Archive for November, 1998

Vancouver Sun: X-Files producer can’t let go of Vancouver

Nov-21-1998
Vancouver Sun
X-Files producer can’t let go of Vancouver
Alex Strachan

Director Chris Carter may be busy giving a new look to his famous TV series in L.A., but he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Vancouver.

The X-Files may have fled the rain but Chris Carter, the southern California-raised surfer dude turned pop-culture savant, has quietly donned his hipwaders for more wet nights in the city that gave The X-Files its dark, brooding look for five years.

On Sunday, Carter’s most ambitious X-Files yet — an episode called Triangle, a loose amalgam of The Wizard of Oz, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Casablanca revisited on acid — will mystify viewers as few X-Files segments have.

Those who have seen the episode — filmed in real time aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. — are describing it as everything from an incoherent, self-indulgent mess to a tour de force that will guarantee writing and directing Emmy nominations for its creator.

The X-Files’ new California look has grabbed the U.S. media spotlight in a way few off-camera TV stories do.

The larger picture — where Carter goes from here — has eluded attention, but all indications point to a wet and promising future for Vancouver crews and the city’s profile as a production centre.

Carter’s recent contract with 20th Century Fox Television — a deal some industry analysts have said could net him $100 million US over its five-year term — puts him in a very select group of TV producers that includes Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley and John Wells.

While Carter has been preoccupied with The X-Files in Los Angeles, he has quietly bought a home in Vancouver and has made regular visits to the city — at least one a week — for the past several months, sitting in on story meetings for Millennium, in its third year at Lions Gate Studios, and laying the groundwork for his new series, Harsh Realm, based on the darkly foreboding series of underground comics. Harsh Realm is being considered for the Fox network schedule next fall.

Those who have worked with Carter in Vancouver say it is not surprising he has chosen to reaffirm his ties to the city.

They describe a producer who has never forgotten his blue-collar roots — Carter, 42, grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Bellflower, Calif. — and who is soft-spoken and gentle as well as single-minded and uncompromising in his vision.

Carter has a reputation as a demanding boss who will not hesitate to remove people he believes are not up to the task (an Internet chat group called “the ex-Files” includes several disgruntled former writers for the show).

But many who have worked with Carter in Vancouver paint a very different portrait from the popular conception of the foreign producer as Ugly American.

Set decorator Shirley Inget, a five-year X-Files veteran who won back-to-back Emmy Awards for her work on the show and who is now working on the feature film Dudley Do- Right, recalls an incident from The X-Files’ first year which, she says, offers great insight into who Carter is as a person.

Carter drove up to the main gate of North Shore Studios, as it was then called, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be working, Inget recalls. The security guard did not believe Carter was who he said he was and refused to let him in.

Instead of digging in and throwing a tantrum, as most producers would have done, Inget says Carter parked his car at a nearby mall, hid in the bushes behind the studio and crawled in under the fence when the guard wasn’t looking, sparing the guard the embarrassment of a confrontation.

When word of what Carter had done spread through the crew, morale skyrocketed, Inget recalls.

Vancouver actor Chris Owens, who has landed an 11-episode gig in Los Angeles as a recurring character in The X-Files, recalls that Carter went out of his way at last September’s Emmy Awards to pick him out of a crowd of celebrants and thank him for his work, even though Owens had only done some bit parts at the time.

One former X-Files technician recalls that when Carter had to announce to the crew that the show was leaving, on a rain-soaked night earlier this year at a Kingsway Street motel, he deliberately waited until David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were off the set before breaking the news. Carter wanted to spare his actors the embarrassment of seeing him break down and cry in front of the crew, the technician recalled.

After a late-night shoot on the Burrard Street bridge for the Millennium pilot two years ago, Carter felt he needed an extra night’s filming to get the scene to look the way he wanted.

Fox refused to authorize the additional cost; Carter paid $65,000 out of his own pocket to complete the scene. (Shamed, Fox later reimbursed him.) Millennium crew members say it is those kinds of gestures that endear a producer to his crew.

For his part, Carter has never withheld praise for his Vancouver workers, who he often refers to as “my Canadian colleagues.”

Carter’s hand was forced on The X-Files’ move to Los Angeles, but he now says the new look will breathe new life into a show that, while it benefitted from five strong years in Vancouver, needed a fresh outlook.

At the time of the move, Carter reaffirmed Millennium’s place in Vancouver and said he had ideas for several new series, all of which he will consider doing here.

Despite the success of last summer’s X-Files feature film — it grossed $85 million US in Canada and the U.S. alone – Carter feels a passion for dramatic series and will divide his time in the foreseeable future between TV and writing novels.

Another X-Files film is in the works, probably to coincide with the show’s end — which looks increasingly like the end of next season.

For now, though, Carter has no plans to forsake either the medium that made him famous or the city that made it possible.

Sci-Fi Age Magazine: As The X-Files moves to L.A., the series’ stars consider season six

Nov-??-1998
Sci-Fi Age Magazine
As The X-Files moves to L.A., the series’ stars consider season six
Melissa J. Perenson

Where does a television show go when it’s coming off a summer that saw the release of a successful feature film, the relocation of production, and a whopping 16 Emmy Award nominations? Well, when you’re the X-Files, you keep on doing what you do best: Throwing curve balls to your audience while striving to reinvent yourself and raise the creative bar even higher.

The X-Files is due for a shake up. After all, the series is entering its sixth season, a time in any show’s life span during which lethargy can set in and stories can become stale. But the series’ new Los Angeles home base, coupled with the events of The X-Files movie, which answered some long-standing questions as well as raised a host of new ones, have ensured that The X-Files is in no danger of succumbing to the perils that afflict long-running series.

The movie may have focused on the black oil, but the coming season will explore the conflicting alien factions introduced in such episodes as “Patient X,/The Red and The Black.” “We’ll see a lot more of that,” promises series creator and executive producer Chris Carter. “Now that we’ve set it up with the black oil, we can explore that.”

Meanwhile expect intrepid FBI Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) to come to terms with their experiences in Antarctica, and to convince others of the fantastical events they witnessed there. “It will have to be dealt with as the series goes forward. But that’s the fun of the series. It’s going to be getting people to believe that this is, in fact, going to happen,” Carter offers. “And Mulder and Scully still may have been told some lies. We still don’t know. We’ll play with this and continue on with that conspiracy.” A central component of the mythology thus far, Scully’s abduction back in season two and the consequences of that abduction, will be addressed in the coming year, as will questions surrounding what really happened to Mulder’s sister, Samantha.

Originally, the truth about Samantha had been addressed in the movie’s limousine scene with Mulder and Well Manicured Man (John Neville), but it quickly became lost within the context of the film. “We realized that there was a lot of information to digest in that part of the movie, and it ended up coming out of the blue in a way that made the scene less easy to understand,” explains Carter. “So we decided to take out that scene and play with it in season six.”

Even though it was Scully’s evidence that convinced the FBI to reopen the X-Files, early word about the coming season is that Mulder and Scully are off the X-Files and have a new boss, although their former superior, Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), will continue to help them off the record. Two characters introduced in the fifth season, Agents Spender (Chris Owens) and Fowley (Mimi Rogers), have been assigned to the X-Files instead. Picking up on the story line from the fifth season’s finale, the first episode jumps right in by revisiting Gibson, the chess playing child prodigy whose ability to tap his brain’s God module could hold the key to explaining the nature of paranormal phenomena.

That’s not all that’s revisited. “We’ve established Mimi Rogers as an old flame coming in, so I think that [the audiences] are going to have to accept it, [allow us] to play that out,” Carter says, presumably well aware that he’s broaching dangerous territory in the eyes of both those that wish to see Mulder and Scully move their relationship to the next level, and those who wish to avoid the series deteriorate into a soap opera.

The direction of Mulder and Scully’s relationship is a topic of hot debate. “From day one we’ve been talking about the fact that it just wouldn’t work in the series,” remarks Anderson, “but I’m curious as to how, after the movie and the extra zing that’s in the film and whether it should or shouldn’t influence how we are with each other in the series. If it does, how will it influence the work that we do? I don’t know.”

Duchovny is equally unsure of what’s right for the show. “It’s hard to say what would ruin the show, or what would make it good, without actually doing it. But [a relationship] could be interesting. If we had someone come in who wrote beautifully in that direction I’m sure it would work, but I don’t see that happening.”

Although the X-Files will always be defined by its eerie look, that look is bound to change now that the show has moved from dark and atmospheric Vancouver to bright and sunny Los Angeles. “It’s obvious it will change,” affirms Carter. “I’ll have a new crew. I’ll have a new environment to shoot in. We’ll have bright sunshine in the daytime, although if it’s anything like last year, it will be just like Vancouver; the weather in Los Angeles was so bad last year.”

Shooting in LA’s environs presents a new creative challenge to the production, and not just to avoid inadvertently getting palm trees into scenes that are supposed to be set in Maine. “It’s going to be different because you’re not going to get the diffuse light every day, you’re going to get hard sun and you’re going to get LA sun,” explains Rob Bowman, who’s directed over 25 episodes as well as the movie. That’s different from what we’re used to.”

Look to the bright lighting seen in the film for an example of what the X-Files may look like in the future. “[The movie] certainly was harder because day exterior in the Mojave desert is about as hot a light as you can get and about as far from Vancouver as there is,” says Bowman. “But the movie couldn’t all of a sudden look like another show. I had to make it look like The X-Files.”

Bowman has a similarly positive spin on the impact the movie will have on the series. “I think it might be farewell to an old friend and hello to a new one. We’ll find a new look that takes the old one and goes a little further with it,” he says confidently. “That’s what we must do because we certainly can’t go backward.””

Adds Carter, “We’ll just use the new environment to our advantage. Just make a virtue out of the problem, which is that we’re now shooting in sort of a concrete jungle. [we’ll] tell stories that we wouldn’t have been able to tell in Vancouver, so I think it’s going to be an interesting opportunity.”

Carter draws on reality for many of the ideas for the series. “People say, ‘Where do you get all these wild ideas?’ Many of them come directly from science. The show needs a scientific foundation, because that is Scully’s point of view. Without a Scully point of view, you’ve got no point/counterpoint. So it’s important the science be accurate, and it’s important that the science be good, because it provides the leaping-off point for the rest of the show,” maintains Carter.

When conceiving the series pivotal mythology episodes, Carter knows where he’s ending up, but not necessarily how he’s going to get there. “I have a big general idea of what the conspiracy means and what the conspiracy is,” he explains, ” but as we go forward, we find new little things to do to add to it. And so that’s the fun of it. If you set everything down too clearly for yourself in the beginning, I think you end up without the sort of wonderful discovery of new things to add in. So, I think flexibility is important in this kind of storytelling. Also the faith that you’re going to make the right choices as you go forward.”

“We don’t have ending points. Sometimes we don’t know, and that’s part of the excitement of the show to us, too, [as writers],” contributes Frank Spotnitz, co-executive producer on the series. “Chris is very specific on where he wants the show to be and he’s not willing to say, ‘okay, that’s close enough to what I had in mind.’ He won’t do that.”

The series’ intelligent, and at times convoluted and contradictory, stories often subscribe to the tenet that less is more. “I think far more often that approach is appreciated by the audience. That’s one of the reasons why the show is so successful,” reasons Spotnitz. “You’re left to put the pieces together yourself in order to understand the conspiracy. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, and we keep adding new pieces and taking pieces away. There’s an awful lot of questions that aren’t resolved and that’s what makes the show interesting.”

“You know, you make a mistake in thinking the audience is not as smart as you are. I think the audience is very smart,” elaborates Carter. “I think the audience is very sophisticated. We have so much information these days. Everyone knows about the human genome project now that’s going on; it’s in the paper every day. While the dialogue [of the show] is sophisticated, it also never attempts to confuse or baffle.” Well, perhaps not consciously, at any rate.

Another unusual thing about The X-Files is the show’s application of a cinematic approach to making television. “We try to tell our stories visually and we use a lot of movie conventions in the telling of our stories. It just feels like a movie most weeks, anyway. And that’s our goal,” says Spotnitz.

“Now after having made the movie, I know whatever you do in television isn’t quite cinematic because making a movie is a much more elaborate process than making a television show,” admits Carter. “But, we tell the stories as if they were little movies, and we take a big screen approach on the small screen in the way we tell our stories and the way the shows are directed, certainly, and in the way the stories are very plot driven. They are good, round mysteries, and a lot of television gets by on character development ensembles, a-b-c-d-e-f-g stories. The X-Files tells one good, strong story every episode, and I think that’s much more of a movie approach.”

Even the series’ recurring, mysteriously named characters have come to life. “After working with so many scripts and telling so many stories with these ancillary characters with names, if there’s more than three of them, you’ve got your work cut out for you just to remember who these people are,” explains Bowman of the nomenclature system developed. “So Chris’s approach was: He’s just a guy smoking a cigarette, that’s all he is. So, he’s Cigarette Smoking Man. When CSM started the series, he was leaning against a filing cabinet listening to a conversation and not reacting at all. He was a paper figure. Then you start to learn more about him. It’s funny because on the set we’re always making up new ones. And we’ve been through Plain Clothes Man, Red Hair Man, and Black Tie Man, but it makes it easy for identification.”

The X-Files’ real ace in the hole, however, lies in the chemistry between leads Duchovny and Anderson. Together, Duchovny and Anderson have taken the art of subtlety to new heights. Certainly, these two roles, like the cases the duo investigate, have proven to be anything but ordinary over the years

“It’s incredibly gratifying,” says Anderson of what it’s been like to play Dana Scully. “It would have been harder to stick with it were I not playing such an intelligent, such an interesting, and multidimensional character as Scully is. When I read the pilot, I was struck how unlike a TV script it was and, also, by how complicated and interesting the relationship was between Mulder and Scully. I think that more than anything,” she continues, “[it was] her intelligence and her strength in standing up to Mulder and feeling confident about expressing her beliefs in front of somebody who was touted as being near God in terms of his work at the FBI.”

From Duchovny’s perspective, Mulder is perhaps the hero who’s best described as the anti hero. “He is a loser. He just never succeeds, basically. He doesn’t get what he wants. He doesn’t win fist fights. He doesn’t get the girl,” notes Duchovny. “I like him as a hero because I always intended to play him as a guy who doesn’t win but who seems to win. That is, I think, a difficult thing to do. People at home see that Mulder is right, so it’s all kind of skewed in his favor. We’ve seen what he sees. We know that he’s right, that his quest is good and moral and all of that. In that sense he’s more of a straight-up hero.”

As stimulating as the characters are, though, both actors admit to feeling the strain of The X-Files’ intense grind, a strain which was only amplified by spending the hiatus between the fourth and fifth seasons filming the feature.

“Some days it’s not fresh and it’s not exciting. Some days it is. It usually has to do with the challenge of the material. If there is a difficult scene to do or a fun scene to do or a challenging scene to do – then it’s fresh and exciting. If there are just five pages of back story, dates, figures, numbers, or names, then it’s just hell,” explains Duchovny. “It’s not really the show or Mulder. It’s the bare fact of doing the same show and the same part for five years.”

“I think that these survivor mechanisms just poke up and rear their heads,” Anderson muses of the relationship between the grueling hours on the set and her performance. “Sometimes – a lot of times – I’m dead on my feet, and sometimes I phone it in and sometimes I have the energy to keep going and be better and better. It just depends.” With all the key players, including leads Duchovny and Anderson and Carter, signed through seven seasons, the current expectations are that The X-Files will continue its fast track run on television before releasing a second feature. in the meantime, the show will strive to improve upon itself, completing its evolution from cult hit to mainstream phenomenon. Notes Duchovny, “It’s fairly unique in the fact that it takes 100 clich├ęd elements, puts them all together and makes something new. It is the Night Stalker. It is sometimes a medical drama, as bogus as it can be. It’s bogus in its chastity and its repartee between Mulder and Scully. And it’s creepy for the kids. You take all of those things together and, somehow, it comes off as being fresh, unique and original. You could never have sat down and predicted it. It wasn’t in the pilot I read. It’s something that has grown of as all of the ingredients in the show have grown, as Chris, Gillian, Rob, and myself have grown as performers, directors, writers, whatever. It just becomes better and better.”