Frank Spotnitz is an American television writer and producer, best known for his work on The X-Files television series.
• Rebecca Sugar (Rebecca Sugar is a screenwriter, storyboard artist and songwriter.)
• Jeff Eastin (Eastin graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in journalism and landed a position...)
• Mitchell Kriegman (Mitchell Kriegman is an American filmmaker dedicated to developing innovative content for film an...)» All TV Writer Interviews
Hi everyone, Frank Spotnitz here.
I've worked on series ranging from The X-Files to Millennium to Hunted -
and most recently, I'm the writer and EP of The Man in the High Castle for Amazon.
Produced by Ridley Scott, The Man in the High Castle is based on Philip K. Dick's award-winning novel which explores what would happen if the Allied Powers had lost WWII and Japan and Germany ruled the United States. You can check out the pilot on Amazon here.
To give you an idea of the show, here are some small excerpts:
I'm in Europe, and Victoria's assisting me via Skype today. Go ahead and AMA!
Update: Well, once again, I am honored by the fans of the shows that I've worked on, and how smart and gracious they are, so thank you everybody for your great questions, and your interest, and I hope we get to do this again sometime!
I'll begin with shameless flattery: I love your contribution to the X-Files' mythology and its gradual development. But most of all, I loved Field Trip, a brilliant original idea that may have inspired Inception years later, I suspect. That's the one episode I like to remember The X-Files by.
Ny question to you is, as someone who wrote so much for the show and the movies: what's happening with William? Is he safe and sound? Will he ever meet his parents again? He should be about 14-15 now - have you considered making him the main character of the reboot? Will he continue his herritage and come to dedicate his life investigate the unexplained? Do you reckon he has a... prominent nose?
A prominent nose?! What could you mean by that?
I can't answer that question. Except to say... well, I don't think you really want me to answer that question. I think part of the fun of this is being surprised and seeing what is going to happen. But what I can say is that obviously we have never forgotten about William, and he's an important part of the mythology, so rest assured we have our own answers to these questions.
I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed The Man in the High Castle—everything about it was truly incredible.
What I really need to know though, is when we’ll have more to watch because I’m already totally addicted!
Amazon is very lucky to have you guys, and I’m looking forward to hearing word on the official pick up of the series.
Not to be overly repetitive, but I’ve got to ask.
Tell us what’s happening with the X-Files revival?
The fandom went absolutely nuts when Fox announced that they were in talks to bring the show back.
Only fans weren’t the only ones losing their minds; older casual fans, the newer Netflix fans—everyone online was so excited about the possibility of more Mulder and Scully.
Bringing back the Truth that is out there is still a very resonant idea, and I hope that Fox is listening!
Everyone could benefit from a little more Truth searching and alien hunting.
Leagues of fans still exist, and more are popping up every day; heck there are kids who weren’t even alive when the show started that now can’t get enough of it.
In any case, The X-Files just has to come back; it's a universal invariant!
Even though I know you can’t say much, I’m hoping you can say something ~~that isn’t just “Don’t Give Up”~~.
Very soon, my hope is that we will be hearing about the green light from Fox, and how you reached the perfect agreement to bring back The X-Files in all the glory it deserves.
Eager doesn’t really begin to cover my feelings, but until we know more, I’ll be over here dreaming about quitting my job and moving to Vancouver to bolster my resume as a production assistant who would be a great edition to a certain revival production…
Thank you - if you like it, please go to Amazon.com and vote for the show. The sooner, the better.
And I can say that all those fans who waited for the show to come back are the reason why I think it will come back.
And I would like to especially single out everybody at XFilesNews.com, who have worked so hard and so tirelessly for the past 7 years plus to make this a reality. They were heard and I think they not only made us proud (everyone associated with the X-files) of our fans, they took their enthusiasm and really cleverly used it to benefit charities, and do good in the world.
So it's a very happy story. And it's going to have a happy ending. And that's what I can say, beyond Don't give up.
Hey, man. "X-Files" was usually a little dark for my tastes, but I was actually a big fan of "The Lone Gunmen". I was sorry it didn't get more time to establish itself.
Did you have any plans or directions you wanted to go if the latter show had managed to get a second season?
THANK YOU. And I think a little piece of my heart as well as Vince Gilligan's and John Shiban's was broken when that show got cancelled and will always stay broken, because we all loved that show so much.
It was so sweet, and such a breath of fresh air and kindness, after the dark paranoid world of the X-files we'd been living in for so many years.
We cracked ourselves up working on it. But I think the reason the show struggled was because it came along SO late in the run of the X-files, and looking back on it, network television was in transition, and nobody realized it at the time. I think, looking back on it, it shouldn't have been canceled, it actually did very well, but we tried to get the right balance of comedy and drama in early episodes, and I think we all felt that by the end, we really were where we wanted to be.
Those last few episodes, especially the final episode, which was called All About Yves, really defined what the show should be. And if we continued into season 2, we would've had Michael McKean (he was going to be a series regular in season 2) - and now that Vince has cast him in BETTER CALL SAUL, it's spiritual revenge! We got him! At least Vince finally got him, because we loved him.
Well, it really was the early days of the world we now live in - the digital world, and how digital technology is used for surveillance, but unlike the X-files, the bad guys in THE LONE GUNMEN were big corporations that were subverting democracy, to make money. And I think - that was 2001, we made that show. And I think we were really spot-on. And that's the world we live in now.
The Man in the High Castle is maybe the greatest pilot I've ever seen (besides maybe the Lone Gunmen, in retrospect) and I'm really looking forward to Amazon releasing the whole series. It was good to see Ridley Scott associated with another Philip K Dick project, and when I recognized your name from The X-Files, it kindof clicked.
My question for you, considering the type of subject matter you seem drawn to-
Do you consider yourself a paranoid person? What type of role do you think paranoia plays in the today's political landscape and why does entertainment seem to associate so much more value to political paranoia and skepticism than the rest of political and media culture?
Wow, interesting question.
Well, thank you, I appreciate the compliments. And I don't consider myself a paranoid person. But my mind does go there, very easily, hahaha!
I don't know why that is. But it does.
And I think the world we live in is so vast, and complicated, and we are all exposed to so much information, every single day, that we sense that we don't... understand, or see, all the connections between things. And so I think it's natural that we feel paranoid, and that we hunger for stories that would connect the dots that we can't see.
I think the danger is not so much in entertainment, but on the internet, when you see people connecting dots in a really reckless, or malicious way. And I think that happens all too often.
And I would like to think that the stories I tell, which are fiction, are true, even though they are made up. Which is to say I'm trying to describe ideas, and characters, that really do exist in life. Whereas a lot of the conspiracy theories I see on the internet are mean-spirited, and dangerous.
All my conspiracy theories - there are bad guys, for sure. But you recognize them, hopefully, as people who have their reasons, and they are believable people, hopefully.
In MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, if it goes to series, you're going to meet some of the worst bad guys you've ever seen. These are Nazi war criminals. But if I do my job correctly, they will seem like believable and complex human beings doing monstrous things. And my problem with a lot of conspiracy theories that I see on the internet is that they depend on believing in unbelievable characters - that is to say, that people would act in ways that I would find it impossible to believe they would.
Heya, Frank!!! Are you ready for The X-Files Revival? Hope you still have time for our favorite show. ;)
Love from the Philippines!
Congratulations for 'The Man In the High Castle'! :)
Loved 'Hunted' btw.
Wow, that's very nice. I have been ready for the X-files revival for 7 years now. I'm beyond ready for the X-files revival. And always have time for it.
X-Files has been with me throughout my life-- from my childhood in Siberia, to adolescence in Sweden and adulthood in the States. Knowing each episode by heart at this point, I still re-watch the show on a regular basis; it forever holds a very special place in my heart. I made an account on here as soon as I saw that you were doing an AMA, specifically to reach out to you and sincerely thank you for the splendid writing in all the best episodes. I must say: outside of the main plot, Field Trip is among my top favourites!
Please indulge my curiosity: where do you find your greatest inspiration for this type of sci-fi writing, and do you still work on anything beyond television storylines - articles, novels, etc. - even if so just for personal pleasure?
Well, first of all, thank you, that is very nice to hear.
I get inspiration from all kinds of things, and it's always the hardest question to answer, because it's mysterious to me what inspires me. But one of the things I enjoy about writing is that when you focus on a story, you have to think about everything you've experienced and seen and heard and read and bring it to bear on the problem the story presents, the storytelling problem. It's always surprising to me the things I draw from. Sometimes it's a book, or documentary, or something somebody said to me at a party. Rarely is it other science fiction, or hopefully not television shows.
I don't really have time to do anything other than what I'm doing, sadly. I don't have time to write articles or novels, even if I could write them. I do belong to a book group in London, where I read books that have absolutely nothing to do with work, and I really really enjoy that.
It's a nice little space in my imagination that is free from any pressure. I don't know how we pick the books. We have dinner every 2 months, and at the end of the dinner, we talk about books we like to read, and it's kind of random, to be honest.
Thank you for doing this AMA!
How does one pitch an idea about Germans and Japanese winning the second World War, taking over the United States and assimilating Americans to televion execs? Did it take long for them to say yes?
What other Phillip K. Dick material do you think would be appropriate for a television show?
Well, the producers of this project have been trying to set it up for 5 years before I came along (at least that's my understanding). But I think the fact that it is Philip K. Dick and it's a brilliant Hugo-award winning novel still helps sell the project. But it was difficult, because it's such an unusual idea, and such an expensive idea - because it's an epic story that takes place in a past that never was. So it's not surprising that it would be difficult to pitch and get greenlit, but we did it.
And yes, there's a lot - more than I can answer in this reddit. And obviously, many of his things have been made already. But i would recommend Phillip K. Dick to anyone looking for thought-provoking literature.
Thank you for doing another AMA. I thoroughly enjoyed The Man in the High Castle, and hope that it goes into production. My question is in 2 parts: as a content creator, how different is it to produce content for Amazon's system in comparison to say, American networks or the BBC?
And secondly, with Amazon and Netflix now being considered major players in TV production, what are your thoughts and observations on how this has changed or influenced network and cable television in general?
Really interesting questions as well.
I would say creating a show for Amazon feels a lot like creating a show for any American broadcaster. The BBC is a whole different thing. But what's interesting is thinking about doing a series for a streaming platform, like Amazon - where you can reasonably anticipate much, if not most, of your audience will consume the entire season in a day, or two days, or a week. And where you are not expected to win a timeslot. That can't help but influence your thinking about how best to tell a story. And that's one thing I'm still processing, is how that influences the narrative you unfold.
I do think Amazon and Netflix and some of these other digital platforms are going to have a profound effect on television. And we've already started to see it - it's having an economic impact, on traditional broadcasters, and it's resulting in a very diverse slate of television drama that is incredibly exciting. But how things will change in the next few years - I don't think anybody could predict.
Would you be willing to return as a writer/producer for the upcoming X-Files revival TV show?
I think your episodes contained important important and interesting mythology bits. It would be good to see you back.
Well, I can't really say anything specific about the X-files right now, other than I feel an incredible loyalty to the show, and to Chris Carter, and would never want to disappoint either of them.
I saw the actor making a guest appearance on Gilmore Girls, just a few lines, being a friendly neighbor or something like that. I was freaked out, he says "hi!" and I was waiting for him to chop off one of the Loreleis' fingers and stick them in his freezer.
Frank, big fan. I worked on the Fox Home Video websites for the X-Files DVD releases in the late 90's. Always a fun mythology to dive into.
First question, it's been unclear to me what the scope of Man in the High Castle is as a "series". Is it just the 1 hour movie that is available now? Or will there be more to it? (Haven't watched it yet, and it's been a while since I read the story, so I don't know how you have it paced…)
Second, as someone who's worked with fairly immersive story bibles, worlds and mythologies in the past, how was it taking on Phillip K. Dick and diving into the world he created? In what ways were you able to build off of it and add things yourself that felt like they might be natural extensions of his original intent, perhaps in cases where he might not have had an explicit decription?
Well, thank you for your work on the websites in the 90s, which I remember, I think they were very very good, even by today's standards I think they would hold up.
So yes, just the 1 hour pilot is available now, and we're hoping we'll hear very soon as to whether there will be a series commissioned behind it.
So if you haven't watched, please do watch, and vote for the show.
Anybody can watch it - you don't have to have an Amazon Prime membership.
I would say my experience doing mythology for shows like the X-files was extremely useful in approaching Philip K. Dick. It's an incredibly vast world, and it not only involves history, in this case, alternative history, but also philosophy. And you somehow have to tell an exciting story that weaves together those elements as well as character drama.
It's a GIANT landscape. And one that could extend for many years.
And my biggest task, in thinking about the series, is how to narrow it down to one path that our lead character is on. But I have to say - I have enjoyed thinking about this world enormously, and I think it's very rich, and exciting.
Hi Frank! The X-Files is still my favorite show of all time and can't thank everyone who created it enough.
Who is, in your opinion is the creepiest character the show ever produced?
I would have to say... Donnie Pfaster.
I think he is the creepiest X-files character.
You know why he was so creepy? Because there was nothing supernatural about him, and he so got under Scully's skin that he was very unnerving.
And I think the other characters I think about with delight are from MILLENNIUM, the serial killer from the pilot episode, and Lucy Butler.
I think the family from HOME - that was the single most terrifying episode of the show. And I think Tooms was certainly one of the very best creatures, if you will, even though he was a man-creature, that the show ever had. But when I think about what would scare me, it's Donnie Pfaster.
Hi Frank, have you any news about the blu-ray edition of The X-Files ? Have you an artistic look about that ?
I don't know. Honestly, I'm not in the loop at all in terms of anything Twentieth Century Fox is doing with X-files these days - DVDS or comics. Although the show was shot on film, the visual FX were not done in high resolution. So that's my greatest concern - is whether they can uprez the visual FX so they look good in high definition.
The Man in the High Castle is one of my favorite books and I didn't even know about this! Awesome! Will definitely be watching tonight.
What are your other favorite alternate history stories?
To be honest, this is the only one I've ever read. I've never read "Fatherland," or the Philip Roth book, which I hear is fantastic, or there was a story by a writer named Sake, which I believe may be the first alternate history story anybody ever wrote - but I read this one when I was in college, I must've been 20, or 21 years old, and it made a deep impression on me. And I feel so lucky that I got the chance to adapt it for television.
will AD Skinner be in the new Xfiles?
Everybody is asking that - Will Skinner be there? Will Doggett and Reyes be there? Will The Lone Gunmen be there? Will the CSM be there? Will Krycek be there?
Anything is possible. But I can't say anything more than that.
Has it been picked up? (TMITHC)
It has not been picked up yet. So that's why I gotta keep telling people to please watch, rate, and review on Amazon if they can.
Frank -- you know you are exposing yourself to X-Files-related questions!
One of my biggest regrets in following the show is that you were planning an episode fully focused on the backstory of Krycek but sadly it was neve made. Do you have any recollections of that, and what you were planning to do with that character?
Do you remember having a favourite idea that never made it to a shot episode?
Thank you -- greetings from France! (maybe you are in France now?)
I am in France right now!
And yes, we VERY much wanted to do at least one episode focusing on the genesis of Krycek, who I always found incredibly interesting. Really more for the way Nic Lea played him than for the way we wrote him.
He was one of those characters who should've died seven times, but we just couldn't help ourselves, we had to keep bringing him back.
He never dies! We just couldn't stand the thought of not working with him again.
We actually did develop - I think we had quite a lot of the story worked out. But now i can't remember. I bet somebody has it somewhere. It probably is in some file boxes in Chris' office, the notes we had for that episode...
You served as the executive producer of my favorite Cinemax show (next to Banshee): "Strike Back". The season that airs this summer is also the conclusion of the entire series. Even though the show, would you consider revisiting the show at some point in the near future?
I have great affection for STRIKE BACK. And I have stayed in touch with the producers, who are friends of mine, and if I had the time - haha! - I would be delighted.
But I suspect I won't have the time.
I too loved The Man In The High Castle when I read it, and given the central idea there (the I Ching and the nature of reality, without getting too much into spoiler territory), I was really wondering how this could be adapted into a TV series. I was surprised to see so much of the book's plot already in the pilot. I though I read that initially the project was to be a mini-series. If this goes to full series, have you thought about what that would mean for the format of the story, and how the central mystery would unfold?
Yes. I was eager to put as much of the novel's narrative in the first episode as I could. But as you can see, if you've watched the first episode, it starts a LOT of storylines going. So for the series, it's this giant canvas that we have to explore, and there's so much to say about the nature of reality, about what it means to be human, and about freedom, and the price any of us would pay to secure it. So for me, the book is a starting point to explore the characters, themes, and ideas that were so important to Philip K. Dick.
Hey Frank, where did you leave my Nutella?
Frankenbear is here in Paris with me, and well stocked with Nutella.
I've been a X-Files fan for a while now. What do you think is the creepiest -- or best -- episode that the show ever produced and why?
Greetings from Sweden.
Wow. That is such a tough question.
Because I literally have 10 favorite episodes.
Well, I have to say every episode Darin Morgan ever wrote. And MANY of the episodes that his brother Glen and Jim wrote, including "Home," which we talked about earlier.
Many of the Vince Gilligan episodes, especially "Bad Blood."
And so many Chris Carter episodes, including "Anasazi," "Triangle," and "Post-Modern Prometheus."
I'd say my favorite mythology episodes would be the three episodes ending in "Redux 1" and "Redux 2."
I can't list my own episodes among my favorites, because I know them too well.
But if I had to - the one with my name on it that is the most personal to me is "Milagro," because it's about a writer, and by that point, I had spent so many thousands of hours thinking about Mulder and Scully, that it was as if they were real people.
And that idea is so interesting, to me.
I often think about how influential and important Sherlock Holmes is.
What's interesting is - he's so influential and important, but he never lived. He's a completely imaginary character. But honestly, he's more important and more meaningful to millions of millions of people, than BILLIONS of other people who really did live.
So I find that idea that an imaginary character can be so powerful really fascinating.
What's is your favorite episode of the X-Files?
That's hard to say. Obviously the first episode I wrote, "Endgame," was not just my first episode of the X-Files, it was my first episode of anything, EVER. It was my first writing credit. I look back on that with such fondness and now I can't believe how little I knew, haha, at the time! How little I understood! And I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Chris. But there's so many wonderful moments. It was honestly - mostly - incredibly hard work, and a lot of pressure, because it was 24 hours of television a year, and during most of the 8 years I was on the X-files, I was also doing another television series at the same time. Two full-time jobs simultaneously, whether it was MILLENNIUM, Harsh Realm, or The Lone Gunmen.
But that, my first episode.
And "The Post-Modern Prometheus," because for some reason, I feel like we spent more time refining that episode in the editing room than any other episode. And the very first cut was really, really good, but we must've gone over that dozens and dozens of times, and as a result, that Cher song is permanently stuck in my head - "Walking in Memphis."
Great concept. You could take this so many directions.
Are you going to address the Japanese internment camps?
Do Germany and Japan peacefully divide up Asia?
Are there small colonies of American marines on Pacific islands who don't know the Japanese won?
Ha! Interesting ideas. Yes, we are going to address all of these ideas, and answer all of these questions over time. But the thing to remember is that this is a different path than history took in our world, and so I think one of the most provocative things is to consider how different we would all be if we had lost. And how differently we would think if we had lost. And that's one of the great ideas in the novel, is history is a story told by the winners. And that's part of the task of our heroine in the series is to determine what is authentic, and what's been told to her as being true. So it's a mind bender, I have to tell you. I've been thinking about this for many weeks now, and it really twists your imagination in pretzels.
Loved the Hunted, any chance we get to see "Sam Hunter" continuation series that was announced some time ago?
Well, I believed for a long time it was going to happen. And we just - we ran into bad luck, sadly. And so it doesn't have any future at Cinemax, but I think Melissa George and I would be up for returning to the character if somebody else came along and said they would be continue the story.
Any chances we will see "Humanitas" or "The World Inside" from you in the future? So much potential in all this!
Wow! Somebody who's read my website carefully!
Hi, Frank! David and Gillian's chemistry is out of this world. That's a given fact and it's something special. I was just wondering if you've ever considered writing a story and have David and Gillian play the characters you've created? It may be for a movie, a TV/movie or a miniseries. I've often wondered how it'll play out. You know, David and Gillian not being Mulder and Scully, that's something interesting.
Well, there's no bigger fan of David and Gillian than me. Having watched them work for all those years, and seen the dailies of their performances, day in and day out, I know how profoundly talented they both are, and would love to see them do anything. I think it could be interesting to see them work together and play something OTHER than Mulder and Scully?
It would have to be very very smart, though, to not pale in comparison to Mulder and Scully, because those characters are so beloved and iconic at this point.
I did try to work with Gillian when I moved to London - I was originally developing "Hunted" with her, it was her idea to play a spy, she wanted to play a spy- but unfortunately the development was so torturous, and dragged on for so long that by the time I had a green light - she couldn't do it.
But then, I would've never gotten to work with Melissa George, so it is what it is.
It'll be picked up! As you've always reminded us, DON'T GIVE UP. ;)
Aw, that's nice to hear.
I don't just say "Don't Give Up" because it was in the last X-files movie, but because it's the most important idea, or theme, that I as a writer can communicate to my audience. I think everybody needs hope, and I never get tired of being reminded of that.
Thank you ! My question is : When you write your amazing works , will you prefer to lead your readers to feel what your characters felt by themselves with details or you directly point out characters' real feelings ?
Well, I try to write my scripts so that the audience can follow a character's point of view through a story, and hopefully see the world through the eyes of that character.
And I think that's the joy of watching movies, or TV, or reading books or comic books, is getting to see the world through somebody else's eyes, and learning more about life than you ever could just by living your own.