Film Scouts Interviews

Chris Carter on "The X Files"

by Melissa J. Perenson

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As Writer/Producer on The X-Files movie, series creator and executive producer Chris Carter has shepherded his award-winning creation from television to the vast canvas of the movie screen. Carter has been responsible for writing some of this past season's most noteworthy episodes, including the two-part season opener, Redux and Redux II, and the unique and quirky black-and-white Frankenstein homage, The Post-Modern Prometheus. Before he began developing television projects for Twentieth Century Fox Television, Carter pursued journalism, spending 13 years as a writer and editor at Surfing magazine.

Q: What was the challenge in doing the movie versus doing the television series?

CC: The trick was to NOT make the movie too different from the show, and yet to also make it accessible to people who did not watch the show every week. Inside that, we had to make sure that we didn't alienate the hardcore fan. We didn't want to bore him or her with character establishment or re-illustrating the world in which Mulder and Scully live and exist. There were many tricks to making this a great movie experience for both the fans and non-fans. I think the way we ended season five, by taking away the X-Files and putting Mulder and Scully into a new assignment, helped to give us something new for the fans. It also allowed us to give non-fans an understanding of who Mulder and Scully are. I hope that we were successful at that.

Q: You've said that every week you try to make a little movie. Yet, the medium you're working in is still television. How different was it for you to produce the movie as compared with the television show?

CC: There was a big difference. We were shooting with 35 mm film on both the film and TV show and we essentially did the same thing, but there were a lot of things that were different. The format of the feature adds a very interesting dramatic weight to a scene and to a shot that the TV doesn't. The big screen actually demands a more minimalistic approach. Every reaction, every look, everything, is bigger by virtue of the screen's size. The choices that have to be made involve picking scenes that were more minimal than what you'd have chosen for TV.

Also, on the film we got to do bigger FX, bigger action scenes, more interesting, varied locations. We had more time to let a scene get on its feet instead of just racing the actors in front of the camera. The storytelling approach is different. You're telling a bigger story, but your choices are sometimes smaller within the scenes.

Q: Part of the appeal of The X-Files is in its rich and detailed storyline. How did you approach choosing what story elements to use and what not to use in the film?

CC: What Frank Spotnitz and I thought was, 'If we're going to make a movie, we want to make the best movie we can, one that would set up other movies.' We sat down and came up with all of the elements we thought were important to [the movie] and the kind of story we needed to tell. We had to think far ahead, and imagine how the series would work at the end of season five, because we were right in the middle of season four then. The movie that you see is really what we came up with. It's the movie I wrote as a script, that we storyboarded as a story, and that Rob Bowman shot.

Q: What was the genesis of the film?

CC: The film was something that I always wanted to do. I said to Fox that we probably wouldn't do a movie unless we did it last summer. It just seemed that the timing was such that we might never make a movie if we didn't do it then. Fox saw the beauty in making the movie, but they were afraid I'd make the movie the ending for everything. I had to convince them that that wouldn't be the case, that the movie would be a really great way to invigorate the series and that it would be a great movie, too. I've been a defender against the exploitation of the show in every way, and I didn't want the movie to be seen as an exploitation of the show. I wanted the movie to be seen, in a way, as a celebration of the show, a chance to give the audience that's been watching it for five years a really big experience.

Q: In the beginning, was it tough getting The X-Files off the ground?

CC: It took me two times of pitching the story for the show. The first time I pitched it, Fox turned it down. I went in and pitched it again, a little more elaborately, and they picked it up. Finding David [Duchovny] and Gillian [Anderson] was a matter of luck. David was cast, then he got cold feet. He decided that he may have wanted to do this HBO movie [he'd been cast in] a little bit more. Then Randy Stone, who originally brought David to me, convinced him to come back and do it. No one had ever seen Gillian before. She didn't have a TVQ, as they call it. I had to really fight for her.

Q: What lengths did you go to inorder to prevent the plot from becoming known in advance?

CC: I was real paranoid about it. We Xeroxed the script on red paper. I put out dummy scenes. I didn't write a very important scene I knew wouldn't be filmed until the spring. I provided lots of opportunities for misinterpretation. If you put enough bogus information out there it starts to work for you and against itself. Everybody saw that there was an angle to being a spoiler. It's the world we live in. If you want to maintain the element of surprise you have to be vigilant and try to confound people. I realize that I sound as paranoid and secretive as the show itself, but there are some things that are meant to be secrets.

Q: Was the scene where Mulder is relieving himself by the Independence Day movie poster intentional?

CC: I didn't think that would get quite the laugh it did, to be honest. I sent Dean [Devlin] and Roland [Emmerich] a note saying, 'This was not intentional.' It was set dressing. The way it ended up getting shot, though, it gets a laugh. The reaction is coincidental.

Q: At the heart of the movie's story, we see Mulder saving Scully again. Was that something you gave thought to?

CC: We thought it would work best this way. It felt like the natural choice. People are asking about the fact that it's once again the damsel in distress being rescued by the man. But Scully rescues Mulder in the room where the bomb was about to go off, so that he could rescue her later. So there's an equality there. Certainly, Scully is a strong character and she took action in that building. I've always written Scully strong and I don't see the fact that she was infected by this virus makes her the victim, per se.

Q: With what they saw and with so much at stake as presented by the film, can Mulder and Scully really go back to dealing with killer dolls and the like?

CC: Well, Scully was pretty woozy. But, as you see, it will be very hard for Mulder and Scully to prove what they saw, to get anybody to listen to what they have to say. That will become part of their agenda now, getting people to listen to them and to take them seriously. That's always been Mulder's thing, but Scully had seen less.

Q: After nearly six years, can you really keep the entire mythology straight in your head?

CC: The mythology has become so complex now that there are things that I'll have to go back and make sure I'm right about. There is so much stuff that it's hard to remember everything. There are fans who can now sometimes trip me up! There is complexity, but we always attempt to -- and I think we've been successful at this -- recontextualize everything as we go forward. But there is no X-Files bible. That would be limiting. Everything leads from everything else. Writing the movie made me think through the mythology, how it worked, and if the movie was true to what we had done through 117 episodes. We had to use the mythology in such a way that it gave us new storytelling opportunities without squelching new storytelling opportunities.

Q: Do you have a notion in mind for how it all ends for The X-Files?

CC: I have a rough end of how it all ends. I'm not telling anyone, though. That way no one can get rid of me.

Q: Do you think there are more films on the horizon?

CC: If this movie is successful, then we'll get to do more movies and we'll get the chance to continue on the big screen as a series after the show ends.

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