The Unsung Hero Who Made The X-Files A Success

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Pop quiz, X-Philes: who do you think did the most to make The X-Files a success? Common answers to this question include, show creator Chris Carter, as well as lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. However, The X-Files creator actually credits producer and director Daniel Sackheim for defining many key qualities of the series starting with the second episode.

Daniel Sackheim Set The Tone

Even to hardcore X-Files fans, Daniel Sackheim is not exactly a household name. He worked as a producer on the series pilot as well as the first movie, and he worked as a director on only five episodes of the show. The first was “Deep Throat,” only the second episode of the series, and one that Carter insists set the tone for the show in almost every possible way.

Most of our info comes from the DVD commentary for “Deep Throat,” in which The X-Files creator had nothing but praise for Daniel Sackheim’s contributions to this series. “I think you can’t underestimate Dan Sackheim’s contribution to the show – the things that he brought to this …mythology episode…the energy that Dan brought, the know-how, choice of lenses, shooting long lens,” Carter said.

Wrapping up his effusive praise, Carter said that Sackheim was responsible for “giving the show a look and a feel that would, I think, stick with it, that other directors would emulate…It was really Dan I think who showed us what could be done.”

The X-Files Aesthetic

x-files villain

Much of what Chris Carter is describing is the signature X-Files aesthetic, something he mostly contributes to the directorial efforts of David Sackheim. That aesthetic helped make the show into a spooky spectacular pop culture phenomenon. Fans who doubt how important that aesthetic is need to go back and watch season 6 to see how much shifting filming from gloomy Vancouver to sunny California messed with the visual vibe of Mulder and Scully’s television adventures (honestly, we practically need sunglasses to watch those early season 6 episodes).

Introduced Action To The Series

The X-Files

The X-Files creator Carter praised Daniel Sackheim for other long-running influences on the show. For example, he noted that this director brought to life “our first action scene” and said that it “really set the mood for probably the next five years of the show when he directed this action sequence.” One of the reasons that Carter seems to love this director so much is that they were on the same page regarding this early episode.

A Natural Arrangement

The X-Files

In an old interview with X-Files Confidential, Carter said that bringing Sackheim back (he had produced the pilot before directing “Deep Throat”) “was a natural [arrangement] and worked well.” Summing up why they worked so well, the showrunner said  “We were of one mind as to what the show is about.” This is high praise indeed for someone who has (for better or for worse) always had such a singular vision of what the show could be and whose vision may never have been brought to life without the help of an equally visionary director.

Established Visual Language For The X-Files


Honestly, before hearing The X-Files showrunner specifically singling the man out for praise, we had never actually heard of Daniel Sackheim’s name … now, though, we’re going to think about this director every time we watch our favorite adventures of Mulder and Scully.

The show’s quirky action sequences, clever camera angles, and general aesthetic all owe Sackheim a major debt, as he helped create the visual language for the series’ long-running mythology episodes. Ultimately, The X-Files might be a show about unexplained phenomena, but it seems like we’ve now figured out the mystery of the unsung hero who helped transform an obscure show into a pop culture juggernaut.