The Cave's X-Files Commentary Archives: Encounters with the showTitle: My visit to the set
Ok gang! Now that the cat's out of the bag, it would be wrong not to share as much info and details as I can. So here goes.
FIRST OF ALL, HOW DID I GET TO GO? Well, I'm still amazed at it. I give total credit to God for the opportunity. Yes I pursued, but so much was out of my hands and His timing and opening of doors is what made it possible. I just really wanted to say that first. I am a student studying television production. One of the reasons I love the show is because what little I know about producing episodic television makes me appreciate what these people do every week. And we all love knowing the names of the people behind the scenes and what they do. So, I wrote Kim Manners a letter telling him how much I really enjoyed his work with the X-Files and that I was studying television production and was fascinated with what it took to put a show like the X-Files together. I said I would be in LA during a certain time and if at all possible, I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with him and learn more about the process. I didn't think I'd get anywhere. He's obviously a very busy person, why in the world would he bother with a kid from Nashville? Imagine my elation when he called. To quote the movie, The Saint: Miracle number one. We spoke on the phone and he said it shouldn't be a problem for me to visit the week I would be out there since he wasn't directing that week. He told me I should call him a few days before I left for LA and we would arrange a time for me to visit the set.
SO WHAT HAPPENED? So I did. It took a while of phone tag and thinking it wasn't going to happen. I had been in LA a couple of days before I heard back from him. I was so anxious I think I called his office a time or two too many. He's incredibly busy trying to do his job of providing quality entertainment, but I was worried about me. Yeah. But he called and said he was in the editing room cutting the episode he had just finished directing the week before, but that they were shooting on the Fox lot and he would show me around that afternoon. I was very jazzed. OK that's an understatement. I was literally jumping up and down. Now, the day before, just on a lark a went and found the Fox lot. I circled, then decided, "what the heck, let's see what happens," and turned into the gate. When I got up to the guard shack, they asked my last name and I told them. But surprise surprise, I wasn't in the computer. She asked me if they were expecting me and I said no they aren't. And very nicely she suggested I make a U-turn and try the courtesy phone to let them know I was here and have them buzz me in. So I made a U-turn and went home. Well, it made it so much more fun when the next day I pulled up and they asked for my last name, I told them and they said "Patterson?" (well actually they said my real name but you get the idea.) I had a drive -on pass. Which means I could drive a few feet onto the lot and then turn into a parking lot. I was directed to the Ten Thirteen production offices, which are very cool. The doors are that translucent smoky class and the logo on the door looks like the logo at the end of an episode where the kid says "I made this!" I went in and there were three desks in an open area, one directly in front of me, and a fourth in an alcove of sorts behind the guy in front of me. I had been told to ask for a certain person whose name I didn't recognize and he would take me to Mr. Manners in editing. However, that person was at lunch (it was 2 p.m. PST). So I said, that I was there to meet with Kim Manners. Well, the guy behind the guy in front of me picked up the phone and said, "I'm assuming he's expecting you?" I answered in the affirmative and he asked my name. I told him and he called Mr. Manners. Then the young man directly in front of me was then instructed to walk me back to the editing building.
We headed even further into the maze of trailers, RVs, and house-like buildings and I chit-chatted with this guy. On the way, I saw a really familiar face walking towards us. The guy I was with raised his arms and bowed in mock worship and then it hit me who it was. Now let me stop here (I know, how dare I?) but before I went out there I had written down every single question I could think of to as Kim Manners. Some serious, some not so serious, some out-right funny. But one of the things I wanted to ask was if I could meet John Shiban. He is, hands down, my favorite writer for the show and I love him! So now back to the story. So I recognize this face and decide to seize the day. "John Shiban!" I said. He turned around because he had passed me and I walked up to him and said, "Hi I'm Patterson (really told him my real name) and I love your writing. You are my favorite writer for the show. I'm sorry I don't want to take up your time, but I just had to stop you and tell you how much I admire your work." He smiled (very cute smile. Is it obvious yet how much I love this man?) and thanked me and unfortunately that was the end of the conversation. But I couldn't believe the timing. Miracle number two. Well nice young man (actually he was a couple years older than me) and I continue on. He points to a small building with a large "X" on it and sends me on my way. Alone. By myself. So I go in the door and I'm in a hallway. there are only four rooms off this hallway and I don't see anyone in the first two on my right and left. I call out a questioning 'Hello?" and get a loud welcoming "Hello!" back. Kim Manners bolts out of the room and extends his hand. "Kim Manners," he said. "Patterson," I said. (actually I told him my-oh you get it.) He invites me into the room where they are editing the episode he directed last week. I was thinking he would try to maneuver me away from the booth but instead he ushered me in and began telling me all about the story. I got to watch them edit for almost an hour. It was really amazing. The editor Louise Innes whose first job with the XF was Triangle!!!, had been putting together her edit since shooting began using the footage shot each day. So it was cohesive and you could follow it. What they were doing was making the Director's cut. Manners was changing a few shots used, picking different takes, trying to tighten it up because it was running about ten minutes over, he said. They hadn't added any music or audio effects, hadn't re-recorded any dialogue, all they had was the audio from the set. But it was very cool. Certain things hadn't been inserted yet like close-ups of Mulder reading a letter or words typing on the page. Stuff like that. So suddenly there'd be a black screen with what we're supposed to be reading in quotes. That was funny.
I asked some production questions and he told me a couple of stories. He said he like to be about four or five minutes over when he takes it to the producers. Then they make their cuts. He said it's difficult because he is one of the producers so he's simultaneously still trying to cut and yet fight for the shots he wants. I wanted to ask so many questions but I didn't want to distract him too much. Also, I was very engrossed in watching the monitors. So much so that at one point I forgot where I was and during a very suspenseful moment let a "No!" out when something happened I didn't want to happen. He and Louise started laughing at me and Kim said something to the effect of "Got ya didn't I?" They refer to the episodes by their number, not by the name like we do. So he was editing 18, 19 was currently shooting, 20 (DD's baseball ep) was set to begin shooting on Friday (I was there on Wed. St. Patty's Day), and Manners was eagerly awaiting the script for 21 which is the first part of the two-parter season finale. I'm sure that 17 was still being sweetened in audio and having the music added. Until being there, I knew they worked hard, but in reality I didn't have a clue, not even an inkling of how hard they work. I still don't fully grasp it. But getting back to my story. Manners said that most episodic television is shot in eight days. But X-Files actually averages about 10 to 12. He said about a year and a half ago he and Bowman did a two-parter that shot 28 days straight I think he said. I guessed if it was Patient X/ The Red and the Black. He said "No but good guess!" It was Tempus Fugit/Max. So we talked about all the effects they had to do like the crash site and working in the plane cabin. He told me he had his camera operators wearing helmets during that scene.
So they got all the way to the fade out for the commercial break and Manners said he'd take me over to the sound stage!! As we were walking over there I asked him about Monday, if he found it more difficult to direct having to shoot the same scene five different times or if it gave him a chance to play. He said it was more difficult because he had to find five different ways to film it and he wanted each time to have subtle differences and so it was a lot of difficult choices. So we talked about what he did choose and things like that. Then we went to the sound stage. They were shooting the sequel to Unusual Suspects and it is set in Las Vegas, so they had built the hallway and a couple of rooms for a Las Vegas Hotel. It was awesome! If you had blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of it, I would have sworn I was in a hotel. From the carpet to the signs pointing the way to different wings to the working light fixtures to the very large, very gaudy floral arrangement sitting on a marble table in front of the elevator. You literally could walk the whole floor which was built in, I guess, a D shape. They had two bedrooms built. The one they were currently shooting in was huge and you walked in from the hallway and it had a bathroom with a black jaccuzzi and gold faucets. It was so cool!! So we walked around and he introduced me as his friend Patterson from Nashville. I met one of the camera operators who was really neat. I met a couple of the Special Effects guys. They were either getting ready to shoot someone or had shot someone. The shirt they had was in plastic (like it got just got back from the cleaners) but had blood all over it from several gun shot wounds. They showed me the little contraptions for getting shot so that you bleed. There's a charge and they hit the button and the blood packet explodes. I asked if it hurt and they said sometimes when the clothing is loose and if the packet has allot of blood in it, when it explodes it gets slammed against the flesh and makes "A very nice welt. Or so I've been told" as one of them said. I asked Manners if he had gotten dibs on directing the sequel since he had done the Unusual Suspects. He said they had wanted him to do it, but he felt like he had been there, done that. I did meet the director of that episode whose name was Brian Spires or something very much like it. I didn't recognize his name. But he seemed nice. He was young, like early to mid thirties. They were getting set up to shoot in the room and they started taking a wall down. Manners explained that all the set walls are "wild" so that they can remove a wall and put the cameras any where to get the shot. He said it spoils them because they'll go out on location and be shooting in someone's house and want to remove a wall to get a shot, but obviously can't. Then he said, "C'mon, I'll take you over to FBI headquarters."
We walked over to another section of the soundstage and turned into a hallway. Yes, The hallway!! I was standing in the hallway of FBI headquarters!! However, it wasn't lit so it was very dark. But I realized we were standing right outside Skinner's office. So we went in. We went into his outer office and it was eerily familiar. All the furniture was in there along with a bunch of other stuff. He said that when they weren't using the sets they become storage areas. But the black leather couch was in there. The one Skinner was reclining on in SR 819. The one Mulder and Scully have sat on oh so many times as they waited for Skinner like in Bad Blood and Dreamland and yes I have seen this show too many times. All these thoughts I kept to myself. So we maneuvered our way around boxes and stuff to Skinner's door. Alas it was locked! No! Denied!! So we headed back out into the hall to go in through those other doors!! As we did I saw the blanket on that black leather couch move and I realized someone was trying to get some sleep. And I felt very bad for whoever it was that our little tour had come through and yet very glad I hadn't tried to sit on the couch for a thrill. We went out and in through the doors that go directly into Skinner's office from the hallway. It was partially dressed. And also stuffed with stuff. But the conference table and chairs were there, his desk was there, but the pictures weren't on the wall. You know the ones of the President and the Attorney general. But nevertheless it was enough for a moment of zen. We left the Assistant Director's office and walked down the hallway a bit. And did you know that there is an autopsy lab across from Skinner's office? Well there was that week. In the episode I had seen them edit, there was an autopsy scene. Manners said this was where they filmed it and actually I was currently standing on Scully's mark and Mulder walked over to her from another door way. I actually felt my atomic particles jump to another energy level. But it was nothing compared to where I was about to go. We walked through the door the aforementioned Mulder had been near, and walked behind a bunch of other sets till, this pilgrim reached her Mecca: a tiny office in the basement of the FBI. yes ladies and gentlemen. I went into the X-Files office. It was lit and dressed and perfect!!!! I'll try to tell you exactly what I saw but keep in mind my circuits were most definitely blown so there's a lot I missed. But here's what I did notice: there are two desks, but I realized there have always been two desks. Mulder's desk and a tiny table more than a desk where the computer is. Both are incredibly short. I instantly headed to that little alcove we never go in, so I could see what the hell is back there. It certainly is set up for Scully. Lots of scientific equipment like beakers and test tubes and measuring things. It looked like a very small version of your High school science lab. There was a sink, I think. And a snazzy looking computer that appeared to be linked up to a database. As I walked back toward Mulder's desk I asked the oh so important question. Not the one about why Scully didn't have her own desk. There really is no room and I figured it was a losing battle. So I asked why her name wasn't on the door. Especially now that they were back on the X-Files. He said that Scully's never had her own office. It's Mulder's office. I pointed out the painfully obvious fact that Scully was also assigned to the X-FIles. He said but it's not her office. I countered that when Diana was assigned to the X-Files (a very dark time in the history of the justice system) HER stinkin' name was on the door. He acknowledge that I was correct but said when Spender was shot and Diana was "-well, we don't know what happened to Diana. But Fox got his office back." He said, "As you can see it plainly says 'Fox Mulder - Special Agent' " I concurred with his reading skills , but suggested it should say Fox Mulder - Special Agent and Dana Scully Special Agent. He only said "Sorry." By this time we were leaving the office and I said. "This is a source of great frustration." Y'know what he said? "You'll get over it." I had to laugh! I guess so, I mean not much I could do about it except take him down right there, and I wanted to finish the tour.
We then left that sound stage and went outside. We started heading over to another sound stage and Manners was talking to someone and asked, "Are the Lone Gunmen anywhere around?" That guy said, "yeah, in the alley." So we head that way, turn the corner and there was Frohike. Manners let out a very large, very loud "Tommy Boy!!!!". Now I had been freaking out the whole time, but kept it inside, projecting a very cool, calm, collected veneer. But I swear when I saw Frohike, I broke into the biggest grin. No hiding it. Frohike had just seen Monday and was congratulating Manners on a great episode. Manners introduced me and said "of course you know Tom Braidwood as Frohike." It was very cool and he was very nice. It was so surreal, because he is just like he is. It was amazing, I'm getting giddy just thinking about it. So we finished talking to Frohike and continued on to the other sound stage. It was dark but we approached another set. It was Mulder's apartment. Unfortunately, it was not dressed for Mulder's apartment. The episode Manners directed centered around Mulder's new next door neighbor who has no furniture. And it was dressed for his apartment. That is to say it was a very empty room with sheers on the window instead of blinds. We actually went in through his bedroom door so I got turned around for a second. And there were no lights so even though I got to stand in Mulder's foyer/dining room, I couldn't see anything. And his kitchen wasn't up. Bummer. We walked out his front door and there were Mulder's fish. Real fish! All the time. It was cool!
We left his apartment and headed over to wear a crew was shooting something with a phone booth. Manners said that they were shooting second unit stuff. We head over there and guess who they had directing second unit stuff. Rob Bowman. I don't know if you've heard of him. He directed Fight The Future. :) I really liked Bowman. He has this amazing personality that's larger than life. He was talking to Kim Manners about his plans for the weekend and the production manager comes over and wants to hurry things along. Bowman turns to him and says, "Hey man. I'm having a conversation." Manners doesn't miss a beat. He yells "Action!" and they run through this one move. Manners kind of shrugs like "Hey cool." I had turned around to watch what they were doing and realized a man was naked except for flesh colored shorts. It didn't make sense. I hope it will soon. Manners even said "Why is this man naked?" but no one really answered him. Just remember naked man attacking phone booth with a rock. Apparently Bowman had been called in to shoot these scenes for some reason. But he was very jovial. I wanted so bad to say "Syzygy, man loved it!!!" But I was trying to be cool. And I didn't really get the chance. But it was so awesome especially since I don't think he was even supposed to be there! Miracle number three.
We left that sound stage and went back to the Vegas hotel. We watched the monitors for a moment or two while DD and GA's stand-ins ran through their moves. Steve and Michelle are their names. Manners told me that David Nutter, another director, saw Steve walking down the street in Vancouver and quickly had the car pull over. He chased Steve down and said "How'd you like a job?" He's been DD's stand-in ever since and you can't tell the difference from the back. Michelle looks just like GA especially looking straight-on. I also met the First Assistant Director whose name was Bruce. He's very tall. And very nice. Well, Manners said he had to get back to editing so we headed back to editing. He told me that Monday had been submitted to the Emmy board for writing and also for directing. So very cool. It was at this point I remembered my camera and fought the urge to kick myself. I told him I had brought it and if it was ok, could we get a picture together. So Louise took our picture with me sitting at the Avid. I thanked him heartily and headed out. On the way John Fugelsang from VH1 asked me if I knew where building 79 was. He was lost. But I didn't know. But I thought that was cool. So that what pretty much everything.
Of course as I'm leaving the gate, like a flood, I remember questions I should have asked, details I should have noticed, things I should have said, etc. Funny, it's never enough is it? I hope this narrative made sense. I thought so much about you guys and how so much of what I saw seemed right online with what we had been discussing in the cave. Little info tidbits: David and Gillian are apparently all anyone ever talks about. They weren't even there and everything was David this and Gillian that. It was very wild. I don't think I've left out anything. But really I have a whole new respect for what these people do. I read somewhere that Shiban said he was amazed when they hit 100 episodes. Not that he ever thought they would be cancelled but that they were able to do it and everyone still be alive. Manners said that sometimes he'll leave his house and won't return until 17 hours later. If they work a 12 hour day it's getting off early. They all were just praying for hiatus. Everyone kept asking Manners if he had received the script for 21, yet. And I think it was a combination of wanting to know more about the mythology and also being that much closer to summer. It's an amazing group of people. It's amazing that there is a brand spankin new episode every week for us to pick apart and critique. So my hats are off to them Also, it gave me a vision, or rather a marker, for me to keep in my mind as I begin my career. It will be a long time before I find myself at the X-Files level, but I have that image in my head and it is very motivating.
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