X-Files producer can't let go of Vancouver

Director Chris Carter may be busy giving a new look to his famous TV series in L.A., but he hasn't forgotten his roots in Vancouver.

Alex Strachan
Vancouver Sun

The X-Files may have fled the rain but Chris Carter, the southern California-raised surfer dude turned pop-culture savant, has quietly donned his hipwaders for more wet nights in the city that gave The X-Files its dark, brooding look for five years.

On Sunday, Carter's most ambitious X-Files yet -- an episode called Triangle, a loose amalgam of The Wizard of Oz, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Casablanca revisited on acid -- will mystify viewers as few X-Files segments have.

Those who have seen the episode -- filmed in real time aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. -- are describing it as everything from an incoherent, self-indulgent mess to a tour de force that will guarantee writing and directing Emmy nominations for its creator.

The X-Files' new California look has grabbed the U.S. media spotlight in a way few off-camera TV stories do.

The larger picture -- where Carter goes from here -- has eluded attention, but all indications point to a wet and promising future for Vancouver crews and the city's profile as a production centre.

Carter's recent contract with 20th Century Fox Television -- a deal some industry analysts have said could net him $100 million US over its five-year term -- puts him in a very select group of TV producers that includes Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley and John Wells.

While Carter has been preoccupied with The X-Files in Los Angeles, he has quietly bought a home in Vancouver and has made regular visits to the city -- at least one a week -- for the past several months, sitting in on story meetings for Millennium, in its third year at Lions Gate Studios, and laying the groundwork for his new series, Harsh Realm, based on the darkly foreboding series of underground comics. Harsh Realm is being considered for the Fox network schedule next fall.

Those who have worked with Carter in Vancouver say it is not surprising he has chosen to reaffirm his ties to the city.

They describe a producer who has never forgotten his blue-collar roots -- Carter, 42, grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Bellflower, Calif. -- and who is soft-spoken and gentle as well as single-minded and uncompromising in his vision.

Carter has a reputation as a demanding boss who will not hesitate to remove people he believes are not up to the task (an Internet chat group called "the ex-Files" includes several disgruntled former writers for the show).

But many who have worked with Carter in Vancouver paint a very different portrait from the popular conception of the foreign producer as Ugly American.

Set decorator Shirley Inget, a five-year X-Files veteran who won back-to-back Emmy Awards for her work on the show and who is now working on the feature film Dudley Do- Right, recalls an incident from The X-Files' first year which, she says, offers great insight into who Carter is as a person.

Carter drove up to the main gate of North Shore Studios, as it was then called, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be working, Inget recalls. The security guard did not believe Carter was who he said he was and refused to let him in.

Instead of digging in and throwing a tantrum, as most producers would have done, Inget says Carter parked his car at a nearby mall, hid in the bushes behind the studio and crawled in under the fence when the guard wasn't looking, sparing the guard the embarrassment of a confrontation.

When word of what Carter had done spread through the crew, morale skyrocketed, Inget recalls.

Vancouver actor Chris Owens, who has landed an 11-episode gig in Los Angeles as a recurring character in The X-Files, recalls that Carter went out of his way at last September's Emmy Awards to pick him out of a crowd of celebrants and thank him for his work, even though Owens had only done some bit parts at the time.

One former X-Files technician recalls that when Carter had to announce to the crew that the show was leaving, on a rain-soaked night earlier this year at a Kingsway Street motel, he deliberately waited until David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were off the set before breaking the news. Carter wanted to spare his actors the embarrassment of seeing him break down and cry in front of the crew, the technician recalled.

After a late-night shoot on the Burrard Street bridge for the Millennium pilot two years ago, Carter felt he needed an extra night's filming to get the scene to look the way he wanted.

Fox refused to authorize the additional cost; Carter paid $65,000 out of his own pocket to complete the scene. (Shamed, Fox later reimbursed him.) Millennium crew members say it is those kinds of gestures that endear a producer to his crew.

For his part, Carter has never withheld praise for his Vancouver workers, who he often refers to as "my Canadian colleagues."

Carter's hand was forced on The X-Files' move to Los Angeles, but he now says the new look will breathe new life into a show that, while it benefitted from five strong years in Vancouver, needed a fresh outlook.

At the time of the move, Carter reaffirmed Millennium's place in Vancouver and said he had ideas for several new series, all of which he will consider doing here.

Despite the success of last summer's X-Files feature film -- it grossed $85 million US in Canada and the U.S. alone -- Carter feels a passion for dramatic series and will divide his time in the foreseeable future between TV and writing novels.

Another X-Files film is in the works, probably to coincide with the show's end -- which looks increasingly like the end of next season.

For now, though, Carter has no plans to forsake either the medium that made him famous or the city that made it possible.

Posted to ATXF by Mr. Mike

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