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Den Of Geek: Frank Spotnitz interview: Hunted, the BBC cancellation, The X-Files, and more…

Frank Spotnitz interview: Hunted, the BBC cancellation, The X-Files, and more…
Den Of Geek
Louiza Mellor

[Original article here]

On the eve of Hunted’s final episode airing on the BBC, we chatted to its creator about the HBO spin-off, The X-Files, and more…

Frank Spotnitz’s eight-part spy drama Hunted, starring Melissa George as Sam Hunter, a female spy in the Jason Bourne mould, comes to an end on the BBC tomorrow evening.

Originally a co-production between the Beeb and HBO, it was announced last week that the BBC would not be renewing Hunted due to it not reaching the desired viewer figures, but that HBO was to develop a spin-off based around Sam Hunter. In the divorce settlement, so to speak, Spotnitz and HBO were given custody of Sam’s character, but the new show will have to be just that, a different incarnation of Spotnitz’s stylish, slightly bonkers vision of the life of a private-sector spook.

We chatted to Spotnitz about the process of moving from Hollywood to the UK to make Hunted, the public response, the BBC cancellation, and his plans for the Sam Hunter spin-off. Being Den of Geek, obviously we couldn’t not also check in on the status of The X-Files‘ third film, and the possibility of a small-screen return for Mulder and Scully…

You followed some of the audience reaction to the first episode of Hunted on Twitter didn’t you?

Yes absolutely.

That’s a brave move…

[Laughs] I can take it, I’m strong.

There’s always that one snarky comment or offhand remark that needles though isn’t there? Was there any specific criticism that got to you?

Well it’s funny. No, I can’t think that there were any specific remarks that have stuck in my memory thank goodness, but you can read a thousand nice things and then there’s the one or two nasty ones that really hurt and the nice ones just go right past. You know, I think I’ve learned that’s just the nature of discourse and not to be too bothered by it.

Moving from Hollywood to the UK, you’ll have noticed the sizeable difference in TV budgets. Were there things you wanted to do with Hunted but couldn’t because of money constraints?

Well, in the beginning I was looking at a pretty major rewrite of the script because we just didn’t have the resources. Actually when HBO came on, it doubled our budget so we were actually able to do pretty much everything I wanted to do. Not that I wasn’t pushing against the budget every week, I was, and in truth we probably went a little over, but I’d say it was one of the best financed British productions ever, outside of a costume drama. We had a pretty healthy budget.

It shows, especially in the first episode with those fantastic locations…

That was really exciting for me. To be able to go to Morocco, and write those scenes for Scotland and then actually go there and take it outside of London. I think you can tell the difference, the audience can tell the difference, so that was really exciting to do.

There’s been some talk, whether it has any basis in truth, of the UK/US collaboration having been “creatively stifling”. Was that your experience or is that just hot air?

No, I mean I know where that perception is coming from, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had a fantastic relationship with both broadcasters both with the BBC and HBO and honestly, they saw eye-to-eye on their notes throughout the series.

I think what’s being talked about there is that Hunted is going to go on in another form after this year without the BBC, and when you make the decision to go forward just with HBO, it means you can go full-throttle for that audience, and you don’t need to be concerned with serving the general audience. So I think it’s a liberating move but it’s not an indication of frustration in any way with the BBC, who were great.

Tell us more about the new Hunted we’re going to see from HBO then, are you keeping the name, the same settings, the cast?

Well, I know it’s going to have Sam Hunter in it! [laughs] Actually, I have a pretty good idea where we’re going and what we’re going to do but I’m not free to say just yet. I’ll be saying something in the near future on that.

Respecting that, am I right that you won’t have acces to some elements of Hunted because of the departure from the BBC?

Yeah, it’ll be a different series. It has to be a different series. That’s where the risks of co-productions come back and change your plans unexpectedly sometimes. Because of losing the BBC as a partner, we had to do a different show, we couldn’t do the same show we did this year.

So will you be taking more advantage of HBO’s reputation for nudity and violence now?

I don’t think so, no. I think that the storytelling we did this year was one long serialised arc and I don’t think we have to follow that form now, so that’s the kind of difference in format I’m interested in.

When did you first hear the BBC announcement that they wouldn’t be continuing with the show?

Well, it’s been weeks, but it was a discussion. We were trying to see if there were terms we could reach where we could still continue with the co-production, but it just didn’t work out.

I’ve just watched episode eight and with all its revelations and things coming full circle from episode one, it made for very rewarding viewing by the end.

Thank you very much, I’m delighted to hear that.

So we’re chuffed that HBO will be taking it on.

Thank you, me too. I’m very, very happy about it.

You said in a previous interview, “Americans will watch British people, if they’re spies” presumably thinking about John Le Carré and Bond etc. How far were you making Hunted for a US audience?

Well, first I should say I said that with a smile in my voice, you know.

Americans are famous for not watching other people’s television, and pretty much just watching American television, which puts the rest of the world at a huge disadvantage economically, because the rest of the world buys American television, but Americans, until recently, wouldn’t buy television from anybody else. I was very interested in breaking through that wall and finding a way to get more European television in America, and not just in a niche, not just on PBS – which is great by the way, I love PBS and fully support it – but I wanted to reach a wider audience with European talent and storytelling and I thought the spy genre is something where Americans are used to seeing spies with British accents, you know, John Le Carré and James Bond, take your pick, The Saint, there are many excellent adventures so that was very much in my mind.

Having said that, I was also fully aware that you can’t do a show in Britain, and certainly for the BBC, and have it not be a British show. It has to have that integrity, it has to be designed for this audience first and if it isn’t then this audience is going to smell it and nobody likes that. Nobody wants something that’s been jury-rigged for commercial purposes, it has to have artistic and creative integrity and I wanted to please the British audience first.

Would you call Sam Hunter’s emotional unavailability a kind of British character trait then? A version of the stiff upper lip cliché?

I didn’t really look at it as being particularly British to be honest. I mean, my starting point with the series was, you know, ‘If Jason Bourne was a real person, what would he be like and how would he have got that way?’, and I just thought probably, that if you’re someone who lies and kills for a living, then you’re pretty damaged.

It becomes – as you’ll know, having seen all eight episodes – the things that happened to Sam as a child that are now catching up to her are really the centre of the series. She’s going to have to go back and face these traumatic events if she wants to stay alive. I thought, that’s so ironic, because for a character like Sam it’s easier for her to kill people than to go back and look at her childhood traumas, so that was in my mind more than any cultural stereotypes.

Do you think if Sam was less of a snow maiden, viewers would have found her easier to make an emotional connection with, and you may have kept a wider UK audience?

I don’t know. I think the audience the show found really connected with it, and I’m really pleased with the reception the show’s got. I think the ratings were good but not great, and it was just one of those calls, we just didn’t have a commanding argument in our favour to make the case for renewal. But I don’t know, I think that was sort of the character she needed to be and it wouldn’t have been truthful to soften her up just to win a larger audience.


I have to ask this. I read that you deliberately didn’t use certain real-life spy gadgets in Hunted so that it didn’t become, in your words, “silly”. How then do you explain the six foot rabbit in episode six?

The rabbit? I thought that was very funny. To me, that was very funny. The darkness of that, having that poor man dressed in a rabbit suit, yeah there were many times in the writers’ room – I developed these episodes with three fabulous British writers for six months – and we were crying with laughter at some things in that series. [Laughing] To us, they were very, very funny.

There is a dark sense of humour running through the show isn’t there? I loved the Communist being beaten to death with a statue of Karl Marx…

Yes! The Karl Marx thing, and then you know, when Fowkes retrieves the shoe…

Hassan’s boot, which he then keeps on his desk!

Yes, from the place where they’re incinerating the body. We thought we were very funny at least.

Do you think some people just didn’t get the jokes?

You did at least.

Something that struck me about Hunted, which may explain why some viewers found it hard to follow, was how even very late on, even in the final two episodes, a number of new characters were being introduced in each episode. Even in episodes seven and eight, we were still meeting people for the first time. Were you laying the ground for future series by doing that?

Absolutely, and I think that will be one of the things in the changed format, the spin-off, is that I’ll be eager to reward those who’ve seen this series and give them the answers that those last two episodes demand.

Just between you and me, that woman on the bridge in episode eight… is Sam’s mother really dead?

Oh, I can’t say. [Laughing] “Just between you and me”, you’re funny. Oh, you’ll have to watch, you’ll have to watch.

Okay, we will.


You mentioned being pleased with the audience the show found. The BBC non-renewal statement said that Hunted “…hasn’t found the mainstream audience it was hoped”. How important was reaching a mainstream audience to you?

You know, it’s one of those things that you don’t really get to decide. I always want to reach as many people as I possibly can, and I think I was spoiled by the experience of The X-Files because we got to tell exactly the stories we wanted to tell and we reached huge audiences all around the world but that’s not something anybody can predict. You just make the show you love and put everything you have into it and you just hope for the best, and a lot of it is luck too, a lot of it is stuff you just can’t possibly anticipate.

Going back to the online response, did you find the comparisons to shows like Spooks or Homeland fair or frustrating?

I understand totally why people make those comparisons, though I don’t think they’re particularly valid comparisons. I mean, I don’t think Hunted is anything like either one of those shows, nor was it ever intended to be. When we started out, Spooks was still on the air and nobody had any idea that it was going off, it was 2009 that I first started writing Hunted. And with Homeland, we’d already shot and edited the first two episodes of Hunted before I even saw Homeland, so the audience’s perception of these things is not in sync with how long it actually takes to develop a TV series.

If you wouldn’t compare Hunted to those two shows then, is there another touchstone you would compare it to?

Well I really tried to make it unlike anything that I had seen because I do love the genre so much – and by the way, I love Spooks and Homeland too. I tried really hard to honour some of the shows I loved, like Mission: Impossible or I Spy or James Bond or the Bourne movies, but not to ape them. I think there are deliberate nods and winks to those franchises in the show, but I tried very much to make it feel like its own unique self.

What kind of nods are you talking about? Were there specific shots or scenes in which you’ve paid homage to those earlier shows?

I think that the opening of episode one feels very Mission: Impossible. It’s similar because it’s twist after twist after twist in the very beginning in Tangier, and the idea of going to Tangier at all was sort of Jason Bourne. I Spy was this phenomenal series in the sixties where they amazingly travelled all over the world on locations, and then, James Bond for me is the greatest cinematic spy and just casts a shadow that no one will ever completely escape, and happily so.

All of those characters and movies and TV series were in the back of my mind, but I was always trying to find a way to do it differently or reflect the character of Sam. I think that the perfect story has the character and plot intertwined, you know? That story can only be happening to that character, and there were many things I think about this first series that I hadn’t seen before. I hadn’t seen a character quite like her before, and I hadn’t seen a world that was quite the same world as the one in which she operated, so it just created a whole bunch of interesting dramatic questions for us to answer.

Are more exotic locations in the pipeline for the HBO Hunted spin-off then?

Yes. Yes. I mean, none of that’s been decided as I speak to you today, but that’s definitely my ambition.

Hunted’s cynicism was a really defining feature with this first series wasn’t it? Its suspicion of corporations and capitalism and the moral murkiness of it all. There’s no sense that anybody’s doing anything good, ever.

Yeah, yeah. Well, I hate to say it, but I think that’s pretty much the way I feel [laughing].

You’re jaded.

To me, it makes goodness all the more moving, when you set it against an assessment that honest and that bleak of the way that most of the world operates. Because I do believe that there are good people in the world who want to do good things, and I’m enormously moved by those people, so I think it just sort of heightens the heroism of somebody like Sam, to see her do good knowing that there’s no reward for it, knowing that in fact you pay a cost for doing the right thing.

Can I just move on to The X-Files briefly, just as we’re running out of time. We’re as keen as you are for The X-Files film trilogy to finally be completed. Do you have a script for the third film in place?

No. No I don’t. I mean I’ve known for many years what I would like the movie to be and I’ve been talking to Chris Carter about it for many years, but there is no script.

Is it still the big alien invasion movie you want to do?

Yes, it’s the climax of the alien colonisation story that began the series.

Do you foresee The X-Files ever pulling a Star Trek and returning to the small screen in a different incarnation?

I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I mean, I don’t think I would have anything to do with it but you know, for better or for worse, these things are titles of big corporations , like Star Trek belongs to Paramount and The X-Files belongs to Twentieth Century Fox and it’s a huge asset in their libraries so I can’t imagine they would let it sit languishing forever.

Mulder and Scully: The College Years?

Anything could happen. I just hope that if they do it, they do it well, that’s my only request.

Returning to Hunted, what do you think you learnt making it that you’ll take into future work?

Oh well, this was my first production in Europe and the way television is made here is completely different from the way it’s made in Hollywood. The whole thing was a huge learning experience and I got to work with so many amazing people. The actors I think are second to none in this country, the crew is incredibly dedicated and talented and the directors I had, starting with SJ Clarkson, who did the first two and ending with Dan Percival, who did the last two. You learn something by working with great people, so it was a great experience.

We haven’t scared you off then, you’re going to stick around in the UK?

I’m not going anywhere, not yet anyway!

Frank Spotnitz, thank you very much!

Hunted’s series one finale airs on BBC One this Thursday at 9pm and the series one DVD and Blu Ray is being released by Entertainment One on Monday the 26th of November.

CraveOnline: Frank Spotnitz on ‘Hunted’ Season 1

Frank Spotnitz on ‘Hunted’ Season 1
Fred Topel

[Original article here]

The creator of Cinmax’s original spy series teases us about tonight’s “a-ha” episode and drops more hints about a third X-Files movie.

Cinemax’s latest original series, “Hunted” stars Melissa George” as Sam Hunter, an agent for the private intelligence firm Byzantium. Her current mission has Sam going undercover as a family’s nanny, and so far every situation has her fighting with or shooting at bad guys.

We got to chat with creator Frank Spotnitz by phone, while he is still in London where “Hunted” is based. We know Spotnitz from his years of work on “The X-Files” and “Millennium,” so we had to ask for an update on the third X-Files movie too.

CraveOnline: What feedback have you gotten so far as the first few episodes have aired in the states?

Frank Spotnitz: Pretty good. I’m pretty happy with the reviews. I’m one of those foolish people who goes online and looks at what people are saying on Twitter. It’s been pretty gratifying I have to say.

CraveOnline: We’ve seen two episodes so far. Where are things going to go from here?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, as you know, it’s very plot heavy, very dense and there’s lots and lots of twists and turns coming up. I’d say episode 5 is really the turning point in the whole show. I mean, everything changes in episode 5 but that’s not to say a lot doesn’t happen between episode 2 and episode 5. It does. More than I could summarize is going to happen in the next couple episodes.

CraveOnline: Even in episode 5, is that pretty soon to have a game changer in a first season?

Frank Spotnitz: It’s still the same story and everything like that, but there’s like a huge ah-ha moments where you understand how everything fits together in a way you may not see coming.

CraveOnline: How long does Sam’s undercover assignment as the nanny continue?

Frank Spotnitz: That story continues and it ends pretty definitively in the final episode. So in season two, knock wood, it’ll be a completely different assignment.

CraveOnline: How much fun do you have coming up with different encounters for Sam to fight and have action?

Frank Spotnitz: [Laughs] Well, I’m of a mixed mind I’ve got to say. I find those really hard to come up with, action sequences, because it is mechanical and you’re always trying to find the thing that sets it apart from any other action sequence you’ve seen before. You’re doing a TV timeframe and budget and yet you want to be as compelling as you can, so it’s a real challenge coming up with those things but they are fun. I mean, they’re really fun to put together and to see, so I’m not complaining.

CraveOnline: Did you get to direct any of those yourself?

Frank Spotnitz: I didn’t. I didn’t get to direct at all until the end. I directed just a few days towards the end because we were running out of time so I got to do some second unit at the end, but it was pretty much just acting scenes, no action.

CraveOnline: When you were casting actresses for Sam, were you looking for people who had experience with action, like she was on “Alias?”

Frank Spotnitz: Yes and no. Obviously she had to be somebody who looked a certain way because she’s supposed to seduce men in the show, so she’s got to be believable as a siren for men. Then she had to have that physicality which Melissa certainly does.

She’s incredibly fit. But the thing I was really looking for was, Sam is cold and invulnerable in her personal interactions, but if that’s all she is the show doesn’t really work. Most of the actresses I saw, they were good at playing the toughness and the coldness, but there was nothing underneath it. What I think Melissa brings to the role, I’m always aware there’s something going on underneath.

There’s this duality with her all the time, both when she’s Sam and you see there’s something underneath that surface that she doesn’t want you to see, and then when she’s undercover as Alex Kent, I can see the Sam poking through and that’s really hard to do. It’s easy to miss how difficult that is and that’s why the part was really hard to cast, just finding somebody who had that emotional depth.

You’ve worked in FBI and government genres before. What’s different about the spy world of “Hunted?”

Frank Spotnitz: The thing that struck me is that if you’re working for the FBI or even the CIA, you assume you’re the good guy, and you are. You’re trying to do the right thing for the American people. But when you go to work for a private security firm, you can’t make that assumption because you’re working for a private interest who has an objective and in many of these firms, as in the firm in my show, if you’re an operative, you’re not told who the client is.

So I thought that was really interesting for a spy show, not quite like anything I’d seen before, especially if you’re trying to create paranoia which this show is. To not know who you’re working for and whether you really should succeed or not I thought was really an interesting dilemma.

CraveOnline: Also do these agents get into a lot more fistfights and gunfights than Scully and Mulder did?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, for sure. It’s a different genre. It’s really an action show and that was one of our tasks every week was to find really exciting action and stunts to put the characters in.

CraveOnline: Because Cinemax is primarily a movie channel, did they have any means or facility to accommodate that?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, they knew it was what they wanted for their audience, but they really left it up to me and my partners at Kudos here in London to figure out how to get it done. It was challenging at times because, for instance, the opening of episode 1 we shot at Morocco and that’s quite a big action sequence there.

You’ve got the action outside the theater where Sam seems to get assassinated, then her being chased through the Kasbah and then that whole thing at the café where she fights off those three men, sets one of them on fire, it was a giant undertaking to do that in Morocco, but we managed to pull it off.

CraveOnline: Is it an advantage that you’re allowed to be a little more explicit on Cinemax?

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, it’s nice. I think this is a really great time to be working in television. I guess that’s not a surprise to anybody but the creative freedom that all this original programming that cable channels are offering is unparalleled. It’s unimaginable, 15 years ago when I was doing “The X-Files,” that you’d be able to write things like this and have the kinds of situations and dialogue that you can do now.

Having said that though, I’m not eager to push things just for the sake of pushing things. There’s a number of fight sequences for instance that I pulled back. What was shot was far more explicit, but I decided you don’t really need to see that. It doesn’t help you tell the story in any way. So there’s a line. I think it’s a line that you approach it and it’s great and then you can go past it, and I try not to go past it.


CraveOnline: How do you get that blue tint that the show has?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, the blue really was noticeable especially episode 1 because the director, S.J. Clarkson wanted to make Tangier have this kind of golden hue to it and then Scotland this kind of green and then London this cool blue. That we did in the color correction sessions, but as the show goes on, we stay in London so the palette of that blue fades. It loses its purpose if you keep doing it so if you’re paying really close attention, it becomes more and more subtle as the series goes on and it’s very subtle by the time you get to episode 8.

Is there something about the spy genre that lends itself to blue tinted cinematography like the Bourne movies?

Frank Spotnitz: She thought it was helping to tell the story because in Tangier, Sam was at her best. This was leading up to her being shot, she was at the top of her game. Then she goes to Scotland which is sort of safety, a refuge. And then coming back to London, it was sort of the cold, hard world of Byzantium and that’s why blue seemed appropriate. So it was more an attempt to key in on her emotional state.

CraveOnline: How many of the scripts for season 1 did you write?

Frank Spotnitz: I wrote five of the episodes and then I collaborated in our writer’s room, which is really unusual in this country, with three British writers, each of whom wrote one episode.

CraveOnline: How does this kind of writer’s room compare to what you had on “The X-Files?”

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it’s smaller because in “The X-Files” we were doing 24 episodes a year and here we’re only doing eight. They are eight full hours though. They’re 58 minutes long whereas “X-Files” tended to be more like 45 minutes long because it was on a broadcast network with commercial breaks.

CraveOnline: But “The X-Files” worked in those massive arcing story elements.

Frank Spotnitz: Yes, yes. It’s interesting because those story arcs were really only in six to eight episodes a year out of the 24. Now when I do shows with mythology, people expect them to be in every single episode and they miss it if it’s not there. That’s not the way “The X-Files” did it and I think that was one of the secrets to “The X–Files”’ longevity was that it didn’t move the mythology along that quickly.

CraveOnline: Have you gotten a second season order from Cinemax yet?

Frank Spotnitz: I am waiting with baited breath and feeling optimistic so I should know soon hopefully.

CraveOnline: When would you gear up to produce that?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s a good question. I assume we’d start shooting early in 2013.

CraveOnline: I know you’ve been busy with “Hunted” but has there been any talk or movement in the X-Files movie world?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, yeah. Honestly, it comes down to the studio saying yes, but I continue to talk to Chris Carter who wants to do it, as do David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. I have no news to announce sadly, but I am not giving up hope. I hope that there will be a third and final movie that brings “The X-Files” alien colonization story to a climax.

CraveOnline: So the next one would have to be the last?

Frank Spotnitz: Never say never, but my hope would be to give it the really satisfying, powerful ending that it deserves. I would be very content, speaking for myself now, I can’t speak for David or Chris or Gillian, but for myself I’d be just really happy to give it a great ending.

CraveOnline: Is that ending made up of material you’ve been sitting on since the finale of the series?

Frank Spotnitz:
Well, yes. In truth, it’s changed because it took so long to get the second movie made and then we were hoping that this third movie would happen before 2012 which was a significant date in the “X-Files” mythology and obviously it hasn’t happened.

But there’s a core group of story ideas that Chris and I have been discussing for I guess about a decade now, hard to believe. Yes, we have a lot of ideas about what should happen in that movie.

CraveOnline: You mentioned David and Gillian, but would Agent Doggett have any role in it?

Frank Spotnitz:
I can’t say. That’s sort of like a spoiler to say whether he’d be in it or not. All I can say is that I love that character and I love Robert Patrick, so it wouldn’t make me unhappy if he was in it.

CraveOnline: You also got to work with Vince Gilligan for many years. What have you thought of his success with “Breaking Bad?”

Frank Spotnitz: Ah, Vince is one of the nicest, most talented people I’ve ever met and a good friend. I think “Breaking Bad” is not just a great show, it’s one of the all time great shows. I love that show to death. I tune in every week like a fan and am just in awe of it. I’m just so proud of him and happy for him. It’s so well deserved because he’s worked for that success. It’s really remarkable I think.

CraveOnline: “Hunted” is really only the second original series on Cinemax. Do you feel like you’re on the ground floor of a new network?

Frank Spotnitz: I pinch myself because it was by accident. I came here to do “Hunted” and as soon as I got here there was a delay. So I found myself sitting around in London, like what am I going to do with myself, and so I said we’ll see if I can get a job writing something, which I’d never really done in my career, just looking for a job as a writer for hire.

Sure enough this show “Strike Back” needed somebody to help figure out how to make it a coproduction with the U.S. I ended up writing the first four episodes of that which became the first original show that Cinemax put on, and they were so happy with what I did that they said, “What else do you have?” And I go, “Oh, this show ‘Hunted’ that I’m going to be doing with the BBC.”

That’s how it happened. It was a complete accident. The people at Cinemax are the people at HBO. They’re terrific, really smart, really supportive. They do their jobs very, very well so I’m just really, really fortunate.

Wired: Taking a Cue From The X-Files, Spy Thriller Hunted Keeps Things Complex

Taking a Cue From The X-Files, Spy Thriller Hunted Keeps Things Complex
Hugh Hart

[Original article here]

Creating a TV series that starts off with a bang and actually gets better instead of dissolving into generic pap (sorry, Revolution) is clearly a lot harder than it looks. As evidenced by high-concept flops like Alcatraz and Terra Nova, long-form television mythologies too often lose momentum when they should be building suspense.

New head-spinning thriller Hunted proves to be a satisfying exception.

The brainy action series from former The X-Files writer-producer Frank Spotnitz, which debuts Friday on Cinemax at 10 p.m./9 Central, centers on private security operative Sam Hunter. Played by an intense, athletic Melissa George (In Treatment, Alias), Sam comes across sullen, shrewd, psychologically damaged or sexy — whatever the mission calls for. She establishes her ass-kicking cred by snapping necks, shooting, kicking, punching and otherwise neutralizing a half-dozen attackers in a matter of minutes during the series’ opening sequence.

On first viewing, the mission, set in the chaotic streets of Tangier, Morocco, seems totally confusing. But the beauty of Hunted is that all this murky mayhem will eventually make complete sense, once Spotnitz and company plunge deeper into their Mobius strip-like mystery: Sam, equally plagued by recent betrayal and a traumatic childhood, belongs to a glum crew of backbiting Londoners employed at private security firm Byzantium.

(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)

Hunted pits Hunter against pitiless capitalist Jack Turner (ferociously portrayed by Patrick Malahide), who’s intent on building a dam in Pakistan. Byzantium’s anonymous client wants to shut him down. Simultaneously, Hunted teases out a huge Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy that keeps revealing new layers like so many Matryoshka nesting dolls.

After watching the first five episodes, Wired asked Spotnitz how he keeps Hunted‘s insanely complex storyline from running off the rails. “It was extremely challenging not only because the narrative is full of so many twists and turns, but because so many people are lying to each other,” Spotnitz replied in an e-mail. “No two people have the same understanding of what’s going on. That sometimes made it difficult keeping track of who knew what. But we were really pleased with the way it all came together in the end.”

Hunted‘s intertwined storylines include a “we’ve got a mole” subplot, but the familiar dilemma gains fresh dimension here because the very notion of a heroic purpose appears to be missing in action.

“In a traditional spy story, we assume our spies are the good guys,” said Spotnitz, who huddled for six months with three other writers and a story editor to make sure all the pieces fit together. “Whether or not everything the U.S. or British government does is good, I think we take it for granted that they’re trying to do the right thing. But when you enter the private world, you can make no such assumptions. Private interests are trying to accumulate wealth and power, and whether that serves the public interest or a greater good is purely incidental. I thought this was an extremely interesting subject worth exploring.”

Spotnitz became intrigued with the world of spies-for-hire after taking note of the private Blackwater operatives in Iraq and the 2008 financial meltdown.

“So much has been outsourced, downsized or privatized,” he said. “We live in a world where private, corporate power has never been greater. I didn’t realize when I first started doing research how ubiquitous private security firms have become. There are thousands of them! They weren’t that difficult to find and, surprisingly, they were very happy to talk about what they do.”

The X-Files Legacy

Like Vince Gilligan, creator of meth-dealing uber drama Breaking Bad, Spotnitz got schooled in the art of long-gestating story payoffs while working as a writer-producer on The X-Files. “Probably the two biggest lessons I carry with me from The X-Files are to be ambitious and to never write down to your audience,” he said.

Elaborating on the subject during a press conference last summer, Spotnitz said, “When The X Files started, the word ‘mythology’ was not in the vocabulary of network television. The internet was just coming and I remember looking at newsgroups to see how observant the fans were. We began to realize that we could thread clues, and sometimes wait two or three years before you picked up the thread again, and not only would fans notice it but they would reward you for it because you were rewarding their loyalty.”

Hunted, structured as an eight-episode season, shifts thematic focus from X-Files’ obsession with government cover-ups to a post-9/11 landscape populated by mercenary agents and their morally suspect corporate overseers. But in one key regard, Hunted extends Chris Carter’s X-Files credo: “I think you’re more engaged with the show if you’re not being spoon-fed,” Spotnitz said.

The takeaway, for potential Hunted viewers: Pay attention and be patient. “Something happens, and two or three episodes later you’ll see the connection,” Spotnitz promised.

Snakkle: X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted

X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted
Erin Fox

[Original article here]

Full disclosure: We’re big fans of Frank Spotnitz. After all, he spent years as a writer and executive producer on the iconic ‘90s sci-fi droolfest The X-Files and rebooted the creepier-than-creepy thriller Night Stalker for ABC. Though Night Stalker was never really given a proper shot (marketing and time-slot issues), it made for some compelling TV. So imagine our delight when we discovered that Spotnitz was back developing a kick-ass spy thriller called Hunted, starring the lovely Melissa George and airing on Cinemax (go figure!)—did we mention it’s written and set in the U.K.? Snakkle was lucky enough to speak to Spotnitz while he was in town for the Television Critics Association press tour and asked him about working in the U.K. TV system, the genesis of Hunted, casting Melissa George (Alias baddie!), and, of course, his thoughts on a third X-Files movie.

Snakkle: Tell me about the genesis for Hunted and how quickly after the second X-Files movie (released in 2008) did you have this idea bumping around in your brain?

Frank Spotnitz: I was invited to the U.K. to speak in 2009, and that’s when I thought about going over there to do a show. And I called Kudos [Film and Television], and I called Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone, because they’d been talking to me for seven years at that point about coming to London to do a show. I always wanted to go to London. I could see how the business was changing, and I thought there was an opportunity if you did the right type of show to do it in London and have it broadcast around the world. And so I called them and said, “I think I’ve got an idea for a spy show.”

Snakkle: How do they do things in television across the pond as opposed to here? Is it all written beforehand and do you shoot a pilot and then they “pick it up”?

Spotnitz: No. There are no pilots. It’s completely different. Everything about the business there is completely different. And that’s been one of the big surprises for me. I didn’t realize quite how different it was. We pitched it, which they don’t do normally. We did verbal pitches with the broadcasters, but in terms of the sale, it was more like an American show. So we wrote the first script and then they commissioned the whole series.

Snakkle: How many episodes did you get and how long are they?

Spotnitz: It’s eight one-hour episodes. It’s 58 minutes, where in the U.S. it’s 44. That makes a huge difference, actually.

Snakkle: So you don’t need 12 episodes. You’ve got eight full hours.

Spotnitz: I’d still take them, don’t get me wrong. I’d take 10, anyway, if they’d give them to me.

Snakkle: Talk a little bit about wanting to do a spy show. You’ve written about conspiracies and character-driven procedurals, but Hunted is more of a kick-ass thriller. It’s dark and sleek and spotlights this beautiful woman spy, Sam, who’s been betrayed by her employer. What made you go down that spy route?

Spotnitz: Well, I was trying to think of something I could do that would have international appeal, even with a British cast, and obviously if it worked in Britain it wouldn’t necessarily work in the U.S. I thought an American audience will accept British spies, and we’ve been watching them. It’s just an accepted genre, and I don’t think Americans even think twice about it. And, it happens to be my favorite genre—at least in movies and television. I grew up on I Spy and Mission Impossible, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond, who was hugely important to me when I was a kid. Every movie. Every book. I was obsessive about that. That was both the great appeal and the most terrifying thing about trying to do something in that genre. So many good things have been done, how do you do something new? So my starting point was to take a character like Jason Bourne. What if he were real? What if it’s a real guy? What’s he really like? Because this is television, it’s got to be character-based.

Snakkle: Right.

Spotnitz: You can’t just do the stunts and expect people to stick with it. I thought, well, he’s probably not actually all that warm and loving. I mean, he deceives people, he kills people, he’s going to be very cold, remote, unreachable, kind of emotionally not [able to] let people get close.

Snakkle: True…

Spotnitz: So that was interesting to me, but then how did he get that way? And that’s really what the genesis of the show was. In this case, Sam’s a female spy, and we realize something bad must have happened in her past to make her this cold, emotionally remote adult that we’re seeing. And then I thought, well, what happened? So that’s really still what the heart of the show is. It’s really, thematically, can you overcome your past? When bad things have happened in your past, can you move past them and have the future you want to have, or are you forever going to be shaped by these things? And so for her, these terrible things happened to her as a girl, which we flash back to.

Snakkle: I was going to ask how the structure of the show will work. Will there be flashbacks every week?

Spotnitz: Well, not necessarily every week. I think we try to be strategic about it, because they can start to become less powerful if you see too many of them. I was always determined that the story was going to drive these flashbacks, but you do consistently through the first eight episodes learn more and more about what happened in her past and how it ties into what’s happening to her now. What you learn in episode 5 is that in order to find out who tried to kill her and why, in order to stay alive now, she has to go back and look at her childhood. Which for a woman like Sam is actually harder than having to kill somebody. It’s harder to have to go back and relive the emotional pain of her childhood.

Snakkle: So you knew what the answer was before you started, and now the challenge is that you have to dole it out slowly…

Spotnitz: That’s the other thing I want to do in the show is not tease. I mean, a lot happens. It’s a very dense narrative. And it’s not boring. So much happens every week. You may think they’re going to make me wait eight episodes to find out who the mole is; no, you’re going to find out really fast. They’ll be trusting that we’ll keep coming up with really interesting twists and turns. You’ll learn pretty quickly watching the show that somebody may seem like a good guy, and two episodes later, no!—bad guy. And somebody you were sure was a bad guy well may be a good guy, which also heightens your paranoia, because you’re never sure. It’s all shifting sands.

Snakkle: For lack of a better term, is there a sort of mythology involved with Sam? And then you intersperse it with kind of like the case of the week?

Spotnitz: Yes, exactly. There’s a story every week that has a beginning, middle, and end. And then there’s the mythology, as you say, of who tried to kill her and why. It ties into a big conspiracy. It’s not aliens in this instance—look, it’s a work of fiction, but actually I think it’s raising real issues that would be good for people to think about. In our world, she works for a private spy agency. She’s not working for CIA or FBI or MI6, she’s working for people who are in this for profit. And the morality of the world we live in is very complicated and interesting. And that’s the heart of the conspiracy. It’s the privatized world we all live in. And then there’s an undercover assignment that she undertakes each year. So in this season, she goes into this house, the Turner house, and that story continues through the first eight episodes, but it will come to an end. Episode 8, that’s all resolved.

Snakkle: Talk about finding your Sam—Melissa George. She’s played a baddie spy of sorts on Alias, so did that enter into your mind as you were casting her?

Spotnitz: Not really. I mean, I’d seen Melissa in Alias and In Treatment. We looked really hard. It was really hard to cast. We saw 200 actresses right for this part. And we had amazing actresses from London, L.A., and Australia. But I will tell you honestly, the moment—she put herself on tape in L.A.—the moment I saw her, I knew she was the right one. I knew it. And the reason is, as good as those actresses were, it’s a deceptively hard part to play. You have to be beautiful, you have to be believably physical, but then there’s the acting challenge of it because she is this cold, remote person. So many of the actresses we saw that’s all you saw: cold, remote, hard. You could see why they’d make that choice, but that’s not interesting. That’s not somebody I’d want to watch week after week. Melissa, from that very first self-tape, had the cold remote wall, but then you saw behind that there was a real human being with vulnerabilities and internal struggle. I don’t know how she does it.

Snakkle: Does she have anyone who’s her sounding board?

Spotnitz: Well, that was the really hard thing. We talked a lot about this—she has no sounding board.

Snakkle: That’s impossible! Poor Sam! Is there anybody that we could see the possibility of her trusting at some point?

Spotnitz: At the beginning of the show, she’s falling in love with this guy, Aidan Marsh, played by Adam Rayner, a wonderful Welsh actor, and then she’s betrayed right away. And he seems like the most likely person to have betrayed her. I think you’re hoping that she’s wrong and he didn’t betray her, that they can get back to that place they were in the beginning of the show when they were in love, but you just, you as a viewer you aren’t sure whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I felt like to maintain the maximum paranoia and anxiety for her and her safety, I didn’t want to give her safe harbor with the best friend or the psychiatrist. And it was a real challenge.

Snakkle: Much like Breaking Bad, created by your friend Vince Gilligan, it’s a dicey proposition to have somebody so unlikable as your hero. Walter White is unlikable. He’s almost inhuman at this point; he’s completely turned into an antihero. Were you worried Sam would be too unlikable?

Spotnitz: Breaking Bad is one of my all-time favorites. I think it’s just great, but Sam’s actually on a path to becoming more and more human, and more and more vulnerable and open. It’s very moving to watch this woman who was so cold, and there’s like this crack, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and she starts to care more and more. The irony of it is that caring is bad because you’re a spy. You can’t do that. You have to just do your job, follow orders. There’s a little boy that she has to tutor and nanny, and she really cares about this little boy. And she can’t do that. It gets her into trouble. I think the good news is, as hard as this was to launch and as worried as we were about audience engagement, if you stay with it, I feel pretty confident the emotional connections are going to get deeper.

Snakkle: What has been the reaction from the people you’ve shown it to so far?

Spotnitz: It’s been great, but I don’t count on anything. I know you can do a show you’re really proud of and then you just never know what’s going to happen in the world. But one of the things that’s given me confidence or cause for optimism is that we had two broadcasters: We were doing this for BBC-1 in the U.K. and for Cinemax here in the U.S. I was delighted to have all those resources. They couldn’t be more different broadcasters, but I’d say uniformly their responses to the scripts and the cuts of the show have been the same.

Snakkle: You guys got to shoot in some amazing places, right?

Spotnitz: We did. We shot in Morocco, London, Scotland, and then briefly in Wales. And there’s no soundstages. It’s all location. You really see London in a way that it’s rarely seen. It was expensive and a big commitment by Kudos to go invest in seeing that, but I think that you see the results.

Snakkle: When you’re doing a spy thing, it’s really hard to be believable when you have to pretend a backlot is Chinatown, or whatever the location may be.

Spotnitz: Exactly.

Snakkle: You need to go to those locations to make everything feel authentic, and I don’t think you’ve really had that opportunity on your other TV shows. Must have been amazing.

Spotnitz: I so agree with you. I think that was so important to the show to make it feel real. Give it that cinematic value. Especially now because TV is so sophisticated and, you know, you flip the dial and you’re watching a $50-80 million movie.

Snakkle: I know this is a weird question to ask, but is there anything you’re worried that won’t click with the audience?

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything.

Snakkle: No, Frank, no!

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything. I mean, but I feel incredibly blessed too, because we had fantastic directors, great crew—English crews are amazing. They are so dedicated, and their artistry is enormous, and they were given a chance to do things they rarely get to do because of the resources we had. And that was a joy. And the English actors! I hadn’t realized how good they were until I saw them from the inside. As a writer, seeing them say your lines—how thoughtful they are about literally every word and the best way to say it. You really appreciate the depth of their talent. So I feel really good about all the collaborators that we had doing this. But it’s always a gamble.

Snakkle: So they’re showing Hunted on Cinemax (owned by HBO) in the U.S. Was that a strange pairing for you? Or were you aware that they were trying to break into more of that scripted original programming that’s on par with HBO?

Spotnitz: You know, the funny piece of odd luck was that I came to London to do Hunted and I had six months to wait around to see if the BBC was going to do it or not. I said, I have to make some money and do something, so I got an agent and the next day she calls me and says, Oh, I got a job for you already. There’s this show Strike Back, and they were trying to get Cinemax on board as coproducers, and so I came just as a writer for hire. I wrote the first two episodes, then I ended up writing the next two episodes. And then Cinemax said, what else you have?

Snakkle: That’s great.

Spotnitz: I said, as it happens, we’re doing a show with the BBC called Hunted and they came on board, so it was really completely by accident and luck that they joined us, but you know the great thing is you got the resources and the intelligence to the taste of HBO and they’re trying to launch this new original programming for Cinemax and I think they’re still finding out what Cinemax is and all the things it can be. Strike Back was very successful for them, and I think they’re hoping this will be at least as successful.

Snakkle: I just want to touch on this briefly because the fans will skin me if I don’t ask you. A couple months ago you posted on your blog… it was kind of a little love letter to fans about not giving up hope on a third X-Files movie.

Spotnitz: Yes.

Snakkle: Do you really still hold out that hope, and if so, do you have anything you can share with us to keep the hope burning?

Spotnitz: I do. I actually feel the pressure of time now, and if this is going to happen, there’s got to be a script in the next year and a half.

Snakkle: Fingers crossed!

Spotnitz: But I still have faith. I mean, there’s such a powerful argument for it, and I think if I could just get the right stars to align, it could still happen. I actually just emailed David Duchovny this morning about this very topic, so I can’t say anything now—because I won’t be able to say anything good or bad until long after it’s decided—but I’ve not stopped trying.


Hunted premieres on Cinemax on Friday, October 19, at 10 p.m.

HitFix: 'Hunted' creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & 'The X-Files' legacy

‘Hunted’ creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & ‘The X-Files’ legacy
Alan Sepinwall

[Original article here]

And did his experience writing for ‘Strike Back’ come into play with the new show?

Frank Spotnitz has been the man up front for the first two Cinemax original drama series. He wrote the first four episodes of the Cinemax incarnation of “Strike Back,” and is the creator and executive producer of Hunted,” a new thriller starring Melissa George as British private spy Sam Hunter, who is betrayed, left for dead, and returns to work a year later looking for revenge on whoever it was that set her up.  (You can watch an exclusive clip from the premiere at the top of this post.)

I interviewed Spotnitz about his design for the series (which I reviewed yesterday), why he wanted a female spy at the center, and the legacy of his work on “The X-Files,” where he was one of the top writer/producers for years.

What did you learn doing those four episodes of “Strike Back,” within that budget and that format that then informed you in terms of, “This is what I can do with a Cinemax show”?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was weird because I’d written “Hunted” already before I did “Strike Back.” So I already had that in the back of my head. I honestly don’t know if I can tell you what I learned. “Strike Back” was like going to the ice cream shop for me. I could just go and have fun. It was male fantasy, testosterone, just go engage your inner-teenage fantasy self. And it was a blast. It was just really fun. This show, to me, is so different in every way. So I don’t know.

I think what I’m asking more is not so much creatively, because I agree with you they’re very different. But just in terms of what you can pull off in terms of budget and scheduling.

Frank Spotnitz: Well, to be honest, the “Strike Back,” it says I’m an executive producer, but I didn’t really. With this show I learned a lot doing this because I had never worked in Europe before. I didn’t really know how budgets correlated to versus what I’m used to. And I kind of learned as we went. And I think the crews in Europe are much smaller and faster, and it’s actually a good value. You actually get a lot for what you spend. And this was a really generous budget, so that’s what I learned by doing it.

I want to talk about structure, first in the pilot and then moving forward. The pilot is stream of consciousness at times. It’s slipping in and out of past and present. You’re watching Sam as she’s recovering and going back and forth. How did you decide that you wanted to structure the introduction to the character in this world in that way?

Frank Spotnitz: At the heart of this, it’s about Sam and her character. And I wanted to begin with Sam at the top of her game. She’s great. She’s the best operative Byzantium has, and I wanted the thrill of that, the adrenaline of that. Wow, you’re amazing. You pulled this off, incredible. You sleep with men and then you betray them. And then I wanted to show her love with this man, and then I wanted to take it all away. Because I thought that’s the story. It’s this woman who is a great spy and then this crack, this betrayal, that café. And as long as this TV series goes, it’s about that crack getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Because I’m fascinated by this woman who had erected these walls, these emotional walls, she’s tough; she’s hard to get at. How did she get that way? And those flashbacks to her childhood, that’s how she got that way. Terrible things happened to her as a little girl. And now because of this attack on her life, she’s going to have to go back and look at these events.

So you have A: Sam trying to re-assimilate herself into this place, B: Sam hunting for the people who betrayed her. And then C: There’s this mission, a very involved mission. We’re spending a lot of time in Jack’s imposing house with all the things going on in there. That’s a lot of layers to be throwing at people all at once.

Frank Spotnitz: It is.

Why did you do it that way?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was always my intention that you’re going to have that first narrative, who’s trying to kill her and why? That’s a narrative that goes on and on. And you’re going to get a lot of answers in the first eight episodes, a lot. But it’s like “The X-Files” strategy. We’ve answered one thing, now there’s three more questions.

And then there is a story each with a beginning, middle, and an end. Every week there’s a story, like episode two. Hassan is captured, he’s in the basement. He’s going to get out or he’s not. There’s just always. And then I’d never done this before, there’s a story that takes place over the course of these eight hours that’s going to end. So the Turner assignment is going to end. And I thought I liked as a form. I hadn’t seen that before. So I thought that’s really interesting to me, the opportunity to have complete closure. It’s like a short story. The Turner story’s going to be done. It will never come back. But there was a side switch, there was no way to have her come back without doing that. She’s going to come back, but she’s going to be given an assignment. So it just sort of suggested itself as a form. And I felt my way forward, because I’ve never tried to do anything like this before.

In terms of the mysteries, you invoked “X-Files,” and I think you and I have had this conversation in the past. Initially there was some sort of plan in place for what had happened to Mulder’s sister and all of that, and then success basically ruined that.

Frank Spotnitz: That’s correct, yes.

From the way that played out, what did you learn that you can then apply to this show?

Frank Spotnitz: I’ve thought about that a lot.  What I’ve learned is you can come up with whatever answer you want about what the island means, or why the aliens are here, or whatever and it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it matters but the audience will have thought of that answer and a thousand others that they may like better. You can’t outsmart or outguess the audience in terms of what the narrative answer is. And if that’s what you’re aiming for it’s going to be disappointing.

The one thing you can do that the audience can’t do — all those smart people online in the chat rooms can’t do — is deliver a satisfying emotional journey for a human being, for a character. And so character, character, character. Create a really interesting, complex person that you want to know more about, and take her on a journey that is rich and fulfilling and that has an end that is perfectly fulfilling, and that has an end that is perfect for that character, and the audience will love it. And so whatever the mythology is, it better be serving that journey. That’s the primary purpose.

It’s a very different world from when you were doing “X-Files,” just in terms of social media. If someone guesses that Edward James Olmos on “Dexter” is a ghost, and they tweet that, suddenly everyone watching “Dexter” knows that that’s what’s happening. Whereas if they guessed that even on Usenet, I was on Usenet, but not a lot of people were on Usenet back then, so how does that affect what you’re doing?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s exactly it. It’s like if my whole game depends on whether you can guess the ending or not, I’m done, forget it. Somebody’s going to guess it. So to me it’s like, yes I have a mystery, and yes there are answers. I mean, good luck guessing all. It’s so layered, good luck guessing all the answers. So I think I’m going to surprise you still with some of them. But it’s the emotional journey, it’s this character.

And I do think that’s the primary reason people watch television. You want to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, and learn what that’s like. You can only live one life, and so you get to see other lives through these characters. And that’s very satisfying. So the challenge is creating a character that’s that rich and interesting to warrant following for a number of years.

Was it always in your mind that it was going to be a female spy who was betrayed?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes.


Frank Spotnitz: A bunch of answers, but I think first of all just more interesting to have a female spy. Kind of like “The X-Files” averted gender stereotypes, gender expectations. You would expect Scully to be the character of faith and Mulder to be the rationalist. That’s your gender bias. And to flip that is more interesting, and so to have a female spy it’s just more interesting to me. And she’s also sort of automatically an underdog because she’s surrounded by men. And in fights she’s automatically the underdog because she’s a woman.

And not a large woman at that.

Frank Spotnitz: And not a large woman. And so I think it just creates an identification that you don’t necessarily have, and it makes it more interesting than all of the many, many excellent male spy shows that there have been and spy stories. So that’s the first answer. And then there’s just a shortage of great parts for women. I mean, I can’t tell you how many actresses I met with who are amazing, and there’s nothing for them to do, and it’s wrong. So I thought it made sense for my show, and it was smart as a producer.

Alright, so you have Melissa who is Australian playing a British woman who spends much of the season doing an American accent. Adewale is playing American. So given that it’s sort of an international team, how did you decide he is from here, she is from here?

Frank Spotnitz: Well it was always written that way. I honestly, it would have been a lot easier just to find an English actress, but she was the best person for the role. So that became her challenge, and it is very difficult, let me tell you. I mean, I’ve learned how difficult it is to get that English accent correct, because it’s so nuanced in the way that American ears would recognize. So she worked very, very hard at that. So she just got it. I didn’t mean to cast an Australian, it just happened that way.

And Adewale he’s an awesome actor. I mean, he’s an amazing actor. So it was like, “What, we can have you?” I knew the part was written for a black American. And he shows up and he’s British, and he’s like, “I haven’t worked in London in 18 years.” So he was happy to do something at home for once. And then the rest was all British. I mean, and Adewale’s British.

While “Strike Back” in its guest roles did employ a lot of actors you knew from “Game of Thrones,” the main guys were not incredibly famous. And here, every part is someone I’ve seen before.

Frank Spotnitz: You’re a sophisticated viewer.

Well that’s true too I suppose, but budgetarily you weren’t limited in terms of who you could get. 

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah we were. We had a budget, but the good thing is they wanted to do it. They really responded to the material. And that’s a thing you find culturally. It’s a business there but it’s also people, actors, it’s like they’re doing it not to get rich or famous, but because they really want to do good work. So a lot of them it was like, “I just really want to do this.”

So eight episodes, this particular mission closes by the end of that, but other things will continue.

Frank Spotnitz: Correct.

This is a “men plan, God laughs” kind of question, but have you thought in your head, if this works, how much mileage there is in it?

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, absolutely. I’m imagining five years. And if I’m crazy I think you could tell these stories in another medium after those five years. But that’s what I’m imagining. I think Sam Hunter as a character could exist indefinitely, but I’m imagining a story that goes on for five years.

Shifting back to “X-Files,” that was a show that was sort of the canary in the coal mine for both the idea of mythology and the idea that mythology can disappoint people. What impact do you think that had on later shows that tried to do that? Do you think audiences became more skeptical as a result or not?

Frank Spotnitz: No, I think first you have to talk about what happened to “The X-Files.” And I think what happened was I think Robert Patrick did an amazing job, and Annabeth Gish, but there was no way to give the show a novelistic coherence once David (Duchovny) left. There was no way to end that show in an emotionally satisfying way once David had left. Even if you bring him back, it was just not the same. And I think that’s the lesson I draw from it. And that connects to me saying earlier, “Invest in the character, follow the character’s emotional journey. That’s what you have.” I think because of that his leaving and coming back, he became tilted toward the plot and the conspiracy. And I think we did a perfectly good job of wrapping it up, but it was not emotionally satisfying because it wasn’t the character’s emotional journey.

So that’s the lesson I learned, but I think what happened is any other show then that did a mythology thought, “Uh oh. We don’t want a backlash from the fans. We better watch ourselves.” But you see how hard it is. I mean, I didn’t follow “Lost” religiously. What I saw I thought was excellent. But I think they were trying very, very hard to honor their fans and make it satisfying for them at the end.   But you realize how difficult it is, especially if you’re on for a long time.

And if you talk to (the “Lost” producers), they will also argue that the show was about the characters, and yet what gets people angry is, “You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly.”

Frank Spotnitz: Well the thing is, and I do sense from what I know about the finale that’s exactly what the strategy was and I think that was the right strategy. But what happens is as you’re doing a show, you go, “Well I need this story so I can introduce this thread.” But it’s impossible to tile those threads up. And what I found in “The X-Files,” though, was actually if you tie up the really important threads, even the hardcore fans are happy. But if you do too many threads, you’ve got yourself in a problem you can’t solve. But you don’t know until you do it. Nobody knows until they do it.

CultBox: Frank Spotnitz ('Hunted') interview

Frank Spotnitz (‘Hunted’) interview
William Martin

[Original article]

CultBox caught up with The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz recently to chat about his new spy drama series, Hunted.

From the makers of Spooks, the eight-part series begins on BBC One tonight at 9pm and stars Melissa George (Grey’s Anatomy) as a highly skilled operative for an elite private intelligence firm.

> Order Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

Best known for writing nearly 50 episodes of The X-Files, Spotnitz was also co-executive producer of Millennium and co-wrote both The X-Files movies.

When did you first get the idea for Hunted and how has the show developed since your original idea?

“Well, I’d wanted to come to London for years and was trying to find a way to do it. I came up with the idea in 2009 because I realised I could do a spy series here that could compete with the best of AmericaN television.

“I’d been talking to the people at Kudos about doing a show since 2002 and they called me every year and then in 2009 I finally called them and said ‘I think I’ve got it’ and so it took from then to now to get it on the air.”

What were your inspirations for the show?

“Oh gosh, so many! Not surprisingly I’m a huge consumer of movies and television and this is my favourite genre. I’ve seen thousands of hours of every spy series and movie you can think of and the hard thing is to find something that hasn’t been done before. It’s really, really though.

“There were two things I felt were really central to this. One was the character of Sam Hunter; this female spy who is targeted for death and she doesn’t know who has targeted her or why. And the answer lies in her own troubled past. Imagine a female Jason Bourne as a real human being. This is a television series so it has to be character-based to be interesting.

“What’s she really going to be like if you met her? Warm and fuzzy and friendly? Or distant and removed and guarded? She’s going to be the latter; she kills people. She lies for a living, she’s going to be somebody with a lot of walls up. So I wondered: how did she get that way? How did this become her career? Probably some pretty terrible things happened to her in her life and that really is the heart of the show; the secret of Sam’s past.

“The second thing that really made me excited was the world of private intelligence. It’s become a huge business and I don’t think many people are aware of how many spy agencies there are in the world, operating for profit. They present a really interesting moral complexity as they’re not serving national interests; they’re serving the interests of private clients who may or may not be the good guys.”

Is there a larger story with Hunted beyond what’s told in this first series?

“Yeah, from doing The X-Files all those years I’m very good at answering one question and asking three others! So that’s kind of what happens in these first episodes. I think hopefully it’s a very satisfying emotional journey and you feel you’ve got a lot of answers by the end of the eighth hour, but there’s certainly a lot of room to go forward if the audience are so inclined.”

Does that mean we can expect a cliffhanger at the end of the series?

“Well, it’s not a cliffhanger because I don’t know whether there’ll be a second series at this point. You have to design it for both possibilities. If this is the end then it’s a great ride and that was  really satisfying ending, but if it’s not the end then there’s plenty more ground to cover in future series.”

Did you have Melissa George in mind as Sam when you wrote the part?

“No, I didn’t, and it was very hard to find the right actress for his part because there just aren’t that many people on the planet who look like Melissa looks, who have her physicality and who have her acting chops.

“This is a really demanding role emotionally. It’s very complicated, because she’s always playing two things at once. She’s playing this tough person, but then underneath you need to see that there is somebody you want to know more about. Most of the time in the series she’s undercover pretending to be somebody she isn’t. That’s fascinating to me too, because you often see sides of Sam through who she’s pretending to be.”

Hunted is launching almost a year after BBC One’s Spooks ended – do you think Spooks fans will enjoy the show?

“Well, I’ve got to say; I dread the comparisons to Spooks! Spooks is such a hugely successful and beloved series. I think you can only fail when you’re compared to something people have loved for so long. I know the comparisons are inevitable but I don’t welcome them because I don’t see it as a comparison I can win. It is another spy show but it’s very, very different. I hope people will judge it on its own merits.

“I think Spooks was just perfect for its time, coming on air right after 9/11 and it spoke to the time it was on so brilliantly. Hopefully we’re going to speak to the times we’re in now which are quite different. The world has become privatised and there are all kinds of interesting moral grey areas now that we can explore.

Do you approach writing action scenes in a different way to writing dialogue?

“Yeah, I do – and this goes back to my X-Files days – I try to imagine the visuals. I want to know when I deliver a script to the director that it can be executed. I don’t want to leave it to chance! So much of the challenge of television is communicating a vision successfully.”

Gillian Anderson is doing a lot of work on UK TV these days. Would you like to work with her again on a new show or on Hunted perhaps?

“That was my first idea actually! When I wanted to do a spy show in England she was my first call and she was attached to this for some time, but when I finally got the green light she couldn’t do it.

“I would work with her again in a second. Having worked with her on The X-Files for so long I know how great she is. I think she’s really one of the great actresses we have.”