The Revolution Will Be Televised

Frank Spotnitz; Frank Spotnitz Archives

Aside from the infamous “wig-gate”, one has good reasons to feel slightly nervous about the new The X-Files. First of all, revivals are tricky – just think of 24: Live Another Day. Or don’t. Secondly, after giving in to Hank Moody’s hedonistic urges for over 7 years, David Duchovny will probably try to seduce every unsuspecting alien he encounters. And, last but not least, Frank Spotnitz HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. Agent Scully, we trust you make a proper scientific analysis.

We had this fabulous writer on the show – Darin Morgan. But he left after season 3” – confesses screenwriter, producer and showrunner Frank Spotnitz, our first-ever recipient of Camerimage Award to Television Producer with Unique Visual Sensitivity. He promised to write one more episode. 2 days before the script was supposed to come in, he called Chris Carter and said: I’m not going to make it. And we had nothing. Nothing. We have been debating this idea that agent Scully got cancer as a consequence of her alien abduction. Some people felt it was really cheesy, but when we heard that there is no script, we said: That’s it –Scully is getting cancer!” As if the poor woman didn’t have enough on her plate. Darin Morgan, you should be ashamed of yourself!

Frank Spotnitz joined The X-Files in its second season. After his debut as a series’ writer he went on to become the show’s executive producer and even found some time to direct two episodes, Alone and Dæmonicus. Hard to believe it was his first job in television. “My friend started a book group and there was this guy who was writing TV movies for Disney at the time – his name was Chris Carter. I would see him and his wife every 2 months and we would just talk about books. One night I was watching television and there was this brand new show on Fox – created by Chris Carter, the guy from my book club! A friend of mine wanted to pitch some ideas for The X-Files, so he asked me to call him. Chris said: No, I won’t hear his ideas. But if you have any, I would love to hear them.” He rejected them all and then… Spotnitz was hired.

Meeting with Frank Spotnitz, photo by Aleksander Salski
Meeting with Frank Spotnitz, photo by Aleksander Salski
Still from "The X-Files"
Still from “The X-Files”

We sort of stumbled into this whole mythology thing” – admits Spotnitz, who helped launch the show’s extended mythology of government conspiracies and alien abductions. “Gillian Anderson was pregnant so we had to get rid of her for a couple of weeks and by accident it became this thing that has spread across the series. What happened after The X-Files, and I was there to witness it, was that everybody wanted mythology in their shows. I don’t know where these ideas come from – one day you wake up and think: That’s interesting. I once was on a river rafting trip with some friends and somebody told me they had a dream that they had a tube of toothpaste, they squeezed it and blood came out. It really stuck with me. And that became a very scary episode called Via Negativa.” Whatever the inspiration, one thing is sure – we haven’t seen a single episode of the show with covering our ears and humming something by the Spice Girls (well, it was the 1990s). Frank Spotnitz, we blame you for our recurring nightmares about dissected pigs coming to life!

After leaving the show in 2002, Spotnitz worked on numerous projects including the underappreciated Hunted (which proved that you can beat somebody to death with a statue of Karl Marx after all) and Night Stalker. In 2013, he founded Big Light Productions Ltd., a London-based production company under whose banner he has been developing Medici: Masters of Florence, the third season of Crossing Lines and The Man in the High Castle, based on the eponymous novel by Philip K. Dick. Our favourite novel of all time, might we add. So, like, no pressure. “It’s an alternative history that imagines that the Nazis won World War II” – explains Spotnitz. “The eastern half of the United States is patrolled by the Nazis, the West Coast is controlled by the Imperial Japanese and the Rocky Mountains act as a neutral zone between these empires. It’s a very big show. It’s a very expensive show and a potentially offensive show. You are dealing with things you have to handle very carefully – especially when you are making entertainment out of it. It’s about things like: What is reality? What is it to be human? These themes really move me.

Meeting with Frank Spotnitz, photo by Aleksander Salski
Meeting with Frank Spotnitz, photo by Aleksander Salski
Still from "The Man in the High Castle"
Still from “The Man in the High Castle”

So far, so good – backed by positive reviews, its pilot turned out to be Amazon’s most-watched since it began its original programming. “Everything is changing right now. Television is going through a revolution and because of the different platforms like Amazon and Netflix, there are no rules anymore. You can expect that a huge portion of your audience is going to see the whole thing in a day or over a weekend. The Man in the High Castle is a serialised story, but it’s more like chapters in a novel. My characters can go anywhere and do just about anything. Which is risky, because when you have a format that people like and you repeat it over and over again, there is predictability to it, which is reassuring. But in this case you really don’t know where it’s going to go.” How about the Moon? According to a certain Finnish guy – yep, strange country that one – the Nazis are already there.

And what about that much-anticipated revival? “It was happening at exactly the same time as The Man in the High Castle. In fact, we were sometimes shooting on the same city block in Vancouver. After The X-Files movie in 2008, which was a disappointment, I said: That can’t be the end. These characters are too great, these actors are too good – it has to come back. So it was very bittersweet for me that when it finally happened, I couldn’t do it. I don’t think the reasons why people are bringing these shows back are creative, but in this instance I think it’s a good thing.” Let’s hope so. But they really need to fix those godawful wigs first.

Marta Bałaga

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