Archive for October, 1993

Cyberspace Vanguard Magazine: Within the Realm of Extreme Possibility

[Original article here: http://www.textfiles.com/magazines/CV/cv1-6]

Copyright 1993, Cyberspace Vanguard Magazine

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    |           PO Box 25704, Garfield Hts., OH   44125 USA          |
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    |  TJ Goldstein, Editor           Sarah Alexander, Administrator |
    |    tlg4@po.cwru.edu                    aa746@po.cwru.edu       |
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     Volume 1                October 26, 1993                 Issue 6

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 --!2!--  Within the Realm of Extreme Possibility:  Creator CHRIS CARTER
                                                             on the X-FILES
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                                  by TJ Goldstein

     For a show that snuck up on everybody, X-FILES seems to be the sleeper
hit of the year.  Quietly, and with little promotion, it has staked out
its territory on Friday night and seems to be holding on, at least well enough
to convince Fox to pick the show up for a full season..  We spoke to the
creator and producer of the show by phone from Los Angeles shortly before
X-FILES debuted.
     Chris Carter isn't a stranger to producing.  He's done some shows for
Disney, including THE NANNY, a 1/2 hour show he created for the Disney
Channel.  Despite all that, the nervous excitement came through in his voice.
He sounds almost like a kid who has managed to pull the wool over the
exectives' eyes, sneak into the studio, and produce what HE thinks television
should be.
     It's easy to pin him down on what the show IS, but not what it's LIKE.
What it IS is an hour-long series that focuses on two Federal Bureau of
Investigation agents who investigate, as the name suggests, the "X-Files."
These are the files that the FBI has put aside because there simply is no
rational explanation, such as UFO abductions or other "unexplainable
phenomena."
     Fox "Spooky" Mulder is a Believer.  His sister was (he believes) the
victim of a UFO abduction when he was 12, and he has dedicated himself to
studying and hopefully solving the mysterious cases the Bureau doesn't want
to touch.  More than just a crank obsessed with UFO's, Mulder is trained in
psychology and science and merely insists on not discounting possibilities
simply because they don't fit in with preconceived notions of what is
possible and what is not.
     The Bureau, in order to keep an eye on him, sends in Agent Dana
Scully, a physician and devout skeptic.  She is more rational, but though
she rarely believes Mulder on the first try, she does at least have an open
mind -- most of the time.  She's more trusting of due process than Mulder,
and that can get them -- and the people they're trying to help -- into
trouble.  It's not to say that she's bumbling; not at all.  She is
intelligent and extremely competent.  She just doesn't always have as much
skepticism about the known reality as she does about the unknown.
     Naturally, since they are a man and a woman paired together, the first
thing people think is: romance.  Will they end up together on their own
time?  "No, it's a relationship that is much stronger and more passionate.
First of all I would call it a cerebral romance in that these characters
sort of delight in each other's approaches and it isn't the pat or standard
or expected television romance between them.  There is no physicality
between them.  I don't see it in the near future here.  They don't end up
in the sack together.  At least I don't see it happening yet.  I think it's
refreshing.  I mean I was raised on shows like THE AVENGERS which are smart
and the characters were very attractive for those aspects.  They didn't have
to end up in bed together."
     The very creation of the show, in fact, was heavily influenced by Mr.
Carter's childhood television habits.  "I felt there wasn't anything scary
on television.  I loved the show NIGHT STALKER as a kid so when I was signed
to an exclusive contract by 20th Century Fox TV they asked me what I would
like to do -- which is a nice position to be in -- I told them I'd like to do
something like NIGHT STALKER but I didn't want to do something that was
limited to vampires.
     So how did he decide on aliens as a substitute?  "I had the
coincidental experience of spending time with a friend who works as an Ivy
league researcher, and he had shown me the Dr. Mack -- the Harvard psychology
professor -- survey on what he called the alien abduction syndrome.  It
showed that 3% of the American public actually believes they have been
abducted by UFO's.  I thought that was fascinating.  A larger percentage
actually had experienced contact with extraterrestrials or something
otherworldly.
      "I found that amazing and I thought, well, aliens have become the new
vampires of sorts.  I thought there was a lot to explore.  I didn't want to
limit myself to just the bad world.  I wanted to explore all paranormal
phenomena and unsolved crimes that involved these or any phenomena."
     So how does the show treat these "phenomena," as the hallucinations of
unstable people, or as something much deeper?  "It makes a strong case for
the alien abduction syndrome.  Someone is suffering from something for
reasons that are logical and believable.  I'm a natural-born skeptic, but
the more research I've done and the more people I've come into contact with
by doing the show, the more they've chipped away at my skepticism.  I'm much
more open-minded and there are certain things I take for granted, if not as my
truth, then as their truth.
     "I should also say that if you throw a rock, you hit 3 people who
actually know more about this stuff than I do.  I'm a relative babe in the
woods compared to a lot of people who have quite an extensive knowledge
about these and other phenomena, but actually I think that serves me.  I
come at it with a very fresh perspective ... do you try and access these
people to try and get more information, or are you going at it from a partly
imaginative point of view?  Sometimes we use an amalgam of information to
create an idea but ... we are doing all this from imagination, so it's
fiction but it's fiction that takes place within the realm of extreme
possibility."
     When he got his first producing credit six and a half years ago on THE
NANNY, he "didn't know what producing entailed."  Certainly, that had
changed by the time X-FILES came along.  What DOES a producer do?
"Everything.  Producers function as quality control people.  You hire
people to do certain jobs, then you oversee those jobs.  You make creative
decisions, you make decisions of taste, tone and style.  You shape a movie
or TV show by the people you hire both as talent and as technical staff.
     "A person has to earn my trust, generally.  When you hire qualified
people, that is something that happens very soon, but I tend to have very
strong ideas about what it is I want and I try to keep an eye on all areas,
from an actress's makeup to the way a cameraman shoots a certain scene."
     First and foremost, however, Mr. Carter is a writer.  "Yes, I wrote
the pilot episode and now I've written 2 episodes past that, so a writer is
what I am first and foremost.  That's who I am.  I've become a producer by
circumstance but I love it.  Producing is very social, writing is very
lonely."
     And if he had to pick one?  "I'd have to say in TV I can't pick one
because to be a writer in television the only way to do it is also be a
producer.  It's a producer-driven medium.  It's a writer-driven medium
also, but you have to want to have your stuff done well.  You have to carry
it through to physical production.  Writing screenplays is not like writing
prose.  You're creating a blueprint with dialogue for a visual thing.  So
if you're in TV it serves you best to work in both writing and producing
mediums.
     "Being a producer in TV makes you a better writer in TV in that you
understand what can and can't be done.  Sometimes I'll read a writer's spec
script and I can tell when he has not produced TV because he will assume
that certan things can be done which can't be done.  That's one of the
things that helps you as a writer by being a producer."
     Being a producer can help the writing as well as the writer.  "As a
writer you've imagined something that's perfect in your mind, and so when
you see it actually take physical shape or electronic shape it can be very
depressing.  It looks to you like a series of compromises ... Your original
concept is degraded from the moment it goes into somebody else's hand.  There
is this whole process.  It's like a bucket brigade; it is handed to a
series of people who do their job.  If they do it well, they can make your
script better, and if they don't do it well it makes it worse.  It's amazing
to me when the process actually creates a magical moment."
     His descriptions evidence the ongoing nature of production, but "each
episode will function as a complete story.  We put information out there
and they learn things that are going to shape our characters.  They're not
going to go backwards once they see something.  They're not going to then
not believe in it later on, so there will be an accumulation of knowledge
and experience but each episode will function as its own open-and-shut
case."
     This is unlike mainstream television where, at the end of an episode,
the world essentially returns to precisely the state it was in before the
opening credits rolled.  I asked him if he's afraid of not being able to
top himself.  "That's a nice thing to do, I'm not afraid of that.  This is
such a wide open field that the fear of having to top yourself is self-
limiting.  If you fear that then you're not going to attempt to do so.  I
have to go sorta boldly into the future here and hope that I can top myself
each week that I can."
     Like Donald Bellisario, the creator of QUANTUM LEAP, Mr. Carter
doesn't feel that his show is "science fiction" per se.  "My buzz phrase
is that the show takes place within the realm of extreme possibility.  I
think it's the same area that Michael Crichton might work in.  The
ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE TERMINAL MAN, or JURASSIC PARK were all taking those
possibilites into account.  We explore them as if our stories could
actually be happening."  For those of you who look for scientific accuracy,
while there is no science advisor credited, "it's really easy to pick up
the phone and call your brother and get him to give you very technical
advice."  His brother is a physicist.
     So, when you come right down to it, what exactly IS it?  It deals with
alien abduction, but it's not science fiction.  It's scary, but it's not
gory.  It's been compared to everything from NIGHT STALKER to early TWIN
PEAKS.  So how does Chris Carter describe it?  "You know, there's nothing
on TV like it.  I've been asked this question and I'm always at a loss to
compare it to anything because when you start to compare it to anything you
start to do yourself a disservice.  People say it's like that or oh it's
like that.  I just don't think there's anything like it on TV.  I call it a
cross between SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and UNSOLVED MYSTERIES."