Critical interest in A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's adaptation of the novel by Philip K. Dick, has been remarkable and, for such a dark picture, it's been tremendously popular as well. Jonathan Marlow
talks with producer Tommy Pallotta
about the unique animation, the solid cast (Keanu Reeves
, Robert Downey, Jr.
, Woody Harrelson
) and future plans.
Dating back to the Snack & Drink era when we met at Sundance, did you and Bob [Sabiston] see the potential of interpolated rotoscoping for feature-length work?
Ever since the inception of the rotoscoping process, I always had in mind a feature. I had just finished directing and producing a feature [High Road
] and felt that animation was a way to work back towards that format. The real challenge was how to produce it with limited resources and with an independent vision.
Is it likely that you and Bob will make another short film together?
Bob ultimately left the Scanner Darkly
production very early on. Whenever you have a collaborative process with so many creative voices, differences are inevitable. Bob and some of the other animators are some of the most talented and closest friends I have ever had. I would love to reconnect with them in the future.
How much has the process advanced since Waking Life? Does this form of animation lend itself particularly to fantastical tales?
The actual technology advanced very little from Waking Life
, which was always decidedly low-tech. I refuse to view technology as anything but a tool for expression and would rather rely on the artistry of individuals.
That seems to be clearly reflected in the way that you use this technique in these films. Was it difficult as an independent production to bring Philip K. Dick's novel to the screen?
Any production brings its own problems and there are no easy movies. The challenges of Scanner
were many. The budget was $8.5 million and we basically had to make the movie twice, first as a live action feature and then as a fully animated feature. Everyone who worked on the film did it as a passion, which is an extraordinary way to make a film.
How did you and Richard Linklater settle on A Scanner Darkly?
We started to work on Ubik
, but A Scanner Darkly
really quickly became the obvious choice. It was PKD's most personal novel and it seemed to speak to us on a very personal level. I felt that it best suited Rick's directing style.
While the script isn't entirely faithful to the text, it gets the tone of the novel perfectly. The book is certainly a product of the year in which it was written  but you were able to make it more "contemporary" (perhaps something of an oxymoron for a futuristic story). It's the most cerebral adaptation of a Dick book since Barjo. Do you feel that other adaptations tend to miss out on what is truly great in PKD's writing? Total Recall, for instance, abandons the initial story in the first twenty minutes... I wager that the Dick family has been very supportive of this project.
The Dick family has been very supportive from the beginning. Because of the personal nature of the film, I felt that it was important to invite them into the process of the film and would always update them and show them what progress we were making. I feel that there have been some great films made from PKD's writing and they vary in how faithful an adaptation they are. Dick had fantastic ideas and some of his stories I see as literal and others I can see would need creative solutions to bring them from book to film.
What was the process of casting the film? On paper, it seems like something of an in-joke to have Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson in a handful of drug-addled scenes. I had worried that the sequences between the four principals would fall flat but they're some of the best moments in the movie.
It was really a dream cast and came together quickly. Once Keanu [Reeves
] came on board, people who didn't initially think that it was a good idea to make the film suddenly thought it was a great idea! With his involvement, everything followed. I couldn't really imagine anyone else for the role of [James] Barris other than Robert Downey, Jr. I remember that I'd heard he'd declined and I drew a blank [for someone else to cast]. Then, the next thing I knew, he was in and Woody, too. It is really their chemistry that carries the beginning of the film.
How much does the photographed material differ from the finished product? Obviously the Scramble Suits are pure creation but are many of the backgrounds created from scratch as well?
The rotoscoping isn't as forgiving as most people think! If it isn't captured live...
Are you interested in adapting another PKD novel?
I still have the option for Ubik
and will be looking to make a live action feature from it.
In recent years, you've lived in Austin, New York City and Los Angeles. What are the benefits of each city for independent filmmaking?
I pretty much feel like I don't live in any one place but in all three. I will try to answer that simply: LA is where the business is. New York City has a real specific attitude and a strong support for the arts. Austin has a great pool of talent and benefits from a synergy with the tech industry.
Not so simple at all.