The "Blade Runner" Screenwriters:
Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
By JAMES VAN HISE
In STARLOG #55, the interview with Philip K. Dick (who authored
the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" from which "Blade Runner"
is adapted), detailed his involvement with the project and his views on
how it has been handled. This time we go further behind the scenes to trace
the development of the screenplay from the viewpoint of the two men who,
independently of the other, made their contributions to its development.
The history of the Blade Runner screenplay is as interesting as it is
complicated, and adds to the perspective of Phil Dick to further demonstrate
just how involved the transition of a novel to the screen can be.
Hampton Fancher has been involved with the film business for some time,
having many credits as an actor, which includes a hundred TV shows and
10 feature films. His real in terests, though, lie in writing and directing
and he declines to name any of his specific acting credits as he is not
entirely satisfied with them - even though they have enabled him to earn
a good living.
Fancher originally approached Phil Dick about optioning Androids for
feature film production in 1975. "I got the impression originally - and
more than the impression - that Dick was not only reluctant to get involved
but also reluctant to have that particular book done. I think that at that
time he was a bit queasy about getting involved with any kind of movie
When Fancher originally approached Phil Dick the novel in question
was already under option, but by 1978 it was free and this time, Hampton's
partner Brian Kelly (executive producer of Blade Runner) succeeded in optioning
it. Kelly submitted it to Michael Deeley who rejected it twice - first,
feeling that the novel wouldn't translate well as a film, and then, on
the basis of an eight-page treatment of those aspects of the book that
Fancher felt would translate well. Although he had not intended to write
the screenplay himself, his friends talked him into it because it seemed
the only way to get the project launched. "It took almost a year to write
the screenplay, but when I was finished, Brian took it back to Deeley and
he loved it and the three of us made a deal," Fancher explains.
"Then it was all sales work. Deeley was in good shape to represent
it - he'd just gotten the Academy Award for Deer Hunrer. He started
going to the studios with it and every body was interested but nobody would
commit. People were interested, but they'd want changes - they'd want a
happy ending or something else changed and it got very close to losing
the strain of the thing and it was pretty precarious there for a while.
I kept changing it because there was intelligent in put, especially from
a couple of people who were very instrumental in their critiques. I think
that there were four or five drafts written before Ridley came to it. When
Ridley came in that sort of wrapped it up because of the ALIEN reputation.
That's what it needed for the studio to get down to business with it. I
guess I wrote three or four more drafts based on that time with Ridley
and his people, so it was a long process."
Regarding Phil Dick's criticisms of those early drafts (see STARLOG #55),
Fancher states, "It was never intended, I don't think, except maybe
in the first draft, to stay close to the novel. The novel had a lot of
impossibilities as far as movie-making goes. Basically, the novel was
just a diving board premise to jump from that was originally taken, and
then from that point, after the first draft, it sort of acquired a life
of its own and never delved too much into anything that the novel was dealing
with. It was a different animal almost from the beginning. I don't see
any similarities with it, now, at all.
"The way I saw my story of it, finally, was that of a man who discovered
his conscience in the process of this search, and that was the psychological
lot of it and what excited me about it and what I was trying to achieve.
That's the spiritual architecture of it for me. How the house turns out
after the constru tion people get through is another story sometimes, but
I hope it has some of those elements because to me it was a love story."
A Positive Addition
Regarding why he left the project and why David Peoples was brought in
to continue writing in his place, Fancher explains, "I found Ridley's ideas
that came out of the revision meetings to be very good. The scripts seemed
to improve with each draft. But along the way he was a very stubborn man.
I mean, I wasn't like a hired writer. I was a part owner of the project
so I wasn't involved on that level where he could just say, 'Write this,'
and I would go away and write it even if I didn't agree. I'd only write
it if I agreed, not that I wasn't open to agreement because I learned a
lot working with him and I think a lot came out of it. But there were several
elements that would always come up and I would respond negatively, and
it seemed to me that I was winning but then in the next meeting those same
elements would be brought up. They were things that I wasn't in love with
and felt that I just couldn't deal with them. They weren't the story that
I was doing. Finally it just became obvious that the only way to get those
things done was to bring in another writer. There was then a collaboration
between Ridley and Peoples and David wrote a lot of interesting things.
In fact I was surprised because when I got Peoples' script, those things
that Ridley had wanted that I thought couldn't be integrated into the concept
had been rendered by Peoples in ways that were original, tight and admirable.
I really liked it and that's why I've become friends with Peoples. I liked
what he did a lot, but we never actually collaborated. He came in on very
short notice and he had a lot of work to do, but he did it very fast and
Fancher's departure as sole screenwriter left no ill will and he was
called back to lend a hand toward the end of the production. "I wasn't
involved at all in the shooting, but just before they finished shooting
I got a call. I went over, looked at some dailies, heard the problem and
wrote a couple of scenes, but that was the only involvement that I had
during the making of the film. Lots of times the writer is not wanted on
the set, unless they're in trouble, of course, and then there's a desperate
David Peoples entered the Blade Runner project in November 1980,
which was when it was still with Filmways and before photography had begun.
"I read the script and I immediately felt that it was so good that I was
disappointed because when they came to have a meeting I told them that
I can't make this any better-it was a terrific script!
"I don't know which ones Phil Dick read that he didn't like, but certainly
the one I read was absolutely brilliant, and that's the one I worked from
to make changes that Ridley wanted, to make it more his vision.
"The thing that can be confusing about all this is how enormously collaborative
all of this stuff is, especially at the stage that I was involved. I was
brought in when there were sets akeady being constructed. One time I changed
a scene and somebody said, 'Jesus, you wrote the ambulance out!' I said
so what and they said, 'Well, it's already built.' So this was a source
of some aggravation. There's enormous pressure, a lot of people involved
and lot of things going on. So if anybody was authoring it at this stage
it was Ridley. He was dominating, supervising and caring about what went
on here. He always had fresh and new ideas. Then down the line Harrison
Ford and Rutger Hauer made some really nice contributions in the way of
dialogue. I would sometimes be writing a scene that Ridley would be shooting
the following week, and twice I guess I was writing stuff that was going
to be shot that day and just frantically trying to make certain changes
to solve this particular thing or that particular thing.
"When I first became involved with the film, there was a bunch of scientific
jargon about genetics in it that I had no grasp on. I don't know anything
at all about science, but my daughter is a chemistry major at UCLA in microbiology.
So I called her up and she said that it was more or less right. She corrected
one small bit of chemical talk which was well beyond me. Subsequent to
that I felt that the script could use some more jargon in terms of making
it sound like we were dealing with things that these people dealt with
in their every day lives and that they would naturally have a language
for referring to things. I called my daughter again and she started talking
about replicating cells, and it was she who gave me the idea of calling
these people replicants instead of androids. I felt that android was a
word that had been used so much that it no longer meant anything because
it had been sullied by being used in jokes and so on and I thought that
the picture needed a fresh word."
The Film Belongs To Ridley
But on the subject of who's really responsible for how good the film or
the screenplay is, Peoples feels that Ridley Scott's contribution cannot
be overestimated. "It was Ridley's vision ultimately that we were serving.
I think it's terrific and important that Philip K. Dick likes the end result-I
mean it's his baby. Without him there's none of this. This is where it
comes from. It's terrific that he was happy, but he really gave me much
more credit than I deserve. I'm flattered but it's really an enormously
"When you're taking a novel to a movie, there's so much sort of hammering
and sawing and banging and fumbling around that really, what it is, is
that if Phil Dick likes the end result it's because his stuff was so good
that it withstands that kind of treatment. I really think that he does
Hampton an injustice in that article, although I'm sure not intentionally,
because really the script is basically Hampton., He's the guy who adapted
it from the novel.
"What happens in this process is that everybody's trying to get a good
story to go on the screen and we would go in different directions. But
always I think that the book was very much in Ridley's mind and there were
themes that were very important to him in it. He always felt very strongly
about the animal theme, but we never licked it in the way of making it
a prominent part of the script. I know there's some drafts of Hampton's
that had more of it in it, but we were never able to make it as important
as Ridley wanted it to be and still keep a story that was flowing and moving
"The theme that appealed to me the most in writing it was just the
theme of, what is a person? When is somebody a person and when aren't they
a person? The fact that somebody wasn't born from a womb-is that the definition?
I was very interested in that theme. But as the things would get written,
the shape and everything would change, but I can't emphasize enough that
it was Ridley who was in charge, and it's Ridley's picture and his storyline.
Philip K. Dick is the author of the book and Ridley is the author of the
"Ridley is sort of the Hieronymus Bosch of our time. He goes way beyond
what's on the paper. I mean, you can't imagine it-in the sense of you write
down a bunch of things and then you go see what's shot and it just blows
Returning to the subject of Hampton Fancher, Peoples gives an example
of something that he felt proved how compatible their writing styles were
on Blade Runner. It involves a scene that was to take place between
Deckard and a character named Holden that Ridley suggested at a revision
meeting. "I listened to what he was saying and I started to think about
it and Kate Haber, a production executive, said, 'Wait a minute, I think
Hampton wrote a scene like that in one of the other drafts,' and she left
the room. I was sitting there thinking that Deckard says this and Holden
says that and all of a sudden Kate was reading my dialogue that I was thinking
and I couldn't believe it. It was like somebody'd opened my brain up or
something and I look around and she was reading from an old draft that
Hampton had written. In other words, I was writing exactly the same dialogue
that Hampton had written months before because I'd just been presented
with the same situation. So I felt that I had picked up and gotten right
in tune with what he was doing."
When asked about how much at variance the character that Harrison Ford
plays in Blade Runner is in comparison to his previous roles, Peoples
observes, "Harrison is an absolutely maginificent actor. He's amazing.
He blows my mind. He's like the great old guys-he becomes Deckard. I mean,
you don't see him act like Deckard, he is Deckard, and Deckard is entirely
different from Han Solo, for example, and enormously different from Indiana
Jones. In Blade Runner he's a seething guy with a lot inside him. He's
a guy who's got problems, who's holding a lot in, and Harrison does it
"Rutger Hauer is terrific in the picture. When I first saw Rutger,
he was so good as Roy Batty, such a big and dangerous figure, that I thought,
'Boy, how's Harrison gonna hold up to this?' Well, Harrison does it. Harrison
is fantastic in the picture and he just has this enormous broad range.
Harrison can become a different person without adopting a strange accent
or a different costume or strange mannerisms or anything like that. He
doesn't need that crutch. The reason I hadn't realized it before is because
he plays adventure roles and you just make assumptions that are perhaps
unfair and incorrect."
Shortly before this interview, Phil Dick had said that he's been told
that Blade Runner was going to shoot for a "PG" instead of an "R"
rating. When asked if this would change the slant of what he'd written,
David Peoples said, "I don't think so, no. You never know about that stuff,
though. In other words, there's some pretty scary stuff in there, but I
don't know the fine lines that people make. There was some pretty scary
stuff in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's some moments in Blade
Runner that are scary and pretty fierce, but I don't have the kind
of mind that can distinguish what is alright for children and what isn't,
or however that goes."
To underscore his feelings about Phil Dick's reaction to the scripts,
Peoples sums up by saying, "Reading what Phil Dick had to say, I gather
that what he's saying is that the script turned back toward the novel,
but I think that's really just the force of his ideas turning everybody
back. I don't think that there's really anything unusual in that, because
when you're writing a script you begin somewhere, drift away from it, drift
back again and it just keeps moving-and it has even changed since the draft
of mine that he read. I hope that ultimately he's happy with the movie.
I hope we all are."