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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Linklater and Dick: Scanners

Wired has an article detailing the disaster that was the production of A Scanner Darkly, the animated film Richard Linklater made from Philip K. Dick's '70s drug-paranoia novel (right).

The book's title is a sci-fi riff on 1 Corinthians 13:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(American Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 13:11-13)
At first, it seemed like Linklater's project would be a slam-dunk, especially because he could just reuse the software he had developed for Waking Life. This was a glorified "rotoscoping" program, which digitized and updated the process that Ralph Bakshi (of the 80's Spiderman cartoon, the masterpiece Wizards, and an unfinished, animated Lord of the Rings) pioneered of drawing animated cells over live motion picture frames.

From the Wired article:

Because Scanner was being rotoscoped, there would be no early morning makeup sessions (no makeup sessions at all, in fact), no tedious costume changes, and no endless retakes. The sets would be digitally created while the film was being animated in postproduction - making the filming environment more like a theater than a movie set. Plus, there was Philip K. Dick, who's always a draw in Hollywood. Reeves, an avid reader of his stories, immediately signed on. Ryder had a connection to Dick - her godfather, Timothy Leary, was an acquaintance of the late writer. Both celebrities agreed to work at the Screen Actors Guild scale rate, which for Scanner came to about $72,000, plus a portion of any backend profits - an extremely unusual arrangement for top-tier actors.
"It was a socialist endeavor of sorts," says Reeves' manager, Erwin Stoff. "We all gathered at the Four Seasons and rehearsed, shot, and worked on the script. There were no image issues. It was all about being true to the characters, which is a rare thing to have." The summer camp atmosphere also fostered an easy chemistry between Downey and Harrelson, whose onscreen improvisations the director preserved in the final cut.
Unfortunately, the quirky look of Waking Life didn't take easily to being updated to a more mainstream, Hollywood-friendly style, and it didn't help that Linklater was off paying the bills by making Bad News Bears:
Tensions mounted, and one Friday in February 2005, four months after the animation process began, [lead animator] Sabiston and his four-person core team went to a local café to discuss strategy. [Producer] Pallotta took action. A security guard was posted at the door, the locks were changed, and their workstations were seized. Pallotta replaced Sabiston with two local artists, Jason Archer and Paul Beck, whom he felt would bring a more practical, commercial attitude to the production. "There were a lot of comments about 'ruining the art,'" says a source close to the situation. "But we weren't trying to ruin it, we just wanted it better than they wanted it done." The studio bumped the budget to $8.7 million and gave Linklater another six months to finish the movie.
The original book had production problems, too. From the Wikipedia entry on the book:
Because of its semi-autobiographical nature, some of Scanner was torturous to write. Tessa Dick, Philip's wife at the time, once stated that she often found her husband weeping as the sun rose after a night-long writing session. Tessa has given interviews stating that "when he was with me, he wrote A Scanner Darkly [in] under two weeks. But we spent three years rewriting it" and that she was "pretty involved in his writing process [for A Scanner Darkly]."

There was also the challenge of transmuting the events into "science fiction", as Dick felt that he could not sell a mainstream novel. Providing invaluable aide in this field was Judy-Lynn Del Rey, head of Ballentine Books' SF division which had optioned the book. Widely regarded as one of the best editorial minds in the genre, Del Rey suggested the timeline change to 1994 and helped to emphasize the more futuristic elements of the novel, such as the "scramble suit" employed by Arctor (which, incidentially, emerged from one of the mystical experiences). Yet in a sly move on the part of Dick (and much to Del Rey's chagrin) much of the dialogue spoken by the characters used hippie slang, dating the events of the novel to their "true" timeframe of 1970-1972.

The end result was a book that can't be called great, but is certainly a spectacularly creepy and depressing piece of drug lit.

I wonder if Winona and Keanu will "supercharge" each other--blow pot smoke into each others' mouths--as often as their characters do in the book.

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