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PEIA: The X-Files Articles

At the start of season 7, the men behind TXF look to the past and future
(Frank Spotnitz-Vince Gillian Interview)
by Melissa J. Perenson
posted at Newsgroups:
posted by: alfornos

The November 1999 issue of Science Fiction Age features another Melissa Perenson interview with Frank Spotnitz with some great comments by Vince Gilligan about writing the M&S relationship:

p. 20-23

[color photos accompanying article: Mulder and soldiers in Dreamland, M&S in Monday, CC directs WBD in Triangle, Ed Asner & Lily Tomlin, M&S in Triangle, Victoria Jackson in Rain King, Scully on the beach in Biogenesis, Scully & Morris in Dreamland]

When TXF first debuted in 1993, no one could have predicted the heights of success the series would reach. Now six seasons and a $180 million grossing feature later, the show is still going strong, having ranked 12th overall for the 1998-99 television season, according to Entertainment Weekly. In other words, reports of X's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz's take on the media backlash: "I really think that part of it is that we are not the new kid on the block anymore, and the novelty has kind of worn off," he says, speaking from 1013 Productions' offices on the Twentieth Century Fox lot in LA.

Of course, following the hype behind TXF initial feature film outing and the highly-publicized move from Vancouver to LA last summer, the spotlight has been intently focused on the show this past season. The move only helped the series, maintains FS. "One of our editors put it very well: Before the show was dark and wet, and now the show is dark and dry. And I think that's exactly right," FS says of XF dark, cinematic look that had long been credited to the natural Vancouver environs. "I think we were very successful in maintaining the look of the show. I actually think that the story that was in the media last summer as we made the move was because [the media] was getting ready to knock us down."

There was one unanticipated snafu with the move to LA that the producers had to contend with. "The budgetary pressure on us was enormous," says FS.

"We had huge pressure from the studio to contain costs. And X Files is a very expensive show to produce, because it's extremely dependent on locations and action, much more so I think than most television shows. But I think, by and large we were pretty smart about the ways we saved money. I don't think most people at home noticed the cost-cutting measures that we took."

One such measure was the 6th season's Christmas episode, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. Even though that episode guest-starred such familiar Hollywood names as Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin, "it was essentially one location and one set," explains FS. "And that was the least expensive episode we did all year long," Likewise, Milagro - the episode in which DS is stalked by a novel writer - drew heavily on FM's apartment building and M&S's office, again helping to conserve costs. Often, FS says, the writers found themselves trying to use existing sets and to craft stories that could be told economically.

In contrast, the episode upon which no cost was spared was the third episode of the season, Triangle. "That one proved to be very expensive, much more expensive than we realized - and that was one of the episodes that was like a lightning rod for the studio," chuckles FS. "But I'm proud of that episode and that we pulled it off, and very proud of Chris [Carter] for how cleverly he had to write it to allow it to be shot that way, and how he directed it. It was a bold experiment; the first day of shooting we were still prepared to drop the whole approach if it didn't work and shoot it in a more traditional fashion. But it did work."

Early on in the season, though, the producers decided to have a little fun with the new environs. "It's interesting. In the beginning we thought, 'Hey, we're in the desert, let's go shoot all these desert locations we never could do while we were in Vancouver," remembers FS. But, as they soon discovered, shooting in the desert "posed more headaches than we'd realized. So we ended up coming back to familiar East Coast types of locations that we could duplicate in Los Angeles."

The show's writer-producers - a core trio that includes FS, co-executive producer Vince Gilligan, and producer John Shiban - also took some creative chances in the first half of the season. Once past the urge to take Agents M&S out to newly accessible desert locales - an urge that passed quickly when it became evident that the two-hour drive to shoot on location provided more headaches than payoff - the stories instead played with keeping M&S off the X Files. And there were enough successive whimsical and humor-driven episodes in the first half of the seaon that many viewers were left wondering when, exactly, TXF switched its format from drama to comedy.

The seemingly rapid-fire succession of lighter episodes - including the innovative Triangle, Dreamland I and II and Ghosts - was not intentional, though. "It just worked out that way, I found," admits FS. "I think it was just the relief we all felt that the movie was behind us."

More conscious was the use of familiar Hollywood faces as guest stars.

"We definitely deliberately chose to cast familiar faces in Dreamland and in How the Ghosts Stole Christmas; it just felt right. We looked at actors for the role that Michael McKean played, who weren't familiar faces, and it just, it was more fun to have somebody people know because it was a comedy."

In other episodes, which featured such actors as Bruce Campbell and Victoria Jackson, the casting decisions were driven simply by who was the best actor for the part.

Looking back on the season, some of the episodes worked, and others, FS acknowledges, did not. "I don't want to single them out. There were a couple that I don't think were what we wanted them to be but there always are every season. I still think on the whole this was a very consistent season.

I look back at some of the klunkers in years' past, and I think we did pretty well."

This is TXF, after all, though, and by mid-season the angst had returned in full force. Most significant was the two-part mythology arc 2F and 1S.

The decision to advance - and essentially resolve - the mythology was a conscious one on the part of FS and series creator CC. "We just realized, as we sat down to the mythology episodes for February, that we'd reached a critical mass," FS explains. "By definition every time you tell a new story you have to complicate [the mythology], you can't just keep repeating the same old information." Tackling the mythology in the 6th season offered the element of surprise. Hence, he adds, why they decided, "that we're just going to bring it all to a head now. And so we did. I know there's a lot of questions of mythology that a lot of people still aren't clear on, but the reality is, most of the big answers have already been given."

For those still puzzling over XF twists and turns, don't lose hope.

"You'll see some smaller answers in the coming episodes," promises FS. "But if somebody wants a more definitive answer to a lot of other questions, it's going to have to be in interviews with me and Chris in some other medium."

The end of one aspect of the show has meant the birth of another. "We really brought an end to the conspiracy that had driven the show since the [sic] second season. We've delivered on our promise [of 'full disclosure'], says FS. "And the big question, the big mythological question that started the series, is still out there: What became of Mulder's sister? I think that's where we'll end up at the end of the season finale, at the end of our seventh year."

FS is counting on season 7 being the final season of TXF. "If anyone was asking me, I would say let's finish up while everybody still loves us and while the quality is still high. And we can look foward to doing movies afterward."

But nothing's in stone yet. Star GA (Agent Scully) is contracted for 8 seasons, as is much of the supporting cast. And although star DD (Agent Mulder) has been vocal in the past about not continuing after fulfilling his contract at the end of season 7, DD was quoted this past summer during a TV Critics Association press conference as saying in response to whether there would be an 8th season, "I would never say never about anything."

The new directions for the show stem from Biogenesis, the 6th-season finale which left FM in an asylum and DS far off on the coast of Africa investigating evidence of an alien spacecraft. "We opened up a new chapter [of the mythology] in Biogenesis which is less-conspiracy driven," says FS.

"Now, you're going to see the repercussions of what this discovery of the spaceship on the African coast means - the race to claim it and to use whatever power it gives the possessor. But it's a much simpler story line and I think it's accessible to everyone."

Expect the show to come full circle in the 7th season, FS elaborates, as "it will deal very directly with Mulder's sister and with the relationship between Mulder and Scully."

For as much change that may lie ahead, fundamentally TXF is still going to be the same XF that first attracted audiences in those early years - and in fact attracted some of the show's producers to become involved in the series to begin with. Remembers VG, whose first XF spec script aired in the 3rd season, "I watched the very first episode, I was home alone one Friday night back in '93, and I'd heard about this new show called The X Files. So I said, 'Well, what the heck. Nothing else is on.' And I happened to watch it. Within the first 20 minutes, I was hooked. I mean, the relationship between Mulder and Scully, there's a definite chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson that was immediately apparent to me. It was a very intelligent show, it didn't talk down to the audience, and it had a lot of science and interesting ideas in it. I liked every aspect of it. I loved the way it looked. It was the whole package."

Unlike other writers, VG picked up on M&S's voice right away. Yet the voice of M&S is typically cited as the most elusive and difficult thing for writers outside the show - and sometimes, even, for those within the series - to achieve. "I felt I understood where they both were coming from," VG says modestly. "It doesn't mean I'm a genius or anything, it's something I guess I just sort of intrinsically understood. I sort of liken it to this big poster with weird patterns on it; if you stare at it long enough, you see the 3-D image pop out. And I think [M&S] are sort of like that, to my mind.

Some people see that 3-D image, and other people can stare at those posters all day and just see weird patterns. And this is an image I was able to see right from the start. I think it comes from the great love and affection I have for the characters - and for the theme and concept of the show."

That personal investment is necessary in all of the producer's commitments to the series. Right down to how they decide the content for the next XF. "That's the way we approach it," VG says. "We think of what scares us personally. For me, it's a matter of what would scare me if I'm all by myself. Being scared is a very universal thing." To heck with conspiracy theories and alien abductions - the key to TXF success lies in the show's universal appeal.

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thanks to Dennis for sending this!