Lexicon Exclusive

“Building The Perfect Beast”

The X-Files Lexicon’s interview with Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin about ‘Rm9sbg93zxjz’ / ‘Followers’.

Conducted via e-mail 3/07/2018 by Matt Allair.

With the announcement of a season eleven, came the subsequent announcement of the expansion of the X-Files creative team, including the hiring of a number of female and male writers and directors, all of which helped to add a fresh sensibility, fresh blood, so to speak, to the season. While many episodes have retained the spirit of what made people love The X-Files to begin with, one episode marked a bold departure from the tone of the rest of the season, Rm9sbg93zxjz or Followers if you take the Base64 translation, attempted to play with the established form, a strong visual sense sans dialog, and an episode that could have been utilized in a number of series, hence, fans drew quick comparisons to Black Mirror. It makes for an interesting hour of television and comments pointedly to our use of all forms of digital technology, both pro and con.

Yet many of these new faces for season eleven have a long time connection to either the series, or its crew. Shannon Hamblin had been a part of the writers room for season 10, and a key assistant to Glen Morgan on a number of projects including Lore, the acclaimed Amazon Prime series. Of course Kristen is the wife of Glen Morgan, and has a long history with being connected to many of the projects he has helmed. She began her career as an actress in the 90s appearing in the feature Megaville, and then appearing is such TV series as Silk Stalkings, Doogie Howser M.D., Cheers, Mad About You, before appearing in The X-Files episode In The Field Where I Died as the doomed Melissa Rydell-Ephesian, then Glen Morgan’s Space: Above and Beyond as Lt. Shane Vansen, and the iconic Lara Means in Millennium. She would continue to appear in numerous Morgan projects, Final Destination, Willard, Black Christmas, before becoming a writer on Intruders. She recently appeared in the Oscar nominated feature Lady Bird as Ms Steffans.

Both managed to agree to a conference interview, while Kristen was in route to various errands. Both Kristen and Shannon were quite gracious, and relaxed, and the conversation seemed playful at various points. Two questions were subsequently answered via e-mail after the date. But both were candid, and insightful, and addressed some important points about the episode and the series. The interview proceeded as follows…

Matt Allair: Thank you to the both of you for taking the time to do this!

Matt Allair: Kristen, even in the days that you were acting, did you always have the desire to get into writing?

Kristen: Well, I was a writer in college, and when I was an artistic director of a theatre company I did some writing there, and so I’ve always kind of written on and off, but writing is something that takes a lot of confidence, I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve written more [after having kids] as I’ve had more time to do that, and missing acting a bit because I don’t get to do it as much. I think acting and writing, and directing and producing and all of that stuff is kind of the same thing, just a different skill. There all fun and interesting and incredibly challenging in their own way.

Matt Allair: I have seen many fans compare this episode, and other episodes this season, they compare it to Black Mirror, was that series something that consciously influenced the writing of “Followers”?

Shannon: I don’t think we were trying to make a Black Mirror episode, or out intentions was to make it Black Mirror-esque, I don’t think that went into play. It was definitely going to be a standalone. I thought of it as The X-Files was happening to Mulder and Scully. So, that is what made it so different, I love watching Black Mirror, but I don’t think that was our intention to make it like it.

Kristen: Yeah, I purposely didn’t. I think Glen and Shannon had watched the last season, and I purposely didn’t watch it because I think it’s an excellent show, it’s intimidating, and I know that the tech, some of the ideas. Because they had seen it, we were able to make certain that we didn’t touch that they had touched on, necessarily in their episodes. But I didn’t want to be intimidated by the show or influenced in any way, so I have yet to go back and see the season; I’m really looking forward to it. We are incredibly flattered by the comparison but it was not our intention.

Matt: The episode has the most limited about of dialog I have seen from an X-Files episode in a long time, and a lot of very technically involved set-ups with the A.I., cars, and Drones, etc… Was their conscious concerns, while writing, that the episode would be too expensive, or difficult to execute? What were the challenges that Glen put forth to you before writing?

Kristen: Glen had a bunch of things he wanted in the episode, as the director, and executive producer of the show. He was meant to write the episode, and oversaw a bunch of episodes in his role as the executive producer, but being that we were kind of the freelance people, when he gave us the episode. He gave us a list and one of them was not to have dialog, it was definitely an exciting challenge, I think it taught me in my writing a great deal, I think it changed the way I think. Anytime you do something like this where you don’t have any dialog, and you have robots, and you don’t have robots but drones and you have to see the drones, and you are sitting in your room writing something and you have an issue up front where you have to create the issue. Anytime you have any of that it’s a little frightening, and you’re worried about how it will come out. But the crew was an extremely excellent crew, the Producer Grace Gilroy is kind of like a five foot miracle worker, and Mark Freeborn who was the Production Designer, Graig Wrobleski who was the DP, everybody rose to the occasion, they do it all of the time, but it was a challenge for everyone, I definitely think that crew rose to the challenge, I think I speak for Shannon as well in that I am so grateful to them and the incredible effort they put into it.
Shannon: I have a production background, I come from doing commercials, and then I was a feature Producer, and so I was definitely like “Glen, should we be worried about this?” (laughs), I kept saying that because I was concerned, it was like “how many days do we have to shoot?”. For me I always think about that when I’m writing, but Glen was like “Don’t worry about it, get creative, do it, we’ll worry about that later.” For me, I had concerns and in time that’s exactly what we did, we dealt with it.

Kristen: I think there were some definite worries there that we weren’t going to have enough time to finish it up, there was a lot.

Matt : Kristen - You have spoken recently while talking about the episode about the ‘human responsibility’ with the internet and things like A.I., do you think Isaac Asimov was correct when he spoke about the three laws of robotics? Will machine ethics have to be programmed into everything from now on? Do we just have to be wiser about when to use technology and when not to?
Kristen: I think that the laws that Asimov mentioned, ideally that would be great. But if you are reading the modern thinking about A.I. and Robotics, there was that letter that Hawkings and Musk and Bill Gates, and all of those great living scientists all signed, and it talked about Robotic ethics, and it talked about how we really need to be mindful. When Asimov put that out, we were not using robotics and A.I. as potential war machines, and now that’s part of it. We found that some of the Robot companies that we are trying to talk to, I think, they are interested in having military contracts and I think that is a part of where A.I. is going. If you are reading any of the articles that Elon Musk or Steven hawking are putting out, they’re incredibly worried, and it is worrisome because all of the Asimov laws would completely go out the window if you start using robots as weapons. It absolutely is a concern, when big money is concerned and ethics go completely out the window, and there’s probably nothing as a writer I can do about that. But I think being responsible with our technology is a great place to start, to keep that in mind.
Shannon: I think it’s a great way to go into it, but that’s not what is happening, that’s not where it’s going, any Sci Fi you look at about the future, there’s always a war with A.I. If you go far enough into the future, and beyond, where human beings are in existence, there’s always with A.I. Welther it’s Terminator, or Blade Runner even – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, all of these [things] It always happens. I think it’s great in theory, but not really plausible in human beings.
Kristen: I think it’s going to be one of the great ethical debates of our time.

Matt Allair: The issue of people being disconnected due to smart phone use is something I’ve seen discussed more and more, do you think this is a generational debate? Older people seem to be much more observant about this cultural shift. Is there a solution?

Kristen: I think those of us who remember a world without cell phones have something to compare the seeming disconnect to. Now kids relate through what is coming up on their social media feed. It is conversation fodder, a point of reliability. I understand that, but what I think we are trying to say in the episode is that there are certain things we can only get from directly relating to one another without technology as the constant third party. Technology is not going away, so creating harmony and balance in this digital age is a new challenge for us all.
Matt : I understand that David had an unexpected ab lib while shooting the episode that was pretty revealing. Was there something in the script that hinted at those acting choices?

Kristen: He ad-libbed “Why is your house so much nicer than mine?” We all laughed on the day, and we laughed when the editor put it in the cut, and we debated about whether to take it out because there’s all those debates about going into her house, and how he had never seen it, so, there was all that. Shannon and I tried to stay away from the mythology because as freelance writers it wasn’t our place Expanding or advancing the mythology and it really wasn’t an episode where it was our goal. So, when David put that, there was a little question if it was the right moment, but David is funny, and it would have been a shame to lose it. But it was touch and go if it would appear in the episode, so we kept it in.

Shannon: It’s funny, I was listening to this other podcast where they were talking about it and they asked that question and they were like: “yes, why is her house so much nicer?” (laughs), and I was like “Hum, she was a doctor, she’s been working, she’s in a professional working medical field, ya all.” (laughs)

(Kristen and Shannon laugh)

Matt : The episode has a very surreal quality, more so than X-Files episodes in the past, was this a conscious decision in its development? Did Glen want you to steer in that direction??

Kristen: I don’t think the word surreal was particularly used, I think that when we all talked about it originally, I think we were trying to do something tonally unique just in of itself, but how that played out, I don’t know, I think we wanted it to have it’s own feel and look and I think it did, with help with the production team and we achieved that. We were trying to do something different, I don’t know if we ever defined it necessarily as something surreal. Shannon and I talked a lot, because we went off and wrote parts of it separately, that we really were tonally we were on a very similar page. So, by the time we went off to the writing stage [we] kind of [knew] what we wanted it to look and feel like, and I think the production team did a great job, and Glen did a great job, and the DP did a great job of achiving that. Everybody who put their fingerprint on it added another layer that your categorizing as ‘surreal’, I think all that was built from the script, and built up and out, and they all did an excellent job.

Matt : Was there a conscious discussion about what to reveal and what not to reveal about Scully’s home life?

Kristen: No, I don’t think so, I don’t remember what to reveal and what not to reveal. There wasn’t anything that would have been on or off limits.

(When I explained an example, there was a lot of laughing when it was discussed about the buzzing object under Scully’s bed.)

Kristen: I think the biggest challenge was just the kind of mouse trap quality that we were trying to create with all of the technology. The challenge before us was each thing leads to another thing, and each thing communicating with another thing. The reaction that she had with one piece of technology off sets another reaction to another piece of technology, and I think that’s where we were coming from in dealing with Scully’s house. It was less personal to Scully and kind of creating, piecing together these little puzzle pieces.

Matt : How about your work process? Did you split the duties as far as who would focus on what aspects of the script?

Kristen: We each wrote parts, Glen over the years has said that he doesn’t like to talk about the process of him and Jim writing, and I think there’s something kind of personal about how you write together about any show as Shannon and I wrote separate pieces of it, but we worked out the story together.

Matt : Shannon, you worked in the writers room last season, and Kristen had been involved with Glen for a long time, how did the both of you meet, and at what point did you realize you would make a good writing team?

Shannon: I think Glen thought we’d make a great writing team, it was his suggestion. I think we both have different styles and that was something he wanted both of [us], and he was like, “Hey, do you guys want to be writers?” and we said “Sure”. I’d been working with Glen for like four years on other things, and Kristen had worked with him on many projects, and I think he knew us both well, and our writing style, and the way we think. I think it was his genius, if I may (laughs).

Matt : The issue of people being disconnected due to smart phone use is something I’ve seen discussed more and more, do you think this is a generational debate? Older people seem to be much more observant about this cultural shift. Is there a solution?

Kristen: I think those of us who remember a world without cell phones have something to compare the seeming disconnect to. Now kids relate through what is coming up on their social media feed. It is conversation fodder, a point of reliability. I understand that, but what I think we are trying to say in the episode is that there are certain things we can only get from directly relating to one another without technology as the constant third party. Technology is not going away, so creating harmony and balance in this digital age is a new challenge for us all. 

Shannon: I do think it’s a generational debate. Kids today won’t have any understanding of life before a smart phone. This kind of technology is where our society is headed, like it or not, we just have to make a serious effort to evolve responsibly.

Matt : Did the both of you offer input about the voice over castings for the A.I.’s or did you just leave that to Glen?

Kristen: What happened was that some of it was originally A.I. stuff, actual stuff in the computer, and we found out at the last minute that we couldn’t clear some of the robotic voices that were the temp voices that had been used. Garfield Whitman, who was the post production producer, he did a bunch of auditions and we listened to them quickly, we had a bunch of actors there and we went to the sound stage, and it was amazing how talented these people were. So, it was kind of a last minute thing. The voices of Gydz lady was Nikita Wyllie, and I did a little tiny part, and the production featured some incredibly talented voice over people.

Shannon: I think we definitely talked through all the aspects of the script, and we wanted certain voices, and certain people. It was a very collaborative effort, Eleanor, the editor, had a great ear for that part, and Glen helped out. We just all kind of [pitched in].

Matt : There was a lot of controversy about the under representation of women behind the scenes of The X-Files at the beginning of the announcement of season eleven, is Chris Carter much more inclusive than people seem to be assuming? What is your take on the issue?

Shannon: Grace Gilroy the producer is a woman, Eleanor Infante, one of the editors is a woman, there were two female directors, the stunt coordinator is a woman, and several other women on the crew. Regarding the writer’s room, the schedule for the season was really quick and I can’t speak for Chris, but the writing staff had all worked on the show since the beginning, people who are extremely familiar with the characters, the show, how the show is run, and the two new writers had been his assistant. Which I can totally appreciate having been Glen’s assistant on a different show, the writers’ assistant on the show this season, and then being promoted to write an episode. It all seemed like a very natural, familial process.

Kristen: Firstly, I am not in any position to speak for anyone. I have been lucky enough to have received some incredible creative opportunities from Chris and Glen, who are the Executive Producers of The X-Files, and my answers here are a reflection of my personal understanding and experiences, which have all been incredibly positive. The writers room was made up of men who had been working together in one way or another for over 20 years, with the exception of maybe Gabe Rotter, who has been working with Chris for quite some time. When they did the re-boot a few years ago, Chris, Glen, Jim, Darin and Gabe met in my back yard. It was said that the "band was back together". Glen and Darin are brothers, Jim is like a brother to Glen. Chris and Glen and Jim were there at the very start of the show. There is a shorthand, a long history and a comfort there. The X-Files is a fast-moving production with a lot of elements and a complicated mythology and a fan base that really knows the show. I think everyone involved understood, at least during the first run with only a few episodes and the tight schedule, that the core group of producers would just write them. This second round, there were female directors already in place, but the scripts needed to be written fairly quickly, so the core group of writers from the previous run were set to write again, with the exception of Gabe and Benjamin Van Allen, who worked on the show last time. So, in trying to include more women writers, they tried to bring women on who were close to the show. Glen and I are writing partners and have collaborated in all kinds of ways for over 20 years. Our ease of communication certainly came in handy. I also have my own history with the show. Since Shannon had been in the writers room as the writers' assistant, she was able to bring that important piece to our collaboration, which was really helpful and valuable.
Some of the most important players in the success of this episode are women. Our editor Eleanor Infante was an equal and truly significant, talented and vital collaborator. Grace Gilroy who is the producer in Vancouver is very much the backbone of the production. The stunt coordinator Melissa Stubbs is very important to the show and of course Scully is one of the most iconic female characters in television history. There are a lot of other really talented women on the crew, of course.
I know Shannon and I are grateful to have had the job and the experience. I hope it felt positive for everyone involved. 
I think we are in an important dialogue as a society about the inclusion of women, the deserved respect for women and female equality. It is an undeniably important time for women.
Matt : What do the both of you plan to do next?

Shannon: I will probably do something semi amazing (both laugh).

Kristen: I would do something really incredible (laugh).

Shannon: I’m shooting for 12, I’m not worried, I’m not going to get to 12 (laugh).

Kristen: I’m shooting for an 8, I’m hoping it bounces to 8.5.

Matt : Thank you for your time, I really do appreciate it.

Shannon: Thanks, Matt.

Kristen: Take care.

We wish both Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin the best of luck with their future efforts, either separately or as a team. A very special thank you must go out to Glen Morgan to help facilitate this, as well as Erin Moody and Todd Adair from FOX publicity for their support.

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