Ronald D. Moore continues to give the small central California city of Chowchilla more to brag about than just being the home to a women’s prison. The prolific writer/producer’s latest adventure into the world of sci-fi/fantasy, “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” will be available through the streaming service of Amazon Prime Video. Not only is Moore one of the executive producers on the anthology series, he wrote the episode “Real Life” starring Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Rachelle Lefevre, Lara Pulver, Sam Witwer and Jacob Vargas.
“Real Life” — and the other nine episodes in the first season of the anthology series — will be available starting Jan. 12. Other writers adapting Dick’s short story work for the small screen include Jack Thorne, Michael Dinner, Tony Grisoni, Matthew Graham, David Farr, Dee Rees, and Travis Beacham. Each episode will be a stand-alone tale structured similarly to “Black Mirror,” “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone.”
As a longtime fan of science fiction and fantasy, Moore was well aware of Dick’s writing long before the idea of the series was suggested. His knowledge was more about the novels than it was about the long list of short stories Dick wrote starting in 1951 and continuing until his death in 1982.
“The short stories were published in a variety of ways over the years. Some were in magazines. Some were anthologies. Some hadn’t been seen in a very long time,” Moore says. “So when the idea first came up, I was fascinated because it was a whole lot of material I wasn’t familiar with or I had read.”
Each writer was given a lot of leeway in how they used the original material. Moore was fascinated by many of the works by Dick, but it was the short story “Museum,” which became the basis for “Real Life,” that caught his attention. Paquin plays Sarah, a policewoman living in the future who shares headspace with George, played by Terrence Howard, a game designer, as each pursue violence. In a race against time, sharing a bond no one else can see, they learn the very thing that connects them can also destroy them.
Getting actors was not a problem, both because of the reputation Dick has as a writer and because the anthology format doesn’t require a long commitment of time. Actors like Steve Buscemi, Geraldine Chaplin, Essie Davis, Richard Madden, Bryan Cranston and Holliday Grainger, who are in other episodes, jumped at the chance to take on very different roles.
The elements in the story touching on the nature of reality and virtual space matched up with Moore’s growing interest in virtual reality technology. His big change from Dick’s original story is instead of one person getting lost in a VR world, he has two characters sharing such a close connection it is difficult to decide which one is the real world.
“Electric Dreams” is the latest project for Moore, whose writing or producing resume includes such projects as “Roswell,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Carnivale,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Helix” and his current Starz series “Outlander.” Moore was able to devote time to “Electric Dreams” because he has been delegating more of the work on “Outlander” to others.
“The chance to do this project came at the right time when I could step away from ‘Outlander’ for a short time and then go back,” Moore says. The 13-episode fourth season of “Outlander,” currently filming in Scotland, will be based on “Drums of Autumn,” the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s eight-book series. The season where Claire and Jamie attempt to make a home in America will begin later this year on Starz.
Moore has penned every episode of “Outlander,” basing the scripts on the novels by Gabaldon. Those novels gave Moore more than enough material to create a series. But, there was a limited amount of material with Dick’s short story. That he had less to use ended up giving Moore a feeling of freedom.
“In my case, it was a matter of taking the general idea and running with it,” Moore says. “I didn’t feel constrained by the structure I was given. At the same time I knew this was a one-off. It’s like doing a little movie. I didn’t have to set up a world that could last for a long time.
“I didn’t have to deal with questions outside the four corners of the story. It is what it is. There was certain amount of freedom in not having to create all the giant things you have to do in an ongoing TV show.”
The downside is there are no continuing sets or characters, so each episode starts from scratch. That complicated the producing process, which was already being pushed because half of the episodes were shot in England and half in Chicago. The series will also air on Channel 4 in London.
This is the second project based on Dick’s writing at Amazon, following “The Man in the High Castle,” which recently released its second season. Amazon has renewed the show for a third season.
As for a second season of “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” Moore says there is plenty of material available to keep the anthology series going.