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[Unknown]: Interview With Paul Rabwin, Producer for The X-Files

Interview With Paul Rabwin, Producer for The X-Files
Melissa Cooley

Melissa Cooley: When did you join 1013 Productions and The X-Files crew?

Paul Rabwin: I started with The X-Files when they first got their order to become a series. I didn’t join the company while they were shooting the pilot, but after they were “picked up” I started with them which would have been in early ’93, and I’ve been on the show since the very beginning. There are only about four of us left who have actually been with the series for the entire time.

MC: Oh, that’s great! I didn’t realize you were there when the show was in Vancouver too.

PR: Yeah, they were shooting in Vancouver. My role has always been specializing in post-production, and since our post-production is done in Los Angeles my office was at the studio of 20th Century Fox. I would go up to Vancouver on occasion, but most of the time I was here in Los Angeles.

MC: Oh, okay so it hasn’t changed too much for you then, since the move?

PR: Well actually, there are some significant changes obviously. I am able to spend more time on the set, deal with the actors and directors directly as opposed to by telephone. The most significant change for the productions moving to Los Angeles had been the look of the show. In fact, we were very concerned about it because the look of The X-Files had always been very dark and damp. It rained all of the time in Vancouver and was very gloomy, it kind of helped the whole concept of The X-Files. It was no accident that the very first shot of the very first episode that was filmed in Los Angeles was a close-up of the sun blazing over the desert. We did that intentionally just to show that there was going to be a new look, [laughs] and we couldn’t do anything about it.

MC: I remember that, it was great. What television and movies had you been involved with before The X-Files?

PR: I started in 1970 with a company called Quin Martin Productions, and Quin Martin produced some very good television series. I worked on The FBI Show, on Cannon, Barnaby Jones, and a wonderful series called The Streets of San Francisco. I directed all the second unit and car chases on The Streets of San Francisco and went on to do a couple of pilots and movies of the week over at Paramount, and then I was able to get on a series called Chips which I was involved with for four years as a producer. That was my biggest “credit” until I came upon this little science-fiction show called The X-Files, [laughs] I had no idea that it would be anything at all like it is .

MC: [Laughing] So you’ve been surprised by the popularity of it?

PR: Yeah, we were a little surprised at first. I knew it was a good show, that’s why I decided to accept the job, but I had no idea that it would take off the way that it did. It started with a cult status, and it blossomed to become a show that appealed to a great many people… I think the move to Sunday night also helped to increase its popularity, our ratings seemed to improve quite a bit after that point.

MC: Is there anything in particular that you feel makes The X-Files so appealing to different aspects of the audience, both the fan community and the “general viewing public?”

PR: Well, I think the thing that makes The X-Files unique and so appealing, first and foremost is the relationship of the two characters, Mulder and Scully. They are professionals, they are very good FBI agents, they are not romantically involved, they respect and admire each other as FBI agents, but they also have a personal relationship. In spite of what people say, they also relate to each other on a very personal level, but they are professional enough not to allow it to go beyond platonic… [laughing] now that could change, who knows! But I think the fact that they are so grounded in their work makes the show very appealing, they are of course very funny, they are both very good actors, they have a good sense of what their characters are supposed to be, I think people have related to that. I think the idea of us being a science fiction show is not exactly accurate, I think that it is a crime-drama which deals with the paranormal, and I think that is what makes it unique. I think the fact that imitators have tried to make science-fiction shows and have not succeeded as well attests to the fact that this is really a show about real people working in an area that we are not at all familiar with.

MC: That is great that you mentioned that, I was going to ask what you would categorize it as. As a producer, what are your specific duties?

PR: I am one about five producers now, the Writer-Producers work on the scripts and actually write the episodes. We have a Director-Producer who directs many of the episodes, a fellow named Kim Manners, and I am a producer whose specialty has been post-production. Which means, the areas that fall under my jurisdiction are: editing, music, sound effects, color, visual effects… a lot of the fun part of the show. I like to say, once the episode leaves the camera it comes into my jurisdiction– getting the film processed, getting it to the editors, getting it cut, and getting it finished so it can go on the air. In many ways, it is the “heart and soul” of a show like this, where so much works around visual effects and about the sound of the show, the color.. .we can make the hues bright or we can make them dull… and a lot of it has an effect on the feel of a particular episode. I find it a fascinating part of the business, and I have been able to use a lot of my experience on a show like this. It is very complex, it is like making a little feature every week. We really put a lot of effort into it, and a lot of money as a matter of fact.

MC: How much time is spent on each episode?

PR: Well, traditionally we spend close to ten days, sometimes more, actually filming the episode, and then we like to take about six weeks to get it finished to be put on the air. As we get closer to the end of the season that compacts dramatically, we have some shows that will be on the air a month after we start shooting, which is very very fast. But… we are accustomed to that, and we try not to cut too many corners when we have to do that, but it means weekends and late nights.

MC: This is rumored to be the last season of The X-Files, has that changed the feeling [of production] at all?

PR: Well, we are doing this interview on the 27th of March. There is a possibility that within the next few days or week, or hopefully within a couple of weeks, we should know the fate of The X-Files. It is not fully determined that it will be the last season, there are some issues and negotiations which are on-going, which may in fact bring us back for another season. Not being certain of that, the creator, Chris Carter, and his staff of writers are planning a final episode which will have two endings at the moment, one would be a finale to try to wrap up the series and the other will be a cliff-hanger to take us into another season. And we are at a bit of a disadvantage, not knowing yet exactly which way we are going to go… [laughs] so it is… interesting! By the time this gets published, or by the time your readers get this, we may have an idea.

MC: I have heard that will be a spin-off of The X-Files involving The Lone Gunmen, are you going to be involved with that at all?

PR: Yes, I am a producer on the spinoff series of The Lone Gunmen, and it seems like a very likely scenario for a spin-off. These three kooky geeks… computer geeks, have been involved in the show since late in the first season, and they have achieved a certain amount of popularity, they’ve had some comic relief, they are also very interesting guys. I think the nature of the show will be unique, there isn’t anything quite like that on the air, my guess is that if The X-Files doesn’t come back The Lone Gunmen have a very good chance of going on the schedule in the fall. If The X-Files does come back, I am not sure if it would be on the air in the fall, or if it might be a mid-season replacement, which means holding it back until January, which a lot of the networks seem to do with certain shows. Anyways, it looks great and I think it’s got a good chance of being picked up as a series… and that we won’t know until the middle of May.

MC: Were you involved at all with Harsh Realm or Millennium, Chris Carter’s other shows?

PR: I worked on Millennium… I liked Millennium! It was a very dark show, Millennium went through some changes over the course of its three years, and I think the audiences had a little trouble picking up on it and identifying with it, which is too bad, because I thought it was very well done. I thought Lance Henricksen was a terrific actor, and I quite enjoyed that show. Harsh Realm, I was not able to be involved with, I was around it, obviously offices were right next to mine and I was very familiar with the production as it was being done, but I did not work on that show specifically.

MC: I wanted to go back to what you were saying before about the feel of the editing and the action of the show, have there been specific things you have done to capture the spirit that was there in Vancouver as you guys have been in L.A., or have you more just recognized that you are in a different place… are there any problems that have come up?

PR: I think we have succeeded, we have shot certain shows at night, which gives it that creepy feel. We have tried to locate the show in areas that lend themselves to an X-Files feel, for example this year we did a show about snake handlers up in the Appalachians, and I think that was just naturally a very uncomfortable kind of arena to set a show in, I think that kind of gave it an X-Files feel. We don’t always get the rainy look being in Southern California, sometimes we manufacture our own rain. We did a show the first year we were in L.A. which took place during a hurricane in Florida and [laughing] all the rain was manufactured, we had big water trucks out there and fans and we created our own hurricane. So, we have the ability to capture the spirit of Vancouver, but the skies do tend to be a little bluer, and the we just compensate sometimes with the way we approach the look of the show after the fact, with the color, sometimes the camera man uses certain lenses that will give it an X-Files feel… I think we have been pretty successful in making it keep the spirit of Vancouver… it has it’s own special look now. If we ever were to shoot back in Vancouver, we would have to try and capture the L.A. look!

MC: Definitely, the show has evolved. There have been some fun episodes this season, the crossover with Cops… are there any more episodes coming up that are particularly unique?

PR: Oh sure, there is one that is being shot right now in which a quirk of nature produces a group of dopple-gangers, which are people who look exactly like other people, and cause havoc through misidentification and I think people are going to find that very amusing and are going to get a big kick out of that. We also have a very interesting episode coming up dealing with the tobacco industry and smoking and I think people are going to find that very very creepy and scary and relevant, and I think that is going to be a very popular episode.

MC: [laughing] Is CSM going to be involved at all in that one?

PR: [laughs] He might be… he might be involved.

MC: I’ll let you go in a minute, it sounds like you’re busy. I do have one more question… What do you think has been your favorite aspect of working with the show?

PR: Well, I guess my favorite aspect of working with the show has been the exposure to a whole new genre of series. This was a ground breaking television series, I think the realization of knowing that I was on a show that had historical significance as far as the history of television is concerned, is very very exciting. I have worked on many shows which were good, had great quality and that we look back upon fondly… but they aren’t going to be trivia questions in, you know… books years from now. I think there have been a handful of absolutely significant television breakthroughs, and I think The X-Files is one of them. I don’t think the nature of television drama is exactly the same, and I think it was a very exciting experience to be involved in that. It just made.. you know I have been involved with this for thirty years, and this has been an absolutely unique experience. The quality of this show, the amount of creative effort that we all have to put it into it is… different, and it’s really fun to do, there is no question about it.

MC: Well it’s fun to watch. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your time…

PR: Well thank you! This has been great, bye…

Los Angeles Times: X Marks Its Spot

Los Angeles Times
X Marks Its Spot
Greg Braxton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinefantastique: The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong on helping define Carter's vision

The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong on helping define Carter’s vision
Paula Vitaris

The writing and producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong spent a year and a half on The X-Files before departing to create their own show for Fox (the upcoming Space: Above and Beyond), but during their time on staff they gave birth to some of the X-Files’ most memorable moments and characters. The Lone Gunmen, Tooms, Luther Lee Boggs, Skinner and William, Margaret and Melissa Scully are all Morgan and Wong creations. Their episodes also helped to define The X-Files as not just about UFOs and aliens, and they expanded the characters by developing their backstories and shedding light on their motivations in such episodes as “Beyond The Sea,” “E.B.E,” and “One Breath.”

Morgan and Wong also brought to The X-Files their talents in the post-production process, with Wong in particular acknowledged by the X-Files staff as a master of editing (an assessment Morgan is the first to agree with). Paul Rabwin, who supervises The X-Files’ post production, worked closely with Morgan and Wong in all aspects of the post process. “Jim and Glen are perfect editing team,” he said. “They each trust their partner’s instincts. I’ve seen them run a problematic episode, zero in on the offending problem, and turn it around. The natural cinematic flow of drama comes naturally to them. They love sound effects and music: it’s exciting to watch them ‘finish’ an episode. The Satanic atmosphere which they created in ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’ was chillingly simple; most producers would’ve gone for the jugular, but they went for the cerebellum.”

The X-Files was Morgan and Wong’s first genre show. Friends since high school in San Diego, they studied film at Loyola Marymount University and then went to work as production assistants for producer Sandy Howard, whose output included Angel, Vice Squad, Meteor and the like. They saw a movie script produced – The Boys Next Door, directed by Penelope Spheeris and starring Maxwell Caulfield and Charlie Sheen – but they were not particularly happy with the result. After four lean years of writing more movie scripts, all unproduced, they moved into television, and joined Stephen Cannell Productions in 1989. Their time with Cannell was a productive one (Wong described it as “our graduate school”), where they absorbed everything they could about the craft of writing and producing for television. The shows they wrote for Cannell include Wiseguy, Booker and the obscure Disney/Cannell co-production, The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage (which starred Steven Williams, the future X), but their longest tenures were on 21 Jump Street and The Commish. Anxious to try their hand at something other than cop and action shows, they were on the verge of joining the writing staff of Moon Over Miami, when Peter Roth, president of 20th Century Television, asked them to watch a tape of The X- Files’ pilot. Immediately they knew this was the show they really wanted to write for.

“Die Hand Die Verletzt,” Morgan and Wong’s last episode, began and ended with messages to some of their favourite people. Die-hard fans of the San Diego Chargers, the two decided to show public support for the Super Bowl underdogs by changing their producer credits on the episode to read “James ‘Chargers’ Wong” and “Glen ‘Bolts Baby!’ Morgan.” And in the episode’s final scene, the message on the blackboard read, “It’s been nice working with you” – their farewell to cast and crew. “It just seemed perfect,” said Wong. “We wanted to make it fit within the show and for us, personally. I’m really happy with that.”

During Morgan and Wong’s last week on The X-Files, before they turned their attention full-time to their new show, they reflected on their time in the world of the paranormal. “We spent as much time as we could making it as perfect as we could. The attention to detail was so great because nobody was pushing us to turn over the show,” says Wong. Morgan attributed that artistic freedom to creator Chris Carter. “He really established, long before anybody else was here, that that was how it was going to be. He put his foot down when the money guys were going, ‘You’re done, move on.’ Chris will do that. He’s the one who established that’s how The X-Files was going to go.”

Writing for The X-Files, concluded Wong, “has been a great opportunity for us. We really are proud of the shows that we’re done and it’s been a great experience.