The Vicki Gabereau Show
Interview with Chris Carter
[Transcribed by gde1013]
VG: Chris Carter is with me as The X-Files launches its 7th season, November the 7th – that’s a bit late if you ask me. But, unfortunately the new series “Harsh Realm,” just got whacked after three episodes, and we can’t figure out just why that is – but I will say, Mr. Carter, sir, that you’re as big a star as the people that are on your show. Isn’t it weird how that happens?
CC: Ha – [laughs] hardly. Not today, at least.
VG: What happened, with Harsh Realm?
CC: It just didn’t get the ratings they had hoped, it didn’t get much of a launch to be honest — it premiered against baseball, which is always a tough competition, and they didn’t do a whole lot of promotion for it. I think they had some statistics and forecasts, and they thought it was going to get bigger ratings then it did, going in, and they thought they didn’t have to spend the money to get people to come see it, and to be aware of it. So, I think it suffered from a couple different things.
VG: Yeah, well how — hmm, I can’t think of another expression — pissed off are you?
CC: [laughing] You know, it came as a big shock, because I think we were doing good work, and the ratings tell the story I think, but you also have to give a show a chance to really sort of find its feet, and I think that didn’t happen. There are bigger troubles at FOX and, we were sort of part of that.
VG: When you say the ratings weren’t good – I mean, if you get 7 people in Canada it’s good – but we’re talking about the great thing down south, but I mean what do they need to carry on? What is required?
CC: They just need, well, you need to be winning your time slot.
VG: So you have to have a share, a big share.
CC: Right, right.
VG: And who wasn’t watching, do you think?
CC: Everyone [everybody laughing]. You know, we had hoped the X-Files audience would come, but they premiered it before The X-Files so it really didn’t use The X-Files as a launching pad. I think that’s pretty much the story, that it really got lost in the, sort of, all the things there are to watch on television these days, and no one really knew it was on.
VG: Yeah – Well, I would think that if the guys were watching baseball, the women might not have been watching. I’ve seen one episode, and one episode only, and of course the production values are first rate, and the writing was very good and everything, but, you know, I just didn’t want to see more guys in fatigues. I think it might have scared women away.
CC: You may be right, but if you stuck with it, you would see that it actually had a lot for everyone. Once you got past those guys in fatigues, there were good stories being told.
VG: Are you severely disappointed, or do you think it will live again?
CC: Harsh Realm?
CC: I think we’re probably moving past Harsh Realm, we’re done with Harsh Realm — out of Harsh Realm, as it were. But, I think there are lessons learned, and we’ll move on. We have other good stories to tell.
VG: Now, why couldn’t you take it to another network?
CC: You probably could, it’s an expensive show to do — all my shows have been expensive to produce because I demand quality. So, it’s not something that someone wants to just pick up, with the low ratings. Because I think there are costs associated that would —
VG: Make somebody panic, and back up.
CC: I think so.
VG: Did you tell the crew, the cast?
CC: Yes, I told the cast and crew, and I’m up here now in Vancouver to say thank you to everyone, because there was a lot of really good work done by a lot of good people. I hope to come back to Vancouver.
VG: Because Millennium’s gone, too. You’ve got to bring those X-Files back here! It ain’t the same. Canadians, are we the only people who tell you that?
CC: No, I mean, it’s the same good show, it just lacks the atmosphere that Vancouver gave.
VG: Fog, rain, muck.
CC: It doesn’t rain in Vancouver, let me just get that straight. [laughs]
VG: You know, it hasn’t been raining, until yesterday. It’s been exquisite, clear, sunny — you haven’t been here.
CC: No, I haven’t. September was an amazing month, you know, Vancouver at its best. Every day you would relish it because it just might go away.
VG: Do you think we’re sick in the head – that we only talk about weather?
CC: No, I mean weather is a big part about living up here, but I love it. I own a place up here now, and I’ll come back even when I’m not working.
VG: Did you buy a place in town, or out in the sticks somewhere?
CC: No, in town.
VG: So, how often will you come back? What are you going to do now, do you have anything to do, do you have a job? [everyone laughing]
CC: Umm… Yeah, I’ve got this other show called The X-Files.
VG: But isn’t it like a train on the tracks, it just goes now.
CC: Hardly at all. It is such hard work, and double duty on both shows — it was probably too much work with the quality we tried to keep up. So, I’m looking forward to now focusing on The X-Files specifically.
VG: Hard to find writers?
CC: Very hard — it’s a Harsh Realm.
VG: [laughs] Quit that. But, your country has millions and millions of people. I can see how it might be hard to find maybe a dozen writers specifically here, but there? They must be hanging from the trees.
CC: If they are, I’ve been picking from the wrong trees. It’s very difficult to write the show. We’re always looking for talents, always looking for people who can execute good stories — and you know, screenwriting is hard. Everyone thinks they can do it because the format is so readily available and understandable.
VG: Because we’ve all seen a million movies.
CC: Yes, everyone’s writing a screen play, but to write well in the screen play format is very, very difficult.
VG: Well one of the things – I don’t know how many people have read screen plays, but you can read a screen play and you cannot know that it’s any good. So, how do you know if it’s any good?
CC: Obviously a lot of people don’t know that it’s no good, and bad things get made [everyone laughing]. But, I think when you read something that is very good, and if you sort of develop your tastes, you can start to know the difference.
VG: Right, but don’t you remember a few years ago when they submitted ‘Casablanca’ to a bunch of hot shots and they all said, “this stinks, put it away.” I mean, so there you are – you gotta lose some. So, will you stick around now for a minute? We’ve got to take a break.
CC: Oh, yeah.
VG: We’ll be right back with Chris Carter.
clip from “The Sixth Extinction”
Scully is sitting beside Mulder’s hospital bed. He is still in a coma, not responding, but she is leaning over, talking to him, and crying.
SCULLY: “If you can hear me, just give me some sign — I want you know where I’ve been, and what I’ve found. I think that if you know, that you could find a way to hold on —- I need you to hold on.”
VG: Oh dear – a scene from The X-Files’ new season. I’m talking with its creator and writer, often, Chris Carter. So that was melodramatic. He spends a lot… one or the other of them spends quite a bit of time in comas. [laughs]
CC: [laughing] Well, that’s not exactly true. But, it’s true at the end of last season, which was the sixth season. Seventh season, if I can plug, starts November the 7th…
VG: I think I said that – I did say that..
CC: and that’s the, pilot – or, not the pilot – I mean the premiere episode of the seventh season.
VG: What happens?
CC: Obviously nothing — Mulder doesn’t have to act because he’s in a coma. [everyone laughing]
VG: One time… That’s the kind of part I want. Just lie there – or knit, that I think would be good. One time a couple of – I don’t know – about a year ago, I saw you in a restaurant. We waved at each other, and you were with a person – and you said you’d like to introduce me – your niece. Then she said her name. Her first name I’ve forgotten.. Just tell me her first name.
VG: Tracy – and what’s her last name?
CC: [laughing] Mulder.
VG: How could you do that? I looked right at this kid – how old is she – 18, 20?
CC: Older than that – twenties.
VG: She looks young. So I said, “how many..” – of course she knew exactly what I was going to say, which was “how many times today?” And she said “Dozens..” Now why would you.. who.. or is that..
CC: That’s my mother’s maiden name.
VG: Ah ha.. So you’ve really, really done it to her, and that happens all the time.
CC: I have a lot of relatives that were very flattered in the beginning, who are now very annoyed. [laughing]
VG: But naming characters is a big deal.
CC: Yeah, it is. Name’s your destiny – particularly on television.
VG: So do you go through.. I mean – I’m not familiar with the Harsh Realm names, but even Millennium, do you go through great lists of names to see how they match? Let’s say Lance’s character.
CC: Well, Frank Black was the name of the lead singer of The Pixies, which I was a big fan of.
VG: That’s deep. [laughs]
CC: The truth is that my name should have been Black. There was some sort of family history that’s been buried deep, or swept under the carpet, and my name wouldn’t have been Carter, it would have been Black. So that’s why…
VG: Well, what is the history that’s been swept under the carpet? Do you know?
CC: I don’t know. I’m actually having my genealogy read right now.
VG: Is your father your father?
CC: Yes, I think. [laughs]
VG: Well, I guess the truth is in the files somewhere. Are you doing that through the Mormons, or how are you doing that?
CC: No, there’s actually many professional genealogists out there now, and you can sort of pick and choose people who have specific skills.
VG: Right, we’re obsessed with this – our generation. You know that – knowing who we are.
CC: We have a lot of money and now we want to know who we are. How we got it.
VG: Who do you think you are? [jokingly] Just who do you think you are!
CC: Who do I think I am? I don’t know – I think that there are rascals and criminals on my father’s side that were never spoken about, so I’m very curious to see from which I came.
VG: Yes, and from what country you came.
CC: Well, my mother’s side.. I’m half Dutch, my mother was all Dutch. My father was a quarter Italian and the rest, I’m sure is some sort of Mongrel – Heinz 57.
VG: They were the ones who were all in jail. What possessed you to try and find this out? I mean, how did you find out your name would have been Black?
CC: There’s is no clear family history on my father’s side. He never knew his father, I never knew my grandfather – my real grandfather. So, I’m just kind of curious what is was that was kept a big secret.
VG: Well, it will be interesting. It might be quite tame. Something that might have been deep and dark then.
CC: My grandmother always referred to herself as widowed, until I realized sometime in my teens that she was actually divorced. Which no one wanted to be known as then in that generation. It’s going to be curious to find out.
VG: Are you writing a book??
VG: What is it?
CC: You know, it’s a book.. a character I created, probably about 12 years ago, and it’s just been something that’s been sitting around. I always knew I wanted to do something with it. I thought, you know, why not do a TV Series or movie, but then I thought, it’s the perfect character for a series of books. So I’m currently at work on that.
VG: Is it a… What kind of a character is it? Not a cop or a detective?
CC: Nope. He’s kind of a rapscallion himself. He’s a guy who sits around..
VG: You’re doing your research, that’s why you’re doing your genealogy. [laughs]
CC: Yes, exactly. There are two characters – there’s a… Two characters who work together and it’s set post-World War II, and.. which is really fun to write in that era. It has kind of detective qualities, but it owes something to The X-Files, too.
VG: It must be hard to separate those stories. So, you have a story that you’re working on for the book — and, you might want to cheat and put it in The X-Files.
CC: Well, everybody asks, “how do you keep things straight?” Ultimately you do — you don’t write into the wrong characters, or wrong scripts.
VG: How much are you writing now?
[sirens blaring in the background]
CC: Vancouver is supposed to be such a safe city, and all I hear are sirens. [laughs]
VG: No, you see that’s an ambulance, those aren’t cops, honey. It’s coming to take some poor soul who’s tripped and hurt their ankle. [laughing] And we’re Johnny on the Spot, see, coming to fix them up — what was the question?
CC: [laughs] I don’t remember.
VG: Oh yeah – are you writing a lot of episodes?
CC: Yes, I write — I probably write more episodes than anyone, and we write more episodes than anyone, and I have since the beginning of the show. It’s just been the way it is.
VG: Right, but sometimes you don’t re-write them. They have to be perfect…
CC: No, there are some times.. There are some scripts that I don’t re-write and won’t re-write. But, I’d say about 2/3 of them have some of my involvement as far as going through my typewriter.
VG: Is that… Typewriter??
CC: [quickly] computer.
VG: Just checking. Just want to know if you’re a Luddite or not.
CC: Ha – no Luddite here.
VG: But when you re-write, is it because you just have to change it. Are you a control freak, sort of?
CC: No, I mean I wish every script came in perfect and I had to do nothing — it would make my life a lot easier. But there are some things — I have the voices in my head, and I have a sense of how the story should be told. And it’s… You know is has been difficult sometimes — some people get a little irritated when you mess with their work. But, you know we’re in our seventh year, so you know we’re doing something right.
VG: Do you ever take a Holiday?
CC: I’ve had one Christmas off in the last seven years, where I haven’t been writing or rewriting. So, it’s really about two weeks a year. But, I get to come to Vancouver now and again, so…
VG: Yeah, but you’re working when you’re here, and that’s kind of a heartbreaking one.
So, stay with me and I’ll talk to you a bit more. Chris Carter.
VG: I’m back with the writer, producer, surfer – Chris Carter. You still doing that?
CC: Yes, as much as possible. Yeah, not in Vancouver, of course.
VG: No, but if you ever go to Halifax — you ever been there?
CC: No, I haven’t.
VG: It’s a great place, and has great settings for your weirdo stories. [laughs] But you know, I have a friend there who’s a publisher, his name is Leslie Choice, and he surfs there, in of course, a wet suit. But he surfs all the time up there, on those big North Atlantic waves. Yipes.
CC: Cold, cold water.
VG: I know, but if you’ve got the wet suit on. You went all around the world, surfing.
CC: I used to work for Surfing magazine when I graduated from college, and I didn’t want to join the adult world. I took a job at surfing magazine and had an amazing time.
VG: Have you joined the adult world now, do you think?
CC: I still.. I’m not sure.
VG: Yeah, but when you’re involved, let’s say, in this particular situation — everything that’s gone on with the cancellation of this show, the one before, I mean, all of a sudden you’ve got the lawyers, you’ve got the lawsuits, you’ve got people freaking out over here. You have to be an adult, and your stomach must hurt all the time.
CC: You know, business is tough, and entertainment is a particularly tough business, and you become very high-profile as I have, kind of inadvertently, and you become somewhat of a target, and you have to be prepared in business to deal with these kinds of things.
VG: When Gene Roddenbury was still alive, did people stop him in the street? Were there 20 people waiting for him when he got off the plane to sign autographs?
CC: You know, I doubt it. It’s a different time, there’s more media, there’s more attention to these kinds of things. I think that people know who producers are nowadays unlike they ever did, for some reason. David E. Kelley is a very… perfect example of that. He’s a big popular guy. So, who knows why that is. But I think a show like The X-Files develops a kind of fan and fan base that tend to be a little obsessive about the show, thank God. Let me knock on wood here.
VG: There’s plywood under there somewhere. One of things among many, that you’ve done that I think is so impressive, when you shot 3 series up here, is that you use a lot of Canadian actors. And you didn’t put them in the background, you put them in the foreground. You used them the way any actor should be used.
CC: Well, I love coming up here because I think the quality of talent, of every technical acting pool, is tops, and I was determined to use the Canadian actors who I knew were very good, in the series, which is another reason I’m kind of sad to say good-bye.
VG: Well, you’ll come up with something else.
VG: But, did you know that they were good, until they read for you?
CC: Well, I know almost all of the Canadian actors.
VG: I’ll bet you do.
CC: There are some that I don’t know still, and I’m still learning faces and names, but I know a lot of them. So, I was able to go back to some people I’ve used before successfully and then to some new people I’ve never used before. Rachel Hayward, would be one.
VG: Right.. What do you read, when you’re not writing?
CC: Not Science Fiction, believe it or not. It’s funny because when you’re working as hard as I am, as hard as we do, you scavenge. You pick up things, you pick up magazines in airports, you read bits of books… You’re always just reading parts of things. What you’re doing all the time is you’re trying to come up with material. Everything’s a resource.
VG: Which is kind of irritating, in a way because.. I mean, books that I read for this show – I mean, I’m practically reading a book a day – and you don’t read it the same way as when you’re sitting around at the old cabin, leisurely reading. You’re reading for – “there’s a thing I can ask..” Or there’s a thing you could develop, I guess. When do you figure, was the last time you read a book just because you were… What, 12 years old?
CC: I read a Graham Green novel last May, which I enjoyed the hell out of, so I have the chance to read every now and again. Something that I’ve either read before, or want to read new.
VG: I’ve saved a book for you. It’s called “Baltimore’s Mansion” by a guy named Wayne Johnson, from New Foundland. Then you can send me a note and tell me what you thought of it. Or now, send it to him. But that’s only if you thought it was good. [laughs] Chris Carter, thanks very much and good luck on the seventh season.
CC: Thank You.