The X-Files had a very specific reason for the shaking cameras and the generally less polished look of one particular episode. Written by “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, season 7, episode 12 “X-Cops” is a fictional crossover with the soap series “Cops”, a documentary reality show. The show follows real law enforcement officers performing their day-to-day duties, filmed, as proclaimed in each episode, “on location with men and women from law enforcement.” Vince Gilligan was a fan of the series and put forward the idea of Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) appearing in the series back in season 4. This idea was rejected by the creator of the X-Files, Chris Carter. as too stupid, but in the end Gilligan fulfilled his wish in season 7, which many believed would be the last in The X-Files.
“X-Cops” is not the first episode of The X—Files to intersect with another television series. “The X-Files”, as you know, crossed paths with “Law and Order” when actor Richard Belzer guest starred in the season 5 episode “Unusual Suspects” as John Munch from the films “Murder: Life on the Street” and “Law and Order: Special Victims”. Earlier in the same season as “X-Cops,” Mulder and Scully also met Chris Carter’s other creation, Frank Black (Lars Henriksen), in an episode that ended the Carter Millennium story arc after the show’s cancellation. Mulder and Scully also played a famous role in a special episode of The Simpsons in 1997. However, unlike these series, “Cops” is a reality show, not a fictional drama series, so the X—Files crew had to try very hard. a different approach to creating “X-cops” from previous crossovers.
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As they say in each episode, “Cops” are filmed on the spot with law enforcement officers, so the “appearance” of the “X-Files” agents Mulder and Scully in the series had to be filmed on videotape, not on film. The X-Files was usually filmed, so it was a significant reduction in visual aesthetics, but it was important to preserve authenticity. Authenticity was at the heart of every visual decision made by the episode’s director, Michael Watkins, who also invited a cameraman and an editor from Cops to film and blur the footage so that the finished episode looked like Cops and not The X-Files. Watkins also banned regular “X-Files” cameramen from participating in episode rehearsals so that they would react organically to events as if they were working on shooting a documentary in real time. Although shaky cameras and fuzzy video recording may look bad for a modern audience, they are ideal for making “X-Cops” look and feel as realistic as possible.
When writing “X-Cops”, “X-Files” and “Breaking Bad” screenwriter Vince Gilligan remembered that he was writing an episode of “Cops”, not “X-Files”. Thus, the monster of the week, the werewolf, cannot be shown in full. If this had happened, it would have destroyed the authentic feel of the episode, if Mulder and Scully had encountered a werewolf on camera in the world of the X-Files, a dubious figure in the FBI would surely have confiscated the footage. The X-Files team turned to the found horror film “The Blair Witch” in search of inspiration in order to hint, rather than completely portray a werewolf creature.
Found horror films became ubiquitous after the release of The Blair Witch in 1999, but this 2000 episode of The X-Files seemed truly revolutionary at the time. The found footage was a new way to tell Mulder and Scully’s monster of the week story. It was also a postmodern take on the growing popularity of reality TV. The X-Cops series is still very much loved today, and the ability to make the visuals as fuzzy, poorly lit and shaky as possible only adds an authentic atmosphere to this classic episode.