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Kodak ONFILM Interview: Rob Bowman

Kodak ONFILM Interview: Rob Bowman


[Original article here]

“Filmmaking like any art is subjective. It is one thing to get excited about an abstract idea and get it on paper as a script. It takes discipline to do the hard work necessary to translate that concept to film. A film look is kind of a magical interpretation of the story and performances. It’s a chemical process that sees images the way we do with our eyes. I know how the light will fall off in the background, and what we’ll see in the foreground. That’s especially important when we are telling stories through people’s eyes to show the audience what characters are thinking and feeling. The more I study and practice the art of filmmaking, the more I realize that happiness, frustration, sadness, victory and defeat are universal themes that evoke similar emotions everywhere in our country and the rest of the world. It’s a gamble every time you make a film, but that’s a really exciting part of being a filmmaker.”

Rob Bowman has produced and/or directed episodes of nearly 40 television series and movies and films for the cinema. He earned four consecutive Emmy nominations for The X-Files. A short list of his diverse credits includes the television series StarTrek: The Next Generation, Parker Lewis, The A-Team and Castle.

[All these films were shot on Kodak motion picture film.]


Filmmaking obviously runs in the Bowman family. Let’s begin this conversation with the father, Chuck Bowman. How long have you been producing and directing films?

CHUCK BOWMAN: I’ve been directing, producing and sometimes writing and acting in films for about 35 years. Before that I was a television newsman at KTLA in Los Angeles and at various stations in the Midwest.
Rob was born in Wichita Falls, Kansas, while I was working at a television station there. I was working my way to Los Angeles, because my goal was to work in the film industry. I got my first job in Los Angeles when Rob was 3 or 4 years old. I did voiceovers on travel shows.
I got into producing sportscasts and reporting during the mid- to-late 1960s and early 1970s. After a while, I decided it was time for me to buy some 16 mm camera gear and start producing and directing my own industrial films. Rob was the best crew member I had. His enthusiasm never wavered.
In 1976, I started producing television programs, beginning with Black Sheep Squadron, which was also known as Bah Bah Black Sheep. My next show was The Incredible Hulk. I produced and directed a lot of other shows, including about half of the Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman episodes, among others.

Rob, did you grow up knowing that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
As my dad mentioned, when I was very young and living in the Midwest, he brought me to places where he was working. I was a kid when my dad was working at KTLA. George Putnam was the news anchor. Near the end of the show, George would bring me on the set and stand me up on the news desk that he was sitting behind. The turning point was Thanksgiving Day when the station ran The Wizard of Oz. I was sitting on the floor at my uncle’s house. My dad was sitting in a chair right behind me. I remember this moment, exactly. I was completely swept away by the movie. That was the beginning of my fascination with making films. Knowing that things are ‘made’ was a very important lesson in my childhood. My mom was a highly-skilled seamstress and she used to make some of my clothes when I was little. I knew that she ‘made’ them. She had a skill and one can learn a skill. My grandfather was a painter and sculptor. He had a garage in Burbank that was a beautifully organized workshop. That is where I watched him create his artwork. Though he was a stern, old guy, his art always had a sense of humor. I realized he was always trying to entertain people and I found that fascinating.

How did that lead to you thinking about making films?
ROB BOWMAN: My dad was already making films and I wanted to understand the craftsmanship of filmmaking. From 4 years old through my teenage years, I was fascinated with the notion of organizing my thoughts and translating them into images that tell narrative stories. I had a normal childhood. I played sports, had girlfriends and did all the things that kids do. I grew up in Burbank in the shadows of Walt Disney Studios. Walt Disney was alive and The Wonderful World of Disney was on television on Sunday evenings. It was pure magic being a kid growing up in Burbank living near the place where Walt Disney created magic. If you didn’t go to Disneyland 50 times by the time you were 15, you weren’t up to snuff. I kind of turned away from it during in my late teens. Maybe it was too easy or too close. I went to Utah, where I became a ski bum and did some bartending.

How did you begin your journey into filmmaking?
ROB BOWMAN: I began by helping my dad on his projects. He was making documentaries, industrials and commercials and I worked with him from an early age. I took a film production class at the University of Utah. We were assigned to write, produce and direct a story. It became as clear to me as a Fourth of July fireworks display that was where my passion was. I was one of three people who wrote a screenplay. I got the other two people’s drafts and rewrote the whole thing in one night. A buddy of mine who is now a director and friend starred in it. That was the equivalent of putting my toe in the water, and realizing how badly I wanted to swim in the filmmaking business. I couldn’t get back to Los Angeles fast enough. I got a job in the mail room at Stephen Cannell’s production company. I took film classes and spent my days getting people coffee, Xeroxing scripts and doing whatever I had to do to pay my rent. I realized that a lot of people wanted to be filmmakers. I recall asking myself, ‘Why would somebody hire me?’ That’s when I realized I had to find my own point of view, my signature approach to filmmaking. First, I studied the great directors: Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick and many others. I was on a mission to see what appealed to me about their films and what didn’t. My goal was to develop my own signature. It took me a few years. My time at Cannell’s company was where the day-to-day, real world of filmmaking took place.

In retrospect, what were you learning?
ROB BOWMAN: I was learning how they told stories on film. Cannell always aspired to reach the highest levels of filmmaking. That experience helped me to understand and appreciate what it takes to tell a worthwhile story on film. I watched approximately 400 hours of television shows being made during the two-and-a-half years I worked there. It was an incredibly dense, seven-day-a-week education.

Who were the people who influenced you?
ROB BOWMAN: Obviously, my father is at the top of that list. One of the important lessons I learned was his work ethic. Filmmaking, like any art, is subjective. There is no one right way to tell any story on film. It’s not like you are selling insurance for a living. I think I was 20 years old when I made a commitment to succeed in the film industry no matter what it took. I wrote a mission statement for myself. I promised myself that I would not fail through lack of effort. Stephen Cannell was also obviously a big influence. I learned that creating art on film takes inspiration, discipline and hard work.

You are more than a little passionate about this subject, aren’t you?
ROB BOWMAN: I love talking about film. Telling stories on film is a very tricky thing to do because you are creating two-dimensional images that you want to have a three-dimensional impact. How do I construct images with dialogue and music so they’ll move the audience? How do I draw the audience into the story and evoke emotions, including laughter, suspense, tension, excitement – all those things and more? Getting it perfect every time is virtually impossible, but that’s the dream I keep chasing. Every day, I ask myself, ‘How can we make this a better story?’ I don’t worry about tomorrow. I concentrate on what I have to do to make this scene jump off the screen. It’s more of a challenge today that ever, because there are so many channels and options for the audience. I feel like I’m auditioning for the audience’s attention every day that I have a program on the air.

You don’t seem to have focused on comedy, drama or any other genre. You like to do all of it?
ROB BOWMAN: I have always wanted to try my hand at making films which are funny, dramatic, action-packed, creepy, and everything else. I have felt from the beginning that if I have passion and enthusiasm for a project, the only thing that could get in my way is me. I believe that if you never quit, you will never fail. You’ll have ups and downs, good times and bad times, including doing your best work when nobody is looking. All you can control is aspiring to produce the highest quality films possible, and don’t let rejection, frustration or fatigue discourage you. You are in charge of your own destiny.

How did you decide to focus on producing and directing?
ROB BOWMAN: It was my opinion early on that the director was the one who makes the movie, but I’ve learned that it takes many people to make films. Directing is the creative, organizational process of translating the script to the screen. I also like producing because it enables me to encourage, cajole and nurture other filmmakers. But, the most alive I feel is when I’m directing. It’s also when I feel most vulnerable because of the unpredictable variables. It keeps me on my toes and oddly enough I get bored if I don’t feel slightly overwhelmed.

Don’t you think filmmaking is probably the most collaborative art form?
ROB BOWMAN: No one makes worthwhile stories on film alone. It begins with the writer who starts with an idea and blank pieces of paper. As a director, I draw diagrams of how things should move and the choreography between the subject and camera before I shoot anything. When I walk on the set, I begin working with the cast and crew. But, the writer begins with a blank page. That strikes me as a daunting mission. My first obligation is to deliver what he or she intended. My second obligation is to elevate it and make it better.

When you’re reading the script for the first time, do you talk to the writers and make suggestions?
ROB BOWMAN: Absolutely. I torture the writers, because I want to talk about everything. I ask about their intentions for the story because sometimes the writers don’t always get their stories on the page exactly the way they want. We’ll talk about the central idea—is there a better way to express it? Sometimes I may have a suggestion about structure, action or dialogue. It’s that critical back and forth with a writer that I need and enjoy. I cannot say enough how much I appreciate writers.

Obviously, getting the right words on the paper is just the beginning, isn’t it? 
ROB BOWMAN: Everyone makes a contribution. There is a critical relationship with everyone involved in the making of a film or TV show. From the writer to the producers to the actors to the editor to the people who make the sound effects to the composer to the colorist – all the people who touch the project elevate it. By the time it’s finished, it’s greater than the sum of the parts.

How about sharing memories about some of your early projects?
ROB BOWMAN: After I left Stephen Cannell’s company and floated a video of my work around town, the first people to respond were Rick Berman and Bob Justman, the executive producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was around 26 years old and probably looked like I was 19. Bob Justman said he liked my footage but was concerned about my age. Rick Berman popped his head in the door and asked ‘Are you the pizza delivery boy?’ I said, ‘No, I’m Rob Bowman.’ From that day forward, he would occasionally refer to me as ‘pizza boy’ and say, ‘Hey, great film, can you shoot a little faster?’ I remember the month before I directed my first episode; I was going to the sets quite frequently to figure out what I was going to do. The sets were a big part of the story. They were modified from Star Trek movies and were huge. Star Trek had a large cast, and they all got close-ups. One of my challenges was figuring out how to do that and also use the environment. I storyboarded the entire episode, but I was terrified. We started with a daunting scene with 10 or 12 people on the bridge set. On the first or second day of production, the Enterprise was hit by a photon torpedo. I asked the cinematographer, how do I make the ship shake when the torpedo hits? He grabbed the magazine on the Panaflex camera and said, ‘You tell me when the torpedo hits and I’ll shake it like this.’ I thought he was being sarcastic, and said, ‘Don’t play with me. I just want to know how to do it.’ He said, ‘I’m telling you.’ I asked him twice, and he said the same thing twice. So, I said, ‘Okay, shake the camera on cue, but the ship gets hit on the left side, so it’s going have to tilt the other way. The cinematographer said, ‘Tell the actors to lean camera right or left.’ The next day the dailies came in and the impact was perfect. It’s difficult explaining how I felt standing on that multimillion dollar Star Trek set with the legendary Gene Roddenberry, creating a believable effect by yanking the camera magazine around.

Does that feeling ever go away?
ROB BOWMAN: No. I have earned a lot of credits for producing and directing, but the thing that has never changed is my love for doing my homework – sitting alone with a pencil and script, dreaming up and executing ideas on a set.

What was the next television show that made an impact on you?
ROB BOWMAN: That’s like asking who my favorite child is. Parker Lewis was interesting, because it was a comedy with aggressive camera movement. That landed me my first movie (Airborne), a little film about rollerblading with a young Jack Black and Seth Green in the cast.

After directing that film, you went back to producing and directing episodic television programs. Please share some thoughts about that.
ROB BOWMAN: I saw a trailer for the pilot of The X-Files. There was a shot of a kid standing in the forest with leaves swirling around him. I said that’s the show I want to work on. I called my agent and asked him to get me an interview. I just got to work on one episode during the first season. I loved it. We tried some pretty unusual things to grab attention, including shooting dialogue scenes with silhouettes of characters, and long sequences with no dialogue that required some savvy camerawork. I remember thinking; this is a television show where you have to be a filmmaker. That was what Chris Carter expected from everybody.

You directed more than 30 episodes of The X-Files and earned Emmy® nominations for four consecutive years. You also produced more than 90 episodes. What do you remember most about those years?
ROB BOWMAN: I just felt it was the right place for me. I remember us shooting a night scene on a farm that was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I called Chris Carter and told him that in order to get this done in one day, I was going to have to cut back and forth between what they are looking at and their faces. That means you can’t change it in editing. He gave me the go ahead. I had a great time because it was a tremendous challenge. The next season, they asked me to stay on as producer/director. It took me about half a second to decide that’s what I wanted to do.

How do you make decisions to make commitments like that?
ROB BOWMAN: I believe it’s the result of having spent all that time with my dad when he was doing those industrial films when I was a kid, and then going through an apprenticeship with Stephen Cannell. I also learned a lot while I was working under Gene Roddenberry on StarTrek: The Next Generation and being mentored by (executive producer/director) Jeff Bleckner. He took me on as sort of a protégé when I directed a few episodes of Mancuso, FBI. Jeff is a wonderfully finessed director who knows where to place the camera and how to talk to actors with brevity and accuracy. Dan Curtis was another great mentor whom I worked with on Dark Shadows. I remember my agent calling me and saying Dan Curtis wanted to meet me. I was 29 years old. At one point in our conversation, Dan asked, ‘If you weren’t a director, what would you be doing?’ When I told him that I didn’t have an answer, he said that’s what he had wanted to hear. Dan took me under his wing. He called me his surrogate son. He took me to dailies for other shows and explained what he liked, what he didn’t like and why. After the first day of production of an episode that I directed, he told me that I had what it takes and that he thought I was going to have a big career.

What was the next step on your journey?
ROB BOWMAN: My singular focus was directing and producing The X-Files over the next eight to nine years.

How did you create paranormal monsters?
ROB BOWMAN: That was another learning experience. The monsters were usually either robotic, which meant they moved funny, or it was a guy wearing a rubber suit or prosthetics. Whenever a monster would come on the set, I would turn off lights until there was just enough illumination to get a sense of the creature. Not a literal sense—just sort of a visceral sense of the creature. It was interesting because you couldn’t see how big it was or what sort of murderous weaponry it carried. Leaving those things to the imagination was a lot scarier. We took a ‘much less is more’ approach to filming those atmosphere scenes, because there are no limits when you engage the audience’s imagination.

That also had to stretch your imagination.
ROB BOWMAN: There is no reason why you can’t take a cinematic approach to storytelling on an episodic television series. Sometimes filmmaking is more about what the audience doesn’t see. It’s like the downbeats in between the notes that engage them.

How do you define cinematic storytelling?
ROB BOWMAN: Using images to evoke emotions and feelings is cinematic storytelling.

When you are directing, are you generally in the video village or at the camera with the actors?
ROB BOWMAN: Both. A lot of the time I want to be with actors who are in front of the camera, where I’m an eye-witness as it is happening. Other times, I want to be at the monitor in the video village because I want to make sure everything is in the right place in the frame.

I can tell from our conversation that you use light, shadows and darkness as well as words and the actors’ performances to tell stories.
ROB BOWMAN: I’ve always been conscience about how you can use light and the absence of light as a narrative tool. It’s another way of conveying emotions as subtext for the dialogue. Earlier in my career, Stewart Copeland, a drummer for The Police, scored my first movie. He invited me to visit museums in England and see the paintings. I went to his place in the northern countryside and hung out with him for a while. Then, I visited the British Museum which has more mummies than paintings. I went on to Paris, where I stayed in tiny hotel room across the street from the Louvre and other museums. I walked to each museum and looked at 500 to 600 year old paintings that were among the most beautiful things I had ever seen. There was no electricity when those paintings were made. The artists used sunlight and candles, and shadows and darkness like words. It was remarkably simple and effective. I also went to see Dutch master paintings in Amsterdam. There was a painting that had sunlight coming horizontally through a window and falling on a wall covered with heavily textured stucco. I noticed the way that the artist used sunlight reflecting off walls to motivate light on faces.

How did that influence your thinking about producing and directing The X- Files?
ROB BOWMAN: I had the cinematographer place big lights outside of windows. That allowed us to shoot faster while getting the right looks. We used silhouettes and darkness to create a very specific look for the show.

That’s interesting. You almost sound like a cinematographer.
ROB BOWMAN: I get eye rolling when I say this to the wrong person, but I like to paint with light. Lighting films is a form of painting. Sometimes you do it just right and other times you miss. I keep trying to do it better.

We also wanted to ask you to share some memories The A-Team television series. You produced more than 30 episodes of that program.
ROB BOWMAN: The A-Team was produced and aired during the mid-1980s. My claim to fame was that I directed montage scenes. The montages were used as cutaways to close-ups of faces of characters as bridges between first and second unit shots. I have to admit that it was fun.

In 2002, you directed a movie called Reign of Fire. What was that like?
ROB BOWMAN: Reign of Fire was a story about fire-breathing dragons which come out of the center of the Earth and attack mankind. I envisioned a very gritty sort of William Wyler-approach to making this film with dragons that look real. I thought it would take about three weeks to design the dragons. It ended up taking many months.

The visual effects artists started with illustrations and built a digital dragon. We brought a paleontologist in to scrutinize it. He told me it wouldn’t fly because it was too heavy. It needed bigger wings and the legs were too skinny. He explained that the dragon weighs four tons. It needed big legs that could carry that weight. We didn’t want it to look like an alien. It was supposed to be a freak of nature—sort of a hybrid between an alligator and king cobra snake. I was determined that it look like a misfit of nature with the goal of creating a visceral reaction. I wanted everything else to be realistic, including wardrobe, music, set construction, performances, camera work, lighting, color timing and mixing. I was aware of how fragile the idea of that movie was. I planned to focus on what it was like to live in an environment like that.

Let’s fast-forward to Castle, a relatively new episodic series that you are producing and occasionally directing.
ROB BOWMAN: The story revolves around the relationship between Castle, who writes mystery fiction novels, and a detective named Kathy Beckett. Castle gets permission from the mayor to tag along with Beckett during murder investigations. He is seeking inspiration for new stories. Kathy was motivated to become a homicide detective because her mother was murdered, and her killer was never found. This is serious work for her. She doesn’t joke around. Castle, on the other hand, can be goofy and funny at times.

Their relationship is fascinating. They seem like people we all know.
ROB BOWMAN: Ninety-five percent of what happens in each episode is in the script. The rest are spontaneous things which happen while we are shooting. Stana Katic plays Kate Beckett and Nathan Fillion plays Castle. They have both brought their characters to life. I also have to applaud Andrew Marlowe. He created the concept, writes many of the scripts and shepherds the other screenplays to keep them realistic and occasionally funny.

You are producing Castle and directing some episodes. You have spoken eloquently about why it is so important for different films to have the right visual grammar. Which cinematographer was brought onboard to collaborate on this project?
ROB BOWMAN: The cinematographer is Bill Roe (ASC). We have a tremendous relationship, because Bill knows and appreciates how important his lighting is to me. I admire and respect him for what he does. We push each other and collaborate to keep each other in the game. Bill will ask if it is okay if this person is standing or sitting here instead of there. My answer is always, of course. We push and challenge each other in kind of a brotherly relationship that includes everything from cajoling to sarcasm and criticism. It’s a very active verbal relationship that is all in fun and in the right spirit. I admire his ability to create the right images for different situations. We have to shoot so many pages every day, so there is no time for being overly clever. If I can get in my car at the end of the day, and say we did a good job of telling the story, I go home feeling good.

Why do you produce Castle on film?
ROB BOWMAN: If I want to watch a television program with a live look, I’ll tune in a football game or watch the news. A film look is kind of a magical interpretation of the story and performances. It’s a chemical process that sees images the way we do with our eyes. Those images are sent to our brain. There is a random disbursement of silver halide crystals on each frame of film that gets sparked to life by light like its passing through a magical filter. I don’t mean for that to be a technical explanation. It’s something I feel. You are painting pictures with light. The nuances in densities of light falling on someone’s face that we can capture on film is how I see the world with my own eyes. I know exactly what it’s going to look like. In fact, I rarely watch dailies, because I know what we are getting when we’re shooting film. I know how the light will fall off in the background and what we’ll see in the foreground. That’s especially important when we are telling stories through people’s eyes. I want the audience to know what characters are thinking and feeling. Film gives you that latitude. I know how the images will look on film if we decide to be slightly out of focus. If you shoot the same set with an HD camera that interesting texture in the background becomes a distracting highlight.

Those are intriguing aesthetic issues. Are there also practical issues?
ROB BOWMAN: We have to shoot a lot of pages every day to produce an episodic series. There are enough things that can go wrong and to slow you down. If a film camera gets sick, it tells you right away to stop filming because something is broken. With an HD camera, you can shoot a sequence and move to the next location where the assistant cameraman tells you, it looks like we didn’t record anything at the last location.

Are there other intangibles?
ROB BOWMAN: Another intangible is the myth that producing in HD format is cheaper. I don’t agree. One of the studios did a total cost analysis. Because of the perception that digital production costs less, some directors do a lot more takes. They think it is free, but then they have hours of extra dailies that they have to watch. Film is also a proven archival medium. We watch television shows today that were shot on film 40 or more years ago. Digital archives have to be updated and migrated whenever the technology changes.

What role do you think films play in our society? Are they just entertainment or something more?
ROB BOWMAN: Film is a way of telling stories in communal environments, ranging from movie theaters to television screens in our homes. Films influence how we think and feel about the world. We can learn from the experiences of characters in films and television programs about everything from the darker side of life to what it is like to live in the White House.

The first episode of the third season of Castle aired just before we began this conversation. How has it been received by the audience and how is the story evolving?
ROB BOWMAN: The audience for the first episode was 33-percent higher than last year. That tells us that the audience has connected with Rick Castle and Kate Beckett and their dedication to bringing criminals to justice. Filmmaking is a fascinating experience. A writer makes up an adventure and puts the words on paper. You rehearse and decide how it should play on a television screen to engage the attention of millions of people. I think that the more you study and practice the art of filmmaking, you more you realize that happiness, frustration, sadness, victory and defeat are universal themes that evoke similar emotions from people in this country and everywhere else in the rest world. It’s a gamble every time you make a film, but that’s a really exciting part of being a filmmaker.

When students and other young filmmakers ask you for advice about what it takes to succeed in this very competitive industry what do you tell them?
ROB BOWMAN: I tell them they need the talent to create ideas for telling stories on film, and the discipline that it takes to produce those stories. I tell them that they better have a spine of steel and be committed to dealing with peer pressure, frustration and rejection because filmmaking is a subjective art. You may think something is funny or romantic but someone you are collaborating with may not agree. It can be pretty devastating when someone tells you that you aren’t good enough to make films. I went through so much of that during my 20s, but it just made me more committed to following my dreams.

Kodak InCamera Web Exclusives: The Cinema History Behind ABC’s Castle

Kodak InCamera Web Exclusives: The Cinema History Behind ABC’s Castle

[Original article here]

Rob Bowman has television in his blood. His father, Chuck Bowman, directed and produced hundreds of hours of prime time television, working on hit shows like Jake and the Fatman, Alien Nation, The Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

“My father grew up in the Midwest and he used the movies as an escape,” says the younger Bowman. “He knew all the directors, actors, producers and studios, and discussing the filmmaking craft was normal dinner conversation in our house. We grew up with an awareness of how many craftspeople it took behind the scenes to make the magic that appeared on the screen. We also knew that when it was done right all that hard work becomes invisible, and what remains are the emotions and the drama of the story and the characters. What remains is the magic.”

The elder Bowman made documentaries and local commercials, and Rob tagged along from an early age, holding a reflector or loading the camera. Eventually the family moved to Burbank, and while the father became a successful television director and producer, the son hung out at the video store and became an expert on the history of motion pictures.

“My goal was to see and understand exactly what my heroes did,” says Rob. “I think the most exciting aspect was seeing how each director used the exact same tools to construct their own incredibly distinct aesthetic. I learned early on that to be successful as a director, you had to have your own signature. Otherwise, why hire one person over another? Just by watching all these movies and seeing what I responded to, I’d started to develop my own aesthetic as well. Becoming a filmmaker wasn’t the most secure ambition, so I wanted to do whatever I could to make it work and I knew that the best thing I could do was to come to it with a strong point of view.”Bowman has gone on to have a major impact on today’s television entertainment. He was a key contributor to The X-Files, and is credited with changing the way television looks. The success of The X-Files also had a ripple effect on the writing and editing styles of the TV shows that followed.

“The X-Files came at a time when television was ready to jump forward in its film look, in its film aesthetic, as well as in the storytelling and production values,” says Bowman. “Around that time, you started seeing more feature film producers getting involved in television. On X-Files, we were dealing with paranormal, supernatural themes, and sometimes what you can’t see has a much stronger emotional impact. Shadows became an important narrative part of the show and part of its whole look. We tried to take our time and be very careful about how we lit each scene.”

The X-Files brought Bowman together with Bill Roe, ASC. Their collaboration continues today on the series Castle, which stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a well-known author of mystery novels who tries to overcome his writer’s block by tagging along on police investigations. Stana Katic stars as the no-nonsense detective who grudgingly admits that Castle’s imagination and ability to think like a criminal helps solve cases. Romantic sparks fly between the pair and there are occasional comedic moments.Bowman and Roe photograph Castle entirely on KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 film. They usually use two cameras, often with 11:1 zoom lenses and classical camera movement.

“The camera is moving pretty much every shot,” says Roe. “Often the movement is subtle – we call it ‘drifting.’ We use sliders, dolly track, or whatever seems appropriate for a given shot. We have a lot of dialog on Castle, so we try to spice it up with some movement and bold colors.

“Rob and I both come from a widescreen, anamorphic background,” adds Roe. “We stack things up by staying on the long end of the zooms. We like framing the actors really tight, no headroom, and keeping the camera off their shoulder instead of over their ear. When things get intense, in the interrogation room, for example, we sometimes shoot 360-degree shots that put the actor in the center of the frame with the background moving behind them.”

Roe says that his history with Bowman informs their choices on Castle. “We all learned a lot on The X-Files,” he says. “That was really a groundbreaking show. It’s not as easy as people think to shoot something very dark yet still maintain layers in that darkness. On Castle, we’re shooting eight or nine pages a day. You have to be as creative as possible within that difficult schedule. You have to have a crew that is willing to push themselves in order to keep things fresh.”

The tight television schedule is one reason Bowman and Roe insist on shooting 35 mm film. “There are two main reasons why film is right for Castle,” says Bowman, who serves as executive producer and directs some episodes. “This is a fast-paced production with a lot of setups and a lot of cuts. I wanted to be able to promise to deliver a quality show on time and within the budget. I knew I didn’t need to add more technology to the set. I needed to keep the set as simple and dependable as possible. We average 55 setups a day. Some days we do 40 and some days we do 80. From a purely practical sense, a camera that is only plugged into a battery is a better idea.

“Last year, ABC Studios did a full cost impact comparing film and HD,” Bowman says. “When they included updating archives, adding another AVID and another assistant for all the footage, et cetera, they found very little difference. Also, with film you don’t have tents on the set where everybody and their mother are commenting on the look. You’re still going into color timing in post anyway, so color timing on the set just slows you down. We just don’t have time for that. I think that digital production was sold with some numerical aphrodisiacs – numbers that weren’t really grounded in the realities of production.

“But ideally, the decision about which medium to use should be an aesthetic choice about what looks right for your show,” Bowman continues. “We feel that the dynamic range of film is superior to HD. It has better blacks and it holds the highlights better. Bill and I prefer the look and softness of film. It’s a chemical process, more like how our brains work. There’s an indescribable, warm feeling we have when we watch film. Digital has a starker look. And I think that turning images into numbers and retranslating them back into images for viewing, as is done in digital formats, has a different emotional effect on people.”

The right cinematographer, according to Bowman, is the one who will tell the story from the script, rather than from his or her own predilections. Roe fits that description. “Even though he is very unpretentious about his work, Bill really is a poet with light,” he says. “He reads the script, sees what the narrative is, and identifies the emotional values. The textures, colors and compositions grow out of that. Quite often people bring their historical baggage with them and just do the same old thing, or copy something they saw somewhere else. What’s interesting to me is telling this particular story using the pace, rhythm, locations, and the direction and nature of the light. All these are expressive tools. Bill’s lighting is not showy. He doesn’t light for light’s sake.”

Film’s archival qualities also appeal to Bowman, which makes sense given his respect for cinema history. “Once you make archival files in a certain digital format, you know that format is going to change,” he says. “If you need to go back to that format, and there’s nothing to play it back, that product is as good as gone. Film is as universal as the alphabet. It’s always going to be there as long as you keep it safe and sound. We joke in the editing room that when you lock picture, you better be happy with it, because for the rest of your life and long after you’re dead that is the cut. Have Gun, Will Travel still airs on the Western channel, even though most of the people who made it aren’t with us any more. I don’t think they’ve really worked out a dependable solution for digital archiving. But film has worked for a long time.”

Castle earned three 2010 Emmy nominations. The third season of the series began airing in September 2010.

DGA Magazine: Directing The X-Files

DGA Magazine
Directing The X-Files

Kim Manners looks into his monitors as yet another take is completed on “Audrey Pauley,” episode 13 of the ninth season of The X-Files. “Cut – Print it! Next!” he yells after doing that little karate move with his hands that everybody around the set imitates. The crew immediately picks up and begins to arrange the next setup, seemingly willing to do anything to ‘Mind Their Manners.’ The director comfortably steps aside for an interview as his crew happily prepares another shot.

It’s a virtual Kim Manners Love fest on Stage 5 at 20th Century-Fox. Actress Annabeth Gish (Agent Monica Reyes) dashes by, eager to put her two cents on tape: “He’s one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with.” The respect goes both ways. “These actors are talented enough; they come in and you believe them,” Manners said. “And when you believe the actors, the audience believes it.”

Manners is shooting his 50th episode of the show this day. The series will end later this year, with the completion of a total of 201 episodes, a quarter of them directed by one man. There have been a number of top-notch directors over the years, and the list continues to grow.

The directors are only part of a team that has endured a change in locale (from Vancouver to Los Angeles), which required replacing the entire crew, as well as major changes to the cast. But the tone and style of the show have remained consistent, under executive producer Chris Carter’s leadership.

The X-Files has a tightly functioning team of producers, writers, directors, UPMs and ADs that is able to turn out one of the more complicated shows on television, all in an 11-day shooting schedule. “We have all the special effects, all the scope, all the production value that you’d have in a feature film, just in a compact period of time,” 1st AD Barry Thomas said. “The difficulty is shooting a one-hour movie in eight main unit days.”

Each episode is shot using one of two alternating director/AD teams, doing principal photography with the main unit for eight days, followed by three days of 2nd unit work. The director follows his episode into the 2nd unit, while the main unit begins work on the next episode with yet another director and AD. The 2nd unit has its own AD and 2nd ADs. “The 2nd unit’s really another main unit,” line producer Harry V. Bring said. “It’s not like we give them all the car crashes and all the stunts. It’s whatever fits the schedule with the actors’ scheduling. They get drama scenes, spooky scenes, monster scenes, just like the 1st unit. We don’t necessarily delineate.”

Planning, of course, is a primary element in keeping The X-Files machine running smoothly, and communication is essential. The process starts with a “concept meeting,” which occurs upon delivery of an episode’s script, seven days before filming is to begin. The concept meeting is run by that episode’s 1st AD, and is attended by the director and the heads of the major departments – production design, props, costume, special effects and visual effects. The AD goes around the table and gives each department head the opportunity to answer any questions they may have about the script as they begin their prep. “Chris Carter is intimately involved,” said UPM/co-producer Tim Silver. “Chris’s ideas and his concepts for the series and for each episode can be seen in each frame. One way or another, it’s there.”

Seven days later, on the day before shooting, a “production meeting” is held, attended, once again, by the director and department heads. In this case, instead of going over the script department-by-department, the group goes through the script from beginning to end. “We go scene by scene through the script, letting anybody jump in with questions,” executive producer Frank Spotnitz explained.

Later that day, a “tone meeting” is held, attended by the director, the script’s writer and one of the senior producers, either Carter, Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan or John Shiban, all of whom are also writers for the show. “Again, we start on page one, and we go to the last page,” Spotnitz said. “We are as specific as we can be about who the characters are, what’s motivating them, what’s working underneath the surface. Everything we can think of to talk about to ensure that the director is successful.” The tone meeting marks “the day before you hit the beach,” according to Chris Carter. “We discuss what we want to make sure that we do and make sure that we don’t do.”

“Those meetings were what created the magic in the storytelling,” recalled Rob Bowman, who directed X-Files for seven seasons, as well as directed The X-Files feature film. “It was there that I could look into the writer’s eyes. I was able to get into their head, and they were able to get into mine. Maybe there’s something I didn’t understand in the script, or maybe I misinterpreted something. You can just walk through those things.” Often, for Bowman, after weeks of shooting 14-hour days, remembering those conversations provided the inspiration to complete a scene, sometimes even making use of a recording made of them. “I might be feeling, ‘I just want to crawl into a hole and die right now, I’m so cold and tired.’ And I play that tape, and I could hear myself and the writer – most often it was Chris – talking enthusiastically, like campfire storytelling. You’re put back in that moment when you weren’t tired, and you say, ‘Oh, that’s right, now I remember.'”

The writer on The X-Files is intimately involved with the look of his episode – even to the point of providing shot direction in the script. “That’s kind of something unusual about this show,” Spotnitz said. “But the truth is, if you didn’t do that on an X-Files show, you’d just never make it.”

X-Files scripts, Manners says, are the tops. The best ones “are the scripts that, when I read them, visually I am excited. When I read the script, I go to the movies.”

The movies Manners saw as a boy were those of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Vincent Price – “This is my niche,” he said. The director recalled one of his X-Files shows, “Home,” written by Glen Morgan and Jim Wong, which featured three mutant brothers and their armless and legless mother, who lived in a cart under a bed, and with whom they had an incestuous relationship. “The picture opened with this woman giving birth on a kitchen table during a thunderstorm. You never saw the baby, but these three brothers carried it outside and buried it alive, because they didn’t want this terrible genealogy to continue. I read it, and I went, ‘Now this is a classic horror script.’ There are episodes that, when you read them – bang! – the images just leap into your head.”

Believability is the key goal for The X-Files, and that, said Manners, is the result of a combination of good scripts, good acting and good directing.

“This is a very difficult show. If you don’t do this show right, it would be the most ridiculous show on television. I mean, I directed an episode, ‘Leonard Betts,’ where a guy had his head cut off in the teaser, and he grew a new one.” If the show is grounded in reality, though, through solid acting performances and quality writing, said Bowman, “we found out that you’ve actually got latitude to do some pretty absurd things. If you can get people at the end of an episode to shake their head and laugh and say, ‘I don’t know – maybe,’ then that is a huge victory.”

Manners himself comes from a showbiz family. His father, Sam, was a production manager on such TV classics as Route 66 and The Wild Wild West. Kim was “a set rat,” he said, both watching and participating, as a child actor, appearing in his first commercial at the age of 3, selling Chevrolets. A year later, on his way home from watching William Beaudine, Sr., whom he called “Gramps,” direct an episode of Rin Tin Tin, the younger Manners told his father, “I want to do what Gramps does when I grow up. He gets to tell the cowboys and Indians what to do.”

A few decades later, Manners found himself climbing his way up the ladder, working as an assistant director and UPM on a number of shows before landing the title of director in 1978 on an episode of Charlie’s Angels. “I’ve been through all of them: the Simon and Simons, the Hardcastle and McCormicks, the Stingrays, the Wiseguys, the 21 Jump Streets.” Manners joined The X-Files during its second season on recommendation from both Bowman, who’d been with the show on its first season, and writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, with whom he had worked on 21 Jump Street.

Manners had worked on and off for years in Vancouver, where The X-Files was filmed for its first five seasons, and eventually was hired “in passing” by Chris Carter, he said, in the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel. “He brings a wealth and breadth of experience that few television directors have,” Carter said of Manners, “particularly if you consider the hours of TV and amount of film that he has shot. He understands everything about filmmaking.”

Manners’ experience as both a production manager and as an AD is not lost on the crew either. “Having come from a production manager background,” said line producer Harry Bring, “he thinks that way when he’s plotting out his day and moves, very efficiently, through the day to maximize it. His creative eye is wonderful, his storytelling is wonderful, and he does diligent homework.” Manners is renowned on the set for his preparedness. “Kim is the best prepared director I’ve ever worked with,” said 1st AD Barry Thomas. “He’s so prepared that he calls me on the weekends, prior to a week’s shooting, and gives me the number of setups and any special equipment notes I need for the entire week.”

“On Monday morning, I know every shot that I want for the week,” Manners said. “I’ll get with my 1st AD, and I’ll give him the number of shots in each scene, and we’ll talk about how best to organize it. I look for an assistant to help me organize the most efficient way to approach a week’s work. I’ve been working with Barry [Thomas] so long – he knows what I want: To stay ahead of me. Keep feeding me. Keep the crew informed.”

From the crew, the feeling is mutual, according to Thomas. “The crew appreciates his ability to compromise, to shoot efficiently, and to not waste time. It’s so important in episodic television, where you’ve got to be quick on your feet and come up with compromises and solutions quickly.”

The actors love him, as well, both for his compassion and respect for them, and for his directing skill. “He has an extraordinary visual eye,” lead actress Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully) said of the director. “He knows everything about the camera and about what one will see – where to put the camera in a shot in order to move the story forward.” For instance, filming repeated conversations on the set of FBI Assistant Director Skinner’s office could easily become run-of-the-mill. “But it’s never tired, it’s never just ‘another episode of television’ to him,” Spotnitz added. “He kills himself every time out, puts his heart and soul into it. And everybody sees it.”

Manners rarely rehearses his actors, except, perhaps, for the camera crew for a difficult move. “We’ll normally shoot the rehearsal,” he said. “I like the spontaneity of it. And most of the actors would rather shoot it first time.” He is also intimately involved with post-production. “What airs is most often my cut.” And because he is a co-executive producer, and “because I’ve been here so long,” his word counts when going over the other producers’ notes in the editing room. “I must say, they’re very willing to cut their dialogue and preserve some of the shots that we worked so hard to get. So it’s a very satisfying environment in that regard.”

Bowman has an equal respect for his former directing partner, with whom he would alternate each week (along with director R.W. Goodwin, who was with the show for its first five years) until his departure after season seven. “I’ve seen Kim tired, well beyond what’s good for him, and still right on his toes.” Bowman, currently completing Spyglass Entertainment/Disney’s summer fantasy, Reign of Fire, became attracted to X-Files after seeing a commercial for the series’ pilot. Raised on such shows as The Night Stalker and Night Gallery, he was hooked by the trailer, and eventually got on board, directing his first episode in the first season, “Gender Bender.” “I thought the whole process and the way the team worked and the way Chris [Carter] was aiming the show was something I wanted to be a part of badly. So I asked to come back as much as possible.”

He directed again in the show’s second season, after which Carter asked him to stay on full time as a producer/director. “It took me about a second and a half to make that decision,” he recalled.

According to Manners, he and Bowman set the tone for the series. “Robby and I set a real different look for the show. It’s a much different look in seasons two and three than in season one. Our styles are similar but not exact.”

“Rob is very precise, very aware of everything going on in the scene,” said Spotnitz. He’s “always looking for the detail that’s going to distinguish that moment from any other moment ever done.” Bowman has great respect for actors – going as far as studying acting himself in order to better understand their craft. “It completely changed my point of view about where my paint brush should go on the canvas, since the actor was going to be the one telling my story,” he said.

While Manners is “very good at the monster episodes,” Bowman said, his own preference was for the “conspiracy” stories. “At one point, I told Chris, ‘Please don’t give me those monster episodes.’ I just have such a tough time looking at the man in a rubber suit and taking it seriously.” The balance between the two was “a perfect marriage,” he said.

After Bowman left the show, he was replaced by several directors, among them Tony Wharmby, who recently had to leave to attend to personal matters, though not before leaving his own mark on the show. “Tony is a wonderful director of actors,” Carter said. “He doesn’t sit at the monitor like the rest of us do. He will stay right there with the actors and direct them from inside the room or next to the camera. And while he makes beautiful pictures, the performance is what matters to him.”

Interestingly, Carter himself has directed a number of episodes over the years (typically one or two per year). That number will increase, as he steps in to take up the slack caused by Wharmby’s absence, increasing the workload on the show’s creator, executive producer, chief writer and overall mastermind. He first took on the job in the series’ second year, when director Bryan Spicer was unable to do a scheduled episode. “I gave myself the job,” Carter said. “I was director by day, a writer by night – rewriting episodes coming up, planning the direction of the show, trying to produce other episodes. It was something that required a tremendous focus, I learned.”

Directing by cast and crew is something The X-Files regularly affords its family members, and, in fact, encourages. After seeing her cast-mate, David Duchovny, direct an episode, Gillian Anderson finally answered the call two years ago, not only directing but writing the script herself. Her show, “All Things,” focused on her own character’s personal life and relationships.

The experience was a great learning experience for Anderson, in all facets of filmmaking. With regard to directing other actors, “I’m actually surprised I hadn’t thought about this,” she admits. “Being an actor, I kind of assumed that I would know what to say to the actors. But that wasn’t the case.” Anderson involved herself in everything, from casting to post-production.

“I think that was a turning point in Gillian’s career,” commented her boss, Chris Carter. “I can see it now, especially directing her as an actress, that she understands camera direction in a way that she might not have before.” Anderson plans on continuing her directing career after the show ends, having optioned a book, Speed of Light, which she is currently adapting and plans to direct.

Actors are not the only X-Files’ family members to direct. 1st AD Barry Thomas directed an episode last year, as did executive producer Frank Spotnitz, who also took another turn in the current season. “This is my eighth year on the show, so I was very late to attempt it,” he admits. He was reluctant about the idea of directing, but eventually warmed to the idea. “It’s a very difficult show, because performance is really important to make something that’s kind of unbelievable seem believable. There are also very specific visual requirements. And when you’re trying to scare people or create suspense, if the camera’s not in the right place by even a few degrees, it makes a huge difference.” Having written the two scripts he shot helped to give him an edge. “When you’ve written the material yourself, it’s already in your own head, you understand all of the dramatic objectives.”

Co-executive producer Michelle MacLaren also took a shot this year, skillfully directing writer Vince Gilligan’s “John Doe.” MacLaren had wanted to direct for some time, taking directing courses to prepare her. Carter and Spotnitz agreed, scheduling MacLaren in early in the season, avoiding having the director’s duties interfere with her already heavy workload as a producer. Like the others, Michelle sought guidance from Manners, who went over breaking down the script, doing homework and preparing shot lists. “The most powerful thing he said to me was that he imagines it all cut together, and he sees the movie in his head, really visualizes it.” Chris Carter gave her some important advice, as well: “Make sure that the camera is always telling the story.”

“It’s a very, very supportive, creative atmosphere here,” she said. “And Chris is really generous in giving first-time directors a shot. To direct for your first time on a show like this is pretty incredible.”

It’s not always easy bringing in new directors on an established show, Carter said. “You step onto a moving platform here. You really need to understand the characters, and you need to be able to understand the mood.” Carter is always willing to give a new director a chance, though, “Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. And when you find a hit, you try to keep that person in the camp.”

In the last few years, the X-Files’ team has had to deal with two major changes – the introduction of new lead characters and a major move from Canada to Los Angeles. Following the announcement of David Duchovny’s departure two years ago (though his character has returned occasionally after being brought back to life, X-Files style), Anderson, who had played his partner, decided she, too, would be moving on after this season. Though the series is to come to an end this year, Anderson’s character’s role had been scaled back, first with the introduction of actor Robert Patrick’s Agent John Doggett character and, more recently, Annabeth Gish’s Agent Monica Reyes.

The changes have been both a challenge and an opportunity. “We wanted to preserve the Mulder/Scully relationships after David Duchovny left the show,” explained Spotnitz. “We knew all along that we were going to introduce another pair of characters,” Patrick’s Doggett at the beginning of the eighth season to replace Duchovny, and then Gish for a few episodes at the end of that season and all of the ninth. “Very consciously, you know you need the skeptic and believer characters. But we didn’t want to undermine or tarnish the Mulder/Scully relationship by having Scully have a new partner.”

And how have the directors handled the change? “It was very exciting for me when Robert Patrick came on,” Manners said. “After being on the show for seven seasons, suddenly I’ve got rebirth, creatively, because I’ve got a new guy to play with. All new options. Then Annabeth came in. So for me, I’ve got a whole new reason to get out of bed in the morning.” And, as with the directors, Manners assisted the new lead actors in fitting into their roles. “He sort of grandfathered me in,” Gish said. “He was kind of my umbilical cord, pulling me in and welcoming me. He sat down with me, wanting to find out how I work, and also to communicate the way the show works. He was like my ‘sponsor.'”

The move from shooting in Vancouver (based at North Shore Studios) to sunny California was similarly both a challenge and a nice change. “The obvious difference is the climate,” explained Bowman. Manners added that, “You realize that rain should be appreciated through a window.”

The change was brought on at David Duchovny’s suggestion, who wanted to return south. “After I was done kissing David,” Manners joked, “we moved to Los Angeles, and I was the happiest guy on the freeway.”

The change in locale allowed changes in story, as well, as new types of locations could be utilized. “More often than not, in Vancouver, we got moody clouds and fog and rain. In Los Angeles, you’ve got chipper yellow sun, Mexican restaurants and palm trees,” explained Bowman.

“One of our editors made a joke the first season in Los Angeles: ‘The show used to be dark and wet, and now it’s dark and dry,'” Spotnitz said.

The move to Los Angeles also allowed the writing and producing team, who were always based in Los Angeles, to be near the camera, which rarely occurred in Vancouver, save for a three-day trip north to prep each episode. “We ended up being insulated from an awful lot of day-to-day decisions,” said Spotnitz, “and now that’s not true.”

The difficulties came in having to give up a well-loved crew/family in Vancouver and quickly build a new one in Los Angeles, which, Spotnitz said, was partly accomplished by bringing in a number of people from the 1998 X-Files theatrical feature. “Leaving those people behind, who had basically helped make life for the show, was the hardest for me,” said Rob Bowman.

However, moving to Los Angeles meant building a team out of the world’s best crewmembers. “We were in a very enviable position moving here in that we were already a top show. We got here, and we kind of had our pick of the town,” Spotnitz said.

Here’s a crew that’s basically got to take a show that’s already become semi-legendary, and take the baton and try to cross the finish line and not lose the lead,” added Bowman. “Quickly, deftly, and with great dexterity, the L.A. crew just jumped right in and found equally as strong a visual vocabulary.”

So how will The X-Files end when filming wraps later this year? A two-parter – both parts to be directed by Manners – will bring the series to a close, though that’s not the end of the story. “The plan, hopefully, is that X-Files will become a movie series,” Carter said. “But that’s a fantasy, and we’ve got to still do them one at a time.” In the meantime, he and Spotnitz are developing an untitled feature project for Miramax/Dimension, and, Carter said, he still owes Fox another pilot.

And what of Kim Manners? “I’m hoping to move into long forms. I’d love to do films for theatrical release. But leaving the X-Files family will not be easy. This is a very difficult show. And we each help each other get through it. It’ll never be that way again. I’m savoring these last episodes that I have to direct. And they’re memories that I’ll never forget.”

Sci-Fi Age Magazine: As The X-Files moves to L.A., the series' stars consider season six

Sci-Fi Age Magazine
As The X-Files moves to L.A., the series’ stars consider season six
Melissa J. Perenson

Where does a television show go when it’s coming off a summer that saw the release of a successful feature film, the relocation of production, and a whopping 16 Emmy Award nominations? Well, when you’re the X-Files, you keep on doing what you do best: Throwing curve balls to your audience while striving to reinvent yourself and raise the creative bar even higher.

The X-Files is due for a shake up. After all, the series is entering its sixth season, a time in any show’s life span during which lethargy can set in and stories can become stale. But the series’ new Los Angeles home base, coupled with the events of The X-Files movie, which answered some long-standing questions as well as raised a host of new ones, have ensured that The X-Files is in no danger of succumbing to the perils that afflict long-running series.

The movie may have focused on the black oil, but the coming season will explore the conflicting alien factions introduced in such episodes as “Patient X,/The Red and The Black.” “We’ll see a lot more of that,” promises series creator and executive producer Chris Carter. “Now that we’ve set it up with the black oil, we can explore that.”

Meanwhile expect intrepid FBI Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) to come to terms with their experiences in Antarctica, and to convince others of the fantastical events they witnessed there. “It will have to be dealt with as the series goes forward. But that’s the fun of the series. It’s going to be getting people to believe that this is, in fact, going to happen,” Carter offers. “And Mulder and Scully still may have been told some lies. We still don’t know. We’ll play with this and continue on with that conspiracy.” A central component of the mythology thus far, Scully’s abduction back in season two and the consequences of that abduction, will be addressed in the coming year, as will questions surrounding what really happened to Mulder’s sister, Samantha.

Originally, the truth about Samantha had been addressed in the movie’s limousine scene with Mulder and Well Manicured Man (John Neville), but it quickly became lost within the context of the film. “We realized that there was a lot of information to digest in that part of the movie, and it ended up coming out of the blue in a way that made the scene less easy to understand,” explains Carter. “So we decided to take out that scene and play with it in season six.”

Even though it was Scully’s evidence that convinced the FBI to reopen the X-Files, early word about the coming season is that Mulder and Scully are off the X-Files and have a new boss, although their former superior, Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), will continue to help them off the record. Two characters introduced in the fifth season, Agents Spender (Chris Owens) and Fowley (Mimi Rogers), have been assigned to the X-Files instead. Picking up on the story line from the fifth season’s finale, the first episode jumps right in by revisiting Gibson, the chess playing child prodigy whose ability to tap his brain’s God module could hold the key to explaining the nature of paranormal phenomena.

That’s not all that’s revisited. “We’ve established Mimi Rogers as an old flame coming in, so I think that [the audiences] are going to have to accept it, [allow us] to play that out,” Carter says, presumably well aware that he’s broaching dangerous territory in the eyes of both those that wish to see Mulder and Scully move their relationship to the next level, and those who wish to avoid the series deteriorate into a soap opera.

The direction of Mulder and Scully’s relationship is a topic of hot debate. “From day one we’ve been talking about the fact that it just wouldn’t work in the series,” remarks Anderson, “but I’m curious as to how, after the movie and the extra zing that’s in the film and whether it should or shouldn’t influence how we are with each other in the series. If it does, how will it influence the work that we do? I don’t know.”

Duchovny is equally unsure of what’s right for the show. “It’s hard to say what would ruin the show, or what would make it good, without actually doing it. But [a relationship] could be interesting. If we had someone come in who wrote beautifully in that direction I’m sure it would work, but I don’t see that happening.”

Although the X-Files will always be defined by its eerie look, that look is bound to change now that the show has moved from dark and atmospheric Vancouver to bright and sunny Los Angeles. “It’s obvious it will change,” affirms Carter. “I’ll have a new crew. I’ll have a new environment to shoot in. We’ll have bright sunshine in the daytime, although if it’s anything like last year, it will be just like Vancouver; the weather in Los Angeles was so bad last year.”

Shooting in LA’s environs presents a new creative challenge to the production, and not just to avoid inadvertently getting palm trees into scenes that are supposed to be set in Maine. “It’s going to be different because you’re not going to get the diffuse light every day, you’re going to get hard sun and you’re going to get LA sun,” explains Rob Bowman, who’s directed over 25 episodes as well as the movie. That’s different from what we’re used to.”

Look to the bright lighting seen in the film for an example of what the X-Files may look like in the future. “[The movie] certainly was harder because day exterior in the Mojave desert is about as hot a light as you can get and about as far from Vancouver as there is,” says Bowman. “But the movie couldn’t all of a sudden look like another show. I had to make it look like The X-Files.”

Bowman has a similarly positive spin on the impact the movie will have on the series. “I think it might be farewell to an old friend and hello to a new one. We’ll find a new look that takes the old one and goes a little further with it,” he says confidently. “That’s what we must do because we certainly can’t go backward.””

Adds Carter, “We’ll just use the new environment to our advantage. Just make a virtue out of the problem, which is that we’re now shooting in sort of a concrete jungle. [we’ll] tell stories that we wouldn’t have been able to tell in Vancouver, so I think it’s going to be an interesting opportunity.”

Carter draws on reality for many of the ideas for the series. “People say, ‘Where do you get all these wild ideas?’ Many of them come directly from science. The show needs a scientific foundation, because that is Scully’s point of view. Without a Scully point of view, you’ve got no point/counterpoint. So it’s important the science be accurate, and it’s important that the science be good, because it provides the leaping-off point for the rest of the show,” maintains Carter.

When conceiving the series pivotal mythology episodes, Carter knows where he’s ending up, but not necessarily how he’s going to get there. “I have a big general idea of what the conspiracy means and what the conspiracy is,” he explains, ” but as we go forward, we find new little things to do to add to it. And so that’s the fun of it. If you set everything down too clearly for yourself in the beginning, I think you end up without the sort of wonderful discovery of new things to add in. So, I think flexibility is important in this kind of storytelling. Also the faith that you’re going to make the right choices as you go forward.”

“We don’t have ending points. Sometimes we don’t know, and that’s part of the excitement of the show to us, too, [as writers],” contributes Frank Spotnitz, co-executive producer on the series. “Chris is very specific on where he wants the show to be and he’s not willing to say, ‘okay, that’s close enough to what I had in mind.’ He won’t do that.”

The series’ intelligent, and at times convoluted and contradictory, stories often subscribe to the tenet that less is more. “I think far more often that approach is appreciated by the audience. That’s one of the reasons why the show is so successful,” reasons Spotnitz. “You’re left to put the pieces together yourself in order to understand the conspiracy. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, and we keep adding new pieces and taking pieces away. There’s an awful lot of questions that aren’t resolved and that’s what makes the show interesting.”

“You know, you make a mistake in thinking the audience is not as smart as you are. I think the audience is very smart,” elaborates Carter. “I think the audience is very sophisticated. We have so much information these days. Everyone knows about the human genome project now that’s going on; it’s in the paper every day. While the dialogue [of the show] is sophisticated, it also never attempts to confuse or baffle.” Well, perhaps not consciously, at any rate.

Another unusual thing about The X-Files is the show’s application of a cinematic approach to making television. “We try to tell our stories visually and we use a lot of movie conventions in the telling of our stories. It just feels like a movie most weeks, anyway. And that’s our goal,” says Spotnitz.

“Now after having made the movie, I know whatever you do in television isn’t quite cinematic because making a movie is a much more elaborate process than making a television show,” admits Carter. “But, we tell the stories as if they were little movies, and we take a big screen approach on the small screen in the way we tell our stories and the way the shows are directed, certainly, and in the way the stories are very plot driven. They are good, round mysteries, and a lot of television gets by on character development ensembles, a-b-c-d-e-f-g stories. The X-Files tells one good, strong story every episode, and I think that’s much more of a movie approach.”

Even the series’ recurring, mysteriously named characters have come to life. “After working with so many scripts and telling so many stories with these ancillary characters with names, if there’s more than three of them, you’ve got your work cut out for you just to remember who these people are,” explains Bowman of the nomenclature system developed. “So Chris’s approach was: He’s just a guy smoking a cigarette, that’s all he is. So, he’s Cigarette Smoking Man. When CSM started the series, he was leaning against a filing cabinet listening to a conversation and not reacting at all. He was a paper figure. Then you start to learn more about him. It’s funny because on the set we’re always making up new ones. And we’ve been through Plain Clothes Man, Red Hair Man, and Black Tie Man, but it makes it easy for identification.”

The X-Files’ real ace in the hole, however, lies in the chemistry between leads Duchovny and Anderson. Together, Duchovny and Anderson have taken the art of subtlety to new heights. Certainly, these two roles, like the cases the duo investigate, have proven to be anything but ordinary over the years

“It’s incredibly gratifying,” says Anderson of what it’s been like to play Dana Scully. “It would have been harder to stick with it were I not playing such an intelligent, such an interesting, and multidimensional character as Scully is. When I read the pilot, I was struck how unlike a TV script it was and, also, by how complicated and interesting the relationship was between Mulder and Scully. I think that more than anything,” she continues, “[it was] her intelligence and her strength in standing up to Mulder and feeling confident about expressing her beliefs in front of somebody who was touted as being near God in terms of his work at the FBI.”

From Duchovny’s perspective, Mulder is perhaps the hero who’s best described as the anti hero. “He is a loser. He just never succeeds, basically. He doesn’t get what he wants. He doesn’t win fist fights. He doesn’t get the girl,” notes Duchovny. “I like him as a hero because I always intended to play him as a guy who doesn’t win but who seems to win. That is, I think, a difficult thing to do. People at home see that Mulder is right, so it’s all kind of skewed in his favor. We’ve seen what he sees. We know that he’s right, that his quest is good and moral and all of that. In that sense he’s more of a straight-up hero.”

As stimulating as the characters are, though, both actors admit to feeling the strain of The X-Files’ intense grind, a strain which was only amplified by spending the hiatus between the fourth and fifth seasons filming the feature.

“Some days it’s not fresh and it’s not exciting. Some days it is. It usually has to do with the challenge of the material. If there is a difficult scene to do or a fun scene to do or a challenging scene to do – then it’s fresh and exciting. If there are just five pages of back story, dates, figures, numbers, or names, then it’s just hell,” explains Duchovny. “It’s not really the show or Mulder. It’s the bare fact of doing the same show and the same part for five years.”

“I think that these survivor mechanisms just poke up and rear their heads,” Anderson muses of the relationship between the grueling hours on the set and her performance. “Sometimes – a lot of times – I’m dead on my feet, and sometimes I phone it in and sometimes I have the energy to keep going and be better and better. It just depends.” With all the key players, including leads Duchovny and Anderson and Carter, signed through seven seasons, the current expectations are that The X-Files will continue its fast track run on television before releasing a second feature. in the meantime, the show will strive to improve upon itself, completing its evolution from cult hit to mainstream phenomenon. Notes Duchovny, “It’s fairly unique in the fact that it takes 100 clichéd elements, puts them all together and makes something new. It is the Night Stalker. It is sometimes a medical drama, as bogus as it can be. It’s bogus in its chastity and its repartee between Mulder and Scully. And it’s creepy for the kids. You take all of those things together and, somehow, it comes off as being fresh, unique and original. You could never have sat down and predicted it. It wasn’t in the pilot I read. It’s something that has grown of as all of the ingredients in the show have grown, as Chris, Gillian, Rob, and myself have grown as performers, directors, writers, whatever. It just becomes better and better.”

SFX Magazine: Rob Bowman: The X-Files Mythology Guy

Sep-??-1998 (?)
SFX Magazine
Rob Bowman: The X-Files Mythology Guy

Mania Magazine: X-Files Director Rob Bowman Talks with Mania

Mania Magazine
X-Files Director Rob Bowman Talks with Mania
Valarie Thorpe

It almost sounds like a cruel joke.

Take one of the most successful television series currently on air, that the faithful have tuned in, turned on and deconstructed every bit of its five-year way, and now successfully move it to the big screen — movies, theater takes, box office draws, film festivals, Oscars…

No pressure.

Your past resume?

Directed a bunch of Star Trek:TNG and the 1993 movie Airborne, its greatest claim to fame being that it starred Buffy’s Seth Green. Oh yeah, and 25 episodes of the aforementioned TV series, The X-Files.

Rob Bowman is the recipient of what may turn out to be either the greatest chance or greatest disaster of his career.

The X-Files movie would seem to be poised perfectly for a box office blockbuster. The much-maligned secrecy surrounding Godzilla has taken the heat off The X-Files’ cloak and dagger act. They are releasing to an audience clamoring for a blockbuster that Godzilla didn’t deliver; moviegoers now appear ready and willing to hit the theaters.

So far, unbelievably, Deep Impact has pulled in as the summer sleeper hit, and it came out in the Spring. This may have Armageddon makers worried, but shouldn’t have any impact on the X-Files audience. No, the plain, simple, perhaps very frightening truth is: this movie will make it or not on its merits – and Rob Bowman wouldn’t want it any other way.

Looking extremely relaxed for a man who still has final edits to make, Bowman finishes up a quick snack backstage at the X-Files Expo in Washington DC, the only stop on the tour he’ll have a chance to attend.

“We still have to finish things up,” Bowman said. “I’ll probably be running from theater to theater getting the final cut, still wet, to them,” he said with the hearty laugh of a man who is very secure in what he’s about to deliver to X-philes everywhere. “We’re in the final stages of dubbing music, but it is definitely a wet print situation.”

Mania: When did you get started with the X-Files?

Rob Bowman: “I directed one episode in the first season, “Gender Bender.” I became interested when I saw a promo for the pilot and I’ve always been interested in the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe and stuff, so I called my agent and asked him to set up a meeting.”

How does the series compare with feature film work?

“Most TV series don’t have the freedom we have because of restrictions of time and money. The recent episode written by William Gibson, “Killswitch” took 22 days to shoot. But having those freedoms isn’t going to make you a good director. A lot of directors that have tried to shoot an X-Files episode run into trouble when they believe that access to a lot of stuff is going to shoot the episode for them.

They’ll say, “What if I have a crane?” Well, you always have a crane. “What about 300 extras?” Sure. “Ok, then how about 600 extras?”

Then it becomes about what they can use and they don’t know what to do with it. You have to have the vision first, the stuff comes second.

Only a few of us that have come to the party have hung around. Glad that I fell in step with it.

Airborne was my first major studio work. It was absolutely helpful when I approached the way we shoot X-Files episodes because we take a feature mentality to the series.”

What are your thoughts concerning the move to L.A.?

“The atmospheric qualities are different. The moods will become more manufactured than just a given. We’ll probably be doing a lot more interior shots. We just need great location managers who can find places with no palm trees,” he said with a laugh. “Another problem will be the time spent travelling. We’ll definitely be spending more time going from location to location. In Vancouver, we could go from forest to farmland in 30 minutes. We’ll probably be using the desert a lot more.”

How much of a difference will audiences see in the movie compared to the TV series?

“Not a lot of difference. Larger of course. We aimed quite high in some sequences. It’s been extremely challenging. The question we put to ourselves was, do you make it different or do you make it more? Audiences become comfortable with certain aspects and you don’t want to rip all that out from under them. Like the legends that tell the location, we could do them as big fancy LED readouts or somesuch, but in the end we decided to keep it the same plain way we do it on the series. Let’s not take away that which they’re familiar. They’ll cheer when they see it. Of course some things are on a much grander scale. We throw a heck of a lot more rocks at Mulder and Scully.”

We answer some long standing questions and of course we pose new questions.

Why no Krycek?

“I wasn’t really involved in the casting, but if you guys go to see the first movie and make it successful, I’ll guarantee Krycek will be in the next movie.”

Bowman has nothing but praise for everyone that worked on the project and gets as excited as a, well, as an X-fan, when he talks about making the movie. So did everything go exactly the way he wanted? Possibly not.

Reportedly audiences don’t see too much of the aliens in the feature film. When asked if this was on purpose, Bowman told Variety in a recent interview that was definitely not the plan.

“Number 1, I didn’t have an alien that was a groundbreaker,” Bowman says. “Number 2, it’s not as scary if you see it. And number 3, it was a guy in a rubber suit, and it looks like a guy wearing a rubber suit.”

Bowman told Variety there were folds at the arms of the costume and the seat of its pants sagged. He also said the feet were “stupid-looking”, so he made him wear tennis shoes. The designers also added reptile skin and claws. But Bowman said since the fingers were extensions, the alien’s fingers wiggled when he waved his hand.

Despite the problems, the director said all of this contributed to the film’s unique visual style: “I was as non-literal and sketchy and evasive with the alien as I could be.”

This all sounds a little ominous, but in the tradition of The X-Files television series, maybe we should just know the truth is out there, but never really get to see it.