The "Blade Runner" Screenwriters:

Hampton Fancher & David Peoples


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 projects."
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 very well."
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 call."
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 collaborative venture.
"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 toward.
"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 movie.
"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 your mind."
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 brilliantly.
"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."