X-Files mythology, TenThirteen Interviews Database, and more

Archive for October, 1999

Chris Carter on Art Bell

Interview date: October 6, 1999


-Midnight Express
-Carter’s bio
-Harsh Realm

-6th Extinction
-Where Chris gets his ideas from
-Gov. agencies

-Lance Hendrickson
-Keeping Gov. conspiracies secret
-How X-Files was conceived

-Future of X-Files
-Y2K, an event?
-New ideas

The X-Files Magazine: Going Hungry

The X-Files Magazine [US, #11, Fall 1999]: Going Hungry
Gina McIntyre

[typed by Gayle]

In season seven’s first stand-alone, Vince Gilligan tells the tale of a monster’s tragic eating disorder. Vince Gilligan has everyone fooled. The X-Files writer/co-executive producer best known for quirky episodes like Seasons Four’s “Small Potatoes” and Season Five’s “Bad Blood” projects an unmistakable Southern charm; in person, he is amiable, easy-going, good-natured. But lurking somewhere deep within his psyche is a villainous imp. There must be. There’s simply no other explanation for how someone so unassuming could send property master Tom Day on a mission as revolting as hunting down real brains for the inaugural stand-alone episode of the series ‘ seventh year, the all-too-appropriately named “Hungry.”

The story of a monster in disguise who uses his part-time job slinging burgers to sate his unstoppable and quite literal appetite for the cerebral. “Hungry” is a throwback tot he show’s classic take on horror, with touches of Gilligan’s irrepressible wit thrown in for good measure. Although the episode will air third in the season line-up, scheduling demands mandated that it was the first to be filmed. As stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were both completing work on features they shot over the hiatus, a Mulder/Scully-light story was needed to begin the roster. Gilligan’s unusual and intriguing stand-alone offered the perfect solution.

“Originally, I wanted to do a story about a monster from the monster’s point of view,” the writer offers. “sort of like an episode of Columbo where you were following the bad guy throughout the show and then Columbo, or in this case Mulder, keeps coming in and asking questions that make it clear that he suspects our main guy. It seemed like a fun idea. What I really wanted to do, if it really worked correctly [was] to have it by the end of the show [that] you’re rooting for the monster. You’re sort of not happy every time Mulder and Scully show up because you don’t want the poor guy to get caught. I don’t know if it will work like that when you watch it but that was the intention.”

X-Philes displeased at the intrusion of their favorite agents? The unlikely prospect made Gilligan’s task that much more formidable. To capture the pair’s signature chemistry without using them as the center of the narrative, the writer employed inventive storytelling devices.

“It was a very interesting experiment.” Gilligan admits. “By the time I got through it I was realizing that this is why we don’t tell stories this way, because Mulder and Scully get so little screen time in comparison. I don’t know how much the fans are going to like this one. I hope the do and they see [that] at least we tried something different. I’m real proud of it. The fans so like Mulder and Scully, so enjoy watching then on screen together, and this episode by virtue of the fact that it had a different structure to it, they’re on screen much less. I mean they still have that Mulder/Scully dynamic and yet I had to be very scrupulous about only showing it from this guy’s point of view.”

While Gilligan’s script offers yet another approach to the classic X-Files formula, it also helped ease the crew back into the routine of shooting television’s most cinematic series. Nearly everyone working on the L.A. set praises the episode not only for its ingenuity, but for the fact that it allowed them the rare opportunity to gradually work back into the show’s frenetic pace. Rather than exhausted seniors battling final exam week with too little sleep and too much caffeine, the principals seem more like classmates reunited on the playground after a relaxing, homework-free summer.

Not that there’s a dearth of activity on Stages Five and Six on the Twentieth Century Fox lot, The X-Files’ home when not shooting on location. On this, the sixth of eight days of first unit photography on “Hungry,” the construction team has been toiling since 5 a.m. to strike the various sets no longer needed for the episode, make changes to existing pieces and begin planning for what the next script will bring. Music from an unseen radio blares from across the stage; sawdust litters the air, seen only in the rays of sun streaming in from the open doors at either side of the building. Voices call to one another, sharing jokes and plans for lunch.

In the midst of this bustle, Day enters the safe confines of his office, which is nestled along the side of Stage Six, camouflaged in part by Mulder’ s apartment and various props and pieces of set dressing. After enjoying a pleasant summer hiatus, Day admits he was ready to get back into the swing of things, but was quite astonished to learn what Gilligan had in store for him.

“Fried brains, that was one of the highlights,” Day says, shaking his head. “At one point, we need to simulate human brains. We actually had a brain test day where we went out to the different meat-packing places and brought in a bunch of your different varmints’ brains, cow and pig and sheep, to see which one would look the best and which one would sit on the set properly.”

Given that Day has been working in the industry for years, one might think that brain detail would be less grisly that it sounds. Not so, he says. It was possibly the most grotesque assignment to ever come his way. “It’s right up there,” he says, “It took some getting used to. It took a leap of faith to jump in and say this will all work just fine. I talked to the medical technician on Chicago Hope because they use all kinds of animal parts, stuff you could even go to the market and buy. Obviously when you’re simulating surgery you have to have something. I talked to them about what’ s best to sue for rain. We found steer brain worked best. They could have had [special effects make-up coordinator] John Vulich whip out some brains, but I don’t know in all honesty if it would have looked the same. It looked great for what we were doing with it. It was perfect.”

For his part, Gilligan felt no remorse at sending Day on his stomach-turning errand. “They love this stuff.!” He says with a smirk, “I think they said they used steer brains. I would have thought they’d be too big, but I guess not. I mean they’re not super-smart animals, but their heads are so big you ‘d think their brains would be bigger than ours. That was pretty funny. Then they have to cook them once they’re out there. They have to put them on a hot grill. I don’t know what brains do when you grill them. People eat calves’ brains. I’ve never had them. I don’t know what they taste like.”

If there’s brain on the grill, you might guess which of the X-Files stable of directors would be behind the lens. Infamous for his affection for the gruesome, the tireless Kim Manners found in “Hungry” material he could really sink his teeth into, aside from its horrific menu. As odd as it might sound, the script is actually a subtle character study about one man’s seemingly futile struggle to conquer insurmountable odds.

“I think they tailor made it for me,” the director says. “It’s one of mine. I’m having a good time with it. I had a good time off and I’m feeling really fresh. Normally when I do my first show of a season, you come in with butterflies and you’re always a little frightened. It’s been two or three months without directing, talking to actors, pointing the camera, but I feel like my brain’s on Viagra. I’m very, very excited. I’m getting great film and great performances, and that’s what it’s about.”

According to Manners, guest star Chad E. Donella, who portrays peculiar anti-hero Rob Roberts, is responsible for one of those “great performances.” The actor, whose previous television appearances include stints on such impressive series as ER and the Practice, recently completed work on Flight 180, the feature debut of X-Files vets Glen Morgan and James Wong, perhaps accounting for his ability to key into the show’s dark spirit. “Chad is an outstanding actor.” Manners raves. “He’s really carrying this episode, [Because] the episode is from Rob Roberts’ point of view, the ball is really in Chad’s court. He’s doing tremendous job.”

Of course, man cannot become monster alone. To truly assume the aspect of an otherworldly creature, one needs special effects – and lots of ’em. Supervising Donella’s transformation from mild-mannered fast-food employee to intimidating and ravenous fiend are FX make-up artist Greg Funk and visual effects maven Bill Millar. Prosthetically, the monster is comprised of three separate pieces-a forehead appliance, a bald cap and a nose piece. To completely transform the actor into his hideous alter-ego took nearly three hours, Funk says, adding that the metamorphosis was complicated because certain scenes required Donella to remove portions of the make-up himself.

“He has a disguise on and he takes all the pieces off,” Funk explains. “It can’t just be a make-up job-boom, he’s the monster. We’ve got to make it so a human disguise comes off revealing this monster, almost kind of Mission Impossible-like without pulling a whole mask right off. He pulls off little ears, takes [his] wig off. Kim was very specific. He said, ‘It’s gotta be good.'”

One of the creature’s most distinguishing attributes is its rows of deadly teeth, which it uses to extract sustenance from its victims. The lethal incisors had to be fashioned digitally by Millar. “The monster has shark-like teeth, several rows of them, which are seen to slide in and out of his jaw as he opens his mouth,” he says. “He covers that with an artificial set of dentures which makes it look as though he had normal teeth. He removes those teeth and we see nothing but gums and then these razor-sharp rows of teeth slide out of the gums. To build that prosthetically would have been difficult and also would have extended the gum to the end of the actor’s [real] teeth, which would have looked somewhat strange. We’re doing all that digitally and enhancing the mouth and shortening the practical teeth digitally and then introducing the shark teeth. They’ll be a digital composite generated with CGI teeth and tracked into the mouth.”

Finding a place for all this monster business to occur fell to locations manager Ilt Jones. After scouring Southern California for a restaurant that would employ a brain-eating monstrosity, he stumbled onto a Mom and Pop-owned hamburger stand named Lucky Boy in a working class Los Angeles neighborhood called Southgate.

“There’s a Greek family who owned it for 38 years,” Jones says. “It’s actually one of the first burger joints in L.A. It was right around the time of the first McDonald’s, 1948, [that] they built it. It’s actually something of a landmark in the neighborhood. It’s much nicer than your average generic Burger King or something like that. It’s got a huge neon sign, lots of fun lights. It’s got a great look. I’m happy to have found that. I combed L.A. looking for burger joints because none of the big boys wanted to touch us. Curiously enough, McDonald’s didn’t want to be associated with somebody who ate brains.”

After Jones discovered the kitschy locale, the rustic restaurant was given a slight overhaul by construction coordinator Duke Tomasick and his crew. “We had a lot of work to do at the restaurant,” Tomasick says. “We had to make it what it needed [to be] for the script. We were down there for five working days. We took an average-looking restaurant, and we made it nice. We repainted everything, brought in a lot of greens, made some new signs. The owner of the place is probably happy.”

Except for the fact that there was a monster working behind the grill luring unsuspecting customers to their deaths, the owners were undoubtedly pleased. (At least the monster was kind enough to vacate the premises when filming wrapped.) For the scene in which the creature claims its first victim, the restaurant’s drive-thru was used as a clever snare for an unsuspecting unnamed “Hungry Guy.” As the man drives to the open take-out window, the equally hungry monster snatches him from his car for a quick bite.

The sequence, which serves as the episode’s teaser, was shot in the wee hours of a mid-August Saturday morning, explains stunt coordinator Danny Weselis. For the scene, Weselis used a double in the place of the actor cast as Hungry Guy, the stuntman wore a vest-like harness that was rigged with a cable underneath the costume. “From the camera you couldn’t see the cable,” Weselis says. “You see his whole body leaning out of the car. We had three effects men on the other end. We had fall pads inside [the restaurant] so when he got pulled through the window, he actually slid across the countertop and landed on the top of the fall pads. On the count of three, they pulled, he was out of the car, through the window.”

At that point, the script called for the drivers car to creep forward. Obviously, a real runaway car is far too much of a danger on a television set, so Weselis climbed on the floor and took control of the wheel. The only catch was he couldn’t see where he was going. Fortunately, the stunt went off without a hitch.

“As he goes through the window I was lying in the car blind-driving it,” he explains. “I took the driver’s seat out of the car, lay on the floor, covered myself in black so you couldn’t see me. I could just barely look out of the top of the windshield. When [my stuntman] got yanked out of the car, I just sort of crept forward, went out the driveway and made a slight left turn and he headed across the street. Traffic was blocked, obviously. I just ran into the curb.”

In addition to driving an out-of-control vehicle, “Hungry” required the enterprising Weselis to dispose of a corpse-in broad daylight with witnesses, no less. As he devises a way to tackle this latest obstacle, a group of onlookers gathers across the street from the apartment building in the trendy L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz where the production has moved for the day.

Watching from beneath a black tarp, Manners, sporting a white X-Files T-shirt and his new short haircut, sits surrounded by a barrage of camera equipment, artificial tree limbs and an assortment of black and white trash bags stuffed with paper. Soon, he and the stunt coordinator discuss Weselis ‘ carefully choreographed designs for tossing the body of stuntwoman Annie Ellis out with the garbage. Unrecognized beneath the remarkable work of Emmy-award winning make-up team Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf and Kevin Westmore, the normally sun-tanned and svelte Ellis has assumed the identity of the unfortunate Sylvia Jassy, a nosy neighbor who falls prey to the monster’s malignant hunger. Dressed in a flowered house dress and covered with layers of padding, Ellis undergoes final touch-ups, which include being doused in even more fake blood, before climbing into a trashcan.

“We put her inside one of those big trashcans, like the ones outside residential areas, and the trash truck’s going to pick her up,” Weselis says. “Inside the trash truck, we’ve got fall pads and boxes with padding in there. We’re going to slowly dump her in. She’s got a big, nice area to fall into. It’s a brand new truck, actually. It’s not one of those old ones. I already tested it out myself a couple of weeks ago, got the arc of the trashcan and put a pad in there. It’s over pretty quick, and you’ve got a big landing area. There’s no problem with that.”

He’s right. Despite having to repeat the action four times, Ellis escapes unharmed and manages to stage her landing perfectly for the camera. Manners repeatedly praises her, and pleased, the crew breaks for an early lunch – promptly at 3:30 p.m. Over his meal, Manners discusses the myriad components that comprise his first Season Seven outing, the out-and-out horror, the black humor, the poignant tragedy of Rob Roberts’ dual nature. It’s a potent mix and one that the director seems quite confident will find a place in the hearts of X-Philes.

“I think the fans are going to love the show because it’s scary,” he states. “We’re having a chance to shoot scary, [with] tight eyes, a guy waiting, points of view, a lot of tension. I think that’s what the fans like. I know it’s what I like as an audience member. I want to do more shows like ‘Home’-shows that when the audience turns them off they go, ‘Wow,'” Manners says, adding, “I think that’s what I’m going to try to do this year.”

The X-Files Magazine: The Next Files

The X-Files Magazine [US, #11, Fall 1999]
The Next Files

X-Files Magazine: How does it feel to begin work on the much rumored final season?

Spotnitz: Every story feels like it’s got a lot of weight attached to it because they may be the last 22. We’re being careful about what stories we choose to tell. One of the very first things we did was sit down and talk about all of our major characters and where they’re going to go and how they’re going to end. Where’s Skinner going to end up? Where’s Krycek going to end up? What’s the last image you’ll see of CSM? It’s a little sad actually to be thinking about those things, but it’s kind of exciting too.

X-Files Magazine: What can you reveal about the initial episodes?

Spotnitz: We’re going to begin with kind of a two-parter. The season finale from last year will not be resolved right away. There’ll be two episodes. There’ll be a major new character introduced there. We’re going to do some storylines that David Duchovny actually suggested in those first two. Then we go in to stand-alones. Vince Gilligan’s working on a story that’s told from the point of view of the monster, which is going to be a lot of fun. Jeff Bell has a story about luck and what it means to have good luck or bad luck. David Amann is doing a story about troubled teenagers and a secret they all share in this one town. That’s our starting line-up.

X-Files Magazine: Will the upcoming season include as much comedy as we saw in Season Six?

Spotnitz: It’s kind of odd because you don’t really know if you’re going to go into a run of comedic episodes or not until you do it. It wasn’t that premeditated. Last year, we just felt like it because we’d done the movie and it was a relief to all of us to have more junny ones. I don’t expect there’ll be as many comedic ones this year.

X-Files Magazine: Is Chris Carter planning another blockbuster episode along the lines of “Triangle” or “Post-Modern Prometheus”?

Spotnitz: I would be amazed if he has the time to direct anything this year. I think we will try to make as many of these episodes as we can this year spectacular and precedent-breaking, but between “Harsh Realm” and “The X-Files” I expect we’ll be too busy writing to have him get behind the camera.

X-Files Magazine: You mentioned last year that Mulder and Scully are moving toward a new plateau in their relationship. What changes are in store this year?

Spotnitz: Big changes! In the movie, they didn’t kiss but clearly the desire was there. Then we really, I thought, teased the audience in episodes like “Triangle” and “The Rain King.” I think you will see that attraction addressed again more squarely at some point during the yearnd then certainly in the finale I would expect a direct conclusion to seven years of unrequited sexual tension.

Fate Magazine: Chris Carter speaks in a virtual tongue

Fate Magazine
Chris Carter speaks in a virtual tongue
Rex Sorgatz

Chris Carter speaks in a virtual tongue. His language is an amalgam of almosts and maybes, what ifs and if…thens. His freshest foray into the televisionary, Harsh Realm, (premiering October 8 on FOX), is his most explicitly virtual creation — a world of games, thought experiments, and hypotheticals.

“Harsh Realm suggests a possible future scenario, but it is the worst-case scenario,” Carter explains from Los Angeles before leaving for Vancouver, British Columbia, to begin production on the new series. “It is about a man realizing that the world we live in can’t be made safe anymore.”

Adapted from James D. Hudnall’s six-issue 1991 comic book series, Harsh Realm opens with war hero Lt. Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) returning from Sarajevo. Just as he becomes reacquainted with his idyllic suburban home — resplendent with glimmering Chevy truck and comely fiancee — the military requests one final mission of him. A top secret virtual program, “Harsh Realm,” which was used to simulate various training scenarios, has been hijacked by the ominous Omar Santiago (Terry O’Quinn). Hobbes’ mission is to enter the dystopian program — a simulated pixel-world exactly like our own, yet not — and kill Santiago. “It’s just a game,” says a familiar disembodied voice (Gillian Anderson) as he enters the program.

Just a Game

Among the epithets that often aggregate around Chris Carter — producer, director, author, conspiracist, philosopher — one frequently gets overlooked: journalist. From 1979 to 1982, Carter was an editor at Surfing magazine. In addition to helping cultivate an appreciation of fringe culture, this position nurtured his trademark reading of media events. After six seasons of The X-Files and three of Millennium, Carter, who once called Watergate “the Big Bang of my moral universe,” has perfected his eye for capturing our national tragedies (in The X-Files, events like the Oklahoma City bombing and the Waco stand-off; in Harsh Realm, televised war). In lesser hands this could end up tabloidish and exploitative, but Carter grapples with the subject like a scientist fascinated in his area of study.

“Using a current event has sharp power because I think we have less faith in our media outlets to give us the real story,” he says in an elongated and calculated SoCal drawl. “It gives writers of fiction a greater opportunity to play with possible realities.”

Although he tends to eschew the title of “philosopher,” probably because it sounds too didactic, Carter obviously has one foot in the philosopher’s grave: the hero of Harsh Realm does, after all, bear the name of the great seventeenth-century master of the reality complex.

In an essay on Carter, William Gibson once wrote, “This is the Age of Deregulation, and in The X-Files, as in our daily lives, the very nature of reality is deregulated.” Reality-fixated Hobbes — a Spielbergian good ol’ boy trapped in a game — is the next step in deregulation. Whereas “The truth is out there” was the motto of The X-Files, “It’s just a game” becomes the mantra of Harsh Realm — “an ironic mantra, of course,” Carter is quick to add, “just as ‘The truth is out there’ is ironic.”

With the success of films like The Matrix and eXistenZ, virtual reality is currently a vogue device. Carter admits the comparisons make him squeamish, but says he didn’t see The Matrix until Harsh Realm was done. “I thought, ‘Wow, I hope people don’t compare our couple-million-dollar pilot to that $75 million movie.’ The virtual reality ideas command both, and I was a little worried about people making comparisons. But they certainly didn’t invent the messiah figure that is an element of so many stories.” In Harsh Realm, Hobbes becomes the potential savior for the people trapped in the virtual world. “The messiah embodies our hope for salvation,” suggests Carter. “It’s an archetypal story that works well in a virtual world because it has its own philosophy, or lack thereof. Harsh Realm is a godless world with no morality, codes, or standards. As humans, we have a need to hold onto something, and that’s what the character of the savior does for us.”

Heart of Darkness

Game is war is life is television — that’s the vigilante world of Harsh Realm. Although it is a virtual world, it is also quite “real”: an imposed pseudo-utopia with militarized gated communities and characters who rotely walk through life playing their parts. In Carter’s hands, virtual reality becomes a versatile tool that, depending on the context, is used to invoke various concepts: war, television, Hollywood, video games, film, art, life, or Canada.

Canada? “I feel a strong affinity to Canada because it feels like the world I grew up in,” he says, explaining his penchant for filming in Vancouver. “There’s a civility, a sensibility, and an interpersonal respect that I see missing in my world. Canada harkens back to another time. Canada is virtual in a sense, but in the best sense.”

As December 31, 1999, closes in, many people will be retreating to non-harsh realms. Where will the creator of Millennium be at the turning of the millennium?

“It is my wedding anniversary, so I know to some extent what I’ll be doing: I’ll be with my wife, probably in the safety of our own home. We won’t be in the air, and we won’t be in an urban area, so I feel safe and satisfied that we are not going to succumb or fall victim to what I know is going to be a completely unexpected January 1.”

With Chris Carter guiding us there, the millennium arrives a little easier.

New York Times: TV Notes

New York Times
TV Notes
Bill Carter

Stranger Than…

Chris Carter, the creator of “The X-Files” is used to dealing in strange realities; this season he has created another in the new series “Harsh Realm,” which has its premiere this Friday night at 9.

So if any producer could deal with the strangeness of working on a show with a star, David Duchovny, who is suing his network, and who, in his suit, accused Mr. Carter of accepting “hush money,” it is probably the man who made millions of viewers try to figure out the “mythology” of “The X-Files.”

In a telephone news conference yesterday to publicize the new series, Mr. Carter said that far from having any difficulty working with Mr. Duchovny, he had actually written a script with him this year.

“We’re doing great work on the initial episode,” Mr. Carter said. “The only issues are about the quality of the work.”

Mr. Duchovny sued Fox over its decision to sell reruns of “The X-Files” to its own cable network FX rather than put them up for sale to the highest bidder. Mr. Duchovny charged that this deprived him of millions of dollars he would have been entitled to. In the suit, Mr. Duchovny accused Mr. Carter (though he was not included as a defendant) of conspiring with Fox and taking millions for himself for not complaining about the insider deal Fox made for the repeats.

If any of this concerned Mr. Carter, he made no indication of it yesterday. He said the big issue concerning “The X-Files,” which is in its seventh season, was whether the show would end its run this season. Amid rumors that the stars will not return, Mr. Carter said nothing was final.

But he said the decision would have to come by December to allow time to prepare episodes to wrap up the series and set up what he called a series of “X-Files” movies that he still plans to make with the show’s current stars, Mr. Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

“The X-Files” doesn’t begin its new season until Nov. 7. But if the show does exit in May, Mr. Carter may try to lay claim to its 9 P.M. Sunday time period for his new series, “Harsh Realm.”

He and Frank Spotnitz, his closest producing and writing partner, provided an elaborate explanation of the show yesterday, which involves a duplicate world in the form of a digital war game. As Mr. Carter explained it, there are characters who parallel people in the real world, portals to the real world with the digital version. And yes, it will have its own mythology.

The show is occupying the same time period where “The X-Files” began and where it first built a cult following. Mr. Carter always liked the show’s being broadcast on Fridays, where, he said, “You have to build an audience, you can’t steal one.”

In fact, he said, he had opposed Fox’s decision to move “The X-Files” to Sunday night. Now he said he realizes, “The show would never have been as popular without that move.”

So, if it shows life on Fridays, could “Harsh Realm” slide comfortably into the old “X-Files” slot on Sundays? It’s certainly a thought, Mr. Carter said, though he added, “I know Fox is still trying to find a way to keep ‘The X-Files’ on for another year.”