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by Daniel Carlson
October 23, 2012 11:51 AM
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Chris Carter Talks The Legacy of 'The X-Files,' Returning to TV and Why You Have to Read The Comments

'Millennium': 'Pilot' Fox

You had a show, “Unique,” that didn’t go. This Showtime project is a different one?

Yeah, this is a different project.

What was the fallout with “Unique”?

There’s no fallout. It’s just a show that we tried to set up in a certain way, and we didn’t set it up, and then we took a step back, and so that’s where we are on that right now.

What’s changed in the industry and writing/production process since you launched "The X-Files"?

There are more and different places to pitch and to develop, and I think you’re looking at the obvious eclipse of broadcast television by cable in terms of content. Things that you can’t do on broadcast now that you can do on cable, which is making it feel like a superior product.

'Millennium': 'Pilot'
It’s not more popular, but you’re watching viewership go up on cable so that now cable is actually starting to give broadcast a run for its money. Look at “Sons of Anarchy,” look at the way “Hatfields & McCoys” performed. There are lots of instances of cable shows … what else did I see the other day that premiered to huge numbers? [We both drew blanks, but Carter was likely thinking of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” which drew 3.85 million viewers on FX.] You’re looking at a change, and that’s an exciting thing, but what it says to me is there are also opportunities to do inventive things on broadcast television and still get a large audience.

Was that what inspired you to write a cable show?

I love the idea -- as do a lot of people who have done broadcast shows, where you’re doing 22 episodes a season -- of doing six, eight, or 10-13 [episodes]. That is very appealing to me, and it actually allows you to attract a different kind of actor because they aren’t doing it 10 months a year, they’re doing it three months a year. That’s a benefit, too.

I want to circle back to "The X-Files," based on some comments you made earlier today about how the show evolved to encompass procedural, horror, comedy, etc. Was there a type of episode that was the most rewarding to do?

"I think you’re looking at the obvious eclipse of broadcast television by cable in terms of content"
Some of the big mythology episodes, where we did big production stuff -- exploded trains. I mentioned an episode [“End Game”] at one of the panels where we trucked in tons of snow and created the polar ice cap with the conning tower. There were things we did just because we didn’t know we couldn’t. Those were really exciting times.

Then there were episodes like the black-and-white episode [“The Post-Modern Prometheus”] which were taking a whole other direction. Production design had to be switched up because you design differently for black-and-white. We filmed in black-and-white. We didn’t film in color like a lot of people do and change it. So we took some technical risks.

One of the episodes I’m most proud of in terms of taking a risk would be the episode called “Triangle,” which took place on the Queen Mary. 24 edits in the hour of television, so big, long takes. We would do one take before lunch. You just don’t do that in television production.

That was the one with two long shots down a hallway that crossed each other, right?

Yes, that’s right. There were big tricks in it, and it took some inventiveness.

You mentioned alternate routes of pitching and distribution. Would you ever consider online fundraising like Kickstarter or online distribution like Netflix?

It’s funny, I just gave somebody some money through Kickstarter to work on a documentary -- I think it’s a really interesting way to do things. Right now, I have what I would call more conventional avenues open to me, so that’s the way I think I would prefer to work right now. But I actually like the idea of choosing these alternative methods, and people coming up with new ways to distribute content, and people taking control of their projects. I think that will be a future of sorts.

'The X-Files': 'Small Potatoes

Would online distribution be a possibility for “Fencewalker,” your film in progress?

Possibly. I’ve sort of put that away right now, and I’m gonna come back to it.

Do you think you’ll revisit that in the near future?

I’m not sure.

I wasn’t actually sure of the status: if it had finished shooting, etc.

It had been filmed and was in the editorial process, and I decided I wanted to rethink some things about it.

There’s a big focus here at the Austin Film Festival about writers, pitching, getting projects off the ground, and so on. What’s the best or worst piece of advice you’ve ever gotten as a writer?

It’s funny, no matter how much advice you get, the truth is that it’s kind of like “Throw Momma From the Train,” you know, “A writer writes always.” You must persevere. That’s the only way to find the gold.

You spoke at the panel about your relationship with the fan community, and how you read a fan letter in the first season of “X-Files” that influenced your approach to the show and steered you toward stories involving the relationship between the main characters. I can’t imagine what it would be like to mount a show like that today in the age of blogs, and comments, and recaps. Is that something that’s on your mind as you prepare the Showtime project?

'The X-Files': 'Triangle'
You’re bombarded with, uh, “advice,” and with people wanting you to consider their ideas and their direction. Some of it filters through, and some of it doesn’t, so you filter a lot of it out. It comes to you in a variety of ways, and I still think I would pay attention [to it]. I’m sure every editorial writer in The New York Times reads the comments that come after, because they can be so -- they are wildly varying in their meanness or sometimes insight. So you can’t disregard them. You must pay attention. It’s important. It’s a reality check of sorts. So it’s part of the process.

That seems like a tough balance to strike.

You could spend a lot of time just reading your reviews, basically. A lot of people don’t read their reviews, but I do. I read my reviews.

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10 Comments

  • Richard | February 19, 2013 11:47 PMReply

    Now that the world didnt end in 2012 with an alien invasion, what happens! Thats how the xfiles ended! So now that it didnt happen, There needs to be a new twist! WHY DIDNT IT HAPPEN!

  • Muldfeld | November 25, 2012 1:36 AMReply

    I hope his new show is political in the way "The X-Files" was. There's lots about resistance to abuse of authority in there and questioning conventional wisdom. He should check out Ronald D. Moore's "Battlestar Galactica" for its great drama in Seasons 1 to 3 (with a greatest finale in Season 4!) but also its incredible political insight.

  • merv | October 29, 2012 1:09 PMReply

    So I assume The After is the show he's writing for Showtime/

  • Kevin Tucker | October 29, 2012 10:49 AMReply

    Great to Chris Carter, I think though it is about time to bring back the X-Files to TV, There is a lot material he can cover still i.e. 2012

  • flo | October 24, 2012 6:01 PMReply

    Great to see him attempting to come back to television. His brilliance needs an outlet.

  • Heidi | October 24, 2012 2:09 AMReply

    It´s great to se Carter back in high creative gear and I hope he will get his projects off the ground, and eventually be allowed to make XF3. The tale deserves an epic mythology ending! XF and Millennium was magic. Thank you CC.

  • Pradeep Das | October 23, 2012 4:04 PMReply

    X-Files is the greatest serial I have ever seen. Want to see all ten seasons once more before end of life....

  • Stupot | October 24, 2012 5:13 PM

    Good luck with that ;)

  • Violet | October 23, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    As much as I enjoyed growing up on The X Files, it's complete bullshit that Carter doesn't mention Twin Peaks once in this interview, particularly at this moment:

    "The good thing and the bad thing about was that there was nothing scary on television then, so when I came in and said, 'There’s nothing scary on television, and this is something that we should be doing,' they got that idea. But they didn’t get the idea of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal. That was weird to them, and they didn’t want to do it at first."

  • Random Reader | November 11, 2012 2:31 AM

    My thoughts exactly. I loved the X-Files, but David Lynch was there already with the core themes (an FBI agent delving into a creepy, scary paranormal mystery that had an UFO thread as well.) Mulder and Scully certainly rock, but Agent Cooper (& Co.) remains the king. :)