think like a criminal helps solve cases. Romantic sparks fly between the pair and there are occasional comedic moments.Bowman and Roe photograph Castle entirely on KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 film. They usually use two cameras, often with 11:1 zoom lenses and classical camera movement.

“The camera is moving pretty much every shot,” says Roe. “Often the movement is subtle – we call it ‘drifting.’ We use sliders, dolly track, or whatever seems appropriate for a given shot. We have a lot of dialog on Castle, so we try to spice it up with some movement and bold colors.

“Rob and I both come from a widescreen, anamorphic background,” adds Roe. “We stack things up by staying on the long end of the zooms. We like framing the actors really tight, no headroom, and keeping the camera off their shoulder instead of over their ear. When things get intense, in the interrogation room, for example, we sometimes shoot 360-degree shots that put the actor in the center of the frame with the background moving behind them.”

Roe says that his history with Bowman informs their choices on Castle. “We all learned a lot on The X-Files,” he says. “That was really a groundbreaking show. It’s not as easy as people think to shoot something very dark yet still maintain layers in that darkness. On Castle, we’re shooting eight or nine pages a day. You have to be as creative as possible within that difficult schedule. You have to have a crew that is willing to push themselves in order to keep things fresh.”

The tight television schedule is one reason Bowman and Roe insist on shooting 35 mm film. “There are two main reasons why film is right for Castle,” says Bowman, who serves as executive producer and directs some episodes. “This is a fast-paced production with a lot of setups and a lot of cuts. I wanted to be able to promise to deliver a quality show on time and within the budget. I knew I didn’t need to add more technology to the set. I needed to keep the set as simple and dependable as possible. We average 55 setups a day. Some days we do 40 and some days we do 80. From a purely practical sense, a camera that is only plugged into a battery is a better idea.

“Last year, ABC Studios did a full cost impact comparing film and HD,” Bowman says. “When they included updating archives, adding another AVID and another assistant for all the footage, et cetera, they found very little difference. Also, with film you don’t have tents on the set where everybody and their mother are commenting on the look. You’re still going into color timing in post anyway, so color timing on the set just slows you down. We just don’t have time for that. I think that digital production was sold with some numerical aphrodisiacs – numbers that weren’t really grounded in the realities of production.

“But ideally, the decision about which medium to use should be an aesthetic choice about what looks right for your show,” Bowman continues. “We feel that the dynamic range of film is superior to HD. It has better blacks and it holds the highlights better. Bill and I prefer the look and softness of film. It’s a chemical process, more like how our brains work. There’s an indescribable, warm feeling we have when we watch film. Digital has a starker look. And I think that turning images into numbers and retranslating them back into images for viewing, as is done in digital formats, has a different emotional effect on people.”

The right cinematographer, according to Bowman, is the one who will tell the story from the script, rather than from his or her own predilections. Roe fits that description. “Even though he is very unpretentious about his work, Bill really is a poet with light,” he says. “He reads the script, sees what the narrative is, and identifies the emotional values. The textures, colors and compositions grow out of that. Quite often people bring their historical baggage with them and just do the same old thing, or copy something they saw somewhere else. What’s interesting to me is telling this particular story using the pace, rhythm, locations, and the direction and nature of the light. All these are expressive tools. Bill’s lighting is not showy. He doesn’t light for light’s sake.”

Film’s archival qualities also appeal to Bowman, which makes sense given his respect for cinema history. “Once you make archival files in a certain digital format, you know that format is going to change,” he says. “If you need to go back to that format, and there’s nothing to play it back, that product is as good as gone. Film is as universal as the alphabet. It’s always going to be there as long as you keep it safe and sound. We joke in the editing room that when you lock picture, you better be happy with it, because for the rest of your life and long after you’re dead that is the cut. Have Gun, Will Travel still airs on the Western channel, even though most of the people who made it aren’t with us any more. I don’t think they’ve really worked out a dependable solution for digital archiving. But film has worked for a long time.”

Castle earned three 2010 Emmy nominations. The third season of the series began airing in September 2010.

Kodak: The Paranormal and Alien Experiences of Bill Roe, ASC

The Paranormal and Alien Experiences of Bill Roe, ASC

Recounting Memories from The X-Files

By Bob Fisher

[Original article here]

Bill Roe, ASC was in the dawn of his career as a cinematographer when The X-Files episodic series moved from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Los Angeles in 1998. He earned his first director of photography credit in 1997 for Detention: The Siege at Johnson High and followed that by photographing the inaugural season of Brooklyn South. The catalyst for Roe on both of those projects was Michael Watkins, ASC, a notably talented cinematographer who changed roles to producer and director mid-career. Roe was his camera operator on Heart and Soul in 1993, and on a couple of other projects.

When The X-Files moved to Los Angeles, Watkins was brought on board as producer-show runner, and he introduced Roe to Chris Carter. Roe subsequently shot some 85 episodes of the sci-fi series that recently concluded a 10-year run on the Fox network. During his first four years on the series, Roe earned four consecutive nominations in the annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement Awards competition. He took top honors in 1999 for the episode “Drive” and again in 2000 for “Agua Mala.” He was nominated in 2001 for an episode called “Patience” and the following year for “This Is Not Happening.” Roe also earned Emmy nominations for “This is Not Happening” and “The Unnatural.”

Roe points out that the unique visual grammar that characterizes The X-Files was established by veteran cinematographer John Bartley, CSC, who also earned three consecutive ASC nominations. Joel Ransom, CSC, shot the fourth and fifth seasons. “We did a lot of research on how they did it in Canada,” Roe says. “They did great work. Chris (Carter), Frank Spotnitz, Michael (Watkins), Michelle MacLaren and the other producers told me to shoot for feature quality. It was quite a challenge, but it was also a great opportunity. We never had a normal situation. We were doing something different on every episode. We shot in the desert, on the ocean and in a hangar that seemed five miles long. I pushed myself every day. It was like someone was whispering in the back of my mind, ‘Don’t be afraid to make it darker.’ At the end of each episode, I always felt I should have been bolder and made it even darker.”

Roe was raised in the film industry. His father, Jack Roe, was a first assistant director and later a production manager who often worked on independent films with the legendary producer- director Herbert Ross. During his childhood, Roe was a frequent visitor on his father’s sets.

“I liked hanging out with the grips,” he recalls. “When I was 15 years old, I told my dad that’s what I wanted to do. He told me to forget it. He said if I was going to work in the film industry, I was going to be a cameraman. He had a lot of respect for cinematographers.”

Roe came up through the ranks of the camera crew system beginning in 1978 as a loader with Owen Roizman, ASC on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. He earned his first credit as a second assistant cameraman in 1983 on Mr. Mom with Victor Kemper, ASC. Roe also worked on camera crews led by Bill Fraker, ASC, Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, Bill Butler, ASC, Adam Greenberg, ASC, Michael Chapman, ASC, and TV commercial trailblazer Joe Pytka.

“I’ve learned things from everyone I’ve worked with, though sometimes I didn’t realize it until I got into tight situations and started remembering and asking myself how they would handle it,” says Roe. “I remember asking Owen (Roizman) how he dealt with the pressure to go faster, and he told me that even if it takes you an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, and they’re breathing down your neck, you learn to ignore that a little if you need that time. He said that you have to learn to fight for that time, but to make sure they see the results on the screen at the end.

“I also learned a lot from Michael Chapman, who really knows how to run a set. His lighting was always great, and he knew how to make it simple. That was an important lesson. I’ve found that if you put one light in the right place, it can do a lot of work, but finding exactly the right place can take time. Sometimes, I wish I could be more of a free spirit like Michael Watkins. His spirit and energy lit up the whole set. It was contagious. I worked with Bill Butler on The Thornbirds, and he never treated it like a television program. It was a movie to him. I remember watching Adam (Greenberg) all of a sudden turn a light on. A little streak of light hit a carpet. It made a huge difference, because the carpet was kind of dark and it added a feeling of depth to the scene.”

Roe also recounts experiences with Kemper, who stepped him up to both first assistant and operator. “I’ll never forget the times Victor told me he thought I was ready to step up,” Roe says. “When you’re on a crew, the trick is watching and listening, and sticking that information into the back of your mind. Every once in a while something leaks out and helps.”

Roe usually got X-Files scripts four days to a week in advance. Usually it was the first two acts. That was his first reference for the gist of the story. He’d read it at lunchtime or at night and then call Carter or one of the other writer-producers to talk about it. If it was a new director, usually he would phone him or her too.

Scouting was usually done by the best boys for the riggers, and sometimes second unit director of photography Bob La Bonge. They provided Roe with ideas and digital photographs of locations. On very complex locations, sometimes he sent his gaffer Jono Kouzouyan and key grip Tom Doherty, and they would come back with stills and suggestions.

They usually began shooting each episode on the stages at Fox Studios. Typically, they shot two days on the stages and six on location, though that varied from script to script. Roe used two cameras whenever possible. Maybe one was on a wider over-the-shoulder shot and the other camera was on the same plane but with tighter framing. Other times one camera was low on the hip and the other over a shoulder. Roe always had a Steadicam, crane and a hothead available. He shot off of dollies a lot, but sometimes the story called for the energy characteristic of handheld shots. Sometimes he put a long lens on a softball right on the dolly.

“It’s hard to do a handheld, 200 mm shot,” he explains. “It’s a little too shaky. With the softball, the operators can grab hold of the camera, and it still has some sort of a floating feeling. It’s a little different look than a Steadicam, a regular dolly move or a handheld shot. That was the beauty of working on this show. We didn’t have any limits. We used silhouettes of people sitting in a dark room with a bright light streaming through a window. The trick is creating layers so there’s a sense of depth. Sometimes you do it by taking light away. Other times you add light. It depends on the situation and what’s behind or in front of them.”

Roe notes there is a fine line between not seeing and seeing something. “You want to see their faces and expressions, but you also want to conceal things so the audience puts their imagination to work,” he says. “Sometimes a shadow in the darkness can be more powerful than a close-up of a face. That’s what makes it magic. I think a lot of it has to do with separating characters from backgrounds and foregrounds. Chris (Carter) believes the audience is smart enough to fill in the spaces. Sometimes what they see in their imagination is far scarier than anything we could show them.”

The X-Files was the antithesis of the Dogme ’95 movement. There were no unbendable rules. Every director had their own ideas, but Roe would gently try to steer them toward The X-Files visual vocabulary. There are things they did every week that weren’t necessarily in the script. Part of the look for each episode was discovered at the moment of photography.

“Chris Carter was there every day, not necessarily on the set, but he was always involved,” Roe says. “Chris wrote a lot of the scripts and approved the others. One of the main reasons why this show was so successful was the writing and, of course, the directors and actors. The producers were always willing to fight with the studio for what they wanted. We had scripts calling for very large sets, and I would say 90 percent of the time we got them.”

Roe’s second season opened with two episodes filmed in the Southern California desert in Borrego Springs. They shot for 10 days in 120-degree heat. It was 100 degrees at night. Roe says it was like shooting on the surface of the moon in a vast, desolate setting, with cliffs 50 to 60 feet high and beautiful valleys and canyons.

He reminisces, “Usually the camera was moving, partially to show the audience the sets, because we were on different locations every episode, but also to help build tension. We had a lot of high and wide and low and wide moving shots with 10 mm and 14 mm lenses. Mainly, we used Eastman EXR 5298 film, and occasionally when I really needed some extra stop, I used the 800-speed (Kodak Vision 5289). We used Panaflex cameras and a lot of prime lenses, as well as short zooms and 11:1s. We used close-focus shots a lot, because we were always in somebody’s face. We always had Technocranes and insert cars. We literally had everything we needed available, even a Spacecam. The audience expected this from us.”

Roe says he stretched the latitude of the film, partially because it rendered an “edgier” look, knowing they could pull details off the negative in the telecine suite, if necessary.

“We lit through windows a lot,” he says. “It’s a more natural look. I never turn any practicals on anywhere. I’d rather have a dark room with hot windows. The more extreme the better. I loved hot kicks in the windows. I also never used a light inside a car during the day. It looks kind of phony. I’d let the background go. We filmed driving shots in the desert with just a nice glow on the horizon, which comes from just one light in the right spot.”

“Agua Mala” is one of many episodes etched in his memory. In the story, there were giant squids coming out of the ocean up through drains and they were eating people. Roe mainly motivated light with flashlights, candles, lanterns and moonlight in that episode. He also has fond memories of a “John Doe” episode filmed during the last season. It was the first one that executive producer Michelle MacLaren directed. The story was set in Mexico. Roe overexposed the exteriors by three and a half stops, because he visualized a hot, grainy, saturated look with dark and hot interiors.

“We did do a lot of testing,” Roe says. “Somebody would come up with an idea and we’d try doing it different ways. We used Xenon flashlights to penetrate the darkness and little bounce cards covered with foil to create a feeling of ambient fill. One of my favorite shows was “Triangle.” It was a Bermuda Triangle theme. The story goes back in time to the Nazis. It takes place on a boat. Every shot was on a Steadicam, because everything was supposed to be happening in real-time. Dave Luckenbach operated the Steadicam for ten straight days. He did an awesome job. It seems like every shot was four minutes long. Chris Carter directed that episode. It was our first experience together with him directing. We were just talking about it the other day, and how we wished we could do it again drawing on what we’ve learned. We’ve all grown on this show. I’ve only been a cameraman for five years, and that was my second year of shooting. I think now we would do it not so much differently, but probably better.”

Cinematographers must earn the trust of the actors. “I always looked out for the actors, because that’s part of your job as a cinematographer,” he says. “Usually, we’d make the light a little softer on actresses’ faces, so it sort of wrapped around them, and maybe we’d use a little heavier filter on them, or double the paper up. They would look towards me to see if they needed to tilt their heads to catch a light or shadow.”

The final two-hour episode was filmed in 26 days. The story opens in a military facility where Mulder is supposed to have murdered someone. That part was filmed in an underground power plant carved about a mile deep into the side of a mountain at Shaver Lake near Fresno, California. They shot there for four or five days. There were about 30 sodium-vapor lamps hanging from the ceiling of the power plant. It was flat, ugly top light. Roe, his gaffer Jono Kouzouyan and key grip Tom Doherty did some testing by borrowing one of the lights from the plant and shipping it to the studio, where they hung it on a stage. Based on the test, they made a large round saucer-shaped card that was hung on the bottom of the lamp so the light bounced up to the ceiling.

“We did that with all of those sodium-vapor lights in the plant, so we got bounce off the ceiling and we lit the plant the way we wanted with Pars,” Roe says. “The whole interior surface was made of granite rock that had a great texture. It was a great look for that scene.”

They also returned to Borrego Springs for the climatic sequence, which was supposed to take place in an ancient Indian ruin in a mountainside. They built the interior sets on the side of the mountain. It took them three weeks to build and four days to shoot. On the last day they had all of the buildings rigged and blew up the set. It was a huge shot, with the helicopters in foreground shooting rockets at the ruins.

Asked why the sequence was done in camera rather than in a computer, Roe replied, “I’m not saying that you should never shoot greenscreen scenes or never use computer images, but I do think actors sometimes respond better in real places,” he replies. “The sets are part of the story. I think the fact that we shot on realistic sets affected their acting. The audience also senses that the explosions are real.”

Roe says that another factor in each episode’s look was the work done by Tony Smith at Hollywood Digital. “We had some great dailies guys on the show who came and went,” he says, “but Tony Smith was the colorist since the middle of season six. We became very close friends. He would send me a final cut, and then I would write notes for how every scene should look. If there was a problem, he knew what needed to be done.”

Roe concludes that the most difficult part of shooting The X-Files was finding time to think. “There were many times when I would have loved to have a day to think about some set or scene, or watch a rehearsal,” he says. “That never happened. Sometimes, I would lay out a scene, and then walk to the office or grab a snack. You have to walk away and think. I’d guess about 75 percent of the time, then I would come back and change something.”

He gives a lot of the credit for what he achieved on The X-Files to his crew. “No one can do it alone,” he says. “The Steadicam work by La Bonge (who also headed the second unit) was great, but I also relied on our A and B camera operators, Jim Etheridge and Stephen Collins, who never failed to get the right framing, and also the rest of the crew: assistants Jack Ellingwood, Trevor Loomis, Tim Roe, Christopher Garcia and Neil Toussaint. We were always moving, and often pulling critical focuses in the dark. They never missed and never complained. Our camera loader was James Jermyn, and the second unit operators were Buzz Feitshans and Todd McMullen, with assistants Mike Fauntleroy, Danny Teaze, Mike Fauntleroy, Jr. and Jacqueline Nivens, and Brandon Margulies loading the cameras.”

Roe is currently shooting a new series, R.H.D./LA for Michael Mann.

The X-Files Magazine: L.A. Story

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.”

The X-Files Magazine: World War X

The X-Files Magazine [US, #7, Fall 1998]
World War X
Gina McIntyre

No one could have predicted that Spender, or the Cigarette-Smoking Man or even Skinner would don Nazi uniforms during Season Six, yet, that’s exactly what happened. Chris Carter’s imaginative narrative for his groundbreaking “real time” episode sends Mulder to the Bermuda Triangle where he boards a ship missing since 1939. On board, he encounters all the show’s characters — only they are not themselves but strangers from another era.

The beautifully restored Queen Mary, which is also an operating hotel, provided the ideal location for the historic episode, explains location manager Ed Lippman. “Chris Carter knew he needed an old ship and asked us what we knew of up front. We said the ‘Queen Mary,'” he says. “[Carter] actually came down and spent a long time walking the ship before he even wrote this episode, so he specifically wrote it to the location. Quite frankly, with this kind of location there’s nothing else in town that could have matched it. There’s only a few places in the country you could have pulled this off.”

Despite the authenticity of the ship, the production team still had their work cut out for them. All of the ship’s modern aspects, everything from painting to doorknobs, had to be replaced to fit with the period setting of the episode. Extensive exterior sequences required the crew to shoot the ocean vistas with no signs of civilization. Since views from the Queen Mary include the skyline of Long Beach, some special effects magic was required.

“We’re hanging a 30-by-80-foot green screen 20 feet out that will block out the city of Long Beach, so that when we pull [Mulder] up over the edge, we’ll have the option of seeing straight out with the camera and matting in our storm effect and not having to deal with the city of Long Beach,” Lippman says. “With a little luck in post-production, people will go, ‘Where in the hell did they do that?'”

The interior shots were equally complicated: The Queen Mary’s confined hallways and low-ceiling rooms needed to hold a larger-than-usual cast, which included hundreds of extras recruited to appear as the participants in an elaborate ballroom brawl. Extras casting directors Bill Dance and Terrence Harris hand-picked all of the people for the scene.

“We sculpt [the actors] together in terms of, “What do you think of this person? Do they have the right hair? Does this person look Nazi?” Dance explains. “The hair cannot be streaked or anything like that. It has to be either to the mid-neck for the ladies or long so we can make it look period. [When casting] the dancers, we had people come in [and asked them], ‘Can you do the Lindy Hop or the swing?’ Not professional dancers where it looks too showy, but people that can do it very naturally, yet have the period look, the pale complexions.”

It was up to costume designer Christine Peters to find all the period garb for the dancers, as well as uniforms for the ship’s crew and the Nazis who storm the boat. Such a task required locating existing costumes, some of which might seem familiar to viewers. “I managed to get costumes from Titanic for the British naval crew,” Peters says. “We’ve got probably 150 uniforms. It’s not the sort of thing where you can just fill a truck up on the day and just hand them things. Every extra for this episode has been pre-fit, the ballroom dancers, everyone.”

During the brawl, those carefully selected costumes took a beating. Some 50 or 60 extras were involved in a melée with 13 professional stunt people, according to stunt coordinator Danny Weselis.

“It took a few hours to choreograph and block out every move [because of] the way we’re shooting this episode with hardly any cuts. We just had to pay attention to where all the cameras were and make sure all the hits were hits and there were no misses.”

The unusual shooting method for the episode was foremost in the mind of director of photography Bill Roe, too. Generally, cuts or pick-up shots are inserted during editing to make scenes flow more smoothly. Because of the way this episode was shot, everything had to be perfect when director Carter yelled “Cut” for the final time. “You can usually get away with things, help things as you go, with different cuts and different shots, but when you’re doing it all in one [continuous take], it requires a lot of planning,” Roe says. “The hardest part is trying to find the right place for the light and still make it look good. Working at a practical location doesn’t help, especially when they don’t want you touching the Queen Mary walls. No drilling, no taping, no nothing.”

The secret to accomplishing such an extraordinary task, according to co-executive producer Michael Watkins, likes in extensive planning and a ready-for-anything attitude. Plenty of rehearsal time doesn’t hurt, either.

“All the actors have to be on board. It’s like comedians will tell you, it’s timing. We rehearse seven, eight, nine, ten pages in a row, and then walk through, change the lighting, move the actors. It becomes a series of events that all have to take place not unlike a live theater. The performance has to continue and go on from one venue to another. There’s no going back for inserts. It has to be complete and total. The sphere has to be an enclosed world by itself.”