Spotnitz on ‘X-Files’: ‘If this is the last time we see Mulder and Scully...’
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I haven’t made it yet to see ‘The X-Files: I Want to Believe’ (I’ll blame those five days gobbled up at Comic-Con) and I think a lot of other longtime X-fans fell into that category on the movie’s first weekend of release. Maybe it’s the passage of time or this summer’s glut of must-see genre fare, but I just haven’t felt a great sense of urgency to get out to see the movie.
Gina McIntyre, one of my colleagues here at The Times, had a chance to sit down recently with Frank Spotnitz, the producer of the film and longtime creative presence in the franchise’s history, and here is her Q&A with him, appearing for the first time anywhere. Reading it does make me want to see the movie -- not unlike reading a letter from an old friend -- but it’s still a surprisingly faint urge.
You’ve said that the movie is a standalone story that doesn’t require people to be all that familiar with the show. Was there a sense that the mythology became too complicated to update or were you looking to create something outside of those narrative constraints? If we’re lucky enough to be able to do more movies, at some point, we will be revisiting that mythology. In the show, we said that Mulder believes the aliens are coming in December 2012, so that’s a date we’d certainly hit if we’re fortunate enough to keep making these. But for this movie, from the very beginning, when it was first discussed six years ago, we wanted to do a standalone. We had to do a mythology movie last time. We were in the midst of the TV series, and the studio wanted a big event movie that would clearly be something you couldn’t get at home for free. This time around, we didn’t feel any of those constraints. We felt we could really do what the show did most of the time, which was deliver a scary supernatural mystery. You’re keeping the film’s plot secret, but can you give any sort of broadstrokes description of the story? It’s real time, six years from where we last saw Mulder and Scully. It’s a scary, creepy intimate story, a mystery obviously. It’s really more about them and their relationship than the show usually was. When you’re doing a TV show, you’ve got to do so many episodes that unless you want to risk becoming a soap opera, you really can’t spend that much capital on their personal lives week in and week out. The audience would get compassion fatigue after a while. So, we were very stingy about that in the TV series. What’s the nature of their relationship in the film? It’s obviously one of the big questions fans want to know -- are they together? Have they been seeing each other these past six years? If they are together, what’s the nature of their relationship? Is it romantic or not? That’s one of the big cards that we’ve been trying to keep hidden until the movie comes out. But we didn’t want to take for granted that there would be any more movies after this. This could be it. If this is the last time we see Mulder and Scully, we didn’t want to leave anything on the table.
uiSince the last movie was released and the series ended, there’d been talk of doing another film, so you must have had ideas in mind. Is this film based on one of those ideas or did the story emerge more recently? We spent weeks in 2003 working on this. It actually was quite difficult to come up with something that was sufficiently different from anything we’d done on television. We came up with something that’s not 100% unlike anything we’d ever done before, but we felt it was different enough to justify making a movie about. We pitched the story back then to the studio. Deal-making started and then there was the threat of a lawsuit that stopped everything dead cold for four years. The issue got resolved in 2007, and suddenly we were back at work and we’d lost all our cards [plotting out the story] from 2003. At first it felt like a disaster, but it ended up being a real blessing because we had to start from scratch on Mulder and Scully and on the personal part of the story. In those four years, we had changed. We realized Mulder and Scully would have changed. We found we had a lot of stuff to say that was completely new and unlike anything we’d done before. Have the intervening years affected the ways in which you and Chris Carter collaborate? I’d say what was really different was the pressure was very different. There’s a certain amount of pressure you put on yourself all the time, the pressure to do good work. But it wasn’t like doing a TV show, where it’s not just this script, it’s the five others that you have to be working on at the same time. We sat for days at Pete’s coffee in Brentwood before we even started to work on the story again, talking about life and ideas. Then we spent weeks and weeks in his office in Santa Monica outlining the movie before we started writing. The writing we didn’t do together -- Chris would write and send me his files from Santa Barbara, and I’d go over them and send them back. It reminded me of going back to my earliest days when I was new to television working with Chris on a story. Can you describe the atmosphere on set? It was a really nice atmosphere on set because everybody wanted to be there. David and Gillian wanted to be there, they focused so hard, especially on their scenes together. We had a great guest cast that were so much fun. We were laughing all the time. The hard part was being in the snow because we were in Pemberton, north of Vancouver, subfreezing temperatures, 14 hours a day for three weeks, often through the night and that was challenging. Chris and I developed a great affection for a place called the Mount Currie Coffee Company. They make something there called a Canadiano, which is an Americano with maple syrup in it. After about a week, they ran out of maple syrup because they were not used to selling so many Canadianos. So we bought our own maple syrup and we stuck it under the counter and if you had the password, then they would bring out the maple syrup for you. The password was Peter Nincompoop. Why did you decide to keep the film’s plot so tightly under wraps? We realized early on that we were in an extremely unique position because it would have been six years since people had seen these characters and there was going to be many, many questions people would be asking about what Mulder’s been doing, what Scully’s been doing, the nature of the relationship. It seemed a shame to spoil everybody’s fun by telling all that before the movie has opened. There’s nothing like the experience of sitting in a theater and watching a story for the first time. It is not the same if you know in advance what’s going to happen. And everybody knows that. I have to say the attitude of the fans out there has been entirely supportive. Having said that, it has been extremely challenging trying to keep it secret. We realized pretty early on that we actually had to engage in disinformation. What happened was we put out enough disinformation that even if something genuine did leak, no one would know the difference between what was fake and what was real so everything became suspect. We didn’t do that to mess with the fans. The one risk we had in the disinformation we put out was you don’t want to put out a false story that people get so excited about they’re disappointed when that’s not what the movie’s about. How do you plan to appeal to new audiences who didn’t watch the series? I don’t know. We’re certainly trying, and we’ve certainly written the movie to work for people who have never seen the show before. I still believe in these characters and their appeal and the power of this fictional world that Chris created, so I do think it’s a natural for audiences of any age, not just people who were born before 1980 or however old you would have had to have been to watch it when it first came on television. The interesting thing is that “The X-Files” is its own little sub-genre. It’s such a specific thing the way these two characters go about investigating things. It’s not just the relationship between Mulder and Scully personally, but the fact that one is a believer and one is a skeptic and they’re such super-smart people. These stories can’t help but be smart and work on that level. I continue to find it fascinating and just hope other people do too. -- Geoff Boucher Above: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder.