Co-conspirator—and co-writer and co-producer—Frank Spotnitz reveals ‘the real secret of The X-Files’

Chris Carter Is Not A Lone Gunman

on June 21, 2008 by Phil Contrino

By Chad Greene

When it comes to The X-Files, Chris Carter did not—and does not—act alone. Since the second season of the series, he has been aided and abetted by co-conspirator Frank Spotnitz—who helped him write and produce not only scores of episodes, but also this summer’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe. In addition, Spotnitz served for three years as the president of Carter’s Ten Thirteen Productions.

And, in his own words, Spotnitz owes all that to “absolute dumb luck.” That, and to joining a book club when the then-wire reporter returned to Los Angeles to study screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

“Before I started film school, I decided to join a book group with about six other people. And one of them was Chris Carter,” Spotnitz reveals. “At the time, he had not created The X-Files —he was writing television movies for Disney. I was in this book group with him for two, two and a half years, but then it ended. I lost touch with him, basically. And the next thing I knew, X-Files was on the air.

“Toward the end of the first season, a friend of mine who wanted to write for television called me and said, ‘You know this guy Chris Carter, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Will you call him for me and see if he’ll let me come and pitch some ideas for The X-Files ?’ And I felt very uncomfortable about it, but I thought, ‘Well, OK, it’s for a friend, why not? What do I have to lose?’ So I called Chris and he said, ‘No, I won’t listen to your friend’s ideas. But if you have any, I’ll listen to yours.’”

Spotnitz promptly prepared three pitches for Carter, who didn’t buy any of them. But he was, however, in need of a staff writer. “He offered me that on a Thursday, and I started on the following Monday. Just dumb luck,” Spotnitz marvels. “But I will say, as lucky as I was, it was a tough environment, and he was a very demanding boss, and most people who came on that show didn’t last. But it was, I think, the perfect show for me. It was exactly the kind of show I would have watched as a kid. I just had a feel for it, and that’s why I not only survived there but also thrived there.”

Even though he had loved series like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek as a kid, Spotnitz tells BOXOFFICE that, when it comes to supernatural and extraterrestrial phenomena, he’s “way more of a Scully than a Mulder”—way more of a skeptic than a believer.

“I don’t believe in little green men in flying saucers, but there’s a lot that’s really interesting about this quest for ‘The Truth,’ this quest to understand things that are beyond our grasp,” Spotnitz says. “And what became increasingly clear as the TV series went on were the parallels between the search for extraterrestrial life and for faith, religious faith. And there’s so many ironies built into the design of The X-Files, because while Mulder is the one who wants to believe—that’s what his poster says, ‘I want to believe’—and is the one who’s willing to believe in bizarre phenomena, Scully is a scientist who is also a Catholic who wears a cross around her neck. And that’s very, very rich and really endless in terms of the number of stories and the types of ideas that you could talk about through those characters and through that subject matter.”

Of course, there’s only one story that Carter and Spotnitz are telling through Mulder and Scully in The X-Files: I Want to Believe —and neither of the co-conspirators will divulge the plot.

“People, as much as they think they want to know, really don’t want to know,” Spotnitz insists. “You really want to go to a movie and be surprised and enjoy the story and not go in knowing what’s going to happen. There’s a power to experiencing something fresh that we don’t want to diminish by talking about it.

“But what we are talking about is the type of movie it is, because it’s very different from the first movie we did in 1998, which was sort of a big summer blockbuster type of a story—big alien spaceship, lots of action and lots of visual effects,” he says. “This is a much smaller, more intimate, more emotional and more personal story. It’s got the characters in the forefront, and their emotional lives and personal conflicts, in a way that we really couldn’t do very often on television. Because when you’re doing twentysomething episodes, there’s only so much of the personal capital of the characters that you can spend before you start to get tired—it becomes a soap opera, and you get worn out by all the emotional journeys that your characters take if you’re doing that every week. But that wasn’t a problem here. We were able to really take them far.”

Consider that a returning of a favor, as it was the relationship between the characters of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dan Scully—and the actors who play them, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson—that took their creators so far.

“You can’t overstate how important those characters, and those actors, are to The X-Files,” says Spotnitz. “They’re two actors who have incredible chemistry together and then, separately, play their characters so beautifully. But just speaking of them as characters, among the many things that are so rich about them is that they were so perfectly suited to each other. That they were perfect opposites—believer, skeptic—a great vehicle for telling stories about the supernatural, but also two diametrically opposed ways of understanding the world around us.

“Yet, they complement each other so beautifully, because they both were—and are—very smart characters who respected each other,” he says. “And I think that’s what was so powerful about that relationship, that they had that respect for each other, even when they disagreed, which they consistently did. That was very romantic, that mutual respect that they had for one another.

“But what was interesting to me was that, as it became increasingly obvious after four or five years that these people loved each other, what was keeping them apart was their quest—the very thing that brought them together was the very thing that was making it impossible for them to be a couple,” Spotnitz says. “As the series went on, that changed, and they did find each other and they had a child together. But then it became another force that kept them apart.”

And what was that force—more powerful, even, than a shadow government laying the groundwork for an alien invasion?

“David Duchovny’s leaving the series,” Spotnitz laughs. “That was the most powerful force. But, yeah, what is ‘The Truth,’ capital T, capital T? I don’t know what that is, but I know that the power of their relationship is the real secret of The X-Files.”

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