Interview with Isa Dick Hackett for Electric Dreams
Can you explain a little bit about how this new anthology series came about?
It was conceived of many years ago when anthology was a dirty word, there wasn’t the appetite or opportunities in streaming and it wasn’t the golden age of television. So while it was imagined on my part, and a few people at Anonymous Content, we didn’t get very far because it wasn’t viable then. Then four or so years ago we brought it up again after some of the successes in the anthology space and then David Kanter and I at Anonymous started this journey and he brought some of the other fine folks in. I knew Ron casually and gave him a call and asked if he’d join the party and fortunately he said yes. This team gathered all with the same idea of doing something bold and unique and most importantly, faithful to the ideas of Philip K Dick’s work.
You run Electric Shepherd Productions. Do you see yourself very much as the guardian of your father’s legacy?
I would be the person closest to that and I try my best. Now I’m also the trustee so that adds another layer.
What do you look for in a project before you’ll say yes?
It’s probably more looking at the partners and the opportunity as obviously we have the material. It’s really a combination of things, primarily the people, the creatives that I’m partnering with first and foremost because you want to find people with the right sensibility and passion and then it’s the particular opportunity but generally if it’s something that will enhance the literary legacy then I’m really happy to do it. Also life it short and you want to work with people you respect and enjoy, that’s certainly an element that I get to do which is great, what a luxury.
When you hand over the short stories to different writers and directors, each will inevitably come up with their own interpretation of the particular story they’re working on. Do you mind them putting their own stamp on those stories?
No, if I didn’t have confidence that they would be able to do something great and not truly in line with his ideas and core conceits then I wouldn’t do it. You’ve got to have trust in the people you partner with; at least that’s my approach. I find people that you can trust and then support them. Essentially I’m their biggest cheerleader and I’m helping them in any way I can and it doesn’t happen often that I have to say that’s betraying the story or a core value. It’s a lot of hard work in terms of producing stuff but in terms of the creative I’m really respectful of what these people do. As far as I’m concerned my job is to support and encourage and occasionally redirect but not typically and that would be the strongest word I would use.
This series has got some stellar names behind it, both in front of and behind the camera. You must be thrilled with the calibre of people involved.
It’s remarkable and has exceeded my expectations in terms of who we might attract to the project. It’s humbling, it amazes me. Every time I see a piece of press about it and read the line up again its mind blowing. There was one person, Janelle Monae who I reached out to personally who came on board and that was thrilling, I don’t usually put myself out that way but I did in this case and she generously agreed to join the project which has made me very, very happy. I’m a big fan of her work and I know she’s a big fan of my father’s work and he influenced her in a way. So when we read the script for Autofac I just thought wouldn’t it be great if she would participate in some way. I was really open to what that would be, I just really wanted to see if she would join us and this part was really perfect for her. So I wrote her a letter and she ended up doing it. I think the letter helped her to get there; we talked about it and she was so sweet and she did a great job for us it’s a really phenomenal performance. So that all worked out really well but that’s just an example of something that feels really gratifying to also know there’s a creative out there that’s passionate about it and wants to join and be part of this really unique and ambitious show.
Why do you think your father’s stories have aged so well?
I think because they are really brilliant ideas which can be taken and contemporised easily because the ideas are not specific to times. He was a man of his time, most of the short stories were written in the 50’s so they have Cold War references but the big ideas and behaviour of people is timeless or at least feels timely now.
His work seems to have become, if anything, even more popular in recent years. What do you think he would have made of his celebrity?
He wouldn’t have believed it. I think about that a lot and I sometimes feel sad that he’s not able to experience this although I hope in some way he is. I think a) he would have been shocked by the mass appeal that he now has and b) it would have scared the hell out of him. He was a bit reclusive at times and had certain anxieties so I think it would have been difficult for him to cope with a level of celebrity that would have been tough for him.
What do you think he would have made of all the adaptations?
I hope he would love it, like I do. I imagine he would, what’s not to love. I think the shorts in particular are so rich, which is why most of the feature films have been based on the short stories and not the novels. They are so right for this and perfect for this sort of adaptation and I think he was always really proud as that was where he got his start, with these shorts that was the beginning. I think he would like that this is such a diverse group of creatives but also characters. The spectrum in the terms of inclusion of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, all of those things which for me personally is exciting and I would imagine he would be excited that it’s been contemporised in that fashion too.
Presumably you experience his stories differently from other readers. Do you find it difficult to read them?
I don’t find it difficult. I find it interesting when I find things that I recognise that are places, or names, or certain words that he would use. There are certain pieces of it that are fused with him as a human being too which is what I recognise, so sometimes I might feel a little sad. It might trigger a personal memory of something, a place or a person but other than that no. I’m mostly just incredibly proud and a lot of the time I just think dad, who could think this way? Who could imagine there might be a god but the god might have schizophrenia? I’m always just completely amazed that his mind worked the way it did, that’s really my strongest reaction.
Do you have any favourites? Are any of your favourites being made this time around?
He wrote more than 100 short stories so there’s a lot of material to draw from. I hope that if people enjoy what we’ve done here that it will be able to continue. There are so many more stories, we’ve only picked 10 but I’m excited to broaden the horizon as to what people think about when they think about science fiction because a lot of this is not hard sci-fi it’s just really about the human condition and there truly is something for everybody in the shows, it’s really great. Sometimes science fiction can be off-putting in certain ways and maybe not accessible to certain people, some people are just like science fiction isn’t my thing but this is not so much science fiction, its stories about people. For that reason they are all favourites and I think people will respond really well to them.