Interview with Ronald D. Moore for Electric Dreams
How did this project come about between you, Michael and Bryan?
Bryan, I and Michael were all contacted initially by Isa Dick Hackett who is Philip K Dick’s daughter. Then I had a conversation with Michael Dinner and as soon as he started pitching me the idea I thought it was great, it would be fun to do, great material and I was just excited. Then he brought in Bryan. It was a long development process, anthologies were starting to come back but it was still a difficult sell in a lot of places. It took a while to sort out all the deals and rights issues etc. so there was a lot of leg work just to get to the place where we were pitching it and then it took off from there.
Why did you want to do it?
It was a unique opportunity, I’d never done an anthology series and I thought it would be fun to do. It was different to anything I’d done before. I knew Dick’s work and thought there’s great material here, this is a unique opportunity to do something that I knew would be a high profile piece. It would be fun to involve different writers and directors and doing something that’s not an ongoing series. I liked the partners that were involved and it seemed like a great deal.
Had you worked with Michael or Bryan before?
No, I’d met them but I’d never worked with them.
How did you go about deciding which stories to adapt? What was the process?
The Dick estate made them available to us and Michael was the first one that dove in and read them all in a giant freefall and he was like I want to do them all. There was a large pool of stories that we looked at and then it was also about individual writers. It was an ongoing process to nail it down to these 10.
What have some of the challenges of the project been?
Because it’s an anthology there’s no standing sets or locations or cast which means you’re literally doing 10 little movies and that’s very complex on a TV production schedule and budget. It increases the complexity of everything you’re doing because normally in a TV show you build sets and you get to use them the next week, you set the cast and you set the look of the show and we all know the show that we are doing. With something like this you’re starting over every single episode from zero, new location, new cast, new art director, new director and it’s just on and on and on. That’s a very complicated production and the creative is just as complicated because again none of these are strung together so you’re having a completely different conversation on every single episode where your tackling the fundamental questions that’s are usually a given on a TV show, who are the characters, what’s the style of the show, the rhythm, the tone, how’s it going to look, what kind of music will it be. So you are creating 10 little movies, it is very complex.
You built each set from scratch didn’t you?
Pretty much, we were using a lot of Hollywood tricks where you build the set for this episode and you revamp it for the next one so you can save some money and production time. By in large you are creating everything from scratch.
How has working on this compared to working on Star Trek?
There’s no relation between the two at all, there couldn’t be two different productions. Star Trek was truly a machine, we had standing sets that we were on a lot and did them one after the other. There was a rhythm and a flow to that production that was ingrained in everybody and anything can happen on Philip K Dick.
What can you tell us about the scale and scope of the series?
It’s pretty broad the episodes are very different, the look and style is very different week to week. It encompasses a broad range of material, different visions of the future, different ideas even of the present, alternate realities, some are variations of current worlds, some are more fantastical, some are hard sci-fi so it’s a really broad scope.
Why do you think there are more opportunities for anthology series now than there has been?
There’s so much TV production out there now and networks and studios are constantly on the lookout for ways of snagging viewers and they’ve discovered there is an audience for anthology, an audience that is looking for an experience without getting involved in an 80 episode arch, there’s an audience that would like to pick and choose and watch a couple of episodes, or they’d like to watch them out of order. They don’t want to do the commitment of a long running show but they want to be told a good story so that audience likes anthologies. The networks and studios have figured that out and realised there is a market for this format.
Why do you think the series has attracted such a stellar cast?
It’s the underling material. Everyone from the writers, directors, cast as soon as you call them and say you’re doing a Philip K Dick anthology series everybody jumps up and says, “I want to be part of that.” His reputation is so strong and the books, films, TV shows have influenced so many people in the film and TV industry that everyone wants to be part of the next one.
What do you think are the common treads between the episodes?
I think it’s about what does it mean to be human, it’s an underlying theme than runs throughout Philip K Dick’s work and our show as well.
Why do you think so many of Dick’s stories have been adapted to the screen?
They tend to have themes that are always relevant. It’s usually something about what it means to be human or has tapped into an idea of the future that is still relevant to ourselves like artificial intelligence is still fascinating to people, the impact of technology on society, the global village become smaller, the speed of communication and how that affects people and how changing cultural norms has changed us all. Dick just had an interesting viewpoint of the future and it’s not really about the 1950’s or 1950’s science fiction it’s just about these very human themes that you can just go back to again and again.
Has working on the series given you a new appreciation of Dick’s work?
Yes, I wasn’t really that familiar with the short stories. I knew several of the books and the movies but I hadn’t really read the short stories so it really opened my eyes that he was also a master of this form. The short stories are a very different format to the novels or the novellas, it’s been fascinating to read through those shorts and see how his mind was tinkering around with different ideas.
You wrote the episode Real Life, can you tell us what it’s about?
It’s basically about two people, a woman who’s a cop in the future and a man who’s a technology entrepreneur in the present. Each of them is having a virtual experience and they start to believe that their reality is a fantasy and they are actually the other person. They’re sharing this experience and trying to figure out which world is real, which one is their real life.
Why did you pick this story?
I’d become really interested in virtual reality and current VR technology and so when I was reading Exhibit Piece I recognised those themes were driving that story, losing yourself in another world, having a fantasy of another time and another place and finding that more attractive than your current reality and I thought that’s fun, let’s play around with that and use it in a VR format which is what we are talking about at this moment in time so it sparked me and I thought let’s do that.
Have you strayed far from the original source material?
It’s pretty different; I took the underlying idea of it and ran with it. It doesn’t have much to do with the actual short story.
What are the pitfalls of adapting an existing story? Is it easier or harder than writing an original script?
It depends on what the underlying material is, things like Exhibit Piece I grabbed onto the themes but there are other short stories that were read that provided a little bit more of a framework or a fundamental plot to expand on from there but it was also about what each individual writer wanted to do. Each writer approached the material differently and some saw more to utilise than others?
What do you hope that viewers are going to take away from the series?
I just hope that people are really entertained and it makes them think and at the end of an episode it sticks with them a bit and they go, “wow, I never thought about something like that” or “I keep thinking about that show I watched.” I hope it touches people and makes them think.