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Horroronline: Frank Spotnitz Interview

Frank Spotnitz Interview
Melissa Perenson

So far, we’ve seen gore, gotten chills, and been downright scared. The X-Files has returned to providing regular frights on Sunday nights–but it’s not the same series that first hooked audiences some eight years ago. Missing from the scenario is Fox Mulder, whose alter ego David Duchovny negotiated a long break from the show after a highly visible and complicated contract negotiation last year.

This year, The X-Files returns to its roots, though, with darker stories, and fresh characters through which the writers get to explore themes from years past anew.

“It’s really what we said our intention was from the beginning, which was to get back to the heart of what made the show successful in the first place,” explains executive producer Frank Spotnitz, who himself wrote this season’s spooky Via Negativa, and is penning an upcoming episode as well. “It just didn’t feel appropriate given the new character or the absence of Mulder to do anything but these scary, dark stories. We also felt we had something interesting to play with these scary, dark stories again, because we had a new character. We’d done it so many times with Mulder and Scully that it didn’t feel interesting to us. But it felt interesting again with Doggett, because it was a new set of eyes on these things, and he had something different to say than any character we’d had on the X-Files before.”

Choosing Robert Patrick for the role of Doggett, he continues, “We saw many fine people for this part–several of whom made us wonder whether we should change what we’d imagined this character to be, altering it somewhat to fit the specific actor who’d come in and impressed us with his ability and his presence.” Ultimately, though, Patrick-and the producer’s original conception of the character-won out. Doggett is the skeptic now to Scully’s reluctant believer, and it’s a switch that works. “It’s interesting, because the paradigm–which was so clear cut in this series and was so well conceived by Chris [Carter] from the beginning, of believer and skeptic–is much more cloudy and nuanced,” Spotnitz observes. “And honestly, it changes from episode to episode. You really see a change in Scully and Doggett, and the way they respond to these things from case to case over the first half of the season.”

In the second half of the season, yet another new character looms on the horizon, and she’s expected to shake things up some more-especially with respect to addressing Doggett’s backstory. “You’ll see more unfold about his character–who he is and where he came from. We sort of hinted at that in one episode that we saw, when he took out a picture of a little boy, and we didn’t know what that meant to him,” says Spotnitz. “But now we’re going to find more about him and people he knows. And we’re going to meet this new agent, named Monica Reyes and played by Annabeth Gish, in episode 14, who has some history with Doggett. For us it’s exciting, because it’s new things to play, and it changes the dynamic of the show.”

Aside from changing the balance on the show, the addition of Gish brings yet another viewpoint to the series. “She, like Doggett, is completely unlike anybody we’ve seen on The X-Files before. We’d never had somebody like Doggett, a kind of a working-class cop, before. And Annabeth is also a completely different element on the show. Reyes smiles, laughs, and is a little off-center; there’s a slightly neurotic quality to her. She’s an FBI agent from the New Orleans field office, I’d say she’s more a believer than a skeptic. So when you have Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes, you’ve got two and two, if you will-if you still count Scully as a skeptic. While Scully believes in a lot of things, I still think she approaches things from that side of the world, as a scientist.”

But don’t fear: The upcoming episodes don’t revolve around the new-kids-on-the-block. “We’re getting into a run of episodes now that we’re very excited about, which are really the episodes that lead up to Mulder’s return, and the episodes subsequent to his return,” promises Spotnitz. “Starting with this Sunday, and certainly all throughout February and when we return in April, there are a lot of very, very strong stories. I’m really excited about what’s coming.”

Meanwhile, even though X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen is premiering in March, Spotnitz and Carter also have a feature project brewing in their spare time. Last spring, Carter’s 1013 Productions optioned the rights to Dr. Jule Eisenbud’s book, “The World of Ted Serios: Thoughtographic Studies of an Extraor.” Carter and Spotnitz are slated to co-write the screenplay for Miramax’s Dimension Films, and Carter will likely direct the film as well. “They’re really waiting for us, very patiently, because we’re late, to write the script,” laughs Spotnitz, noting that when the deal was struck, no one knew X-Files or Gunmen would be airing this season. “What we’ve been doing in our spare time is amass research, because this, unlike anything we’ve done before, is based on a true story, and we want to be respectful of the real people and the real historical events. Very much a part of the story is the fact that it did take place in the 1960s, and the backdrop of the 1960s is important as well.”

Carter’s agent brought the book to his attention, and, recalls Spotnitz, “we read the book and we were immediately drawn to it-despite the fact that it has a lot to do with The X-Files. Honestly,” he chuckles, “we were weren’t looking to do something that close to The X-Files as a movie. But what really intrigued us about it was that one, it was a real-life X-File, and it raises the question of was he or wasn’t he proof of the paranormal, or of extrasensory perception, or whatever it was that gave him the ability to throw his mind’s eye images onto a film negative. But more than that is the human story, the personal story, about this therapist, Dr. Eisenbud, who really put everything on the line because of his belief in this man, Ted Serios. And he paid a great price for it, personally and professionally. He never really did get vindication. Even now, it’s highly disputed whether there was anything to Ted Serios.”

Ironically, Serios’ ability was alluded to by Mulder in the fourth season X-Files episode Unruhe, written by Vince Gilligan. Serios was a Chicago bellhop (among other odd jobs) who had an unexplained, and long disputed, ability to concentrate with a Polaroid unexposed film negative, a Polaroid camera, and a gizmo in hand, and produce an image on the film negative. “Sometimes they would just be white flashes or blotches. But other times they would actually be images of buildings and cars. Very remarkable things would appear, and it’s unexplained how he could do this,” explains Spotnitz. “Now, if you accept that he really was able to do it, it changes everything. I mean, it says that our minds have the power to travel places out of space and time, and to physically manifest thoughts on film negative. It’s an incredible scientific discovery.”

The timing of the Serios project will likely hinge, in part, on the fate of X-Files. As for the future of the series, Spotnitz says, “Anything is possible. You might see four, three, who knows how many agents will be around if the show continues next year. Whatever happens-whether Mulder appears next season or not-something is coming to an end at the end of this season. There’s the Mulder abduction storyline, which gets resolved, and there’s also the Scully pregnancy story line that gets resolved. And I think a big chapter is going to close in those final two episodes. And the series will be different, whoever comes back for it-if there is another year. We’re still working out what that final story is, but there are a couple of elements that we know are going to be in there. And those two elements close the chapter.”

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One Response to “Horroronline: Frank Spotnitz Interview”

  1. […] on the paranormal aspect of the case. Psychic photography is a fascinating paranormal hook – to the point that Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter briefly considered producing a biography of famed… – but Unruhe seems quite casual about it. Having read about the details of the case, even […]