When location makes news

'X-Files'

VANCOUVER — Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are key ingredients in the successful “X-Files” recipe, but they’re not the only ones.

“You have to remember Jim Wong and Glen Morgan and other people who were there at the beginning,” says R.W. Goodwin, the show’s hands-on exec producer. “The whole evolution has been wonderfully serendipitous, leading to a phenomenon that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.”

Goodwin, who helped create such series as “Hooperman” and “Mancuso FBI,” and worked with Gene Roddenberry on the first “Star Trek” feature, directs the show’s season openers and finales. He has seen the series grow from a ragtag operation, run out of a dilapidated brewery on Vancouver’s False Creek, to a well-oiled machine taking up more than half the space in the posh North Shore Studios.

And Vancouver itself, it turns out, has played no small part in the show’s uniqueness. That includes onscreen talent, fresh locations and a number of locally bred crew heads —called “night owls” for their long hours and odd preoccupations — who’ve been part of “The X-Files” from the start.

“My budget has more than doubled since the beginning,” says prop master Ken Hawryliw, who signed up after the pilot. “When we started, the show was so unique, no one had a handle on it. When I said it would be the next ‘Star Trek,’ nobody believed me. But I made a commitment to Chris Carter to get feature quality on the screen, no matter what the budget, and that has paid off.”

He may have been understaffed at first, but Hawryliw, who designs most of the Rube Goldberg contraptions and “alien gizmos” seen on the show, has gradually assembled the biggest TV props department ever seen in B.C. (just short of the one for “Eaters of the Dead,” the expensive period pic now wrapping here).

Stay away from L.A.

The props man, who previously furnished pics like “Stakeout” and “We’re No Angels,” naturally is not thrilled by talk — based on Duchovny’s chatshow yearnings to be with his wife — of an impending move south. “I hear a different rumor every day, and they’re all from reliable sources. But I don’t know if it would work somewhere else. A lot of the moodiness comes from the fact that it’s overcast here, and from the variety of locations.”

Todd Pittson, location manager for the series, agrees. “The thing about Vancouver is a 20-minute drive gets you to the beach, the forest or the flatlands of Delta. Twenty minutes of driving in L.A., and you’re still in L.A.!”

The veteran scout, who previously worked on “The Black Stallion” and other shows, says the cult series was more location-intensive when it started. “In the beginning, we weren’t even sure what the show was about. Quite honestly, we gave it six months. But right off the top, it was very demanding. We would have 10, 15 locations a show when we were still searching for an identity. Now, after settling down a bit, that’s down to five or seven.”

These days, there are occasional episodes with segs shot as far away as Whistler or Kamloops, with the latter town yielding a mysterious-looking ginseng farm. “I’m always looking for something that makes me say, ‘No one will know what that is,’ ” Pittson says, “and that’s the kind of thing you want to play with on the show.”

Rob Maier, head of construction for the series, is working with Hawryliw on a book about the “X-Files” look. He’s got plenty to draw on. “This is the first time I’ve encountered such a vast variety of sets at such an incredible pace,” says Maier, who put together sets for “Wiseguy” and other programs. The department topper spends most of his time alongside Emmy-winning production designer Graham Murray, who joined the series later in its first season. “Graham’s a wonderful person to work with, because he always views it as a team effort. I can’t imagine ever being able to have as much input anywhere else.”

Working with a crew of up to 80 people, Maier says the biggest thrill is in making fast decisions about difficult things. The show frequently features spooky caves, and he recalls one warehouse-sized glacial maw that had to be built four times before it looked right. On the other hand, he was able to quickly obtain a real 400-foot destroyer, mothballed by the Canadian navy, and rejig it into a believable submarine for a season-two show called “Endgame.”

No cheese, please

“Every season, we’ve taken this vow to make each season better than the one before. We’ve definitely gained a belief in our own abilities. Chris keeps challenging us: When we deliver, he pushes the envelope that much harder. But these are absolutely the best people you can get. The level of quality and dedication from the department heads, and all of their people, has been the key to the show’s success. I mean, we recognized from the beginning that, without that quality, this could all be a cheesy joke.”

The exec, like everyone else, is mindful that the series could end tomorrow, for any number of reasons besides one star’s desire to move. The night owls have to be philosophical, too. “If I never did another props job,” Hawryliw says, “I’d be happy. Still, it’s going to be a great calling card for anyone who leaves the show. There’s nothing I wouldn’t feel confident doing, since I know what we accomplish in a week.”

At the same time, everyone’s aware of what happened to “MacGyver” when its star single-handedly moved that B.C.-based show to L.A. “Where’s Richard Dean Anderson today?” asks Pittson, the locations chief. “On ‘Stargate: SG1,’ shooting in Vancouver, and nobody hears him complaining.”

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