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Archive for January, 2008

USA Today: First look: 'X-Files' returns to theaters, minus alien mythology

First look: ‘X-Files’ returns to theaters, minus alien mythology
USA Today
Scott Bowles

[Original article]

LOS ANGELES — The sequel is out there.

The conspiracy theories will not be.

Ten years after the first film and six years after the show went off the air, The X-Files returns to theaters with Fox Mulder, Dana Scully — and a lot riding on the bet that fans want more of the FBI’s paranormal-investigating agents.

The film, which remains without a formal title, will dump the long-running “mythology” plotline — that aliens live among us and are part of a colonizing effort — that made it one of the most popular television shows in the late 1990s but ultimately drove away some viewers who found it too complex and ambiguous.

“We spent a lot of time on (the mythology) and wrapped up a lot of threads” when the show went off the air in 2002, says Chris Carter, creator of the series and director of the new movie. “We want a stand-alone movie, not a mythology conspiracy one.”

That will come as welcome news to fans of the show’s stand-alone episodes, which included cults, ghosts, psychics and ancient curses.

Carter refuses to divulge any plot points of the movie, but says he wanted to make the film immediately after the show ended. A contractual dispute with 20th Century Fox kept it on the shelf until the case was settled out of court.

He says the delay may turn out to be a blessing.

“There’s a whole audience I want to introduce X-Files to,” Carter says. “There were kids who couldn’t watch it on TV because it was too scary. Now they’re in college. I wanted a movie that everyone could go to.”

Whether they will could be a test of the show’s legacy, says Blair Butler of the G4TV network, which caters to video-game enthusiasts and science-fiction fans.

“At its strongest, it had really creepy stand-alone episodes,” she says. “They turned it into a great franchise. But a lot of years have passed. We’ll see if it’s fallen off the radar.”

She says the film could benefit from an ironic twist: the Writers Guild strike.

“I think it could be a sort comfort food for the people who loved how original the show was and aren’t seeing original TV now,” she says.

But Carter believes they’ll be drawn by something else: the show’s stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

“For me, The X-Files has always been a romance,” he says. “They had an intellectual romance that’s very rare and restrained compared to so many relationships on TV. I think that’s what appealed most to the fans. And they’re back.”

Fortean Times: Frank Spotnitz on 'The X-Files Essentials'

Fortean Times
Frank Spotnitz on ‘The X-Files Essentials’

[Original article here]

X-Files producer discusses ‘The X-Files Essentials’, out now on DVD. Interview courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Q: Let’s start with who you are and what your role was on The X-Files.

Frank: I’m Frank Spotnitz. I was an executive producer and writer of the show. I did that for eight years of the nine years that the show was on the air. And I was a co-producer and co-wrote the story for the first feature film and co-wrote and co-produced the new movie.

Q: We’re talking about the new “Essentials” set. Two discs containing eight episodes, picked by yourself and series creator Chris Carter, which give audiences a greater insight into the series before seeing the new movie. Let’s go through each episode. The first is the pilot episode.

Frank: We really wanted eight episodes that were essential to the series. The truth is, you can see the movie without having seen an episode of the television series. Very much by design we wanted it to be a movie that worked for people who had never seen The X-Files before. But if you were so motivated you could go back and look at these eight episodes and really get an idea of the breadth and scope of the series. So the best place to start was the pilot, which is really unusual because it’s an excellent pilot. And I say that because if you look at a lot of TV pilots, you can’t believe what the show became afterwards. Often a pilot is very different from the series that follows it. And The X-Files pilot is unusual in that it’s exactly what the series was. It really nailed it and hit it out of the park. It’s critical for understanding the world of the series. A world where aliens may or may not exist; where proof is always elusive. Mulder is this brilliant profiler who has sacrificed his career with the FBI in order to pursue his obsession with paranormal phenomenon. This is fuelled by his belief that his sister was abducted by aliens when he was eight years old. And Scully is this brilliant medical doctor who is assigned in the pilot to spy on Mulder. By the end of that first hour, because she’s a character of integrity, we see that she is not going to fill the role that they intended. In fact, she serves as a great asset to Mulder, bring her science and skepticism to bear on all of his investigations.

I remember watching the pilot when it first aired and thinking I had never seen anything like that on television before.

It was so unusual, not just because it was so good, but because TV in those days rarely did anything like The X-Files. There was nothing scary on television. And Chris Carter was inspired by something he had seen on TV when he was a kid that scared the socks off of him, which was The Night Stalker, and ABC TV movie of the week. He said “I’d like to do something like that.” He very cleverly found a way to create a new television series that would allow these characters to investigate different monsters every week. And what he did that I think was so smart was a couple of things. First, he created this believer/skeptic dynamic, which is a great storytelling device for supernatural stories. And the other thing is that he tried to make it realistic. He tried to make it seem like it was really happening. And I think that’s one of the things that made The X-Files so successful. It feels like a police procedural. It just so happens that the bad guys are monsters. One of the philosophies of the show has been: It’s only as scary as it seems real. And that’s something we did throughout the series and the movies as well. We try to make it seem as real as possible.

The next episode is also from season one. It’s called “Beyond The Sea.”

Frank: “Beyond The Sea” was written by two writers who were very important to the development of The X-Files, Glen Morgan and James Wong. It was an important episode in a number of respects. It was the first episode that switched the dynamic. This was an episode where Scully, normally the skeptic, found herself tempted to believe. While Mulder, the believer, became the skeptic. They got to switch places, which was really interesting. And it played on the death of Scully’s father. That’s what made her vulnerable and able to believe in this case. So it’s a very interesting reversal and very powerful emotionally. And I think it’s a tuning point for Gillian Anderson. She was a very young actress at that point and hadn’t done a lot. And as good as she was, I think that was a turning point for many people, not just viewers of the show but at the studio and the network, to see the range that Gillian has as an actress.

The way that both the actors embodied those characters was a major component in the success of the show.

Frank: You’re absolutely right. I don’t think you can overstate how important David and Gillian were to the success of The X-Files. It was brilliantly conceived by Chris, very well written and produced, but it still wouldn’t be successful were it not for David and Gillian. What they did with those characters was so rich. And then their chemistry that they have together, also one of those things that you can’t predict. It’s really a kind of magic, the power that they have together on screen.

Q: The next episode is from season two. It’s called “The Host.”

Frank: “The Host,” I have to say to this day is one of the most talked about episodes we ever did. It just hit on something, a primal fear that people have of something entering your body. And it’s a great urban myth, the snake coming out of the toilet bowl kind of thing. There’s the scene in the port-a-potty that people just can’t get out of their mind. That’s when we felt we had done our job well, when people had a hard time turning off the lights that night after the show. That was early season two, and we were still on Friday nights by that point. It was one of the defining moments in the history of the series, one of the ones that helped cement our audience. It creeped people out so badly.

Q: From season three we get “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”

Frank: Darin Morgan wrote the episode and won a well-deserved Emmy. Darin was also very important to the development of The X-Files in that he brought comedy, flat-out comedy to the series. In season two, he had written a script all by himself. He had been very secretive about it, and then he presented it, finished. It was called “Humbug.” It was about circus freaks and it was laugh out loud funny. And the studio was kind of afraid to make it. But Chris believed in the script and produced it. And not only did it instantly become one of the most popular shows we had done, because it showed we could laugh at ourselves, it also showed that David and Gillian had amazing comic timing. So “Clyde Bruckman” was Darin’s follow-up and my sense was that he wanted to show he could do a more classic X-Files story, one that wasn’t so funny but was more dramatic. It still has an awful lot of humor in it, which is wonderful, but it’s also got a great deal of pathos. It’s very sweet and touching and melancholy. It features an incredible performance by Peter Boyle. The irony was that Peter Boyle was not our first choice. We actually wanted Bob Newhart to play the part. It was written for Bob Newhart, and we couldn’t get him. So we went through the list of available actors and finally landed on Peter Boyle, who we hadn’t seen do anything in a while. He was fantastic; he won an Emmy as well. And I think it really helped reignite his career. Subsequently he was cast in Everybody Loves Raymond and everybody knows what happened there. It was an important episode for him and for us.

Peter Boyle was fantastic in that role. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that character.

Frank: He really made it his own. I don’t think he knew a thing about The X-Files, but he sure did afterwards. And I remember years later my wife was a big fan of Everybody Loves Raymond, so for her birthday I took her to a taping. When they introduced him, they mentioned him having been in The X-Files, and he raised his arms, cheering for the show. I was very proud of that.

The next episode is from season four, “Memento Mori.”

“Memento Mori” is my all time favorite mythology episode. It’s very unusual, because it’s a single hour story. Usually mythology episodes were two-parters, sometimes three-parters. It’s also unusual because there’s no new science fiction element introduction to the story. Usually mythology episodes were an opportunity for us to add another chapter. And the only chapter added here was that Scully had developed cancer. It was actually a very controversial move on the writing staff. Some people thought it was cheapening the show to have her get cancer, that it was sort of the typical TV melodramatic thing to do. But we felt that it was earned, and that it had been set up by other episodes where other women who had been abducted and had these chips put in their neck subsequently got cancer. So we thought it was sort of mandatory, in fact, that Scully contract cancer and deal with it. It was an episode that almost never was. It was season four and Darin Morgan had left the show, I believe he was writing for Millennium, but he was going to contribute an episode to The X-Files that season. He had been working on it and working on it and finally called us and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not able to do this. I’m not able to crack the story. I’m not going to be able to do this for you.” So suddenly we had an opening in our schedule and we didn’t know what we were going to do. So we scrambled and I think in about two days we broke the Scully getting cancer story. And that was lightning fast for The X-Files, which typically involved a very rigorous writing process. We got a rough script together that the people in Vancouver could prep. Then everyone went away for Christmas vacation, and over the vacation Chris Carter took the script and unified it as one. And we got nominated for an Emmy award. And it’s one of my favorite episodes, one of my favorite mythology episodes. But also, I think it’s one of the best episodes from David and Gillian. Gillian, not surprisingly, is fantastic, and there’s a lot to play. What surprised me was how good David was. You’d think he has the thankless role; he’s not the one developing the disease. His response to Scully is so moving. You can see, in his refusal to accept her diagnosis, how much he loves and cares about her. I thought that was very, very powerful.

Without that episode, the vector of the mythology would be entirely different. I remember seeing the episode when it originally aired and remembering how momentous the whole thing felt.

Yes, it felt that way to me, too. It happened a lot on The X-Files, I have to say, where things turned out better than you imagined. Sometimes it would turn out far worse than you imagined, but it would often turn out better. That was one of the high points for me.

Q: From season five, the next episode is “The Post-Modern Prometheus.”

“The Post-Modern Prometheus” is probably Chris’ all-time favorite episode. It’s got another funny story behind it. Separately, Roseanne Barr and Cher both came to Chris and said that they were big fans of the show and would like to be in The X-Files. So we thought about it and came up with this really offbeat story about a monster and his mother. And this monster loves Cher. As it turns out, when we were ready for production, neither Roseanne nor Cher were available. So we had to cast someone else as the mother, and we got a Cher stand-in. It’s a very strange and specific tone that is struck in the episode. It’s shot in black and white, and is a homage to the classic James Whale Frankenstein movies. It’s very sweet and touching. It’s one I remember working on over and over again, editing it down to the frame, to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be. And I never got tired of watching it.

Q: Also from season five is “Bad Blood.”

Frank: “Bad Blood” is a personal favorite of mine, too. After Darin opened the doors to humor, a number of writers on the staff tried their hand at comedic episodes. Vince Gilligan was extremely good at it. What I loved about “Bad Blood,” coming as it did in season five, was that it was able to take the Mulder and Scully characters and have a lot of fun with how they saw each other. It’s got a “he said/she said” structure, which was borrowed from the original Dick Van Dyke Show. There’s an episode where Rob and Laura relate their events of what happened, and the humor comes from how exaggerated Rob’s perception of Laura was and vice-versa. So it was a lot of fun to figure out how Mulder and Scully would see things differently. We had the benefit of casting Luke Wilson, who had been in a movie that Vince had written called Home Fries, so he agreed to do the show. It was just a ball.

Q: The final episode on the set is from season six, called “Milagro.”

Frank: “Milagro” is, to my mind, an underappreciated episode. That’s why it’s there. It’s also, for us, somewhat autobiographical. By season six of the show, we had spent so many hours thinking about Mulder and Scully and fascinated by them and every aspect of who they were, that we could identify with the writer character, Milagro. And it’s really about the power of writing, and the power of fiction. In this episode a fictitious character actually becomes real and is capable of operating in the world. It’s about how what you write reflects who you are. It’s so personal, in fact, that the cards that are on the writer’s wall are the same format that we wrote The X-Files in. We would use those same cards when figuring out stories for the series. And those cards are in my handwriting because the prop guy couldn’t do it as well as we could because that’s really the way we did it. It’s a very emotional love story and it’s really about our love for these characters as writers.

Taken collectively, what is it these episodes bring in terms of knowledge for someone who wants to see these before watching the new film?

If you know The X-Files, and you watch these eight episodes again, then you’re going to be reminded of the incredible depth and range of the series. It will put you right back in that headspace where you might not have been for six or eight or ten years. But if you don’t know The X-Files, and you’re going to see the movie, or you’ve seen the movie and want to know more, I can’t think of a better place to start. These episodes show you all the things The X-Files was. There’s certainly a lot more. I think we could do multiple sets like this, and every one of those episodes would certainly be called essentials of the show. This is just a starting point. It’s a great starting point for understanding what made The X-Files such a unique show.

Music from the Movies: Speaking the Truth – Mark Snow on reopening The X Files

Music from the Movies
Speaking the Truth – Mark Snow on reopening The X Files
Michael Beek

[Original article here]

Strange things are happening… again, this time in the snowy wilderness of Virginia, where a series of mysteries invite many questions and very few answers. While the FBI scratches its combined heads, a couple of familiar faces are drafted in to help find the truth…

The X Files have been re-opened on the big screen six years (can you believe it?) after ‘The Truth’ was told and the curtain drawn on nine years of paranormal investigations, personal tragedies and an all consuming search for answers. The show, which was a phenomenon in itself, made icons of the names Mulder and Scully, not to mention the sight of flashlights in the dark. It also made international superstars of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, who return to the roles that brought them to the public conscience and together make us want to ‘Believe’ all over again.

One of the series’ strengths, aside from a raft of fine storytellers and actors, was its music. Despite a lengthy career in film and television prior to 1993, it was six notes that made Mark Snow’s name around the world, not to mention week after week of emotive, exciting scoring and all achieved with his own fair hands in his studio. As the years flew by, the music continued to scare, hearten and amuse audiences and in 1998 fans were treated to the first movie, Rob Bowman’s The X Files. The film offered the composer the grand opportunity to engorge his music with a full orchestra, delivering what remains an exciting and wholly listenable score on album.

Ten years later and Mark returns with Mulder and Scully to the silver screen for The X Files: I Want To Believe, and once again he’s been let out of his studio to play with much bigger toys and paint his music with an enlarged palette of sounds. The result is again a stunner, with its roots firmly in the weighty emotional textures and that melody we’ve known and loved for fifteen years.

I was able to catch up with Mark Snow recently to speak with him about returning to old friends and creating new music for the reopening of The X Files

Mark it has been over 6 years since you scored for The X Files; has it been a welcome return to familiar ground?

It has indeed. I guess the most exciting part of it is that this movie is basically like one of the standalone episodes from the series, which has always afforded me much more creative space and I’ve been encouraged to experiment as much as I want, while the mythology stories are more of a classical sort of traditional film music genre. But this one was really exciting because, amongst other things, I got to write some really beautiful melodies – which is not really something The X Files music is known for.

It’s quite an ensemble you assembled I gather?

There was a marvellous combination of two different kinds of orchestras, an aleatoric orchestra where there was no music but I basically gave the orchestra verbal instructions to do certain effects. Whatever seemed right we made variations of and sprinkled those on the large orchestra, which by the way contained no trumpets and no high woodwinds. I just wanted a little darker sound and also all the midi samples and synths stuff on top of that, plus some singers – especially this counter tenor, this male voice that sounds like a female mezzo soprano which is a very eerie sound and used so much in renaissance and medieval music – and then there was a percussion sampler. So all of these elements together was really such a marvellous grab-bag of tricks and stuff to employ in the score – and I had this great mixer Alan Meyerson who did The Dark Knight and all the Pirates movies, so that was great. So it was great having all these things at my disposal and having people pat me on the back and smile at me saying ‘come on Mark you can do it, you can do it…’ (laughs).

It must be great to be able to give your music that kind of brevity once in a while given that you’re usually locked away in your studio on your own!?

Right, you know and the thing is that I’ve been practising my stand-up comedy routines for a while and being in front of the orchestra you know -seriously, just to be out in public for Christ sake – is always a brilliant thing (laughs).

Did you ever think you’d be returning to these characters again?

I never thought I wouldn’t; I always thought it was a distinct possibility and I remember probably about five years ago Chris Carter calling me from London and saying ‘hey we’ve got another one coming so get ready, sharpen your pencil…’. So I said okay and then there were some legal matters he had to work out with Fox that finally got settled and then the stars’ availability came into focus and away it went.

What is it about The X Files that you think gets people so excited, even all these years later?

That’s a very good question. I think it’s sort of knowing that from week to week on the series there were so many unexpected things; even with the standalone shows you’d wonder what kind of monster would it be, would it be a monster, would it be some vapour, would it be a child speaking in tongues and then turning people into Rabbits – who knows?! And I think that’s part of the excitement of this one; and also for the fans, wondering where the relationship with Scully and Mulder is headed.

That relationship is a complex one at times – they’re together, they’re not together – what challenges or inspiration does their chemistry offer you as a composer?

Well there are some marvellous moments, as I said earlier, of being able to do some melodic music and, as corny as it sounds, dare I say a ‘love theme’ that’s sometimes unrequited and sometimes successful. So there’s variations of that, with their complex on again/off again relationship.

Now the plot of I Want To Believe has characteristically remained a secret – I don’t suppose you can tell us anything about what we can expect from this film?

Well the interesting part was, when I read the script the first thing I got out of it was deep, dark complexity and I spoke to Chris Carter afterwards and he said ‘what do you think?’, I said ‘man, it’s so complex and dark and mysterious’, and he said ‘and it’s a love story with religious overtones…’ Okay! He said ‘just keep that in mind’ and you know I re-read it and I got what he meant, and then seeing the movie I certainly got what he meant. Besides the Mulder and Scully relationship there are some other very very emotional, intimate if you would, moments there that do add spiritual and religious weight to it. And that’s where this counter tenor voice comes in and it felt like such a great fit for this sort of ecclesiastical sound; but very intimate, not a big broad choir sound, just a soloist singing over some very modal and transparent music.

So amongst that have you been able to add in some of the Mark Snow ‘sound’ that we would recognise?

Oh certainly, absolutely. There’s the naked X Files theme that happens three times in the movie and each time it seems such a completely dissimilar place and sometimes it’s actually hilarious, sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it’s extremely tender and heartfelt. There are also variations of the theme and using two or three of the notes as little motifs throughout the score so as not to have people forget where they’re at.

So it’s quite a versatile theme then in that sense; you can get quite a lot out of it?

Right, that’s what you get when you’ve got six simple notes (laughs)

Is it difficult to retain your sound when thinking orchestrally though? The style we’ve become accustomed to is very much a synthetic one – is it an evolution of your sound maybe?

No, I mean the orchestra can only do so much actually, as well as all the synth things, and when you combine them it’s great, but especially for The X Files. Plus I had the ancillary orchestra, which were almost like sound effects in and of themselves.

You mentioned using the X Files theme; are there new thematic threads in this new score?

Well there are and I’m trying to figure out a way how I can describe them without giving away plot points (laughs). But definitely one is a very heartfelt, tender and intimate theme and then there’s a love theme and they both get really great treatment so I’m just gonna have to let you see that when it happens…

You mentioned the religioso aspects to the music, but I’m sure this film has a few traditional spinetingling moments too. Do you enjoy working in the shadows and creating dark stuff?

I do. You know when I was a student in New York at Julliard and I was an oboe player, I was very much into avant garde, contemporary music. So The X Files was the first project where I could really delve into my past, my sort of beloved younger days as a music student and do this music that I felt so akin to, so close to and so personally part of my musical background and fabric. And so to be able to exploit it here… I thought ‘oh my god are these guys gonna get it?’ and they might not have intellectually understood it, but they certainly emotionally got it and that was all important.

You mentioned the love theme etc. Those pieces must be a breath of fresh air in a world of darkness and shadows?

Right, and I’m really looking forward to you listening to this. If I could mention that on the CD, I’m not sure what number the track is, but there’s a piece called ‘Surgery’. That’s particularly sort of one of my favourite pieces in the score…

I was going to ask if you had a favourite moment…

Right, well that’s one of them anyway! You know there’s other contrasting things, but that really turned out beautifully. That’s not a typical X Files sound whatsoever…

I see… well one of my favourite cues from the first film is ‘Crater Hug’ – would that be in a similar mould?

Yeah that’s a good point, it is but this is a little more intimate and is in its own way you know slightly baroque and medieval, so to speak. It’s a little quieter and a little more intimate, while that was a bigger, more expansive piece.

You obviously wrote a lot of music for the original series’ – will any more of that become commercially available do you think? It seems a shame that it won’t be heard outside the series…

Well I’ve got good news on that; I think they’re going to be doing that, releasing another CD…

That will be great – who’s doing that?

Well certainly through Fox, but I think it’s going to be on the Decca label that this soundtrack is on.

And will you have input in its production, selecting pieces and such?

Yes indeed, I will…

In which case you have to include the vocal theme you wrote for Scully in one of the later seasons!

Oh right! Yeah certainly… That’s a good point because that ‘Surgery’ piece and that Scully thing, there might be I think a similar emotional feel. But the ‘Surgery’ thing is much more detailed and much more colour and much more going on.

So is the last we’ve seen of Mulder & Scully on screen do you think?

You know, this movie, most of it takes place in a snowy cold climate and after the movie was mixed I overheard Chris talking to Frank Spotnitz the producer and saying ‘we gotta do the next one in Hawaii, this is ridiculous!’ So I think really what it boils down to is if this one makes money and does well there would be no reason not to go onto another one.

Well let’s hope so…

I do…

Well this certainly isn’t the last we’ve seen of you… What’s coming up for you?

Well oddly enough Chris Carter has just directed another movie, but it’s something he’s financed himself and it has nothing to do whatsoever with X Files themes or any subject matter of that ilk. It has all unknown actors and they’re all just brilliant and it is kind of slightly autobiographical – he shot it in the town in California that he grew up in, which is Bellflower near Anaheim and Disneyland. So as I say slightly autobiographical, you know, accent on slightly

Bit of surfing involved then..?

(laughs) well no there’s none of that , but all I can say is think Blue Velvet… and that’s as much as I can tell you about that. Again with him secrecy is everything.

So in terms of television, you’re still attached to Smallville?

No I’m finished with Smallville. They’re going on for one more year, but they cut everyone’s budget way way down and I thought it was time to go; all the producers left and they have sort of a skeleton crew. It’s definitely the last year and I thought it was time for me to go on that. I’m doing the fourth year of this Ghost Whisperer show and hopefully I’ve got some other irons in the fire; there’s a movie in New York that I might be doing – but I don’t wanna talk about it, don’t wanna jinx it!

The X Files: I Want To Believe is in cinemas now and Mark’s score is available on the Decca Records label.

My thanks to Mark Snow and to Melissa McNeil at Costa Communications.