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Los Angeles Times: X Marks Its Spot

Los Angeles Times
X Marks Its Spot
Greg Braxton

The cult series has already started shooting coming season episodes in its new Southern California base. But the show won’t reflect–or shed–any more light.

There goes that rainy day feeling again. And here comes the sun. As “The X-Files” moves into its sixth season, the Truth Is no longer Out There in dark and rainy Vancouver, the drama’s home base since its 1993 premiere. Series creator and executive producer Chris Carter, stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and select crew members have all migrated from Canada to sunny Los Angeles, and are deep into production on new episodes.

But don’t expect Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the two FBI agents portrayed by Duchovny and Anderson who hunt down aliens, conspiracies and unexplained phenomena, to burn their trench coats, put on Ray-Bans, hop into a convertible and launch into a chorus of “I Love L.A.”

Like “The X-Files” feature film this summer that was shot largely in L.A., Carter insists that the series will retain much of its dark flavor and foreboding despite the change in locale.

However, when “The X-Files” has its season premiere on Nov. 8, fans of the series will see the light–literally.

“In the first episode I wrote, we have a teaser where the first shot is of the sun, and we hold on that,” Carter said. “Then we pan down to a desert landscape, which we never would have had in Vancouver. It’s a wink to the audience that we are now in the land of sunshine.”

It’s also a move that has considerably brightened the dispositions of Anderson and Duchovny, who had been commuting to Vancouver since the show’s debut. Duchovny, who got married last year to actress Tea Leoni, had said repeatedly that he would leave the series if it did not move to Los Angeles so he could spend more time with his wife. (Duchovny declined to be interviewed for this story.) Carter took other considerations into account, but noted that all involved seem pleased with the new home base.

“Both David and Gillian are very happy to be able to go home after work,” Carter said. “There’s a certain entropic effect that you fight against, but we’re certainly not feeling it right now. Both of them have really risen to the challenge of what we’re doing.”

He added, “Now that we’re in a mostly urban environment, we’re going to have to tell stories using the landscape that is presented to us now. Before, we had rain and misty conditions. Now we’ll have to make them, without it looking forced. Directors are using angles to create the atmosphere that will keep the show what it is. And you can do good, scary stories anywhere if you do it right.”

Sandy Grushow, president of 20th Century Fox Television, which produces “The X-Files,” agreed.

“I really don’t think the change in locale will dramatically impact the creative look and feel of the show,” Grushow said. “There will be those occasions where we can actually take advantage of the best L.A. has to offer. But by and large, people can expect the same quality series that Chris has been producing for the last five seasons.”

“The X-Files” this week was in production at a typically Southern California location–the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where Carter was directing one of the series’ most ambitious episodes: an homage to “The Wizard of Oz” in which Carter is using a technique employed by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1948 film “Rope.”

The entire episode, which also was written by Carter, is being shot in continuous takes, with no cutaway shots, and will take place in real time. In the installment, Mulder’s boat capsizes during an investigation of the Bermuda Triangle. He is rescued and pulled aboard a boat that is stuck in the year 1939. He runs into various people from his life, including a woman who has an uncanny resemblance to Scully.

In one segment, a bewildered Mulder wanders into a ballroom on the ship that is filled with red, white and blue balloons and almost 200 extras in tuxedos and evening gowns dancing to Elmira Gulch and the Lollipop Guild as they play “Jeepers Creepers.” It’s the kind of scene that would have been almost unimaginable in Vancouver.

During a brief break, Anderson, looking radiant in a long red cocktail dress, said she was invigorated by filming in Southern California.

“It’s really been going great, and the episodes are really good this season,” she said. “It’s really made a difference for me being here. I have a lot of friends and a great support system.”

Anderson added: “The sunshine does have a lot to do with my mood, feeling healthy and whole. It’s nice to sit out in the sunshine with my daughter.”

But as for “The X-Files,” Anderson doesn’t feel that there will be a dramatic shift in the feel of the series.

“It will still be moody,” she said, adding with a smile, “there’ll still be a lot of smoke.”

Some veteran members of the Vancouver crew who have moved with the show say they also notice a difference.

“My job has become a lot easier,” said Anji Bemben, a lifelong Vancouver resident who does hair for Duchovny and Anderson and has been with the show for three years. “We’re not shooting in the rain, so I don’t have to work as hard. It makes it more enjoyable.”

Laverne Basham, who does makeup for the two stars, said: “Before, I would always have to worry about keeping David and Gillian dry. Now I have to mop the sweat off them.”

Paul Rabwin, one of the drama’s producers who specializes in post-production on the series, said: “The colors here have a whole different hue. We’re accustomed to a gloomy, dark look, so this presents many challenges for creating atmospheric conditions. The camera department is using different film stock, and we’re also using different cameras. We’re looking forward to creating a whole new look for the show without destroying its integrity.”

Sunshine will not be the only thing that will bring more scrutiny to the series this season. Fans and industry watchers will be analyzing the ratings of the series to see whether there was any boost from this summer’s heavily hyped feature version, which 20th Century Fox had been hoping to build into a franchise. The movie served as a link between the two seasons. In last May’s finale, the FBI bureau where Mulder and Scully work was burned down by the villainous Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis). The movie ended with the bureau being reopened.

“The changes aren’t going to be dramatic in the show,” Carter said. “The mythology will continue. Much has been explained. We’ve seen the aliens. Now how do we approach something that has been taken out of the bag?”

Carter also will be spending more time this season on “Millennium,” his Friday night Fox series about an investigator who can tap into the criminal mind. The edgy drama, which is based in Vancouver, has struggled its first two seasons.

“I’m back writing on several of the shows, and we’re going for good, scary movie mysteries,” he said. “We’re trying to get viewers back to the show.”

But for now, Carter is consumed with his directing assignment, which he called “fun, but very challenging–it’s what I call stiff-neck directing.” At one point during a rehearsal, Anderson stood still while Carter, silver hair spilling from under a baseball cap, silently circled her, imagining how the camera would move. The extras–including some in Nazi garb–quietly watched him.

It was a strange, almost surreal sight. And typically “X-Files.” Inside the ballroom, there was no shortage of smoke.

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