The X-Files creator Chris Carter has been laying low since the hit mythology series wrapped in 2002. But that's about to change: Carter is plotting a return to TV, starting with the Amazon pilot The After and another project in the works at AMC.
"Certainly I needed to recharge," Carter says of his long sabbatical. "Also, television was changing when the show ended, reality TV was really taking over. I saw it as a time to sit back and let the dust settle."
That break wound up taking longer than expected, as Carter climbed some mountains, surfed around the world, conducted a fellowship at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara and even shot another X-Files movie.
But then last summer, he joined X-Files stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny for a 20th anniversary X-Files reunion at Comic-Con organized by TV Guide Magazine. After that, a re-energized Carter was suddenly juggling several projects.
The first of those is The After, which stars Adrian Pasdar, Sharon Lawrence, Jamie Kennedy and Louise Monot, and centers on eight strangers who find themselves aligned after a mysterious cataclysmic event. "While something has happened, we don't know if it's a terrorist act or if someone was able to shut down the power grid," Carter says of the show's plot.
The story was inspired, among other things, by Carter's experience living through a hurricane while on vacation in Hawaii. "It was kind of shocking how quickly things went south," he says.
Carter originally wrote The After on his own six years ago, but didn't do anything with it. "Originally the entire story took place in one location. But as you see in this, it now moves out of the parking garage where it begins." (Much of the pilot was filmed in Los Angeles' Century City neighborhood, at the headquarters of Carter's talent agency, CAA.)
Carter says he's already mapped out much of where The After is heading, should it be ordered to series. "I've got big ideas about where it goes," he says. "I'm keeping those things pretty close to my vest. I think I'm trying to take advantage of this new technology where you can watch things again and again and try to put as much detail and drop as many hints and along the way see if people pick up on the layers. It's not dissimilar to what I did on The X-Files."
The still-rabid X-Files fans are likely to be early adopters of The After, and Carter made recent nod to his fan base by releasing an early clip to an X-Files fan site. "This is really people who continue, 20 years later, to talk about this show on this website. It's just amazing to me. I'm grateful for that and to them, so it's nice to give fans first crack."
But The After won't contain any obvious X-Files references (although the phrase "Ten-Thirteen," the name of Carter's production company, is uttered within the first few minutes of the pilot). "I try to be true to what I'm working on and I don't want to pander," he says.
Carter says he hopes that viewers will latch on to the show's "mysterious spirit," adding that, "I think it's fun, I think it's dangerous, I think the cast is unexpected. I got very, very lucky, as I have been in the past, to cast people who not only were really good, but came together and were greater than the sum of their parts."
Lawrence's role, Carter says, is "a surprise," and he was also dead set in hiring French actress Monot in a leading role. "We were told we couldn't cast her because we couldn't get her visa," he says. "But I just sensed that she was the right person for the plot. We put our heads down and went for it. I think she arrived about 24 hours before we started shooting. That was the stroke of good luck."
Like it has done with all of its pilots, Amazon uploaded the first episode of The After to gauge viewer reaction. The episode is currently free to view on Amazon Instant Video. If Amazon likes what it sees, a full season will be ordered.
"Someone said it's like testing your pilot with your pants down," Carter says. "It is a true test of the marketplace. I guess there's reason to be afraid of this. But I'm so curious about how it all comes out."
Carter says he's waiting to hear from Amazon on a timetable for whether The After will proceed. "They want from me a really clear indication of where the series is," he says. "I'm reluctant to do that. I want to always keep my audience, including the actors and the crew, on the edge of their seat. They should be waiting for each new script to come out. It's the serialization of an idea. If everyone knows too much too soon that kind of spoils the fun."