Don't Call Him Spooky
Chris Carter Talks Santa Barbara, Surfing, and the Future
For those who followed The X-Files close enough to think that the people working behind the scenes were as heroic as the show’s mystery-solving, ghost-chasing, alien-spotting protagonists, the notion that series creator Chris Carter is actually a seemingly normal and not especially creepy guy is not news. Countless interviews mention this fact, as if the show’s dark tone must necessarily mean that Carter himself should be brooding and sinister. (It’s an odd association, when you think about it. Should the creators of Murder, She Wrote have been especially homicidal? Should the creators of Dallas have been especially oily?)
What X-Files fans who have occasion to read The Independent may not know, however, is that Carter happens to be a rather nice, remarkably un-spooky man who has resided in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. That, even to this X-Files buff, seemed surprising. Sure, quite a few Hollywood notables call the Santa Barbara area home. But to hear that Carter had lived here part-time for so long struck me as odd if only because the sunny afternoons and blue waves so often associated with Santa Barbara never appeared on The X-Files.
“My wife and I came here over 20 years ago, and we’re here for all the obvious reasons: That it’s a beautiful place and that it’s away from the business that either of us trafficked in,” he explained before adding, “And, certainly, surfing was a big draw.”
That’s another part of Carter’s life that never cropped up in The X-Files. Carter—a native of Bellflower, California, who finished his journalism major at Cal State Long Beach 1979 and began writing for Surfing magazine—is an avid surfer. Though some Mulder-as-Big Kahuna episode would surely have sent X-Files fans into spitting rages, it seems curious that surfing would have never figured into his work, especially considering how extensively the sport bleeds into the lives of some lifelong wave-riders.
“I’ve been asked to do surfing movies over the years and offered several opportunities,” Carter explained. “I just felt that if I were to do one, I’d have to do the perfect surfing movie. And I don’t know if that exists because surfing is such a personal thing. [Some surf movies] get wrapped up in contests or drama that is often beside the point.” He admitted, however, that he enjoyed John Milius’s Big Wednesday (which, incidentally, screens for free outside of the County Courthouse on September 17) as well as Jack Johnson and Chris Malloy’s Thicker Than Water.
“I think the good ones are the ones that sort of capture what I’d call the spirit of surfing,” Carter said. When asked if this sublime aspect could have edged into his work Carter seemed to nod toward the philosophically minded scripts he’s written for his various series, saying simply, “Maybe an appreciation for the more sublime aspects of surfing.”
As to whether he’ll ever incorporate his experience in Santa Barbara into his work—to his knowledge, he hasn’t yet—he offers only this: “It remains to be seen.” However, his current project is Fencewalker, a film reportedly shot around Los Angeles that marks a departure from his best-known work by virtue of its lack of any supernatural elements. Though some online sources claim that Fencewalker was filmed in part in Bellflower, Carter denies that the film will be autobiographical. “It’s a very personal project … We’re still working on it. But because I financed it myself, I have the ability to refine it,” he said.
Because Fencewalker’s future is uncertain, Carter was reluctant to discuss it at length. “I don’t know if it will ever see light of day, to be honest,” he said at one point. It reportedly will star rapper Xzibit, who played an FBI agent in this summer’s X-Files theatrical feature, I Want to Believe. Carter did, however, give some hint as to the film’s content. “It represents for me the reflection of the difficulty for a person … ” he said before trailing into a superficially unrelated thought that nonetheless probably has some bearing on the film. “I’m a big fan of Barack Obama. I think he carries a heavier burden and is held to a greater and higher standard than other candidates … I think there’s a large, large portion of this country that feels disenfranchised and marginalized by the political process.”
Carter also spoke frankly about I Want to Believe and its reception at the box office. As of the printing of this article, the film has grossed just over $60 million. Relative to this summer’s blockbusters, it didn’t exactly clean up, but Carter posited that such comparisons weren’t necessarily the most accurate. “We came out against The Dark Knight, which was made for $180 million, and [I Want to Believe] was made for about $30 million,” he said, noting that his film has already surpassed its costs. In Carter’s view, he intended for the film to have few special effects and instead keep in line with the heart of The X-Files: a well-written scary story that aims to be meaningful to both the characters and the audience.
Asked whether Mulder and Scully would once again live on-screen, chasing down all manner of monsters in the shadows, Carter said he hoped they would, depending on how the box office gods shine upon him. He also mentioned an after-the-credits scene in I Want to Believe that features a rowboat-paddling Mulder and a swimsuit-clad Scully, waving to any audience members who lingered in the theater. “We made the movie knowing full well this might be the last time,” he said, explaining that if this was the case, the last sight of the characters would be them waving goodbye.
Of course, no interview with Chris Carter should avoid the subject of general weirdness, normal-seeming though the man may be. When asked to name the strangest thing about Santa Barbara, Carter paused for a moment and then delivered a thoughtful answer befitting the man who created one of the most influential TV series ever: “Last summer, the Zaca Fire had been burning for six weeks or so and was right behind Montecito Peak. I looked at that as a huge threat but people seemed to be walking around like there wasn’t a fire back there. There seemed to be—and I say this in a fond way—a happiness here in Santa Barbara that exists in spite of the real threats of things like fire and off-shore drilling in this place I would call a paradise found.”
Whatever the future holds for Chris Carter, his fans can hope that he’ll continue to revel in all things odd—at least on screen. And those fans who live in Santa Barbara can be glad in knowing that he shares their affection for this city.
Will Carter ever turn his lens onto Santa Barbara? Would that be too weird? Maybe. And maybe that’s exactly what we want.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
As I mentioned last month, I got to interview Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files. I guess this means I just need to interview David Lynch, Rob Thomas, and J.J. Abrams before I can say I’ve spoken to the people responsible for my favorite TV shows. But that’s a long-range plan. For now, I’m happy with this. It’s in this week’s paper.