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Venice: Storyteller Chris Carter launches "The Lone Gunmen"

Storyteller Chris Carter launches “The Lone Gunmen”
Jose Martinez

Eight years ago, or seasons if you’re speaking television, Chris Carter created the little show that could. And what it did was scare and fascinate millions of TV viewers every single week. That show, of course, was “The X-Files,” and since then Carter, who gave life to conspiracy buffs or X-philes if you will, has helmed his first big screen film, based on his popular show, produced two other series, and now has yet another show on the air.

This time it’s “The Lone Gunmen,” and, yes, those quirky, lovable goofs from “The X-Files” now have their own show. Well known to “X-Files” fans, the lone gunmen in question are Byers (played by Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Langly (Dean Haglund). These three, who publish The Lone Gunmen newspaper, see it as their duty to uncover corporate and government wrongdoings. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

Speaking with a deep, distinctive voice, Carter, born and raised in Bellflower, California, admits that “the schedule of a television producer is kinda nutty.” A former journalist who wrote for Surfing magazine, Carter doesn’t ride as many waves as he’d like. Plotting out new twists and turns for “The X-Files” and producing “The Long Gunmen” is very demanding, time-consuming work.

Venice: How much pressure was there creating “The Lone Gunmen?”

Chris Carter: There was no pressure. We actually wanted to get it going and informed Fox and they said, “Go with God.”

Were those their exact words?

No. (laughs)

Was it tough to make “The Lone Gunmen” characters work outside of “The X-Files?”

No. We had an opportunity through two episodes of “The X-Files,” which became trial runs, dedicated to them. In those episodes the characters developed their relationship away from Mulder and Scully, and we saw that they were interesting on their own, and that they had an interesting life of their own. And whatever they did with this publication called The Lone Gunmen was interesting in itself. It owes so much to “The X-Files” but it is a completely different show.

What was the initial idea of having these characters on “The X-Files?”

I think it was never anticipated that it would actually turn into something. We thought it was just a day-player part and then all of a sudden it turned into a second episode in the second season and then all of a sudden we were asking for not one or two of them, we were asking for all three of them every time. I remember Dean Haglund said he had something else to do and he couldn’t actually make one of those gigs, so there was an episode where the characters of Frohike and Byers appear alone because Dean Haglund didn’t see it as a recurring job.

I’m sure “X-Files'” fans are very vocal with their opinions.

They’re very opinionated.

Did you get feedback from the beginning how much they liked these characters?

Nobody has a negative reaction to them because they’re very likable, quirky, and funny. They’re always the nice comic relief, which is what the show really needed. We know that they’re a beloved part of “The X-Files.” And I think the test will be on Sunday, March 4 how beloved they are to see if all of the people who tune into “The X-Files” each week- which is a lot of people, knock wood-come over to watch three characters who are not the center of “The X-Files” but part of it.

What do you like best about them?

What I like best about them is that they’re lovable geeks. I think we’re all, whether we pretend to be or not, lovable geeks. I think we see a lot of ourselves in them. What I like, also, is that these are three guys that obviously need each other because they live together, work together, and, in a weird way, are their own dysfunctional family.

Will they be doing double duty working on “The X-Files?”

Yes, we put them on “The X-Files” as much as possible this year. And that’s two-fold because, one, we like them and now we understand them better, and two, the more we can put them in the minds and hearts of “X-Files” fans the more we might get them to come over and watch these guys.

Will there be crossover onto “The Lone Gunmen?”

Yes, there will be at least two crossovers.

After “Millennium” and “Harsh Realms,” were you raring to start another show?

It’s the business that I’m in. Doing one TV show is actually enough, but for some reason we’ve been doing two TV shows for the last four years and it just seems like the natural state of things. It’s expected of you as part of your contract with the company and, the truth is, when you’re doing something long enough, you have other good ideas that you want to play out, and that’s what this is.

How have you changed as a writer-producer from the first season of “The X-Files?”

I’ve learned a lot about the rhythms and work necessary to really get the job done. That means I’ve learned a lot about conservation of energy. But I can tell you that the job has only gotten harder; it hasn’t gotten easier. And that is because when you’re able to delegate work to other people, which I’m lucky to have the ability to do, it puts you into a position to focus on the thing that’s most important to the show, which is, ultimately, the writing.

When you were working on “Millennium,” what did you learn about producing two shows at the same time?

You learn that you’re only going to be as successful as the personnel you have to help you move forward. As good as the scripts must be, they also must come out on a weekly basis, and they must be part of a whole vision.

What can we expect every week on “The Lone Gunmen?”

Well, I hope it satisfies people on a number of levels, and not just on “The X-Files” level. I think it will satisfy people because it has good, tight plots; mysteries; it’s funny; it can be scary; it’s outrageous. It’s a kind of comedic version of “The X-Files” with a little less science fiction.

Are you finding that it’s difficult to write comedy?

It’s a one-hour comedy, which is the toughest thing to do on television. And what’s funny is so subjective and what’s scary is, as well, but less so sometimes. We’re all afraid of basically the same things, which is why “The X-Files” has become an international hit too. Scare travels well, but comedy is very much cultural and subjective and requires context.

How much of what we’re seeing now on “The X-Files” did you already have in mind from the very beginning?

You know where you want to go basically, but if you plot your way too carefully I think you miss some of the interesting side roads along the way. So you have a rough idea in the direction you’re heading and a rough idea of what you don’t want to do. Then you try to bring in the elements that are interesting to you and you make them work. And the funny thing is, as I’m writing episodes 180 and 181 (of “The X-Files”) as we speak, you start to see all the good things that have come from your choices, how they actually create a logic. There’s a certain harmony and what happens is that sometimes the stories start to tell themselves. They don’t write themselves, they tell themselves. (laughs)

You were a former journalist. What was your best assignment?

My best assignment would have to be the seven winters in a row that I got to spend time on the North Shore of Oahu and see all the best surfers in the world surf all the best waves in the world.

With two shows on the air, do you still have time to surf?

I do, but right now the surf is real good and I’m sitting at my desk. TV schedule is demanding and you have to be irresponsible as a surfer. So, I’m oftentimes a weekend surfer unless I can sneak away early in the morning.

What’s next for you? What do you want to do, and what’s actually planned?

I think that movies are in the future, but that’s a whole other business and it has its own rhythms and paces. I’m used to a TV whirlwind pace and that will be a different approach I’m sure. The expectations are different. Continuing to tell good stories is basically the business I’m in.

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