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The X-Files began filming in Vancouver 30 years ago. It became a cultural touchstone and local point of pride

Vancouver has stood in for many cities in films and TV series for decades — Seattle, New York, even the fictional world of Fantasia in the 1984 film, The NeverEnding Story.

But one of its most iconic roles began 30 years ago, as Washington, D.C., in the hit series The X-Files, which ran for nine consecutive seasons and was revived for two more in 2016. 

The series follows Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, two FBI agents with very different views of the world. 

It went on to win several Emmy, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards, and received praise from audiences worldwide. Vox has said The X-Files “invented modern television.”

David Duchovny, left, Gillian Anderson, and director Chris Carter stand together during the filming of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, which was shot in British Columbia.
David Duchovny, left, Gillian Anderson, and director Chris Carter stand together during the filming of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, which was shot in British Columbia. (Diyah Pera/20th Century Fox )

“I owe it all to Vancouver,” series creator Chris Carter told On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot. 

“When I think about the crew and all the people that came to work on the show, Vancouver is second to none. Whenever I come up with an idea, I try to figure out how I can shoot in Vancouver because I love the city so much.”

William B. Davis played "The Smoking Man" in the iconic sci-fi series the X-Files.
William B. Davis played ‘The Smoking Man’ in the iconic sci-fi series the X-Files. (Fox)

William B. Davis, who played the iconic smoking man, said the cast and crew were committed to producing a good show.

“Whether it was the focus puller or whether it was Chris Carter or whether it was the actors, everybody wanted to do their very, very best,” he said.

On The Coast9:19The X-Files turns 30: Actors reflect on being part of the groundbreaking show

The Cigarrete Smoking Man and Alex Krychek speak with Michelle Eliot about the series and the possibility it could soon be back.

Why Vancouver

B.C., particularly the area in and around Vancouver, has become popular for filmmakers in recent years. When Carter considered places to shoot the show, he said Vancouver was at the “forefront” of his mind. 

“I had been to Vancouver for the first time in 1986, the Expo year. My wife was making a Disney Sunday movie in Vancouver, and a lot of the shooting was done in the forest. I spent a lot of time in the beautiful Vancouver forests.”

Carter says Vancouver can double as almost anywhere, even the dry deserts of southwestern U.S., with the right set decoration. 

But it’s also the people who made filmmaking in the city so easy, he added.

“Almost everyone opened their door for us, let us shoot their house, on their street, at their location,” Carter said.

“It was special. It was an amazing time. Everyone was kind of excited about the show and working together.”

New series in the works?

During his interview on CBC’s On The Coast, Carter said there’s interest in rebooting the series once again. 

“We’re so steeped in conspiracies now. The X-Files dealt with central conspiracy, but now the world is so full of conspiracies that I think that it would be a different show.”

This photo provided by FOX shows, David Duchovny, left, as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully in an episode of "The X-Files." Fox said Thursday it has ordered a second chapter of what it’s calling an “X-Files” “event series.” The 10-episode series will air during the upcoming 2017-18 TV season. (Ed Araquel/FOX via AP)
This photo, provided by FOX shows David Duchovny, left, as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully in an episode of ‘The X-Files.’ (Ed Araquel/FOX via Associated Press)

Carter said Ryan Coogler, director of hit films like Black Panther and the Rocky spinoff Creed, plans to “remount” the series with a diverse cast. 

“He’s got his work cut out for him, because we covered so much territory.”

The original X-Files series is available to stream on Disney+. CBC News has contacted Disney Canada for more information. 

Original series producer JP Finn, who has since worked on shows like Arrow and The Flash, said a reboot would be “fantastic” but isn’t sure whether they’d return to Vancouver for filming. 

“I hope Ryan [Coogler] considers it, at least,” he said.

On The Coast9:39The X-Files turns 30: producer JP Finn on the city and the show

He speaks with Michelle Eliot about his recollection of how the show changed the film industry here in the city.

The Scully Effect

The show’s impact was far-reaching and inspired many women to move into male-dominated fields, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

A report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that Dana Scully, a strong, intelligent scientist, increased 50 per cent of female X-Files viewers’ desire to enter STEM. 

On The Coast9:10The X-Files turns 30: Creator Chris Carter hints at future production

Show creator Chris Carter speaks with Michelle Eliot about his gratitude to the city, the cast and crew and audiences for lifting the hit show.

Among them is Kelsey Short, who lives in Whitehorse, Yukon and is working toward a Masters degree in global health policy at the University of Edinburgh.

“I just always thought [Scully] was infinitely cool and she was just very smart and commanding of the situation, but also very passionate and really gave herself to the whole job,” Short said.

the x files began filming in vancouver 30 years ago it became a cultural touchstone and local point of pride 3

Gillian Anderson of The X-Files on becoming Agent Scully

28 years ago

Duration 6:54

X-Files actor Gillian Anderson offers Midday viewers some insight into the characters of Scully and Mulder.

She remembers watching Scully perform autopsies — even on an invisible character. 

“I always loved the medical aspects of it. I think that is part of why I went into a health-care field. I think bodies are so weird and wonderful.”

Documentary to premiere this fall

A documentary about the show is set to release this fall, 30 years after the show premiered. 

Superfans Lauren Krattiger and Carly Blake have created The X-Files Fan Retrospective, where they conducted more than 90 interviews with crew members, cast and fans to memorialize the show and its impact.

Krattiger was nine years old when she watched The X-Files pilot with her parents.

“It’s just been a really fun part of my life,” she said.

“I liked the scary element, and I also really enjoyed watching Scully.”

Krattiger, who lives in New York City, says The X-Files is a comfort for many fans she’s spoken with — offering a sort of constant during difficult times — and that some people have moved to Vancouver because of the show.

“It was a ground-breaking series.”