Chris Carter life and biography

Chris Carter picture, image, poster

Chris Carter biography

Date of birth : 1956-10-13
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Bellflower, California, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-08-30
Credited as : Scrrenwiter and film director, executive producer of the drama series X-Files, and Millenium

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Christopher Carl Carter (born October 13, 1956) is an American screenwriter, film director and producer, best known as the creator of The X-Files and Millennium.

Special FBI Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder investigate paranormal activity and alien abductions while simultaneously uncovering the government conspiracy set in place to hide the very things they seek to expose. Former FBI agent Frank Black, now a member of the secretive Millennium Group, chases down criminals with the help of his psychic vision while working to stop the conspiracy of evil set to peak in the year 2000. "The truth is out there" promises The X-Files every week. "I want to believe" declares a poster in Agent Mulder's office, reflecting the very essence of the character himself. His creator, however, does not believe. "I've never had a personal experience with the paranormal," Chris Carter explains in an interview with David Bischoff for Omni. "I've never seen a UFO, I've never been contacted by anything or anyone. My personal opinion? Well, I should preface this by saying that I'm a natural skeptic. My tendency is to discount most of the stuff because my personal experience doesn't include it."

And so it was without the help of personal experience that Carter created his critically-acclaimed and popular television dramas The X-Files and Millennium. Since its debut in 1993, The X-Files has slowly built up a following of almost fanatical proportions while also winning the praise of critics and some of the highest ratings on the Fox Broadcasting Company. Because of this success, Carter created Millennium in 1996, another dark, apocalyptic drama that boasted the highest-rated premiere of any show in Fox Broadcasting history. "To every generation, there is a televisionary," states a Time writer, adding: "Today's seer is Chris Carter,... creator of The X-Files, a show that takes America's obsession with the occult and coverups, with truths impossible to ignore but too terrible to be told, and transforms that paranoia into a compelling amalgam of hipness and horror-- proving it possible to be both cool and unnerved." Terence Rafferty, writing in Gentleman's Quarterly, compares Carter's television accomplishments to the novels of best-selling horror author Stephen King: "Carter's TV shows, like King's novels and stories, rely on meticulous pulp-fiction craftsmanship to tap into an audience's collective fear of dissolution, of encroaching chaos."

The creator of this chaos and paranoia was born and raised in Bellflower, California, a very normal, middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. "I have what a lot of people in this business don't: a very blue-collar background," Carter explains in a Rolling Stone interview with David Lipsky. "My mom was a homemaker. My father was a construction worker--the guy people curse as they go down the street because he's one of the men who was tearing up the roads putting in storm drains and sewer lines." Carter's father was also the kind of guy who believed in strict discipline for his sons. Once Carter was punished for coming home late by being forced to eat his dinner outside, on a manhole cover in the middle of the street.

Strange punishments like this one and other factors may have contributed to Carter's later paranoid take on life. He tells Lipsky that he's "very, very paranoid, in that I'm acutely aware of fear and betrayal. My father had a bad relationship with his mother. She had left his father at an early age, so he was keenly attuned to her betrayal of him. I think that's something that was passed down." Another factor contributing to Carter's early paranoia can be traced back to his mother and her inability to keep a secret. "So if as a kid you go to your mother and you tell her something, and she can't keep a secret, it develops in you, you know, a sense that nothing is safe," Carter reveals in his Rolling Stone interview.

While paranoia was becoming a part of Carter's childhood, so was surfing, a sport he discovered at the age of twelve and one in which he remains active today. "Even though we lived inland, I would always find ways to get to the beach," Carter remembers in his interview with Lipsky. "I still surf, though I'm not as nimble as I once was." It was this surfing experience and Carter's journalism major at California State University at Long Beach that led to his first career as a writer. Other college experiences contributed to Carter's need for perfection and desire to master everything he attempts to accomplish. "I put myself through school working as a production potter," he relates to Lipsky. "When I was a sophomore, I built a house from the ground up with a carpenter. I can build things; I can make things. I know how to take a project and finish it, which is what producing is: seeing a problem, you know, and actually taking the materials and hammering the pieces together."

Producing television shows was not Carter's first job, though. Following his graduation from college in 1979 he started writing for Surfing magazine in San Clemente, California. "I was hired because I was a journalism major in college and had been a surfer all my life," Carter states in a Sci-Fi Entertainment interview. "Traveling around the world and surfing, I had one of the best prolonged adolescence a young man could want. It allowed me a lot of freedom to write, develop a voice, read, and see the world ... and surf, of course." Despite all the writing he did for Surfing, Carter didn't consider writing screenplays until he met screenwriter Dori Pierson in 1983; they began dating and were married in 1987. "I had never really had any ambition to be a screenwriter," Carter tells Lipsky. "But I had an idea. I'd go to see movies--I mean, everybody has an idea for a movie. And so I told it to her, she liked it, and she said, 'Well, why don't you write the screenplay?' So I did. And it actually got a lot of attention around town."

This attention never materialized into anything, so Carter wrote another script--a comedy--which was seen by Jeffrey Katzenberg, then the head of production at Disney. Based on this effort, Katzenberg hired Carter to write for television and produce several television movies. "This was at a time when Disney needed product, and they needed writers," Carter explains to Lipsky. "There were doing The Disney Sunday Movie every week. These producers would come to my door on the lot, and they'd say, 'You want to do a Disney Sunday Movie?' I'd say yes to everybody because, you know, they're asking me to write. That's where I got seduced by television: the pace, the control that I saw that you could have." Among the shows Carter wrote for during his time at Disney were the television pilots for Cameo by Night for NBC and The Nanny for The Disney Channel. Taking a break from Disney at the urging of softball pal Brandon Tartikoff, Carter co-produced the second year of the NBC comedy Rags to Riches. Back to Disney in 1989, he became the creator and executive producer of Brand New Life, a recurring comedy series that ran as part of a rotating schedule on Disney's Sunday night lineup. 1992 saw Carter moving again, this time to Twentieth Century-Fox Television, where he signed an exclusive deal to create and develop television projects for the network.

The first show Carter pitched to his new network was a scary show like the ones he enjoyed watching as a child, including Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, and most importantly, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was the inspiration for The X-Files. "He [Kolchak] was a reporter who investigated a monster of the week," describes Carter in his Rolling Stone interview. "But what was nice for me is that in the 20 years between Kolchak and The X-Files, a lot happened in science and technology. And those things- -which, you know, became the foundation for The X-Files--they didn't really have at the time.... What I really wanted was to do a good scary show."

With the main premise of the show in place, Carter sketched out the details, which came from a variety of elements. First, he saw an FBI agent on the Larry King show whose primary assignment was to investigate satanic cults. "He said that he had found not one ounce of truth in any of those things," Carter relates in his Rolling Stone interview, adding: "I found it interesting that they had somebody specifically investigating something like that." Another FBI influence appeared in the form of the movie Silence of the Lambs; Carter both admired and studied this film. All of these elements converged into one idea--the show would feature two lead FBI agents who tracked biological and chemical oddities, twists in genetics, and alien sightings and abductions. In addition, Carter wanted to differentiate the series from other horror series by basing it in scientific fact. "It's the idea that shakes up you and your beliefs, not some hideous Frankenstein monster or hand clasping the heroine's shoulder," he explains in an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Focusing on his two lead characters, Carter decided to shake up traditional gender stereotypes, making the female (Scully) the skeptical scientist and the male (Mulder) the intuitive believer. And so Mulder and Scully came "right out of my head," Carter explains to Bischoff. "A dichotomy. They are the equal parts of my desire to believe in something and my inability to believe in something. My skepticism and my faith. And the writing of the characters came very easily to me. I want, like a lot of people do, to have the experience of witnessing a paranormal phenomenon. At the same time I want not to accept it, but to question it. I think those characters and those voices came out of that duality." The names of the characters also hold some personal significance for Carter--Mulder is the maiden name of Carter's mother, and Scully is named for Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who Carter listened to while growing up.

Now that all the pieces were in place, Carter presented his concept to Fox, where it was not well received at first. In between his first pitch to the network and their rejection of the show, Carter made a trip to Martha's Vineyard (which later became the fictional location of Mulder's childhood). While there, he had dinner with a Yale psychology professor and researcher who had been a consultant for the UFO abduction drama Intruders. During this dinner Carter was introduced to the statistical survey done by Harvard professor John Mack which shows that three percent of the American public believe they have been abducted by aliens. "Here were two guys--one from Harvard, one from Yale--who were saying, 'There's something here,'" Carter maintains in his interview with Lipsky. "It was all I needed to go back to Fox." And so Carter fought for his idea, eventually winning a chance; filming for The X-Files finally began in March of 1993.

What followed was something Carter never expected--both critical success and an almost maniacal following. "I had no idea this could happen," Carter states in an Entertainment Weekly interview with Dana Kennedy. "I wrote this in my office in my surf trunks, playing with my dog. It never occurred to me that someday there'd be X-Files key chains." And X-Files conventions, books, comic books, CDs, and thousands of fans visiting hundreds of X-Files sites on the Internet on a daily basis. Most importantly, though, The X-Files has become the highest rated show on the Fox television network.

From its first season on, The X-Files has interwoven episodes concerned with Carter's main conspiracy theory storyline with stand-alone stories of truly bizarre scientific anomalies. "Even in the program's alien-intensive first season, Carter and his writing staff took pains to vary the formula, with episodes whose story lines bypassed the larger conspiracy arc," observes Rafferty. "The inclusion of these self-contained stories is, like everything else about the series' genesis, evidence of Carter's pragmatic intelligence." Rafferty goes on to add that "the stand-alone hours also demonstrated right from the start, the unusual flexibility of the series' concept: The program ranged freely among the distinct genres of fantastic narrative, and Mulder and Scully didn't look out of place in any of them."

The success of the stand-alone episodes is more than matched by the audience's interest in the main conspiracy storyline, which is slowly revealed as each season progresses. These episodes deal with the government's involvement in a convoluted cover-up of alien contact and alien abduction of humans that includes Mulder's sister being abducted when they were children. "The thing that has come through on this show that's really alarming and wonderful for me is that almost everybody feels the government is not acting in their best interests," states Carter in a Rolling Stone interview with David Wild. "One survey by the Roper poll said there are 5 million people who believe they've been abducted by aliens. People say, 'Well, then you knew you had an audience.' But that's not my audience, that's my fuel."

In addition to its huge public following, The X-Files is a critical success and major award-winning show. "By skillfully blending post-Cold War, antigovernment paranoia; old-fashioned conspiracy theory; sly humor; and stories drawn from today's headlines (not to mention little green men and beast-women), The X-Files beat out favorites like NYPD Blue and ER for best drama series at the recent Golden Globes," points out Kennedy in a 1995 Entertainment Weekly article. Among the elements that make The X-Files an award-winning show are its pervasive atmosphere, its deadpan humor, and its ever-developing and growing main characters. "Each episode is a mood piece-- a queasy odyssey," asserts James Wolcott in the New Yorker. "It's television's first otherworldly procedural." Wolcott goes on to write that The X-Files "takes time to seep into its surroundings," concluding that "what's erotic about the show is its slow progression from reverie to revelation, stopping just short of rapture. It wants to swoon, but swooning would mean shutting its eyes, and there's so much to see."

Also focusing on what can be seen in The X-Files, Entertainment Weekly writer Ken Tucker describes the show as having "a bland, anonymous look to it that only enhances the show's unsettling atmosphere. Its special effects aren't anything out of the ordinary; instead, Carter, who's also the executive producer, elicits our heebie-jeebies by creating disturbing moods, and by extracting convincingly rattled performances from the actors." The material the actors have to work with has expanded dramatically since the series beginning, culminating in terminal cancer for the character of Scully. "Carter has turned The X-Files into a show about a pair of existential detectives, and in the process he has both expanded and slyly subverted its paranoid premise," points out Rafferty. "Finally, it is not the presence of unidentified flying objects but our increasing identification with The X-Files' human protagonists that tells us, beyond dispute, that we are not alone." "Give yourself over to The X-Files," concludes Tucker, "and you'll be in the hands of people who know exactly how to mess with your mind."

The mind of The X-Files creator produced an even darker and creepier concept for his second Fox series, Millennium, which premiered in 1996 with the highest debut Nielsen rating for any show in Fox history. Based on the premise that violence is not random, Millennium instead maintains that it is part of an evil conspiracy, related to the Book of Revelations, that will reach its horrific climax when the year 2000 arrives. Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent who can see into the minds of killers through his psychic ability, is part of the Millennium Group, an undercover Justice Department team which is made up of other former law enforcement officials. At the same time, Black's wife and daughter, as well as the family's huge bright yellow house, seem to represent hope for humanity in the face of all this evil. "For me the whole reason to do the show was that yellow house--a bright center in a dark universe," Carter relates to Ginia Bellafante in Time.

Unlike its predecessor, Millennium did not have the luxury of developing its dark world slowly; the show was promoted heavily, flooding the media with its numerous promos. Because of the success of The X-Files, contends Wolcott, "Carter found himself in the predicament of having to top himself. The pounding promotional hoopla for Millennium has prevented it from building slowly, forcing it to come big out of the box." And so the premiere episode of the series was both big and graphically violent. "By most accounts, Millennium has scared the living daylights out of quite a few people with its graphic images and horrific tales of serial killers who lop off heads, sew mouths shut, hack bodies, and burn priests at the stake," describes Mark Schwed in TV Guide.

This unrelenting horror is exactly what critics cite as the culprit in making Millennium too oppressive. "My principal qualm about Millennium, the heavy-breathing new series from Chris Carter's crackpot conspiracy canteen," writes John Leonard in New York, "is that it's so apocalyptic, we can't even hiccup: It's paranoia without the laughs." While also contending that the show is too depressing, Wolcott does concede that Millennium "casts a spell, looking and moving as if it were a prose poem of infernal night, with embers still flickering under the toxic fumes." And Bellafante asserts that "as over the top as Millennium can get, the show does succeed at creating a marvelously unrelenting sense of unease."

Having two hour-long drama series running at once finds Carter faced with an unrelenting amount of work, work made much more time-consuming by his perfectionist, controlling tendencies. "Chris has his hands on every single aspect of the show," Gillian Anderson (the actress who plays Scully) tells Lipsky. "He's a controlling maniac, and he's a genius." Lance Henriksen (Frank Black on Millennium) similarly states in TV Guide: "I can only describe him as the Phantom. He arrives if there is a problem. He disappears right after it's solved. The only thing missing is the outfit." And according to Carter, he is also missing a life outside the work his two series create for him. "I go to work, and I go home," he tells Lipsky. "I had one of those Global Positioning Systems given to me as a gift. It's a little screen in my car that draws a map--drops these little rabbit pellets- -to show where you've been. And my map is a very monotonous single track, back and forth to work. I go to Vancouver. I don't do anything else."

Carter's hordes of fanatical fans wouldn't have it any other way. And Carter himself is happy to give them the darkness they crave. "What I've attempted to do was scare you in a smart way that makes you think and question," he states in Time. "Carter is a storyteller, but one with a unique, sometimes disturbing vision that has slowly seeped into the collective American consciousness," asserts NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield in TV Guide. "The articulate visual style of his work, coupled with taut, engaging writing, makes for provocative television." "We live in a frightening world," Carter points out to Wild, "and if we can give people a good roller- coaster ride, that's great."


Numerous awards for The X-Files, including the Environmental Media Award, Outstanding Episodic Television (Drama), 1994, for "Darkness Falls"; Parent's Choice Honors, 1994, for Best Series; New York Festival for Television Programming and Promotion, Finalist for Best Writing, 1994, for "The Erlenmeyer Flask"; Emmy Award nominations, Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series, both 1995, both for "Duane Barry"; Golden Globe Award, 1995, Best Dramatic Series; Television Critics Association Award nominations, 1995, for Best Drama Series and Program of the Year; Viewers for Quality Television Awards nomination, 1995, for Best Drama Series; Saturn Award, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, 1995, for Outstanding Television Series; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1995, for Best Episode in a Television Series, "The Erlenmeyer Flask"; Emmy Award nomination, 1996, for Outstanding Drama Series; Directors' Guild of America Award nominee, Best Direction in a Dramatic Series, 1996, for "The List"; Writers Guild of America Award nominee, Best Writing in a Dramatic Series, 1996, for "Duane Barry"; Golden Laurel Award nominee, Producers Guild of America, 1996, for Outstanding Series; Saturn Award nominee, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, 1996, for Best Genre TV Series; New York Festival Awards nominee, 1996, for Best Drama Series; International Monitor Award, Best Director, 1996, for "The List"; Television Critics Association Award nominee, 1996, for Best Drama Series; Golden Globe Award, Best Dramatic Series, 1997.


Surfing magazine, writer and editor, beginning 1979; Walt Disney Studios, screenwriter for television, including several television movies and pilots for Cameo by Night for NBC and The Nanny for The Disney Channel; NBC, co- producer of the comedy series Rags to Riches; The Disney Channel, creator and executive producer of the comedy series Brand New Life, 1989; Fox Broadcasting Company, creator, executive producer, and occasional director of the drama series The X-Files, 1993--, creator and executive producer of the drama series Millennium, 1996--.


* (With others) The X-Files (television drama series), Fox, 1993--.
* (With others) Millennium (television drama series), Fox, 1996--.
* The X-Files, 1998-.

* Other Works

* Adaptations: The X-Files has been adapted into original full-length adult novels, including Goblins and Whirlwind, both by Charles Grant, and Ground Zero and Ruins, both by Kevin J. Anderson, all published by HarperPrism. Episodes from The X-Files have been adapted into books for juvenile readers by several authors, including Lee Martin. The X-Files has also been adapted into a comic book series, published by Topps Comics, and into interactive adventure CD-ROMs, created by HyperBole Studios and released by Fox Interactive. Two albums including music from the show and music inspired by the show have been released by Warner Bros, Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by The X-Files (Carter wrote the words for the song "If You Never Say Goodbye," recorded by P. M. Dawn) and The Truth and the Light. Episodes from Millennium have been adapted into a series of books, including Millennium 2000 and Gehenna, both published by Ingram, 1997.

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