Low-budget 'Believe' was delayed by lawsuits
Throughout the nine-year history of “The X-Files,” there have been lawsuits between studio Fox, series creator Chris Carter and star David Duchovny. However, now that Carter has made “The X-Files: I Want To Believe,” bygones are bygones.
“Whenever someone leaves a show, it’s always something for the press to latch on to. It’s a good headline and creates drama,” says Gillian Anderson about Duchovny’ s decision to reduce his time on the show in season eight as a result of his syndication lawsuit with Fox.
“Actually, Gillian and I have been having a 15-year affair,” Duchovny quips. “Anything that has ever been characterized as love or hate by me in the press had to do with me wanting to get on with the rest of my life and career, not ‘X-Files.’ No other TV dramas have kept their characters running as long as we have.”
It’s been 10 years since “X-Files: Fight the Future” and six years since the series wrapped. Carter credits Duchovny as greasing the wheels for another “X Files” film; Duchovny brushes the compliment aside. “Believe” received its greenlight on the eve of the WGA strike last November.
“I hate to say it, but the writers strike actually helped us,” says Frank Spotnitz, who shares screenwriting credit with Carter. “So much time had elapsed from the last film that if we waited for a strike to come and go, it might have been too late to revisit the characters.”
From the onset, Carter made it clear that the pic’s heavily guarded plot wouldn’t be steeped in the skein’s alien lore. Like “Future,” it would lean toward the show’s “monster of the week” storylines. In “Believe,” Fox Mulder and Dana Scully reteam to track down a killer who has been chopping up FBI agents. Leading the duo is a psychic priest (Billy Connolly) with a tarnished past as a pedophile.
“Future” had a $66 million budget that went toward chase scenes and UFOs; for “Believe,” audiences get $35 million of grainy Bergman-like dramatic snow scenes.
“The budget was fine by us,” Spotnitz says. “We didn’t want to do a big CG movie since there’s a fatigue in seeing animated backgrounds. The thing about “X-Files” is that the events could be real. The more we believe it’s happening, the scarier it is.”
As always, the Mulder-Scully dynamic lies at the soul of “Believe,” an on-screen relationship that Duchovny describes as “old fashioned.” Any “X-Files” fan longing for their first genuine on-screen smooch had to wait until the series finale. However, in “Believe” Carter and Spotnitz make good on more gentle kisses and pillow talk for Mulder and Scully. The two are like an old girlfriend and boyfriend who can comfort each other while realizing the pitfalls of long-term commitment.
Carter and Spotnitz came up with the screenplay’s outline in 2003, but abandoned it in the face of looming lawsuits. When they revisited the project, they realized they had lost their notes; this proved to be a breakthrough.
“We found ourselves interested in where Mulder and Scully were in their relationships,” says Spotnitz. “We saw much more emotion than when the story ended.”
When the series wrapped, Mulder was sentenced to death by the government and held in a high-security prison. Scully rescues him and the two run off together. At the start of “Believe,” Scully is a staff doctor at a Catholic Hospital in West Virginia and Mulder has taken refuge in a wilderness cabin.
“The hardest scene in the movie is when Scully and Mulder meet for the first time,” says Carter. “What does this couple say to each other after six years? How do they have a conversation that’s true to the story?”
The creators reveal that Mulder’s need to pursue the FBI agents’ killer stems from his need to make up for his sister’s death (she was abducted by aliens), while Scully’s drive to rehabilitate a small boy from a brain disorder derives from her guilt in giving up her newborn child.
Though they’ve walked in the shoes of their characters for an eternity, Duchovny and Anderson say their alter egos rarely seeped into their off-screen lives. The opposite is true for Carter and Spotnitz.
“(Like Mulder), Chris is a person of faith, I’m the doubter (like Scully),” says Spotnitz. “In ending the film, Chris and I didn’t know how to resolve our personal differences — our only ending is that you must find God through faith. It’s not going to be proven to you.”
“X-Files” fans must also maintain their faith that the new film will thrive and that the franchise will stick around. Carter confesses that “Believe” sidesteps several dangling questions left by the series. It’s impossible to suffice every fan, which Carter says is a key reason why he and Fox avoided any test marketing.
“In that way, we are victims of our own success,” says Carter. “Certainly if we’re successful with this film, we’ll talk with Fox about another one. But we did this movie as though it’s the last time we see Mulder and Scully.”