"The Master's Return"
The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Frank Spotnitz
Conducted by Matt Allair, 12/07/2016
Page Editor: Liz Tray
The website’s history with Frank Spotnitz goes back a decade.
In late 2005, he was the first person we had the pleasure of
interviewing during the promotion of The Night
Stalker. That interview changed the website from a mere
‘reference-based fan site’ into something much more. We’ve held
a huge debt of gratitude to Frank Spotnitz since then. It’s no
accident, nor secret, that certain circles of Philes refer to
Mr. Spotnitz as ‘uncle Frank’. Since 2005, a lot has changed for
Mr. Spotnitz. He moved to England and, through the production
and development of several projects via his company, Big Light
Productions, he is enjoying a phenomenal wave of success due to
The Man in the High Castle. Now he has tackled a new
project, with an Italian production company, called Medici:
Masters of Florence, co-written by iconic filmmaker Nicholas
Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek II: The Wrath
of Khan, Star Trek V: Undiscovered Country, and
the 2017 Star Trek: Discovery TV series).
Frank is another X-Files alumni,
along with Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad,
Better Call Saul) and Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24),
who has carved his own unique niche as a storyteller - the common
denominator with all of these creators is quality writing, a
willingness to think outside of the box, and a boldness with
telling a tale and breaking new ground. Since 2005, Frank Spotnitz
has remained busy with Strike Back, then Hunted,
Transporter; The Series, Crossing Lines, the
now celebrated Man in the High Castle, and now Medici:
Masters of Florence. Aside from CBS’s kidnapper drama
Ransom, he has another project in development, The
Indian Detective. He’s arrived at a streak that some casual
viewers might find surprising, but then again, many X-Files fans
weren’t really surprised that this would be the case. The quality
of Frank’s work on The X-Files helped to elevate it, why
wouldn’t he repeat that elsewhere.
Obviously, fans of The X-Files were curious and eager to
find out about Frank’s thoughts on The X-Files: Event Series,
and what role he would like to play in its development if he had
the opportunity to do so. It was a great pleasure to raise these
questions with him. Once again, he was gracious, warm, thoughtful
and concise, candid with a grace that was characteristic of what
we’ve seen in the past as well as an underlying decency. The
interview proceeded as follows…
Matt Allair: Hi Mr. Spotnitz, thank you for
taking the time.
Great to talk to you again.
Matt Allair: The Medici family are important historical
and cultural figures, how did you get involved with the project?
Well, I was asked by our Italian partners, a
company in Rome called Lux Vide. I should have known something about
the Medici, but I knew nothing about them. I knew a little bit from
high school and college. So, I did some reading and discovered that
they are one of the most, if not the most, important family in the
history of western civilization. Not just because they were the
primary financial backers of the Renaissance, which really defines
what we understand beauty to be to this day, but because, at least
in my reading, they really started to create the beginnings of a
middle class; before the Medici, there was no social mobility. If
you were born poor, and almost everybody was born poor, you stayed
poor, and your children would be poor, and their children would be
poor. But after the Medici became bankers to the Pope, they had to
do something with all of that money, so they used it to sponsor
trade and commerce, which gave people the opportunity to improve
their situations. So I thought they were really interesting, and
then the challenge for Nicholas Meyer, my co-writer and I, was how
do you make a story that is utterly compelling for a modern
audience? So, we created this murder mystery involving the Dustin
Hoffman character that kind of drives the first season.
Matt Allair: Is the series, Medici: Masters of
Florence, intended to comment on what is going on in
contemporary society, especially in America and Europe? Are you
using the setting of the 15th Century as a means to an end?
Yes, absolutely. I just don’t think there’s
any reason to tell a story unless it’s something to the people
living today, about our lives. I think the Medici story speaks very
powerfully to us today. I’m moved by several things in the story,
but the thing I am most moved by is Cosimo’s sacrifice, as he really
had to give up things that were very important to him for a bigger
idea. One of the things that I’ve felt a lot, and Nic Meyers felt, I
think for some time now, we, in the West, have become about making
money, about being safe, about living a long time. There’s nothing
wrong with any of those things, but those aren’t really values,
those aren’t really ideals. Those are just understandably selfish
desires. What really built our civilization were powerful ideals,
about equality of opportunity, liberty, freedom, education,
civilization, and that requires sacrifice. This is a very powerful
and relevant story to tell people about today.
Matt Allair: Dustin Hoffman is such an iconic actor. Was
there any trepidation, from your perspective, about having him
involved with the project?
Oh gosh, no. To be honest, Luca Bernabei at
Lux Vide said: “Who’s your first choice for Giovani?” The founder of
the Medici bank, and obviously a legendary character, and I said:
“Well, I would say Dustin Hoffman,” and he said, “Okay well see if
we can get him.” I just never expected we would, but we did. You
want somebody of that stature to believe he is this great man who
played this pivotal role in history and of course Dustin Hoffman is
truly a legendary actor. It’s not an overstatement to say that he
brought this strength and the vulnerability, and the charm. So many
qualities that Giovani had, he brought to the role. I think we all
felt incredibly blessed to have him in the show.
Matt Allair: There are some very fine actors like
Richard Madden, and Brian Cox who are involved with Medici:
Masters of Florence. Was there an actor you especially
liked working with on the series?
I have to say it was an incredible cast,
there wasn’t a weak link in the bunch, and that goes for both the
British actors and the Italian actors who made up our ensemble. It
was really an extraordinary experience because we were in Tuscany
for three months and then we were in Rome on a soundstage for about
six weeks, so these actors were basically living together for all of
that time in this beautiful place. Having dinner together, they
became very, very close. A lot of them have formed friendships that
will last for the rest of their lives, and it think it shows in the
performances. You just see this chemistry that they have together. I
could not have been happier with the cast. Absolutely with Richard
Madden and Stuart Martin, who plays his brother Lorenzo. Annabel
Scholey, who I think is going to be a huge star, she is incredible
as Contessina, Cosimo’s wife, and it goes on and on. Brian Cox, Ken
Bones, Guido Caprino, who is Marco Bello. I was really delighted
with the cast.
Matt Allair: I’ve met Nicholas Meyer once, and I recall
you’ve had real admiration for Mr. Meyer in past interviews. What
has it been like to be involved with him on Medici:
Masters of Florence? Has it been daunting or a
Well, when I first met him it was daunting,
but I’ve known him for quite a while now. Now’s he’s one of my
closest friends, and it’s a joy. Actually, what’s funny is that I
got to thinking, ‘Gosh, he approaches storytelling just like I do’.
He really wants the characters to be rich, three-dimensional,
emotionally engaging, and the story be emotionally engaging. But he
also really thinks about what the story is about and why we are
telling the story. I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s amazing that we have
that same approach’, then I realized, dummy, the reason why I have
that approach is because of him. Because I grew up watching his
movies and reading his books. The Seven Percent Solution
Time After Time
, Star Trek II; The Wrath of Khan
The Day After
, and on and on. It’s been a great privilege
and one of the joys of my life that I was able to work with him and
get to know him.
Matt Allair: Can you tell us anything about the pilot
for your next series Ransom that’s
being developed? What is it about?
Frank Spotnitz: Ransom
is about a world I did not
know existed. It’s the world of private kidnap and hostage
negotiation. It turns out there’s something like thirty thousand of
these around the world every year where the negotiations are
conducted without the police. I was introduced to a man named
Laurent Combalbert, who’s French and considered one of the best, if
not the best, private kidnap and hostage negotiators in the world.
So, this show is about a negotiator who saves people’s lives in
every episode. He’s a brilliant student of human nature, he knows
how to manipulate people, and he knows how to get people who are
making impossible demands to compromise or surrender. It’s an
incredible skill set. I’ve learned a lot doing this show, about how
you influence and manipulate people, but he does it for the best of
reasons, which is to avoid violence, and to bring people back home
safely to their loved ones. It’s very much a classic
story-of-the-week kind of TV show, which obviously I started doing
with a pretty well known one called The X-Files
. I never
lost my affection for that format, but it’s endless, the kinds of
negotiations that our character Eric Beaumont embarks upon in each
Matt Allair: A lot of fans are disappointed that you are
no longer very involved with Man In The High Castle.
What is your current role, if any, and why did you decide to step
down as show runner?
Well, it’s still a co-production with my
company, Big Light Productions in London, and I’m still executive
producer on the show. But it became clear, at least at that point,
that Amazon’s management history… I had a very different idea about
where I wanted the show to go, and what I wanted the stories to be.
So, we just sort of agreed to part ways, and I would say it was
pretty friendly; in fact, it was one of the most cordial
disagreements you could imagine. I still obviously have huge
affection for the show. I enjoyed working with everybody on it;
there was an absolutely incredible cast, and the team behind the
scenes there as well. The cinema photography, the production
designer, the costume designer, all of the props… they’re just
extraordinary. Obviously that show – building an alternative world
is one of the most challenging concepts you could imagine, and the
imagination that team brings to that world, that discipline,
everything is thought through and there’s thousands of decisions
every episode about what the alternative world would look like – I
have great affection for all of them, and I’m very much rooting for
the show’s success and eager to see where they take it.
Matt Allair: It seems like your decision to move to
Europe to develop projects has turned out well. Do you feel
there’s too many limitations with the America marketplace? Are
platforms like Netflix giving you more creative freedom?
I think it’s the best time ever in television
on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s extraordinary: the freedom, the
amount of material, the creative ambition, the execution. I’m not
saying anything you don’t know; everybody knows what a great time it
is. I’ve just found that I really like the challenge of making
television in Europe. Americans that come to live and work in Europe
have a special appreciation for this place because it’s all
different to us. I mostly grew up in the southwest, in Arizona. When
I moved to London, compared to a city like Phoenix, most of the
buildings were, if they were old, they were thirty or forty years
old. When I moved to London the first house I lived in was three
hundred years old! (Laughs) Older than our country, so I’m amazed
every day by the richness and the beauty of this place, to get to
work and live in London, Paris and Rome. Shooting Medici in Tuscany,
it’s just a great adventure that has been incredibly rewarding and
it’s only possible because this is an amazing time in television.
It’s six and half years now, believe it or not, and I started my
company, Big Light Productions, three years ago really as a way to
be able to do what I do in Europe. You may or may not know that they
don’t have the culture of showrunners, or writers/producers here *,
so that was my way to do television of this scale on this side of
the Atlantic, and it’s been incredibly busy and exciting.
Matt Allair: A lot of X-Files fans
wished you had been involved with The Event Series?
What are your thoughts about the initial reception to the first
three episodes? Did the ratings validate your feelings there was
an interest in the remaining story arc?
Yeah, I wish I could have been involved too;
I would have loved to have been involved. I’ve been waiting and as
you know I’ve been rooting for the show to come back in one form or
another all along. So, I was just so happy and thrilled, especially
for the fans that had been pushing for the show for all those years.
Like X-Files News, and all the fan groups around the world, many of
whom I’ve had the opportunity to meet with because I’m such a
traveler. You know, it’s interesting to me because I think over time
the love for the show has only grown. There was so much
anticipation, so much affection for the show and the characters.
That was really gratifying to me, and then the ratings were
phenomenal. It’s very sweet, especially when we had a pretty rough
time in 2008 with the second movie, so it was very nice to see this
Matt Allair: While The X-Files: Event Series
was in production, were you in contact with Chris Carter
socially? Were you given any sneak previews before the airdates?
I was in contact with Chris
as we were shooting Man in the High Castle
in Vancouver at
the exact same time. Sometimes we were one block away from The
(laughs). So, I talked to him and Gabe Rotter
who’s the producer, spoke to Darin Morgan
. But I didn’t ask what was
happening with the show. I feel like it’s better not to go there;
you’re either working on the show or you’re not. With some middle
ground, I didn’t think it would be a comfortable place for anybody,
so I watched the episodes and got to enjoy them and be surprised
like the rest of the world.
Matt Allair: The status of The X-Files
is in flux right at the moment, if more episodes do get produced,
and if you have a window within your schedule to come on board as
an executive producer and writer for The X-Files,
would you get involved?
In a second, absolutely, if I could do it, if
I could find the time. Yeah, I have huge affection for the show, and
for the actors and Chris obviously. It would be great fun to go
back. But it all comes down to whether I’m asked, and whether I can
make it work since I don’t live on that side of the planet anymore.
Matt Allair: If you could be involved with finishing up
the remaining story of The X-Files, what
direction would you like to see it take?
I think what Chris did, he kind of has the
attitude: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’; that was my reading of
it from the outside. But I think the world is full of X-Files
stories, new stories that have cropped up in the years since the
show went off the air. I can’t tell you how many times I [felt I]
was actually back on The X-Files
, when I think about it; I
probably have a long list of things that would be great X-Files
When I look back on the show, obviously with enormous pride, but
it’s kind of like what I was saying about working with Nicholas
Meyer – the best episodes of The X-Files
for me were about
something. Monsters for me are simply an exaggeration of human
characters, which we exaggerate to make a point. There are an awful
lot of stories today that The X-Files
could tackle in a
unique way that could reach people very powerfully, I think.
Matt Allair: With The X-Files Event Series
episodes, was there an episode that you especially liked?
Gosh, as far as watching it I have no
impartiality whatsoever (laughs). I have no ability to critique. I’m
too close to the show, to the actors, to Chris, Glen
and everybody who worked on the tenth
season. While I couldn’t really single out one, it delighted me that
Darin did a variation on an episode that he and I had worked on for
in 2005. He paid tribute to that with the
straw hat and the seersucker suit. That felt like a victory to be
because Night Stalker
was canceled prematurely before
Darin’s episode ever got to be produced, so I was particularly
satisfied by that.
Matt Allair: What do you hope American audiences will
take away from Medici: Masters of Florence?
First of all, I hope it will be really
entertaining because it’s a pretty powerful family drama about two
sons trying to figure out who murdered their father and about one
son who sacrificed everything he wanted to do with his life to help
build the civilization we all enjoy right now. But I think there’s a
lot of ideas in the show that are worth considering if people are so
inclined after it’s over. I think people will see, referring back to
your earlier question, that people will see that the show is really
about the world we live in today, like right now. It’s very, very
Matt Allair: Thank you so much for taking the time to do
this. It’s always a pleasure and honor, and hope we can do it
Thank you Matt, it’s great to talk to you and
I’m sure we will.
We wish Frank the very best with his new projects. The
series premiered in Italy earlier this year, where it smashed
viewing records with an average of almost 7 million viewers and a
27 percent audience share. It will shortly debut on Netflix. We
hope everyone will take a look at Medici: Masters of Florence.
The talent involved looks promising, and it would be worth it for
X-Files fans giving it a try.
Thank you to Tracey Raftery and Katherine Pongracz for making this interview happen.
A related Frank Spotnitz article can be found at Den of Geek.
*Our UK editor has noted that Mr. Spotnitz is incorrect about
his comment about British television not using showrunners. Many
TV series in the UK have now adopted the American model. Several
examples of shows that have showrunners include Doctor Who,
Sherlock and The Fall.
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