Back to His Future
For Isa Dick Hackett, adapting her father’s futuristic vision to television is a labor of love.
It's a good time to be in the Philip K. Dick business, which for his daughter Isa Dick Hackett is a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, Dick, who died at age 53 in 1982, has been celebrated with screen adaptations of a staggering number of his novels and short stories. On the other hand, that celebration underscores the fact that his bleak visions of a future marked by mind control, authoritarianism and the melding of man and machine have edged ever closer to reality.
"His work was really ahead of its time," Hackett says with a sigh. "It seemed wild and sort of preposterous, very paranoid, and now, of course, it just seems prescient."
Incredibly, Dick's work was out of print when he passed away. "He died in relative obscurity," Hackett confirms. It took a trio of prestige feature films — Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall (1990) and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002) — to establish her father as a literary lion.
When she and her half-sister, Laura Coelho, and half-brother, Christopher Dick, first inherited the rights to Dick's work (120-plus short stories and 44 novels), they green-lit adaptations without taking a creative role. In 2007, Hackett left the world of nonprofits and low-income housing development to establish Electric Shepherd Productions. The goal was to take a firmer hand in future adaptations.
ESP's first realized project was the 2011 feature The Adjustment Bureau, but its hardest-won accomplishment was bringing Dick's 1961 dystopian novel The Man in the High Castle to a streaming service.
The odyssey took 10 years, but High Castle's fourth and final season will stream this fall on Amazon Prime. Meanwhile, Hackett is also executive-producing Electric Dreams, an Amazon anthology series that mines her father's short-story catalog for hour-long episodes.
She's currently working on "about a half dozen" more projects, among them a series based on Dick's story "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch."
Though she has some feature-film adaptations in the works, Hackett says she prefers the expansiveness of television: "Having that core group and that continuity and those relationships is much more enjoyable." She adds, "I like seeing these characters grow and creating these arcs."
With her increasing success, Hackett has accrued the clout to surround herself with simpatico partners. "I really try to stick to my no-assholes policy," she says. "It's important to me that I work with not just good partners but good people."
That point can't help but resonate: last year, Amazon Studios chief Roy Price was forced out after making unwanted sexual advances toward Hackett in 2015. Apart from that, she says, "Amazon's been a terrific partner," and she's happy to have seen things set right. "I'm really impressed with [the new head of Amazon Studios] Jen Salke and the direction they're going in."
With that, it's back to reality, our reality, the one hewing ever closer to her dad's disturbing visions. "I sometimes feel like I'm living in one of his novels," Hackett says. "I still read his work and think, 'Dad, how did you know?'"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2019