Love it or hate it, The X-Files was a cultural milestone that brought horror back in a big way. Like the rest of America, I went through the mid-Nineties completely addicted and eagerly anticipated the Friday night paranoia of agents Mulder and Scully. But following the departure of writers Glen Morgan & James Wong and the first big screen movie, the show took a creative nosedive and slowly burnt out through season after season of bad story arcs. Now, seven years later, The X-Files: I Want To Believe hopes to reignite the glory days for a whole new generation. But can Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz restore the elements that made us fall in love with the series?
The duo came out to the L.A. Film Festival with star David Duchovny to screen footage and talk up the film. The first clip showed the opening scene, where a woman returns to her home in the icy woods of West Virginia. Her home is quickly invaded by two strange men, and a bloody struggle ensues. These scenes are intercut with a morning search by a team of several dozen FBI men, led by two agents (Amanda Peet, Xzibit). Ahead of the group is a strange white-haired psychic (Billy Connolly) who discovers a severed arm in the ice. The second clip showed Mulder and Scully with the search team at night. It’s revealed that the two are no longer FBI, and they begin arguing amongst themselves until the subject of Mulder’s sister is brought up.
While little was revealed about the actual plot, the footage screened reflects a darker, meaner X-Files that (thankfully) abandons the show’s worn-out mythology in favor of a good ol’ fashioned horror yarn. No alien abductions. No 2012 end-of-the-world conspiracy bullshit. This is X-Files back-to-basics.
Below you’ll find an abridged transcript from the panel. Enjoy!
MODERATOR: I wanted to start off with an easy one. What’s the movie about?
CHRIS CARTER: It’s about a white-haired man… [audience laughs]
M: Based on these clips that we’ve seen… What’re we looking at?
CARTER: First clip, they’re on an FBI manhunt. And Mulder and Scully aren’t there. And the second clip, Mulder and Scully are there … and they’re on an FBI manhunt.
M: Goodnight, everybody. [audience laughs]
DAVID DUCHOVNY: I wish I had known that when we were filming…[laughter]
M: You guys have talked a lot about how this one is a departure from the original mythology. It’s a stand-alone horror thriller. [In the clip] we’re getting references to Mulder’s sister, so clearly you haven’t abandoned everything we’ve come to know about the series. Talk a little bit about the balance between the two.
FRANK SPOTNITZ: Well, this movie was made for all the people in this room tonight… [self-congratulatory cheer from audience]
FS: Without the fans of the show, this movie never would have gotten made. Actually, there’s an executive here, Steve from the studio, who everybody should thank because he campaigned for this movie for seven years. We wanted it to work for the fans. But having said that, we needed it to work for the great big audiences out there, and we were especially excited at the idea of introducing this show and characters to people who were too young to watch The X-Files when it was on originally, which is quite a few people. I think if you’re a fan, which you people clearly are, it’s going to have a lot of resonance, but it will make sense to a new audience.
M: So seven years. Can you walk us through the timeline when you first started talking about the movie to when it finally got started?
CC: Actually, we started working on the story a year after The X-Files finished in 2002. And then that got interrupted by “business” when we were all ready to go. Then there was a three- to four-year period where it looked like the movie wasn’t gonna get made. So when the business - which was a lawsuit - was resolved, I swear I was hanging up the phone with my lawyers and Fox was calling on the other line, saying, “If you want to do this movie, it’s now or never.” There was the writer’s strike looming, so we said “now”, and that was a year and a few months ago.
M: David, what were your thoughts on whether or not this would actually happen?
DD: I always thought that it was going to happen. There was always that appetite for us to make it. Having not been involved with the business end that Chris and Frank were, I think I felt more optimistic about it most of the time.
M: Was there a conflict of you ramping up to get back into character or having to pull back?
DD: I don’t work that hard. [laughter]
M: Chris, you often say “It’s only as scary as it is believable.” It’s not the best time in our world right now. It’s awfully scary. How do you compete with all that real life uncertainty?
CC: Its hard because reality outdoes fiction now. It’s hard to make anything scarier beyond what we’re experiencing. But I think that what we’ve done here, which is what we’ve done best since the beginning, is to do something that is not possible but not implausible; something that could perhaps happen in the real world.
M: David, can you talk about the six years in the life of your character since the end of the show?
DD: I thought that the first smart move that Frank and Chris made was to allow time to go on in the world of The X-Files, as it has gone on with the world at large, so that we wouldn’t be trying to find these characters set in stone as when we left. Looking back, when Gillian and I played the characters in 1993, the idea of me trying to be like that guy right now - as much as I’d love to be able to - I think it would be a little embarrassing to try. So Mulder changed over the course of the nine years of the show and changed again over the six years that we haven’t seen him. I think that's probably one of the most interesting things as an actor to try and embody is the same character as time goes by and not wanting to just be a cartoon guy who's frozen in time but actually working with changes of life or consciousness that happen to all of us with time.
M: Can you-
DD: No. [laughter]
M: As an actor, what do you focus on?
DD: Just to be honest and truthful. I wanted to see what happens to this quester, whether he gets what he’s after or not. I wanted to take him to his end, and I think this is another step towards that.
M: Will the shippers be happy? [lots of stupid girls cheer]
DD: I’ll say yes.
M: Can you elaborate on the film’s title?
CC: If you remember, the poster on Mulder's wall in his office from the pilot episode said “I want to believe” on it. So it drew from the very beginning. It really also I think sums up, I'd call it the nature of Mulder's quest which is he struggles with his faith and the things unseen and the unknown and the mysterious. So it's not that he takes things just on faith. He actually struggles with that faith.
M: Can you guys talk about the casting of Amanda Peet, Xzibit and Billy Connolly?
FS: Amanda Peet, we were looking for somebody who had Gillian's gravity and intelligence and authority to be this really strong, smart, capable young FBI agent commanding this manhunt. We had been watching her on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and thought she was the perfect person for this, so that was easy. Xzibit was just discovered in casting. We had no clue. As it turned out, he had done a rap song that mentioned The X-Files.
DD: He pimped Chris’ ride. [laughter]
FS: Then Billy Connolly was somebody that Chris had really wanted to work with for a very long time, admired from a movie called Mrs. Brown, and he wanted to do it as well. He actually has a lovely goatee, and we had to shave it off for which we felt very guilty.
M: The big question that everyone has is what notable X-Files alumn will be appearing in the movie. I know there may or may not be some call sheets that got leaked out there that gave us certain information. Care to confirm or deny this? [Mitch Pileggi] is on IMDB.
CC: He plays the werewolf. [laughter]
M: Let’s talk about all the secrecy behind the film. How hard have you worked to keep it all a secret?
CC: Hard. The first movie we thought we were taking precautions when we put the script on colored paper so you couldn’t xerox it. By the third day of filming, photos had already leaked to the National Enquirer, so we knew we had to be very careful this time. So we took crazy precautions here, like making all the key crew members only read the script in a room with video cameras on them.
DD: I actually had to convince Chris to give me a script.
CC: One of the hardest nights of shooting, we were filming in a place that was not exactly in the script and it was not exactly scripted. I swear to you, no one on the crew including this man [points to Duchovny] knew what I was doing. I was just like leading people. 'We're going to shoot here and we're going to do this, we're going to do this, we're going to do this.' It's not a good way to make a movie.
FS: One thing I’ve noticed is that the fans are supportive of the secrecy. If somebody does leak the film between now and the release, I don’t think it would be met with the same praise and affection.
M: I know you’re waiting to do the The X-Files: Spring Break Movie. What is it about snow that’s so important?
DD: Yeah?! [laughter]
CC: We knew we were working on a budget, and it just so happens that this idea works better in an extreme environment. It’s production value that I wanted even though it’s ten times harder to make a movie in the snow. There are all these variables that make it more difficult.
DD: It was funny just to see him do the “snow run.” There’s no way to look cool running in the snow. [laughter]
M: Will there be any nostalgic elements?
DD: I don't think there was any kind of nostalgic feel to the film It really felt from the inception all the way through execution that we were just making a good film. We just wanted to make a good thriller. The subject matter called a certain amount of nostalgia in the characters and everything, but it wasn't going to be one of these films that was constantly winking and nodding and trying to pander that kind of nostalgia. I think it's inherent in the enterprise, but we really wanted to make a great film that stood on its own.
M: Have there been any advances in flashlight or cell phone technology? [laughter]
CC: For Scully yes, for Mulder no.
DD: I think I know what you mean … and I don’t like it. [laughter] Interesting side note, the advancement of the original cell phone was one of the ways we were able to keep shooting the episodes because Gillian and I were so burnt out and tired because we had to be onscreen together constantly. With the addition of the cell phone, we were actually able to get days off.
M: Any reference to William, the son of Mulder and Scully?
CC: William is referenced. We have not forgotten him. They have not forgotten him. This is a movie that, as we've said, is not a mythology movie so it doesn't depend on his absence or existence. It is a story that takes place apart from him. That's not to say that we've forsaken him.
M: Have you felt the internet fan presence jump into your world at all?
CC: It’s a fantastic tool obviously because you can reach people very quickly. The studio has a good relationship with it. I’m sure a lot of you have seen the video with the young woman who got the script.
M: What will surprise people the most?
DD: I’ve only seen it on a monitor at Chris’ house, but I was pleased. I think it stands on its own as a classic scary thriller.
CC: I don’t know what will be surprising. There’s no full frontal nudity. [laughter]
FS: I don’t know what people expect this movie to be. I really don’t.
DD: I was pleased as a moviegoer. There will be people who miss certain things. You can’t please everyone and that’s inevitable. But the job that we had, which was to make a good film, I think we did that. What I've been saying is I think it hearkens back to the kind of beginnings of the show. The first couple years, the first three years where we were really the only thriller, horror, scary show on television. I know that everybody loves Mulder and Scully and the relationships and all that, but I think originally, that's what people fell in love with. Here's a show that's doing this. There hasn't been a show like this that's doing that. In many ways, we got back to our roots of the show.
CC: It's set up for another movie if this movie does well.
FS: I felt like at the end of this movie, if this were the last time we saw Mulder and Scully, I'd be very proud to leave it at that moment. I hope it's not, but if it is, then I feel pretty good about the work. Our hope was always to keep a show that people could be entertained by for years. I felt like this show was there for the long haul. I remember once getting screamed at by the money guy at Fox because we sent a crew to Washington D.C. and snuck in an extra shot outside the Lincoln Center, which was not in the plan. It cost us an extra thousand dollars and I was just berated for it. Chris said ‘That phone call will go away, but that film will be there forever.’ And I always thought about that with The X-Files and I still do.