Frank Spotnitz speaks to ''Beyond the Sea'' at the Rome Fiction Fest 2013

Frank Spotnitz attended the last edition of the Rome Fiction Fest in September. The Italian event paid its tribute to "The X-Files" 20th Anniversary with a screening of two episodes of the series and a talk with the writer (you can find the video of the complete talk on YouTube).
In that occasion he also received the Excellence Award for his work on the show.

But... before all of this happened, Frank was so kind (and I'd say, very happy too) to seat down with us, the Italian fans, and chat about our favourite show ever.
We talked practically about everything, from how he started to work on the show to XF3. Frank was very enthusiast (to say at least) to speak about "The X-Files", as any 'regular' X-Files fan does, and it was really a blast for all of us.

Finally, the result is out there now, for every Phile in the world who can't speak Italian. You can read the complete transcript of our conversation with Frank in this post.

Last, but not the least, I'd like to say "thank you" to Frank for everything he did with us and for us that day in Rome.

It was a wonderful day, indeed! Grazie, Frank!
Frank Spotnitz speaks to "Beyond the Sea"

Frank Spotnitz: I have something I’ve got to tell you first, because I’m excited about this. You’re not gonna believe this. As of Thursday, I’m an Italian citizen.
Beyond The Sea: Really???
FS: I’m not kidding. Because my wife reclaimed her Italian citizenship two years ago, she’s an Italian-American. Our children have Italian passport since few years, I applied two years ago and it came through on Thursday. So I’m now Italian, but I don’t speak the language!
BTS: You have to learn it!
FS: That’s my goal. Next time I see you...
BTS: We can help you!
FS: I may take you up on that!
BTS: Ok.
FS: ... but the next time I see you I’m gonna speak Italian. That’s my goal. Maybe at the XF3 premiere I’ll speak Italian. I hope so.
BTS: Ok... So ... we can start now... because I have some questions for you.
FS: Ok.
BTS: ... yes, like twenty years of questions...
FS: (laughing) How much time do we have??

(At this point Frank sees for the first time our questions - an A4 page filled with questions on both sides)

: (laughing) Oh my God!!!
BTS: These are in Italian, I’m sorry, you can’t peek in.
FS: Ok.
BTS: Do you want to start with something serious or not?
FS: Whatever you wanna ask me.
BTS: How did you choose “Milagro” and “Memento Mori” as X-Files episode to watch here today?
FS: I asked all the fans on Twitter.
BTS: I think I asked for “Fight the Future”.
FS: Yes, I thought about that, but they asked for two episodes of the tv series. “Milagro” and “Memento Mori” I think got the most responses. I also thought about “Memento Mori” and “Leonard Betts” because they were side by side, one is a monster show and leads to the cancer storyline, but then I thought – and we’re gonna talk about that this afternoon - one is a mythology show and one is not, the second one is really about writing for the show and “Milagro” is the most personal episode for me.
BTS: About “Milagro”, do you know that none of us ever saw Padgett in bed with Scully in that scene, do you?
FS: You didn’t see it?
BTS: No. It’s not Padgett for us, it’s Mulder!
FS: Ah! I didn’t know that! (laughing) That’s good to know!
BTS: Well, we didn’t think it was Padgett, we hoped it was someone else, actually.
FS: I’ll talk about that this afternoon.
BTS: At the beginning, maybe was there any chance in your mind it wasn’t Padgett...
FS: You know what?... I’ll leave it to you, you can interpret it however you like.
BTS: No, believe me, it’s better if we don’t.

(FS laughs)

: Ok, so, I’m gonna ask you just one question about XF3. I’m not gonna ask you about the greenlight or this sort of things, but I’d like to know if today there’s already some ideas in your mind you’re sure you want to put in this movie.
FS: Yes.
BTS: Ok, I don’t want to know what it is, but if you want to share it with us...
FS: (laughing) No, I don’t wanna say it. Chris and I talked about it for years and years and years so... we have a pretty clear idea. A very clear idea. It wouldn’t be like “Ok, now what do we do?” No, we know what to do.
BTS: I feel we’re gonna like it.
FS: You’d better like it!
BTS: I know I’m gonna like it.
FS: No pressure, but it has to be the best X-Files ever.
BTS: Wow!
FS: There’s no reason to do it unless it’s gonna be better than anything.
BTS: It is just the best...
FS: It better be!
BTS: I mean, the show and the two movies are just the best thing I’ve ever watched...
FS: Thank you.
BTS: ... for more than a reason, but we deserve a closure.
FS: That’s right. That’s what we keep saying, isn’t it?
BTS: Yes.
FS: Five years now.
BTS: Don’t give up!
FS: Don’t give up.
BTS: So, whose ass we have to kick?
FS: Yeah, I know... I wish it was that simple. It’s complicated. It’s not just about the politics of the studio, but the movie business that is really... complicated, yes.
BTS: Well, do you know that I personally asked to the Rome Fiction Fest to have you here today?
FS: Oh, really?
BTS: Yes.
FS: Oh, thank you! So, you got me here!
BTS: Yes, so you can give me the FOX email address and I can write to them too.
FS: Ok!

: Why didn’t you attend to the Sand Diego Comic Con?
FS: I’ve planned vacation with my family months before. There was no way to go.
BTS: We were up until something like four in morning, I think, to follow that event...
FS: Were you watching it?
BTS: No, we were following Twitter and Facebook.
FS: Everybody said it was really great.
BTS: It was “huge”. But you attended to the WonderCon during the IWTB production time, so you know that feeling, how does it feel to be in front of 3-400 people who are there for your show?
FS: Well... it’s about the show, really. I just played like a little part, so it’s nice to be a part of the show, but the show it’s bigger than any of us. That WonderCon was really about David and Gillian, and Chris, and I was like... I felt like it was the Beatles and I felt like Ringo... (laughing) It’s great to be Ringo, but...
BTS: I remember when the first trailer of the movie was shown. It was crazy!
FS: Yes. There was a lot of excitement. Can you imagine what XF3 would be like?
BTS: Yes, but can you imagine how is it to see all of that being to the other part of the world like us?
FS: Yeah... but I think the excitement for XF3 will be bigger than that. That’s the movie people want... that people is waiting to see.
BTS: Just for you to know, we’re ready to come back to California for the XF3 premiere.
FS: Ok. Hopefully, not too far away.

BTS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time you’re in Italy for “The X-Files”, right?
FS: Yes.
BTS: What do you think about us?
FS: (laughing) Well, look at you... You’re fabulous!!!
BTS: I mean... you don’t know us as an audience, what do you expect from us?
FS: Well, I feel like I already know you online, we’ve had a correspondence for years now so... it feels like meeting someone you already have a relationship with, just long distance. So, it doesn’t feel strange at all.
BTS: Ok, except us that we always write to you.
FS: (laughing) Well, I’ve done this a few times now that I’m in London. I’ve met fans from Germany and Spain...
BTS: We missed you at the London Film & Comic Con last year...
FS: Yes, I know. All the fans have a lot more in common than what separate them. I’m not just saying this to be flattering, but they all are very bright people, very nice and respectful. I do feel like I’m a representer of the show, it’s not really about me, I appreciate all the excitement, but I’m here just for the connection to the series. It’s great, it’s a wonderful feeling, twenty years later the passion for the show is still ... it matters.

BTS: How does it feel to write something that would be on television?
FS: It makes you try very, very hard because you know millions of people are gonna see it. So it really matters, it’s not a test, you know absolutely they’re going to be filming this and people are going to see it so it’s better be good. I also think in “The X-Files”, which was my first job, Chris Carter so pushed you to do your best. I think this is why the show was as good as it is. There was a lot of talented people, but it was really Chris making everybody working as hard as they could that made the show as good as it was, I’m convinced. I think that we carried that experience with us, it’s a great gift.

BTS: The last two “X-Files” seasons were very good in terms of the stories, maybe because Mulder and Scully weren’t there to support the show, in a way, so the stories had to be something like a real character.
FS: Yes, it was very hard, really challenging.
BTS: I appreciate the last two seasons very much, but not “Jump the shark”... or “William”. You made us crying like babies...
FS: (laughing) I know... I know... my only regret about that show was I wish we ended with a smile. It shouldn’t have ended sad, even though the Lone Gunmen were dead. They should have left with a smile because that’s what they always did.
BTS: ... but they saved the world.
FS: Yes, they did save the world.
BTS: The only thing I never understood is why you killed them in a standalone episode and not in a mythology one.
FS: I know, but we were trying to serve two masters, “The X-Files” and “The Lone Gunmen”, so it was very complicated. That and the “Milliennium” show were the most difficult, they were so hard to try how to figure out how to tell the story.
BTS: Do you know that in the new comics the Lone Gunmen are alive?
FS: Yes, I know! Anything can happen in “The X-Files”! Chris always said that: “Nobody is really dead in The X-Files”. Which is true, I mean... CSM, he’s amazing that guy! We saw him incinerated, we saw the skull... it’s incredible.
BTS: So, who we’re going to see in XF3?
FS: Anything is possible. (laughing)

BTS: You said before “The X-Files” was your first job. Can you tell us how did you know Chris and how you started to work for the show?
FS: This is a very funny and strange story. I moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter and I went to the American Film Institute. Right before I started I got invited to join a book group and in that group there was a guy who wrote tv movies for Disney and it was Chris Carter. So, every couple months I’ll see Chris Carter with these other people, for a couple of years this group went on and then it stopped. Later I heard the show “The X-Files” was on tv so I started watching it.
BTS: You were a fan?
FS: Yes, I started watching it because I knew Chris from the book group. It was terrific and I watched every week. I was out of the film school by this point. At the end of the first season a friend of mine said to me: “You know that Chris Carter guy, right? Would you call him for me and see if I can pitch some ideas for The X-Files?”
It made me very uncomfortable, I hadn’t spoke with him in years, I had his number but it was weird, but I did it for my friend. So I called Chris Carter and he goes: “No. But if you have any ideas, I’ll hear your ideas.” I never thought about it, I never thought about writing for television, I thought I was gonna write movies, not tv series. I thought: “Well, what do I have to lose?”
So I came up with 3 ideas and when I went to pitch them, it wasn’t just him, it was him and two others producers, I pitched them all and he shot every idea down, one by one, he didn’t buy any and I left kind of embarrassed thinking it was a big waste of time.
And a few weeks go by and then he calls me and he says: “I didn’t buy your ideas, but there was something good in each one”, he remembered what was good in each one, “I’m losing two writers so I can offer you a job, how would you like to come on set?”
It was completely unexpected, I never thought I would have joined the staff of “The X-Files” and the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so green, I had no idea... The first week I was there they sent me in the editing room. I worked on “Excelsis Dei”. I worked on that. I’ve never worked on television and I was editing the show trying to fix problems.
BTS: A big pressure...
FS: Very big. I think it was the second week and he took me at lunch with Howard Gordon and he asked me: “What new ideas do you have?”
And I said: “Well, one thing that occurs me is what if Mulder’s sister came back after all these years and she looks like the sister how would he know... she isn’t”.
And I can just see like a wheel turning in his head and I thought “This time I got it, I got an idea he likes” and of course it became the two parts, then David had the idea of the Bounty Hunter, and then became “Colony” and “End Game”, I worked on both of them and that became my first episode.

BTS: Chris is a very tough guy to work with, isn’t he?
FS: Yes. Very competitive and very demanding.
BTS: But he saw something in you, he saw something in Gillian, that’s why he fought for you two...
FS: Yes, that’s right. He trusts his instincts.

BTS: About David e Gillian, I think a lot about Mulder and Scully was written on the pages, but I think they brought something more to the characters.
FS: Yes, for sure.
BTS: And was it just luck... or, I don’t know, something else...
FS: It happened before I got there, but I think you cast the best actors you can find and I think David and Gillian were the two best actors for those roles. You hope that they have some connection, some chemistry, but you don’t know. You couldn’t predict it. As it turned out, they have an unbelievable chemistry and as the show went on they just got better and better and better. You see things they can do, I think everybody was shocked when they did “Humbug” and it turned out they were funny too. It turned out they had amazing comic times. Who knew?
I also think the whole unrequited sexual tension between the two... that was something they brought, it was very rarely written. It was just something they did.
BTS: It was just their idea...
FS: I think they just had it. They had that “electricity” between them and they were so smart about how to play it. Some millions of decisions they made as actors week after week after week... it’s amazing if you think about how hard they worked because especially the first few years of the show they were virtually in every scene, the two of them together, and as the show went on we started to split them up more to give them a life because it was very, very hard year after year... but think about the first few years in Vancouver, they would start – they were called for hair and makeup on Monday morning around 6 am and then they worked until 6 pm or 8 pm and they finished Saturday morning at 4 in the morning and then they started again. In these conditions to be doing that kind of acting... it’s amazing.

BTS: Did you change your way of writing because of this chemistry that was there?
FS: Oh, absolutely. That was something else that Chris knew to do, and everyone of us learnt, and it was you respond to what you see. “Look at what they’re doing now” and you can realize what you can write because of what they were doing. It was not only David and Gillian, look to all the other characters on “The X-Files”: Lone Gunmen, Skinner, CSM or Krycek. They weren’t planned. They were so good that they became part of the series, you kept bring them back because they were so good. Like CSM, who knew he could act? Who knew if you gave him dialog he could actually delivers the lines? Until Glen and Jim wrote a scene for him to do it... Skinner too. Same thing. But that was us watching the film, reacting to what we saw and writing more for them.

BTS: Ok, let’s talk about the deleted scenes. Recently you wrote on your blog about the “Post-Modern Prometheus” kiss. We didn’t even think it existed! Is there something else we still have to see?
FS: Well, I think, sadly, the studio destroyed all the dailies that were used in the show. They didn’t save any of them.
BTS: This is breaking my heart.
FS: I don’t know this but... I don’t know if everybody ever talked about this, but there was a lot of theft in “The X-Files” editing room. People stole a lot of film and sold it, so the only way that exists is if somebody still has it out there... the stolen dailies. It may be, I don’t know. I haven’t see them.
BTS: So... which kiss we haven’t seen yet?
FS: “Post- Modern Prometheus”... “Millennium”, but you saw that...
BTS: There is another one?
FS: In the movie, but you have seen it...
BTS: Because there are so many scenes you can actually think they are on the point to do...
FS: Oh, “Memento Mori”!
BTS: Yes, that is on the dvd... but there were a lot of rumors during the years about a kiss in “Requiem”, like in the hallway scene at the FBI...
FS: (he carefully thinks before answering) It could be, I can’t remember I’m honest, but it could be...
BTS: You can’t say “It could be”...
FS: (laughing) I don’t know... but I’m pretty sure that film doesn’t exist because the theft I was talking happened early in the show. They were discovered and then they stopped.
BTS: There were a lot of rumors about that, I don’t know why...
FS: I don’t know, I’m sorry.

BTS: About the jokes, such as the famous “1013”, how did you guys came up with all these ideas? They were random or ....
FS: No, no....I think Chris’s 1013 and 1121, which is his wife’s birthday... you know, he’s into that, he’s very superstitious.
BTS: If I well remember, you also used the name of one of your teacher at a certain point...
FS: Yes, Dimsdales... Arthur Dales! John Shiban and I both had the same teacher, Howard Dimsdale, and he was a communist in the ’50, he wasn’t
BTS: Yes, I remember you saying that.
FS: When he taught us he was still a Communist. A lovely, lovely man. But anyway, he was blacklisted so he had to write under a sudo name, which was Arthur Dales. So we used that in “Travelers” as an homage to him, because he was already passed away. We thought it was especially funny because as a Communist he was investigated by the FBI and here he was playing an FBI agent, which probably he would have hated, but... anyway, it was our tribute.
BTS: Maybe the best one was the X under the sea at the end of IWTB...
FS: Yes, I can’t remember if that was Chris’sidea or Mat Beck’s , the visual effect producer... maybe it was his idea the X in the water.

BTS: There are a lot of homages to “The X-Files” in modern tv shows. I’m thinking about “Castle” right now, because Rob Bowman is in it...
FS: Bill Roe too.
BTS: I know... I watch “Castle” only because Rob Bowman is involved in it! Actually, we watch a lot of tv shows just because there are some previous “X-Files” guys involved. Anyway, how do you feel about that?
FS: Oh, it’s a huge compliment. It’s fantastic, it’s great! Actually, you hear in Hollywood all the time when you’re pitching tv series, how often writers still reference “The X-Files”. I don’t take any credit for this, it really is Chris that came up with this beautiful model of storytelling, the believer-skeptic, and I think... to me what was really critical about it was that Mulder, the man, was the believer, and Scully, the woman, was the skeptic, because it switched the gender’s stereotype around. It would be expected the other way around. It’s such a perfect storytelling idea... to have those characters that people keep... they’re inspired by it and they want to try to find new ways of doing the same thing.
BTS: They try...
FS: They try and it’s very, very hard. When I look back at old horror movies or old supernatural stories, you see how that believer-skeptic thing existed before, but I think he defined so clearly in “The X-Files”... I think that’s never be done better.

BTS: No, I don’t think so. Anyway... what if you could ask a question to us?
FS: Why are you still... When did you all start to watch “The X-Files”?

(The guys sitting with us say something like "When I was 9, 19, 11 years old... etc")

: She’s 19, she has the same age of “The X-Files”! The first episode I’ve ever watched was “Duane Barry.”
FS: Oh, wow! And you saw that on tv when it was first broadcast? That’s a good first episode.
BTS: Yes. And I was immediately hooked.
FS: That’s when you were in.
BTS: Yes.
FS: Is it Mulder and Scully, is that why? What is it about the show?
BTS: I really can’t say... my friends here are saying it’s for the chemistry, the characters and the stories. I think it’s because all of that.

: How did you come up with the stories?
FS: You, as a writer, were expected to come in with an idea, a story. Overtime, my job, like I said at the beginning I didn’t know anything really, but overtime Chris started saying “Frank, you work on the stories”. So, my job became to work with all the other writers to develop every story, scene by scene, on those cards like Padgett has. And then, once we had an entire story we were bringing it to Chris... and then he gives us his notes, his thoughts and we go back and change it until it was as good as it can be.
Often, at the end of the day, especially in the two last years of the show, Vince and Chris would ended to writing the script. I was on the writers room with John and we were figuring out the stories while Vince and Chris would split the rewriting. That was sort of... how we’ve got it all done.
But where the ideas come from is always the hardest question to answer. I think it helped you had to came up with an idea. There was no choice. You had to came up with an idea, because there was so some many episodes. You cannot stop. You had to have a new script every 8 business days, a new full script, that’s incredible pressure. But all I can tell you is, when I was stuck I would think about what scared me as a child and that would always lead to something, like I wake up in the morning with the beginnings of an idea. I tried not to watch other tv shows, because I didn’t want to accidentally take some from other tv shows, but I watched documentaries... that was how things happened.

BTS: Was there any kind of competition among the writers?
FS: Oh, yes. I think actually the biggest competition was the first season, before I got there. I think Chris, Morgan and Wong, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa... those three “units” felt very competitive with each other, they tried to outdo each other. And then, when Morgan and Wong left and Alex Gansa left, it became a different thing. It was more collaborative with Vince, John and me, that’s the John Gillnitz thing, we were like a team, we weren’t so much competitive with each other,we helped each with all our stories. The first year I think they tried hard to outdo each other.

: Was there a story you weren’t able to bring on screen?
FS: There was one story we worked on but we’ve never figured out... which was about somebody who had died, there were different versions of it, several times we tried he died in Vietnam or something like that, but anyway, he was dead and he comes back, and he knew what the after-life was. That idea was really interesting to us, but we can never figured it out. And the other story I always wanted to know was when Morgan and Wong came back in the fourth season... they just did their stories on their own, they didn’t go to the writers’ room, I thought their stories were incredible, always incredible... but they had one idea that I saw in their office... “Lincoln’s bedroom”... and I always wanted to know what the hell was that gonna be!!! And they left without writing it and I still want to know what “Lincoln’s bedroom” is!
Otherwise I think we used every good idea we had. We used any not so good idea we had too, but ... I won’t tell you which one of those...
BTS: Just one?
FS: I can’t, but none that has my name on it, even if I worked on them all with all the writers.

BTS: Let’s go back for a moment to the two episodes we’re gonna see this afternoon. “Milagro” was directed by Kim and “Memento Mori” by Rob Bowman. Was it more difficult, or just different, writing for these two directors?
FS: We talked about competition earlier and as you know Rob and Kim competed with each other and made each other better, try to outdo each other. Rob was the young guy and Kim was the old guy. It was wonderful, but the first time we gave Kim a mythology episode we were worried. Could he do it as Rob? Or David Nutter? Of course he could, but I can watch the episodes not knowing who directed it and I can tell you if it was Rob or Kim because their style was so different. Kim loved it extremely close and he loved to have these really elaborated camera moves and Rob was much more formal about everything, but very elegant, never arbitrary, every time thinking about the story and how can the camera tells the story. With both of them it’s an emotional camera, they really felt what they were directing so powerfully. They ruined me for other directors because that’s so rare, have directors who care that much that have the ability to translate their passion as well they can translate their passion. I didn’t meet directors very often who could do that.
BTS: You directed two episodes, too.
FS: Yes. I loved it, fantastic! I wasn't going to do it, it’s very hard to make the time to. David Duchovny, when he was leaving, said to me “If you don’t do it before I go, you’ll regret it. You should do it”.
I realized we were almost at the last episode of the season, but I did it. It was much better than writing, it’s so much fun! If you are a writer, you have already directed the all thing in your head. You go to the set and everybody is there to help you to make it better, and it’s not the imagining of the thing, it’s the realization of the thing. I would direct all the time if I could, it’s so much fun! But it’s very hard and still my first job is writer producer so...

BTS: Both David and Gillian wrote and directed some of Mulder and Scully’s most romantic moments.
FS: Yes.
BTS: Did this happen just for a case or they were guided by someone in the writing process?
FS: You mean, why there are these moments in their episodes they wrote and directed?
BTS: Yes, it’s a funny coincidence.
FS: That’s because it’s not a coincidence. I think it’s because they probably understood better than anybody else the power of that chemistry.
BTS: Like in the baseball scene...
FS: Yes. Absolutely. That’s so David.
BTS: ... or the teaser in “All Things”... you were evil, by the way...
FS: Yes. He knew how... what that choice was... the whole intimacy of that, he’s so tall and she’s so small, his arms around her... and I think actors like David and Gillian are so smart, they understand so many things, whether they said them or not, they do, it shows it in their performance so... it was not a surprise to me when they wrote and directed... their touches ... because I think they knew that’s the most powerful... that’s the secret in “The X-Files” that people only realized... I don’t think anybody knew at the beginning, what the secret was, the power of that relationship between those two characters. I mean, obviously, Chris Carter knew it was important, but I don’t think he realized it. It was like magic that happened between those two actors and those two characters, and it became what the show was about. More than anything else it’s about those two people.
BTS: ... and their journey.
FS: Yes, and their journey. That’s right.

FS: Anyway, I’m gonna watch the episodes with you this afternoon, but it’s the first time I see them...
BTS: Do you know we’re gonna see them in Italian?
FS: That’s all right, so I’m gonna learn it! But it’s the first time I’ll see them since they were on tv. It’s very hard for me to look at them, because unlike you, all I see it’s what’s wrong... what we could have done differently. I don’t enjoy watching it, it’s painful for me watching it. Each one of those episodes... I probably watched it 50 times when we were editing, and after you’re done it’s like “I don’t wanna see that again”. Last movie... I haven’t seen it since 2008.
BTS: Gillian said the same thing during the IWTB promotional interviews, “I can’t see myself, I just see my mistakes”.
FS: Yes, that’s me too. And then all you remember are the problems, it’s very hard to enjoy. It’s more fun to watch something else, somebody else’s done.
BTS: Well, I can say we enjoy watching them!
FS: I’m glad, I’m really glad!

Frank signing our website logo!

BTS al Roma Fiction Fest 2013

L'autografo di Frank per il nostro sito! RFF 2013 #21 RFF 2013 #20 RFF 2013 #19 RFF 2013 #18 RFF 2013 #17 RFF 2013 #16 RFF 2013 #15

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