Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Writing with Frank Spotnitz: From 'The X-Files' to 'Hunted'...

"When The X‑Files started, the word 'mythology' was not in the vocabulary to describe television, and I think we kind of stumbled upon the whole method of telling stories that way by accident, because of Gillian Anderson's pregnancy at the end of season one," Frank Spotnitz considered how his old series paved the way for his new one, Hunted for Cinemax. 
 
 
"But it amazed me, because the Internet was just sort of coming online at that point, and I remember news groups that I would look at at the beginning of the second season of The X‑Files to see how observant fans were. These are the die-hard fans, not most of the audience, but I think we began to realize that you could thread clues, and you could wait quite a long time. You could wait sometimes two or three years in the case of The X‑Files before you picked up that thread again, and not only would people follow it, they would love you for it, because you were rewarding their loyalty and their intelligence.

"It's hard to think back to the mid '90s, but at that point, people thought television was not particularly sophisticated, and I realized just the opposite was true. It's very hard to be as smart as your audience, and so it emboldened us to be very ambitious with the ideas we tried to convey...I took many, many things away from The X-Files experience, but the main things were: Be ambitious, be as great as you can be, and trust in the intelligence of your audience."

Those are the things Spotnitz is now trying to do with Hunted, a certainly ambitious series shot and set in Europe about a woman (Melissa George) working for a secretive and elite espionage service. Since she is not working for a government but instead a private sector, questions start to set in regarding if she can actually trust the intelligence she is given and the people hiring her.

"In our show, the reality is these operatives are not told who their employers are, so if you're trying to do a paranoid spy thriller, as well, I thought that's really interesting, not knowing. Should you succeed? Maybe it would better if you fail-- better for the world if you failed. So I met many, many people who are in this business and they have many very frightening stories to tell, and I put as many of them as I could into the first season!" Spotnitz revealed.

Calling the spy genre one of his favorites and referencing The Prisoner, The Saint, Mission Impossible, I Spy, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the James Bond franchise as his influences, Spotnitz wanted to take storytelling back to a simpler time with Hunted. He pointed to Hitchcock as that kind of master of paranoia and suspense in genre storytelling, hoping to model himself and his projects on some of Hitchcock's early (silent) works.

"I would always rather do it without dialogue," he bravely admitted. "I would always rather let the picture tell the story. And that's one of the first things you give up usually in series television because there is so little time and so little money, you're churning through directors, you can't trust it will work without dialogue. In this case, [though] I was incredibly fortunate to have great directors, beginning with S.J. Clarkson, who directed the first two hours, and we worked so closely together...we didn't need to have words. And so there are long sessions with no dialogue, and to me, it's pure; it's cinema."

Additionally, Spotnitz pointed out that this kind of storytelling allows the audience to be more engaged with the show because they're not being "spoon-fed everything."

"There are things in this show where it happens in an episode and you don't know why that was there, and you wait two or three episodes and you go, 'Oh, that's the connection.' And we're not telling you; we're trusting you as a viewer that you'll piece it together, and it's more exciting, I think," Spotnitz considered.

Over the course of eight, one-hour episodes, Hunted will visit Morocco, Scotland, Tangier, and London, to name a few, each time delivering a little bit more information about what's really going on with the greater mystery in which George is mixed up.

"It's one of those shows that when you get to episode eight, if you were to go back and watch episode one again, you'd see it was all there," Spotnitz previewed. "It was all hidden in plain sight. You know, it's not a mystery that's cheating, withholding pieces. It was there if you were paying attention, and that's very satisfying for me as a viewer when I watch mysteries like that, so there's a lot of clues in those images that will make sense when you get to the end."


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