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The Sunday Times: A Day In The Life of Chris Carter

The Sunday Times
A Day In The Life of Chris Carter
Chris Carter

My day begins when I wake up at 5.30. I never use an alarm clock. I think surfers generally wake up early – it’s the time when you get your best surf – and I love it because the phones aren’t ringing and there’s that stillness and coolness.

I’ve been talking to Frank Spotnitz, my colleague and co-writer, about trying to get into the office at 4am. If we could do that, he and I might by noon have done a pretty good day’s work creatively, so then all the producing, which is very unstructured, could be done afterwards. But of course, life and family intrude and I don’t know if it’ll happen.

At 6am I exercise. Whenever possible, I surf, but if there is no surf, I work out. I really hate gyms, but I caved in last year because I had never run two shows before and I was feeling completely stressed and crazed.

Getting regular exercise helps. If I’ve surfed, I come to work feeling completely rejuvenated. When I’m in the water is when I’m most at peace. But the bad part of it is that I start thinking about surfing too much, and then that’s all I want to do.

It has its own cycle of irresponsibility. I sneak down to Mexico to surf whenever I can, but when I was too busy last year, I lived vicariously through my friend Sam George, who took over my old job as editor at Surfing magazine. I sent him around the world on a year’s vacation because I wanted him to write a book about being a surfer at 40. He’s finished it now and I’m editing it.

I’m usually behind my desk by 8am, and because my support crew here take such good care of me, they will have some egg whites and a coffee waiting. Then I’ll get my laptop computer fired up and open the script I’m working on. Last year, I wrote or rewrote 14 episodes, but usually its more.

At any time in the production cycle, we always have one episode where we’re working on the story, one being written, one being prepped, one shooting, one being edited, and one in sound and music. Between The X-Files and Millennium, its sister series, that’s a dozen stories you’re keeping in your head.

I can write anywhere. There’s a very funny photograph of me on the first day of shooting Millennium where I’m sitting in a park, surrounded by homeless people, working on my laptop.

Luckily, I have an ability to concentrate – it’s a problem-solving facility – but even so, I’m always beating myself up about not being disciplined enough. Maybe it comes back to my parents, who were very hard workers. I have one younger brother and he’s an amazing person: he’s one of the youngest tenured professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He teaches a physics discipline called material science. It was drummed into our heads very early that we didn’t know what a hard day’s work was. And we’re still saying it to ourselves.

I eat lunch at my desk – whatever is the latest health kick that we’re on at the office. I’ve spent more time in this office than anywhere else in my life. I never have a conscious aversion to it but I don’t have any particular attachment either. I never, ever nest. It’s the surfing thing: travel light, never take root.

I work until at least 9.30 and I always work weekends. My wife’s staying in Santa Barbara is nothing to do with any kind of marital break-up. We’ve been together 16 years. It’s more that she’d rather be there and not see me than here and not see me. We speak all the time and its actually very romantic: I’d suggest it to anybody as a way of creating connection and desire.

She would like it if I were home more often, but she knows that I tend to feel a little obsessive and understands that I would probably be miserable if I had to live my life any differently right now. I’m not a workaholic, but when something hits and it’s good, you have to obey its demands.

Things would probably have been different if I’d had children. I hear that they actually give you a kind of perspective on life that would prevent you from becoming this consumed. I was actually struck recently by the gratuitous quality of what I do, when my brother was introduced to someone at work as Craig Carter, Chris Carter’s brother. Here’s a person who is so learned and has fought so hard and yet I have this notoriety that has eclipsed him.

Right now, my life is such that I work and I go home. I never, ever go out at night. It’s all about conservation of energy. I’ve got to stay focused. Usually I’ll get something to eat on the way home. There’s a place near my house where they serve Mexican food and I’ll eat at the bar. I know the bartender and we talk, but I’m not someone who tends to unload on anybody. I’m very much “trust no one”.

When I get back, I crawl into bed as quickly as possible and watch CNN or read. Usually I’m asleep by 11.30, but I don’t fall asleep easily. I’m thinking about work all the time, but to me that’s good. If it’s not on my mind, I’m not doing my job right.


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