The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive report from the LAX-Files book signing event 05/07/2011
By Matt Allair
Page Editor: XScribe
Anyone who would argue that The X-Files has become irrelevant would have met up with a lot of opposition from those who attended the event on May 7th, 2011 at the Mark Goodson Theatre on the AFI campus. It will probably be considered one of the most memorable and iconic events since WonderCon in early 2008 or the Paley Festival. It was historic, and something we might not see the likes of again. Mitch Pileggi, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Darin Morgan, and the man who played Gibson Praise himself, Jeff Gulka...all present.
Erica Fraga must be given an incredible amount of credit, first for managing to publish LAX-Files with the cooperation of the X-Files cast and crew, and second for managing to organize this historic event, and all for the benefit of the American Cancer Society. Many people try, but Erica is someone who manages to get things done. The American Film Institute Campus must also be given credit for providing the facilities, and last but not least, credit should be given to the security staff for their professionalism, and X-Files News for their promotional campaign.
My Lexicon staffer and I arrived at around 11:30. I managed to have a pleasant chat with Jana Fain, Frank Spotnitz's former Executive Assistant for Big Light, and Erin Fox, a writer for TV Guide, who has remained a major advocate for the show. Once people were ushered in and checked off of the guest list, they were treated to some wonderful food and drink from Mardy's Munchies. It was observed that a writer from TMZ was floating around as well. It was a relaxed and positive affair from the beginning, and the XFL crew commenced with our camera interviews. Details of those resulting clips to follow.
By 1:00, the public was ushered into the theatre, and were treated to a series of videos before the panel commenced. The first video was a general tribute to fellow Philes. The second was a Skype video from Frank Spotnitz offering a 'hello,' and explaining why he could not attend due to his production duties in England, further adding his thoughts about the esteemed Kim Manners: "Kim is gone in body, but not in spirit."
This event was, after all, about paying tribute to Kim Manners. He has become the emotional glue that has driven the LAX-Files book effort. A tribute video of Kim was presented that featured various quotes from beloved members of the cast and crew. There were comments from Gillian Anderson and Darin Morgan. Frank Spotnitz observed, "Kim had an emotional camera." Howard Gordon observed, "Kim would go ahead like a general."
Erica then stood up and spoke, thanking everyone for attending. After she explained that Chris Carter would not be able to make it due to illness, she then proceeded to introduce the talent for the day's event: Mitch Pileggi, Jeff Gulka, Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, and James Wong. The first question was about how Kim Manners influenced each one of them in their work. Mitch commented that Kim was so prolific, it turned him into a double espresso, and stated that he felt fortunate to have known Kim. "He talked me through how to move," Mitch further acknowledged.
Darin Morgan observed, "Kim and I wanted to kill each other the first time" they worked together. In reference to "Humbug," which Manners had a hard time understanding on first read, Darin conversely had felt that he'd penned a script that would be easy for a director to work with. However, Darin went on to acknowledge, "We respected each other by my second script."
Jeff Gulka considered Kim intense, but Kim allowed him to explore the character. Glen Morgan acknowledged, "You work with a lot of people in the industry, but Kim was unique." Glen was aware that Kim appreciated his chances, having worked with him as far back as 21 Jump Street. Glen recounted an incident on an episode that involved Gillian. The sequence drove Kim to tears, and the crew teased him. James Wong echoed the feeling. "I felt super-secure working with Manners; he let me explore."
The second question addressed Kim Manner's trademark style of camera framing. Mitch acknowledged, "He used to drive me crazy with his shots." Darin expressed the sentiment that Kim was very professional. Mitch recounted how Manners would always say, "Let's kick it in the a**." James Wong noted that "Kim was a sensitive soul," while Darin recalled a scene in "Humbug" that he'd scripted so one actor would not be seen, while the camera would be focused on Gillian, an idea that Kim argued over. Darin observed that Kim was always prepared, which you had to be on The X-Files. Glen acknowledged liking the shot in "Humbug" of the guy hammering a nail into his head. Darin recalled Glen getting a compliment from Kim after an Emmy nomination. "Everyone needs compliments."
The third question was directed to Glen Morgan and James Wong, concerning the challenges of establishing the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Glen and James recollected reading internet comments, as well as fan criticism over Scully's skepticism in the first season. Therefore they reversed the characters' roles in the episode "Beyond The Sea." The network was expressing little confidence in meetings. As Glen and James spent time with Gillian and David, things grew organically. When Mitch was asked if he ever wanted to write or direct, he replied, "No, too lazy." Mitch also admitted he wasn't good with editing the merits of his own work.
In regard to The X-Files' influence on other TV series, Darin recalled being approached by the Fringe producers to make the show like The X-Files. "You go to meetings and X-Files would be mentioned all the time." Darin doesn't watch the show, but hopes it has improved. Glen recalled being involved with a pitch along with his producing partner, who mistakenly advised Glen to not bring up The X-Files, as it was too old, and no one cared about it any more. Yet when they got to the pitch meeting, the executives wanted to ask all about the show. Glen also added that most shows don't have Gillian, David, Mitch, or Bill Davis. They and the writing are what made the show great.
The next question inquired if anyone was ever in disagreement with a character's actions. Mitch recalled, in I Want To Believe that he wanted to shoot the Russian doctor in the head. Chris argued that he couldn't do that, to which Mitch retorted, "[Skinner] shot Krycek in the head!" On that subject, Pileggi recalled having been very pleased when Frank Spotnitz informed him he was to shoot Krycek, as Mitch had always assumed it would be David who would be the one to get that opportunity. In "Musings," James Wong related the story about the prospect of shooting Frohike. They filmed both versions—one with Frohike's death and the other without--but somehow the B roll footage secretly disappeared and was thought to have been destroyed. Glen had gone so far as to orchestrate the scene so that it would be clear that Frohike had been shot, down to the inclusion of the splattered blood. When Glen was told they could not do that, he argued that no one ever witnesses CSM committing any of the unconscionable activities he's known to be involved in. Darin quipped, "I think the ending [that aired was] better."
Next, Darin was asked how he casts for his episodes. He stated that he never really wrote for specific actors, but wound up getting great ones. Darin mentioned specifically casting Jim Rose, who ended up having some trouble. Darin also mentioned he didn't have Peter Boyle in mind for the casting of Clyde Bruckman, but modeled the character after his dad. When commenting about the casting of Charles Nelson Reilly for Jose Chung, he said he'd initially auditioned an actor who reminded him of Truman Capote and considered casting Rip Taylor. Darin then admitted, "There was a whole lot of luck; the first person you wanted to cast would never be as good."
Of interest, Glen observed that Chris Carter would set a list of rules for characters, and cited an example of a female writer who wanted Mulder to take notes--but, then Chris pointed out that Mulder keeps everything in his head and doesn't take notes. There was a teasing exchange between Darin and Glen. "I don't know what you're talking about," Glen kidded, and added, "On Millennium, Frank doesn't eat certain foods." He admitted that Chris was good at enforcing rules about keeping the characters consistent.
The next inquiry was over the fate of Mitch's and Jeff's characters after "The Truth." Jeff joked, "I could see Gibson becoming a bad guy, a CSM 2.0." Mitch couldn't answer, but recalled seeing some photo-shopped images of himself and Scully. When asked about what was the most outlandish thing anyone has seen online that has been suggested by fans, Darin stated that he'd stopped going on the internet many years ago and Mitch expanded on the shipper threads about himself, Scully, and Mulder.
Mitch was then asked about the development of his relationship with Mulder and Scully. "In the beginning, their relationship was contentious." He added that it evolved carefully over the years, then Mitch admitted there was a turning point after Scully's abduction. "I always wanted to play Skinner with a crush on Scully." Mitch then reiterated the story of how when he first auditioned for the Skinner role, he went in with an attitude, and it earned him the part. Glen elaborated on the addition of Pileggi into the cast, stating that it "Changed the direction of the show." Regarding the hire of Sheila Larken, Glen explained how X-Files director/producer Bob Goodwin left the room when she auditioned as Scully's mother in the episode "One Breath." None of the crew realized they were married, which was what Mr. Goodwin intended, as he didn't want their marriage to get in the middle of anything.
Glen commented further on the casting of Doug Hutchison for "Squeeze." "When an actor comes in, you've made your choice." In the audition, Doug answered their requests with neutral answers, then built it into swearing, as they requested that Doug go from a neutral to an attack mode. The tactic almost drove them to call security, and the director felt embarrassed, which explains the director's dislike of Hutchison, but the tactic worked--he was cast.
Glen further cited the circumstances regarding Brad Dourif. "Brad doesn't read well [in auditions]; you just have to hire him." Glen acknowledged that he and James Wong gave up their writing fees for "Beyond The Sea" to afford Mr. Dourif's fee, and that Mr. Carter called Peter Roth (President of TV Production) personally to okay the decision. "Watching the dailies was amazing," Glen noted.
When asked which story ideas never made it past Fox, James noted "we had a story about tombs, and Howard and Alex had an abortion story, but Fox refused [to consider] the ideas." Glen added they wanted to do a crossover Frank Black/"Home" episode for the second season of Millennium to bring back Mother Peacock, but Fox was adamant that it would never happen, due to the fear of Washington Lobby pressure. Apparently their feelings about the episode "Home" remained very strong at the studio. "The actress [who played Mother Peacock] is the nicest person," noted Glen. Mitch made a point of stating, "Both Morgans and Wong are my favorite writers."
When the panel was asked what they would have liked to have expanded on, Mitch addressed Glen and James and thanked them for their influence in getting him hired. Mitch then posed, "What ever happened to his wife?" Regarding a third X-Files movie, the panel was queried over what they would like to see. Darin Morgan drolly quipped, "Eddie Van Blundt." Darin then added as a side that he wanted to write something for Skinner, and teased that Mitch didn't want that.
Glen recounted another story about Kim, when post work was being done for "Home," when dealing with the Fox censors and a kind lady named Linda (Shima-Tsumo, director of standards and practices for Fox). They had to cut a few frames when the Peacock boys bludgeoned the sheriff. Glen acknowledged he never anticipated seeing how strong it would be on screen as a writer. They had issues with the baby sounds in the teaser. Kim advised, "Keep it low key." Then, addressing the writers at the session as well as the censor, he said, "I know this is different than what we talked about. It might be uncomfortable." When they found a happy medium, Kim exclaimed, "That was f***ing bitching!" in his typical manner.
When asked about favorite Kim Manner memories, Glen observed countless weekend nights out on the town when he could barely recall with whom he'd been. He remembered someone trying to kiss Kim's wife. Jeff noted, "It's hard for me, but I remember growing up fast, a lot of swearing on the set." Mitch explained that many of the older X-Files crew members work on Supernatural. He recollected a moment when the crew was shooting at a location that Kim had worked on when he was alive on his last birthday, and the entire crew started singing "happy birthday."
Darin recalled on "Humbug" that actor Vincent Schiavelli had a question about his character, and Kim deferred to Darin, then disappeared, but not before putting Darin through the longest lecture afterward, in typical Manners fashion: "Darin, let me tell you, the director hands off the actor to the writer to explain how things work!" Darin noted that Kim was no-nonsense and swore a lot, but he was great.
The group became emotional as Glen recounted Kim's funeral service. Kim's brother, Kelly, gave a small speech with Kim's urn on his director's chair. While looking up into the sky, his brother repeated to himself, "Kick it in the ass, Kelly," as that was what Kim would have done for him.
After the panel ended, the public was treated to trivia media. The XFL staffed ducked out to conduct more interviews. James Wong had to leave for his son's game, and so did not join the others at the signing table. Erica, Glen, Jeff, Mitch, and Darin signed books and visited, as well as took photos with the fans. While milling around, Native American actress, Julia Vera, who appeared in the "Dreamland," episodes as Lana Chee, and "The Truth," shared her experience with me. The XFL team wrapped up several rounds of interviews, we said our goodbyes, and then we all went on our separate ways, satisfied with an event that was nearly flawless in execution.
No one knows when we'll see an event like this again. It was a privilege to have been a part of it. Special thanks to X-Files News for permission to use select photos, you can find their full coverage here.
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