Interview with Frank Spotnitz

Frank Spotnitz, CEO & executive producer at Big Light Productions, was a keynote speaker at the first NEM Zagreb where he spoke of producing high-quality drama in cooperation with The Alliance, top European broadcasters.

How would you describe your very first experience in screenwriting on the widely popular The X-Files? Was it challenging and did you manage to handle all that was asked of you?

FS: It was hugely challenging! It was my very first job in television, and I was as green as I could be. At the start, I think I was stronger as a producer – in terms of developing stories and scripts, and working in the editing room – than as a writer of drafts. But I thrived under the pressure and grew quickly so that after three seasons, I had risen from staff writer, which is the bottom of the ladder, to Executive Producer, which is at the top.

What inspired you to run your own production company – Big Light Productions? Why did you decide to move from the US to the UK to do so?

FS: I came to the UK in 2010 to co-produce a series with Kudos called Hunted for the BBC and Cinemax. When that ended after two years, I discovered that neither I nor my family wanted to return to Los Angeles, so the question became how to remain here. I was used to the showrunner system in Hollywood, which meant acting as both writer and producer, and wasn’t eager to give that up. So really I started Big Light as a way of remaining in Europe. It has been an incredible adventure since then, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge and thrill of working with truly international partners all across the world, not just in the United States, Canada and the UK, but in France, Germany and especially Italy as well.

In the first couple years, I was trying to do everything myself, but the company has matured now and grown up quite a bit. Under our creative director, Emily Feller, we have a full and diverse slate of projects, some with writers rooms, some intended to be written by single authors.  We work in whatever way is best for the writer, and look for projects that not only entertain, but leave the audience with something to think about afterward. We’re in a period of dramatic growth – it’s really never been more exciting than it is now.

Where do you get the ideas for writing – do you find inspiration in everyday life?

FS: They come from all over the place, really. I’ve had ideas come to me from talking to friends, in dreams, even once from reading a cookbook! There are so, so many stories to tell, and in truth I don’t have time to tell all the stories that I’d like.

Do you have a favorite among the TV shows you created and why?

FS: That’s really an impossible question to answer. Each of my shows are like children, and I couldn’t single out any one of them as a favorite. There are certainly shows I’ve had more fun working on, but fun and success are not necessarily correlative. I can say that – like my children! – I’m hugely proud of all of them.

What would be the best advice for writers nowadays, coming from an exceptionally experienced screenwriter and showrunner? Is there a certain screenwriting method you follow?

FS: The best advice I can give is to be your own toughest critic. Don’t settle or tell yourself that ‘something is good enough.’ The old cliché is true – writing is 99 percent rewriting. There were two lessons that I learned on The X-Files that have stayed with me ever since – be ambitious as you can, and you are never smarter than your audience.

You are currently working on the TV show Leonardo, the first co-production project of European Alliance that will hit the screens. Since you are working with people from three different countries – where is the show actually being filmed and who is starring?  Could you give us a little sneak peek into the premiere?

FS: This has been an enormously challenging and enjoyable adventure with our partners at Lux Vide in Rome. As you can imagine, it’s not easy depicting a genius as unparalleled as Leonardo da Vinci. I co-created the series with the brilliant Steve Thompson, and we came across some clues into Leonardo’s life that we’ve used to explore his psyche. We are thrilled that we’ve been able to cast Aidan Turner, Freddie Highmore and a brilliant young Italian actress, Matila de Angelis. I love working with RAI, but in fact I was a little apprehensive about working with three broadcasters. As it turned out, the process has been managed really well and I’m excited for audiences not just in Europe, but around the world, to see what we’ve come up with.