How has The Adjustment Bureau affected future Philip K. Dick movie adaptations? What's going on with Michel Gondry's Ubik? We chatted with the daughter of the legendary author, Isa Dick Hackett, about the secrets of filming Philip K. Dick.
With the release of The Adjustment Bureau DVD on the horizon, we had the opportunity to interview Hackett, who controls what Hollywood has access to in the giant vault of PKD novels, shorts and scribbles. Here's what she told us.
How did you feel about this translation of Adjustment Bureau, which was loosely inspired by the short story "Adjustment Team"? They took some liberties with the source material.
Isa Dick Hackett: As the person that is really overseeing the adaptation side of things, there's a lot of material (as you probably know). He wrote 40-plus novels and 125 short stories. It's this prolific group of titles, and all different sorts of material. Some things are really precious, like I'd say Man In The High Castle or Scanner Darkly — it's something that really needs to be kept faithful. And this is not one of them. I think a story like this is the perfect material to take to other places. So I don't have a problem with it being different from the original.
What was your favorite addition or change in The Adjustment Bureau that the director George Nolfi added?
I love the romance, the relationship, that was obviously not part of the original. The chemistry between the two was really what drove the engine of the film. I thought it worked. In reading the script and the dialogue I thought, "Hmm, somebody is really going to have to pull this off, this cutesy banter. Whoever is saying these lines really has to be able to pull this off." And I was pleased with the acting and the chemistry between Matt and Emily. I liked that the most.
How do you insert romance into a Philip K. Dick story?
They certainly did! I think generally the relationships in the books that my dad wrote we're not… let's just say some of the female characters, in the books, are not likable (some of them). He's not big on relationship stuff exactly, so that's a challenge. But if you have a certain storyline or premise that is good, I don't see any major issue with building something like that in. But it all depends on what the original story is. Does it work well with the story, or is it just completely contrary to what he was trying to say?
What do you think makes for a good Philip K. Dick adaptation?
I guess I would hope that the spirit is there. The spirit of whatever he was trying to say. That it captures that. If you've read his work you know that the science fiction is almost wallpaper, it's there and it's there because he wrote for a certain audience and he wrote for pulp and it needed to be there. But really what he's talking about is philosophy and religion and empathy and human relationships. So I don't necessarily fell that a good Philip K. Dick movie has to be full of special effects, I don't think that's important. Although Blade Runner was amazing. It had the look and the essence (while very different) the essence of what he was trying to say. So I guess the dream is something that faithful to the story, but also entertaining and challenging, and doesn't lose money. Because those that lose money make it harder to make the next movie, that's the reality of it.
That was my next question. What makes a Philip K. Dick adaptation succeed and fail, in your opinion?
Oh boy. I guess that depends on how you define failure. Success with the critics or at the box office? For me, someone might look A Scanner Darkly the budget was 5 and a half million [dollars] originally, and it did about that at the box office, well that was a failure, financially — it didn't make money or whatever. A lot of people didn't like it, they didn't get it. They didn't appreciate the rotoscoping. But, to me, it was a success, because I felt like it actually told the story that was written, and it was faithful. For a number of reasons, I thought it was successful.
So success/failure, I'm not sure exactly what that means. I don't know how you define it. Do you define it based on what the critics say or the money that it makes, or doesn't make. Whatever else, I'm not sure, but we have had some stinkers. We've had some great ones and we've had some stinkers. For me, the biggest failure would be a film that was just devoid of the real message from the material. And is exploited, for example if a lot of financial resources are poured into it and it ends up becoming a big spectacle, with the FX, but there's no real substance to it. To me, not talking about the box office, to me that doesn't feel successful. Financial success is totally secondary.
Which ones are the stinkers?
[Laughs] Are you really going to do that to me? We've had a couple of those, you can probably figure out which ones they are. What they aren't are Blade Runner, Minority Report, Scanner Darkly, they aren't Total Recall and Adjustment Bureau.
And Adjustment Bureau really helped in many ways. It showed people what they might know or think of Philip K. Dick, can be different. There are other ways to adapt the material. We're no longer pigeon-holed into this one thing. There's certain things that you see that are hard scifi, but there are so many facets to the work. There's humor in his work, Clans of the Alphane Moon is hilarious but dark. There's all kinds of material for kids, there's horror. There are all these different pieces that people don't see. So a movie like Adjustment Bureau that is so different from the rest exposes us to a different audience as well. Women came out in droves, especially older women [to see Adjustment Bureau]. That helps us do other things that you wouldn't necessarily think was a Philip K. Dick adaptation.
What's happening with my favorite book, Ubik? What's Michel Gondry's [the director] vision for this film?
That is my favorite too! One of my favorites I should say, I have a couple. But I love Ubik. And part of that I think is because when I was a kid, I was too young to read the work. I was maybe eight or nine, I would say [to my Father] "Tell me the story of this one," and I'd pick up a book and he would tell me the story. And this one time the book I chose was Ubik. And so he told me the story of Ubik, and it stuck with me. So I always knew the story of Ubik — [of course] he told it in a very, very simplistic way, so I was able to understand it.
But then when I was old enough to really read it, I was turning the pages, going, "Wow Dad wow, this is amazing," So, getting Ubik adapted has always been a huge passion of mine. It's taken a long time, and it's non-linear and metaphysical.
Michel Gondry, I love his work. I think it's a great fit, myself. I think Michel Gondry and Ubik is insane, crazy good. Steve Zaillian is producing, and he's such a craftsman with his scripts, so it's great to have him on the team, so we end up with something that's not so non-linear that it can't be understood. Right now the status is he's scripting, Michel is scripting we're expecting the first basic treatment within a month or so. We're doing this independent of a studio, so the goal is to get the script written and the story that we all want to tell, and then take it out and figure out who wants to make that story. As opposed to doing development at a studio and having studio people telling us what story we're going to tell.
What kind of visuals does Michel have planned out? He always brings something new to every film — even Green Hornet had Kato-Vision.
He definitely has ideas, I don't want to give them away. I'm sure he'll share them when he wants to share them. But most definitely, he's been talking about ways he wants to do things and where might want to shoot. He's amazing, he really is.
In a perfect world who would you want to play the character Joe Chip, what kind of actor do you need for that role?
I can't say a particular actor. That would get me in hot water. But it has to be the everyman right? Joe Chip in the novel is sort of the dumpy everyman guy that my Dad always wrote about. So we'll see. But really Michel will be the one [to decide] — it has to be someone that he wants to work with, someone he'll respond to. It's such a great role I'm sure there will be a lot of interest in it.
What's happening with Flow My Tears The Policeman Said?
Flow My Tears is in development. It has to be made. It should have been made years ago. You can see the movie in there. We're in early stages of development, which is all I can tell you at this point. But I feel very optimistic that there will be a Flow My Tears film sometime in the near future. Lots of people are obviously interested, the role is so great. A lot of directors are interested in it as well. It's a matter of putting the pieces together. Plus there's Man In The High Castle, which is being adapted by the BBC for a 5-hour miniseries. That is being scripted right now, and I'm liking what I'm seeing already. And that novel, I'm glad its getting a lot of time to really tell that whole story and let it breathe. That won't be too far in the future!
The DVD for The Adjustment Bureau will be on shelves June 21st.