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Dreamwatch: Lighting the Darkness

Lighting the Darkness
Jenny Cooney Carillo

Jenny Cooney Carillo probes the mind of The X-Files’ creator Chris Carter, and learns that there are still some surprises in store for the future….

For someone who spends so much time on the dark side, Chris Carter is surprisingly light. The youthful-looking 43-year old, whose white wavy hair makes him look more like an ageing surfer (which he is) than one of the highest-paid TV producers in Hollywood (which he also is), is the talent behind The X-Files, Millennium and the short-lived virtual reality drama Harsh Realm, based on the sci-fi comic of the same name.

These days he has a lot on his mind: the lawsuit which his former friend David Duchovny filed against 20th Century Fox naming Carter as a co-conspirator in efforts to short-change everybody else who shares profits by selling the Show to a Fox affiliate for less than the fair market price. Then there is the debacle over the cancellation of his long-awaited follow-up series Harsh Realm and finally the struggle to decide whether his major cash cow, The X-Files will close down as it heads to the end of its seventh season.

But for somebody who has spent much of the past eight years dealing with aliens, monsters, UFOs and serial killers {and that is just the people he works with!}, he is remarkably good-humoured and adept a not taking himself or his shoes too seriously no matter what the stakes.

Where do you think The X-Files is headed?

Fox has approached me about trying to figure out a way to bring it back for an eighth season, and they haven’t spoken to me beyond that. They’ve asked me if there is a way to do it. I told them I would think about it, but the truth is I think there’s a lot of other things that need to be resolved before we get to that point, so right now our work is simply doing really good episodes in anticipation of either it being the end or the beginning of the end, as it were. I think the show is as good as it has ever been, and the mythology will play out either this season or in some later season.

Can you imagine The X-Files without one of two of the major players as has been the suggestion lately?

I’ve never had to imagine it, so I haven’t really put much thought into it. But to be honest, it’s one of those things that you can imagine. The possibility is out there but I don’t know exactly how it would play out.

So what can we look forward to in the seventh season?

We began the season with a two-parter that is the answer to the Season 6 cliffhanger and that really goes deep into agent Mulder’s psyche. If you remember, in the season finale, Mulder is bouncing off the walls in a psychiatric ward and we learn a lot about Mulder through the course of the treatment of that illness, which has both modern medical complications and perhaps complications that go beyond that to the paranormal, and just possibly to outer space, so that is the way we begin. I can’t exactly tell you any more than that, or how it’s going to wrap up, but we do have general plans. I can tell you there will be a wrap-up with Mulder’s sister and his whole quest, so you’ll learn the truth, which has been out there, but there will be something left to ponder, and I think that will lead us into the movies.

What is happening with the movie franchise?

That is our hope when the series finally comes to an end; that we will begin the movie series after the television series, so now it’s sort of in the idea stage. We’d have to figure out how the series ends, I think, before we do our next movie, but certainly the relationship of Mulder and Scully is the strongest thing that will lead us into the series of movies.

Looking back on The X-Files movie, do you have any regrets?

I loved the movie, and saw it again on cable the other night, and really enjoyed watching it – and I’m very critical of my own work, so I’m glad with the way it came out. I think that we accomplished what we needed to and wanted to accomplish, I think when we do the next movie, we won’t have to tie it into the mythology, which will remove The X Files fan connection to the movie. That was all-important to the first movie, but I think will be less important to the next movie, since the series will be gone.

How do you feel about the legal problems between you, Fox and David Duchovny?

I don’t really know anything about it, I’m not named as a defendant so it’s not a legal problem for me and as far as David and I are concerned, we just co-wrote a script together so right now it’s all about the work.

Has it created bad blood between you?

No, there has been no words exchanged, nothing. [in fact rumour has it the pair quite literally haven’t spoken since the lawsuit was filed and actually co-wrote all episode together via fax…].

Looking back on The X-Files, could you have imagined this success?

No one ever imagined that the show would be as successful as it is. Most TV shows don’t have this kind of success, which is international, and develops the kind of following where there are episode guides every year and conventions and so many different things that most TV shows don’t have. Most TV shows don’t create this kind of devotion, so that’s just one of those amazingly lucky things which has afforded me less lifestyle! Professionally it’s been incredible but personally it’s also meant that I have less time to do what I want to do.

And what do you want to do?

I’d like to go surfing more, that’s for sure! It’s one of those things that you are thankful for, and you’re blessed for having it, but at the same time I look back, I’ve been working on this for eight years now and those eight years lave just been devoted to really one pursuit, so sometimes you think, ‘Well I’d like to write a book or take some time to go to Europe. I haven’t been to Europe in eight years because of this show, so it has a sort of limiting quality is well; it’s a trade-off.

What are the qualities that you think Duchovny and Anderson contributed to the success of the Show?

You don’t want to think too deeply because it’s magic. Putting them together, I had no idea how the chemistry would be, and now we’re more than 150 episodes into the show and it’s still there – there are still sparks there and these people have never truly had any kind of romantic relationship. There were near-misses in the movie and in the show but you can’t imagine what the qualities are that you need to make it work. I think mostly they are terrific actors who are both serious about the work. I don’t think either of them missed a day of work in seven years so they’ve been extremely professional.

Given what you said about your lifestyle, why did you sign a {lucrative five year multimillion-dollar} deal with Fox to keep working so hard?

I’ll use a surfing analogy and say: once you catch the wave, you should keep riding it until it breaks, or I should say until it crashes. So that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re riding this wave and we have a lot of really good people that came to work on The X-Files and Harsh Realm, and when those people come on board and good ideas are in the air, there is good work to be done and you have to really treat that very, very carefully. You don’t want to blow it because it doesn’t come along too often.

How difficult is it to keep producing such enormous amounts of material for television and what do you do when you get stuck?

That’s a really good question, Because you truly have a gun to your head in television, you must produce every day and it must be good work, because you don’t have a chance to go back and make bad work good. You keep churning the stuff out so you develop instincts that tell you, ‘This is good’, or ‘This won’t work’. You are your own sort of quality gauge and scale and detector about what’s acceptable or not, but you still have to figure out a way and a reason to sit down and write every day. The reason to keep doing it is the people you work with and the reason to keep writing is that the actors perform it well. The stories come out good and are fun to do. You have to find the joy in work in order to keep doing it, I think. And beyond that, I could tell you I go out surfing when I get stuck but that doesn’t help my work any. That actually works against me because it makes me want to surf more!

What are your own personal interests in virtual reality and what sparked your interest in making Harsh Realm?

I’m not a big video game player because I just don’t have the time, but I’m interested in the technology and in the creativity that goes into these things. I think virtual reality is one of those ideas that is out there right now, because it is a kind of story-telling genre in a way. It’s a parallel world. It’s another dimension is really what it is, and that’s not anything new. It’s just a new way of telling that kind of story and there is now enough familiarity with technology and virtual reality and the idea of the digital world that we can start telling these stories and have them be understandable to people, so that when you do jump into a world that has different rules and different consequences, people will get it.

You are known for these dark, sombre TV shows but you’re certainly not a dark person. What’s the attraction?

I prefer to do dramatic shows but I really just like writing heroic characters so I never see those as dark, per se. I see them as shows with a very big bright hero at the centre. Even though Lance Henriksen [in Millennium] was a sombre guy, he was goodness, and he loved his family and wife, and wanted to save the world, and that was a very bright centre with that yellow house he lived in. The same way with Harsh Realm, because we have two wonderfully heroic characters in Scott Bairstow and D B Sweeney and they are different from one another but want the same thing, which is to save something or someone. What is interesting for me about all my shows is the light versus the dark. The X-Files was a very different show, in a way, until Episode 48, where we did a show about circus freaks and then the show really saw that it could expand and be light-hearted instead of just incorporating those bits of humour into it like we used to, so you can’t say there isn’t any comedy in my shows!

Do you personally have any conspiracy theories about how the new millennium will affect the world in general and Hollywood more specifically?

I know it is a tremendous time of reflection, but everybody is looking backwards, and we should be looking forwards because it’s a chance to start anew, like walking out of the Betty Ford Clinic and getting a new lease on life until you screw up again. It already has affected my business, if you look at all these movies about good and evil – Stir Of Echoes, Stigmata, The Sixth Sense, all these dark movies that are really reflective of the time that we live in. 1 think people find it frightening, the prospect of new technology, and it will be interesting once we pass this period to see what kind of stories we start to tell once it’s over. Are they going to be more serious or less serious? I don’t know.

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