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Hunted - Frank Spotnitz interview

Hunted

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FRANK Spotnitz, the legendary co-creator of The X-Files, talks about coming to England to make the spy thriller Hunted and some of the differences between working in America and the UK.

He also talks about plotting the mythology of the show, working with his actors and why the challenge of entering the spy genre was a particularly daunting one for him. He was speaking at the BAFTA launch.

Q. What gave you the idea for Hunted?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, I wanted to come to England to do a TV series and I was trying to think of one I could do here that would sell in the US and around the world. It was that practical. And I thought the spy genre was something that could work anywhere, and that Americans would accept hearing British accents. But it was very daunting because that’s my favourite genre. I grew up watching every spy show ever… every James Bond movie, everything. So, the bar was very, very high because so much good work has been done in this field. So, it was two things that I really needed to focus on: one was the character of Sam [Melissa George] and making her interesting and not quite like any spy you’d seen before. And then there was this other thing I stumbled upon, which I don’t think we’ve really seen before, which was this world of private espionage, which is a vast industry. There are thousands of firms, which I didn’t know. So, I thought the morality of that, where you don’t know who you’re working for or why, was something truly new. And I thought it would tie in as well with the privatised age.

Q. Are there companies out there really doing these kinds of things?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, we have a gentleman here with us tonight who can attest to that. Yeah, there are. Obviously, we’ve taken some licence. They try not to break laws, or at least they’re very clever about it. I mean, if there’s something that’s breaking the law in one country, you can go and do it in another country… things like that. Shooting people may be taking some licence [laughs]. Interestingly, someone I was talking to recently said of this whole News of the World scandal that all they had to do was tap the phones from another territory and they wouldn’t have got into any trouble. So, that kind of thing goes on quite a lot.

Q. Did you have an idea from the outset where this was all going? We hear lots of times that writers don’t always know the answers to the questions they’re posing…
Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, I did The X-Files for something like a million years and you learn a lot doing that. It was one of the first mythology shows and the main lesson I got was that you can’t outsmart the audience… however clever you are in your plotting, there is someone out there who is going to be smarter than you and ahead of you. Even if you come up with a brilliant answer they may say: “Well, I like mine answer better.” The one thing you have that they don’t have is control of the characters and if you can create a really rich, satisfying emotional journey for these characters to go on then I think you can have a satisfying experience for the audience. So, that’s the thing I know. I know where the characters are going. I know where Sam’s journey is headed and as dense and convoluted as the plotting is at times, it always comes down to her journey and that’s what makes or breaks the show.

Q. Does Melissa know too?
Frank Spotnitz: She knows enough. But it’s more fun doing it that way. I love watching the actors performances and going: “Oh, I can do this because this actor… look at how brilliant he or she is at doing this one thing… let’s write something for that.” So, you change course based on the reality of what you’re making, rather than: “Here’s the map and we’re following it rigidly.” I think you trust in that creative process and that’s the joy of doing it.

Q. You’ve made massive shows over here and in the States. Did you notice any differences in the way we do things?
Frank Spotnitz: Loads! They’re completely different. I mean honestly, they’re both television but otherwise everything is different. It’s organised in a completely different way. The crews are smaller. They have to work harder. I’ve actually come to realise that American television is like a factory… and a really good factory; a really well run, industrialised process. And this is more like… we’re making this beautiful thing and everybody puts their heart into it and they hope people like it. And so it’s hard but it’s lovely too – there’s a lovely ethic behind it.

Read our interview with Melissa George

Read our interview with Adam Rayner