Interview: Director Christopher Harvey on His Fan-Made 'Blade Runner' Prequel, 'Tears in the Rain'
Image credit: Christopher Harvey
Blade Runner is one of those films that became so iconic that it stopped being just a movie and ended up being a part of the landscape of cinema: the smoky streets, the neon lights, the retro-futuristic vibes, all of it. But the most memorable part of Blade Runner has to be the famous 'tears in rain' speech from Roy Batty, fugitive android:
Leading up to the Philip K. Dick Sci-Fi Film Festival, we sat down with Christopher Harvey, whose indie film Tears in the Rain is meant to be a prequel to the original Blade Runner. The film has been an official selection at over a half-dozen film festivals and won a number of awards, and will be screened this Saturday at the SoHo playhouse in New York City—check out the schedule here!
Outer Places: Tell me a bit about yourself and your film career. Are there films or artists you look to for inspiration? Are there themes you find yourself returning to again and again?
I spent a considerable part of my school holidays devouring movies at my grandparent's house. My grandfather had a locked room that housed his collection of films; he had almost any classic you could think of, and to a kid, it genuinely felt like Aladdins 'Cave of Wonders'. I just enjoy a good movie, it doesn't matter what genre or who stars in it or what it is about. I am influenced by almost anything I read or see that captures my imagination and stirs up emotion. Regarding my career, I think it is far too premature for me to discuss themes as my work so far has been varied. I haven't found a stable enough period of momentum so my output is not where I would like it to be. I have a million ideas, though.
OP: What are some of your favorite pieces of sci-fi, in film or other mediums?
Harvey: My love of sci-fi doesn't extend too far beyond movies and real-world science. I do not collect memorabilia or consider myself a 'fanboy' or anything. I won't rush out to a Star Wars or Star Trek convention, for example. I would be far more receptive to the prospect of a trip to the ISS or to Mars (and back!). Regarding sci-fi films I enjoy, that would be a very long and varied list ranging from loving RoboCop (1987), enjoying 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) to loathing Interstellar (2014).
OP: Tears in the Rain is meant to be a prequel to Blade Runner. What drove you to tell this story?
Harvey: Blade Runner is a unique film in any genre, and the themes are quite universal. What has always been compelling about Blade Runner is the idea that Replicants are indistinguishable from humans. Rick Deckard could easily have killed a human by mistake. He ruthlessly hunts down these Replicants seemingly without empathy. Tears In The Rain is a "what if" story. What if a 'Blade Runner' retired a human by mistake, what happens then? What would that mean for the effectiveness of the Voight-Kampff machine?
OP: What were some of the most difficult parts of the filming process? What was your favorite aspect?
Harvey: The whole filmmaking process is stressful, as you're chasing expectation. I do not set out to achieve mediocrity. The most challenging aspect had to be a lack of money, it hampered almost every step of the way. It is fine if you are run-and-gun by yourself because you are fine with long hours for passion, but to expect many folks to work hours over the course of a year or more for free or diminutive pay is folly.
OP: You've said in the past that it would have been easy to create a generic Blade Runner film with with smoky streets and neon lights, but that wasn't what was important. What do you think of films like Ghost in the Shell, which seems to borrow a lot of those visuals, and the trailers for the new Blade Runner 2049?
Harvey: I never saw the anime, so the new feature film to me was a fresh experience. I enjoyed the movie, had fun with it and would definitely watch it again. The worst offender for "borrowing" the Blade Runner aesthetic is the reboot Total Recall (2012). As for 2049, I am not sure where to place my expectations. The recently released trailer has impressive visuals but seems a far cry from anything tangible. We are all waiting to see what October is going to bring when the film is released. I am not sure a sequel is a good idea, although I made a little prequel, so I have no solid ground from which to preach.
OP: At the heart of Blade Runner is the Voight-Kampff test, which measures empathy, the separating factor between androids and humans. With more sci-fi TV shows and films like Ex Machina and Westworld exploring the question of what makes us human, what do you think separates us from robots (at least for now)?
Harvey: I am no expert in robotic technology, so I am not sure how far we really are. My guess is, not far. To steal from Dr Mike Lynch:
"If you see a lorry with smoke coming out of the back while driving along the motorway, as a human you know to drive alongside the lorry and mime to the driver to communicate the potential crisis. This might be a rare event but it is important, and currently, AI has no way to interpret these unique and unpredictable events. So how do robots compare to humans? At the moment robots may be the equivalent of a toddler when it comes to artistic and musical output, they may be able to recognise and mimic some emotional intelligence and be clueless in a crisis, but they do surpass humans when it comes to the speed, quantity and accuracy of analysing data and making predictions. So AI might be the equivalent of a psychopathic toddler that is great at recommending books and predicting cyber security threats, but that has no idea what to do when a lorry is on fire."
I agree with that. We may never, in our lifetimes, get to a point where we have sufficient technology to recreate the workings of the human brain. According to Doc Brown, we were supposed to have flying cars in 2015, but that hasn't happened yet.
OP: In your mind, what's the key to creating good science fiction?
Harvey: Emotion, not spectacle. Too many movies released after The Matrix (1999) assume sci-fi is having VFX onscreen. A science fiction story is one that simply focuses on a concept and from that concept you derive an expectation [that] something is going to happen.
OP: Tell me about what you're working on next.
Harvey: Trying to write too many projects at once, so I am in the process of developing a game plan to simplify. I hate wasting a good line of dialog or idea, and I write them all down! Short films are frowned upon by most folks, which is sad, as they are a very powerful learning ground for feature films. All my titles are works in progress, but I am definitely working on genre-orientated projects, [and] my initial focus is geared towards short fiction.