Tony Grisoni is a British screenwriter who has co-written several Terry Gilliam's films (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland, Brothers Grimm and Lost in La Mancha). He is currently writing the screenplay for The Owl in Daylight. The movie is produced by Electric Shepherd Productions, which is run by Anne and Laura Dick. Paul Giamatti is co-producing and will take the part of Philip K. Dick.
Question : First, I'd like to know how do you define yourself as a Philip K. Dick's reader. Tony Grisoni : I don't think I qualify as a true dickhead. A gentleman who works in my local public library does. He found a first edition of DOCTOR BLOODMONEY, then the same day, discovered my connection to PKD. He felt this was proof positive he had fallen into a phildickian parallel world. I read science fiction as a kid. We prized the ACE DOUBLEDAYS when we could get them. They were trashy. They promised illicit delights. And they were american. But i don't remember specifically chasing after any one author. I later discovered the lurid covers were often designed without the illustrator having any idea of what the two back to back stories would be. Women in the clutches of aliens or monster robots were rife. 14 year old boys like that stuff.
In fact that science fiction I really loved was the older fiction of people like H. G. Wells and the sublimated horror of M. R. James. And so on. Then later, it was the grand poetics of Ray Bradbury. Phil Dick came much later. The reality-bending games, the speculative philosophy spoke very clearly of our world which was sinking into paranoia, fear... and loathing too.
Question : Do you have any favourite novels ?
Tony Grisoni : I am enjoying reading PKD's early stuff – what have been called his realist stories. CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST is particularly good and VOICES FROM THE STREET has recently been published for the first time. Although much of it is youthfully clumsy, you get a very clear sense of the man behind the pen. but I love FLOW MY TEARS. I had just discovered dowland's songs and I read TEARS immersed in the most profound melancholia – which I believe to have been at the very core of Phil Dick. for all the jokes and inventiveness, there was something very sad at his his heart.
Question : How did you get the job and got involved in this project ?
Tony Grisoni : I was originally approached by the publisher. A dream of an offer – which novel by Philip K. Dick would i like to adapt. WHICH? Big question. I poured over everything i could get my hands on. stories and ideas came flooding back. I had read him without realising it. I was astounded to discover how central he was to so many fictions and contemporary speculations. I was soon working along with PKD's daughters, Isa and Laura, and the producer, lennie beckerman. the wonderful Paul Giamatti is also attached. But I still hadn't found the novel I wanted to adapt. I am also not that interested in a simple adaptation. A couple of years back I turned Brian Aldiss' novella, BROTHERS OF THE HEAD, into a screenplay [IMDB]. Brian's book is a beautiful work and absolutely the inspiration for the final film, but no way was it a straight adaptation. I was becoming more and more interested in Phil the man. Then I read a PKD outline of the never-to-be-written-novel, THE OWL IN DAYLIGHT. It was the perfect and quintessential PKD story. And because it was undeveloped it was unencumbered. A pure spine.
Question : The original source material for The Owl in Daylight is rather scarce. I believe you actually met people who knew Dick. Paul Giamatti told MTV Movie Blog, "The idea is to take one of his last stories and put him as a character in the story. A lot of his stories were about reality getting bent around, so we're trying to do that." Could you confirm that and even discuss it further ?
Tony Grisoni : Dick told the tale of a man, Ed Firmley – a crap composer of crap film music. Ed becomes the carrier for an alien being who comes from a place where there is no such thing as sound. No art predicated on sound. No music. I mean, this creature is actually bio-chipped into ed's brain. so the alien gets to experience the phenomena of sound and music. pretty soon it (i made the alien female) realises that Ed's taste and understanding of music is paltry. So the alien starts to direct him towards more interesting sounds, then starts to actually cause him to compose new music. so ed loses all his fame and wealth and becomes a star of the avant garde. Anyhow, he starts getting headaches, goes to get his brain scanned and they discover the anomaly – the alien. That's when she comes clean and tells Ed all. She says, he'll die if she isn't cut out of his brain. but Ed doesn't care. Ed loves the music he's composing. He doesn't care if it kills him. So they come to a deal; seconds before he dies they'll bio-chip ed and put him into an alien's brain and he'll sail off to their world which is all light and colour. Paradiso. My idea was to have two characters – one is the historical Philip K. Dick. the other is Ed Firmley. I wanted these two characters to apparently inhabit two separate worlds - one is the fiction of the OWL IN DAYLIGHT story, the other is the (so-called) truth of historical PKD. Then I want to gradually merge the two. I want there to be a moment in the end where Ed fuses with Phil. In telling this story we take in some key moments in Phil's life as flashback from his last days in a condominium filled with Dowland's sad songs. But I have also written Phil into scenes drawn from his own fiction. The line between dreaming and actual reality is blurred. The tale folds back on itself.
Question : Would you say that the movie is a biopic ?
Tony Grisoni : I really dislike the label "biopic". For me, the term summons up people canned in tired genre. You know the story beats with your eyes closed. No surprises. No questions. Lives filleted and preserved in movie aspic. You come away in the arrogant (and mistaken) belief that you understand a man or woman.
Question : How is the writing process going ?
Tony Grisoni : I have written the first draft. I love first drafts. They are always brimming with ideas and incident and humour. Long may it last.
Question : Do you have any deadline ?
Tony Grisoni : Oh yes !
Question : Did you, at one point of the writing process, had to enter the mind of Dick? I mean did you try to think about a topic the way he would have?
Tony Grisoni : I would not choose to enter Phil Dick's mind. But i found he entered mine. Unbidden.
I spent two or three weeks in California – meeting his friends, colleagues, ex-wives and children, going to the places he went, the places he lived. Everyone was unbelievably generous. He was a very loved, if exasperating man. My dreams throughout this period were very vivid. A recurring dream was of Phil. He appeared as a small and finely crafted bronze model of the crucified christ. The emphasis was on the beauty and preciousness and delicacy of this object.
Question : I'm sure a gig like this must come with some phildickian experiences... Could you share one with us?
Tony Grisoni : During my research trip I stayed at the ranch style house Phil shared with his third wife, Anne, in the late 50s and early 60s out at Point Reyes. It is the location described in CONFESSIONS. Inhabiting the same space as the man, knowing something of what he experienced in those places was uncanny. Every morning there was a small green frog sitting on my shower head. although it was small I was afraid it might jump onto me. But it never moved a muscle. One morning I was looking at this frog and an odd thought occurred. I suddenly thought that this was Phil – incarnated in this little green frog. At the precise instant of that thought the frog turned and looked straight at me. And I swear he had a little beard. I decided I should leave that day.
On my return to the UK, I was writing in the british library at Kings Cross. One day in was reading about Phil Dick's interest in a man called Benjamin Creme. This was towards the end. [Note : The end of Phil's life. Wikipedia] Creme is something of an esoteric philosopher and apostle of the re-appearance of Maitreya – the Christ. I checked my email and saw that this same man was giving a lecture that evening not 100 metres away from the library. I went along hoping for some kind of epiphany... but now I'm sounding like the man in my local library...
Question : Is there any chance for Terry Gilliam to direct it ? (Sorry about the question. But there had to be at least one about Terry Gilliam!)
Tony Grisoni : Ah, Terry Gilliam. Well, I am always up for a tilting at windmills.