A lot has changed since Chris Carter created his megahit The X-Files. New platforms, riskier material, binge-watching, and live Tweeting have changed the television landscape forever.
After taking nearly a decade to regroup and recharge, Carter is back with his Amazon pilot The After, a sci-fi drama about eight strangers, thrown together by mysterious forces, who must help each other survive in a world that is both unfamiliar and unforgiving.
Carter hasn’t been sitting idle all this time—he directed The X-Files: I Want To Believe, and appeared at Comic-Con with stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny for a 20th anniversary X-Files reunion. SSN spoke to him about what he thinks of the changing face of television, and why he never, ever reads the comments.
SSN: You took 10 years off after The X-Files—what made you step away for so long?
Carter: For me X-Files was 10 years of pure output, and when the show ended I wound up taking the equivalent amount of time for input. I needed to recharge and think about what I wanted to do, and think about television, which was changing at the time; in the time I took off so much changed. We were already seeing the dominance of cable in terms of quality, but little did we know we would start seeing Netflix and Amazon come in and stream original content.
SSN: From your vantage point, what are the positives and negatives of all these changes like binge watching and the eruption of online feedback?
Carter: It’s the ultimate water cooler experience, even though it doesn’t take place around a water cooler anymore. When we started The X-Files,the Internet was brand new and chat rooms were just happening. We were right there at the forefront, and to see where it has come in the last 20 years is amazing, with the advent of social media and all of the various platforms. I think for a television show or for any kind of cultural expression, it’s an amazing time.
SSN: What inspired you to come back after your sabbatical?
Carter: There’s so much good work being done, and I had ideas. First and foremost I’m a writer and I had things I wanted to say. If you look at the shows I’ve done, none of them are quite like any other TV show, and I’ve always wanted to do something original. When we were doing The X-Files, 20th Century Fox didn’t know what to make of [it]. It created anxiety that they were taking a chance with something that was unproven—that’s what interests me. For people who are the patrons of people like me, it makes them suspicious.
SSN: Can you talk about your path to Amazon with The After?
Carter: Amazon read it and liked it and quite a bit of time went by before the project started to take shape. It was a long process but not very different to my experience previously. The difference is we’re doing it knowing the pilot will be screened on the site for anyone to see. I liken it to Gladiator—it’s really a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
SSN: You’ve said before that with The X-Files you felt that you had to prove yourself, at least at the beginning. Do you feel the same with The After, or does having a track record ease some of that anxiety?
Carter: It’s still a need to prove yourself, but if you don’t write what interests you, you’re going to find yourself in trouble really quickly. I had this amazing experience with The X-Files. I hope it’s not once in a lifetime.
SSN: Does Amazon ask you to plot out the rest of the season before you make the pilot?
Carter: Amazon has asked me to lay out where we go. I’m always reluctant to do that, simply for this reason: with X-Files, I had the audience waiting for what happened next, the studio and crew and cast all hungry for that next script. By retaining the secrets and the mystery, you develop a good relationship with your audience. I’m always reluctant to give up too much.
SSN: Are you paying attention to the online feedback about The After?
Carter: I’m not reading any of the comments. I glow when I read the good ones and I shrink when I read the bad ones. That’s another feature of the pervasiveness of social media—there are haters out there and as the bumper sticker says, ‘haters gonna hate.’ I’m interested in reading good, astute, constructive criticism, but I’m not interested in reading the mean stuff.
SSN: Do you think you’ll ever give in and join Twitter?
Carter: I see the beauty of it and I think it would be a good idea for me, but I’ve been reluctant because I think my time is limited. That’s not to say I won’t do it, but for me I want to focus on what I do and let other people focus on what they do.