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The Art Directors Guild Film Society and the American Cinematheque presented the first of their 2013 film series at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood Sunday night. Two episodes of "The X-Files" were shown on the big screen. Season 7's "Je Souhaite — I Wish," as many fans will recall, is the episode written and directed by Vince Gilligan in which Mulder finds a genie and walks the empty streets of downtown L.A. as his first wish goes awry. And Season 6's "Triangle," inspired by the long tracking shots of Hitchcock's "Rope," features only a handful of cuts in its 44-minute run time.
Watch the promo for the "X-Files" episode "Je Souhaite — I Wish":
Afterward, there was a Q&A with series production designer Corey Kaplan, writer-producer Gilligan, and creator Chris Carter.
Much of the show's success is due to the atmosphere, and much of that is thanks to the work of people like Kaplan. She was the series' production designer after the show relocated from Vancouver to Los Angeles for the show's last four seasons.
There was a lot of creative back and forth between the writers and production designers. Carter once asked how he could make Kaplan's job easier; she jokingly asked for a one-room, "My Dinner with André"-type episode that didn't require multiple locations. He had her design her favorite set and wrote the episode "How the Ghost Stole Christmas" to be shot entirely on that set.
When the show relocated, Kaplan had to rebuild the office sets solely from screen grabs, as no blueprints existed (Mulder's basement office had been a repurposed set from another failed Canadian pilot). She was asked to do the same thing in re-creating the "Brady Bunch" set for "Sunshine Days"" (Gilligan's second directorial effort for the series).
How do you turn a rock quarry in Vancouver into the American Southwest? "Tens of thousands of gallons of red paint," says Carter, calling that "the writing — or the painting — on the wall" that led to the show's eventual move to L.A.
Carter on why the show worked: "Ultimately, the success of the show is really David and Gillian and the characters of Mulder and Scully — the way they played them. I think it's simply that relationship that we hung everything on." They were "kind of an idealized man-woman relationship, which was platonic and respectful and based on a shared desire to find the truth in this case. And we played that out for a really long time. And then we snuck in scenes like you saw on the Queen Mary [from "Triangle"], where Mulder and Scully actually kissed. So we cheated all the time, played fast and loose with that sexual tension."
Watch a clip from the "X-Files" episode "Triangle":
Gilligan on how working on the X-Files affected his work (including "Breaking Bad"): "What [Carter] taught us, what I learned from you, from pretty much from the first month I was there — was you always said, 'Look for the visual element in each episode.' The writers would come into Chris's office when we had another act or another idea — when we had made some forward momentum on whatever episode we had been individually working on at the time. Chris would always say — you really inoculated it into our brains, which I appreciate, which holds me in good stead to this day — 'What is the visual element of this episode? What is the interesting-looking thing?' In other words, this is a motion picture, this is a visual medium. This is not a radio play put on television. This is storytelling first and foremost based on the visuals, on the look, on the images and bolstered and helped along by the dialogue, but what's the visual element? And it started there, I believe."
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Though the budgets began small, they grew with the show's success, so much so that they prompted Gilligan to exclaim, looking back, "Man, those were the salad days. They are long gone." Carter credited producer Bob Goodwin and head of production Charlie Goldstein with getting the needed funding from the studio. "One of the idiot things that made the show good in the end is that we didn't know what we couldn't do. So we just did anything and everything and the money magically appeared."
On some of the long shots in "Triangle": "The real trick was that elevator wasn't actually a moving elevator. So what happened was those doors would close and what you didn't hear, because we cut it out in sound, is the set deck people running around changing furniture and the new extras coming in, and when the doors would reopen, it would be a new set, essentially. And it was like old-time movie making. There were no visual effects. It was everything done by hand and in a hurry."
When asked if maybe Carter would bring "X-Files" back to TV for a limited run or miniseries, he gave a concise and definitive no.
Kaplan told the story of how she rolled up for her interview on a skateboard, and Gilligan recounted the experience of meeting Carter through his agent, who happened to be related to Carter's wife. Carter already knew of Gilligan before the introduction, having been impressed by his script for "Wilder Napalm." "Man, this guy writes so specifically about what he wants you to see, and he knows exactly what he wants, how he wants to tell a story."
Since the screening was a celebration of some of the visual aspects of the show, it stirred Gilligan to exhort the crowd. "It's goddamn crime to me that this show is not on HD or Blu-ray. This is a write-your-congressman moment; write Fox and say we want this thing!"
Carter on some of the most important advice he ever got: "I took the pilot to a friend of mine, named Rick Carter, who has since won the Academy Award for 'Avatar' and 'Lincoln,' and he's done a lot of Spielberg's movies, and he's one of the best production designers there are. And for Spielberg, he had done 44 'Amazing Stories,' so he had done television. And I gave him the script and he said OK. Here's my best advice to you: Hint at everything, and don't show them anything. Keep everything in the dark and in the shadows, because you aren't gonna have enough time and money to actually scare people with real things. And it was one of the best pieces of advice I could have gotten, and we took that to the bank and made it work for nine years."
When asked if they had any regrets, Carter said, "Not really. There's one thing I would change, but I never tell people what it is." Gilligan's reply (after "Je Souhaite – I Wish," the episode he directed, screened): "I wish there wasn't that dude I saw way, way, way in the background of that scene where there's nobody left on Earth. Did nobody else catch that? There's a little guy way in the background, and I never noticed it because I've never seen it on a screen this big."
Carter says one of most difficult episodes to film was the pilot. "Every day, I'd get notes screamed at me through the process. And they were people who just didn't know what we were trying to do." And even though they've now had 20 years, "They have not since apologized."