The Minority Report on ‘Minority Report’: A Conversation with Gary Goldman

(Producer and co-writer of ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Total Recall’)

By Jason Koornick for (July, 2002)

Philip K. Dick may have no bigger ally in Hollywood than screenwriter/producer Gary Goldman. The New Orleans native has played a significant role in bringing two adaptations of PKD material to the big screen – ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Minority Report’. Goldman says he has always strived to be faithful to the brilliant ideas of Philip K. Dick.

"I’m very proud that I tried to remain true to Philip Dick’s intentions," he said in a recent interview. "Most of the ideas that we came up with for both films were organic to Philip K. Dick and I believe that the end products absolutely reflect that. For example in Minority Report, nothing from Dick’s story is ignored. It may be changed but it’s all in there."

Gary Goldman worked closely with director Paul Verhoeven as a writer on ‘Total Recall’ and he was the producer who first optioned "Minority Report" in 1992 before it landed on Steven Spielberg’s desk. He was also the original writer on ‘Minority Report’ (along with Ron Shusett and Robert Goethals) and claims many of his ideas were used in later screenplay drafts by writers Jon Cohen and Scott Frank although he didn’t receive writing credit when the film was released. He is credited as executive producer of ‘Minority Report’.

Goldman believes that his greatest gift as a producer and writer is the ability to spot new ideas and concepts that break from industry norms. "I am primarily interested in things that haven’t been done before," he said. "I’m also looking for projects that deal with ideas. That is why I like science fiction, because it’s almost the only genre that allows you to explore ideas."

His other credits include his spec script which became ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ and ‘Navy SEALS’ which he rewrote. He also contributed to Paul Verhoeven’s "Basic Instinct’, penning the shooting script and also protecting it "from forces that wanted to make major changes to Joe Eszterhas’ original," he said.

Goldman has experienced all the ups and downs of working within the Hollywood system. He has worked closely with some of the world’s most talented film-makers but has also felt the frustration of having an idea snatched away. "Working in this business is very hard. Of all the subject matter in the world, Hollywood only deals with a tiny spectrum. In order to be successful in the film business, you have to figure out what that spectrum is.

"The Dick situation is unique," he said. "His stories have attracted the right kind of people. His best work has a combination of commercial ideas with profound insight."

That combination is what interests Goldman and has fueled his search for new ideas that can work in the studio system. "I liken myself to a ‘pre-cog’. It has to do with a feeling of boredom I get with things the way they are. To a degree, I feel lucky to have had such a successful career being so contrary to the status quo."

"I have a lot of affinities with Phil Dick’s sensibilities. His sense of humor, his stories are about ordinary people living every day lives. To me, his characters behave realistically- they are fallible, inconsistent, greedy, jealous and recognizable," Goldman said.

"Dick’s biggest statement is that humanity isn’t defined by flesh and blood but by values," he said. "Certain of Phil Dick’s ideas have entered the mainstream. Such as alternate realities and the whole notion of the consensual nature of reality that we see in Noam Chomsky or the ‘Truman Show’. With the creation of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, people are understanding that alternate worlds can be as real as what we like to call ‘reality’. That we only see the world through our senses. Video-gaming technology has also made these ideas accessible to people."

Goldman is encouraged by the success of movies like ‘Memento’ and ‘The Matrix’. "There is a trend towards darker, more challenging work," he said. "Starting with ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jaws’, there was a simplification in movies. The action genre went from being about the meaning of the story to being about achieving the greatest moment-to-moment impact. But this maximization strategy has maxed out. The way to get the biggest reaction these days is going to come from giving the audience something different that hasn’t been tried before.

"It’s like the way that biology exploits these opportunities. After a while, there are too many dinosaurs and new creatures come along that find a new way to survive," he said. "It’s already happened recently with the emergence of the Sundance/Quentin Tarantino segment of the market. Small and quirky became more interesting than big and loud. But even this new approach has become normalized and lost some of it’s impact.

"Now, like in the Sixties, people are discovering new ways of telling stories by playing with the narrative structure and more complex use of cinema," he said.

A Career is Born

Gary Goldman knew that he wanted to make movies when he was an undergraduate at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His ambitions were to direct. One summer he enrolled in an NYU summer program and "never looked back." When he graduated Brandeis in 1975, Goldman enrolled in graduate film school at UCLA and managed to meet legendary French director Louis Malle with whom he worked on ‘Pretty Baby’, Malle’s 1978 film with Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon. After that, he worked on a couple of documentaries in his hometown of New Orleans: ‘Degas in New Orleans,’ which was invited to Cannes in 1978, and ‘Yes Ma’am,’ about household workers in New Orleans that won first prize at the American Film Festival in 1981.

He moved back to Los Angeles around in 1980 and landed a job working with Larry Gordon and Joel Silver at Paramount Studios. He calls the Paramount job, "a real education," during which he learned about the studio system and was involved in the production and development of movies, television and even a Broadway musical.

Goldman’s sensibilities began to change as he worked in Hollywood. "I started out as an intellectual snob. Then I learned what the word ‘commercial’ meant," he said. "I call my work crypto-intellectual – it has substance but that doesn’t get in the way of good entertainment."

Throughout his time at Paramount, Goldman never stopped wanting to be a director. When the job ended, Goldman teamed up with writing partner David Weinstein to pen ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, a movie that he compares to ‘Shanghai Noon’ and ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ in style and substance – except it came out almost twenty years earlier. He claims the John Carpenter directed ‘Big Trouble’ may have laid the groundwork for later Hong Kong-style Hollywood features. "It was a flop when it came out but has since become a classic," Goldman said.

He continued to take jobs as a screenwriter after ‘Big Trouble in Little China’. In the ‘80s he wrote a script for Warner Brothers called ‘Warrior’ based on Tibetan Buddhist iconography. ‘Warrior’ was adapted from a book about out-of-body experiences. It attracted the interest of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven who was hot off the success of ‘Robocop’.

Recall Mechanism

Verhoeven brought Goldman on as a writer to ‘Total Recall’, a project that had a legendary development history. The Philip K. Dick story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ had been previously optioned by Ron Shusett then set up with influential producer Dino De Laurentiis. Producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vanja paid over $7 million to acquire the property for Arnold Schwarzengger for their now-defunct company Carolco. Verhoeven came on board as director and hired Goldman to do a rewrite.

"I worked for nine months on the rewrite," Goldman said. He worked closely with the director to come up with the shooting draft spending six months in Mexico while the film was lensing. "Paul is pretty exacting in his script development. He respects his writers and he wants them on the set. Which is rare in Hollywood, where often the writer isn’t invited to the set."

Although the finished product was radically different from Dick’s 1966 short story, Goldman said that his contribution was to heighten the themes of identity explored in Dick’s piece, which he calls "the most interesting part of the story." He claims to have made the second half of the story more consistent with the first.

"I made a connection between why Quaid’s mind was erased and the freedom movement on Mars and created the idea that Houser was a bad guy," he said. "Paul and I took seriously the possibility that the memory implant had gone wrong and what was happening in the movie was an illusion."

"In a general way, the short story was the basis for the first third of ‘Total Recall’," Goldman said. "We wanted to extend his ideas from beginning to end and to take Phil Dick up on the idea of a false reality."

Goldman said with Verhoeven, they tried to make the ending more ambiguous. "That’s why the ending fades to white instead of black. We’re trying to indicate that it isn’t just rhetoric. We don’t resolve it one way or another which world is real and which is artificial.," he said.

Working with Verhoeven was a pleasure, Goldman maintained. "Paul was intellectual but also a pop film-maker. He combines violent, erotic, raw energy with enormous intellectual power."

‘Total Recall’ was a hit when it was released in 1990. That same year, Orion released an earlier Goldman rewrite of a script by Chuck Pfarrer called ‘Navy Seals’. They lured him with the prospect of Ridley Scott directing. He developed the screenplay with Richard Marquand (‘Return of the Jedi’). Then the actual director "took everything that was good in my screenplay and shot the rest," he said.

He teamed up with Verhoeven to refine the shooting draft of Joe Eszterhas’ ‘Basic Instinct’. "We improved the screenplay where possible and also protected it," Goldman said. "In the end I’m not closely associated with ‘Basic Instinct’ because I didn’t it change that much."

Another project on which Goldman was working at the time was ‘X-Men’. Carolco originally optioned the comic book property for Goldman in 1991. He wrote a draft of ‘X-Men’ in association with James Cameron’s company. A decade later, a different version of the film was released to critical and box office success. "I thought that X-Men would make a great movie when I read it as a teenager," he said. "Often I see things too early. Timing is everything. Sometimes I am able to benefit from it."

A Brief History of ‘Minority Report’

Gary Goldman first became aware of ‘Minority Report’ in 1992 when a family friend and fledgling screenwriter showed him the 1956 Philip K. Dick short story. Goldman was impressed and optioned the short story for him and the friend to adapt. Goldman’s intention was to direct a low-budget version of the movie.

Goldman approached director Paul Verhoeven to serve as executive producer. Verhoeven suggested turning the project into a sequel to ‘Total Recall’ which had enjoyed tremendous success. Goldman agreed and writer/producer Ron Shusett was brought on board as a third writer as per his contract. The project was set up at Carolco. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to reprise his role as Douglas Quaid. The team wrote a draft of the script on which Verhoeven passed deciding to direct ‘Showgirls’ instead. The project went dormant at Carolco.

Soon after, Goldman secured the interest of producer/director Jan de Bont (‘Speed’, ‘The Haunting’) shortly before ‘Speed’ was released. Carolco, however went bankrupt in 1995 and the rights to ‘Minority Report’ reverted back to Goldman and Shusett.

The producers set up the project at 20th Century Fox with de Bont attached to direct and Arnold Schwarzenegger still attached to star. The studio decided not to acquire the franchise rights to ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Minority Report’ forged ahead as a free-standing project. After two more screenplay drafts by Goldman and Shusett, the studio brought on screenwriter Jon Cohen who started almost from scratch. From that point on, Goldman and Shusett were no longer involved in the project although they were credited as executive producers.

Cohen’s script found it’s way to director Steven Spielberg through Tom Cruise, whom de Bont was courting as the lead actor. Spielberg liked Cohen’s version and agreed to direct ‘Minority Report’. Spielberg brought in writer Scott Frank to rewrite the screenplay. Meanwhile, the director made ‘A.I.’ his next project. Frank rewrote the screenplay using many elements from the Goldman/Shusett drafts, according to Goldman.

Goldman and Shusett got a chance to visit the ‘Minority Report’ set when they met Steven Spielberg. The crew was shooting the chase in the car factory.

When the film was finished, the studio assigned tentative writing credits to Cohen and Frank. Goldman and Shusett went through the arbitration process with the Writers Guild of America only to see their case undermined by a myriad of rules and technicalities. Final credit went to Cohen and Frank although Goldman and Shusett retained their titles of executive producers.

What does Goldman think of the completed film which he claims incorporates many of his original ideas?

He calls ‘Minority Report’, "a brave, devilishly clever movie," that was based on some "very smart decisions."

"The movie is appealing to a general audience but doesn’t go to the roots of Phil Dick’s story. We always wanted to have the prophecy fulfilled," he said referring to the crucial turning point of the story when John Anderton exercises free will and spares intended victim Leo Crow. Instead, the pre-cogs saw an optical trick when they predicted the crime.

Goldman believes that the Cohen/Frank script, "came very close to going all the way but doesn’t go into unexplored territory."

"The basic sentiment of the movie is that the U.S. constitution and our current ideas of civil rights are more important than having absolute truth," he said. "These are good lessons but not what Philip K. Dick was writing. In his story, he is willing to contemplate that the system actually works, and if it does work, then we have to get used to new ideas about justice. Anderton’s exercise of free will is accurately foreseen. He chooses to fulfill the prophecy – in part merely to prove that the system is infallible. But that’s hard to wrap your mind around."

"Jan and Steven took it as a given that there had to be free will, that the system was bad because it violated the constitution," he said. "Dick was willing to question everything."

Notwithstanding, Goldman admires Spielberg’s boldness in choosing to direct ‘Minority Report’. " I feel that Steven was braver and more challenging than he’s ever been," he said.

Dr. Futurity

Goldman said he has plenty of other script ideas in the works including some that incorporate Phil Dick’s forward-thinking concepts. A script he wrote about alien abduction called ‘Stowaway’ is an attempt to "fulfill deeper expectations" about the well-known but under-exploited subject matter. "My goal is to make it feel totally believable, and that means making it unlike anything you’ve already seen in the movies. But sometimes too much originality can make it hard to get these projects off the ground," he said. "My immediate hope is that ‘Minority Report’ will help ‘Stowaway’ get made."

He said that there are plenty of other projects in the works as well. "I have too many ideas to be able to write them all myself. But I want to make them happen, which is why I also work as a producer. I have ideas for books, plays, products, even politics," he said. "It’s actually rather exhausting."

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