Hollywood loves turning Philip K. Dick’s stories into movies. The adaptation of his 1968 novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," is the most iconic. That film, of course, is “Blade Runner.”
“‘Blade Runner’ started the whole Philip K. Dick revolution,” says Paul M. Sammon, a filmmaker and author of “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner.”
Sammon introduced himself to Dick decades ago, long before the film had shot its first scene:
"He asked me, 'Well, what [have] you read?' And I said ‘The Father-Thing.’ And he roared with laughter and he said, ‘I bet that f***** your head up.’ That was my first interchange with Philip K. Dick."
Sammon, a science fiction and film connoisseur, was thrilled when he heard rumblings in Hollywood that Dick’s “Androids” story was coming to the screen.
“But then I started to hear through the grapevine that Ridley Scott and a journeyman actor and very interesting life-liver named Hampton Fancher... was involved," Sammon says. "I actively lobbied to become involved journalistically in chronicling the film."
Sammon embedded himself on the “Blade Runner” set where he had access to all facets of the production, from start to finish. That included interviews with Fancher, an actor-turned-screenwriter-turned-producer.
“Back in ‘75, I got the idea that Philip K. Dick’s book could be turned into a movie,” Fancher says.
But there was one big problem: Fancher couldn’t find the author.
Fancher tells the story of how he finally tracked Dick down:
I went to New York to talk to his agent and he didn’t know where he was. So I gave up on the prospect. Wasn’t interested anymore. A couple months had gone by and I was walking down Rodeo Drive [in Los Angeles]. And there’s this guy across the street and he's yelling my name. And he’s pretty insistent. I run across the street and I say, Who are you? And he says, Ray Bradbury ...
Fancher had done a play of Bradbury's but didn't recognize him.
So we talked for a moment, you know, old times. And then I started to leave and I thought, Well, maybe he knows. Because nobody knew Philip K. Dick back then ... [Bradbury] brought out a pencil and wrote Philip K. Dick’s number down.”
Sammon says he became closer with Dick during the “Blade Runner” production, in part because the writer wanted to know what those Hollywood types were doing with his story.
“He used to call me his ‘Blade Runner’ spy,” Sammon says. “He would never call it ‘Blade Runner,’ he would always call it ‘Road Runner.’ That’s how little he thought of it.”
However skeptical Dick was, the “Blade Runner” filmmakers kept some of the most profound elements of his novel.
“This thing about feeling someone else’s pain and becoming human or not. That was a big one — empathy,” Fancher says.
It’s questions like these that spoke to “Blade Runner 2049” co-screenwriter Michael Green.
“The original taught everyone — myself included, at a young age — that science fiction can and should hold ideas," Green says, "that they are a vehicle for some of the best writing you can do."
So what would Philip K. Dick think of “Blade Runner”?
We’ll never know. But before the film was released in 1982, Ridley Scott invited Dick to view what he’d been working on.
“And the lights came up and Phil was silent and he turned around and said, 'Can you [show] it again?’ And they ran it again and [then came] the famous quote: ‘How did you know what was going on in my head?’
[Dick] Called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I just saw some footage.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I heard you were going to see it. How did it go?’ He said, ‘I can’t believe it. Where can I get a Deckard action figure?’”
Sammon says “Blade Runner” finally gave Dick’s work the spotlight it deserved.
“Then he dies,” Sammon says. “And it was such an unbelievable sad irony.”
Dick had a stroke and died in Santa Ana, California, four months before “Blade Runner” was released.
“It’s just the greatest irony that when he was on the cusp of after all these years, toiling in the vineyards of obscurity, that the light of celebrity — or at least the light of a certain financial security — was going to be shone on him,” Sammon says. “And he never really lived to enjoy it.”
For more on Philip K. Dick, check out Robert Garrova’s new podcast, PKD Files.