A Tale of Two Cities: The Move from Vancouver to Los Angeles

Mulder and Scully

And so it began, filming the pilot.

“There’s an odd feeling tonight. It’s sad and yet celebratory, marking kind of a milestone, at the same time. We’re so used to getting the work done, going home and getting back the next day. David flew to L.A. last night, Gillian’s flying to L.A. in a minute and I’m flying to L.A. tomorrow morning. And none of us will come back up here for work on The X-Files ever again. That is a very strange feeling, and I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet.”     – Chris Carter

The Beatles

The Beatles with Yoko Ono and producer George Martin.

Max: As a devoted Beatles fan, I have had my fill of people who immediately go into Yoko Ono attack mode and vilify her as the cause of all the ills that broke up the band in 1970. Anybody who even reads a basic biography of the group knows that tensions were starting to creep into the Fab Four’s working relationship as early as 1967, when the sudden death of their manager Brian Epstein sent the band into an existential quandary. With X-Philes, we have a similar scapegoat to the decline the series experienced during its later years, David Duchovny’s then-wife Tea Leoni.

Somewhere around the beginning of the fifth season, David began to express his desire to spend more time with his new wife, and proposed that production on the series be moved to Los Angeles. Or at least that is the common refrain passed along the highways and byways of X-Files folklore. The truth is, both he and Gillian Anderson expressed interest in the move, as it gave both actors the ability to get more involved in actively searching for motion picture work. They were joined by series director Kim Manners, who wanted to explore other venues for location work, given how thoroughly the series used the places Vancouver had to offer over the last five years.

Head honcho Chris Carter initially opposed the move, but warmed to the idea when executives at Fox were open to the possibility that the show could be filmed in Los Angeles. Eventually, the decision was finalized, and with a lot of the filming for Fight the Future having already been executed in the city, it seemed like a logical outgrowth. It was then on the shoulders of Carter and Frank Spotnitz to hire and assemble a crew in Los Angeles, and the slow process of moving key material from Vancouver began. By this time, the news had spread from trade publications to mainstream entertainment news outlets, generating a bit of added interest aside from all the excitement surrounding the feature film.

David Duchovny Banned!

Some Vancouver businesses didn’t take kindly to the move.

By the time of filming for “The End,” the season five finale, the city of Vancouver was preparing to say goodbye to the show, and the producers as well as the cast were making their own plans to acknowledge the city that so graciously hosted them for five seasons of filming. Setting the chess match of the episode’s cold open in Vancouver was a way to pay tribute to the city, and flyers went out announcing that extras were needed to fill the arena then called the General Motors Place for the shoot. It was an all day affair that got a lot of local press coverage, including that of one reporter who volunteered to be one of the extras. In-between takes, Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Nicholas Lea came out to speak to the crowd and receive questions from the audience. There was also a big raffle held to give away props and other memorabilia.

Stylistically, as we will see, the series definitely experienced a shift as a result of the move to Los Angeles. Vancouver has a specific vibe and ambiance surrounding it, and lot of original fans were turned off by the sunny environments that Los Angeles had to offer. A lot of people leveled accusations that the show had become “too Hollywood,” which also hinted at a certain level of dissatisfaction at the direction the series was going, as well as the stories being told. Radhika and I have been steeling ourselves for the time when the quality of the show becomes not as consistent as it once was, and maybe the move is symptomatic. Of what, I am not sure, but perhaps we will figure it out as we move into the sixth season and beyond.

Radhika: The shift in filming locations certainly does seem to mark the “beginning of the end” for The X-Files, though let’s face it: At least parts of season six, viewed as the “comedic season,” are genuinely enjoyable. I’d even argue that season seven, which Max has less fondness for, had its moments. I’m going to need to concentrate on my rewatch to decide on how I really feel about seasons eight and nine, though the lack of Mulder will always affect my judgment.


20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Even though the tone of the show changed, and I myself will admit I found it a bit jarring at times, I do commend the crew for trying to do different things with The X-Files in a new place. Episodes like “Drive” were able to be set in Nevada, and yes, we did see a lot more sunshine than we had during the Vancouver era of shadows and flashlights.

As Max pointed out, the bulk of the show’s move to Los Angeles was pinned on Duchovny and his new marriage, but others involved with the show were also interested in a change of pace. And all that said, as much as Philes grumped around about the move and its effect on the show, as someone who’s been working for a living for a good amount of time now, I don’t really care what the reason for the move was. If an actor or two wanted to be somewhere else, or even to do something else, I don’t particularly blame them. It’s no different than asking for changes at your non-glamorous job or wanting to try something new. Why do we hold entertainers to another standard?

At the end of the day, some of the post-Vancouver episodes were pretty spectacular, while others started to fizzle and fall flat. And ultimately, I think this was because as enjoyable as The X-Files was, it was probably never meant to be a show that should have lasted as long as it did. The majority of TV shows seem to peak around season five, and The X-Files was really no different. And considering that the show runners had originally thought it would end after season five before spinning off into a movie franchise, it is clear that they weren’t particularly interested in dragging out the story for too long. But if your show becomes successful and a bit of a ratings draw, there’s no way it’s getting canceled right away… and so, the Los Angeles years were here to stay for a while.


20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Like Max, I am a bit nervous about reentering this era of The X-Files. We had a lot of fun tracing the show’s gains over the course of five years and a movie and it’s kind of sad to realize that we may end up snarking on it a lot more now. But maybe we’ll find some hidden gems in the midst  — anything is possible on The X-Files


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