EXCLUSIVE: Frank Spotnitz Gives the Goods on The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Frank Spotnitz talks about the new movie, the secretive filming and a third film as well.
Frank Spotnitz has certainly been a huge part of the entire mythology of The X-Files. Starting as a co-producer in 1996, he also has written several episodes of the series and executive produced for the last four years of the series' phenomenal run. He's had a hand in both feature films as well, developing the story for the first film with series creator Chris Carter and he co-wrote and produced The X-Files: I Want to Believe, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on December 2, as well. I recently had the chance to speak with Spotnitz over the phone and here's what he had to say about the new film.
So, first, there was a 10-year gap between the two films. At what point were you and Chris (Carter) hatching ideas and getting the whole story process started for this?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, it's funny because we actually started work on this movie, in earnest, in 2003, believe it or not. We pitched the idea for the movie to the studio and we got interrupted because there was a legal dispute between Chris and the studio over the profits from the TV series and that stopped everything cold for almost four years. Then in January 2007, that dispute got settled and literally the next day, the movie was back on. In those four years, we realized that Mulder and Scully were going to be more important now than The X-Files (Laughs) so we kept the same basic story idea that we had back in 2003, but the movie became much more about them and their relationship than it would've been, I think, if we would've done it sooner.
It seemed like everyone was on board from the get-go. Was there any problems with getting David (Duchovny) or Gillian (Anderson) back on board?
Frank Spotnitz: No. I think David and Gillian were both exhausted doing the TV series and that's why David left full-time after the seventh season and Gillian certainly needed a break after the ninth season. But there was never any question about wanting to keep doing these characters if there was an audience for them. They have great love for the characters and the show, so I think all of us thought that this was something we wanted to do if we had the opportunity.
There are a few new additions here with Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly and Xzibit. Did you guys write any of these roles with any of them in mind, or how did you come across them for these roles?
Frank Spotnitz: We didn't write with Amanda or Xzibit in mind. Xzibit was a big discovery for us. He just came in and destroyed in the room and he became our first choice after he read. Amanda, when we started casting, she was also our first choice after the casting process and we were fortunate enough to be able to get her. Billy Connolly was the one part that was actually written specifically for an actor. We had been fans of his for years. There had been a movie called Mrs. Brown, which was a dramatic role that he played and he's not known for being a dramatic actor. He's know for being this real outrageous comedian, very very popular in the United Kingdom, especially. That just stuck in our minds, how great he was in that movie and we just thought he would, not only turn out an amazing performance, which I think he did, but there's something about him that makes him likable no matter how dispicable the character he's playing is. That's what we really wanted with this pedofile priest.
I had read in an interview where Gillian had said that she found it tougher to get back into character, since it had been so long. Did you kind of find that was the problem with David or anyone else who came back as well?
Frank Spotnitz: I think it felt funny for David to come back and play Mulder again. The very first scene he did is with Amanda Peet, out on the sidewalk before they start this foot chase with one of the bad guys. I think it just felt odd to him, and he was kind of surprised at how odd it felt because he thought it would be just like riding a bike, you just get right back on. I think it was kind of good for him that it was the only dialogue that he had for a couple of weeks because they were in the chase for awhile, and so he had time to go, 'I have to think about this and how to re-approach the character.' It's tricky because it's the same guy but it's years later. He's the same, but he's not the same. He's changed in some ways, he's in very different life circumstances and it's not as easy as it seems. In Gillian's case, she did have a really tough time the first couple of days. She was doing an incredibly intense scene with Billy Connolly in his apartment. I think a part of it, also, was that she had just flown, literally, from the other side of the world. She had been in India and she literally arrived in Vancouver, Canada the night before filming, so I think part of it was also jet lag and being in a completely different state of mind.
You guys seemed pretty adament about secrecy throughout the whole thing and there was the whole werewolf thing and you kind of pulled one over on the online community. With the secrecy as a whole, was that something you had set in mind right from the get-go?
Frank Spotnitz: (Laughs) It was, it was. We didn't know quite how we were going to do it, but we wanted to keep it secret. Honestly, we wanted to keep it a secret because the whole body transplant part of the movie, the way that the story is structured, we're trying to make it a surprise for the audience. For an hour and a half of the movie, you don't understand what crime is being committed, so we didn't want to spoil that surprise for the audience. Then we started to realize that it's also about keeping a secret about Mulder and Scully and the nature of their relationship and the fact that they are a couple now. There's a scene where they're in bed, so it really became a question of how do you do it? With the internet age, it's very very tough. The werewolf thing was sort of an inspiration we had. Someone had gone on Ain't It Cool News, before we started filming, and claimed that they had met Chris Carter in a bar and that he had divulged to them, over drinks, that this movie was going to be about werewolves. So we just said, 'Let's just pick up that line that's out there already and lets give it more energy.' It worked and it was fun. The trick was not putting out any disinformation that would be so appealing to fans that, when it turned out the movie wasn't going to be about that, they'd be dissapointed. That was what we wanted to be careful about.
I read that there were fake working titles, fake studios and the scripts, they would only send out that day's material and they were shredded. Is that right?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, first of all, the best way to keep a secret is to just not put it out there. There were almost no copies of the script made, at all. The studio only had, I believe, only three copies for the entire studio and anybody who needed to read it had to come into a room and read it and sign. The same thing with the crew, we really had one copy of the script, in a room, with a video camera, really more for the psychological effect than anything else, to discourage people from trying to make copies. Then, most of the crew never read the script. They would show up to work that day and, they sort of knew what they had to do for their specific jobs, but they didn't know what was going on, plot-wise, until they watched the scenes being performed. The actors weren't allowed to have full scripts. They would get their scenes, they call them sides, from my assistant every day. She would copy them and they would have their name and number stamped on them and at the end of the day, she would collect their sides and shred them.
How much harder is it to make a film like that then, or is it easier in any way?
Frank Spotnitz: It makes it harder, because if everybody knows the story you're telling, first of all, they're excited, because they've read the script and there's an emotional investment in the movie. Unfortunately, a lot of the crew, you just couldn't have an emotional investment because they just really didn't know what was going on, other than that it was an X-Files movie. The other thing is, you're filming these movies out of sequence, so the more eyes you have on the movie to say, 'Hey wait a minute, this is wrong,' for continuity errors, the better. We just didn't have that luxury. We only had the producers, the director and the script supervisor who were aware of all these issues. It definitely was a handicap in terms of making the film, but we thought it was important enough to do it anyway.
On the three-disc DVD there's a full-length documentary. Is there anything you can tell us about that? It seems like a pretty comprehensive look at the whole film.
Frank Spotnitz: It is, and it also has, at sort of its narrative through-line, the question of whether we'd be able to keep the movie secret. We thought that this was the one making-of where there actually would be some drama to it. It's not just us sitting around talking about how great we are, there's actually some suspense here. There are a lot of moments where we were in danger of losing secrecy. There were paparazzi photographing us from that very first night. I was talking about David's very first scene as Mulder, there was somebody who rented a room in a hotel across the street and he was parked there all night taking pictures and video. There were other times where there were people who were going through the trash when we were shooting on location in Pemberton, north of Vancouver, and stealing call sheets that indicated what the scenes were and who the cast was and trying to piece together the plot that way. Whenever one of these leaks would happen, we would devise disinformation to try and counter the leak. That's all in the making-of. It's a little more entertaining than the standard making-of featurette.
It almost seemed like you had two jobs: making the movie and trying to get everyone from not finding out about what it's about.
Frank Spotnitz: That's exactly right. It was fun though, because we didn't really know how we were going to do it. We had to think on our feet a lot. There was plenty of room for intrigue when we were making the film.
So, there have already been whisperings about a third film from Fox. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, yeah. I think we'd all like to to it. The studio has not said yes or no. I think the box office, unfortunately, we got creamed in the theaters by The Dark Knight. I don't think anybody could've anticipated that was going to be such a huge, historic phenomenon. To be a dark scary movie coming out the week after The Dark Knight was not the best timing. I think there's life in the franchise still. I think these are great characters. There's a date that looms very important in X-Files mythology, which is December 2012. I think after the DVD comes out, the studio will decide whether they want to roll the dice on another X-Files feature.
Are you and Chris already hatching up ideas for that?
Frank Spotnitz: Yeah. I mean, if we were to make one more feature, I think we would definitely have to deal with alien colonization. I honestly think that's the movie that most non-hardcore X-Files fans, as well as a lot of hardcore X-Files fans are dying to see. Obviously, I think Chris has had ideas about that from the very beginning when he dreamt up this show, 16 years ago.
So do you think if this goes through, it will be the definite, final closure film? The end of the whole series?
Frank Spotnitz: I would think so. It certainly would be designed to be the period on the sentence.
There's also been a movement to bring Millennium to the silver screen. Is there anything in the works for that?
Frank Spotnitz: It's funny. I get asked that all the time. Just about every interview someone asks, 'Where's the Millennium movie?' From the very beginning, Chris has said he'd love to do it and I think Lance (Henriksen) would love to do it, but the longer this drags on, the less likely this becomes, so I think it would have to take a real, concerted, passionate effort, at this point, to make that happen. I know there are a lot of people in the Internet community that are working to make that a reality. There's actually a Bring Back Frank Black campaign going on right now, but I think they'll have to be pretty vocal to have a chance.
So, finally, The X-Files has been such a beloved series throughout the years. Is there anything that you'd like to say to the fans who have supported the series and the movies throughout the years?
Frank Spotnitz: We've always felt really humbled by our fans. We were one of the first series, if not the first series, to have an online community grow up around the show. I can remember from my first days on the series in season 2, going online to see what the fans would say about the episodes and they were incredibly literate and insightful and they really inspired us to keep doing better work and to keep reinventing ourselves and not repeat ourselves. It continues to this day and a lot of these fans, now, are people who were very young when the show was on the air, or were too young and didn't watch it during the original broadcast. They're still very bright and keep us on our toes. It's hard to be smart, period. Then it's even harder to keep ahead of fans as bright as these fans are. It's one of the best parts about doing this, honestly, is the relationship with those fans. We've seen more of them and had more interaction with them in the past year than in the 15 years preceeding this past year and it's been a joy. It's been very rewarding and very moving too, because enough time has passed where you can see the impact the series had on a lot of people's lives. Impact, that in many cases, we never would've intended, and that's very powerful and very rewarding. You do something like this just to be entertaining. Hopefully you put some ideas out there, but your primary goal is to entertain. When you find out that you've inspired some people and help make a positive difference in their lives, it's very moving and very rewarding.
Great. Well, that's about all I have for you, Frank. Thank you so much for your time today.
Frank Spotnitz: My pleasure. Thank you.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe will make a believer out of you on DVD and Blu-ray on December 2.