I usually don’t like to do interviews with people for movies I haven’t seen, and Paramount wasn’t going to be able to screen Next (based on the Philip K. Dick story The Golden Man) for me before a scheduled phoner with producers Jason Koornick and Gary Goldman. But this time I knew I didn’t need to see the movie – these two are the kind of guys who can talk to you for twenty minutes just about Philip K. Dick and the adaptations of his stories and novels, which is exactly what we did.
Goldman’s resume has Dick all over it (and don’t you think for a second that I didn’t spend this whole interview saying ‘Philip K. Dick’ over and over because any time I shortened it to just ‘Dick’ I would start laughing), with Total Recall and Minority Report, two of the most successful and popular Dick adaptations, in his past. Koornick, meanwhile, runs www.philipkdick.com, the official site of the Dick estate. He’s a hardcore Dick lover (Jesus, so sorry, Jason) who is in tight with the Dick family. This two guys have a unique perspective on a writer who Hollywood loves to adapt… but almost never faithfully.
Q: Why is Hollywood so fascinated with Philip K Dick?
Goldman: Philip K Dick wrote a certain kind of science fiction that usually involved one little technological advance that’s taken to its ultimate extent and is treated as reality instead of a kind of exaggeration. In Blade Runner you have, ‘What if they could make copies of people that are indistinguishable from real people?’ In Total Recall you have, ‘What if they could make fake memories that are indistinguishable from real memories?’ And they’re not necessarily about space ships or space opera, they’re about every day life and about human. There’s also a very commercial twist, as opposed to being about the military or the government. These are ideas that are compelling to audiences and filmmakers, a future that is like our own – complicated, complex, commercial – rather than simplified in THX.
Q: I interviewed Paul Giamatti once and he said to me that he feels like he’s a Philip K Dick hero, and not Ben Affleck.
Koornick: That’s true. And Paul Giamatti is going to play Philip K Dick in a biopic. And Tony Grisoni wrote it, who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m involved in that as an executive producer. But yeah, the Philip K Dick hero – we don’t see him as much on screen as we do in the books, but I think that’s a product of needing to commercialize Philip K Dick’s great ideas. We’ve seen, with the ones that Gary has done, the most successful ones involve an extended chase sequence and action and all this stuff that ultimately, I think, is secondary to the great ideas that form the root of the short stories.
Goldman: It’s interesting – you can see, archeologically, that the remnants of these everyday, working guy heroes are still there. In Total Recall, Douglas Quaid is a construction worker… in this case he happens to be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger! But that’s not the way it was originally written by Dan O’Bannon; he was a milquetoast who was supposed to be played by Richard Dreyfuss. In fact, the project took ten years to get made because for the first nine years it was written with this everyman hero. It was saved by Arnold Schwarzenegger – it would never have been made without him. In the case of Chris Johnson in Next, he’s a guy who, in the short story, isn’t even really human. He’s someone who doesn’t have a normal consciousness, doesn’t speak. He’s super-autistic. In the screenplay’s first version he wasn’t even a magician, like he is now – he was just a regular guy laying low, trying to avoid scrutiny. The idea of him being an everyman remains in the movies in some way and makes them more compelling despite the casting.
Q: When you’re taking a story like this that’s set in the future, that has a very different character than what you end up with, what are the most important elements for you to maintain?
Goldman: What you want to go for is to take the concept very seriously. This is a man who can remember his future in the way most people can remember their past and then can navigate his way through many variable futures, what you want to do is make that the heart of the movie so that it permeates his personality, it permeates his decisions, the relationships he has. And it also dictates a different kind of storytelling and a different kind of action. It’s about showing either various versions of the same action or showing it in such a way that you realize it’s the result of a kind of thinking that’s already been demonstrated.
Q: There’s not been a Philip K Dick story that’s yet become a franchise. Is Hollywood not approaching these stories as franchise material or are they just getting hung up on where to take Dick’s ideas next?
Goldman: Each one is a different case. With Blade Runner there have been problems with Jerry Perenchio, who owns the property and has a grudge against someone, is angry about the money and won’t let anyone make a sequel. Besides that, the time to make a sequel when it’s new, and Blade Runner was a flop when it was released. For Total Recall there was the intention to make a sequel, and Minority Report was originally developed as a sequel. After Minority Report became it’s own thing, Arnold Schwarzenegger commissioned a sequel to Total Recall but at the last minute decided not to do it. In that case it was ripe for a sequel, but it didn’t happen. Minority Report, I guess we’ll see. Next, on the other hand, is more of a pop franchise. At the end of the movie you realize what you’ve been watching is the origin of a superhero. If this movie performs well, I would be very surprised if there aren’t sequels.
Q: Jason, I know this is a terrible question to ask someone who is so much a fan of Philip K Dick, but what’s your favorite Dick work?
Koornick: That is a good question. Some of my favorite novels – can I do a few? I love Counter-Clock World. Eye in the Sky is a fantastic one. My other favorite Philip K Dick novel has to be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which got me into it in the first place.
Q: Is there one novel or story that you can never imagine working as a movie?
Koornick: I know someone has the rights to it, but I can’t imagine how VALIS would be a movie. I can’t see how that would work. I should say there is room for faithful adaptations of Philip K Dick, although I still don’t think VALIS could be done. We’ve been talking about commercial adaptations; the other way to go is the independent route, smaller movies that may stay truer to the work. A Scanner Darkly is absolutely an example of that, and fans have embraced it.
Goldman: The Truman Show is really a Philip K Dick book that’s been slightly adapted under a different title [Time Out of Joint]. The idea that you couldn’t make one of the more heady Philip K Dick novels into a popular movie is disproven by The Truman Show.
Q: Philip K Dick died before he could see Blade Runner, and since then there’s been a number of adaptations of his work. And since his death he’s become less of a literary outsider and is more accepted by the establishment. What do you think he would make of that if he were alive today?
Koornick: I think he would be the most surprised. When he was writing, he was even an outsider to the science fiction community. He even had trouble being read in that world until later in his career. I think he would be surprised as anyone. I think it’s really a testament to the purity of his work – he did try to write mainstream stuff, but at the end of the day he realized science fiction was his bread and some butter – maybe not a lot of butter! – but he realized that’s what he did best and focused on that. I think he’d be even more surprised by how the world has kind of turned into a Philip K Dick novel. He was so ahead of his time that it’s fascinating to wonder what he would have written in the last twenty years. The stuff he wrote in the 50s and 60s foreshadowed things like the internet and a corporate advertising based culture – and now we’re living in that world. It’s interesting to think what he would have written in the 80s and 90s.
Goldman: He was so much being into the perfect copy being able to fool you, and now we’re moving into a world where you won’t be able to know the difference between news footage and something cooked up in a computer.