The producer also talks about finding the story for the new movie, the Internet 'werewolf' photo leak and the film's box office performance
It’s been six years since the X-FILES TV series went off the air, and fan anticipation for the second theatrical film X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE had fans chatting excitedly on the internet for months.
The plot was top secret, but David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were returning to their roles as Mulder and Scully, the believer/skeptic team of former F.B.I. investigators that uncovered everything from alien lifeforms, government conspiracies and monsters.
Also back was creator Chris Carter serving as director who wrote the script alongside producer Frank Spotnitz.
It was a can’t miss proposition, but something funny happened at the box office – it was trounced by a little super-hero flick known as THE DARK KNIGHT. Although X-FILES only made a little over $10 million in its opening weekend, it also was one of the most inexpensive movies of the summer at $30 million which will put it in profit long before SPEED RACER ever makes it to the finish line.
What’s been most surprising though, is reaction from the fans – which, true to form, is split down the middle as were critics as well as the story involved stem cell research, faith and organ and body transplants. It brought Mulder out of hiding to assist the F.B.I. in the disappearance of one of their agents and found Scully having her own crises of faith in science and the church as she struggles to save a terminal patient of hers.
As X-FILES heads into its second weekend at the box office, Spotnitz graciously granted iF Magazine an exclusive interview yesterday to discuss the evolution of the new movie, fan reaction, its boxoffice peroformance, an Unrated DVD and of course, whether or not there’s more “truth” left to uncover out there with the franchise.
iF MAGAZINE: With so many ways to take an X-FILES movie, did it take you and Chris a long time to settle on a story idea?
FRANK SPOTNITZ: It did take awhile back in 2003 to come up with something that we felt would be sufficiently different from anything we'd done on the television series. What we liked about this story was that it was a Frankenstein tale, but surprisingly close to reality. Just about everything you see in the movie -- the two-headed dogs, the body transplants -- has been performed in real life, although not humans, hopefully!
iF: At the Paley Festival this year, you mentioned that the original screenplay draft of X-FILES 2 was lost and you and Chris started from scratch when Fox gave you the greenlight. How different were the drafts? Was it the same idea? How did time improve the original concept?
SPOTNITZ: It actually wasn't a draft we lost, but rather the index cards we use to work out the story. We'd written quite a few of them, but not the whole story by any means. There was the storyline about the body transplants, and part of Christian's story as well. And we knew what Mulder and Scully would be doing (or not doing) professionally. But we hadn't worked out at all what became the heart of the movie -- the relationship between Mulder and Scully, and their individual struggles with belief.
iF: Originally, it was written that X-FILES 2 was going to be more a horror movie. I think fans were thinking it would be more in lines of a monster-of-the-week type of thing. Did the original idea start off as a monster-type thing, and morph into what is more of a science-fiction/horror story?
SPOTNITZ: I think the original story back in 2003 probably would've been more centered on the body transplant storyline/investigation, but after the long gap, Mulder and Scully as characters and their relationship became even more interesting to us.
iF: Did you have a list of do’s and don’ts, storywise, as you went along?
SPOTNITZ: Ha! Yes, I suppose so, although they're not written out in list form.
iF: It feels like you and Chris really started with “what is happening with Mulder and Scully” for the movie, as opposed to “what is the big idea.” In some ways, it’s like a really cool arthouse movie with a studio budget dealing with philosophical ideas mixed with horror and science-fiction elements. Was there ever a hesitation on the studio’s part to go in this direction?
SPOTNITZ: I think that's fair. And I'm guessing a lot of the critical reaction is based on what they were expecting the movie to be, given its release date, rather than what the movie actually is. I guess I was a little surprised they didn't give us more credit for that, or for the many risks we took in this film. But no, we seemed amazingly in synch with the studio throughout the process.
iF: There was some kind of “wolf suit” photography that leaked to the Internet last year when you were filming. I’m assuming this was planted to throw people off the scent of what the movie was about?
SPOTNITZ: That's right. We actually got the idea for the werewolf mislead because of an obscure post on Ain't It Cool News. Someone had written that they'd met Chris in a bar and he'd told them the movie would be about werewolves. We decided to just keep feeding that storyline. We felt most people wouldn't be too disappointed when the movie ended up not being about werewolves after all.
iF: One of the things that was very successful in the new movie, is it stays true to the TV series and what happened at the end of it. I thought it was very ballsy to keep Mulder and Scully assisting the F.B.I., instead of what happens in most films like this where at the mid-way point, characters are drawn back into the organization they previously left behind.
SPOTNITZ: Yes, I'm wary of movie sequels that work just to get you right back to where you used to be. We wanted to keep moving forward. We knew we'd be disappointing some people who wanted the same old story back again, but we thought it was more interesting, truer to the characters and the situation we'd depicted at the FBI when the series ended back in 2002.
iF: That said, not having them “officially” join the F.B.I. mid-way through the movie, did you find it hard to construct action sequences where Mulder and Scully don’t get to wield a gun?
SPOTNITZ: Ha! Well, we always tried NOT to have them use their guns in the TV series. And, in fact, while some guns are held in this movie -- by Whitney, the FBI guys, and Skinner -- not a single shot is fired. And there's not a single explosion.
iF: If you could have put a moment or explanation in the movie about where Reyes and Doggett are now, what would that have been? Where are they now?
SPOTNITZ: I'm not going to answer that one. Just in case.
iF: Are there any characters you tried to incorporate into the movie, but just couldn’t find a way of bringing them into the story?
SPOTNITZ: Actually, for quite a long while, there was no one in this movie from the old days at all, just Mulder and Scully. Then, fairly late in the writing process, Chris realized there was an opportunity to have Skinner come to the rescue, and we jumped at it.
iF: Were there many deleted scenes? If so, what were some of them? Anything you missed in particular?
SPOTNITZ: There are a few deleted scenes, but nothing we missed or felt would make the movie better. You'll see there's another scene with Scully, Father Joe and Christian, another scene with the girl in the box, and a variation on the scene after Mulder's car crashes.
iF: Will there be a longer “director’s cut” or UNRATED cut on DVD?
SPOTNITZ: Yes, the unrated version is, not surprisingly, more graphic than the theatrical version. We're not talking about tons of gore, but I have to say it is more upsetting than the PG-13 version.
iF: I was a bit disappointed in the marketing of the film. I always felt that 20th Century Fox had a bit of a problem because they not only have the X-MEN franchise, but also the X-FILES franchise and in both cases, they used the big “X” to promote them both. That said, I’m almost wondering if using the “X” so prominent on posters, might have confused audiences. The marketing also seemed very intent on emphasizing this was a movie, not a TV series as if people would not understand it was a feature film. Only this week, has the newspaper ads featured David and Gillian’s faces predominantly. What’s your feeling about the overall marketing of the movie?
SPOTNITZ: I try not to second-guess these things. I think everyone made the best decisions they could. It was a very tough situation, having a pretty small scale movie opening a week after one of the biggest movies of all time.
iF: I’m still confused why the movie didn’t open up bigger than it should have. Do you think people weren’t aware of the movie or that THE DARK KNIGHT and STEP BROTHERS chewed into your audience?
SPOTNITZ: I don't think awareness was necessarily the problem. I think the bigger problem was that we weren't counter-programming, like STEP BROTHERS and MAMMA MIA! were. If you were looking for a dark, scary movie experience, you were almost certainly going to THE DARK KNIGHT that weekend, unless you happened to be a big X-FILES fan.
iF: Do you think in retrospect that X-FILES fans wanted to see a movie steeped more in its core alien mythology instead?
SPOTNITZ: No, I don't. I think X-FILES fans got used to seeing a whole range of stories in the television series. Many, many of them prefer this kind of storytelling to the alien stuff. I think we attempted to do something very different and, in many ways, completely unlike anything we'd done before. It's not what some wanted, but most fans have responded very positively.
iF: While I don’t want to give anything away to people who haven’t seen it yet, but the last image, after the credits at the end, gives a sense that this might be the swan song to X-FILES, especially with the hand wave. Was that the intent?
SPOTNITZ: It's ambiguous, isn't it? And that was really the point. If it's the end, then there's an awful lot of meaning in that image. If there are more movies, then it's simply goodbye for now.
iF: Are the doors closed on the X-FILES for good, or do you and Chris have other stories you still want to tell?
SPOTNITZ: I've always said I thought THE X-FILES could go on forever, provided there was an audience that wanted to see those stories. We'll see.
iF: What else are you working on? Any other TV shows or movies in development?
SPOTNITZ: Yes, I have a few very exciting things that I hope to be able to announce very shortly.