If you ask Frank Spotnitz if he ever could have dreamed that "The X-Files" would still be a part of his life in 2008, he shakes his head, smiles and simply says, "No." Spotnitz joined the Fox series in it's second season and stayed with the show through the ninth (and final) season, as well as co-writing the first feature, "The X-Files: Fight The Future," in 1998. Six years after the series went off the air, Spotnitz sat down with Futon Critic's Jim Halterman to talk about the past, present and future with "The X-Files," the dynamic duo of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) and how exciting it was to write another chapter in the popular franchise.
Jim Halterman: The storyline for "The X-Files: I Want To Believe" has been kept under wraps all this time but can you talk about the lengths that you and Chris Carter went through to ensure the film remained that way throughout filming and as we approach opening day? I mean, people still don't know what it's about.
Frank Spotnitz: I know. I think we won. I don't care if someone spills the entire plot today. From the very very beginning we talked about how to keep it a secret and I called Steven Spielberg's company and asked "How do you do it?" They had amazing methods, which we could not afford, but what we could do was limit distribution of the script. 90% of the people on the movie never read the script and would go to work and not know what we were shooting each day. Their bosses knew and they prepped off it but even their bosses didn't have copies of the script. They'd have to go to the production office where we had a room with a video camera to make sure they didn't take pictures or call anybody. They had to read it there and take notes and walk out. So that obviously made the process of the making the movie a lot harder but we just knew that that's how it was going to get out. Somebody was going to have a copy and forget to lock it up or leave it on a coffee table and that would be how it would get out. Actors obviously need scripts so each day we would have somebody in charge of making sides for the actors and they'd be numbered with their name on it. They'd get their sides at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day they'd be collected and destroyed. Then, what happened is that people started stealing call sheets. Call sheets have one-line descriptions of what's going on in the movie. And then the paparazzi would show up. The first night somebody parked at a hotel across the street and shot pictures and video all night long. We thought we're going to have to take some counter measures and not just stand by and so we started putting up misinformation. Leaking information and putting together fake stuff and it worked. People started to realize that this doesn't make sense. The only information whether it was valid or not seemed suspect and was not to be trusted and that held through to this day. So it's not that we haven't had any leaks but nobody knows whether to believe any of the leaks. It was kind of interesting because we had to make it up as we went along because we'd never been through this before. One thing we found is be careful what you fabricate because if you fabricate plot stuff that is really cool and interesting or people will be disappointed when the movie comes out and it wasn't part of the movie but it had to be credible at the same time.
JH: Did you ever have to go to those measures with the TV show?? The Internet wasn't as big then as it is now. I know "Lost" has to go to great measures to keep the content of the series a secret.
FS: There was one episode [during the series] where we had to go a little crazy and that was at the end of Season Seven where we decided that Scully was going to get pregnant and we didn't want anyone to know. So we didn't tell anyone. We didn't tell the actors or the director. They had shot the entire episode at Lake Arrowhead and the night before the last day of filming. I think it was Chris himself who drove to Lake Arrowhead with the pages and gave them to Kim Manners, who was directing the episode, to Gillian and to Mitch Pileggi; they were the only ones in the scene and their faces just dropped. They were so shocked. So keeping the secret worked. It was the only time we had to do that because the Internet was not as big and also you're going so much faster in television so there's less lead-time to keep a secret.
JH: In revisiting the show, how have the stories, the characters, even you and Chris, changed in the last six years?
FS: The characters are clearly the same people, recognizable as the same people, same personalities with same qualities, integrity and respect for one another but they haven't been standing still. They've actually changed and that was one of the surprises to Chris and me when we started working on the story last year was that Mulder and Scully would not have stood still in all that time. You just don't. And having been through the last six years ourselves we saw how much we had changed in our lives and our view of things. It actually became very excited to write for Mulder and Scully. These are characters that obviously I've spent longer in my life thinking about them and writing about them than anything else and to know characters that well and know you have a lot of new things to say is really, really great and made the script really fun to work on. It's interesting because I think Chris and I both almost immediately came to the same conclusions about them and where they've been in their lives. It's not at all what I think people are expecting so there has been some suspense especially since nobody knows what's in the movie.
JH: In deciding on the story, how did you guys decide between picking up a thread from the series or doing a stand-alone?
FS: Even back in 2002 when we first thought about this movie we knew we wanted to do a stand-alone story. The studio had asked us to do a stand-alone story and we were totally in accord because there's a simplicity in doing a stand-alone story. It's easier to make a great self-contained movie if you don't have a thousand narrative threads you've got to pick up and reweave and that's really what the mythology of the TV series had become after nine years. It was a relief and a pleasure to just concentrate on the single investigation. The hard part was finding something that was sufficiently different from the 202 hours of the TV show. Believe me, I think it's virtually impossible not to someway rub up against something we've done before but we did find something that felt pretty different. There is actually a twist to it and that was interesting because it became another secret we wanted to protect � not just the characters of Mulder and Scully � but what this plot is. This will all make more sense once you've seen the movie but the way we told the story had to be structured very specifically to preserve the twist.
JH: With six years between the series end and this film, was it difficult to get everyone back on board??
FS: It was not. David and Gillian wanted to do it all along, especially David, who had been very patient and enthusiastic. I've got to say I kept being asked all those years, especially when I was doing NIGHT STALKER. "When's the X-Files coming? When's the X-Files coming?" and after awhile I had to start saying I don't know because it was taking so long and I was starting to lose hope that it would actually happen but David never did. In all those interviews over the years, he kept saying "We're doing it! We're doing it!" and he ended up being right.
JH: And the reason it was held up so long... ?
FS: My memory is that they came to us in 2001. It was early in Season Nine and we had no idea the show was going to end yet. And we said we were just too busy right now. And then at the end of the show, we were tired both emotionally and physically and we needed some breathing room before we started working on the script. So, in 2003, we got together and we... figured out what the X File would be and we started carding the story (Note: Spotnitz and the writing staff on the series has always broken down each happening in each episode, as well as the films, on note cards) and then we pitched it to the studio, who said great and they made my deal. They started David and Gillian's deals and then started making Chris's and it actually took quite a long time. Just when I thought we were close to finally making the deals a legal dispute arose between Chris and the studio with the TV series. I imagine profits. Anyway, it stopped everything dead in its tracks and it stayed stopped for four years and that's why I started to lose hope. Then in January of last year the dispute got settled and literally the next day the movie was back on and we started to work on the script in April of last year and started shooting in November.
JH: How did the shoot go? I know you shot some in Vancouver.
FS: Vancouver wasn't that bad. I mean, there were some nights when it was cold when we were doing a chase scene but the cold was the three weeks we were filming in Pemberton, which is 3 hours north of Vancouver, and is a beautiful snow covered valley above Whistler, the ski resort. We had written the script for cold and snow so we asked for it. It was gorgeous but it was cold. Sub-freezing every day and it was hard to work, hard to move equipment, hard for the actors to keep their lips warm. It was really challenging environment but it looks great and snow is creepy. It's cold and mysterious and forbidding.
JH: And quiet...
FS: And you don't know what's in that snow.
JH: One of the things I like in the trailer is when they're pushing snow away and we don't know what's underneath.
FS: And what happens in the movie is going to seem fantastic to people but it's not. It's real. Afterwards, once people know what it is, it's like its even more disturbing when you find out its real and it really happens.
JH: I'm intrigued! So, getting back to the series, with shows like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Star Trek" having reinvented themselves and/or created spin-off after spin-off... I guess "Stargate" is another one... do you think that could be down the road for "The X-Files?" A next generation or an alternate version of the show?
FS: It's not really my decision. It would be the studio's and I assume they'd want Chris's blessing but I'd be very reluctant especially right now. It feels like there's still a lot of life in the original concept. David and Gillian are still relatively young and they look great. My hope would be that if this movie has an audience, we keep doing these [movies] and that would be enough "X-Files" to me.
JH: Judging from the interest on the Internet and at the public appearances you and Chris have done over the last months, the interest definitely seems to be there.
FS: I hope so!
JH: I've always thought "The X-Files" was an easy show to just jump into. Even though there is a strong mythology it didn't necessarily drive every episode.
FS: Right. 80% of it.
JH: I love the stand-alone episodes as much as the mythology episodes especially when you guys just went in the opposite direction with the story or the tone that viewers had grown accustomed to.
FS: Yeah, there was one where he visited Elvis in Graceland. You never knew week after week what you were going to see on TV.
JH: As a writer, when you are writing Mulder and Scully, do you relate to one character more than another? Do you have different connections?
FS: I think I've always thought that together Mulder and Scully make the perfect person � two halves of one person � so I strongly identify with both of them. Mulder is the center. He is the reason the show exists. Without Mulder, there's no quest for the truth, there's no faith and there's no alien life and supernatural phenomenon. Mulder is definitely the lead character. Scully is us. Scully is our eyes on this world and our point of view and the way we would react to things.
JH: And that was the design from the first season, right?
FS: For me, you work intuitively and emotionally with trying to figure out what makes a great story and it took me probably until Season Three or Four, or maybe Five before I consciously understood how the show worked. You're just feeling your way forward trying to invent it and it's funny how many episodes in � what's that 100 episodes? � and then I really felt like it's kind of like Holmes and Watson. Mulder is Holmes and Scully is Watson. And he was a doctor, too, and you start to realize the parallels but it's not like you go in with that plan. Like last night [at the Apple store appearance in Soho], we were talking about the parallels between looking for aliens and looking for God and that was not something I consciously understood but I go back and it all tracks from the beginning. You just don't always realize that's what you're writing.
JH: With both the series and the films, how do you deal with the audience's desire to want Mulder and Scully to get together? It would be easy to just put them together.
FS: It was interesting because the audience felt that romantic tension whether we wrote it or not. We just felt that because David and Gillian have this amazing chemistry, they are two attractive people but it was rarely scripted the first five years of the show. But when we would do something or we'd tease something we were very careful about it and we had great debates about it. There was an episode that Vince Gilligan wrote in Season Three called "Pusher" when they hold hands and touch hands at the end and we said, "Are we pandering? Is that too much?" We were very mindful of not wanting to go too far and I actually feel like in the [first] movie when the near kiss happened that was crossing a bridge that we could not walk away from. Even though they did not kiss, clearly the intention was there. They were moving to kiss but it was just a matter of time before it actually happened. That's the thing that I get asked over and over. "Are they going to kiss in the movie? Are they going to hook up in the movie?" Well, they've actually had a child together at this point and people forget that they've had a child. It's interesting, though, the power in that relationship but it's still a very chaste relationship.
JH: So, going into the movie did you have the same discussions as to how far you wanted to go with the Mulder/Scully relationship?
FS: I think that was one of the first and biggest decisions. What's the nature of their interaction? Have they been together these entire 6 yrs? Have they been separated? Do they live apart? Together? All those things.
JH: How did the movie title come about? Was there ever a chance it would just be X-Files 2?
FS: We definitely wanted to call it "The X-Files: Something." No numbers. I don't like the number thing. It makes it feel like a product. I prefer making it like chapters without the number. The title was Chris's idea. The studio was reluctant because it's a mouthful and it's not � bang- a catchy kind of thing. It's actually quite a few words. But there's a great argument for it which is, first of all, it is from the poster that was on Mulder's wall in the pilot episode and it's always represented him and the show in a way. So to return to the franchise after six years it resonates enormously for fans. But the other thing about it is that it's exactly what this movie is about for both Mulder and Scully and it also works on more than one level.
JH: What are your thoughts on the present television landscape and how you think it's changing?
FS: I think it's been changing for many years. I look back at shows that got cancelled like "Millennium," which was doing pretty well in the ratings but they were not as big as the network had hoped. Or with "The Lone Gunman," it was the same thing. I think in fact what was happening was that the audience was shrinking but the networks were fighting against the tide and trying to keep growing shows while the audience was shrinking so a lot of good shows that should've lived on bit the dust. I think that shrinkage culminated enormously during the writers strike with the absence of new, scripted programming and I think not only with the lack of programming but also the financial pressures as a lot of the audience has migrated from network television to cable television. On one hand, that's great because you can do really interesting, offbeat stuff on cable but, on the other hand, there was something about the network drama where you reached the whole country like a common culture and now we're being sliced up into all these micro-cultures. There are the people who watch "Rescue Me," the people who watch "Nip/Tuck," the people who watch HBO. I think it's like we're being stratified as a culture. The other great thing about writing for network television besides the reach was the budgets were pretty healthy and they're just not anymore. They can't be. So, especially with the TV I like to do, which is sort of the mini-movie approach to television, it's very challenging to do that in cable. Cable tends to be more relationship based because that's what you can afford to do so that makes it a little harder for me to figure out what I want to do in television.
JH: Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the film, which opens July 25th in theaters everywhere.
FS: Thank you very much.