And Michael, you’ve spent your career sort of marrying fantastic genre to very grounded, human stories, so tell me about bringing that talent of yours to this project.
Michael Green: Pure joy. Sometimes you get to walk into the toy store and they say, “Play with anything you want.” This was one of those cases. My background is probably the opposite of what Hampton just described, which is for me, sci-fi/fantasy, was my playground always and noir was a massive hole in my reading. And I realized that when starting on this, I realized I’d just not read the people … it was a category that it was one of those “I’m going to get to,” and today was the day to start.
I got to read for the first time Chandler and [Dashiell] Hammett and [James M.] Cain and let that inform me. Even more than classic noir films. I won’t get specific which, but there is one particular book that became a structural totem because it actually dealt with an investigator unearthing a many decades old case and how to keep it fresh and present, which was going to be the foundation of this.
For me there’s always a totem book I’m reading or two, while writing something, and I never want to share which, just because I feel like it’s trade secrets, but it was such an indulgence that I felt that this project was absolutely worth giving into, making sure to read while writing. Sometimes you’re chasing a deadline, don’t have that kind of time, but I made sure just to keep my head occupied with the right words.
How much of an influence was Philip K. Dick in the process?
Green: I hope I won’t disappoint to many by saying very little. There are a lot of science fiction writers I love. I have a hard time accessing Do Androids Dream [of Electric Sheep?] specifically, and some of his other novels as well. I think the prose is beautiful, the ideas are amazing, but it’s one of those things that I always read intellectually instead of being able to experience emotionally.
He was of a generation of subculture that I was not a part of and was always more fantastical that it existed than anything that I can really speak to from experience. I enjoy him like unpacking a time capsule and really marveling at the pieces inside it.
And Hampton, you were the guy who recognized the cinematic value of Dick’s story early on.
Fancher: Well it was one idea. I was looking for a vehicle, and it was rather cold-blooded on my part. Because that’s what I’d been lacking in everything I’d been trying. I didn’t have through lines. I didn’t have McGuffins. I didn’t have plots, and I was Antonini all the way. It was like, “That’s my way into wherever the gold is.” It was that one thing, and that’s all, and the idea that science fiction was going to become popular in the near future. And so I didn’t have any love of Dick at all. I was never a fan.
Green: I want that as a pull quote. You never had any love of Dick.
Fancher: Not penis, or science fiction.
Green: There’s time.
Did you interact much with him? Did you get a sense of who he was?
Fancher: I interacted three times with him, at his house each time, and I was after him to cooperate with me and he wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t know why he wasn’t doing that, and I took it personally.
He acted like he liked me and he invited me back. And I always had a woman with me, and he liked to talk. We did have reading in common, we liked certain authors and he was a very brilliant guy and he was fun. And he was fucking crazy. He was, really.
Green: How do you think you sold him, finally? What do you think made him finally agree to give you the rights?
Fancher: I never got the rights. I found out later he had already sold those rights to someone else but never told me. So he was trying to get me to do Ubik and one other one. He gave me the books, he said, “Here is what you want to do.” He would never talk about Androids. Then I found out after the fact that some French company at that point, in 1975 and ’76, had already had that.
Then in ’77, Brian Kelly, my dear friend, and one of the executive producers of this film, now dead, he was in a bad place and he didn’t have any money — he had a little bit of money, and all he knew was film and he thought maybe if, like I thought before him, if he could option a property, he might turn it into a film that he could produce and then make a living and have a profession and all that.
I didn’t know what to tell him. I couldn’t help him. I’m in the same fix, but I said to him, thinking it wouldn’t lead to anything, that try Philip K. Dick and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I sold that idea to him. I said, “That’s a good idea,” but I didn’t think he’d actually get there. But, he went and talked to Dick and he got the rights for $2,000 for a year and a year option. So then I found out much later that the French option had run out, whoever that French company was, and so Brian got it.
Green: $2,000 was a good deal.
Fancher: Everything I’ve ever optioned was never more than $5,000. They need money, poor authors.
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