A new movie coming out this week called Next stars Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson, a magician with an ability to see into his future. Julianne Moore has the role of FBI Agent Callie Ferris. She tries to convince Cris to use his precognitive power to help the government and prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb in a major populated city. Jessica Biel plays the love interest of Cris during this emotional upheaval in his life. “Next” is a sci-fi thriller film with drama, action, romance, and intrigue as the U.S. government works on an imperative mission to save millions of lives in Los Angeles.
Two executive producers who worked on the movie gave ComingSoon.net a one-on-one interview recently about their latest project. During a relaxed conversation, Gary Goldman and Jason Koornick talked about the film and their enthusiasm on the writings of Philip K. Dick, author of the short story, “The Golden Man,” which Next is based on.
CS: What spiked your interest in the writings of Philip K. Dick?
Gary Goldman: I came late to Philip K. Dick compared to some people. I was really introduced to him when I was asked to rewrite “Total Recall.” It came to me as I first met it as a screenplay. I found out about the story it was based on and much later I delved into Phil’s writing. Little by little, he became an important part of my life because after “Total Recall” I wrote “Minority Report” and that became a movie. Then, together, Jason and I acquired the rights to “Golden Man.” There are so many Phil Dick stories that are wonderful. I am very fond of one called “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.” There’s another one that I am adapting right now into another feature which is called “The Hood Maker.”
Jason Koornick: As for me, I read Phil K. Dick when I was just out of college and I read the book called “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” which was the basis for “Blade Runner.” I think that is how a lot of people got turned on to Philip K. Dick around the world. That kind of really put him a bit more into the mainstream. He’d been mostly a science fiction writer before, but when that movie came out it definitely raised his profile. I read that and I was just blown away by the big ideas in there. I never knew that ideas about philosophy, religion, and politics could be integrated into genre fare like science fiction, which I liked. I was ready to be blown away, and was. That led to me reading pretty much everything that he wrote. He wrote a lot of non-fiction as well. He had lots of writing about all kinds of various topics that touched his life. If I had to choose a favorite novel I guess I would say it’s called “Ubik.” It has great twists and turns, the foundations of reality drop out on a regular basis, which is what people like me like.
CS: I noticed you made a few changes from Philip K. Dick’s original short story that “Next” is based on.
Goldman: The reason is that a lot of these stories require a futuristic setting. “Minority Report” had to be in the future because it involved technology. It wasn’t just having people who saw the future. There were machines that were interpreting what was going on in their brains. Most science fiction movies require futuristic technology. This is a story that comes from a time when science fiction writers were first thinking about the idea of mutants. Long before the X-Men were even conceived. The point is that if a mutation like this can happen at any time, and it doesn’t involve technology, you don’t have to put it in the future. The experiment was to take a science fiction idea, but do it strictly in the present. Also, the idea was to differentiate it from “Minority Report.” No one has really pointed out the similarity at all. They are both, underneath it all, stories about pre-cogs, but the way they’re done is so completely different that people usually don’t sense any similarity.
Koornick: People have asked me if it is a science fiction movie. It certainly incorporates sci fi elements, but it’s a different kind, science fiction fans will recognize the tone and the ideas that are being used, but at the end of the day, it’s not a futuristic story at all. In some ways it’s a genre that Phil Dick operated in which could be called speculative fiction. What’s unique about Cris Johnson’s ability is that he can only see his own futurelike your memory, it flips around.
Goldman: He doesn’t know anything that doesn’t happen to him. He can’t see half way around the world or anything like that, which is different than in “Minority Report.” Cris can only see his future making it difficult for him to save the world. That is Julianne Moore’s character’s dilemma. Nic’s character is conflicted. She’s like, “Help us.” And he says, “I can only see two minutes. What can I do?”
Koornick: He knows they want to take him over entirely and use him as a kind of telescope into the future. He says, “I have my own life. I don’t want to be involved in these things. I wouldn’t be very good to you. I would be giving up my whole life for nothing.” In the end the story is really about him coming through and him finding out how he can be useful. At that point he has a responsibility to be useful. In a sense it’s a story about a man who thinks that this evil deed is not going to be about him because he has always been able to personally get away from any kind of danger. Through this kind of experience that he has, he comes to connect much more with the human race than he ever has before.
CS: I know that Cris just wants to be an average guy and not draw attention to himself, but he uses his pre-cog ability in the casinos.
Koornick: Yeah, but not to make himself rich. It’s just to keep going. What he does is he plays against the house. He figures the house doesn’t really deserve any sympathy.
CS: Liz, Cris’ love interest seems to heighten his pre-cog senses. Why do you think that is?
Goldman: I think it’s something inevitable; the idea being that finding love is the most important thing in his life. And because his gift is a total mystery to him anyway, it is something that occurred like a mutation, but not something that he ever worked at. He’s discovering the fact that it seems more powerful in relation to her, and I would say that is because that’s the most important thing to any of us, including mutants. He, as an unusual person with an unusual gift, has difficulty relating to people and having a good relationship. Somewhere in the very deep, the tiniest little vibrations about her become important to him and so they get recognized. He finds that he is able to receive much farther away than he thought.
CS: What were some of the different ways or techniques you experimented with while deciding how Cris would travel through a portal to change the future?
Koornick: What we really wanted to do was to show the entire spectrum of visibility, but you don’t want to start off by showing everything in the beginning of the movie. We wanted to have a gradual expansion of the scope of visibility. At first you see things from the outside, as a person watching it might see it. Then little by little, moved to see how he sees it from his own point of view. In addition to that, he starts out being someone who has always had stability, but he has just used it to get by in life. It has always been very easy for him and he’s only had to look a little bit ahead. In every possible problem that could possibly come along he has always been able to either avoid or handle it. As the movie goes along, the forces chasing him, the problems he has to overcome, get greater and greatermore powerful and comprehensiveso he has to do what he has to do in order to avoid trouble and get what he wants by expanding his power. This is also the story of how a guy who has sort of had a little bit of power and by the end of the movie he has quite a lot of power to do things he didn’t know he could do.
CS: What was the greatest challenge about filming this movie?
Goldman: I think the hard part was that we had too much good stuff in the script. Ultimately we had to choose how much of it would be made into the movie. Also, we were experimenting with ways of showing the future and trying to find new cinematic visions. This is the domain of the director. He had to find a way to put you into the mind of the hero, Cris Johnson, so that you can see what it’s like to be able to see one future; see a second future, and to navigate your way through a maze of variable futures. That required some real ingenuity.
CS: What lasting impression did you walk away with after completing this project?
Koornick: It gave me confidence as a producer that I can recognize a good piece of material when I see it and make decisions that are valuable to the filmmaking community. I got a career out of it. I’m very happy about that.
Goldman: I think for me the experience of being able to really, because I wrote the screenplay on spec, I was able to really delve very deeply into the subject matter and to do it the way I wanted. To not worry too much and try and take the material to be very faithful to the original concept of what it would be like to see the future and try to put that over so it was a wonderful experience for me to be able to have the freedom to take this long run with Phil Dick.
CS: What are your plans for the future?
Koornick: I am producing a mini-series about Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. I am also an executive producer of a biopic about Philip K. Dick starring Paul Giamatti. I’m working on another Philip K. Dick project and I just optioned a graphic novel called “Blues Man.” I’m just trying to find good material that can be turned into film. You’ve got to have a lot of eggs in the basket as a producer in this business.
Goldman: I’m working on another Philip Dick project called “The Hood Maker.” I’m doing that with my manager, Lee Beckerman. I just finished writing a screenplay for myself to direct. I’m really excited about that. It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole career. It’s actually speculative fiction in the sense that it’s about one little idea which is a little bit futuristic, but then on the other hand, it’s done as a straight drama and without special effects. It’s a little bit like it falls into the category of something like “Invincible.” It comes across as a drama as a “Kramer vs. Kramer” type of story, but it has a certain sci fi twist to it.
Next opens in theaters on April 27.