The truth is out here -- in sunny L.A.
By Keith Marder
LOS ANGELES -- A shot of a blazing-hot sun. Pan down to a desert landscape.
"Mulder, we're not in Vancouver anymore?" a bewildered FBI agent Dana Scully asks her partner, Fox.
"You're right, Dana. We seem to be on some kind of alien terrain," replies Mulder, snapping on a pair of Ray-Bans.
OK. So the dialogue didn't happen on Sunday's season premiere of "The X-Files," but the hit Fox series has moved from rainy, dark Vancouver, British Columbia, to sunny Southern California.
But don't count on Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) playing beach blanket bingo. The mind behind "The X-Files" has no intention of letting those creepy paranoid qualities that made the show so successful slip away.
"In Vancouver, we were limited to mountains and forests and verdant landscapes. Here we've got so much more," says Chris Carter, the show's creator and probably the only man on Earth who could tie all of "The X-Files" conspiracies together.
On this day, Carter is directing the Christmas episode on the 20th Century Fox lot. Series star Duchovny, looking relaxed and wearing a T-shirt, is bouncing between doing takes with Anderson and talking about pickup basketball, the show's move to L.A. and all the traveling that has entailed.
For the opening episode, says Duchovny, "we filmed in Lancaster and Palmdale for six days in a row. It was an hour and 40 minutes to get out there, and we came out at 2 a.m. one night to shoot a scene. I said, `This is no reflection on anybody here or the crew, but I'd like to move the show to L.A.' "
Duchovny's joke was a wry reference to the talk surrounding the move of "The X-Files" down here. It was widely reported that the then-newly married Duchovny threatened to leave the show if production remained in Canada because he wanted to be closer to his wife, actress Tea Leoni.
"They moved the show and look what happened," he said. "She got pregnant. I can't imagine being apart from her working while she's pregnant." Leoni is reportedly three to four months along, but Duchovny declined to be specific.
"(The move) became a public issue discussed by 99 percent of people who have no idea what they were talking about, and the 1 percent, myself, the crew -- the people I've worked with for five years understood me completely that my motives weren't capricious or whimsical."
Returning to L.A. was endorsed by his co-star. "Overall it's easier to do the show here," say Anderson. "I am a person who is affected very strongly by the weather. Vancouver is a beautiful, beautiful city, but it is dark when you get up in the morning. It makes you depressed . . . I felt very cooped-up there."
Here comes the sun
But the stay in L.A. isn't likely to last as long as the five years in Vancouver. Carter, Duchovny and Anderson are only signed through next season, and there is little indication that the series will live on after that except possibly in movies. Another feature is planned for 2000, but Duchovny isn't aboard yet.
So this may be a pivotal year for the franchise. And the signs for the new season are mixed. (As anyone watching the series knows, signs are important.)
According to a recent Nielsen television ratings survey, "X-Files" viewers are among the most loyal. But last summer's feature-film spin-off, "The X-Files: Fight the Future," though doing decent box-office business ($83 million domestically), was disappointing to some hard-core fans. It's also impossible to tell if the film scared up any new X-philers for the coming season.
Meanwhile, ratings for show's reruns on Fox this summer have been less than stellar, though the movie video has been among the top 10 in rental and sales since its release more than three weeks ago. That may have been a good sign, indicating that fans were gearing up for Sunday's premiere, titled "The Beginning," which picked up where last season's finale, "The End," left off while also weaving in parts from the movie.
Which brings us to that shot of the sun. The move south hasn't come without a price.
All the sets had to be rebuilt on a soundstage on the Fox lot. All that remains from the Vancouver set are a few props. Even the smoke machine is new.
An entirely new crew -- with the exceptions of Duchovny's and Anderson's hair and makeup artists -- had to be hired, and it costs more to film a show in Los Angeles. Though Carter wouldn't say how much, the phrase an "arm and a leg" came up.
"The standards of quality have been maintained," Carter said, "L.A. gives it a different look, but that's a virtue."
Part of that different look is the San Fernando Valley, which Carter says, they'll use "a lot, but as everything but the San Fernando Valley." They have already filmed in Thousand Oaks, Encino, Glendale and Altadena.
Some of the sunny locales in which X-Files investigations will take place this year are Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado -- but don't be surprised if it looks like someplace just down the street.
For the most part, however, the show will maintain its dark look. Most scenes are set indoors, and many external scenes are filmed at night. Besides, Duchovny says, location has nothing to do with the success of the series.
"`The X-Files' is not location specific," he said. "It's about the stories. If the stories are good, the show is good. If the stories stink, no amount of rain will help. I don't think people are tuning in at 9 and saying, `Let's see some rain.' If that were the case, any show shot in Vancouver would be a hit and any show shot in Seattle would be a hit. There are certain shows that have to be shot where they are shot. `Baywatch' would look silly if it were shot in Toronto."
Plotting the season
And it's the stories, as weird as they might be, that make "The X-Files" distinctive.
"We're writing good scripts," Carter says. "David is really excited, so is Gillian, and they're both extremely happy not just to be here but think the work is really good this year."
Duchovny, for his part, is taking the opportunity to write an episode and is slated to direct as well.
Carter is also trying some innovative approaches this season. The third episode, shot aboard the Queen Mary, was done in linear time, with every shot connecting to the next. Carter wrote and directed the hour in which Mulder and Scully appear to be caught in a Nazi-era time warp. It will be shown in a letter-box format.
Anderson says that she has seen "more humor in the scripts this season."
A thought echoed by Carter. "I think this year there are quite a few funnier stories in the beginning of the year . . . before we come back to solid `X-Files' scare."
Being in town also has helped land a new crop of guest stars. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin will play ghosts in the Christmas episode. Michael McKeon, Victoria Jackson and Nora Dunn will also show up in roles.
"It got to a point in Vancouver," Carter said, "that we started to use the fine, but shallow, pool of actors three, four and five times. Now we have a much larger pool of actors."
An interesting fact is that "The X-Files" was never intended to be produced abroad. The pilot was to be filmed in Hollywood, but a suitable forest could not be found to support the plot line so off to Vancouver they went.
Paraphrasing Duchovny, Carter says, "Two weeks turned into five years."
And Duchovny won't miss all that frequent flying. "I can circle the Earth for the rest of my life and not pay for it," he says.
But will they miss the rain?
Duchovny insists he is a fan of the precipitation.
"The sad thing about the whole discussion is that my wife is in love with the rain," Duchovny said. "She lives for it. I, too -- even though I am portrayed as a guy who hates rain -- love it. For my wife, it's an excuse not to work. You don't have to go out and be productive."
Carter, too, said he likes rain, even though it slows down production.
Rain can be faked, though. But what he won't be able to replicate easily is the nippy nights of the Great White North.
"I talked to Steven Spielberg," Carter said, "and he told me the only thing I will miss is (visible) breath. They can do it digitally, like in the movie, but it's a little prohibitive."
So for the time being, barring El Nino's return, Duchovny can put off fixing that broken windshield wiper on his burgundy BMW convertible, and "The X-Files" crew can enjoy their time in the sun.
Transcript appears courtesy of Los Angeles Daily News.