Sci-Fi on the Net
Interview with Chris Carter
INTERVIEWER: Richard Van Syckle, segment producer, c|net television
PARTICIPANT: Chris Carter, creator, executive producer, “The X- Files”
VAN SYCKLE: To start with, you’ve said that winning the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series, you were so stunned that it was sort of an “X-Files” experience in itself. Now that you’ve learned that, has the shock worn off or are you still surprised by success?
CARTER: I’m surprised by every day. It’s almost like I haven’t really lifted my head up. I’m still running so hard and just trying to do good work that all the good things and the awards and now the nominations haven’t really landed on me yet. But I think that’s a good thing. Also, it says a lot about my main motivation, which is my fear of failure. But I just try to do the best shot I possibly can, and the good things have come as a result. I don’t look at them as the carrot, I look at them as sort of things that have–the path to all the hard work.
VAN SYCKLE: In terms of this success, filling out into mediums you might not have even envisioned before, such as online, what has that been like with this whole new other world of online fans?
CARTER: It’s funny. “The X-Files,” it was perfect timing but it was a fluke, really. Here’s this huge, growing thing in America and around the world, which is these computer online services, the growth of these and the Internet. And “The X-Files” just happened to come along and come of age with those things. So, it seems like the perfect show at the perfect time with the perfect medium, which is this online service. Also, our audience is a very computer-literate audience mostly, I’m imagining. So, it’s a natural that we would be, I think, really the first show to have such a great following. I’ve used it as a tool; they use it as a tool. It’s a great way to interact immediately with your audience, hear what they’re thinking, and to tell them what you’re thinking.
VAN SYCKLE: I read an interview with Rob Bowman, that he said, “We wish we had time to put everything into the show that the online fans read into it.” Tell me about that.
CARTER: Well, yeah, it’s funny. It’s like literary criticism. A lot of times I’m sure the writers had no idea that they would have their material parsed and picked over so tediously. Sometimes there are things there that maybe you put in unconsciously; sometimes there are things you put there very consciously. I put in a few–actually, the season finale–that no one ever picked up. So, as much as they see things that aren’t there, they don’t see things that are there, either. So it’s an interesting thing for me.
VAN SYCKLE: How does that dynamic work in terms of the two-way communication, the interactivity? And do you feel like you have help out there creating this “X-Files” mythology, in terms of the fans?
CARTER: Not really. I mean, I have a very strong idea as to the other writers about how the show should progress and evolve, and so I listen out there to what people are saying. I look at their reactions to things. But I’m ahead of them, because I know far in advance where the show is going and they don’t. They can only react to what we show them. I listen to what their criticisms are–what they like, what they don’t like–and I take those things all to heart and I incorporate them. But there are no ideas that I’ve taken off the Internet, no direction I’ve taken off the Internet, although there’s plenty of help I could have gotten from the fans online about how to take the season finale–which was a cliff hanger–how to finish it, how to follow up, how to end that story. There was no end of speculation on how I might do it and how I should do it.
VAN SYCKLE: Do you think that having characters, like the Lone Gunmen, who use the Internet, who are very literate–lots of references to hackers in “The X-Files”–do you think that it’s fun for the fans to see themselves or see people they’d like to be?
CARTER: Yeah. I think that those are sort of caricatures of the hard core fans. I think that most of the people that I meet, particularly at the conventions, aren’t quite that extreme. The Lone Gunmen–actually, they were created by two writers on the show who have now since left, Glen Morgan and James Wong. I think that they were inspired by the UFO conventions that we all went to and some of these other functions where you see a lot of very extreme characters selling extreme pamphlets and literature. There’s just a lot of paranoia out there and I think the Lone Gunmen became the representatives of that kind of person.
VAN SYCKLE: I know you’ve probably just been besieged by UFO fanatics and there definitely is a fringe which runs in that site, but I’m thinking of the poster in Mulder’s office that says, “I want to believe.” It doesn’t say “I do believe” or “I don’t believe” but “I want to.” Do you think that that sort of represents something that you’ve tapped into in this show out there, that there are people who want to believe?
CARTER: Well, I created that poster for the pilot and really it sort of represents my personal–I don’t know if you can call it a philosophy–my personal bias, bent. I describe myself as a nonreligious person looking for a religious experience. I want an experience, I want to find something to believe in, I want something to occur to me, I want to see something out in the desert some night that I can’t explain. I’m desperate for that experience and so is Agent Mulder. He wants to know the truth; he wants to be able to believe in these things that are rather unbelievable. So, on the flip side of that is Agent Scully, who is the skeptic, the person who refuses to believe in anything that cannot be proven scientifically, the two different sides of my character, which make a nice sort of dichotomy for the show.
VAN SYCKLE: I’ve heard some interviews in which Gillian and David talk about their own personal characters, as opposed to who they play, and it’s interesting, especially with Mitch Pileggi, who has had what you would describe as a paranormal experience. Gillian is sort of more on the believer side, and the roles reverse. Tell me about them bringing their own personalities and their own beliefs into their characters.
CARTER: None of them really bring their own beliefs into the characters, I don’t think. I think that they play the characters that are written for them and they play them very well. And they know those characters very well, so they’re able to, as actors, perform. They don’t have to bring their own belief systems. Actually, it’s very interesting to play something different than yourself. I know it’s interesting for David and for Gillian, Gillian being the believer playing the skeptic and David being the nonbeliever, basically, playing a person who is willing to take these giant leaps of faith. So, I think that it’s a testament to them as actors that they are able to sort of pull it off. But you’re right, the people and the actors are much, much different.
VAN SYCKLE: There’s a show right now on the Sci-Fi Channel that they’re rerunning, the old “Prisoner” series. And they’re doing that with the interactive chat, where they’re having people log on and it’s sort of like a collective Mystery Science Theater 3000 that you participate in. Do you think this sort of blend between computer technology and real time and science fiction and television, does that interest you at all? Is that going anywhere in a direction that you might be interested in, or what do you think about that?
CARTER: You know, not really, because it really verges on too science fiction-y for me. It’s really not what we do. I think we’re kind of a cross-genre show. You really can’t peg us. Even though I actually like that show and I remember liking it when it was on, it’s not something that inspires me or I think is something that I would ever get into. I was never a science fiction fan. I spoke to a group of people the other night, a Mensa group, and they were very upset that I’d never seen an episode of “Star Trek.” They actually hissed me, you know, sort of in jest. But I’m just not a science fiction fan. It’s never interested me. I’m really interested in personal experiences that could affect me in this place and time. I think that’s what makes “The X-Files” so scary–it seems very, very real.
VAN SYCKLE: Last question, I’ve gone through [the Internet], I’ve seen the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade, “X-Files” on Ice, “X-Files” Christmas Carols. I think I pay too much attention to this, but do you have a favorite site out there? Do you check into any of these things ever?
CARTER: You know, I don’t. I have my basic DelPhi site because of the “X-Files” connection to DelPhi, but I’m all over the place. I have to say I’m actually one of these online illiterates. I sort of stumble around, fumble around, and find my way into different things. I have no favorite spot; I’m just all over the map. Actually, it’s funny, for as much popularity as there is for the online services and for this kind of communication now, it’s funny to me that it’s actually a step backwards in technology. It feels to me more like we’ve gone back to the telegraph but in a kind of high-tech way. I’m very interested to see how the technology develops and how I can use it more creatively. I’m interested in this real-time video that I hear is going to be happening. All this stuff sounds very interesting to me as it progresses. But right now, I think it almost seems gimmicky to me, in a way. I’m using it because it’s a tremendous communication tool, but I’m very anxious to see how we leap into the future.