VICKI GABEREAU: Don't you love it? The X-Files. It's shot in Vancouver, and watched by a fanatically devoted audience. Chris Carter invented it, and he is the executive producer, he writes it, he edits it, and he often directs it, the list goes on. Your life must have changed dramatically since this show went ballistic...
CHRIS CARTER: Personally or professionally?
VG They answer your phone calls all day?
CC: More readily. It's hard to say how it's changed, I've become so focused on what I do that my life has only become more narrow as a result of this success. I do the same thing every day, I eat lunch at my desk every day, I have not succumbed to the perceived glamours of Hollywood. So, it's really hard to say. Professionally, certainly I'm more considered now as a person who has put a successful TV show on the air, in Hollywoodland. Personally, I have much less time to go surfing.
VG: You surf?
CC: Yeah, longtime surfer.
VG: Really? But this idea of living the great life when one is a successful director/writer/creator/producer, it's sort of the in-between bits when the series goes into reruns is when you'll be able to swan around in expensive suits.
CC: The day I swan around in expensive suits is the day I hope someone puts a bullet in my head. I don't see it happening, the show is going to have a good long run, I'm dedicated to it, I feel responsibility to the show, which I love -- it's a labour of love, certainly -- and to the actors, who I have promised them -- not point blank, but there is a promise that is understood -- that I will stay with the show as long as they give me their all, and they've been great. It's really wonderful working with them. Most things fail, it's a business of failure, most TV series fail, so when you get something that hits and clicks and people seems to like it -- I'm blessed with so many things that I am going to stick with it.
VG: "Like" is a modest word to use. "Obsessed with" you might say, and this happened very quickly. Even if you look at the hugely successful original Star Trek and so on, it took a lot longer to bang in, and even Twilight Zone, which I gather both of us watched at the same time, and there was a certain level of interest in that show, but it didn't take off like -- this is just nuts!
CC: Yeah. You can imagine what it's like for me to have been sitting there one day, playing ball with my dog and barefoot in surf trunks and coming up with the show, and all of a sudden, it's become as popular as it has, and this whole Internet connection -- nothing prepares you for it. It's still confusing to a lot of people that there are X-Files conventions coming up, and licensing and merchandising. For me, it's been an almost three-year dream,and I hope no one pinches me because I'm riding it.
VG: From the time that you came up with it: did you come up with it alone?
VG: Your own demented little mind.
CC: My own sick, twisted little mind.
VG: And your dog.
CC: And my dog.
VG: From the time you came up with it: you've been in the business for a long time, so you had a clue about how to build a show, after all. So, what was your first inkling, and is that first idea precisely the same as how the show has unfolded now?
CC: What I had imagined is really what the show is now. Actually, I think it's gotten better in many ways. We've done 49 episodes now, so I couldn't have imagined some of shows we would have done, but as far the characters and the tone of the show and the show's basic DNA is intact.
VG: It has a conscience, this show.
CC: A social conscience?
VG: Yeah, a social conscience.
CC: I think it does. I think when people are pursuing the truth, the conscience is built-in. There's no political message being delivered, no social message being delivered, but I think there is sort of a universal, scientific, religious message that can be extrapolated. I think that's not a conscious decision to do that. People who see the show oftentimes they feel the show is actually a very religious show, which is funny because when I've thought about this, I think of myself as a non-religious person looking for religious experience, so I think that's what the characters are sort of doing too.
VG: The aliens, the alien forces, the idea of the unknown paranormal, if you want to say that -- why are all aliens wicked? It is, dare I say, human nature, and even more specifically, American, to be afraid of an alien. An alien from Mexico, and alien from Hungary, an alien from outer space, an alien from anywhere, and we're still afraid of these damn aliens. And why can't aliens every come down and do something benevolent?
CC: Well, there are all sorts of different aliens. If you read the literature, and you believe these sorts of things, they are up to certain things that may actually benefit mankind, if you believe these things again. In fact, the show has reflected that as well. Some of the stories we've told have been of benevolent, rather than malevolent, forces at work. There was a show we did about the abduction of animal fetuses of endangered species, that the aliens may be trying to create their own kind of Noah's Ark. I thought that was sort of a noble exercise.
VG: Yes. I do find Friday night at 9 o'clock a bit of an awkward time, frankly, isn't that when it's on here?
CC: Yeah it's on Fridays at 9, but actually, I love that timeslot.
VG: But I'm a social butterfly.
CC: That's why they made VCRs, and one day they'll make them so that you can actually program them.
VG: It's a questioning show, it's a show that is maybe even suspicious, and watching out for conspiracy.
CC: It's wonderful when you can project, or promulgate your personal philosophy to millions of viewers each week, which my personal philosophy, of course, is "trust no one".
VG: Your crew must be crazy about you.
CC: And so that's an idea that informs the show.
VG: You went to the FBI, huh?
CC: Yes, we went to the FBI, we were invited there.
VG: What did you do? Did they phone you up and say "do you want to come over for tea or something?"
CC: Yeah, it was funny because when I was first researching the show, they were very reluctant to give me any information. They gave me a certain amount of information, and then they cut me off, they didn't know who I was, or what I wanted, or what I was doing, and they really wouldn't cooperate with us at all. So, beyond a little protocol, or procedure that they described to me, I didn't know this institution. I was sort of writing about it blindly, only with what I read, and the little that they had told me. And a year goes by, and all of a sudden, the phone calls start coming from FBI agents who are secret fans, and we developed a few relationships with these people, and finally at the end of the year, one of them became such a big fan -- or a couple of them -- that they were able to coordinate an X-Files [visit] ... Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny and I were invited to the FBI, and TV Guide was allowed to come in and document the whole thing.
VG: So when you got there, what did they show you? I mean, it's a big office, right?
CC: Well there are two different facilities. There's the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and then there's the national training facility at Quantico, VA. So, that's the Silence of the Lambs building. There's this place called Hogan's Alley, where they conduct all these exercises, about how to, you know, how to spring a hostage or catch bankrobbers, so that was really interesting.
VG: Did you sit in on some of this stuff?
CC: No, we didn't. We had some guys come down and describe some of it to us. We went through some of the buildings, we didn't get to do some of the good stuff, which is like going through that thing where you get to shoot paint pellets and all sorts of good stuff...
VG: You can set that up yourself, can't you? Couldn't you make a scene in the TV show, so you could do it?
CC: We probably could, but there's nothing dramatic about it. It's preparation for drama.
VG: Oh, oh well. I was just trying to help you out there. So, anyways, you get to go through all of this stuff -- did you make notes while you were there?
CC: I made some notes. Mostly it was a chance to see what I had been writing blindly about firsthand, or up close. I have developed contacts since then, so if I need to know something about ballistics, or DNA testing, or fingerprinting, I've been able to call and get good expert advice or information from these people.
VG: So they're in your pocket, so to speak.
CC: No no, they're not at all. Officially, they can't say that they endorse the show or that they are in any way connected to the show.
VG: They're so tense!
CC: You know, you go there, and you realize that these people are involved in some of the most ... these people did ABSCAM, they're involved in this latest assault on this building in Oklahoma City. They are the protectors of the world, and they are involved in some very big things, so I don't think you want to question what that institution does.
VG: No, and yet you were determined to have them central to your characters. I mean, you could have had some sort of obscure Bureau of Investigation...
CC: But then it wouldn't have seemed real, and the show's only scary as it is real, and I think that goes for the world that the FBI agents work in and live in.
VG: Is this show sold around the world now?
CC: Yes, actually, it's frighteningly playing in something like 60 countries.
VG: This happened so fast, didn't it? [CC mumbles assent] Are people in Australia as afraid of the FBI as you are, do you think?
CC: I don't know how that aspect of the show plays for the people of Australia, but it's very popular down there, so I think that the universal on the this show is that we're all afraid of the same things, essentially, and...
VG: Something that will come in the night and suck your brains out.
CC: It's true, but actually I've found the interesting thing for me is that what's really scary is what you don't see, it's what you imagine. Because we have to do the show on a budget, we don't show you a lot, and so it's sort of worked to our advantage.
VG: And yet, you spend a lot of time, i.e., money, on lighting. Really and truly, the lighting is fabulous, you have to agree.
CC: Well, not just the lighting, but the production design, we just have some very talented people here in Vancouver who we've been lucky to have now for -- well, we're going into our third season, and they've hung in there, which is rare. Everyone's stock rises in success, and so what happens is people want to take their stock and trade it, trade up, and everybody wants to do something different or better, or a feature. Everybody thinks that features are the big thing, that's the place where people want to end up. But I think we're doing feature quality on a TV show, week in and week out, and that's the reason these people have stayed, it's an opportunity to do just good work, and it shows. place the work above themselves. The work ethic up here is very high.
VG: There's also the dollar factor. You can't discount that.
CC: It was one of the reasons that Fox wanted to come up here, of course, because you get such a good return on your money, which appealed to me too, because I get to put more money up on screen. The better the money, the better the dollar exchange, the better the show is.
VG: When you shot that first pilot here, and you took it down to Fox, did they jump up and down?
CC: Ultimately they jumped up and down. I don't think they knew what they had at first, so the response was that it was "very well-crafted," I think the term was. You actually want to hear glowing praise. But they thought it was very well-done, but they saw it without music, they saw it with a few of the wires...
VG: But they're trained to not see that, aren't they?
CC: Yes, exactly. Actually, there's a story I like to tell about that. I finished the pilot on it was I believe a Monday night, or early Tuesday morning at about 4 o'clock in the morning, and at 8 am that same morning, it was being shown to the Fox executives, including Rupert Murdoch, and the story is that they screened this -- and this was a room where the lights go up, everyone if they're a smart executive before responding at all will turn and look to see what Rupert Murdoch's response was, but there was spontaneous applause in the room, which was tantamount to a standing ovation, and I knew then we were on our way.
VG: You weren't there, though.
CC: I wasn't there, but it was reported to me by 10 a.m. that morning.
VG: Were you cowering somewhere?
CC: I was sleeping somewhere. I had no idea what the response was going to be to it ultimately, and when they responded like that, I knew we were at least in contention to be a series, and in fact, in that same week, on Friday, they ordered thirteen episodes.
CC: I know.
VG: Are you from California?
CC: Yes. Can't you tell? California twang?
VG: No. Well, it's sort of hard to tell, you Americans all sound the same to me. Where were you educated? What did you do? What's the story of your life. You've got 30 seconds.
CC: That's about all it's worth, believe me. I have a very underwhelming story. Let me see, I went to a state college in California. I was a surfer, so I did my degree in journalism, and went to work for Surfing Magazine for five years. It was really a way to postpone my growing up, and those were five of the best years of my life. I ended up working for them for thirteen years, I was listed as senior editor at the ripe age of twenty-eight.
VG: Surfing Magazine?
CC: Surfing Magazine. It's a big deal, an international magazine.
VG: I'm sure it is.
CC: You're not impressed.
VG: I am impressed. I'm wildly impressed, you know?
CC: Anyway. So, I went around the world, surfing, and I got to write. I wrote constantly, I learned how to run a business, it was a wonderful, adventurous five years of my life. I did many other things too. I was a production potter during those times also.
VG: A production potter?
CC: Yes, I did all those California cliché things.
VG: Like make pots?
CC: Yes. I actually made hundreds of thousands of pieces of pottery at the potter's wheel. I sat and made dinnerware.
VG: Really? Have you kept some of it to this day?
CC: A couple of things.
VG: What does it look like?
CC: It's beautiful. [said with a proud catch in his throat]
VG: Is it?
CC: [laughing] No, I threw most of it away, because I got tired of looking at it. But I hope to do that again someday.
CC: Yeah, I know it sounds rather fatuous...
VG: It must be soothing to be able to do that.
CC: It was wonderful, repetitious. It has a certain Zen thing that goes on when you make a lot of things over and over.
VG: That's right. And it's a useful thing, at the end.
VG: Every magazine and newspaper piece I've seen about you says that you have nightmares, so I think you should get back to the potting as soon as humanly possible. Is that true?
CC: I think my night horrors are waking nightmares.
VG: Why would newspapers say that all the time?
CC: I think that's what they imagine. I try to imagine what other people's nightmares are, that's what I try to do.
VG: Nightmares involving deadlines.
CC: Believe me, that is a nightmare you cannot wake up from. This is a business of deadlines.
VG: So on the day before you ship, you're always chewing your nails?
CC: Oh yeah, but I'm always working on five shows at once. I'm always writing a show, prepping a show to shoot, shooting a show, editing a show, and putting the music and sound in a show. So, every day, I'm working on five different stories, so keeping those things -- juggling those things in my head -- what am I doing here?
VG: I don't know what you're doing here, I'm exhausted even thinking about you. You've met, I take it, William Gibson since you've been here?
CC: Yeah. I don't know if I'd call it a friendship, but I like him very much, we have a good time together, and I spoke to him on the phone yesterday, actually.
VG: How did you do that? How did you come to meet him?
CC: I heard he was a fan of The X-Files, and I contacted him. He said he'd like to try to do an X-Files script, and of course I was very interested in doing that, and we're doing that right now. Or he's doing it.
VG: You can't have guests in the show, you can't have Gibson walk through it.
CC: Oh sure.
VG: Or William Burroughs, or Tom Robbins.
CC: There's a lot of people I'd like to put in the show, and I'm actually approaching a few of them...
VG: Camille Paglia.
CC: I'd love to put Camille Paglia in, I'd love to meet Camille Paglia.
VG: Yeah, so would I. But I guess you have to nail yourself down, because the minute she starts to talk...
CC: I've only seen her on TV.
VG: Isn't she something?
CC: She's amazing.
VG: Amazing. She's like slingshotted into the world, that woman. Well, see ya.
CC: That's it, that's all you want to ask me?
VG: Well, what would you like to talk about?
CC: I don't know, I thought we just started.
VG: Well, let me see, the actors.
CC: No, I'm...
VG: No no, okay, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.