Chris Carter is back in the TV game.
The veteran writer/producer/director, best known for creating Fox’s long-running 1990s series The X-Files, has had a long career in the industry having created such cult series such as Millennium, Harsh Realm and the often forgotten X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen.
Since X-Files went off-air in the early 2000s Carter has largely been absent from the industry, only briefly interrupting his hiatus to produce a second X-Files feature film and to work on the long-gestating feature project Fencewalker.
Carter signalled his intention to get back in the game in 2012, when he was developing a new television series titled Unique with Media Rights Capital – the independent studio behind Netflix’s House of Cards. That project was pitched to the networks but ultimately didn’t sell, however, that didn’t keep Carter down. Soon after he partnered with new upstart Georgeville Television for a new TV project titled The After, which has since landed at Amazon, who released the pilot earlier this month.
Chris Carter was kind enough to spare some time from his hectic schedule to speak to TVWise about The After, what it’s like working with Amazon, the long-rumoured third X-Files feature film, what happened with Unique and more.
TVWise: What brought you back to television after such a long time away?
Chris Carter: I just took some time off from a very intense 10 years for me on The X-Files. I always say The X-files was ten years of output, so I needed some input. I took more time than I had anticipated and television changed in that time, all for the better I think, so I was happy to get back in when I saw some of the changes with cable and now streaming.
TVWise: How does it feel to be back in the saddle again?
Chris Carter: It feels good. When I started directing again, it takes a bit of time to feel the rhythms again, but that was very interesting to experience the beginner’s mind again.
TVWise: How did the idea for The After come to you?
Chris Carter: It’s an idea I’ve had for about six years. I wrote it about two years ago and it just took a while to actually make it to the screen.
TVWise: The After is the first big ensemble show you have done, in a sense — a series in which we could follow many characters, instead of one, two or three leads.
Chris Carter: The references that you will see that I make in the show and in the series are to things both in literature and film that are ensemble pieces. So, it really came as a result of various inspirations.
TVWise: The sequence in the parking garage is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”. Was this by design, or it is a happy coincidence?!
Chris Carter: Hmm, I’ll leave you to wonder…
TVWise: Your work has shifted from anticipating the end, to bringing on the end right now. How is that a different place to “live” as a writer?
Chris Carter: I’m not calling this the end. I’m just calling this a mysterious event. I am shying away from words like apocalyptic or dystopian. This is something that is unexplained right now.
TVWise: The After features a lot of footage of modern conveniences (like iPhones, and the like), but it doesn’t really help the characters. Is the show a commentary on modern technology, or how humans deal with technology?
Chris Carter: Yes. I think that will certainly feature in the series if we get there and it’s something of a comment right now.
TVWise: Do you think our modern technology has connected us, or made us more suspicious of one another, and is that an idea we’ll see developed if the pilot goes to series?
Chris Carter: I think it has connected us, but I don’t know if it’s made us more suspicious of one another. It certainly has revealed things about our character as a society that are interesting, wonderful and alarming at the same time.
Chris Carter: Yes. Using that symbol was no accident and it will definitely come into play.
TVWise: How do you perceive The After alongside your previous body of work – notably The X-Files and Millennium – in terms of any thematic links?
Chris Carter: I’m just trying to do something different and I think that I always set out to try and do something different; I hope I always succeed. I look at Harsh Realm, which I think was a really good idea, but just didn’t hit for whatever reason even though it was fresh and new. I wish it would have hit, but I still take pride in the fact that we tried something different.
TVWise: The initial reaction to The After has been very positive. Have you been reading any of the reviews or comments about The After?
Chris Carter: I only saw three of them at the very beginning and I couldn’t believe people had actually watched it. It was 6 o’clock in the morning on the 6th. I saw three nice reviews and one that said I hope they don’t do this; so it was like “we like this, but don’t do this”. Beyond that, I have not read any reviews. I’ve heard there are lots of nice ones and some not so nice ones, which is to be expected, but I am excited that people seem to be giving it the thumbs up.
TVWise: How do you feel about this experiment in terms of producing original drama for Amazon, compared to working on network television?
Chris Carter: It’s not dissimilar because they have these smart people who are experienced and have worked on TV shows at various networks in various capacities. So, you are dealing with smart people who know the Hollywood game, the production game and the series game. So, that wasn’t different. I was lucky that the people I am working with are very smart and their contributions were very good, so that was a really good thing. Now the experience of having it go up and stream and there be a vote, which I liken to a kind of gladiator situation where it is thumbs up or thumbs down, that is all new to me.
TVWise: Has working with Amazon given you more creative freedom you wouldn’t have with network television?
Chris Carter: Well, that’s a big and complex question, creative freedom. They have their notes and I felt that they made it better. The freedom I find is in the format, the non-commercial format, meaning the show doesn’t break for commercials and also in the content; language and images.
TVWise: There has still been a lot of talk about a third X-Files film. Gillian Anderson has said on a couple of occasions that you had been working on a script. What can you tell fans as far as the status of a third film?
Chris Carter: I can tell you that it’s really in the hands of 20th Century Fox. People wanted us to do the third movie around the Mayan calendar date and I thought that would be a trap. I knew that day would come and go and nothing would happen, so I am glad we didn’t approach it that way. That’s not to say it didn’t give me lots of food for thought.
TVWise: You’ve also got a project set up at AMC, what can you tell us about that?
Chris Carter: AMC came to me with a book a while back and I didn’t see the beauty in the book initially. Then they came back to me again and asked me to read it again. So, I read it again and all of a sudden, it’s like wow, I get this, I understand how I can do this. So, I wrote a draft which they liked but they have concerns. Right now, I am into the second draft and that’s where we are, but I am really excited about it, I can tell you that.
TVWise: Back in 2012, you were pitching Unique to the networks, but it never got off the ground. Why do you think that is?
Chris Carter: People didn’t really respond to it, but once again it was an idea that was like nothing else really on television, so I think people were scared of it and they didn’t get it. I still have high hopes that someday people will get it and they will get to watch it and make their own decisions.