Spotnitz on ‘X-Files’: ‘If this is the last time we see Mulder and Scully…’

July 31, 2008 | 10:16 p.m.

3723637727202459 preview Spotnitz on X Files: If this is the last time we see Mulder and Scully...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.   Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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15 Responses to Spotnitz on ‘X-Files’: ‘If this is the last time we see Mulder and Scully…’

  1. Kate says:

    I loved this film. This is a character piece. Sure, it's got a creep factor, but the story is a love story like no other. And I mean love in its purest form, as well as it's most twisted. The parallels between Scully's story and the main plot leave you with some fairly profound notions. How often do summer movies spark debate? There is so much going on here that to really appreciate the nuances, many of my friends have gone more than once. This is a thinking person's film — far closer to October indie films than summer blockbusters. If you are looking for explosions and CGI, don't bother. But if you are looking for character development, suspense, humor, a debate about redemption and love, then give this movie a chance. Wonderful film!

  2. Raskolnikov says:

    A wonderful story, full of mystery, intrigue, intelligence, and love.
    If you are capable of intelligent thought, rational thought, and common sense then this film s for you.
    The plot s not centered on CGI, sex, or explosions, just wonderful acting, a superb story telling.
    HIGHLY recommend it! I had to see it several times to find the hidden jokes.

  3. Cari says:

    Geoff, you need to see this movie! It may not be the summer blockbuster people were expecting, but it's a gorgeous, intimate film that deserves multiple viewings. If the fans (like yourself), don't support it, there won't be an X-Files 3…and that would be a real shame. With the X-Files mythology's own end-time drawing near (December 22, 2012), XF3 would be an alien-packed epic for sure. See it!!

  4. Danelle says:

    I loved this movie… the 1st and 2nd time that I saw it.. I held my attention, made me think, and was total enjoyment… it had it all that I wanted, would loved to have had a bit more Mulder and Scully, but the scenes were awesome.. would have loved to have had more of an X-File case, but it was a case and it was interesting and it had it moments.. I will be seeing this again and I will be keeping my eye for another movie to come… this movie just piqued my interest 10 fold all over again.. yes I want to believe, so I did, I am happy for that! most excellent movie!

  5. Barb says:

    Sorry Mr Spotnitz, some of us were not interested in X-Files Lite or CSI Vancouver as its referred to by the countless disappointed fans.
    Oh and to the poster above, the reason this film is a flop is NOT due to the lack of explosions.
    Its simply NOT a GOOD STORY.
    The Sixth Sense did NOT rely on CGI and its grossed over $200 Million when it came out during the summer of 1999. SO quiet films do succeed. This film doesn't have anything that makes it stand out. Its like they decided to write for one segment of fanbase, the romancers and everyone who LOVES the total X-Files got screwed over.

  6. The Smoking Man says:

    Sorry. When the movie finally got around to revealing what the bad guys were doing with their victims, it went all "Mars Attacks." Ack, ack, ack.

  7. Barbara says:

    I saw the movie. At first, I thought it was going very slow. I will have to see it a 2nd time, in order to gain more from it.
    It was great to see their characters again, they had such spark on the series.
    I would love a 3rd movie, but this time, I would like it to be about aliens.

  8. Geoff Boucher says:

    Cari, Kate, I will go see it, hopefully this weekend. Thanks for the comments, hope you're enjoying the blog.

  9. David Bradbury says:

    I was lucky enough to be at the UK premiere of X Files last night, and as a hardcore fan, I'm happy to say that I left feeling completely satisfied with the movie. First of all however, I do think that Fox have pitched this movie COMPLETELY wrong. It is definitely not a summer blockbuster, and I don't ever think that was the intention so why release it in the height of summer and up against some of the year's Biggest films. Also because of the film's setting (a very snowy Virginia) and tone, this would have been a great movie to release in the winter months, where I feel it would have fared a lot better.
    The movie itself, is just like an episode of the show and is really one for the fans. Your average "go to the summer for the big popcorn movie" cinemagoer probably won't be that interested, But that's not a bad thing. I Want to Believe IS small scale, there is no impressive CGI, no big OTT action sequences, but the X Files was never always about that anyway. It is a dark thriller and it does hark back to the olden days of the show. It's also a relationship movie and there is lots of dialogue between mulder and scully about faith and belief (hence the film's title i guess!!) There are lots of visual nods and references to the series that will keep the fans happy and acknowledged.
    the post credits scene is funny but just plain weird!! you won't have seen anything like it on the x files before!!! bizarre!
    But leave your preconceptions at the door, ignore the harsh movie critics (and there have been a lot for this movie) and just go and enjoy it. If you're a fan, i think you'll just be happy to have Mulder and Scully back again.

  10. sarah says:

    I went and saw the new movie the day it opened. I'm pretty sure everyone was still seeing Dark Knight, because it wasn't that crowded. It definitely was not a summer blockbuster movie. There aren't explosions and nonstop action and fighting. It was a more personal, character driven movie than anything that's been out this summer so far. I thoroughly enjoyed the new XFiles movie. I suggest anyone who is or was a fan of the series to go see this movie!!

  11. Jennifer Dhursaille says:

    Most fans here in Brazil loved the film and are saying they are going to watch it hundreds of times. On Friday the 25th I cancelled work and travel 5 hours to get to a city where XF2 would be showing. If I didn't I would certainly have died of anxiety! In big cities I know that fan clubs got together wearing their FBI suits and all that jazz and the reviews have been quite positive, specially the ones from the most important cinema websites, so I WANT TO BELIEVE this movie is really to make money enough for a third one (mythologycal, please!). The shipper part of the movie was the best thing and we all hope a third movie even shipper than this one!
    This m orning I learned that there are people buying 10 tickets even if they are not going to watch the movie all those times, but they are doing it just for the sake of a third one!
    I don't think a tv show or any other movie can have such an appeal to people ou there!

  12. Disclosure: I’m a huge fan of the “X-Files” series–a multiple Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, etc. winner. So yes, I’m predisposed to like and even defend the new movie, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”. Roger Ebert liked it very much, though it has been shellacked by a lot of others as being “ho hum” and unworthy of the wait. But almost nobody seems to have hated it.
    Well, that’s the problem… I liked the new X Files movie. Not loved it, but liked it. It was a reunion of sorts: back to the moody Canadian backdrop, Chris Carter’s direction and dialogue, and most of all David Duchovny’s “Fox Mulder” and Gillian Anderson’s “Dana Scully.” There’s also an extended cameo of sorts from “Walter ‘Skinman’ Skinner,” (Mitch Pilleggi) their former boss.
    Billy Connolly does a great job as a tortured defrocked priest. “Battlestar Galactica’s” Callum Keith Rennie is a suitable bad guy and Amanda Peet even manages to rise above the writing of her character a bit.
    Without rehashing the plot (I hate it when alleged critics tell you every plot point in their reviews), let’s just say what you may have read is true: this movie is made in the tradition of the non-alien conspiracy episodes (see X-Files: Revelations DVD). It has a real “Silence of the Lambs” vibe. Frankly, that sounds cooler than it is in execution. All that atmosphere is really a backdrop for the tension between Mulder’s desire to believe the unbelievable and Scully’s crisis with her faith. That’s box office poison when you’re trying to distract moviegoers from a guy in a black cape beating the shit out of diabolical clown. (If you’re a big fan like me you just want to shake show creator and former surfer Chris Carter and say “You had six years and all you came up with is this? Duuuuuuude!”) I have to give him props for a pretty funny Bush joke, though. Worth the price of admission.
    I have to add that though I really enjoyed seeing the characters and getting involved in the mystery of “I Want to Believe,” I couldn’t stop myself from thinking “Why don’t Mulder and Scully mention the looming alien invasion set for 2012?” I know, I know. Because this isn’t about aliens. This is Chris Carter and Fox trying to get non-X-Filers to see the movie–to perhaps “reboot” the franchise for a broader audience. I respect that. I just wish the story were a little creepier, the rating ‘R’ instead of ‘PG-13’ and the budget bigger than $30 million.
    I hope the movie does well enough worldwide (with DVD sales and rentals, etc. it should do way better than its $30 million budget) for that third and final invasion-themed movie. I want this former cultural phenomenon to go out in a blaze of glory. But if it doesn’t, watch the end credits of “I Want to Believe” for what could be a final farewell from Mulder and Scully.
    I could go on…but I think you should check it out for yourself.
    Not a fan, but like a decent mystery? Go.
    Like romantic tension and relationship stories? Go.
    Like body parts, mayhem and creepy mad scientists? Go.
    Like movies with a heart and a brain? Go.
    Like a cool soundtrack? Go.
    Sick of special effects & explosions subbing for story? Go.
    Go to a matinee if you don’t want to pay full price. But have a look. Especially if you want a good, moody, creepy mystery.
    Besides, who knows? Despite yourself, you may want to believe after all.

  13. Erica Janssen says:

    Hey I found a X-files trailer cut by one of composers who actually worked on the original X-files movie trailer. You need to see the version he came up with. I like this one better than the one Fox released. Here is the link.

  14. erica janssen says:

    Hey I found a X-files trailer cut by one of composers who actually worked on the original X-files movie trailer. You need to see the version he came up with. I like this one better than the one Fox released. Here is the link.

  15. JK says:

    Did you all know that Frank Spotnitz will be a panelist at the West Hollwood Book Fair on October 4th? (12:45-1:30pm)
    He's also doing book signing at the Dark Delicacies booth!

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