Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz Interview – THE X-FILES: I Want to Believe

     July 22, 2008

As most of you know, opening this Friday is “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” Since I’m under embargo….I can’t write anything on the film or even what the movies about. Sorry.

That being said, I can post what Fox supplied me…

In grand The X-Files tradition, the film’s storyline is being kept under wraps, known only to top studio brass and the project’s principal actors and filmmakers. This much can be revealed: The supernatural thriller is a stand-alone story in the tradition of some of the show’s most acclaimed and beloved episodes, and takes the always-complicated relationship between Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) in unexpected directions. Mulder continues his unshakable quest for the truth, and Scully, the passionate, ferociously intelligent physician, remains inextricably tied to Mulder’s pursuits.

Anyway, a few days ago was the press day here in Los Angeles and I got to participate in a small press conference with “The X-Files” director and co-writer Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz – the other writer. So if you’d like to hear what they had to say about making the new movie and all the behind the scenes stuff continue reading.

As always, you can download or listen to the MP3 of the interview by clicking here. And…if you’d like to watch 2 movie clips and a featurette from “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” click here.

Question: Why was there such a long period of time between the first film – and the end of the series – and this film?

Chris Carter: Fox came to us a year after the TV series ended, and said “if you want to make another movie, let’s go” and we went. We worked out a story, and they liked it. Negotiations began, then it all broke down over what I will call “TV contractual problems.” Which took – unexpectedly – years to resolve. It’s the nature of the business. When it was finally resolved, they called us back and said “If you still want to do that movie, we still want to, but you have to do it now. It’s now or never. There is a writer’s strike looming and if you don’t do it now, it might be two years before you get another opportunity. And we think that’s too long. You will have asked the audience to wait too long.” We agreed. So that is why we did [the movie] five years out – it’s now six years since the show was on the air.

Why this particular story? It feels very pre-9/11, very sincere to the episode structure, but the other movie was very epic. At the beginning of the other movie, there was a nod to the Oklahoma bombing, and a lot has happened in the last six years. I was wondering why the fascination with Catholicism, and everything else.

CC: If you look at The X-Files generally, we did 202 episodes. About 80% of them are not “mythology” episodes, which tend to be the epic episodes. They deal with the big conspiracies, the search for Mulder’s sister. They deal with what I would call the “saga” of The X-Files. When we finished the first movie, we said the next movie we do will be a story that stands alone, what some people call a “monster of the week” story. We wanted to do a story that didn’t require you to have any knowledge of that ongoing story arc. So that is simply why we chose to do a story like this.

You are saying that it is “pre-9/11.” I certainly don’t see it as that, certainly not with the nod in the FBI to what I will call… the current administration.

Frank Spotnitz: We actually came up with the X-File for this in 2003. We walked away for four years. When we came back… we actually lost our notes. So we had to start over. Of course, we remembered a lot of it.

CC: He lost them.

FS: “Someone” lost them. In the process of starting over, we found ourselves so interested in where Mulder and Scully were in their lives, and the nature of their relationship. We realized that, in order to be true to the characters, that relationship could not have stood still . It had to have changed. We saw it much more emotionally than we did immediately after the show ended. I think it is an unexpectedly emotional film. That was just the story that came out of us; the story we really wanted to tell. The more you think about this movie, the more parallels you will see between what the bad guys are doing, and what Mulder and Scully are doing, and what Scully is doing with the boy [a terminally ill 10-year-old she is treating]. There are a lot of resonances that may not be obvious on a first viewing. It just felt emotionally right. It did occur to me many times that, because we did 202 episodes, and because there are so many devoted fans, there are probably at least as many ideas about what this movie could and should have been. There’s really nothing we can do about that – we are kind of victims of our own success in that way. But for us, it was never a question. That was what was in our hearts, and it has always served us well in the past.

Can you talk about returning to Canada to shoot, and shooting in those weather conditions?

CC: I was just telling Bob Strauss that my feet are still numb from the experience. Returning to Canada was something we all talked about doing. Vancouver is one of the stars of the show. It helped put us on the map, and vice-versa. Working up there for five years, we had friends – many of the crew had become our friends. It was returning home again, it was a reunion of sorts, even though we did a number of TV shows up there. So sometimes we didn’t get X-Files crew, we had Millennium crew. Mark Freeborn, the production designer, did every episode of Millennium. So that was great. Filming in the snow is a challenge, but it is free production value. It’s hard – it’s 10 times harder than making a movie outside the snow, but what you get is beauty. You pay for it personally, but you get a lot on the screen without having to pay for it otherwise.

FS: I just kept wondering, “who was dumb enough to write this in the snow?” It was extremely uncomfortable. I’m from Arizona, so I have no tolerance for the snow. I was bundled up like the Michelin man the entire time we were there. But it was important for us to go back to Vancouver – it felt like going home to us, because it was the city that really built our success, and we had to leave after five years. We all wanted to go back there. We wrote the script to work in and around Vancouver. Aside from the people and crew, who are phenomenal, there is just a quality about Vancouver, the light, the feel of the city that just adds atmosphere to the film. I think you really see that in the movie. The snow… it’s forbidding. It’s a hostile environment, without anything even happening. That environment is just not hospitable to human life. And things can be hidden in the snow.

CC: I’ll give you a brief idea of what it is like to work in the snow. One of the things you do on a movie set is you move all of your junk from one place to another. You are filming from one direction, so you have to move your junk over here – including the cameras. You roll it on wheels, or you drag it along… in the snow, it just doesn’t work that way. In the snow, you’ve got to get snowmobiles and sleds and it’s loud and smelly and time consuming. Communication – you don’t want to trample the beautiful snow, so the way you communicate with your actors is to yell in their direction: “More of that! No, less!” Directing becomes by semaphore, and nothing prepares you for it until you do it.

Did you have Billy Connolly in mind for this role? How did you come about casting him?

CC: Yes, I had Billy Connolly in mind when I wrote it. We didn’t know if we would get Billy Connolly. I almost didn’t get to meet him because of a problem with transportation. But, planes, trains, and automobiles, I actually got to sit in front of him, telling him what a big fan I was of his, and I thought he could do anything. He was honored, I think, and flattered. He took the script, which I wasn’t giving out to people, and I gave it to him without all the forms we usually make people sign. He took it with him to New York, read it on the plane, and wrote me the nicest note which I will have framed on my wall: “When do we start?” It was that simple.

With so much accumulated mythology and characters, and elements the fans love and, in some ways, are dying for, how did you decide what to put into this movie, what not to try to shoehorn in… characters people wanted to see but is it appropriate?

CC: We wanted to make this as pure a movie as we could, about Mulder and Scully. They are the essence of The X-Files. I spoke earlier about how struck we were with their relationship and their emotional story and returning to the show after such a long absence. The more characters you bring in from the past, the more explaining you have to do, and the more it gets wrapped up in the mythology of the show. In this movie, we wanted to keep it as simple as we possibly could. There were many other characters we talked about that we would have loved to bring back in this movie. Ultimately, there was only room for one. But it’s not a sign of any lack of enthusiasm or affection for the others.

It’s interesting to note that the word “believe” has the word “lie” in it. Did you do that on purpose? You never did establish whether the priest was lying or not. I think it’s a heck of an affect, because you go home battling with those “ifs” all night. Was that on purpose? If it was, you sure hit the nail on the head.

CC: You have these catch-phrases that you associate with The X-Files: “Trust No One,” “Deny Everything.” “Believe the Lie” was one of them. In this case, there are two things… you’re right, we never establish whether he was a real psychic or if he was just doing this to “exonerate” himself, if you will. So you have to take that on faith. There is a moment at the end of the movie, where Scully is looking down at the boy, and we wanted you to take that on faith as well.

FS: Let me just say what a pleasure it is to finally talk about the movie. We spent the last eight months avoiding talking about the movie. It’s nice to finally get to talk about it. One of the interesting things about writing this movie, coming up with the story, is that Chris is a person of faith. I don’t think he is necessarily a believer in any church, but he is a person of faith. I am not. I’m a doubter, I’m a skeptic. And this movie is all about faith. I’m very interested in faith, and the question of faith. But when it came time to resolving this movie, and coming up with an ending, we were at an impasse. We actually went to script not knowing how to resolve our personal differences. The ending that we came up with – which I think is really the only ending, even if you are a believer, is that you must find god through faith. It’s not going to be proven to you. That’s what I believe as a non-believing spiritual person. If there is a god, it is going to require your faith to find him. That’s what was so beautiful about the movie to me, and beautiful about the character Father Joe, this kind of monstrous person, who it is up to your own thoughts to decide if he found redemption, and about Scully’s journey.

How much were Gillian and David included in coming up with their backstory for the last six years leading up to this film? And were you surprised that both admit they found it hard to get back into their characters after all this time? They thought it would be easy but it wasn’t.

CC: To answer the first part of your question, we told them what we were going to do. They agreed that that was the right thing to do after 16 years of this relationship. It felt like it was… it would have been dishonest, if they are going to be together, not to show them together. So we told them about that, and they knew it was coming when they read the script. You can imagine it was hard five and a half years later –they’ve been playing so many different characters. You see Gillian in Bleak House, for example. You think about how different that character is. You see David in Californiacation, how different that character is. They had not been Mulder and Scully for a while. So putting those clothes back on, and feeling the fit of those shoes… the uniform, if you will, I think naturally is going to take some effort. It was not dissimilar for Frank and myself, writing this script. That first scene, where Scully comes to Mulder in his office, that was the hardest scene in the movie, I think, because what do you say after six years? What do you… how do you have these characters have a conversation that is true to the story but is also the first time we have seen them in a room together after such an absence.

What can fans look forward to on the DVD/Blu-Ray? And can you talk a little about what deleted scenes might be on the disc?

FS: I had no idea what Blu-Ray could do. I thought it was just a higher definition picture, but it’s much more than that. We are trying to think of every possible way to exploit the Blu-Ray medium. Those discussions are still continuing. We’ve been working on the Blu-Ray and the DVD release for months already. It’s going to be packed with a lot of bonus features. I’m sure they’ll want to announce what is on them specifically, but there will be a gag reel, a making of, as there always are, multiple commentaries, both audio and video that you can access in a unique way because its Blu-Ray. We are going to take advantage of the online feature in a way we haven’t determined yet. There are deleted scenes. There is an extended version of the movie, then there are deleted scenes. I’m going to get it wrong if I try to tell you which scenes are going into which. There will be a lot of extras.

Can I ask how much longer the extended version in?

FS: It’s not significantly longer. It’s only a few minutes longer, but it’s more explicit, and a little more emotional, believe it or not.

Did you do any test audiences with the movie? Was there any kind of reaction from the die-hard fans about some of the issues that were maybe left unresolved? Do you think it would open it up for another feature?

CC: We only showed it to family and friends. We did not do any market testing. Fox was adamant, as were we, about keeping the movie a secret. Also, I think you can really drive yourself crazy by showing it to a select group of die-hard fans. If you show it to 30 [people], you are going to get 30 different impressions of what you didn’t do, or what you did do, or what you should have done more of. So we really went with our gut. That’s the way we always have worked on the show. Are there questions unanswered? There are so many questions, you couldn’t answer them all. It probably would have been a different kind of movie if we had tried to answer them all. Certainly, if we are successful here, I’m sure Fox will want to talk to us about another movie, but we did this movie as if it were the last time we were going to see Mulder and Scully because we just don’t know.

Your show really blazed the trail for a lot of what is on TV today, with shows that have these long arcs and central mysteries. At the same time, these shows, when they get to the end, we’re tight. There was this impression that, towards the end, The X-Files was playing it a little by ear. Do you think that’s fair, looking back, six years later, that you did those seasons really well?

CC: Yeah, I think we are both proud of the work we did, that we went nine seasons. Let me tell you, after five years of a show, it gets hard. Any show gets hard. But that where the going gets tough and the tough get going. Some of the best storytelling came in the last four years of the show, I would say. We hit our stride. We had to deal with some changes when David left the show. We loved those characters [the new agents who replaced Mulder and Scully], we’d like to bring those characters back. I’m glad we went nine years.

One of my favorite writers is Robert Graves. He talks about an energy that creates something, that impulse of lightning, that creative spark. Everyone loves that part of it. They love that thing that results, which is more creativity. Then there’s something he calls “maintainence energy,” which is where you have to actually then take something and maintain it, and feed it, and care for it, and nurture it, and freshen it. That energy is one of the toughest things to find. If you can find it and work through it, I think that’s where the real hidden treasures lie.

FS: I would just add… for me, the last two years of the show were among the most fun and most satisfying years of the show. Obviously, we couldn’t have planned for the show going nine years, or for David reducing his presence on the show. Obviously Doggett and Reyes were not part of the original design. That’s not even an attempt at a secret. It was enormously challenging and satisfying to write for those characters. I understand why a number of fans just couldn’t get emotionally invested without Mulder there. That makes total sense. The show was built around Mulder. There has been a bit of conventional wisdom about those last two years, that really isn’t corresponding to reality. Because the show’s ratings actually grew when Robert Patrick came in. I think the mood of the country…

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