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Archive for 1996

Cinefantastique: The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner

Cinefantastique (Vol.28, No.6)
The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner
Paula Vitaris

ER may have won Outstanding Drama Series at the 1996 Emmys last September, but for genre fans, the real winner was The X-Files, which took a total of five statues when it added Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series to the four won the previous night at the Creative Arts Awards ceremony. Gulliver’s Travels tied with The X-Files for a total of five Emmys, the most awards given to any show this year. Also, The Outer Limits episode, “A Stitch in Time” won for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, Amanda Plummer.

At the Creative Arts Award ceremony on September 7, Director of Photography John Bartley won an overdue award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for the episode “Grotesque”. Thierry J. Couturier and 12 colleagues at West Productions in Burbank won for Outstanding Sound Editing. Michael Williamson, also of West Productions, and 3 colleagues, won for Outstanding Sound Mixing for “Nisei”. And guest star Peter Boyle won for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. The only X-Files nominees to come away empty handed that evening were art director Graeme Murray and set decorator Shirley Inget, nominated for art direction on “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”.

At the main ceremony on Sunday, September 8, The X-Files was up for three more awards. For the second year running, the show was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, and Gillian Anderson received her first nomination as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series.

Peter Boyle read the list of nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and then announced the winner: Darin Morgan, writer of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, the episode for which Boyle had received his award a mere 24 hours before. “I didn’t even hear them call my name,” said Morgan, who had never met Boyle until he joined the actor on stage for his acceptance speech. “I just heard ‘The Emmy goes to Da~’ and everyone leaped up and was screaming.” The loudest screamer was his older brother Glen Morgan, a writer and producer on The X-Files. The elder Morgan happily kidded, “Of the greatest thrills in my life, Darin’s Emmy was just a notch under Steve Garvey’s Game Four home run against the Cubs in 1984.”

The eight nominations and five wins represented a particularly sweet accomplishment for the show. Not only did it win in the creative arts categories that usually bring genre shows their only Emmys, but with the writing awards, The X-Files broke through the glass ceiling to win in a category usually reserved for mainstream fare (Rod Sterling won for The Twilight Zone in 1961.)

Darin Morgan had no expectations that “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” would net him a nomination, let alone a win, although he felt certain Boyle was a shoe-in. “Most people don’t think of The X-Files as a writer’s show; they think of it as a special effects, science fiction thing. It’s looked down upon by mainstream TV in several areas,” he said. When his nomination was announced, his first thought was “Oh God, I’ve got to get a tux,” an outfit he found only slightly less constricting that the latex suit he wore when he played the Flukeman in “The Host”. But with the Emmy in hand, he admitted that he felt “good”.

The list of nominees included some surprising omissions, including lead actor, David Duchovny. “David got screwed,” Morgan stated firmly. “At least John Bartley won. He should have won last year. You look at the other shows and you go, ‘Well, it’s obvious that he should have been winning all this time.’ My only complaint is they gave an award to the writer of the episode, but they didn’t even nominate the director, David Nutter. And if he directed both the actor and the script to an award-winning status, then he should have at least gotten nominated.”

The lack of nominations for the shows directors is curious indeed. Morgan believes that Emmy voters won’t give serious consideration to a series about aliens and the paranormal, citing the Academy’s neglect of director Rob Bowman’s work on his episode ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ as an example. “That’s one of the best hours you’ll ever see on TV. But there are people who see a story with an alien and say, ‘Ob, it’s an alien thing’, and they will completely disregard the content of the episode.”

David Nutter, who directed the Emmy winning “Nisei”, as well as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, credits the lack of nominations to the remoteness of the X-Files shooting location in Vancouver and the fact that while the show’s directors are members of the Director’s Guild of America, the assistant directors and production managers are members of the Directors Guild of Canada. “We’re further away from the real action in Los Angeles where a lot of the voting takes place,” he noted. But he was delighted with the “Nisei” and “Clyde Bruckman” wins, adding that “I feel like I got a little piece of the statue.”

Darin Morgan, who has departed the X-Files to work on feature film scripts, watched a videotape of the Emmy broadcast after he got home. To his dismay, he thought he “looked and sounded like a Peter Sellers character – a cross between Claire Quity in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove. You see something like that and you say, ‘Oh man, never again. I’m going into hiding.” The biggest thrill was watching the reaction of all our producers. They were so goddamn happy. I’ve never seen all those guys that happy over one single thing. It was great just to watch.”


American Atheists News

[Original article here]

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   In This Issue...
   * British Atheist Takes On "The X-FILES." The Truth IS Out There!
   * GOP "Big Tent" Ready To Collapse?
   * Bishops Plan ~ You Pay


   Dr. Richard Dawkins, Oxford University zoologist and Atheist,  attacked
what he termed an "epidemic of paranormal propaganda" on British television
last night, during the 21st annual Richard Dimbleby memorial lecture.  He
decried the growing cultural trend of obsession with mysticism and paranomal
phenomenon as "an appetite for wonder," but cautioned viewers: "By all means
let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out."
   "Who would go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing --
astronomy?", mused Dawkins.
   Noting the burgeoning public fixation with astrology and television
programs like "The X-Files," Dawkins sigled out a recent half-hour prime time
program which focused on the bizarre claims of a man claiming to be a faith
healer reincarnated from 2,000 years ago.  "Some might call this
entertaining," noted the British scientists, "comedy even, though others
would find it objectionable entertainment, like a fairground freak show."
   Darwkins also criticized astrologers who "are playing on -- misusing,
abusing -- our sense of wonder.  Real astronomy is the rightful proprietor of
the stars and their wonder.  Astrology gets in the way, even subverts and
debauches the wonder."
   The popular "X-Files" program was also singled out by Professor Dawkins.
 This award-winning program carried in America on the Fox Networks, depicts
two FBI agents on the trail of bizarre, "unexplained" phenomenon who also
battle a shadowy government cabal linked to aliens and UFO abductions.
 "X-Files" producer Chris Carter also has launched "Millennium," an even
darker program dealing with serial killers, cults and turn-of-the-century
madness which is combatted by a semi-secret "Millennium Group."
   Dawkins noted that programs like "The X-Files" present a mystery and
"offer rational and paranormal theories as rival explanations," according to
today's Electronic Telegraph.
   "And, week after week, the rational explanation loses," said Dawkins.
 "Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a
black suspect.  And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to
have done it.  Unpardonable, of course.  And my point is that you could not
defend it."

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Details Magazine: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Details Magazine
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Gavin Edwards

Chris Carter is the man behind the creepiest shows on TV:

The X-Files and Millennium

Gavin Edwards crawls inside his nightmares.

Chris Carter is picking a murder weapon. He knows a lot about death and its tools, like how Glock handguns are growing more popular with detectives, or how it can be hard to tear off pieces of duct tape when you are trying to suffocate a victim quickly. But when he selects a weapon, he puts all that information aside for one consideration: how it looks. He doesn’t bother to handle the axes or the scythe, doesn’t test their weight, or experiment with how they feel in his right hand. He makes his choices quickly, collecting a pile of hand axes and a gun for good measure, never hesitating or second-guessing himself. After all, it’s not like it’s his first time in a props room.

Chris, the creator and executive producer of The X-Files, is busy launching Millennium, another show designed to turn your REM sleep into nightmares. It’s the story of a retired FBI agent named Frank Black who’s studied serial killers for so long, he’s started sharing their dark visions — a serious advantage on the job, not so much fun at home with the wife and kid. Next week, Chris and his crew will begin filming the third episode, which is why on a Friday morning, accompanied by director Thomas Wright, he’s choosing from the objects presented by prop master Kimberley Regent for an episode about a serial killer who paints his messages on strands of hair. Beer bottles, an Igloo cooler, a tool chest filled with lethal weaponry: all fine. Coffee mugs and a pair of scissors: rejected for looking brand-new.

“Do you want something more Edward Scissorhands?” asks Kimberley.

“Not to the point of Grand Guignol — they should just be well used.”

The killer in this Millennium episode, “Dead Letters,” hacks his victims into pieces, so the conversation turns to how the show will conceal the corpse cutlets. “The nice thing about a white sheet,” observes Chris in a chipper tone, “is that you can have body fluids seeping through.”

Chris’s company, Ten Thirteen Productions, takes its name from his birthday: October 13, 1956. Chris grew up in the L.A. suburb of Bellflower; his childhood was fairly normal, even if Chris’s construction worker father was a little on the strict side. After playing with the girl next door one night when he was eight, Chris came home late for dinner. This was forbidden in the Carter household. To emphasize the point, his father took Chris’s dinner plate out to the street, placed it on a manhole cover, and made his son eat off the pavement. Since the Carters lived on a dead end, Hegel Place, Chris was never in danger. But even when passing cars are going fifteen miles an hour, eating in the street is humiliating.

“My parents never broke rank,” says Chris. “Even when they were wrong, they would back each other up.” Confronted with an unassailable power that he knew was wrong sometimes, Chris lost faith in all authority figures. “Trust no one” is an X-Files slogan; it’s also Chris’s personal philosophy. He doesn’t trust anybody. With a dry chuckle he admits, “This is an issue between my wife and me.”

As a teenager, Chris loved the show Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” which starred Darrin McGavin as a hapless newspaper reporter who, whatever his assignment was, would end up stumbling across a zombie or werewolf and then try to convince the local authorities this wasn’t just any ordinary murder, dammit. The show lasted only twenty episodes, but Chris watched every single one and wished there had been more. Two decades later, financed by 20th Century Fox Television, he’d make his nightmares come true.

Chris’s Millennium office is barren; he hasn’t had time to decorate. The bookshelf holds only three volumes: a dictionary, a Bible (with the Apocrypha), and the Yellow Pages. Chris is sitting in his leather chair, talking on the phone with David Duchovny while watching dailies of The X-Files. On Chris’s TV, David and Gillian Anderson interrogate a suspect, over and over and over again.

Chris hangs up: It’s time for a “tone meeting” for the “Dead Letters” episode of Millennium, attended by director Thomas Wright, writer James Wong, and a couple of producers. The goal is to study the script scene by scene, to ensure that everybody is striving for the same effect. But since this is Thomas’s first time working with Chris, it also becomes a seminar on the Chris Carter Principles of Dramatic Episodic Television.

Chris believes: (1) That point of view is everything in television. He urges Thomas to think of the camera as another character, not just an observer of the scene. (2) That a show can only be as scary as it is believable.(3) That a script should never include a scene where characters are drinking any beverage; it only encourages the actors to take portentous pauses, and makes the editing much harder. (4) That an actor’s posture is vital. When FBI agents have their hands in their pockets, they communicate lack of interest in the crime scene — even if the reason is the cold weather. (5) That stuntmen will always want to stage overly elaborate fight sequences.

Chris eats sushi during the meeting, guarding the pages of his script with a cupped left hand. Scene 9 of “Dead Letters” has a problem. Learning that the serial killer covers his victims with his own feces, Frank Black says, “The only psychological release he could perform was defecation.” The Fox Broadcast Standards department is not happy about this dialogue, and have issued a memo declaring that “the reference to ‘fecal remains’ is unacceptable. We also will not accept references to urine, urination, or masturbation.”

“This is a very well-researched thing about defecation,” fumes writer James Wong. “Thieves burgle your home and leave behind a calling card. I find it unacceptable that they find it unacceptable.”

Chris takes action: He calls up Ken Horton, his co-executive producer in Los Angeles, and advises him to walk over to Broadcast Standards, rather than just fire off a countermemo: The personal visit might help persuade Fox that the scene is not meant to titillate. And as Chris hangs up to resume the tone meeting, he has final words of advice for Ken: “Don’t take any of their shit.”

Chris majored in Journalism at California State University in Long Beach, paying his way by working as a production potter. A typical evening by the kiln: cutting up a hundred four-pound balls of clay, each of which he then shaped into an identical pot. Where some people would find drudgery, Chris saw an opportunity to exercise mastery. He says that there are hundreds of thousands of pots in the world made by his hands. He saw one outside the studio only once, as a planter in a doctor’s office: All Chris could think about was how one day it would break, and how all his pottery would eventually disappear, unremembered.

After college, Chris went to work for Surfing magazine, where he was the greenhorn running through the hallways, colliding with the art director. He profiled surfers, profiled beaches, reviewed new equipment — whatever was needed. By age twenty-six, he had become a senior editor and had nearly drowned in Hawaii’s big surf seven winters in a row. He had also just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, which made him realize that he wanted to work in the movies. Chris wrote a script about three kids heading off to the Vietnam War. It circulated around Hollywood, generating a buzz wherever it went, and Jeffrey Katzenberg hired him at Disney for a three-picture deal. At the time, Disney was experimenting with putting lots of writers near each other, in the hope that they would stimulate each other’s creativity. As Chris remembers it, everyone did congregate in the hallways — to bitch about deals and executives.

Chris got sidetracked into television when he discovered that the appetite for new scripts that would fill up airtime was so insatiable, he actually has a chance of seeing his words spoken by actors. Having a successful show is not a prerequisite to getting promoted at TV studios — sometimes you don’t even need to make it on the air. So Chris hopped from job to job, with credits like the Sunday-night TV movie Meet the Muncies (“a very funny Beverly Hillbillies kind of idea that would have been terrific, but they didn’t give us enough money or time to make it the right way”), Rags to Riches (a musical-comedy series on NBC about five dancing orphan girls), and the wholesome family sitcom A Brand New Life (“I was kind of manipulated into that project”). By 1992, his Hollywood reputation had grown sufficiently that Fox signed him to an exclusive deal. Remembering Kolchak: The Night Stalker and reasoning that there were no scary programs on the airwaves anymore, Chris managed to convince his bosses of the merits of The X-Files. (“I pitched it once and they didn’t buy it. I pitched it a second time and they bought it, I think, just to get me off their backs.”)

Fox thought they were getting a spooky reality-based program: reenactment of actual alien abductions. But The X-Files quickly became weirder and wittier than that, as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigated everything from cannibals to government conspiracies to cockroach invasions. Once a cult hit, The X-Files is currently the Fox network’s highest-rated show. And with the Pearl Jam-size success of The X-Files, the networks have shifted into Stone Temple Pilots mode. NBC offers three Generation X-Files shows in a row on Saturday night: Dark Skies, The Pretender, and Profiler. UPN has The Sentinel and The Burning Zone. Even Baywatch Nights is supposed to take a paranormal turn this season.

What they seem to be borrowing from The X-Files is what many people focus on: the sense of paranoia, communicated through old genre conventions like vampires and space aliens. What often gets ignored is the sense of religious desire. Mulder repeats the mantra “Trust no one” but he also says “I want to believe,” and “The truth is out there.” It’s a heady notion: that no matter how confusing the modern world may seem, there is a single unifying truth behind all its uncertainty — you just need to look in the right place to uncover the architecture. Mulder often seems less like an FBI agent than a pilgrim en route to Damascus. Always lacking the hard evidence he needs to confirm his theories of abductions, in the end all he has is his faith.

Last year, Fox reminded Chris that despite the epic proportions of X-mania, he still owed them another pilot under the terms of his development deal. (They may well have decided that if other networks were going to copy The X-Files, they should just go right to the source.) Chris remembered Frank Black, a character he’d been carrying around in his head for a long time: not the former Pixies singer, but a retired FBI agent who learns to understand wrongdoing so deeply that he gains quasi-psychic insight into criminals. With Millennium — starring Lance Henriksen as Frank Black and Megan Gallagher as his social-worker wife Catherine — Chris wants not to just xerox The X-Files, but to explore the nature and meaning of evil. Chris hopes the show runs long enough that it becomes an issue whether the millennium begins in 2000 or 2001.

With his broad shoulders and curly blond hair, Chris looks as wholesome as an actor in a soap commercial. But in his head, he sees himself as an outsider, with dyed hair and body piercings. He doesn’t let this side of himself leak out into anything but his scripts, however, and when pressed as to the origins of his black art, he sidesteps the question. He says that he thinks of his series as driven by character, not horror, or that he’s not really interested in showing blood and gore on the screen, or that he simply doesn’t know where his grotesque ideas come from.

All of us have unknown terrors, monsters inside our head. Some of us run away from them; some of us just pretend they don’t exist. Some of us try to conquer them, maybe paying a therapist for a talking cure. Chris copes with them in the way he’s learned best: by dissecting them into structures of four acts (plus a teaser), and then exiling them to your television set. Chris knows that he has good instincts for what scares people. “I think our lives are rather mundane, and we like to be shocked. We like the sensory burst.” It would be easy to peg him as a calculating Hollywood operator who recognized that a modern Twilight Zone would fill a market niche. But like Agent Mulder, he throws himself into his job until it swallows up his life. Unlike Mulder, Chris doesn’t make speeches about why he does what he does before we cut to commercial.

For all the grisly events on The X-Files and Millennium, Chris is surprisingly squeamish. A few years back, he went to a specialist to find out why his hearing had gotten so bad. He learned that he has a condition known as “surfer’s ear.” When you get pounded by big waves day after day, a lot of water enters the ear; to protect itself, the ear forms lumps of bone under the skin of the ear canal which block out the surf. The doctor told him the news and began probing the ear to make a precise diagnosis. Chris fainted. The creator of TV’s scariest shows woke up in the arms of his ear-nose-and-throat man.

Chris steps into the sunshine of a Vancouver parking lot. Both The X-Files and Millennium film up here: It’s accessible to L.A. but cheaper, and the local terrain can mimic just about any part of the United States. (Except for Southwestern deserts: To simulate a New Mexico ravine last year, the crew covered a local quarry with 1,600 gallons of red paint.) Chris has been asked to help with an X-Files casting decision; as he strides the fifty yards that separates his two shows’ buildings, Teamsters unloading a truck smile and wave at their boss.

“They’re casting a mutant,” Chris explains to me. “Well, not a mutant, exactly. More of a freak of nature, a woman with no arms or legs. She lives under somebody’s bed. Her own, I guess.” The director, Kim Manners, and the casting director, Coreen Mayrs, have narrowed their choices for Mrs. Peacock to three actresses. Chris examines the Polaroids of each actress, and then the women are brought in one at a time for their final callback.

Actress No. 1, Karin, turns her chair toward Coreen, who is feeding her lines, and does Mrs. Peacock’s monologue as a slow burn, hands behind her back, eyes bulging. Karin is completely focused on Coreen; I wonder whether she realizes that Chris has the only opinion in the room that really counts right now.

Chris already knows Actress No. 2, Barbara — she played a small part as a hostage in an X-Files episode he directed two years ago. He nicknamed her “my Canadian wife” because she kept bringing him homemade jam. She reads with a Southern accent, building into a scalding fury.

Actress No. 3, Lenore, tells us how she scared the children at the local mall while she was practicing the monologue. When she begins, we see why: She wails at the top of her lungs, rocks violently in the chair, and scatters her script all over the carpet. Chris watches with his hands folded in his lap.

A pause as No. 3 leaves the room. Coreen and Kim look at Chris expectantly. “Well, we have to send really nice cards to two of them,” Chris begins. “They all obviously a lot of work. Barbara did a great acting job, but she’s a little too robust for the part. Karin was doing some creepy stuff with her eyes at the end. Made me really nervous. That’s a good sign.” The decision is made, with no further debate: Karin is whisked off to wardrobe and makeup, to get fitted for clothes and prosthetics.

Chris’ staff have nicknamed him The Phantom because he appears and disappears in the office hallway when they least expect it. He skitters off to his X-Files office, decorated with props from the show and posters of the stage magician Carter the Great (“In Mid-Air, Carter Materializes a Bowl of Water Weighing 150 lbs!”). First he places a phone call to a Fox executive (Chris does most of his own dialing himself, only occasionally asking one of his assistants to get somebody on the line). Talking with the exec, Chris politely but decisively kiboshes a planned tie-in between Millennium and Domino’s Pizza. Now Chris has a chance to demonstrate his sterling-silver etiquette: He writes thank-you notes to the two actresses who weren’t cast as Mrs. Peacock. Most producers, if they thought to do this at all, would just scribble a quick sentence. Chris, however, fills up both cards: As always, compulsively writing.

If Chris Carter were a character on The X-Files, who would he be? Gillian Anderson: “Chris would be the Cigarette-Smoking Man, because he’s at the top, he knows exactly what he wants, and he can snap his fingers and people will obey his whims. I can imagine him standing in a corner with half-light, only he wouldn’t be smoking, he’d be doing something else. Maybe he’d be the Jellybean-Eating Man.” Chris Carter: “Mulder and Scully are equal parts of me. David makes fun of me; he says that means Mulder is only half a character.” David Duchovny: “Actually, Chris already played a character in the second-season finale: one of the FBI agents who was grilling Scully about my whereabouts. He was in the script as Other Agent, so we called him Agent Other Agent. He just had a few lines, but he felt like he was flubbing them. No recurring role.”

Although The X-Files and Millennium shoot in Vancouver, the writers work on the Fox lot back in Los Angeles. So Chris spends a lot of time shuttling between the two cities; he’s on a first-name basis with the Canadian Air flight attendants, baggage handlers and pilots. Canadian Air’s even been known to hold takeoff for a few minutes so Chris can get on the plane.

Aside from overseeing every episode of The X-Files, Chris writes eight episodes a season (and revises most of the other 16): a grueling workload, which he now plans to double. Says David Duchovny, “Chris is driven beyond all common sense, but at his core he’s just a really good, decent man. He’s loyal like a dog — but a little more intelligent.” Chris works until about eleven most nights, typing on his PowerBook, and then drives straight home in his Land Rover.

On the Fox back lot, every single parking space is labeled RESERVED, even the ones nobody ever uses. Ten Thirteen Productions sprawls over many buildings in what was once the Shirley Temple section of the studio. Monday mornings at Ten Thirteen begin with a Millennium meeting. Chris — wearing maroon shorts and a gray T-shirt — joins six writers and co-executive producer Ken Horton around a table piled high with doughnuts and pastries. One writer, Tedd Mann, is chewing a piece of nicotine gum and drinking tea out of a huge Pyrex mixing cup. Chris keeps the meeting moving briskly — except when he feels like he needs to share what’s on his mind, whether that relates to the nature of Bill Murray’s appeal or how Olympic archers eat junk food to speed up their heart rate. Other writers are allowed to derail the conversation in this fashion, but few dare. Each staffer reports on how his script is progressing, and Chris tells them about the “fecal remains” brouhaha.

“Would ‘poop’ be acceptable?” asks one writer.

Ken provides an update: “The guy we’re going to win the argument with is on vacation right now. So we’re going to shoot it, and then we’re also going to shoot a version without it.”

“Don’t tell him we’re doing that,” says Chris.

“Well, we don’t want to give them the big finger. They’ll figure out what’s going on anyway.”

An hour late, Chris walks to the X-Files meeting, held in co-executive producer Howard Gordon’s bungalow. (In TV, most successful writers end up titled as some variety of producer.) Seven writers crowd around a small coffee table, which holds a plate with five bagels.

“Year four, this is all you get,” Chris tells them. Everybody grumbles good-naturedly about how there aren’t enough bagels; nobody actually eats one. Howard’s working on a script about an albino who kills his victims by stealing their melanin. The writers debate plot mechanics, the racial implications of the story, hiding places for the killer. “The end-game should be urban,” Chris declares. “What if he’s under a bowling alley, and the balls start to back up?” More ideas are tossed around, including a mushroom farm and the crawl space under an escalator (both already used on the show), the pipes of an oil-drilling rig, and a big industrial darkroom.

“What’s that like?” Chris asks the writer who suggested it.

“Um, it’s dark.”

Chris improvises some Mulder-Scully dialogue as they try to revise the scripts third and fourth acts. It’s slow, frustrating work, but Chris keeps the plot twists flowing. He has another idea for the melanin killer: “If only he needed melatonin — you can get it at any health-food store.” Once the meeting has been going on for about an hour, Chris begins balancing his chair on its rear legs and drumming his fingers on the table. He’s got a script to revise and he can’t contain his anticipation. His tool is a laptop computer, not a surfboard, but he’s still itching for his daily adrenaline rush.

Cinefantastique: Darin Morgan

Darin Morgan
Paula Vitaris

The X-Files’ court Jester on Turning the Show Inside-Out

There’s a scene in the X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ wherein a teenage girl wakes up after a possible alien abduction to find she is wearing her clothes inside out or backwards. “Inside out or backwards” also serves as a fitting description for the comic X-Files episodes written by Darin Morgan, author of “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ and three others: “Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose,” “The War of the Coprophages,” and last season’s “Humbug.” Morgan’s episodes are all bonafide X-files, with cases to be solved and creepy monsters and aliens on the prowl, but like any good court jester, he has no hesitation in sticking a pin into the inflated balloon of X- files convention, be it Mulder’s reputation as a well-dressed genius, Scully’s ultra-professionalism, or the show’s thoroughly serious tone. The person behind all the hoopla is a self-effacing 30-year-old man with a love for the work of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder. The younger brother of X-Files producer-writer Glen Morgan, he was offered two jobs during the X-Files’ second season: to play the mutant Flukeman in “The Host” and to help work out the story for the “Blood” with Glen and James Wong. Morgan’s work on “Blood” earned him a spot on the writing staff, which he accepted even though he was unsure of his ability to turn out a script due to his slowness as a writer and his natural bent towards comedy. When he finally turned in “Humbug,” the staff and the network were understandably apprehensive, since the episode was so unlike anything done before. Even though “Humbug,” his first produced script, turned out to be massive hit with the fans, to this day he is unsatisfied with the final result, lamenting the loss of a number of good gags. Morgan got the feeling he was on the wrong show. No matter how much he tried to be serious, he kept turning out funny stuff. “At least on The X-Files, there always was a point to why I was being funny. I tie it into the show in various ways,” he said. “The thing I was always careful of was to make sure I had a real investigation, with theories from both Mulder and Scully. I was aware I was doing things differently, but I also wanted to make sure I was doing all the things the show would normally do. In ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,’ each time Mulder says Clyde is psychic, Scully had a legitimate reason to say he’s not. I did even more in ‘Coprophages,’ where, in the end, Scully was wrong, but she was right in the beginning, and that’s what the whole show is about: different theories, how to explain certain phenomenon. My scripts had that, and I always had stereotypical ‘boo’ scenes or act-outs [ending an act] with a dead body. I was proudest of ‘ Jose Chung,’ in which only two people died, and I didn’t have a death on an act-out. You get in the habit of saying. ‘Okay, here’s a dead body,’ cut to commercial. But you usually have to have those. The X-Files is a kind of horror show, so you have to have those moments of genuine terror or grossness. ”

His lingering disappointment with “Humbug” took him in another direction, a story that would become his second episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” about a weary middle-aged insurance salesman with the ability to see people’s deaths. When Mulder and Scully ask his help to help solve a series of murders of fortune tellers, Clyde, played by Peter Boyle, is reluctant. To his mind, there is no altering the future. “I felt I had done ‘Humbug’ wrong, so I watched ‘Beyond the Sea” [Morgan’s favorite X-Files episode] again to see what the show is really about. I decided to try to write one that was much more serious and much more depressing. I really was trying to write a show with no jokes in it at all–but I failed.” The character of Clyde Bruckman was named for a comedy writer and director who had committed suicide in 1955. “I was so depressed after ‘Humbug’ that I felt suicidal,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I’m going to write about a character who will commit suicide at the end.’ You hear these things about people’s careers going downhill, and Clyde Bruckman always struck me as being the ultimate Hollywood horror story. He worked with Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. There was a ten year span that must have been the greatest. I can’t think of a greater series of jobs. Yet the guy obviously had some problems. He was an alcoholic, and ending up killing himself.”

Another source of inspiration came from Morgan’s insurance salesman father who is, said Morgan, “kind of a depressive guy,” like the fictional Clyde. Morgan was also intrigued by the notion of an insurance salesman who can foresee the future. “Insurance is about what will happen to you. You don’t know, so you have to take out insurance, and to have a character who actually does know trying to sell people that was kind of amusing.” The episode’s exploration of free will versus determinism, and coincidence versus fate grew out of Morgan’s difficulties with plotting. “I’ve always been really bad with plot and trying to figure out twists,” he said. “So Clyde Bruckman and the killer character act in ways that were really easy to plot, but which make the story seem complicated. Stu Charno, who played the killer, asked me, ‘Why does the guy kill?’ I told him ‘Because I needed him to.’ He really doesn’t kill for any specific reason. I had come me up with this idea of the killer as a puppet, someone who doesn’t feel in control of his own life. That’s why I like the story so much. It’s so contrived, that if you think there’s a future out there that you can see, you have to assume it was contrived or plotted that way by someone.”

Morgan researched fortune tellers and psychics, learning about their tricks to delude the public. Out of that grew a memorably over-the-top character, “a cross between Uri Geller and the Amazing Kreskin,” according to Morgan — the Stupendous Yappi, played by Jaap Broeker, David Duchovny’s stand-in. “Jaap is such a bizarre character,” Morgan said. “He has a very interesting facial structure, and he’s mesmerizing. I based Yappi’s speech patterns on him. Japp really talks like that, very fast, and sometimes he doesn’t stop.”

The first act opening scene, when Mulder, Scully and Yappi all show up at the scene of the latest murder, is Morgan’s favorite of all his episodes “Even though it was just a series of one-liners, a lot of information was conveyed. It was all done so fast that it seemed to work. Also, the other cops bought into Yappi’s explanation, which separated Mulder and Scully from the other investigators. I like the fact that it was Mulder who was making those points. Even though he believes in psychic phenomenon, he’s smart enough to know the difference between a charlatan and a real psychic.”

Besides Clyde Bruckman, the episode also demonstrates Morgan’s care in delineating Mulder and Scully. “Everyone looks at Mulder as having all the answers, he said, “Most of the other episodes present him as usually right. I’ve always found that the things he talks about, if a normal person talked about them, you’d go, ‘This guy’s crazy.’ He’s supposed to be a smart guy, but I’ve never looked at him as such. He’s just more lucky in some of his explanations. And Scully, although skeptical, has the right approach when she says, ‘I don’t believe this.’ Before I wrote for the show, Mulder always seemed like the more interesting character, but once I started writing for it, I found that I liked Scully more.”

The result is that Morgan often shakes up Mulder’s image, as at the end of “Humbug,” with Mulder unwittingly striking a GQ pose. “I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.”

Mulder’s and Scully’s attitudes toward Clyde also demonstrate Mulder’s views of their characters. “My pitch to Chris was that Mulder is so involved in psychic phenomenon that he’s interested in Clyde only for his abilities. But Scully, doesn’t believe in these abilities, so she can consider this man as a person and see how, even though he believes he’s psychic, it’s ruined his life. That was one of the main points of the episode. Everyone considers Mulder to be the one who has all the answers, but I think sometimes he’s so narrow-minded that he doesn’t do some things properly. He never really considered Clyde Bruckman as a person only as a phenomenon. The note Clyde leaves for Scully is written to her, because Bruckman knows that she’s treating him as a person.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” contained several lines of dialogue that sent fans into a frenzy pondering their meaning. The first came when Bruckman told Scully she wouldn’t die. “Some people took it to mean that Scully was immortal, but the meaning was that Clyde knows how Scully’s going to die, but he likes her so much he’s not going to tell her, because telling her would ruin her life, whether she believed it or not. Telling someone they’re not going to die is one of the nicest things you can say. That’s why he says it to her. It had nothing to do with whether she was immortal or was going to be hurt in the show.”

The other line of dialogue that transfixed fans came when Bruckman says offhandedly, “I’m sure there are worse ways to go, but I can’t think of a more undignified one than auto-erotic asphyxiation,” and Mulder quickly demands, “Why are you telling me this?” Is it just another joke, or is there some deeper meaning? “Well, yes and no,” Morgan hedged. “I think that’s what Mulder will die of A homicide investigation book I read had several pictures of people who died in that manner. There’s something in those pictures that is so disturbing, in the sense of going back to the ancient Greeks, and their idea of ‘don’t dishonor my body after I die.’ It’s bad enough to be found dead, and suicide is tragic, but then you see these people who have these really complicated, almost Rube Goldberg type set-ups. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so disturbing. This ties in with Clyde’s dream about what your body looks like when it dies. How will it be found? In what condition and what manner? That was the gist of that character. The autoerotic asphyxiation is obviously a joke line, but it came about from studying those photos.”

Third season post-production for Morgan was a much more pleasant experience than it had been with ‘Humbug.’ “On this show, you’re really regarded as being a producer of your own episode,” Morgan said. “No one trusted me on ‘Humbug,’ because it was my first. But on ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the cockroach episode, it worked out that both David Nutter and Kim Manners had to start prepping another show immediately. They each had one day of cutting and then I was allowed to be in there with the editor.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” won Morgan praise from an unexpected quarter, when the science fiction author Harlan Ellison called to express his admiration. Morgan not a science fiction fan, had no idea who Ellison was. “He was the childhood idol of some of the writers on our staff and they were all pissed off that I didn’t even know who he was, and he called me,” he laughed. “I’ve since learned about him, although I’ve yet to really read his stuff. He really liked the episode and thought Peter Boyle was great.”

‘The War of the Coprophages, ” in contrast to the more measured, meditative “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” was Morgan’s lightest, fastest, most farcical episode. “There were some serious, actual ideas in this one, so I felt free to be a little bit lighter,” Morgan explained. The episode opens on a weekend with Mulder up in Massachusetts, hanging about UFO hot spots, and Scully at home doing those mundane things everyone does during the weekend. The X-File arrives when Mulder is pulled in by local law enforcement to help solve the mystery behind some strange deaths caused, according to witnesses, by swarms of roaches. Mulder traces the roaches–which he believes, naturally, to be robotic alien probes–to a factory that produces methane from dung.

The episode worked, Morgan feels, but it’s another script with which he is unhappy, although he can’t put his finger on what bothers him. ‘I don’t know!” he laughed. ‘I had less time to do that script than any other one. I wrote it in a week. I was a couple of days late with the last act, the only time I was ever late with a script. Fortunately [ director] Kim Manners really liked it a lot, even with just the first three acts, so no one was mad at me.”

Morgan conceived the idea of alien robot insects from his research into robotics and artificial intelligence. “Everyone assumes that if there are extraterrestrials visiting us, that they would look like gray aliens,” he said. “There is this idea that our own future in space exploration is going to be robotic. It would make sense that other alien forms, if they do visit us, would also be robotic. There is a roboticist at M.I.T., Rodney Brooks, who has devised robots in the forms of giant bugs a foot long. They operated much better than other robots, because he had decided that instead of trying to duplicate the way the human brain works, he would make his robots’ brains work the way an insect brain works, purely on reflex. The other idea in the episode was how we think our brains are so complicated the highest level of evolution, and yet so many of our actions and beliefs and thoughts are dictated solely by reflex responses, much like a cockroach’s. That was the idea behind the mass hysteria: that people don’t think about what’s happening. they just hear something and react, and scurry around like insects.”

The big “scurry around” scene in “The War of the Coprophages” was a hilariously slapstick mini-riot staged in a convenience store where the indefatigable Scully has stopped to buy a road map. Morgan’s source for this scene was the famous 1938 radio adaptation by Orson Welles of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (the X-Files episode is set in Millers’ Grove, Massachusetts, a tribute to the radio show’s Grover’s Mills, N.J.), which Morgan considers a fascinating case of mass hysteria. “Nothing like that has ever happened in my lifetime. War of the Worlds is an example of people reacting by reflexes rather by complex thoughts. I always wonder what I would have done–you always like to think of yourself as being clearheaded. There are so many inconsistencies in the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that if you actually listen to it, it doesn’t make any sense. But I’m sure at the time and the moment, I would have been as terrified as anyone.”

Mulder and Scully prove to be immune from the panic gripping the town, but they have their own unique ways of reacting. “Although Mulder never reacts to the hysteria he has his own mindset, so whenever he hears killer cockroaches, he goes, ‘Oh my God!’ without thinking,” Morgan said. “Scully keeps telling him, ‘Oh no, it’s probably this other thing.’ She’s always right. But because Mulder has his own way of perceiving things, he keeps trying to convince himself that he’s on to something bigger.”

Another memorable character makes her appearance halfway through the episode, Bambi Berenbaum (Bobbie Phillips), possibly the most luscious entomologist on the face of the earth. “I thought it would be amusing if Mulder found another woman partner.” Morgan explained. “All of sudden Scully starts going, ‘No, this isn’t just cockroaches! This is something big! I’m coming up there!’ I thought it was amusing, that she would abandon some of her beliefs in order not to lose Mulder to another woman. We received some letters from people who were displeased that Mulder could find Bambi attractive. On the other hand, she is a very intelligent woman. So I don’t see why people got mad at that, but just the idea of Mulder having an interest in someone other than Scully put people into shock. You kind of forget Mulder is a man, because he’s so interested in the paranormal. But he’s a man, nevertheless, and I thought it would be interesting to have him be attracted to a woman.”

Morgan’s final verdict on “The War of the Coprophages” is resigned: “It’s never boring. It moves really fast. And there’s a certain achievement in centering an episode around cockroaches and dung.”

Morgan’s last effort for The X-Files was “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” an episode rooted in the show’s most basic premises, going all the way back to the pilot and “Deep Throat”: the government and the military are covering up proof of alien existence and while they’re at it, they’re deleting and altering your memories of whatever you think you witnessed. It’s also the show’s most baroque, flamboyant hour, as Scully relates to a cheerfully cynical writer named Jose Chung the events of a most unusual alien abduction case involving – possibly – the government abduction and hypnotizing of innocent citizens.

When Morgan joined the X-Files, he knew very little about alien abduction or UFO lore, so he bought some books on the subject. “There was actually a lot more information about typical alien abduction in ‘Jose Chung’ than there has been in most X-Files,” Morgan commented. “Usually the episodes that deal with abductions are about the Cigarette Smoking Man and the conspiracy. That has nothing to do with standard abduction stories. I thought there’s so much more out there about extraterrestrials, and these things should be mentioned. Even Roky, the character who goes to inner earth, is another aspect of that, because UFO people think there are inner earth people. And the published accounts of Men in Black are actually more ridiculous than what I had in the episode.”

Director Rob Bowman had to read the script 15 times before he understood it, Morgan said, grateful that the director gave it the extra attention. Although Morgan was interested in exploring the nature of reality in “Jose Chung,” the convoluted narrative design is also his strategy to maneuver around the problems he has with plotting. There’s always a practical reason behind the deeper thoughts,” he observed. It’s often a search to find a way to ease out of having to explain your plot. The coincidences in ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the weird things about aliens and government involvement in ‘Jose Chung’ had to do with my needing an out. That out was the hypnosis angle. I felt like I could do anything. Unlike saying it’s all a dream, I could always go, ‘It’s all just memory implantation.’ Even though the episode is all about aliens and the government conspiracy, it actually has more to do with hypnosis and how much we can actually know and remember. I always thought it was more interesting to have some of your memories changed than to have them completely wiped out, so this show was more along the those lines. ‘They’ have the ability to change what you remember. To me, that’s more terrifying than being abducted by aliens. It’s kind of confusing to talk about, I know, but all this stuff was invented to avoid a specific plot. In terms of the multiple storytelling, I wanted to do something like Rashomon, where everyone had a different memory. I originally wanted to do it with Jose Chung interviewing a different person for each act. That still happens in the third act, when Chung talks to Blaine.

But it was too complicated, so I stuck with Scully. But I find it appealing to use tales within tales, where someone is telling a story and then a person in that story starts telling another story. The whole episode is really that, because even when Scully is telling her story, she’s actually telling everyone else’s account.”

Lord Kinbote, the hulking red creature who abducts Chrissy, Harold. and the two Air Force pilots, is a double tribute to stop-animation genius Ray Harryhausen and to Morgan’s favorite writer, Vladimir Nabokov. “We didn’t have the time or money to do a proper stop-action model, ” lamented Morgan. “Toby Lindala (special effects makeup supervisor] built a suit. The scene was shot, speeded up and then slowed down by computer to give it a jerkiness. Mat Beck [visual effects supervisor] had to do a lot of work on it. I hope it looked like stop-animation.” The name Kinbote is taken from Charles Kinbote, the possibly mad scholar of Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. “In one of his interviews, Nabokov made the point that reality is a word that should always have quotes around it, because everyone’s reality in a sense is different,” Morgan said. “People will look differently at the same object, depending on their backgrounds and past history. That was a direct influence on this episode.”

Morgan could not resist adding his own satire of Fox’s alien autopsy show. The X-FILES’ second re-creation of the program this season. “We were all watching the alien autopsy tape one day, and it was so ridiculous!” Morgan recalled. “The Bigfoot footage at the end of ‘Jose Chung’ is just so damn phony, but you have no idea how much it costs to get the rights to that thing. You think about how much money has been made on that footage, and it’s a crime! And I feel the same way about the alien autopsy: it’s a swindle, and it’s almost disturbing to see how many people take it seriously.” Morgan expressed his sentiments by having his alien autopsy hosted by the Stupendous Yappi, his fake psychic from “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”

The episode ends on a poignant note, with Jose Chung wistfully reading from his book that “in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all…alone.” “It was quite touching,” Morgan remarked. “It felt right. I didn’t want to end on a wacky note. The scene is humorous, but you also have certain points or feelings you like to express, and I guess the loneliness of human existence was one of the them. When Chung goes on about how some people don’t care about extraterrestrials, that is, I guess, my own summation about working on the show. I want to write about people rather than about aliens.”

“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” is so confusing that one’s initial reaction, besides laughter, is to rewind the VCR and watch it again–precisely the effect Morgan wanted. “I think it worked, for the most part, and even if people are confused–because it is confusing, and purposely so–I hope that they would recognize that for being part of it and enjoy it even more. I just want to get a reaction. I don’t care if they learned anything or got anything out of it. I hope they thought it was funny and moving, and were entertained on whatever level they needed.”

After the X~Files’s third season, Darin Morgan left the show, burned out by the relentless pace of writing for television. “I did only four episodes, but they took a lot out of me,” he said. “There’s still a chance I might come back and write another one, but right now I have certain things I would rather write, rather than a couple more Mulder and Scully stories. I want to do something that’s more romantic-comedy, rather than those scary things.”

The Orange County Register: Interview with Mark Snow

The Orange County Register
Interview with Mark Snow
Kinney Littlefield

The News-Times: Television News: Composer Mark Snow puts the super-shivers in a very hot sci-fi show.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Aliens don’t give Mulder and Scully the quivers on The X-Files. What really jangles the daring FBI duo is composer Mark Snow’s moody music score.

Right now, Snow is busy spooking up X-Files’ fourth season of paranormal pursuits in his cozy home studio in Santa Monica. He’s also scoring the first season of Millennium, the apocalyptic saga of serial killers from X-Files creator Chris Carter, premiering Friday on Fox. And if it seems weird to hear the sounds of alien abduction, killer viruses, bloody mutilation and incestuous genetic mutation emanating from such a sunny, well-heeled corner of Southern California, it suits the dry-witted Music Man X-traordinaire quite well.

Today, as he does three to five days a week, classically trained Snow sits at the keyboard of his well-used Synclavier – a digital audio recording system – and improvises in sync to a videotape of the latest X-Files.

It’s the sound that is shivering the world. As you chat in Snow’s studio, a FedEx guy delivers a package from France. It’s a kitschy-looking Disque d’Or – a gold record for selling 100,000 copies of The X-Files theme in the land of brie. And two other X-Files albums – Songs in the Key of X and the just-released The Truth and the Light – have made Snow nuclear-hot.

Yet Snow, 50, looks like an unlikely X-Files kinda guy. Trim, bald, clad in black jeans and T-shirt, he seems shy and serious when you ring his doorbell. Later, he warms when you start talking music of all kinds, as he relaxes with eager cocker spaniels Bixon, Cowboy and Poppy at his feet and the score for this season’s fifth episode of X-Files in the can.

Q. Do X-Files fans expect you to look weirder?

A. I do surprise them. I’ve been thinking about Hair Club for Men and ear-piercing.

Q. So how did you get the X-Files gig?

A. Through R.W. Goodwin, an executive producer on X-Files who I’d worked with on TV movies. I think they looked at about 20 people or so.

And for Millennium, Chris and I already had the shorthand.

Q. How did you cook up the X-Files theme?

A. I was having a miserable time coming up with the The X-Files theme, and Chris Carter was being real nudgy about it and obsessive about it. And I called my agent and said, “You know, you might have to get me out of this, because this guy’s driving me nuts.”

We did The X-Files main title (theme) five times before Chris liked what was happening. I mean, he was very polite, but I finally said, “Why don’t you just politely go away and we’ll start from scratch?” Literally an hour after he walked out of the room, I put my hand down and there was a sound there – that repeated duh-duh-duh-duh. And I said, that could be the rhythm, now we need a pad under it, a melody. I tried a female voice, a female chorus, a boy chorus, saxophones, piccolos, guitars, oboes, trumpets. And I thought “Ordinary, not cool.”

Then that whistle thing popped in and I said: “Wow. I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

Q. You’d heard the whistle before?

A. Well, you know The Andy Griffith Show has it – in a different kind of music.

(In fact, Snow studied with Andy Griffith composer Earl Hagen.)

Q. And?

A. There’s a real, real special eerieness to the whistle that plays so well against the show. I mean, you think X-Files – Nyeeahhh. (Here Snow emits a big, screeching, throaty sound).

But this whistle has mystery and simplicity and transparency.

Anyway, in typical (understated) Chris Carter fashion, when he heard it he said, “I like it. Hmm. It’s good.”

Q. What’s Chris Carter like to work with?

A. Well, I have seen him get really angry, but not with me, not about the music. I’ve seen him get down on an editor, or a director, or the head of the studio, screaming, “We need more money.”

At the beginning, Chris wanted a lot of music in the show (The X-Files). And I think he didn’t have all that much experience producing this kind of show. And so in all these scenes where Mulder and Scully are walking down the hall or sitting in the car, there are long stretches where we could probably do without the music, but we’ve established this thing. So I’m kind of like their third partner, their unseen imaginary friend, lurking there. And it’s held up.

In fact, David Duchovny (who plays agent Fox Mulder) sent me a picture of himself signed, “Thank you for giving subtext to my performance where there isn’t any.”

And I appreciated his candor.

Q. What’s the Mark Snow sound?

A. I bring a sense of real instruments to X-Files.

A lot of composers start here (Snow gestures at his Synclavier), and their sound is very cold and unmusical. It’s very important to me that X-Files sound as musical as possible – human, warm and emotional, although still in the electronic setting.

And you have to weigh each scene on its own. A little electronic music goes a long way. Scully’s father comes back as a vision – that had to be really emotional, but really emotional in X-Files language. That meant not a cornball, florid, over-the-top melody but a simple, heartfelt melody like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Sometimes you have to lay low with it and go simple or neutral, because what’s happening on video is so wild. Charles Nelson Reilly telling an anecdote, or The Men in Black show up – it’s so abnormal that big music or busy music would really hurt it.

In the global conspiracy shows, you don’t really get into ethnic sounds. It’s more the straight-ahead big X-Files. But these so-called boutique shows, as I call them, give you the ability to experiment. We did a lot of African chanting and drums on last week’s show, about an African man who put a curse on people and turned them into albinos.

And I never do any special sounds for Mulder or Scully. It’s always about the situation they’re in. Sometimes I come up with a musical theme that recurs that’s about the protagonist, the killer, the bad situation, but for Mulder or Scully – never.

Q. How do you work?

A. First, Carter sends me a VHS copy of the next X-Files to watch. The next day, usually, I get a video to score.

An easy day is scoring seven to 10 minutes of music. A killer day is scoring 20. That’s the limit.

(The average 45- to 46-minute episode of X-Files uses about 38 minutes of Snow’s music.)

If I have a real tough schedule, I love to get up very early, like 6 a.m., and be in the studio before 7 and really jump on it. I don’t like to write at night. I’m not obsessed, but when I get into it I’m really focused. I rarely have writer’s block. I don’t need a writing room in the woods or at the beach. For me, if this was in the North Pole, or it’s dark, or it’s Hawaii, it wouldn’t mean nothin’. I get the sound from what I see in my head.

Then, after I score, my audio engineer, Larold Rebhun, comes in and adjusts the echo and EQ and highs and lows, and then he plays it for me. And I make my adjustments – too much violin, not enough piano. Later, Chris comes in, or one of the other producers, and sits right where you are and says, “It’s a little strong there”. Or “We need a ping there where the girl gets hit.”

Q. How did you segue from studying classical music at Juilliard to TV?

A. I came to L.A. cold in 1974. My wife’s sister, Tyne Daley, was married at the time to Georg Stanford Brown, who was on Aaron Spelling’s The Rookies. So I took my first demo tape – which was a joke, it was ridiculous – to Aaron Spelling, and he said, “That sounds good.” And that was my first job. Other shows came up, and very slowly I started to break in.

Q. Was that actually your name in the music credits on the pilot of NBC’s new sci-fi show Dark Skies?

A. Yes. You know, NBC told me the show was really something else, more of a ’60s period piece, not sci-fi. Then I saw it.

(The Fox network was not pleased to have Snow, the sound of The X-Files, working on a rival network’s show. Snow no longer works on Dark Skies.)

Q. So what are your best and worst X-Files moments?

A. The best thing is getting a scene that’s just full of great character revelations to score. The hardest thing is when it isn’t good, or when you get a long, shlogging chase scene to deal with. But I’ll have to say we get very few bad moments on this show.

You know, I could see X-Files was a cool show the first time I saw it, but I didn’t expect all this. I mean, when I got the job I didn’t feel like Steven Spielberg had called and offered me Schindler’s List II.

And I certainly would love to be doing big movie scores. But I’m 50. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. In terms of TV work, you know this is as good as it gets.

Source: Kinney Littlefield; The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) October 24, 1996

Entertainment Weekly: The Next Files

Entertainment Weekly
The Next Files
Benjamin Svetkey

Chris Carter made the paranormal sexy with The X-Files. Now, with his eagerly anticipated new creep show, Millennium, he’s shooting for just plain shocking.

Chris Carter has a horrifying idea. More monstrous than the Flukeman who wormed his way onto The X-Files during its second season. More hideous than the jumbo cockroaches that wiggled across the screen last season. More appalling than the apocalyptic serial killers about to be unleashed this season on Millennium, the deeply creepy X-Files spawn arriving Oct. 25.

“Let’s go jogging,” the TV producer suggests with hair-raising cheeriness. “How about Sunday morning? Sunday morning good for you?”

The horror, the horror. And that’s just the beginning. Hanging out with Carter for a few days in Los Angeles turns out to be an exhausting voyage into an otherworldly realm of paranormal scheduling. He may look like an ordinary 40-year-old human being–graying blond hair, blue eyes, the mellow demeanor of a man who’s spent far too much time on a surfboard–but there are definite signs that something not quite terrestrial lurks beneath the surface. For example: The guy never sleeps. At the office every morning at 7 a.m., seldom home before 11 p.m., he’s such a compulsive worker he makes James Brown look like a slacker.

Of course, Carter has lots to lose sleep over these days. After his breakthrough triumph creating The X-Files–the show that made UFO abductions chic–the world is waiting to see what he’ll come up with next. And what he’s come up with may just be the most boldly gruesome series ever allowed on the airwaves. Chockful of decapitations, live burials, incest, and other way-gross atrocities, Millennium pushes the limits of TV horror to such shockingly bleak levels it’d have Cancer Man reaching for the night-light.

Lance Henriksen (the robot from Aliens) stars as the not-so-subtly named Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent who belongs to a shadowy quasi-governmental organization of ex-law enforcers called The Millennium Group (supposedly based on a real quasi-government serial-killer-chasing group called The Academy–or so Carter insists). Using mysterious empathic powers to get into the heads of violent criminals, Henriksen skulks through each episode tracking down a growing tribe of psychopathic no-goodniks, apparently made extra cranky by the cosmic forces of the looming fin de siècle. “We’ve got this very important date coming up,” explains Carter. “The end of the millennium is an unsettling time, very nervous making. It sounds so obvious now, but I got this idea that someone should capitalize on it.”

That someone, of course, turned out to be the Fox network–home to The X-Files–which is betting big bucks on Carter’s new show. Spending $10 million on a feature-film-style launch, Fox is pre-premiering Millennium in 25 theaters across the country Oct. 23, followed by a satellite link-up in which Carter will answer questions from the audience. Millennium is also getting Fox’s prime time slot–The X-Files’ Friday-night hour–while Mulder and Scully are being transferred to Sunday evenings. A Millennium book is in the works as well, to be published by HarperCollins, a company owned by the same media mogul–Rupert Murdoch–who controls the Fox network (and Mulder thinks he’s the only one who can sniff out a conspiracy).

In short, get ready for Millenni-mania, the biggest hype attack of the TV season.

A writers’ meeting at 9:30 a.m. Carter has been toiling on the Fox lot for several hours already, tapping away on a laptop in his comfy bungalow office. Now he’s moved to a nearby conference room, where he’ll review script schedules with his Millennium scribes, mostly young, mostly male vets of shows like Homicide and NYPD Blue. It is instantly clear why these guys got their jobs–even their banter is dark.

“Remember that man who got killed by an errant golf ball near Griffith Park?” Carter asks. “If you think about it, it’s the perfect murder. If you were a good enough golfer, you could kill your victim and claim it was an accident.”

“Yeah,” nods one of the writers. “But you could only get away with it once. You couldn’t be a serial golfer.”

Carter usually spends about half his week on the Fox lot, taking meetings like this one, holding auditions, dealing with an endless barrage of emergencies (like when an assistant storms into the room to demand, “We need to know Mulder’s mom’s name, right now!”). For the other half, he jets up to Vancouver and visits the Millennium and X-Files sets (“He’s like a phantom—whenever we need him, he turns up,” says Henriksen). Technically, he lives in Santa Barbara, with his wife, Dori, and dog, Frankie. But the couple spend most of their time at their modest second home in Pacific Palisades.

On the surface, at least, it seems an utterly normal Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps a bit too normal. Eerily normal. “People expect me to be a weirdo,” Carter admits. “They expect me to be pierced and tattooed and look a lot different. I do have a very dark sensibility, but it’s all inside.” Which is pretty much the way head X man David Duchovny describes his boss: “He’s not a psycho or anything,” he says. “If you get to exorcise yourself weekly on a TV show, you get all that stuff out of your system. He is a dark guy, but it’s all internal. He’s tough to get to know.”

Certainly there’s nothing obvious in Carter’s biography to suggest a portrait of a serial killer–although there are early signs of nascent neurotic work habits. He grew up in Bellflower, outside L.A. His father, Bill, who died last year, was a construction worker; his mother, Catherine, passed away five years ago; his younger brother, Craig, is a physicist working in Washington, D.C. In junior high, Carter got seriously hooked on surfing, a habit he still occasionally indulges. He put himself through Cal State University at Long Beach by, believe it or not, making pottery. His wife remembers him as a budding workaholic even then. “He would make 100 casserole dishes in a single night,” she says. “With tops that fit!”

After college, Carter took a job at Surfing magazine, but Dori (a screenwriter who penned the 1988 comedy Big Business) soon persuaded him to try his hand at script writing. Carter’s first effort, a Vietnam home-front drama called National Pastime, was never made, but it did catch the eye of Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney, who gave the 27-year-old novice a three-picture deal. After cranking out some more never-produced screenplays–like a comedy called Rest Home for Spies–Carter made the jump to television, where he labored in obscurity on such brief-lived projects as Copter Cop.

Then, in 1992, X finally marked the spot. At first, Fox had zero interest in a show about FBI agents chasing little green men. “It was a really tough pitch,” Carter remembers. “They just didn’t understand it. They already had a UFO show, Sightings, so they weren’t interested.” Carter repackaged the concept, emphasizing the paranormal as much as aliens, and pitched it again, this time successfully. Flash-forward to the present and The X-Files is Fox’s top-rated drama, a show that’s redefined sci-fi for the ’90s and inspired countless imitations (like NBC’s Dark Skies, which gets this year’s Oliver Stone Award for wackiest JFK conspiracy theory—that he was killed for knowing too much about the Roswell aliens).

The success of The X-Files has also turned Carter into something of a cult hero, a sort of post-Watergate Rod Serling (at X-Files conventions, he gets almost as mobbed as Duchovny). More to the point, it’s made him the hottest producer on the Fox lot, especially now that the network’s other big shows–Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210–are starting to slip in the ratings. No surprise, then, that Fox has granted Carter virtually free rein with Millennium, gambling that he can catch lightning in a bottle once again. Carter got the cast he wanted (although Fox execs did want William Hurt for the Frank Black role, until they found out Hurt doesn’t do TV); he got the budget he wanted (nearly $1.5 million an episode); and he got the look he wanted (hiring Seven art director Gary Wissner as production designer for the Millennium pilot).

“The concept is that we live in a culture where justice has been stolen from us,” says Carter, riffing on the new show with his trademark enigmatic caginess. “People have lost faith in the system. That’s the madness and insecurity I’m trying to write about. But, at the same time, I wanted to create a very bright hero who carries the weight of the world, who’s trying to make it a safer place for his wife and child [played by Megan Gallagher and Brittany Tiplady].”

Now that he’s famous, of course, Carter has to deal with some madness and insecurity of his own–celebrity nuisances like marital-discord rumors and other unkind whispers. Recently, things got ugly when the press reported a sexual harassment suit filed by a former X-Files script coordinator. Carter denies the charges but says his lawyers have advised him not to discuss the case. Others around him are less constrained: “It’s ludicrous,” says X actress Gillian Anderson. “It’s not him. He’s gentle and kind. He’s a wonderful guy.”

He certainly seems like one. And yet…something about Carter–the chilling California chipperness, the spooky sunshiny serenity–smells ever-so-slightly fishy, like one of those bottomless government cover-ups Mulder is always bumping into. Somewhere under that coolly bland exterior must beat a secret heart of darkness. How else could so seemingly pleasant a fellow hatch such brilliantly diabolical TV shows?

“You know, I have seen evil,” Carter reveals teasingly after the story meeting. “I’ve stared into its face.” With this, the master of the cliff-hanger leaves you dangling, only a tiny sliver of his psyche exposed. Typical.

Sunday morning. Pacific Palisades. Time for the dreaded jog. Carter, of course, has already been up for hours, working in his home office, a narrow space crammed with X-Files leftovers, like an alarmingly realistic dead alien from the show’s pilot episode (“I think he’s starting to decompose,” Carter says, giving him a sniff).

A quick ride in his Land Cruiser and he’s standing on the runners’ path on San Vincente Boulevard. As he starts to jog, the conversation returns to Carter’s face-to-face confrontation with evil. Mercifully, he finally opens up, recalling a seminal incident that happened over 20 years ago, back when he was umpiring his younger brother’s Little League team.

“There was a boy my brother’s age,” he begins. “He was 14 or 15. He was a good athlete and a good kid from a solid family. And then one day he was arrested. He had killed an Avon lady. Then they found that he had also killed his girlfriend with an ice pick. I didn’t know how to feel. I think I was wearing one of the kid’s T-shirts the day it happened. It was very unsettling. I would never have suspected he was capable of that. I think that was my first touch with darkness.”

As if on cue, another touch of darkness jogs into view–an ominous, skanky-looking fellow with greasy hair and a mottled beard. On his T-shirt is a portrait of the ultimate Millennium guest star, Charlie Manson. “Did you see what it said on the back of his shirt?” Carter asks. “It said, ‘Charlie don’t rave.'” He smiles. “Odd, isn’t it?”

He continues jogging on his merry way.