In late April, Chris Carter was editing "The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” the film that reunites agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully from the hugely popular 1993-2002 science fiction/conspiracy series, and if Carter's prediction holds, he is still tinkering. In fact, the studio might have to eventually step in and bar him from perfecting his monster, if it ever wants to see if the truth is still out there.
But this is standard operating procedure for Carter, a creative force known for living on the bleeding edge of deadlines. He said he always went down to the wire during the original run of "The X-Files.” It is just part of the process.
"I don't think there's ever a time when you don't, but in this case, we're working on what I'd call an abbreviated production schedule based on Fox's chosen date of July 25 to have the movie finished — I mean, to have the movie actually open,” Carter said in a monument to Freudian slippage.
Carter and his chief "X-Files” strategist at Ten Thirteen Productions, Frank Spotnitz, would futz over the details of the original series with such regularity, they delivered most episodes directly to the satellite feed, finishing them just hours before audiences on the East Coast saw the story. With "The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” named for the poster above Mulder's desk, little has changed.
"You're behind the moment you start,” Carter said. "You're running for your life, and there's always the unforeseen obstacle or problem. So when you think you've budgeted enough time, it's never enough.”
Carter may be forthcoming about his work habits, but when it comes to the nature of his new story, he clams up like an intelligence agent being interrogated. He will only discuss what "X-philes” will see in the vaguest terms.
"They can expect to see what they saw mostly in ‘The X-Files,' what you would call a ‘stand-alone story,'” he said. "It's something that's not part of ‘The X-Files' mythology, or the government conspiracy, or Mulder's extended quest to find his sister. But what fueled that quest, because it is such a part of Mulder's character, it will always be a part of any ‘X-Files' story.”
But the story of how this film finally got made is nearly as long as Mulder's search for his sibling.
Discussion of a second "X-Files” film began shortly before the series ended, but a proposed 2003 release came and went. Meanwhile, Carter became embroiled in a long-standing conflict and eventual lawsuit against Fox Television over Ten Thirteen's profits on the series. Stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson pursued film and television careers while the case dragged on — he directed "House of D” and starred in Showtime's "Californication,” and she appeared in the BBC's "Bleak House” and in "The Last King of Scotland.”
As soon as the lawsuit was settled (and, in classic "X-Files” fashion, sealed from public view), the project sprang back to life.
"The phone was ringing, and it was Fox saying, ‘If you want to do the movie, it's now or never,'” Carter said.
"Now or never” meant the studio feared the impending Writers Guild of America strike could indefinitely scuttle the franchise's return. Carter and Spotnitz banged out a rough script by August 2007, with three months to spare before the work stoppage.
He said that finding the right tone in the new script for Mulder and Scully, two characters created more than 15 years ago, became a challenge.
"I actually sat and wrote a scene over and over, and it took me much longer than I imagined,” Carter said. "I had to figure out what they were doing now and why they were doing it. It was not just getting into their minds, but getting into their minds six years hence.”
During those six years, "The X-Files” receded into late-night reruns, but its legacy can be felt in its spiritual descendants, "Lost” and "Heroes.” Carter said he understands that his most famous show became deeply influential by establishing "mytharcs,” or mythology arcs that stretch through the entire series, but in turn, "The X-Files” owed just as much to "The Night Stalker,” a classic series that Spotnitz briefly revived a few years ago.
"I think that any successful show like ‘The X-Files' creates a benchmark, if you will,” he said. "But ‘The X-Files' comes at the end of a long line of shows that had mythologies. I think it could be cited as a point in TV history, but it owes its roots to so many other great shows.”
As for the potential for any favorite secondary characters such as the Lone Gunmen, Eugene Tooms, the twice-killed Cigarette Smoking Man or even Flukeman to reappear in the new film, Carter closes the safe on his secrets.
"Possibly,” he said.
Like Fox Mulder, Chris Carter trusts no one.