Paley Fest: IGN attends a reunion of some of the most important creators from the seminal show.
The Los Angeles branch of the Paley Center for Media is currently conducting their annual William S. Paley Television Festival, AKA Paley Fest. This two-week event spotlights a group of noteworthy television series and television luminaries, with each night devoted to a different show or person. Be sure to check out the rest of IGN TV's coverage of Paley Fest 2008.
While stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were not in attendance, a very impressive collection of behind the scenes X-Files all-stars were gathered together for a reunion at the Paley Fest, to the delight of an incredibly enthusiastic crowd who easily rivaled the one at the Buffy panel as the most intense this year.
The panel included Steven Maeda (Executive Story Editor), Rob Bowman (Producer/Director), Paul Rabwin (Supervising Producer), Darin Morgan (Story Editor), Glen Morgan (Co-Executive Producer), David Nutter (Producer/Director), Howard Gordon (Executive Producer), Frank Spotnitz (Executive Producer) and Chris Carter (Creator/Executive Producer). As for the cast, they were represented by Mitch Pileggi (Walter Skinner), Nicholas Lea (Alex Krycek) and Dean Haglund (Lone Gunmen member Richard "Ringo" Langly). Glancing at his fellow panelists, Carter remarked "We did hire women on this show!"
The night began with a clip reel from the show and Bowman said he was reminded "What a great time of my life that was." Though Bowman said the clips also brought up the "endless frustration and anxiety" associated with making X-Files, he also recalled writing his dad at the time and saying "I really want to go to Tahiti, but I'm having so much fun on this show."
X-Files' continued popularity was obvious listening to the screams from the crowd at some of the old footage (almost any moments between Mulder and Scully got particularly loud cheers), but Carter said at the time he was doing the show "I never had a good sense of how popular it was, because I had my head down, just working to make my deadlines." Carter said he finally understood the cord they'd struck when he went to see the first X-Files movie and watched "people react to the show in a group. That was the first time I had a sense of the audience."
Carter and Spotnitz have just finished production the new X-Files movie, and Spotnitz said it was "Nice coming back to the show and to see how warmly it's remembered. It's aged well." Spotnitz said the commitment of everyone who worked on the show was "incredible," recalling "Darrin used to sleep at the office when he wrote his episodes."
Carter had high praise for all of the early collaborators on X-Files, saying "Glen Morgan and [former writing partner] James Wong were extremely important to the show," bringing with them a fast paced style to putting a story together they learned working for Stephen J. Cannell. Spotnitz said that hiring people like Morgan, Wong and Howard Gordon was "All strokes of good luck because you don't do this show alone." Nutter was also noted for "setting the bar very very high" in terms of the way the show was directed with his work in Season 1.
Howard, currently the showrunner for 24, said "I found the show challenging from the first moment I got there until the day I left" and that the first year especially was "Very exciting. " Rabwin said that he "an inkling of what the show would be after [the Season 1 episode] "Squeeze," recalling that the episode focused on "A guy who went to sleep for 30 years, woke up and killed five people, then went to sleep again for another 30 years." Rabwin said when he spoke to people about the episode they told him "This show is really cool! Is it based on true stories?" Given how ridiculous the premise of "Squeeze" sounds when said out loud, thanks to that reaction, "That's when I knew we had something," said Rabwin.
Nutter remembered that when he began working on X-Files he'd "just finished Trancers 4 and 5," and that reading the X-Files script he thought to himself "Wow, so this is what good is!" Nutter said there was a moment when he was working on the show and he "Turned to Glen and James and said 'You know, it's never going to be better than this moment.'"
Lea agreed, saying that for him as an actor, working on X-Files "Sort of ruins you a little bit. It's like your first relationship. It ends and you're searching for that sort of fulfillment forever after. It set a bar for me, so I know immediately whether future shows were of value."
Recalling the writing process, Spotnitz said the show was so challenging because nearly every episode featured a different monster or fantastic scenario and "It had to have its own set of rules each week. If the rules weren't solid, then it would be stupid. And you had to have a human element as well." He also said there was "Very constructive competition" among the writers, which also "Continued with the directors. Everyone was trying to outdo each other, and it made the show better."
X-Files also stood out because of its distinctive, atmospheric look, which Bowman revealed somewhat came about because of external circumstances. Bowman said that many, many times they would discover the monster costume they were using looked "stupid" and nothing like the initial design and sculpture or how they'd imagined it. Plus, "The eyes don't blink and he can't see because they forgot to make him see through the head." Times like this led to "The reduction of light, allowing you guys to fill it in hopefully." Bowman elaborated that the idea was that by keeping the monster more in the dark, what the audience is extrapolating in their mind hopefully "reflects the design" and not the actual final product.
Rabwin brought up the episode "Arcadia" as an example of a time when the monster suit didn't work at all, to the point they held the episode from its originally intended airdate and reshot part of it. Unable to get past the fundamental problems with the suit, they almost completely pulled the monster out of the episode. Yet Rabwin said "That episode worked because it was a great Mulder and Scully episode. That was a great lesson."
Before he was a writer on the show, Darin Morgan appeared onscreen as the popular Flukeman character in the episode "The Host." His brother Glen was already writing for the show, and Darin Morgan said "I got offered the [Flukeman] job, because I was out of work. They said 'You want to play this? I said sure." Morgan joked "I was living on the streets waiting to get a job so I could sleep in the office." He remembered walking on the set in the full Flukeman suit and meeting David Duchovny for the first time, who looked at him in the costume and said "Why are you doing this?"
Carter said that getting the FOX network to allow them to do shows so dramatically different from one another, in terms of jumping from scary to purposely funny, was a challenge. He credited the episode "Humbug" with showing "not just the comedic range of the show but of Mulder and Scully as well ." Carter added "The network forced us to test that episode. They weren't sure if it would work. They was lots of nervousness that we were taking what had been known as a scary show and doing something different. But all it did was it gave the show the dimensionality that it didn't have before."
Glen Morgan said that early on FOX "ignored us," because one of the network heads was convinced their Friday night lead in The Adventures of Brisco County "would be the big hit." Being ignored "allowed us to do what we wanted," said Morgan, adding that by the time the network was paying more attention, X-Files was "up and running" with a growing fandom which gave them more freedom.
As much as fans loved the underlying mythology of the show, there are also plenty of complaints that as the years went on the story became a bit muddled and unfocused. Carter said that they never had what is referred to as a show "bible" on X-Files, something many series put together to have in writing the main story elements and characters and in some cases where they want to go. Carter said he felt a show bible was "A limiting thing, because it forces you to hit certain marks. Plus, if you have a bible they can give it to someone else and fire you." Carter admitted with X-Files "We made it up as we went along," and that after awhile "The stories sort of started to tell themselves because we had so much layed down [from previous episodes]." He said it was during Seasons 3 to 5 he felt "the mythology really got good and al the connections really got beautiful." As for the big alien colonization storyline, Carter said it was never mapped out and that "We just winged it. I think we winged it right to the end."
Carter said that conceiving of the show "You never imagine it'll go nine years or two or four. You have an idea of where you're going to go but you don't know how long it's going to take to get there." Not knowing exactly when the show will end, Carter said you're "Forced to redesign the box of cereal each week and make it new and improved."
Spotnitz also pointed out that "the Season 7 and 8 finales written and filmed without us knowing if we were coming back or not. We had to design them to work either way. It's hard to have that novelistic beauty of a book when you're in a medium when you just don't know when the end is going to come." Spotnitz added they "Tried until the very end to make that show as good as we could" and he had no regrets. "Given what we knew, we did the best job to make the show as good as it possibly could be," Spotnitz remarked.
The panelists all agreed the impact of the show has been beyond anything they could have possibly expected. Haglund recalled meeting an FBI agent who said he watched X-Files as a child and told him "I joined the FBI specifically because of The X-Files." Lea remembered being in a "record store in Edinburgh, Ireland. A little kid put this letter in my hand and it said 'To Mulder and Scully. There's trouble in Ireland and the government keeps having talks but they never do anything. I wrote the Power Rangers but they never wrote me back. Because you work for the government, maybe you can do something about it.'" Lea said reading the letter was incredibly moving and he couldn't believe that the boy was "So affected by the show."
X-Files began in 1993 and was one of the first shows to find a following on this brand new sensation sweeping the nation that the kids called the internet. Carter remembered Glen Morgan going online often and talking to a woman who was "one of our first internet fans" and how amazing it was to go from not knowing what the fans thought until you received a letter in the mail to having "Immediate feedback at 10:00 on a Friday night. You never had that before. All of the sudden it was instantaneous. That was the good news and the bad news."
Glen Morgan agreed, recalling going on AOL to see what people were saying when it "Seemed like there was no more than 100 fans." Morgan said those early comments were "very frank. It was very helpful. Then [the show] exploded and it became vicious." Morgan said he stopped looking at what was being said at that point because he thought to himself "it's not helpful."
Morgan also stressed the importance of the directors on the series, particularly Bowman, Nutter and another frequent director, Kim Manners. He pointed out they had minimal prep time and "eight days to shoot it and that's twelve, fourteen hours day" on episodes that included "Lots of visual effects and lots of action." He remembered getting calls from the directors asking how they possibly could pull of what was being asked of them in the small amount of time they had and joked he'd say "You lazy bastard, just do it!" Having worked on feature films since and seeing how hard things still are, even with much more money and three months to prep, he said he felt "I have to call Nutter and Bowman and apologize".