“I think that part of the fun of the show is how people struggle to decipher the conspiracy,” Frank Spotnitz says of The X-Files, which stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.
Frank Spotnitz knows The Truth.
Chris Carter, creator of the paranoia-prone Fox drama The X-Files, has shared with Spotnitz his vision for what has come to be called The Mythology.
That places Spotnitz, a Phoenix native and one of the show’s executive producers, inside a tiny band of Earthlings who knows how the series’ long-running alien-invasion story arc will resolve itself a year from now.
For the record, he’s not sharing. Would you?
After tonight’s season finale, only 22 episodes of The X-Files remain. According to Spotnitz, six or seven of them will advance The Mythology story line, a complicated macramé of conspiracy.
Several elements of The Mythology were resolved (or not, but please resist sending withering e-mail) earlier this season, and Spotnitz said tonight’s episode opens up “a new chapter” that will set up the series’ concluding season – whatever that means.
“It’s a new story line, beginning with the season finale and continuing next year, which will bring this to an end,” he said, adding that the new story won’t require “prior knowledge” of Mythological minutiae.
“Anyone who’s intimidated or lost by the previous episodes won’t need to worry. It’s not an entirely clean slate, but it will be simpler than it has been.
“What you need to know about what came before, I think you’ll be able to pick up.”
You’d think the responsibility of knowing The Truth would weigh heavily on Spotnitz, a mild-mannered scuba enthusiast (when there’s time, and there never is) whose first job out of film school was staff writer on the series.
Worse, it would seem, would be having to decipher the known pieces of the puzzle for confused viewers, network executives – not to mention baffled TV critics.
“No, I’m happy to explain it to people,” Spotnitz said over a recent breakfast near the 20th Century Fox studios. “I went to a fan convention once, and as my presentation, I tried to draw a flow chart of all the stories. By the end, it was this tangled mess. No wonder people get confused.
“I think that part of the fun of the show is how people struggle to decipher the conspiracy,” he continued, adding that its complications are “what make it seem plausible.”
“It (a real-life conspiracy to cover up an alien invasion or whatever) would be complicated,” he says.
Of course, The X-Files franchise won’t die a year from now. Show creator Carter has planned a series of movies to perpetuate what has become one of the most successful and influential TV series of its era.
The X-Files at times has been agonizingly skimpy with big-arc revelations. Mythology episodes that promise to be (and are promoted as) illuminating often spark more questions than they answer.
Spotnitz promises that the series’ last season won’t be treated like a protracted run-up MG cq MG to its feature-film afterlife.
“It’s not like the series finale’s going to be a tease for the films,” he said. “It’s going to be a conclusion of the television series, and of the stories that have been in the television series. But we’ll leave room for more stories.”
Good thing. Spotnitz is president of Carter’s Ten Thirteen production company, which gives him significant oversight not only of The X-Files brand but whatever else Carter comes up with, including Harsh Realm, a new Fox series for fall.
Spotnitz also has his own multimillion-dollar production deal with 20th Century Fox Television, and he intends one day to create his own series, TV movies, miniseries and feature films.
“I think it’ll be very sad” when the end of The X-Files comes, he said. “And yet at the same time, I’ll be ready to work on other things.”
As a lad in Phoenix – attending the same east Phoenix public schools as Clay Graham, executive producer of The Drew Carey Show, and if that isn’t paranormal, what is? – Spotnitz said he “grew up obsessed with movies and television.”
“I was such a TV watcher as a kid,” he added. “Fortunately, my parents (who’ve since moved to Nevada – hey, isn’t Area 51 near there?) tolerated that.”
Spotnitz, who’s now married with one small child and another en route, enrolled at UCLA, intending to pursue an education in filmmaking.
“But I quickly got sidetracked by journalism,” he said, thanks to “a great, charismatic teacher” during his freshman year.
Spotnitz interned for the Los Angeles Times and worked for two wire services after graduation, but he eventually grew disillusioned with the news biz.
“I looked at other journalists who I thought were great and realized that I wasn’t as good as they were and never would be, probably,” he said. “So, I decided to go back to my original passion.”
Spotnitz returned to LA, free-lanced for Entertainment Weekly and attended film school at the American Film Institute. He wrote three film scripts and had all three optioned (or purchased for potential production, although none has yet made it to the screen).
By this point, Spotnitz had known Carter casually (they were both in the same book group) and was asked by another friend to call Carter on the friend’s behalf to set up a possible meeting to pitch story ideas for The X-Files, which was then in its first season.
“He said, “I’m not interested, but why don’t you come up with some story ideas?’ ” Spotnitz said. “It had never dawned on me to do that.”
Carter quickly shot down Spotnitz’s first few ideas but called back later and encouraged him to try again. Carter eventually invited Spotnitz, who shares his boss’ appreciation for The Night Stalker TV movie and subsequent series, as well as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, to join the show’s writing staff.
“That was on a Thursday,” Spotnitz said. “On Monday, I started at The X-Files, and my life has never been the same.”
“You never know how your lucky break is going to come, but when it does come, you have to be ready to capitalize on it. I instantly felt that I understood this genre, and this type of material.”
Back then, The Truth was germ-size. Nobody knew how long the series would run, or that it would cause such a cultural spaz attack.
Approximately 172 Entertainment Weekly covers later, all of the interlocking Mythology pieces have come together, at least in the minds of The X-Files creative team. The Truth, Spotnitz said, didn’t reveal itself with the clarity many fans no doubt imagine.
“Early on, I learned what Chris’ idea was for the end point of the series, what the final episode would be,” he said. “But on purpose he didn’t spell out all of the steps we’d take to get there, because he wanted to make room for things that come up in the news, and actors you find who are good.
“It turned out to be very wise, because some of our best characters and stories have been things we couldn’t have predicted.”
Provided the Y2K glitch doesn’t send society skidding to a dead stop, the countdown to next May’s series send-off likely will build fan frenzy to near-Seinfeldian levels. It’s hard to imagine hard-core followers getting much more intense, considering the current density and fervor of X-Files-related Internet action.
Spotnitz occasionally trolls the online chatter, and he manages to resist correcting wayward fan-boy analysis. He does take cyber criticism seriously, however.
“Even if 80 percent of the posts are positive after an episode, you’re going to find the 20 percent that are negative, and those are the ones that stick in your memory and eat away at you,” he said.
The Internet interest, as well as the series’ highly successful history of fan conventions, illustrate the sense of ownership its viewers feel for The X-Files. As one of the keepers of Carter’s keys, Spotnitz has attended a few conventions, and he found them fascinating.
“In the beginning, I was very wary, because I didn’t know what kind of weirdos would show up to a convention for a TV show,” he said. “But it actually ended up being a really enjoyable experience. I was amazed at how much these people know. They knew more than I did.
“I got the feeling that this was their show, and they were begrudgingly letting me work on it and talk about the characters.”