REFLECTIONS: Frank Spotnitz

Wed, September 3rd, 2008 at 10:35am PDT | Updated: September 3rd, 2008 at 10:35am

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Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

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"The X-Files" #0 on sale now

From the show's second season, Frank Spotnitz's name has been synonymous with "The X-Files." Spotnitz wrote some of the most loved episodes of the series -- including "Field Trip" -- and with show creator Chris Carter, Spotnitz has developed much of the show's mythology and written both X-Files feature films.

Now Spotnitz is hard at work in the X-Files universe once again, penning Wildstorm's spin-off comic book based on the television series. Illustrated by Brian Denham, "The X-Files" takes place roughly between the second and fifth seasons of the show, stars many classic characters and, like the TV series, will feature both stand-alone and "mythology" stories.

Spotnitz stops by REFLECTIONS to talk about making "The X-Files" just as scary in comic book form, and also opens up about "The X-Files: I Want To Believe," the X-Files film that opened earlier this summer to critical indifference and mediocre box office receipts. Spotnitz discusses the fan reaction to the film, the main characters' journey and the continuing possibility of a third X-Files feature.

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Why did you decide to resurrect The X-Files in comic book form?

It was actually the idea of an executive at 20th Century Fox. He told me it would be a great time to relaunch The X-Files as comic books or graphic novels, and I thought it was a great idea. The question then became, who was going to relaunch it? I happen to have professional friendships with both ["Identity Crisis" writer] Brad Meltzer and ["Y: The Last Man" writer] Brian K. Vaughan, and I emailed them both asking them about it, and they both told me Wildstorm. It's kind of unusual, because usually the studio makes that call.

"The X-Files" #1 on sale in November

The book was originally scheduled to be released as three one-shot specials, but in the first issue it's implied that "The X-Files" is now an ongoing series. Can you clear that up for us?

I don't know, and honestly it is my fault. They had these wonderful deadlines set for me, and I thought that I could honor them, and it just became overwhelming doing a good job on the comics and meeting all my obligations for the movie. I thought I would have a breath, but we had so much work to do with the DVD and promoting the movie all over the world, that I ended up late. But I just finished the second issue, and now I'm well into the third comic.

Would you like to go on beyond those three comics?

I would love to go on and [Wildstorm] are intending it to go on. It's going to be hard for me to continue, so they are reading other writers right now to continue. Even though they are shorter, it's akin to writing an episode, which is a lot of work. Add on to that I have this other career as a screenwriter that I have to service. If I ever have free time I'd love to come back because it is a lot of fun.

Was it easy to get back in The X-Files mode of storytelling?

They were readily accessed. What's really easy is that [the comics] are so short that they are slices of The X-Files, and you don't have to go into the depths that you normally go into for a [television] episode. That is a good thing and a bad thing, because it is hard to make a satisfying meal out of that.

What is good about these next two [issues] is that they are a two-parter, so I have 44 pages to tell the story, which is a little more satisfying.

"The X-Files: I Want To Believe" theatrical poster

I've always felt that "The X-Files" could go on forever. The believer/skeptic dynamic was such a great storytelling vehicle, and the fact that we could use anything we don't understand makes the possibilities limitless. There are so many X-Files that we could keep telling these for years if there is an audience.

Were you a big comic book fan before you were approached to do these comics?

No. I was a comic fan when I was a little kid--about 10-12-years-old was my intense comic book period. I was off by myself in Phoenix without any other comic fans, and digested all the usual superheroes. Not to knock them, but I was not particularly imaginative with my comic book choices: I read Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Green Hornet. I then transitioned away from comics to TV and then movies, and never went back.

["The X-Files" comic book] was the first time in decades when I became a comic book person. When I did meet Brian Vaughan, I did read his work, which I thought was phenomenal and sophisticated.

How hard was it to write your first comics script?

The good thing was that I was on a very tight deadline and knew I had to get it out because they had announced that it was going to come out the week the movie was being released. It forced me to focus, and I learned a lot about writing comics when I was writing that first issue. You need to be very disciplined in your storytelling because you have very few panels to tell a story. Secondly, you need to restrict your dialogue because comics are such a visual medium. I also learned what types of pictures work in comics and what doesn't. Certain types of actions are difficult to convey in a panel.

"The X-Files: I Want To Believe" theatrical poster

Were you satisfied with the issue you produced?

I would say I was satisfied. I think it was a good relaunching. We could go a lot farther, and I think my next [issues] do go a lot farther; reintroduce some of the characters we love and dip into some interesting ideas about the heart of the series. If I had the opportunity, there is a level of sophistication that can be brought to the comics that will be very interesting.

Let's talk about the art, which is very much X-Files-esque.

That's what Wildstorm does so well. They found Brian [Denham] and his stuff was beautiful. I was so impressed, and think it is very much in keeping with the character of the series; very dark and moody. It really elevates the whole thing.

Was it your idea to have the first half-page be snippets from the main titles of the show?

That was actually Wildstorm's idea. They suggested it and I thought it was a great idea.

What is coming up in the two-parter?

The two-parter plays on Mulder's paranoia. We bring back the Lone Gunman, and it's an investigation that touches all of Mulder's paranoid buttons. There is secret government research, big corporations trying to get defense contracts through Congress; all the halls of power that cause bad things to happen in the nation's capital.

It's interesting to me. The series is set between seasons two and five, and it is in terms of the way the characters look and what characters populate the series, but I think it really is more free-floating. We are taking that situation, but we are dealing with issues that are more relevant to our lives now. It's not a flashback to the ‘90s.

Scene from "The X-Files: I Want To Believe"

Your story sounds almost like a lost mythology episode.

It's tangential to the mythology. It doesn't change the narrative of the series, but I bring in Roush Industries, which was brought up very lightly in the series. I always intended to do a lot more with it.

Since "The X-Files" went off the air, the role, power and influence of corporations has grown. I've always thought that if "The X-Files" were made today, it wouldn't be an alien/government conspiracy; it would be an alien/corporate/government conspiracy.

How hard is it to translate the suspense and tension that was such a hallmark of the show to comic book form?

I think the comic book form works really well for suspense. The panels let you hold time and elongate time. When you were doing the TV show, the directors didn't always get that--and I'm talking about guest directors there, not the great producer/directors we had--and shot past the suspense.

What is hard to do in comic books is serve the exposition and talk that there is in the show. I have one to two pages of just people talking and it's so hard to avoid.

How many more X-Files projects do you think you could write if deadlines allowed for it?

Scene from "The X-Files: I Want To Believe"

An endless amount. It's just the time and opportunity.

Any inkling to create a "Season Ten" of "The X-Files" in comic book form, like Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight" at Dark Horse?

It's an interesting idea. My heart would love to do it, but the amount of time that it would take me to do that in a way that I feel was proper would take a year away from me writing anything but the comics. And obviously, I would also need [X-Files creator] Chris [Carter's] blessing to do it as well.

Also, we are all holding our breaths to see if there is going to be another X-Files movie. Despite the disappointing performance ["The X-Files: I Want To Believe"] had at the box office in the United States, I think that is still a very open question. And I wouldn't want to do any X-Files stories in comic book form that would conflict with that.

Despite the lukewarm critical reception and box office, actual X-Files fans seemed to love it.

I do think the fans did love it, although the popular media didn't pick up on that. My impression is that it was overwhelmingly well received by fans. But there is no denying that the box office was very disappointing. We've done dramatically better overseas. We'll probably hit $70 million worldwide, which is a profit.

Scene from "The X-Files: I Want To Believe"

What is interesting to me is that people have overwhelmingly embraced the decisions we made about Mulder and Scully's relationship. We thought it was very risky. Even though Mulder and Scully were involved romantically off-screen before the series ended, we had never shown it before. It felt like we were really messing with the DNA of the series by having them in a bed together. But [fans] accepted it, and accepted it quickly. That was the riskiest thing about the movie to me, and the most rewarding thing.

Were you ever thinking about bringing Doggett and Reyes back for the second film?

Yes. We love those characters and ultimately decided we wanted this to focus as much as possible as Mulder and Scully. There was a point where even Skinner didn't make an appearance. In the writing of the script, Chris saw an opportunity to bring Skinner into it, and it was a great chance to work with Mitch again, and it would make the fans happy. But we still wanted to be as streamlined as possible.

Why did you decide to put in the bonus scene halfway through the credits?

A couple of reasons. One is that we could not presume that there would be more X-Files movies. If this was going to be the end, we wanted a moment that was more appropriate and rich to the whole scope of the series than just having Mulder say goodbye to Scully at a car. We wanted to leave fans with something more meaningful, and there is definitely a lot of meaning to the two of them in a rowboat.

Scene from "The X-Files: I Want To Believe"

The second reason is that it is a summer movie. It felt like you want to leave people with something more than the uncertainty and fragile faith that Scully had in that last moment.

The journey that Scully took over the course of the film seemed like the same journey she took over the course of the series, which was nice to see again.

It's so complicated. There were so many problems we had to address, and not many people have talked about it. Mulder believes his sister is dead, so we needed to know what drives him now. Scully has gone from being a skeptic to a believer, so where would she be now? We had to consider an awful lot in order to be true to the characters, which is that Mulder always needs to save the girl. Is he being misguided and allowing himself to be manipulated?

What I love about Scully's storyline is the question of whether or not she is right to want to treat this boy. I can't tell you the answer, and no one can. The priest is completely reasonable to want the child to go to a hospice to die. It's a practical suggestion. Scully is wrestling with her own issues, and whether she is attaching herself neurotically to this child because of the loss of her son.

And then there is this pedophile priest, who would be natural for Scully to be skeptical of, even after all she's seen. And then the priest says to her not to give up, and it plays off her own wants and desires.

Scene from "The X-Files: I Want To Believe"

That's what is so rich to me about the movie, and the fans picked up on this even though a lot of critics didn't. The movie is designed to service Mulder and Scully in a very real and adult way. These people have dealt with loss all their lives, and this case really presses all their buttons in a really elegant way, not to pat myself on the back. Each of those investigations deals with their own ghosts, and in the end the two paths are, in fact, one.

You've said you've had this idea since the series concluded. How much did the relationship between Mulder and Scully change and evolve since then?

We came up with the story in 2003. We knew that Scully would have a patient. And then we dropped the movie for years.

The line "Don't give up" was a slogan Chris has heard at a speech given by the religious scholar Houston Smith, and it spoke to both of us profoundly about life and the struggles of life. As you get older, you get more appreciative of how hard life is and more respectful of those who do persevere. We knew it was a message that was timeless and valuable to everyone out there, even the critics who slammed this movie. (laughs) It was something we talked about in conversation when we sat down for coffee and had not yet begun on the script back in 2007. It ended up being the heart of the film.

Ignoring the critics, ignoring the fans and ignoring all the hoopla, how do you personally feel about "The X-Files: I Want to Believe?"

I feel very proud of the film and think it will age very well. I certainly wish it had gotten a warmer critical reaction and done better at the box office, but I have no regrets about the film itself.

TAGS:  x-files, frank spotnitz, chris carter, wildstorm

 
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