Primetime: Fox's 'The X-Files'
Issue: January 1, 2016

Primetime: Fox's 'The X-Files'

From the first few notes of its eerie signature theme to the irrefutable chemistry between its two stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (portraying Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, respectively) and the satisfyingly creepy alien-based storylines, Fox’s The X-Files has built quite the fan base since its premiere on September 10, 1993 to its finale in 2002 (and two major film releases in 1998 and 2008). Created and executive produced by Chris Carter, the show’s premise was centered around two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, who investigated paranormal activity, which included alien conspiracies within the US government and life-threatening and career-ending risks. Now it’s 2016, and guess who’s back?

At month’s end, fans will see the return of Mulder and Scully when Fox delivers the next chapter of The X-Files for what the network is referring to as a six-episode “event series.” The Emmy Award- and Golden Globe-winning pop culture phenomenon, which remains one of the longest-running sci-fi series in network television history, opens with a special two-night debut on January 24th and continues with its time period premiere on January 25th. Along with its key stars, Carter is also back at the helm, with support from many of the show’s original production and post creatives.

According to X-Files freshman and associate producer on the show, Garfield Whitman (pictured), who headed up the post, one of the biggest differences between the 1990’s and the 2016 versions of the series is the “digital era. From the technical standpoint, we now have digital media, digital cameras," he says. "It’s something we were actually thinking about when we were doing the color because there are grain differences, of course, and there’s virtually no grain in the digital era. So, we were thinking about whether we wanted to apply that or not. As far as the show, how it really is, inherently, it’s the same show, it really is. And with David, Gillian and Mitch [Pileggi], it’s like they never left.”

Shot on-location in Vancouver on Arri Alexa cameras, with Panavision lenses, Whitman gives Post the workflow rundown, explaining that the ProRes files were transcoded to DNx36 for editing on Avid (cut by editors Robert Komatsu and series original Heather MacDougall), the dailies were completed through Encore in Vancouver, with color on DaVinci Resolve, and the final color grading completed in Filmlight’s Baselight (DI colorist was Tony Smith, also a series original). Because it was a limited six-episode stint, Whitman says the team decided to go with Avid Unity for storage.

Getting into the thick of the show’s overall look and feel, Whitman says, “For the most part, it mirrors the original series. There’s a lot of darkness. There are a lot of mysterious aspects. You don’t want to brighten things up too much and expose what’s going on every moment. You want to find shadows and make sure you maintain the shadows so you don’t quite know what’s in the shadow and keep that sense of mystery. There are so many different elements of mystery in the show — with regard to Big Brother the government; whether Big Brother the government has any involvement in UFO-related activities. The paranormal that is separate from the UFOs, which are anomalies in DNA, mutations in human DNA, and so those are the things we tried to maintain and put a spotlight on.”

According to Whitman, two aspects of post were handled in Vancouver — the dailies process (Encore, as discussed earlier) and about 80 percent of the show’s visual effects. In all, Whitman estimates around 150 VFX shots per episode, shared between Imagine Engine and Psyop that included matte paintings and 3D work, as well as cleanup — removing set items, booms and the like.

When asked about how early on post was integrated into the production, Whitman says, “At the script level, of course. We’ll have visual effects meetings, production meetings, art department meetings. Post typically won’t get into too much art department meetings unless they’re involved with visual effects, but we start discussing it at the script level. We’ll have meetings where pretty much all departments have had sidebar conversations — make sure everyone’s on the same page. From there, the dailies come in and we evaluate the dailies to see if all our previous discussions still hold true, because sometimes we just can’t do things we wanted to, based on time restrictions, any anomaly that happened while we were filming on the day. So, like anything, you plan the one thing, the reality becomes a version of that plan that you hit slightly and the goal for me, specifically, in my mind, is always trying to nudge everything back to that perfect ideal that we had. If you find along the way, if we go a little bit off the course from what we once thought, we’ll see if that is advantageous in any way. But we plan from the get go and I tend to think about it like a train that wants to jump off the tracks. There are so many moving pieces and each department is a part of that train and it’s hard to stay in-sync when you’re moving so quickly and you’re going from one episode to another. Things change and you’re always trying to nudge everything and you’re just trying to keep making sure the communication lines are really open. That’s one of the biggest things. Just making sure that communication is open.”

Whitman says that the project ran from May 2015 to when final post completed just before Christmas. “It was a long schedule for just six episodes,” he says, but without many hitches. “Let’s be honest. Technically speaking, this went pretty smoothly. The Alexa to Avid format was pretty rock solid. There haven’t been many bumps in the road at all.” 

One of the few challenges the team did encounter was with the 3D shots, involving lots of camera movements. “Whether it be handheld or panning, those shots tend to be the ones where they are more like keyframes you have to hit. The shot is the shot and it’s one big shot, but within that shot there may be 10, 20, 30, a hundred different keyframes or certain things needed to happen and it’s a bigger visual effect with 3D or matte paintings or whatnot. Those are the ones that always require the most attention. Really, anytime you’re using multiple plates for visual effects and adding an artist’s touch, those are the ones. First, you have the comp work to put the shots together and then you have the artists come in and make models. So those are the ones that typically require the most work.”

When asked if the team felt any pressure to not disappoint die-hard fans, Whitman shares a final thought, “It’s been so long since those times. When I got called to work on this show, it blew me away. I was 15 when the show was on the air and I certainly watched it. So, for me, it was unbelievable and surreal to know that in the weeks and months to come I would be producing post on such a famous and well-known show. I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be an undertaking,’ but I never once saw any hesitation or concern about any of that from anybody on the show. It was really about getting the gang back together who had done this for 10 years. At this point, it was second nature to them. The only thing that’s really changed is the television landscape — there’s more television and more mediums and there are more serialized projects in the television landscape. Shows like 24, Homeland and Walking Dead, so each story is a continuation of the previous episode. And that was not the way the original X-Files was and it’s still not that way. So one of my biggest questions was, how will today’s television viewer respond to television that isn’t serialized? But I think the fans of the original series are going to think, nothing much has changed. A decade has gone by and that’s where we are. Plus, for me, David and Gillian and their chemistry and the title music that Mark Snow wrote, it just throws you back. Here we are. This is The X-Files again.”