The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Matt Hurwitz, co-author of "The Complete X-Files: Behind the Scenes, the Myths and the Movies.
Conducted by Matt Allair (11/07/2008)
Aside from the role of the actor, writer, director, producer or technician to shape the direction of a television series, the role of an entertainment journalist can be just as important, either to the benefit or detriment of the series in question by shaping public perception. Matt Hurwitz is a highly respected entertainment journalist. A native of the Washington D.C. area, he currently lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé, Rosie, and he has written for Daily Variety, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Director's Guild of America Magazine, Videography, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Fade-in, and American Cinematographer. The opportunity presented itself to speak with Mr. Hurwitz, through the efforts of Jana Fain and Gabe Rotter, and I am in their debt once again.
I found Matt Hurwitz to be very open, gracious, and candid, with an infectious exuberance for the subject at hand. While, as you'll see, Mr. Hurwitz didn't start off as a devout fan of the series when starting off writing this book, his advocacy and appreciation for this series, The X-Files, will be greatly appreciated by the fan base. The interview unfolded as follows...
Matt Allair: First off, I really want to thank you for taking the time to do this.
Matt Hurwitz: Oh, of course.
Matt Allair: If you could give me a little bit about your background, how did you break into writing about the entertainment industry?
Matt Hurwitz: I actually used to be a civil engineer. I worked on the LA Metro, oddly enough, and I was a big Beatles fan. I took over a Beatles fanzine. So, in the late 90s I started writing about entertainment stuff, and when that folded up, I started working for various industry publications, (like) the Directors Guild of America Magazine, which is where I first encountered The X-Files. I did a big feature on the directing team of The X-Files, while they were shooting season nine. It was to celebrate Kim Manners 50th episode. He was shooting Audrey Pauley, so I went on the set there, watched him work and interviewed him. (That article can be found at The DGA Magazine on-line archive)
Matt Allair: So, your association with Chris Carter started around season nine?
Matt Hurwitz: Yeah, with Chris and Frank, and all the great people there. They're really amazing people.
Matt Allair: It seems as though this book had a fast turn around. Once word went out that "I Want To Believe" was going into production, how long did it take to write this book?
Matt Hurwitz: I began plowing through episodes during January and February, I watched 4 to 6 episodes a day, just really getting myself very familiar with the show. I knew I couldn't interview people if I didn't know anything about their work. Then they were still in production through mid March, I think they wrapped in the 2nd or third week in March, then went into some rough editing, and stuff they had to do, so Chris and Frank weren't really available. In the meantime I went and interviewed everybody else ...gee, I spent [sighs]... I have to look how many interviews I did with Kim Manners, Rob Bowman, I think I did five or six interviews, hours and hours with them, going through every episode. All (of) the writers, I was able to get Glen Morgan, and his brother Darin, and Vince (Gilligan), Howard Gordon, and a whole bunch of folks. That all came in through April and Chris and Frank really wanted to have a book out this year, feeling that this was going to be the year of the "X-Files"; that people who got turned on to the series, or reinvigorated, would want to have a souvenir. So I think it was around then, or maybe in May, because I had this big stack of interviews, like a thousand pages of transcripts sitting there, the publisher brought in Christopher Knowles, who's the co-author of the book. He then ploughed through everything I pulled up in my interviews, he's very familiar with the series, and he was able to pull together some terrific quotes from different people about their episodes. Go through episode by episode. Chris did an amazing job, and we really owe him a lot. Plus, he's got a wonderful style and love of the show.
Matt Allair: So, it sounds like you had a bit of crash course about the show. Were you a longtime fan of the series?
Matt Hurwitz: I was not, but I write about TV and film production all (of) the time, so that came in really handy because these people, ...as you've probably heard them describe it, the show is two hundred and two, forty five minute movies, each with their own character and flavor. They're all great little films, and they mean an awful lot to these people. So, you know, with my background, I was able to talk filmmaking with them, which is something that (these) people don't really get to talk about too much. So, story development, and directing, and acting. I did six interviews with Gillian, and also talked to David, and all of the Lone Gunmen, who were great guys. Those were the kind of conversations I was able to have, the mission of the book was really to provide a behind the scenes look at the show. That's what we were able to do, and Chris was then able to pull a lot of great quotes along those lines.
Matt Allair: Were there any specific seasons or episodes you'd list as a favorite?
Matt Hurwitz: It was great for me in that, you know, fans would go "Shouldn't a book like this be written by someone who really knows the show?". But for me, it was great because I was seeing these shows for the first time, the way fans, the people who read the site (in reference to The X-Files Lexicon), saw them. Except I saw them back to back. I was calling up Frank Spotnitz going: "God, I just watched your episode, you know, you wrote here in season four and this is unbelievable!". It was great for him to hear a fresh voice going, "Yeah, that's right, that was a remarkable episode for us, that really meant a lot to us, I'm glad that's it still hitting you that way as a new fan.". Each season I would just find these gems, that you guys have known for years. I know Chris Knowles and his wife, it was remarkable, they came on board and he kept saying that he had watched every episode like forty times, he knew them back to back. So it was great to have the two of us, a fresh face and someone who really knew them well.
Matt Allair: Over the course of working on this, while writing, researching, and interviewing for this book, did it change your perception of the people who created the series?
Matt Hurwitz: Yeah, I didn't know that much about it other than what I'd seen when I wrote my story during season nine. So I began to see that these people were terrific story tellers. The directors and writers, these shows mean so much to them, they're each little films to them. That they would remember so much from the production of each. You know, for these guys it's really about...each one of these episodes is their little baby, they all mean an incredible amount to them. As I began watching, getting through seasons three and four, I began to see Rob Bowman's and Kim Manner's work just really turn the show upside down. They had (added) an incredible amount of style to it that maybe hadn't been there before. It already had quite a lot, but to see the kind of things that they were doing with them was pretty incredible. A lot of camera moves and things that would help just really draw attention to important scenes.
Matt Allair: Was there anyone in particular you interviewed, be it an actor, technician, writer, director, or producer that you were most impressed with?
Matt Hurwitz: It was probably Rob and Kim because they did a majority of the show. They gave it so much character, and really knew how to drive Chris's vision, they knew how to bring so much out of these scripts. Darin Morgan was a real coup, to get to talk to him. I was very pleased that I was able to get him. He's kind of a shy fellow in a lot of ways, but he's brilliant, as is his brother. It was just really great to just let them talk about the creation of their episodes and the series as a whole.
Matt Allair: While you were researching the book, were there any materials that you came across that you found interesting, that didn't make it into the book?
Matt Hurwitz: Well, there's a tremendous amount of interview material, and we don't quite know what will happen with that. In fact, I know Chris and Frank are interested in continuing the dialogue and continuing telling the story, because we kind of got to them late because they were so tied up with finishing off the film. One of the things I did, that I was responsible for, I spent weeks at the Fox photo archive at 20th Century Fox in West LA. I went through, they had, the unit photographers' shots of every single episode. I went through and picked out, anytime I saw a behind the scenes shot where you see an iconic image of Mulder, a shot that we all know from a famous episode, then it was great to put a shot next to it of Kim Manners discussing that scene with him. Or the two of them laughing at a scene that we know is so serious, stuff like that. Because of my background in writing about filmmaking, it was great to show the work of the crew, particularly the directors and the camera department, makeup department, in-everybody. In Triangle, there's that incredible work done by the steadicam operator that just made that show just flow. It's unbelievable. Plus, all of the makeup effects folks sent us their personal pictures, as did many of the actors and directors.
Matt Allair: How long did it take to research for this book?
Matt Hurwitz: From the end of December through April, beginning of May, and I just kept continuing with interviews through that period, then turned it all over to Chris to work with.
Matt Allair: The people who work for 1013 productions and Big Light Productions seem to have such a friendly relationship with the fan base, has that ever struck you as unique?
Matt Hurwitz: Yeah, I mean because, for instance, my background was in the fan world doing a fanzine, it was great to understand, to see people like that who understand that it is the fans who make the show. There wouldn't have been a new movie if (the) fans didn't desire it. They have a great respect for the fans, and there's no question that's too stupid. They love the fans. Because they're fans of this genre themselves, and I think that's the big difference, they care about the fans because they're fans.
Matt Allair: During the process of writing the book, were you allowed an advance screening of "I Want To Believe"?
Matt Hurwitz: The editor and I went into, this was I think in February, went over to 20th Century Fox and were permitted to read the script. So we were two of a handful of people who knew what the story was about, but couldn't really talk about it. We didn't see it, of course, they were still shooting it at the time. But we did know the story and I was able to write the chapter on the making of the film. It was kind of funny because, and you probably heard about this, at the LA Film Festival, the opening night was an evening with Chris, Frank, and David, and it was interesting to sit in the audience. The moderator, her job was to get information about the new film, but it was all secrets. It was interesting to know the answer to the question she was asking, [laughs] but to be able to sit and watch them beat around the bush and not answer it. "How are they going to not answer that one?". So that was kinda funny.
Matt Allair: For many fans, the subtext of the series seemed to have been about exploring the meaning of faith in a broad sense, as confirmed by Chris Carter at Wondercon 2008 with his comment that the series was about the 'search for God'. Do you feel this explains why the series had such longevity?
Matt Hurwitz: I think the show has had such longevity because they're great stories. That's my feeling. I don't think that's an obvious message, it's not something that Chris would ever put into people's faces, but it's something that means a lot to him. If you get that out of it, that's a great thing, and if you just enjoy the stories, then that's a great thing too. I think he just wanted people to enjoy great stories.
Matt Allair: In hindsight, "The X-Files" seemed to strongly argue there was no incompatibility between science and religion; would you say that's a fair assessment as far as the other points that Chris Carter was trying to make?
Matt Hurwitz: I don't know, that's something that he should probably be answering. I don't really have any comment on that.
Matt Allair: Where do you fall in the real world issue of belief in the paranormal?
Matt Hurwitz: [Long pause] I haven't really thought about it that much. [Laughs] What I enjoyed again was that I just enjoyed these fantastic stories, I loved that they were able to make great television out of ideas about the paranormal.
Matt Allair: There seem to be signs, seen through examples of other contemporary television series, that "The X-Files" had a noticeable influence on genre television. Do you think the influence will be long lasting?
Matt Hurwitz: Yes, you know, I was fortunate to get to interview J.J. Abrams recently about "Fringe". In fact, he very generously agreed to write the preface for this book for us. He absolutely calls out "The X-Files" and "The Twilight Zone" as two of his biggest influences, although the writers on that show, (on Fringe), you know, there probably has been a lot of comments on your site that in a way it evokes the sort of experience that fans might have from watching "The X-Files". Because there's a lot of strange things going on that get investigated, by some pretty strong people. That's a perfect example, and J.J. makes no qualms about that being a big influence on him. So here's an example of the next generation of TV producers and filmmakers on whom "The X-Files" was a huge influence.
Matt Allair: Do you have any other book projects you are working on that we can look forward to?
Matt Hurwitz: None right now. I still write for Associated Press and Variety, and I continue to cover that kind of stuff, behind the scenes of filmmaking and television.
Matt Allair: Were there any other observations you wanted to make about working on the book?
Matt Hurwitz: My background in the fan world, Beatles fans are the same, I think, in the sense with X-Files fans, in that we all want to know something that someone else doesn't know. We want to get to know behind the scenes stuff, you know, something that is just iconic to us and to see it in a different light. To see a picture from behind the scenes of a scene that has just engaged us forever, to get to see Kim Manners standing there with Duchovny, talking over (about) something. There's a great shot, for instance, I think we have from Home, of Kim just laughing, he's in the pig pen. That's the kind of thing I know, because I love that stuff. All the time we would just come across - the editor, Lisa Fitzpatrick and I - would come across things like that and go: "The fans are going to love this! We have to use this picture!". Anytime we'd see these kind of gems, and the book really is for fans. We always had the fans in mind when we were doing this book.
Matt Allair: That's great to hear and I could compare it what it must have been like with some of the anthology collections. [The Beatles]
Matt Hurwitz: That's what it is, that's what this book is. It's a printed version, it's analogous to "The Beatles Anthology". Because all of these people, offering all of these stories about how they made these episodes, there's loads more material still. Just to get to hear these guys talk about these things and it's almost as if no one had ever asked them. The interesting thing is, the cast members, actors, I was thinking about this today, the way they do their work is different than the writers and directors do. The actors have a day to day job of getting handed lines and delivering them. They work all day from seven in the morning 'til eleven thirty at night, and then Gillian would go home and she would have to then learn three more pages of medical terminology, and emotional scenes, deliver them, and then go home with the pages for tomorrow. It's really the writers and the directors who really have to understand and live the story arc of each episode, because they're telling a tale, so it's a different experience for the actors than it is for the creative people. That was an interesting thing to learn. Each scene, each nuance, expressions on people's faces, meant so much to the writers and directors. It's hard for actors, particularly over nine seasons, to remember what happened, it's tough, it's a day to day grind for them. Whereas the writers and directors are just involved in their own specific episodes. Plus, of course, TV shows are not shot in continuity - they might shoot the final scene of an episode on the first day, etc., so it's an incredible challenge for actors to keep themselves in the story from day to day. I don't know how they do it, actually. Gillian and David were amazing.
Matt Hurwitz: The thing is for me, I'll tell you, I remember at the Paley Center panel that was in March, one of the folks asked the audience: "Are there any season eight and nine fans here?" and there was a handful of people that stood up. Remember, my awareness of "The X-Files" started during season nine, and my fiancé Rosie had been a fan forever, so for her, she was a diehard fan for whom the new characters, in Doggett and Reyes, that wasn't "The X-Files" for her. But for me, I was watching continuously in a way that was different than fans had watched who loved Mulder and Scully. I began to see the work of writers like Steve Maeda, David Amann, and people like that. For me, those were still X-Files episodes, and I know that there's people, there are fans for whom seasons eight and nine are not "The X-Files". But to me, I told Steve this, I told both of them at Paley, you know, those are great science fiction stories. To me they are just as engaging to watch. It was different, and like any fan it took me awhile to adjust to the new characters, Doggett and Reyes, particularly Doggett. By the middle of [season] eight I loved the guy. You know, I interviewed Robert Patrick, I interviewed the both of them. They went through a lot in that transition, and for them, they were coming in, there were big shoes to fill. But there are some great episodes within eight and nine, that are just great Sci Fi, "Badlaa", "Via Negativa,", Frank's episodes, there's just some great stories in there. For me, it was just such a great experience. When I watched the last episode, I took the last disc of season nine out of the machine and said, "There's more, right?". I missed it immediately, and this is after watching four to six episodes a day. If it was a lousy series I would have gotten sick of it after the first week, but I couldn't stop, I just wanted to see more, and more, and more.
Matt Allair: Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this, I really do appreciate it.
Matt Hurwitz: Sure, no problem. Take care, Matt.
In talking with Mr. Hurwitz, the strongest impression I was left with, I found his exuberance to be admiring. One of the best aspects of the rise of genre fans, or film / television geeks, within the entertainment industry, is an instinctual understanding of how much franchise genres can matter. As a result of this, films, books, comics, or games produced by genre fans tend to be superior compared to mass market products created by strictly hired guns. "The Complete X-Files: Behind The Series, The Myths and The Movies" at first glance promises to be as comprehensive a tome as Tim Lucas' book about "Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark." which is quite a compliment indeed. Please order on-line, or visit your local bookstore for this title. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Mr. Hurwitz. I hope there will be more to come.
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