One of the most secretive films in Hollywood history is getting ready to open its case file this Friday, July 25th, when The X-Files: I Want to Believe is released. In order to get you in the mood for it, I sat down with long-time “X-Files” composer Mark Snow to talk about what we can expect to hear from the new film and just how tight-lipped those behind the sequel have been.
Andrew Kasch: So was this something that’s always been in the back of your mind? Did Chris keep you in the loop on how it was developing over the years?
Mark Snow: They had a script a while ago, but there were all sorts of issues with Chris and Bob and so on, but that got resolved and everyone had to wait for the actors and then it just happened. So here we go!
AK: What was it like to go back into this world after 6 years of the show being off the air? Did you feel you had more creative freedom this time around?
MS: I did, mostly because this film doesn’t take place in the mythology of the show. This was a stand-alone piece. When we were doing the series, stand-alone episodes had much more freedom and reason to experiment, something outside of the set palette. The episodes that took place in the mythology had that palette, whereas the stand-alone episodes were always “try what you want, which is what happened here. It was great fun!
AK: Once the film was announced and things were moving, did you feel you really had to hit the ground running?
MS: A little bit. How these things work is, you know six months or more when it’s going to happen, but a lot of delays can extend that. Then they temp track it, and luckily most of it was mine, which helped get things going and helped crystallize the idea for the final music recording.
AK: Did you feel you had more to work with in terms of instruments than you did in the first “X-Files” movie?
MS: The first X-Files movie was a big, traditional orchestra, so yeah. This one was a combination of four or five things; there was an aliotoric, or sound effects orchestra, so we got to work with that. We had a section of orchestra where there wasn’t any music; I was giving verbal descriptions of what I wanted to hear. Then there were sessions with a big-ass orchestra, all the midi and sample stuff, as well as a percussion sampler that were all going at the same time. All those elements were always going, but luckily I had one of the greatest film score mixers, Alan Meyerson, who did Dark Knight and all the Pirates movies. He was great at combining all these elements.
AK: Do you prefer the big-screen stuff as opposed to working television?
MS: They have pluses and minuses on both ends. The obvious plus in the movie world is that there’s usually more money. I forgot to mention that I also had singers vocalizing for the soundtrack, too! But a great TV show is always great to work on, too. Sometimes with movies there’s a temp track that everyone loves and they say, “you’ve got to copy that”, which limits your creative input to it. Then there’s a show like “The Sopranos”, which had no temp score at all and turned out wonderfully.
AK: I was a huge fan of “The X-Files” and “Millennium”, but my favorite of both series is what I refer to as the Morgan & Wong Years. Especially the earlier seasons of “The X-Files” and the second season of “Millennium”. When they were involved, though, it seemed like there was much more focus on making the music stand out. Did you feel the same when you were with them?
MS: Well, to be honest with you, none of those song selections had anything to do with me. I was very busy writing the score. But they were so cool about choosing those things, whatever they picked was gonna be really really cool.
AK: I know everyone asks about the iconic “X-Files” theme, but what I want to know is at what point in the show’s run did you begin to realize that that song was ingrained into pop culture?
MS: I think it must’ve been episode 10 or 13; about three months or so. The first version of it was much more complicated, but Chris pointed out how much more effective it was with just the basic elements; whistle, piano and melody. So when I played it stripped down, Chris then said he thought it was too understated. My wife, outside the studio, heard it, too and though it was really interesting. But that was it.
Then three or so months later, all this feedback started coming from all the people who watch the show. I remember a great moment when Chris and I took the theme to the Fox executives and I really don’t think they knew what to make of it. They were expecting some big, bombastic thing, but they got a whistle. One guy said “Gee, that’s something! Bill what do you think?” and Bill would say “Oh yeah, it’s… something”. No one would say anything. So of course after it started to become a hit, they would call up saying “Didn’t we tell you how great that was?” (laughs).
But yeah, that was one of the greatest moments in my life, when I realized that something I had wrote was becoming such a hit all over the world.
AK: The new film is probably one of the most secretive films in Hollywood history. How much of the secrecy did you face when composing the score?
MS: I have a place in Connecticut and I got the script up there and all I had to do was sign a disclaimer. That was it for me; I guess they trusted me enough.
I had taken it back with me to LA and at one point I left it on a table or something, and when I came back it was gone. Then I remembered that I had already run it through the shredder, so the secret stayed safe!
AK: The score for the new movie seems to be much moodier than your previous work. Was that in keeping with the film’s themes of faith and such?
MS: Well, I was very taken aback when I had my first discussion with Chris about what the music should be and the first thing out of his mouth was “just remember, it’s a love story”. Now there’s a lot of dark complexity to this thing, but there are elements of a love story, a love story with religious overtones.
So I read the script and then sent along some samples of existing scores that I though were in the ballpark, and he agreed, so that was a good jumping off point. There was a lot of weird, dark, complex music. A lot of percussion elements and melodic pieces helped to shape it. It was a lot of fun to be able to do all this kind of variety.
AK: I saw the film last week and I have to ask; whose idea was it to put the “X-Files” theme over the picture of George W. Bush?
MS: (laughs) That was the music editor, Jeff Charbonneau, and I though it was just perfect. It says so much and yet it’s discreet in its own way.
AK: It brought the house down when I saw it! So what’s next for you?
MS: Well, of all things, Chris wrote another movie that he also directed called Fencewalker, which he financed himself. All I can say is we shot it in his hometown of Belflower, CA and it has nothing to do with “X-Files” or the supernatural. But that’s all I can say.
AK: Are you anxious to return if Fox greenlights another?
MS: Oh God yeah. This is the best gig of my creative life because I have such control of this, up the point where you play some music for Chris and producer Frank Spotnitz and they start liking. Then they start to hear it for real with the big orchestra, that’s just real exciting. Not felling I had to compromise anything.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe opens everywhere on Friday, July 25th. Be sure to get out there and get your fix, especially if you’ve been chomping at the bit for more “X-Files” for the last six years!
Thanks to Fox for making this interview happen and, of course, to Mr. Snow for coming along for the ride and making some great music!