The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Erica Fraga, Author of LAX-Files: Behind the Scenes with the Losa Angeles Cast and Crew
Conducted by Matt Allair 02/06/2011
Page Editor: XScribe
I've been fortunate in having come to know Erica over the last two years, as she has already contributed to the Lexicon. We met for coffee at one point, being that we both live in the same area. I've always found her to be practical, warm, candid, as well as very focused on her mission – the publication of this book. The only known locations guide published was X Marks The Spot: On Location with The X-Files by Louisa Gradnitzer and Todd Pittson. It should be noted that this is fairly unprecedented, to have a fan manage to self publish a title. The few exceptions that come to mind would be Star Trek, and Harry Potter, but her dedication and professionalism bodes well for fellow Philes.
Erica has demonstrated incredible patience, as we were supposed to have this interview much earlier, but two factors played into having to shuffle its scheduling. One was that I hadn't gotten the book until recently, its purchase postponed, due to the madness of the Christmas season, and the attendant necessity of having to monitor my personal expenses to correlate with the inevitable credit card payment cycle--a situation I'm sure many people are well acquainted with. Second, was the unexpected opportunity to interview Howard Gordon regarding his own book. Fortunately, this has been a casual affair, and she has shown real grace. I caught her on a relaxed Sunday while she was in the middle of domestic chores; the interview proceeded as follows...
Matt Allair: Thank you for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it.
Erica Fraga: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Matt: Let's start from the beginning. Where did the origin of the idea for this book come from? Did the passing of Kim Manners prompt the decision to act?
Erica: The origin of the book came about when I took a vacation to see some good friends in the Vancouver area, and of course they had to work, so I entertained myself with my own X-Files tour, with the help of Todd Pittman's X Marks The Spot, and when I came back from my trip, I began to kind of look around to see if there was a guide book for the Los Angeles version of the filming locations that were also used. I didn't see anything, but I was doing my own research, and I tracked down the main location manager for the LA show, who was Ilt Jones, and I asked him, "[Is] there a book out there that you [are] aware of? Do you plan to do one? Do any of the other location managers you worked with plan to do something?" He said, "No" and [when I asked] if I could go ahead and do it, he said "Sure, go right ahead." Then in January '09, of course, Kim passed away, and then the book became something much more, and rightly so, and that aspect of the book went from being just a guide to wanting to honor Kim, and the tremendous amount of work [he did] and the influence he had, not only on this show, but [on] other shows, and it just kind of took off from there. But I checked around to see if that would be okay. I talked with Frank, and he said that was a good idea, [I] got a hold of Kim's family, and I asked for their permission and their blessing to go forward with this project, and they gave it, and their only recommendation/requirement was that the books' profits be donated to the ACS, which I was very happy to do for them.
Matt: How long did it take to write?
Erica: Well, from the actual conceptualization of the book to publication, it was twenty-six months. It took me about a year driving up from Northern California down to Southern California, just verifying locations, checking them out. Everything in the book, I confirmed. Whether it's still there [or not], all this time later, is a different story, but it was there when I checked it out. Eighteen months to write.
Matt: What was the most surprising aspect of putting this book together?
Erica: Actually, there were no surprises when it came to doing this book, with the exception of the tremendous amount of support from the cast, the crew, and of course the fan base. The fans that happened to be extras, or visited the set, or fans saying, "This is a great idea and I would love to buy this and read it." Of course, seeing everyone wanting to honor Kim in their own way as well, too. It wasn't so much just surprising, but just seeing the amount that there was there--I was in awe.
Matt: Did you have a favorite location, situation, or interview, while working on the book?
Erica: I don't have favorites, and I tend to get asked this question a lot, even when I was just surfing the board and making new friends [in] that way. All of the time they would say, "You know, what is your favorite episode?" and I don't have any one favorite; I tend to categorize things, and then I subcategorize. In regards to LAX-Files, I have a section of favorite Kim stories, favorite location stories, or just X-Files in general stories. Kim stories that come to mind: I really enjoyed when I was interviewing Annabeth Gish, and how she was talking about how Kim allowed her to do this stunt where she was falling thirty-something feet in--I believe it was "Aubrey Pauley"--and he was telling her a story about being in a bar on the set in Vancouver, and somebody tried to make a pass at his wife, which he didn't take too kindly. That story was very entertaining. Location stories, of course, asking a hotel owner, "Do you mind if we use your motel, and make a giant hole so that a cow can fall through?" That's a favorite of mine (laughs). In addition to the fans, a couple of them actually got to see the set, when it was around in existence. Another fan had the opportunity of being not only on set, but [of] taking a small nap on set and waking up underneath a UFO spaceship with the lights on, and everything. I was just trying to mentally picture that situation. It's phenomenal.
X-Files stories in general. Talking to Bill Davis, how he wanted Cancer-Man to have a scene water-skiing when they were doing his episode. I mean, just random things that I could never see happening, but a part of me wants to see it happen. You know? The crew member that was arrested for the ransom note when they were filming "Closure" and "Sein Und Zeit". Just fantastic things that no one knew about, or at least, I didn't think anyone knew about. I was like, more, more, more. Bring it on. Give me the kind of things that make this a great read.
Matt: What was the most challenging interview to secure?
Erica: There really weren't any challenging ones. I went through proper channels to try to track everybody down, and of course I had a timeframe I was working with. There were those I wanted to get for a variety of reasons. For example, Darren McGavin. I thought he would have been a great interview, but sadly he had passed away by this point, and I wish I had more time to track down Mimi Rogers. I really would have enjoyed interviewing her about her character because I think Agent Fowley is the most fantastic antagonist character ever developed. I think her character was great for the show.
Matt: I know that Angie Cotrell played a role in the early stages, in what way was she most invaluable?
Erica: Angie is a great friend of mine, and she was present in all stages of development. I can't thank her enough for all of the work that she and that others did. I had several close people that were working with me, assisting me, with my behind-the-scenes project, and I can't thank them enough on an individual basis for what they've done.
Matt: I understand that there was a negotiation process with Twentieth-Century Fox Television, as far as obtaining permissions, as I'm interested in 'fair use' issues; are you willing to talk about what their concerns were? Was the fact that sales of the book would go towards charity not dissuasive to them?
Erica: Well, Fox is a business, and I knew that going into it. I very much wanted to get their not so much approval, but their authorization to do this the right way. I did obtain personal photographs from the cast and crew that mostly I had never, ever seen before. Some that I had seen floating around the net over the years, but I was able to track down the original photographers, and I asked them is it okay if I could use this for this publication, and they said "yes". On top of that people [were] talking about personal stuff in regards to Kim and the show, and of course commentary tracks that came off the DVDs, that would tie in nicely to interviews I had already secured. So, I knew Fox was a business and they work with numbers. We came to a negotiation process, and it didn't work out the way I would have liked it to go to, and of course Kim's family wasn't willing, and I was not willing to do, and visa versa. So we had to cut a lot of things out.
There's been talk about a possible second edition in regards to LAX-Files, which hopefully will be able to include the things I had to omit in this publication. Of course, if that ever comes to fruition, all parties have to be on board for this. It would come down to just numbers. This is the first edition, this is how we marketed it, this is how we sold it, this is the profit that came down to it. When I initially approached Fox, I did not mention anything about charity, because even if Fox was on board, and a cut had to be paid to them, whatever was left over that was coming to me as the author, I still would have given to the American Cancer Society. We gave our word to Kim's family we were going to do that, and I am going to honor that. If there's word of a second edition, same thing; what ever profits are left over are going right over to the ACS.
Matt: I wanted to go back to an earlier point. I noticed, aside from location details, there's a lot of anecdotal information from the cast and crew. Was this book written to fill the void of the absence of official episode guides for seasons eight and nine?
Erica: No, actually that wasn't my intention at all, but I feel that seasons eight and nine are just as important as the previous seasons. I could not overlook them, knowing that my intention was to make it a guide book about that. I just thought that real stories from the cast and crew would make for a great read, not only as a fan, but for those interested in production, or just anything behind the scenes. There's a great story in there from one of the season six crew members, who asked not to be named, when they were filming "Dreamland," and everyone is out in the middle of the desert trying to get things organized. They see something hovering above them, and then take off, so to this day, most of the crew have no idea if they witnessed a real UFO, or just the special effects department showing off just how good they really were. It's things like that. What if you were there, what's your interaction with it, and I purposely did the book this way because I knew there was nothing else like it within the fandom that's currently out in print.
Matt: Has Chris, Frank, or other members of the cast or crew had a chance to read the finished result as of yet?
Erica: I know they have it. Of course, they're busy with their own projects, and I haven't heard back from them, but I have been in contact with Mark Snow, Harry Bring, [and] Bob Goodwin. They all have their copies and they are in various stages of reading it, and everything I heard so far from them and others, has been very positive.
Matt: Did this heighten your appreciation for the people who worked behind the scenes on the show?
Erica: I would say it did, because I always knew the show was phenomenal when it was out, and I didn't know actually how much work was put into it, to make this trendsetting production. So, when I was listening to everyone tell me their stories, Harry Bring, for example, talked about having to get up at eight o'clock at night, go to set, come back, sleep for a few hours, get back up at three o'clock, and so on and so forth. How he would get home at seven o'clock in the morning, and his neighbors are getting up to go out to work, and he just finished his day. That wasn't just him, there were other people who had similar stories, who really made me appreciate just how much, not only time, but love and affection goes into making a show like The X-Files, and of course how many shows that are currently trying to mimic it, because of the people that are working behind the scenes. [E.g.] Howard Gordon who was doing 24 and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, had a similar type of production schedule, as well as Breaking Bad, and a couple of other things are pretty much the same as well.
Matt: Indeed. So how did you find the publisher?
Erica: I actually had some friends helping me look around for publishers. I went through [and] actually tracked down some books that I thought were in a similar genre to what I was doing, in terms of the TV aspect, and just the behind-the-scenes thing, so, I was looking to see who those publishers were, and found none interested. I'd say "Hey, I got this idea. Here's my work so far. Do you think you'd like to publish it?" I think I found four or five that I thought would be very well suited, but they said, "Nope, we can't find a market for this." So, logically we turned to self-publishing, because if the perception is that there is no market, well, we'll make our own market, and I clearly know, as you do as well, that there's a market for The X-Files. I think every fan event that has happened in the past two years has clearly demonstrated that, not to mention the activities that we see on-line, on various boards. The one I used is a little known one in Northern California, which is very big on local businesses, and are willing to help you out.
Matt: There seems to be this perception by the professional media that on-line writers are not legitimate. Do you think that hurtle is being overcome? Do you think that perception is changing? Did you encounter this perception while working on the book?
Erica: I'm not aware of this issue, so it didn't affect me.
Matt: Do you think, or hope, this will demonstrate that there is still a market for X-Files published material?
Erica: I think there clearly is a market for it, and again, I think it comes down to looking at it from a business perspective, and business is all about numbers. The more book sales there are for LAX-Files, the more successful the book is. Ideally, I would love to sell one million copies of the book, and raise twenty million dollars for the American Cancer Society. Of course, we all know if a Phile wants something to happen they will make it happen, and I think when it comes down to computations, if they want something, and everyone hears about it, someone is going to do it.
Matt: Do you have an interest in working as an entertainment journalist? Where do you see yourself going next as a writer?
Erica: I have no future plans to work as a journalist of any kind, or writing in general. There are some friends that are probably trying to put the notion in my head [to write] another edition of LAX-Files. Rather, there'[ve] been a couple of talks about, "Well, what if you do a guide book about I Want To Believe and X-Files 3?" and I'm like, "Yeah, we'll see." It's one of those things where I would do the same thing. I would check around first with people who actually worked on the show closer, to let them do the kind of things like that. Of course, I'm not going to close the door on that, but I just have no plans for writing anymore.
Matt: Was there any further comments you wanted to make?
Erica: Just that I would very much appreciate [if] fans either bought them through my publisher or from Amazon, [unless] they were one of the lucky ones who were able to buy a personalized, autographed copy when I was selling them. Go to Amazon.com and write a review about the book; the more reviews we have, the more it pops up in the Yahoo and Google searches that there's something out there, and we're also tying in the reviews, and we have a couple of other surprises that are up on the book website, which is LAX-Files.com. Please go over there and check everything out. I have a couple of special things that I am working on that are going to be released in the next few weeks. Go there to get the latest, up-to-date information on those promotions.
Matt: Thank you again for taking the time to do this.
Erica: No problem Matt. Thank you again for having me.
Many fans find their own way to wander through the dark byways and alcoves of the phenomenon known as The X-Files: To discover the truth and reality of what it was like to be involved with such a show. Erica, through her own journey, has enriched all of the fandom by taking us along with her. LAX-Files is one of the better reads I have encountered. She is following in the tradition of other fans, such as Sarah Stegall, Lisa Angelo, as well as my own modest good fortune. I wish Erica the best of luck with this publication; it is indeed an astonishing and well done read. I hope the future is bright for that second edition.
Interview with Sarah Stegall
Interview with Jeff Charbonneau
Interview with William B. Davis
Interview with Alex Gansa
Interview with Glen Morgan
Interview with Mark Snow
Interview with Amy Donaldson
Report from LAX-Files book signing
Interview with Erica Fraga
Interview with Howard Gordon
Report from Vancouver TV Forum
Interview with Gabe Rotter
Interview with Robert Shearman
Report from Believe Again event
Report from X-Con 2009
Interview with Jana Fain
Interview with R.W. Goodwin
In Tribute to Kim Manners
Interview with Matt Hurwitz
Pemberton Set Report
Paley Festival Interviews
Interview with John S. Bartley
Report from Wondercon 2008
Interview with Howard Gordon
Q&A with Chris Carter
Interview with Doug Hutchison
Interview with Frank Spotnitz