Unsolved Mysteries

Is this the last season for Mulder and Scully? When will they return to the big screen? Chris Carter advises fans to stay tuned.

Chris Carter has – and always has had – a grand master plan for The X-Files. He had – and unfortunately never got the chance to fully implement – a grand master plan for Harsh Realm.

So what doesn’t Carter have a grand master plan for? His life.

“There is no grand plan,” admits the 43-year-old writer/director/producer. What Carter does have is a dream. The man behind the paranoid conspiracies of The X-Files, the brooding mysteries of Millennium and the twisted virtual reality of Harsh Realm has a decidedly sunny vision of tomorrow. In it, he sees himself on a remote beach with a surf board under his arm. There are no scripts to write, no dailies to watch, no deadline pressures of any kind.

It’s just Carter, the sea and the search for a perfect wave. “That’s my dream,” sighs the television visionary.

That dream came true this past summer . . . for a few precious days. While The X-Files was on hiatus after the end of its sixth season, Carter got a whopping two weeks off, much of which he spent in Mexico hanging 10.

“Surfing is a very demanding sport that has a lot to do with timing and technique,” says Carter, whose background as a California surfer dude is well known to X-Philes. “All these things get rusty out of the water, ironically.”

Of course, those skills will get a little rustier before Carter ends up with the months of uninterrupted beach-time he’ll need to become a master surfer one again. After all, he’s got a television series – a television legend, really – that he might have to guide to a graceful denouement in the months ahead.

As all in-the-know X-Philes are well aware, the seventh season of The X-Files could be its last. That means Carter might have a lot of loose ends to tie up by next May. As of early October, a full quarter of the season already had been mapped out, with a number of scripts ready for the cameras. But though Carter says he knows exactly what the series’ final episode will be like – “I’ve had that in my head for years,” he reveals – it’s unclear if it will come at the end of the seventh season or at the end of a possible eight season.

“The writing is not on the wall.” Carter says. “There are many things that could happen, but because I’ve been given no formal word otherwise, I’ve got to play this as if it were the last year. But I know [soon] I might be having talks about the possibility of keeping the show on [for another season]. For the moment, I have no contract for The X-Files for next year, so I don’t want to speak out of turn.”

Carter’s not the only one without a contract for a possible eight season: David Duchovny is also free to leave the series by the end of Season Seven. Obviously, a lot of complicated negotiating is going to have to go on before the future of The X-Files is finally made clear.

But Carter’s certainly not the type to leave things to chance. Even though an eighth season is little more than a remote possibility at the moment, he says he’s already thought up some potential storylines for it.

“What I haven’t had a chance to do are sequels to episodes that I really liked,” he says. “Next year, if the show were to go on, I would hope that there might be a way to reinvestigate some of those cases that were left [open-ended].”

Of course, Mulder and Scully got that chance this season in “Orison,” the episode that brought back murderous necrophiliac Donnie Pfaster (played by actor Nick Chinlund) – and also brought back veteran X-Files director Rob Bowman, who had only recently announced his departure from the series to pursue a feature film career. So just which other episodes would Carter like to give the sequel treatment to in Season Eight?

“I’ll keep that a secret right now,” Carter replies. Speaking of sequels – and secrets – there’s another X-Files follow-up to consider: the second film. Not surprisingly, there are some important decisions that have to be made before that project can start gathering steam. Whether or not there will be an eight season, for instance.

“One thing definitely has an effect on the next,” Carter acknowledges. “We talk about [the next film] all the time. It’s just a matter of finding the opportune time to do it.”

Just when that “opportune time” will arrive is anyone’s guess. But one thing’s for sure: the perpetually busy Carter has a little more time on his hands these days thanks to the fox network’s sudden – and somewhat puzzling – decision to cancel Harsh Realm. The critically praised series was yanked after just three weeks on the air in a move that took viewers and industry insiders alike by surprise. After all, The X-Files wasn’t a big ratings winner right out of the gate: It was only after a couple of years of critical kudos and cult status that it finally broke out and became a mainstream sensation. What could have happened if Harsh Realm had been given time to grow?

We’ll never know. And Carter, for one, isn’t too happy about that. He says the series’ best, most interesting episodes were still ahead of it when Fox pulled the plug.

“You always have big plans for how stories might work and characters might evolve, but it’s not until you get into those things that you really see what works and what doesn’t and you learn how the story-telling rhythms [develop],” he says. “You’ve got to get some of the mythology out of the way [early so] you can get into your stand-alone episodes, which are always refreshing because you know the characters, what their predicament is, what their history is. So you’re trying to accomplish many things at once in the beginning, and it’s nice when you finally get onto flat ground [with the stand-alones] and you’re able to really build up speed.”

Though he was going to get some help from ace X-Files scripters Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban, Carter expected to write “the lion’s share” of Harsh Realm’s first season: He was slated to script or co-script 10 to 12 HR episodes and equal number of X-Files episodes. That commitment was cut in half with Harsh Realm’s cancellation, but that doesn’t mean the well-known workaholic has any plans to start sleeping in late and scooting out of the office at 5 p.m. on the dot. Carter says he’s up at the crack of dawn every day, and the work usually doesn’t stop until late into the night. But at least he’s not toiling alone.

“We’ll all keep a very disciplined and rigorous work schedule,” Carter says of his X-files cast and crew. “Your personal life really disappears, particularly when you lose your momentum that you’ve gained from June [because episodes begin airing]. When it catches up to you [in the fall] when you really have a very labor-intensive few months to Christmas, where you get two weeks where the phones don’t ring but you’re usually writing or rewriting during that time. That’s been the cadence and rhythm of our lives for the last seven years.”

This summer, that rhythm was beating faster and more furious than ever thanks to the ambitious Harsh Realm. While The X-Files was gearing up for its seventh season down in Los Angeles, the new series was building up steam in Vancouver, leading to a lot of frequent flyer miles – and a heck of a lot of work – for Carter and company.

“There [was] never a logical sequencing of work or events or problem solving,” Carter says of the X-Files/Harsh Realm juggling act. “It just [came] at you fast and furious. You [had] to do everything at once is what it really came down to.”

So how long will Carter have just one huge, back-breaking job to keep him busy? Probably not too long. Not only does he have a hush-hush television project in development, he’s also considering a return to the multiplexes: Just because the second X-Files film might be on hold for the moment, that doesn’t mean Ten Thirteen Productions isn’t working on a few movie deals. According to Carter, company president Frank Spotnitz is developing several motion picture projects.

“There are some really exciting things that he’s brought to me and the company” Carter reveals. “One of them is a movie about a contemporary rock band. The band approached us. I can’t tell you who they are right now, but the film would be something like [the dark media satire] Network.”

If that project gets off the ground, Carter would likely serve as a producer and, if schedules permit, screenwriter.

But X-Philes shouldn’t fret just yet. Carter insists that he has no plans to run off and abandon the franchise he created in favor of the big screen – or surfing.

“I have contractual obligations to Fox and to the show. And of course I feel that I have a personal obligation to the actors,” he says. “As long as they’re here keeping the work good, I’ll be here keeping the work good for them.”

 
 
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